Despite the best intentions I seem to have allowed some time to pass by since I last updated. I guess I’ve just got out of the habit.
So where are we and what have we been up to?
Primarily, I guess, the news is that we took the first week of February off work and took the opportunity to go to Stockholm for a few days on the run up to my birthday. Last year I didn’t really celebrate my birthday on account of Mum dying, so this year I wanted to do something and I’ve been trying to persuade ellefurtle for some time that Sweden is a nice place to visit and that Stockholm is a major European capital where they do more than shoot stray elk and eat pickled herring.
The other reason I fancied it was to go during winter when hopefully the waters around the archipelago might be frozen and there would be some snow lying on the ground. Even on the rare occasion we get a proper winter in the UK – particularly the south, it is so seldom as to be noteworthy when the mercury drops to anything close to the seasonal average for Southern Sweden. I spent a fair while during January monitoring the weather in Stockholm and was gratified to see it varying between -7˚c and, when the wind was in the north, -20˚c. We hit Amazon and various other retailers and ensured that we had appropriate gear for the cold weather – not arctic quality, obviously, but certainly warmer than normal UK clothes – and prepared for the trip.
Of course, it rained before we got there, didn’t it? Temperatures rose to UK winter cold, which is positively balmy for the region. The snow melted and the sea and lakes thawed. By the time we got there, there were a few sheets of ice bobbing around in the harbour and we did find one sheltered corner where it hadn’t melted, but by and large…
It did snow on our last night, so we did manage to get out and have a taste of proper winter, albeit briefly.
Annoyingly, the only flights, or at least the only reasonably priced flights with airlines we are prepared to entrust our lives to, go from Heathrow terminal 5. I’d never used that terminal before and it turns out that it is pretty good and rather easier to use than I recall being the case with the other four. Nonetheless, it is still the ultimate drag getting across London by rail ands tube from Ilford (coming back was worse) and if I ever get to be in a position to decide these things, there will be flights from City Airport, so there.
The flight itself was unremarkable – unlike the pre-Christmas trip to Prague, we left on time and were not cramped into tiny seats – this flight was BA, the other was Czech Airlines. (We are never flying Czech Airlines again, unless it is a straight choice between them and Ryanair). Passport control at Stockholm Arlanda Airport was easy enough, though it is clear that Schengen, if not dead, is coughing up blood. Baggage reclaim was simple enough.
I had prebooked a return ticket for both of us on the regular bus/coach service. Unfortunately the driver was disinclined to accept the e-tickets on my iPhone, so we were left stranded until the next bus arrived. That time was spent in discussion with equally baffled information staff who couldn’t see the problem, followed by me trying to look something up on a Swedish computer, where the default language for everything was, naturally, incomprehensible to me. In the end we just waited for the next bus and that driver, having tried and failed to scan the bar codes, just punched in a couple of numbers on his keypad and let us on.
We arrived a little later than anticipated at the City Terminal in the city centre, where we were met by our friend, Niclas, who walked with us to the hotel, Hotel Victory on Gamla Stan – the old town area of Stockholm, on its own little island. We checked in and then wandered out to find beer and food.
Anyone planning to visit Stockholm could do far worse than book the Victory. It is one of a small chain of three, all based on Gamla Stan and all nautically themed: ours after Nelson’s flagship, the others being the Lord Nelson and the Lady Hamilton, respectively. Our room was small but cosy and it is the only place I’ve ever stayed where they provided the guests a small decanter of port gratis every night as a night cap. There was also unlimited, albeit make it yourself, tea and coffee available. Each room is named for a Swedish naval captain and the whole place is filled with antique bric-a-brac with a nautical theme.
Stockholm in the winter is remarkably quiet – or at least it was while we were there. The amount of traffic on the road felt more like a reasonably prosperous north midlands market town and down by the harbour, most if not all of the tours/bars etc were closed for the season, lending a similar air to off season in many a British seaside town. Away from the harbour, though, it was much busier. We only made a couple of museums – the Vasamuseet – the purpose built museum holding the restored remains of the Vasa, a warship that sank in the 17th century (and one of my favourite all time museums, by the way) and the Nationalmuseet, which is a mixture of local history from Viking times onwards with some natural history thrown in.
We avoided the Nordiska Museet, as it features aspects of Nordic (primarily Swedish) life etc and we thought it sounded worthy but tedious. We decided to leave the remaining museums until Monday, only to find that Museums in Stockholm do not open on Mondays. And the Army Museum is closed until the summer for refurbishment.
Nonetheless, plenty to see and do and lots of good walking to be had.
I think next time we go there, it will be in the summer so that we can take boat trips out and about, but I’d like to go again in winter, but when the winter is behaving itself.
A guitar museum has just opened in Northern Sweden. http://www.guitarsthemuseum.com/static/sv/ So of course, I want to go there. It is situated in such a distant corner of Europe that you'd have to be a dedicated guitar freak, or perhaps a bit potty, to go somewhere that would never occur to you otherwise for just that one reason, but we like what we like.