While I still have a small amount of lap real estate, and airline travel remains free for the lass, we wanted to squeeze in one last pre-newborn flight. Destination: Stockholm. None of us had ventured to Scandinavia before and other than a sketchy knowledge at best (meatballs, pickled fish, IKEA, the Dragon Tattoo lark) had little idea what to expect. Happily, the apartment we arrived at late Thursday evening played up to my stereotype-loving heart nicely.
We spent Friday exploring the city. (Peppered with a whole bunch of rookie errors. We’ve been parents for almost two years – why would we ever want to bring wipes with us? It’s my second time knocked up – why in the world would I think my feet might swell to elephantiasis proportions if walking on them all day? Pre-packed food for the toddler – who’d want that?) We made our way to the island-based old town, Gamla Stan, which was fairly accurately described by a friend as ‘Diagon Alley on steroids’.
We had assumed Sweden would be bitterly cold and slightly inhospitable, but were happily incorrect on both fronts. The weather was delightfully mild and autumnal, and access was easy both in terms of traversing the city (other than the sad state of my hoofs, of course) and the friendliness of its people. It was also a super funky town with great food and bars and nooks in the city to discover.
Stockholm is spread across fourteen islands, next to an archipelago made up of approximately 30,000 more. We decided to hop a boat ride to one such island, Vaxholm, about an hour’s sail away. In yet another rookie error, I misread the timetable and we missed our boat, forcing us to the horrible fate of coffee, cake and sunny park time while we waited for the next one (although pregnancy hormones being what they are, apparently it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me based on the irrational and involuntary tears shed).
The archipelago was stunning. It was more densely populated than I expected, both in terms of the wooden summer houses on the islands and the foliage. I’m currently reading a Swedish novel, Blackwater, in which it was stated of rural Sweden: The greenery was obscene. It made her think of bushy pubic hair (seen in bath-houses, before turning away). She hadn’t expected this, but rather some kind of barrenness. This was also my observation – admittedly minus the pubic hair part – as we weaved through islands on our way to Vaxholm. One of our party had no opinion on the matter at all, clearly finding it all somewhat tiresome.
We lunched on the island, knocking into the aforementioned meatballs and seafood. We’d intended to explore the island in the afternoon – it houses an old fortress and a small, sweet town – however our (tautologically?) temperamental toddler had other ideas and instead we sailed back to Stockholm.
As well as being an outdoor paradise – there’s loads of water sports, hiking, camping and winter activities – we were delighted with the number of museums and indoor activities available. We barely scratched the surface of these. Tim was keen for the Nobel prize museum, I’m always a sucker for natural history, and we both intended to avoid the Abba museum despite much pushing from a fellow plane passenger (although secretly I reckon we’d both have loved it). Instead, on the recommendation of an ex-colleague of mine who we met for the day, we decided to concentrate on the Skansen. An open air museum and zoo located on – you guessed it – an island, the Skansen recreates traditional Swedish villages and practices.
We strolled to the island through gorgeously manicured Autumnal gardens.
As it happened on the day we visited there was a traditional Swedish folk fair on. This included people in traditional dress playing a range of instruments, dancing, exhibiting handicrafts and preparing food as well as a bunch of old school Swedish funfair games. These included ‘playing in the straw bales’ (a massive hit), a plate smashing stall, and a strong man bell ringing thing, the official name of which I am fairly sure I’ve never known.
We’ve been gushing about the city ever since we returned, and I have gone so far as to say it’s my new favourite place. We’d return in a flash (it’s the lure of the Abba museum, of course). In a disgraceful misinterpretation, we absolutely developed Stockholm Syndrome; the city bewitched us completely. But what’s not to love about a town where the trams have cafés on board, and the slippery dips are super mega slippery indeed?