The attainment of a full panoply of Swedish travel experiences, one of the central aims of my year abroad, would not be possible without visiting the capital city, and so a few weekends ago, 5 friends and I (Nathan from Finland, Patrick from Germany, Basil from Australia, and Macarena and Elena from Spain) embarked on a 3-day trip to Stockholm, the ‘Venice of the North’.
Like many good travel stories, this begins on a very cold autumnal morning, at 4.30 to be precise. After reluctantly getting out of bed and finishing off some last-minute packing, it was soon time to meet the rest of the gang at Lund Central, the gateway to Scandinavian adventure.
Our train left the dark and chilly platform just before 6, and after a few hours of shut-eye, we had arrived in Stockholm! The central station looked more like an airport than a train station, with fast-food chains and coffee shops appearing at every vertex, and crowds of people standing by their suitcases waiting to whisked off and away from the departure boards. Excitement, expectations, and coffee, were brewing among the masses.
Without further ado, we immediately hunted down our accommodation, a youth hostel just off the main shopping street. Upon arrival, it was apparent that this was a very relaxed place, with people freely cooking in the communal kitchen, childlike graffiti lighting up the stairway walls and an impressive array of comical signs lining the corridors. Then came the arduous task of making our beds with the hostel’s bed sheets, and as I’m sure many of you know, this task becomes a great deal more challenging when you pull the short straw and get the top bunk!
Despite feeling very tired, we ventured out into the streets of Stockholm, walking through the modern shopping district and then onto one of Stockholm’s 30,000 islands; this particular one accommodating the Swedish Parliament and Royal Palace, and then making our way through the cobbled streets of the old town, home to a strangely addictive sci-fi store, many quaint tourist shops and cafés, as well as the odd street ‘performer’, one of whom seemed to be making a killing out of the three cup shuffle trick.
After grabbing a bite to eat for lunch, the consensus amongst the group was to go ice-skating in Kungsträdgården and with my ice-skating skills being nothing short of abysmal, I designated myself as photographer, taking some great photos and videos of the rest of the group and other members of the public. I think it’s fair to say the skating skills on show were both unique and phenomenal in many different ways, with Patrick and Basil’s spins and slides worthy of note.
Having woken up 4.30, we walked back to the hostel in the late-afternoon and took a much-needed nap, which was followed by cooking and eating a cracking Spaghetti Bolognese. Feeling refreshed and energised, we embarked on the McLund drinking game carefully concocted by Macarena and Elena (we are students after all) and were accompanied by two Australian girls who also go to Lund University (and stayed in the same hostel as us) and Nathan’s friend Anton, who from this point onwards was regularly referred to as Psyduck (Yes, the Pokémon).
We then went in search of our local drinking establishment, which happened to be a pretty trendy (although expensive) bar just down the road. After a few drinks and quite a bit of bad singing from yours truly, we retreated to our beds, as we had a long day and night ahead.
Upon waking up to the tune of rattling bunk-beds on Saturday morning, Macarena proclaimed, “I don’t want to see this f***ing hostel, I want to see f***ing Stockholm”, much to the amusement of the rest of us and as you can imagine, this is far more entertaining in a Madrilenian accent. Before the Spaniards accused us guys of being lazy again, it was time to explore more of Stockholm, although it seemed that throughout the day the weather was turning against us.
During the late morning,Basil’s obsession with the record store and Nathan’s mild infatuation with the sci-fi store continued, while Basil and I are unearthed a secret square in the heart of Stockholm’s old town.
We were then joined by Anton (remember Psyduck) and attempted to visit The Riksdag (Swedish parliament) but unfortunately the English tour was full (enter Patrick’s catchphrase “Damn it!”) . But we would be back! We therefore ventured in the pouring rain to the city’s photography museum, which amongst other things, houses an impressive collection by Pieter Hugo entitled ‘Agbogbloshie Market’, a wasteland used as a market in Accra, Ghana. This collection includes an array of fine prints as well as a room of rolling videos of some of the local people in the area, which really captured the harsh living conditions experienced by these Ghanaians. Walking back from the museum, you can get a great view of the harbour.
After grabbing a bite to eat at a local Subway, we then took the metro back to the station closest to our hostel, Rådmansgatan station. As a Brit growing up with the London Underground, I felt compelled to take the metro and make some comparisons. If there is anything in particular I miss from the London underground it’s the “Way Out” signs, “Exit” just doesn’t have the same effect.
We stopped off at our nearest coop for supplies, and then started getting ready at our hostel for the night ahead, and were again joined by the Australian girls. We took the subway once more and seeked out a place to experience Stockholm’s nightlife in the south of the City. We entered one of numerous sports bars (the Swedes really are obsessed with their ice hockey) and in the basement there was a long bar, a poker table and most importantly for us, a dance floor. Upon arrival, we quickly noticed the Erasmus Student Network banner, and it seemed that we had coincidentally coordinated our trip with the ESN’s own adventure. Some serious shapes were made on that dance floor, in particular to our group’s anthem, the Macarena, which had also been our morning alarm throughout the trip. Trust me, it works!
After an inevitable trip to McDonalds at some time after 2am, it was time to hit the underground once again. and then it was a short walk home from Rådmansgatan station to our hostel.
The last day of our trip meant that we had to check out of our hostel by 11, so we left our bags with the hostel and proceeded to Sveriges Riksdag in another attempt to get on the English tour. Again the English tour was full, and with the amount of tourists around I wasn’t surprised. We therefore embarked on the Swedish tour. Although I’m pretty sure all of our fellow tourists spoke English, our tour guide still insisted on giving the tour in Swedish, and therefore we didn’t really understand too much of what she was saying. I think we Brits take it for granted how well Swedes and other Europeans speak English, and the pace at which Swedes naturally talk still remains a challenge.
Despite this, the Swedish Parliament tour was fantastic. It sits on its own island overlooking the old town and you can get a great view from the rooms that circle the perimeter of the West Wing. There are dozens of portraits of past prime ministers and senior figures lining the galleries, and some very interesting architecture. The make-up of parliament is quite different to that of the UK, with 8 parties represented in the Riksdag, while turnout rates are as high as 85% for general elections. Hence, Sweden is known internationally for its strong democracy and reputation for transparency. As you can see, the main chamber looks very different to the Houses of Commons, with the layout and decor much further aligned to the European Parliament.
For lunch, we found this very quaint and cosy cafe in the old town, serving paninis, lasagnes, traditional cakes and most importantly coffee. On one of the main roads in Stockholm resides a very addictive gaming store, which us guys were very keen to visit after lunch while Macarena and Elena did some shopping.
Before we knew it, it was early evening and so we picked up our bags from the hostel and found a good pizza place to eat, and then headed to Stockholm’s Central Station for our return trip home on a sleeper train which would get into Lund as the sun was rising.
All in all, it was a ‘mycket bra’ weekend in Stockholm which will live long in the memory.