We got into Sweden pretty early on Thursday morning, and Jeff and I were excited to see the city. (It’s silly, but we were excited that many of the neighborhood names are familiar from reading ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ books.)
Stockholm is full of water – it’s neighborhoods are kind of like a bunch of islands with lots of rivers and harbors around them. Our boat was at a pier in Sodermalm – the neighborhood in the south of the city. The old town neighborhood of the city is Gamla Stan, which is connected to Sodermalm by one bridge. It was about a mile or two walk, but it was a pretty one, along the harbor next to big rock cliffs.
Also, along the way, we saw another ship – the Mariella. I liked Stockholm already.
Gamla Stan is really cute – it has lots of cobblestone streets and alleys, old churches, quaint little squares with tea shops and cafes, and lots of tourist shops. I had to stop and buy a Pippi Longstocking postcard for my sister. She loved the movie growing up – we probably watched it a hundred times. Pippi Longstocking – the book and the movie – is from Sweden. I’m actually pretty sure the movie we watched must have just been dubbed into English, but I never noticed it when I was young.
Gamla Stan also houses the royal palace, which was really big and pretty. There are tours, which are supposed to be pretty good (says the guide book), but Jeff and I were excited to see more of the city, so other than stopping in a couple of churches, we mostly didn’t go inside buildings or museums.
As a side-note – we stopped to get water while we were walking around – just two normal bottles from a little convenience store – and they were about $2.50 or $3 each, and that’s probably one of the cheapest ways to buy them. It makes it kind of nice to be seeing this area on the cruise, when we don’t have to buy every little thing in the city!
Jeff and I were closed to finished with our tour of Gamla Stan and decided to start thinking about lunch. The tour book recommended a place called “Fredsgatan 12,” just over the bridge in Norrmalm, which is an award-winning restaurant serving “New Swedish” cuisine. It was a pretty fancy place, but the set lunch menu is half the price of the set dinner menu, which is an awesome deal. Also, it turned out to be some of the best food I’ve ever had.
The restaurant was trendy, with a modern, Ikea feel – sleek chairs with no corners, big lime green cone-shaped lighting fixtures over each table, hanging from the very tall ceiling. Many things – the menus, the bread, and the check – came in little black wooden boxes, which were also very cool.
For our first course, I had salmon tartar with capers and Jeff had foie gras with pistachios and peaches. Both were pretty good – and the bread served along with it was good, as well. The second course was when things really got good – it was called “Angling in the Fjord,” and included cod in browned butter with shrimp, eggs, and horseradish. It was served with “new potatoes.” Our waiter served the meal, re-listing the contents, and said something like, “Something every Scandinavian would love.” And we did love it. Jeff and I both think the fish may have been the best we’ve ever had – the texture was perfect and it tasted light and a bit buttery. The browned butter was delicious. The little baby shrimp with egg and horseradish was also great – just a hint of the horshradish was noticeable, so it was tasty, but not overpowering. And then we got our dessert – strawberry souflee with chocolate icecream. The icecream is served on a porcelain spoon, nad when they get to your table, they take the spoon with the icecream and put it down in the middle of the souflee. It was so good – hot and soft inside, a bit crispy on top – the hot strawberry souflee mixing with the cold chocolate icecream. And to make things even better (if that’s even possible), we had two cups of great French-press coffee.
Jeff and I were in a really good mood after the meal – it had really been a lucky find. We decided to do some sightseeing around Norrmalm, which is one of the northern neighborhoods of the city. It has all of the big, modern skyscrapers and tons of shopping. We walked down some of the major streets, around the square of the central subway station, and in a big glass mall. H&M started in Sweden, and they’re like Starbucks in Norrmalm – often when standing at one H&M, you can see another down the street a block or two away.
While we were in Norrmalm, near the central metro station, we kept seeing big flatbed trucks with banners hung on them packed with teenagers. The teenagers were singing, blasting music, and spraying beer everywhere. Jeff and I had no idea what was going on – it was fun to watch, as long as you could stay far enough back to avoid the shower of beer (which we did, luckily). We found out later that these were students who had just graduated high school – driving around the city like this is a tradition. “It’s fun!” the tourist office person told us.
Around 2pm, Jeff and I decided we’d leave Norrmalm and head back to see a bit of Sodermalm before getting on the ship (which departed at 5:30pm that day). Then we noticed that it was possible to buy a bike card at the tourist office. We’d seen the bike-sharing racks all over the city – they were the same clear-channel bikes that we used to have in DC. But those bikes don’t take credit cards directly – usually you have to order a year-long membership card online. The tourist office card was for three days – much more than the three hours that we needed – but still somewhat reasonably priced.
Jeff and I both really like biking (especially Jeff), and there was a bike rack right near the tourist info station and another right next to the ship, making it especially convenient for us. Also, we had seen while walking that Stockholm has tons of awesome bike paths – many streets had bike paths in both directions, often separated from the traffic in the road, sometimes with their own bike stoplights and traffic signs. So we decided to go for it, and signed up for the bike cards. It turned out great!
We whizzed back down through Norrmalm and back through Gamla Stan. This time we took a different, longer route along the water, which we could manage because the bikes are so much faster than walking. We crossed the bridge into Sodermalm and biked along one of the main shopping streets, stopping to buy water and take pictures. Sodermalm is more of the hipster-trendy area (rather than the modern-trendy Norrmalm), with cute coffee shops and boutiques. We along two main streets, making a big “L” through the neighborhood, and then made our way back to the boat by taking a beautiful trail along the water, circling about 2/3 of the island. The water is super clear, and clean enough that people were swimming in it – which is pretty amazing so close to a big city.
We dropped our bikes off a bit after 5pm, and made the short walk back to the cruise ship. Jeff and I were both feeling exhilarate from the bike ride – so happy we’d found the place to sign up for cards and decided to do it. We saw a lot more of the city than we would have otherwise, and saw a great variety of scenery – old town, modern buildings, trendy cafés, and scenic parks and water. And we’d gotten some great exercise (which is sometimes lacking on a cruise).
Back on the ship, we headed up to the top deck to watch the ship leave the port. To get into and out of Stockholm, you have to navigate the Fjords for about five hours. Jeff and I didn’t want to get up at 3am to watch as we came in, but we were excited to see it now. It’s amazing that cruise ships can make it through – there are big, rocky islands covered with pine trees and attractive cabins – sometimes just 50 feet away – if you were on a lower deck, it looked like you were just in the trees. A lot of things in Stockholm reminded me of Minnesota, and I like to imagine that just like everyone in Minnesota has their cabin on the lake to retreat to on summer weekends, all of the people in Stockholm have their cabin in the Fjords.
Jeff and I had dinner (the food on the cruise has been pretty good!), and then went back to our room to sit on the balcony and watch the last of the Fjords go by. When we were back in clear water, and it was starting to get dark (or at least dark-er – we’re still pretty far north), we decided to watch a movie. We saw “In Bruge,” which was an interesting black comedy, and the first half of “Kung Fu Panda,” which was much lighter, and better as a just-before-you-fall-asleep movie.