First impressions of Sweden

So, Sweden is a pretty incredible place.

I just came back from Stockholm where I stayed from Thursday (Aug. 1st) to Sunday (Aug. 4th), and I can say with confidence that Sweden isn’t entirely what I expected it to be…it’s more!

We arrived on Thursday at noon. Immediately, we converted 200 Norwegian kroner ($33.72) to 210 Swedish kronor (not including the exchange fee, of course; that made it only about 180 Swedish kronor), but it turns out we didn’t need the cash during the trip as cards work perfectly fine just about everywhere. This includes on the plane itself. My conclusion is that I don’t think it’s necessary to have more than a small emergency stock of Swedish cash on you in Stockholm, likely because Sweden is a pretty high-tech country and Stockholm is a very international city.

Cash aside, we took the Swebus from the Stockholm Arlanda airport to the center of Stockholm. This is where we learned that you buy tickets for Swedish buses while outside of the bus: you instead buy them online or at a machine outside first. The last part isn’t too different from Norway in itself; the difference lies in that you actually can’t buy a ticket on the bus if you don’t have one by the time you get on. It’s a pretty automated process.

The bus ride took about 35 minutes during which Sindre and I scoped out the Swedish landscape. Not bad; not too different from Norway in terms of its biome given its similar rocky nature and rolling hills, but there were no huge mountains to speak of, a marked contrast from its western neighbor.

I hadn’t heard of this before arriving in Stockholm, but I suppose I should’ve realized that there would be tons of bridges…57 of them! Stockholm’s bridges tend to be long and elaborate, and they’re very attractive. We crossed a few while heading into the city center and, when we got there, immediately went for an Italian place we spotted called Vapiano. It was the one that Sindre’s optician had recommended right before we left Bergen, so we decided to try it.

Conclusion: Very good idea. It’s a chill place where you order using a Vapiano card and pay when you leave. There’s free wi-fi, too!

We headed over to our hotel, Hotel Birger Jarl, and, despite the construction going on on its top, we were quite happy with the amenities. It was nothing crazy special (yet…more on that soon): our room had the basics but no minibar, mini-fridge, or anything like that. The view outside was of a brick wall next to the hotel, but we were satisfied. As soon as I collapsed on the bed, I was in heaven: it was just the right firmness and comfort! We napped for a bit, then hopped on our laptops and went online with the free wi-fi. After that, we walked a few blocks over to Lidl, the grocery store we had passed on our way to the hotel. It definitely had lower prices than Norway on most things (except for tuna and nuts, for some reason), so that was a relief (granted, both Norway and Sweden are still quite expensive). After getting some basics like bread and butter (which were both incredible!), we settled down in our hotel room for the night.

When I woke up, I felt like I had caught up on sleep that I had lost the past several weeks (my bed in Norway is sometimes shaky in the amount of comfort, and thus quality sleep, it provides). It was nice to be able to think clearly and without tiredness again. We went down to the breakfast buffet and…well, at this point, I don’t really have words:

It may not look like much because of the shabby photo, but the selection was huge. I’ve been to hotels before, mostly in Florida and the Bahamas, and I don’t think I’ve ever been treated to such a wide variety of delicious, free food (most of which was healthy) in my life! Sweden was pretty fantastic so far!

After the buffet, Sindre and I went back down near the city center to check out the shopping street we had caught a glimpse of the night before. We entered a store called Weekday and found some clothes on sale for 100 SEK ($15.18) or less, some only 40 SEK ($6.08)! As is usual in Norway, a lot of jeans cost 400 (in Norway, 400 NOK; in Sweden, 400 SEK). Sindre thought it was reasonable, being Norwegian, but it was still a whopping $68 and way too much for me.

We soon made our way to the Royal Palace (official home and headquarters of the Swedish king), seemingly completely by accident. I had no idea that’s where we’d end up when we started walking nigh aimlessly, but it was a sight to see:

There was a cozy park with quite a view that we passed, and a lot more bridges than we’d seen so far in Sweden were situated near the Palace. There’s also a courtyard when you walk a bit further and up the steps outside, so we stopped and admired the view from there for ten minutes or so before moving onto the next area containing a huge, majestic church called Slottskyrkan. We couldn’t take pictures inside, so here’s a picture from Wikipedia:

In another church located a short distance away from Slottskyrkan, we saw an interesting sign on the outside:

Free drop-in weddings!

And yet another church was behind that one, only this time it was German. All the churches were lovely!

Walking away from the churches and Palace and toward the souvenir shops (inside which I got a few magnets), we saw a handful of people with their faces covered in white powder and asking for money…or something. At least I think that’s what they were doing. They were very smiley and friendly but I don’t really understand what went on there! If you have ever heard of these people in Stockholm, please shoot me an e-mail or comment and explain the madness to me. 😛

The rest of the day was spent exploring more, and that night we went to eat at a place called Restaurang Mandarin City. It’s a Chinese restaurant with a big dinner buffet (including apple pie as dessert!) 5/5, amazing restaurant.

The next day started with another buffet (so many buffets…) at the hotel and then the start of more exploration. Now, perhaps Sindre and I just chose a particularly well-stocked weekend of events to visit, but constant events and goings-on decorate the streets of Stockholm. This was the case on each of the three full days we were there. As we explored the city on Friday, we wondered why we’d been seeing such a disproportionate amount of gay couples and and pride flags everywhere since we arrived, and also why there were tons of antique American cars scattered throughout the entire city. Well, on Saturday, we found out why:

We had accidentally stumbled upon the Gay Pride Parade! There were huge amounts of people lining the streets in preparation, as well as two particularly fabulous Swedish guys hoisted high in the air and explaining the event to spectators.

I am fab. Just look at my parasol. LOOK AT IT.

We stayed and watched the parade for awhile, but it was going to continue until 3 in the morning, so we departed after an hour and kept checking out the streets…which were still filled to the brim with old American cars!

And a man on a tractor, for good measure.

We went to Restaurang Mandarin City again on Saturday night (it was just so good), and the main guy who recognized us explained that there was a veteran American car meetup/festival going on.

I…guess that explains this. Actually, no. No, it really doesn’t.

The next day there was one last buffet at the hotel before we had to check out, and we immediately went to mass. In a Swedish church. Where they were speaking Polish.

I still don’t understand the events that brought us here.

All in the name of good times and new experiences, right? 😀 After about half an hour, we went back toward the Royal Palace and ended up making a bumblebee friend (her name is Thimble; we know she was female because all bees that go outside the hive are female). She let us pet her and she chilled with and crawled over us for about an hour in the grass in the park, not flying even once. Soon, we realized she was probably just trying to find a calm place to lay herself to rest, as she didn’t seem to have much energy at all and was really clumsily climbing over grass. I put her on a leaf and laid her off to the side of the park after she had expired. She passed away while in my shadow; I hope it gave her a spot that was comfortable and not too hot to live out the rest of her life in. 🙂

After going to Vapiano one last time (the calzone was simply too amazing) and finding our way to the station via their free wi-fi, Sindre and I went to the Stockholm Arlanda airport and returned to Bergen.

I’ve updated my pros and cons of each country article to reflect the addition of Sweden. Until next time!

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