Stockholm in a Blink

So we decided to take a weekend trip to Stockholm. We bought tickets at the last minute and ended up with fewer train options than we had anticipated. We ended up on a 5:10 on a Friday afternoon/evening. The train was sloooow or at least it felt like it. The train was also not too comfortable. We had 4 seats facing each other. We were expecting a table but no such thing. Somehow I expect things to be super design-y and sleek in Scandinavia.  Both Nayyar and Noor had a viral infection, so I had both of them sit next to each other- so as to limit the germs. Abbu and Noor kept each other entertained throughout the journey.

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We reached Stockholm past 9 o'clock, grabbed a cab, and checked into the Miss Clara Hotel. I had booked the hotel based on reviews and the austere design of the hotel. We had two superior corner rooms. The rooms were austere, yet luxurious, and extremely functional. The hotel was a girls school at the turn of the century, and was later converted into offices and then this hotel, and somehow it reminded me so much of the convent in Karachi where I went to school. 

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The room was bright with lovely light. I must have taken a hundred pictures of the window and the bed. 

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The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel. It was the usual mix of breads, yogurt, museli etc. There were some delicious fresh fruit juices including blueberry. The first breakfast of any vacation is always my favorite part. The trip is still full of possibilities, and any disappointment has not yet set in. There is also the prospect of exploring a new city which is always thrilling. 

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The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel. It was the usual mix of breads, yogurt, museli etc. The stand out feature was a variety of  fresh fruit juices including blueberry.

After breakfast we headed out to Gamla Stan. The hotel was quite lovely, but the only downside was the location which was a bit away from the main sights. It was a 20 minute walk to get to Gamla Stan. On the way, we appreciated the church located opposite our hotel. The interior was ornate yet simple. Olaf Palme is buried in its graveyard . It was interesting that his tombstone had only his signature engraved in it. Noor clambered all over the graves. Also, of note, we visited the church on Sunday as well, and it was empty save a choir of 15 people. In contrast a church in the USA would likely have had at least some congregents.

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Gamla Stan was as lovely as I expected it to be. There were  quite a few tourist buses parked outside the royal palace so I had my trepidations about the presence of wall-to-wall tourists. However, it turned out to be not too too bad. Everywhere one turned, there was gorgeous ochre color and yet another stunning alley. The central square called Stortorget is absolutely lovely. The entrance to the Nobel Museum is in the same square. There are cafes on two sides of the square and a central fountain. There were a couple of street performers ( of all things-a Mariachi band!) but other than that, just tourists milling about. We had lunch at one of the cafes - the type which appeared to be a tourist trap - and turned out to be one. 

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After lunch, Abbu and I went to the Nobel Museum. While fascinating, it was more of an interactive display rather than a traditional museum. To me, the most fascinating were the pictures of  all the laureates that were moving around on a carousel on the ceiling. The pace was slow, so if you missed your favorite, you would have to wait another 2 hours for them to come around again. We were particularly excited about looking up Malala and Prof. Abdus Salam. Malala's shawl that she wore when she spoke at the UN was part of the exhibit.

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We walked around Gamla Stan and ended up at cafe Osterlanggatan 17, which was highlyrecommended by our hotel. The setting was enchanting; a whisp of a sunlit cobblestone street looking out onto a fountain. We elected to sit outside. Noor played across the street at the fountain while we ate. She would join us intermittently, but was otherwise busy exploring the fountain. There was a Swedish family sitting next to us. The mother seemed to have stepped out of a J.Crew catalogue. She was also eating without appearing to chew her food. While they ate, their toddler played in the street with literally a piece of rope stuck to a pen. The street did have some traffic, so I was a little envious of how calm the mother was with the toddler running around there. I cannot imagine this scenario in the US without getting the stink eye from some other parent. 

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The food at the cafe was very good though a bit on the expensive side. We ended up having tacos and ice cream ( each  tiny taco was 85 SEK!) . The bread was brought to the table in a paper bag..... and it was heavenly- the bread I mean.  There was a youngish man sitting behind us. He was regaling his companion with nonstop conversation which included bits about " nuclear physics", "Phd thesis", and "Pakistan nuclear bomb". Most fascinating except the companion barely responded. We dawdled at the cafe because it was so so lovely. Finally we got up, explored a bit more, and then walked back to the hotel. Gamla Stan definitely  requires another visit-perhaps even in the early hours when it is likely quiet and atmospheric. 

After a much needed nap, we headed out for dinner. The hotel had recommended a fusion Asian place called Farang. We were told that it was casual and family friendly. However, when we walked in, it had a very adult vibe. The main dining room was cavernous and dark with what appeared to be dressed up people having dinner. This was around 6:30 ( the Swedes seem to eat early).  We were offered a spot at the bar which was in the front of the restaurant. This turned out to be perfect. We were the only occupants of a communal table. There was another family with a stroller adjacent to us, so we felt perfectly at home. The food was exceptionally good. We over ordered but managed to do justice to it. 

After dinner, we took a cab to Sodermalm to see the sunset, which turned out to be quite spectacular. We walked along the waterfront and then across the Slussen bridge to Gamla Stan, and finally home for an early-ish ( 10pm)  turn-in.

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The next morning, after breakfast we walked to the waterfront again and over to Skeppsholmen, which is a car-free island. It was a cloudy and grey day- quite chilly. We stopped for coffee at a waterfront cafe opposite Hotel Grand. Then we headed back to the hotel, packed up, and left for the train station. I was looking at all the destintations on the departure board and could only pronounce one name: Gothenburg. The train thankfully was a bit more updated than the one we had taken on the way over. In just over 4 hours, we were back home. 

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I must say that after we got back, Gothenburg seemed small and provincial. Stockholm, we will be back!

Copenhagen

So we have moved to Gothenburg. The big step was taken! I have taken a LOA from work, pulled Noor from her school, and boarded a flight to Gothenburg. My initial impressions of Gothenburg were mixed. Lovely greenery, some interesting architecture, a laid back vibe, and yet somehow not exactly what I expected. The first weekend, we took a  trip to Copenhagen to see how the other half lived. We boarded a bus to Varber ( no direct trains because of construction) and from there, a train to Copenhagen. The journey was fairly short and we reached Copenhagen in cloudy conditions with intermittent rain. We had rented from @airbnb and found ourselves in a rather quirky, but lovely apartment. It was clearly owned by creatives.

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After a brief respite, we set out to discover the city..and what a city! We walked to the waterfront via Nyhavn canal. The place was plastered with tourists. It is funny how we complain about tourists when we ourselves are one. But, we prefer to call ourselves travelers! Our host had been kind enough to leave us a list of adult food places that were kid friendly. So we found ourselves headed to Copenhagen Eats. It is a lovely location on the waterfront. Industrial space that has been converted to a food court of sorts. One finds food from all over the world there. I headed straight to the tacos while Nayyar had a shawarma! Noor had a Nutella crepe followed by a falafel sandwich. I have told Nayyar that he can have his own blog about all the places where he has found and eaten Shawarma. During lunch, there was a family  sitting across from us. They were visiting from South Africa and were being regaled by stories by a young friend who had moved to Copenhagen a few months ago. We listened in. It was quite entertaining.

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After lunch, we sauntered over to Stroget, which is a pedestrian only shopping street. It was packed with tourists. It rained intermittently, so we kept on ducking under awnings. We were umbrella-less as always. At least I had a rain jacket with a hood. We observed the locals sautering in the rain- unconcerned. We walked into Hays, which offers one of the classic views over Stroget with its central Stork fountain. We bought a ruler for Noor. I think I was more excited than she was. Everything was impeccably designed. I felt like buying up half the store. What is it with travel and shopping? 

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After puttering around some shops, we walked into a bakery, grabbed some bread for next day and had a coffee before heading home. We wanted to go to a Vietnamese place called Tonkin, which came highly recommended by our host , but it was closed. We ended up getting some really good Indian take-out from Cave. 

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The next morning, we had breakfast at home. The bread was the densest, nuttiest bread I had ever eaten. It was quite good. Now I know how they make the open-face sandwiches. The bread is so dense, it holds all that stuff with ease. The weather was lovely; bright and crisp. But as we left the house, it started to drizzle. Thankfully it was very short lived.

 

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We walked around and slowly made our way for lunch at Cafe Norden in Stroget. The cafe is in a lovely space and filled to capacity. It was recommended on a blog. We ordered a The smørrebrød which was quite good. We had ordered pasta for Noor, but she ended up getting a "kids lunch" which was quite bogus ( fruit, yogurt smoothies, and fries).

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After lunch, we headed to the Rundetaarn. It is a 17th century tower located inside central Copenhagen. The spiral walkway is quite interesting for walking up. The light from the windows was just lovely-a photographers dream. The views were not bad either. Once you make your way to the top, you have to walk up a narrow flight of stairs to the viewing balcony. It was worth the squeeze-past to see the views from the top. It also gives one an idea of how compact the city center is.  Noor, of course, climbed the boundary fence at the top. 

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Afterwards we stopped for ice cream and just mulled around listening to street musicians. We went back home for a short break before heading back out to Copenhagen Eats for dinner. Noor was starving and cranky and wanted plain spaghetti for dinner. Thank God, we found a place at Copenhagen Eats for Noor's pasta. Th woman who prepared the pasta measured it out with her bare hands. I wonder how that would fly in the US. Nayyar has a Thai something something which he said was just okay.  We walked back afterwards, admiring the late evening view over the water and the Nyvahn canal. I think the canal was not as charming as I had expected because of all the tourists and their associated kitschiness ( notwithstanding the fact that we are also tourists).

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The next day we had a train back to Gothenburg at 4 pm. We decided to make a day of it at Tivoli, which is right across the train station. We took a cab to the station, stored our bags- which process took 20 minutes to understand- and headed across the road to Tivoli. There is an entrance fee. You have to pay separately for the rides. Noor was all excited about her first ever roller coaster ride. We walked in and of course it started raining. We waited for the shower to pass and then headed to the roller coaster, which was of the vintage variety. It took us another 20 minutes to figure out how to pay for the rides (one has to buy tickets at kiosks that are scattered all over the garden). Noor and I got on. I think I had more fun than Noor , who was a little frightened to see her mother screaming SO loudly. We went a couple of other saner rides ( balloon ferris wheel which was meant for younger kids, and a kids version of the the Golden Tower, called Panda). Noor had a ball on the Panda and went twice. We had lunch at Tivoli ( the best shawarma in a while). We went back for seconds. Afterwards we lounged in  the sunchairs in a post-prandial stupor. Before we knew it, it was time for our train back to Gothenburg. Copenhagen, we will be back!

Mexico City

chaotic, vibrant, incredible!