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.
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.
The room was bright with lovely light. I must have taken a hundred pictures of the window and the bed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I must say that after we got back, Gothenburg seemed small and provincial. Stockholm, we will be back!