Scandinavia Part III - Sweden
Sweden was the last leg of our Scandinavian journey, although we did get a quick glimpse of it as we travelled from Denmark to Norway. In total, we spent a week in Sweden, half of that time was in the countryside, and the other half was in Stockholm.
Our first night in Sweden was just a pit stop on our way to Norway. We ended up staying the night in a cute cabin, just north of Gothenburg. On our way to the cabin, we made a stop to see Bohus Fortress. The fortress was so impressive. It sat on top of a 40 m cliff, and was visible as soon as you turned off the main road towards the site. There are huge walls that surround the fortress, which make it seem immense and strong. It was constructed in the early 14th century, and due to its strategic location, its ownership swapped back and forth between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. This fortress was attacked 14 times, and saw some serious damage. At the end of the 18th century, the fortress was no longer in use, and some parts of it were demolished in order to utilize the stone for other buildings. Today, it remains in a ruin state, but there are great exhibits and placards with descriptions about its history scattered throughout the fortress.
We really enjoyed this stop, and spent close to 3 hours exploring the grounds and visiting the sights. As with other places, we were so lucky to be almost the only people there, at one point I think there were 5 other people, but we really spent most of the time there all by ourselves. It was a great pit stop between destinations, and it ended up being one of our favourite stops. We could only imagine how beautiful the fortress would look in the evening golden light.
From the fortress it was a quick drive to our Airbnb cabin. The cabin was secluded, and between some forests and farmland. It felt as if we were camping, which made us miss home a little bit. Camping is one of our favourite summer activities, so we couldn’t help but think of home while we were out enjoying the wooded area. It was nice to get into nature and out of the busy city. We were also quite fortunate to be able look out the living room window of the cabin and see deer. It was quite a treat! It was a great introduction to Sweden, and we were excited to see the rest of it after our time in Norway.
Our next stop in Sweden came in early June, when we were making our way from Oslo to Stockholm. We stayed roughly half way, in a small town near Karlstad. There was really nothing to do in the small town we were staying in. We were in a cabin on a farm, and it was peaceful, quiet, and sooooo relaxing! We really loved these Swedish cabins! We had two nights here, and we didn’t do much. We played cards on our deck, watched Netflix (we’ve been re-watching Arrested Development), caught up on our blog posts, and went to see a movie. It was our first time watching a movie outside of North America, and it was pretty awesome. We went to see Deadpool 2, and it was in English with Swedish subtitles. The theatre was great – reserved seating, reclining sets, a huge variety of snacks, and the ticket prices were about the same as home. It was a fun afternoon out, as we were looking forward to seeing this movie, so it worked out great!
From the cabin we made our way to Stockholm. The drive from Oslo to Stockholm is quite boring. There really isn’t much to see, as it’s highway driving the whole way. If we wanted to have a pit stop, we found ourselves needing to look up places and then drive a few km off the highway. From the cabin to Stockholm, we decided we would stop in the town of Mariefred to see the Gripsholm Castle. We hadn’t seen a castle since Denmark, so it seemed about time to visit one!
This castle is one of 11 royal palaces in Sweden, and it is on an island in Lake Mälaren. The castle was built in the 1370’s, and in 1822 it hosted the National Portraits of Sweden and became a museum. The castle has one of the oldest and largest portrait collections in the world. There are over 4000 portraits, with some dating back to the 1500’s. It seems as though each and every one of the walls are covered in portraits, it was really kind of crazy to see so many painting!
One of our favourite parts of the castle was the theatre. This was the first time we had ever seen a theatre in a castle, so it was quite cool. This theatre is one of Europe’s best-preserved theatres from the 18th century. Back in the day, it was exclusively used for the royals in the castle. After we looked around the main part of the theatre, we could walk behind the theatre and see all of the mechanics and moving parts of the stage. It was super neat and interesting! We could only imagine how crazy it would have been to see a play here over 200 years ago.
This castle was truly interesting, and made for a great pit stop. It was one of the few castles were we felt like we had the opportunity to visit every room. By the end, we easily went through over 60 rooms, and it took us a solid 3.5 hours to see everything, including walking around the gardens outside.
We had been looking forward to arriving at our Airbnb in Stockholm for a couple weeks, and it did not disappoint. Sharleen had booked a cute place that was located in a backyard. It was a prime example of a tiny home, for anyone who has seen an episode of HGTV’s “Tiny House”. It gave us ideas for what we could settle into after our yearlong adventure. Ha, just kidding. But it was a cool little house that was laid out perfectly and made a great place to stay while visiting Stockholm. It was situated on the outskirts of the city, so we opted to buy a 72 hour pass for public transit to get downtown. We have had great experiences so far using public transit to get around the larger cities, and by purchasing day passes it allows us unlimited uses to hop around the city using the trams and buses.
On the first day exploring Stockholm we visited the Fotografiska museum, which is a collection of different exhibitions specifically about photography. This was a rather mixed experience. We would say that we 20% enjoyed it, and 80% the subject matter didn’t really suit us. There were exhibitions ranging from Linda & Mary McCartney to A New Me (showcasing a weight-loss camp in the US) to Secret Times (high end/whimsical fashion photography). These exhibitions really point out how subjective art really is. Although we didn’t really enjoy these ones specifically, we could have lucked out and saw ones that really peaked our interest. At least we learnt more about the type of art we enjoy. We then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Gamla Stan, which is the old town of Stockholm, before heading home.
The next morning we woke up early so that we could get to Drottingholm Palace before the rest of the tourists. We ended up arriving at the palace for 8:30am, 30 minutes before it opened, which let us have a wander through the gardens before the huge crowds arrived. This palace was originally built in 1580, but had burnt down in 1661 and was subsequently rebuilt in a baroque style. It is a beautiful building both on the inside and out. Our tour took us through the gardens and the interior of the building. It was full of impressively decorated rooms, artifacts, statues, and fountains. The palace is considered to be the “Swedish Versailles”, and was the first Swedish monuments to receive UNESCO World Heritage recognition. The whole place was really gorgeous, and it was nice to go so early in the morning to see it before it got very busy. Stockholm seemed to be quite busy with tourists, and this is a popular attraction, so if you visit, go early!
From Drottingholm Palace we headed back towards the centre of Stockholm. We were in search for some lunch, and had decided that we better try some Swedish meatballs. After all, we are in Sweden! After a quick Google search we found Meatballs for the People. It looked like the place for meatballs, and was in quite a hipster part of town, so it was fun to walk around and find it. The meatballs were delicious! We were there for lunch so we had three options to choose from. We decide to each get different ones so we could share them, so we settled on Classic Beef and Wild Boar. They each came with a side of potatoes and celery root, and we had access to a pickle counter to add some condiments to our plate. We loved our lunch! In fact, we returned here the next day for lunch with Sharleen’s parents and tried their reindeer meatballs. They were also super delicious!
With full bellies we headed to our last activity of the day – the Vasa Museum. We had no idea what this place was really. It has been recommended to us by a friend’s relative, and it was also one of the top must see places when we did a quick Stockholm Google search. Needless to say, when we arrived at the museum we understood what the hype was all about! This was one of Darrell’s favourite places, and was highlighted in our Week in Review: Week 6 if you want to read more details about the museum. Sharleen’s brief description was that it’s a museum all about a boat – one single old boat. That being said, it’s pretty crazy to think that this boat was brought to the surface, and put into a museum, after sinking on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was easy for us to spend 2 hours here, and we both left with such an appreciation for the science and restoration efforts that have gone into putting this massive puzzle back together.
After a long day of sightseeing, we were ready to call it quits. But, we wanted a quick coffee break. We found this awesome café Vete-Katten, which appeared to specialize in traditional Swedish pastries, and couldn’t resist a taste. After looking into it more, we realized this place is a Stockholm institution for Swedish pastries. And man, the pastries were soooo delicious! Our favourite was a cardamom pastry – it had the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. It was so good that we actually picked up two more for an after dinner snack back at our Airbnb.
Our third and last day in Stockholm was quite special, because we got to spend the day with people we knew! For the first time in 6 weeks we had other people to talk to. Sharleen’s parents were in Sweden as part of a Baltic Sea cruise, and we planned to be in Stockholm at the same time so we could spend the day together. We had an awesome time showing them parts of the city we had enjoyed – such as Gamla Stan, Södermalm, and our new favourite meatball place.
We also toured the Stockholm Palace – the Royal Palace, and current Royal Residence. It was a huge palace, and it offered us the opportunity to see things we haven’t seen before, such as crown jewels, other amazing jewelry and medals, and authentic royal clothing. Overall it was a fun place to visit, especially with our little group of people, but we probably enjoyed Drottingholm’s Palace and gardens a little more.
The rest of our last day was filled wandering the streets, taking in cool sights, beer, and souvenir shopping. It was a great way to end our visit in Stockholm and our time in Sweden. It made us excited to have more visitors down the road as we carry on with our adventure, as it was so awesome to have familiar faces to talk too – even if it was just for one day.
Our time in Sweden went by really fast. We spent more time in the city, visiting a few cultural and tourist spots. Sometimes it felt like we were on the tourist bandwagon, with the many thousands of other tourists exploring the city. Some of our favourite times were when we had the chance to explore the countryside and get off the beaten path. Overall, we really enjoyed our time here, and could definitely see ourselves returning down the road.