Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seizing Stockholm!

Stockholm - The Windy City of the West...

That's right, Stockholm turned out to be a rather windy stop on my adventure, and i don't think that politics had anything to do with it. I was blown away not only by the forces of nature, but also by my distant, unrelated Swedish cousin Charlotte, who my Uncle had put me in touch with. She had just returned from a 4 month adventure in India and shares my passion for travel!

-- Funny side story - Prior to meeting Charlotte, I had only seen one picture of her and knew that she was middle-aged with red hair. So, I go up to the lobby of my hostel at the pre-appointed time to meet her and i see this lady sitting alone as if she's waiting for someone...and she has red hair! So, I kinda slowly approach her and make eye contact and she reciprocates my inquisitive looks. And I say, "Charlotte?" and she nods and gets up and steps toward me and I say "Hello, I'm Michelle. Nice to meet you." And she kinda smiles and says something unmemorable and I lean in and embrace the woman as if I've known her all my life. Then we sit down and make small talk and before I know it, she is asking me where someone is...Some guy of whom i have no earthly idea...And I must have looked ridiculously confused, so I cleverly say, "I don't know." And within 20 seconds, the man who apparently is with her comes in the lobby and says that he found the people they were looking for. Talk about AWKWARD! We both looked at each other, smile, and laugh nervously and she gets up and proceeds to leave with her "real" person. Haha...afterward, I just sat there with the hugest grin on my face chuckling inside at my error and the fact that I will just hug anyone, haha! --

Luckily, a few minutes later the real Charlotte arrives and she is younger, prettier and more energetic than my former "Charlotte" and I am ever thankful that Charlotte #2 is mine! We went to the waterfront that night for a nice & pricey (not to be confused with the "nice price" menu at Burger King) meal on a floating restaurant. This meal was basically the equivalent of what I had hoped to spend in 2 days...but sometimes life calls for being flexible and I just opted for enjoying every savory moment. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, rain was in the forecast and we ended up back on the shore for an after dinner tea under heat lamps and fleece blankets. At this point, I couldn't help but question my decision to come to such a mild climate during summer (my fave season). But Charlotte's warm and cheery demeanor lifted my spirits and dissolved any doubt. She was a blast to be around and has lived a fascinating life full of travels and adventure. I walked away a bit jealous of her experiences, but also encouraged and motivated for my own adventures ahead!

Day 2 - Began with a tour of the Stockholm City Hall Tower. It was quite a beautiful thing. Not only are there 3 internal observation balconies, but you can also continue up to the top and outside to get a 360 view of the city central, which was quite the sight! Despite the fantastic view, I didn't stay out there long because the winds were pretty ferocious, it was cold and my nose was pretty much a leaky faucet. I snapped some quick photos and made my way down the winding brick maze.
After the City Hall Tower climb I finally gave in to the Scandinavian fetish for hotdogs and feasted upon a French style hotdog. Basically, it's a baguette with a hole in the middle in which they pour your condiment of choice (mine being ketchup) down the hole first and then insert an oversized hotdog. So basically, after you eat all the way to the bottom, there is no meat left and I found myself eating just bread and ketchup (which is fine with me b/c I loooove that sweet red stuff)! And of course, I washed it down with a Coke Light!

Next I was off to tackle the Vasa Museet (museum) - home of the Vasa warship built in 1628 that sunk in the Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage, and not salvaged until 1961. This impressive museum was one of my favorites from the trip b/c the museet was built around the ship and they have done a rather impressive job of engaging onlookers in the boat's rich history. The whole time I was there I just really wanted to reach out and touch was so big and just looked like it came straight from the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean"!

Finishing up the Vasa, I headed to nearby Skansen - the first open air museum and zoo in Sweden. It was founded in 1891 to show the way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era. All that being said, I particularly wanted to go this night because every Tuesday of the summer Skansen hosts a live TV show called "Allsong" in which a celebrity singer performs and interacts with the crowd and it's taped live. So, after wandering around Skansen checking out the cute little cottages and interesting animals like peacocks and long-haired guinea pigs, and meeting a family from Northwest Indiana, I made my way over to the stage to catch the rehearsal. It was a pretty cool thing to witness. Mostly young teenagers and families were packed into the outdoor amphitheater and it was good people watching. I just sat back and watched and listened and was delighted when the one song I could understand came on..."I Love Europe", yep that's right...I just beamed and sang along! I had planned to meet Charlotte that night and go over to her place so i could have an opportunity to see how Swedes really live. She had a quaint pseudo 2 bedroom place with a small kitchen, bathroom and no living room (bc her Greek roomate occupied what was once a living room that now had a door). She treated me to homemade punch (sprite, fresh lemon and kiwi, and something else) and some yummy snacks. We sat out on her balcony forever (it stays light until midnight) and shared pictures and stories wrapped up once again in our fleece blankies. It was another great night in a great city!

Day 3 in Stockholm, was a loooong and busy one! I was off to a late start due to the dungeon room I was staying in and had to walk twice as fast as normal to get to the docks to catch the 1130am Historical Boat Tour. After making the boat, I enjoyed gliding slowly through the water while listening to the headset tour in English, although slightly bummed that the guide was a recording. I did learn some super important things about Stockholm though, like that Ace of Base, ABBA, and the author of "Pippy Longstalking" are all from Sweden...and I'm sure there were other less interesting tidbits I missed :)

Next I had my sights set on a lookout tower called Katarinahissen or Katarina Lift, which takes you to a perch that extends 38 meters over the waterfront overlooking Galma Stan (Old Town) complete with breathtaking views. From here I spotted the youth hostel that is on a boat and decided that was a good point of interest and I'd be stopping there later. Making my way down from the lift around lunchtime, I noticed a rather long line at this particular food vendor stand. Realizing that it was probably locals on their lunch break I decided to follow suit and get me some Scandinavian they say..."When in Rome...". It turns out that all the fuss was for something called NYSTEKT Stromming. I quickly figured out that they served fish (the sign was in the shape of a fish) despite having a menu strictly in Swedish. I was forced to go off the not too aesthetically pleasing food photos. Perhaps it was my fondness for Mexican that swayed my decision but I decided to go with the "Stromming Rulle" (roll). Let me just tell you...this thing was huge, rivaling a Chipotle burrito and was filled with seared or fried fish patties, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, sprouts and herbs all mixed together. Quite a lot going on there if you ask me. But overall, it was quite tasty and filling and I felt local:-)

This particular day, 6/25/08, happened to be quite lovely in respect to weather so I got gutsy and broke out the Birkenstocks for the first time of the trip. I was relishing the sun and decided to cop a squat and get in some good reading of the book I had brought with me (The Glass Castle - quite an amazing read).

My next stop of the day was the boat youth hostel, but this idea proved rather disappointing - the hostel was only accessible by tenants and thus I was shut out of my planned mini-adventure. So, I headed on to my next boat tour, the Royal Boat Tour, for some additional laid back entertainment. On the way, stopping at the Swedish Tourist Office (headquarter) acting confused so that I could use their restroom for free, hehe (i was tired of paying to use the restroom!). On the Royal Tour, a most interesting God Incident occurred...I had been kinda lonely that day and prayed that God would bring someone in my path to hang out with. And low and behold a few minutes later I am waiting in line for the boat ride right behind an American girl with a Purdue shirt on! I immediately strike up a conversation with her and find out she is from Indiana and is in Scandinavia for her friends wedding. So, I sat by Thelma (new friend) and her friends during the tour and before long we found out we were both taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour on June 30th to Bergen,NO and staying at the same hostel that night!!! How crazy and amazing is that??? We parted ways after the tour and exchanged info so we could get in touch on our next leg of the trip!

That night I stopped in the hostel to check email and met a nice Texan from Austin. We chatted a bit and I invited him to watch the semi-final futbol game (Turkey vs. Germany) with me, Charlotte and her college friend. We went to a Spanish Tapas restaurant by her place and all enjoyed the game and camaraderie, despite the multi-minute lapses of game footage due to power failures, lol. During these periods we had to listen on the radio in Swedish and Charlotte would interpret :) As it turned out, Germany won (to my dismay) and they were on to play Spain in the finals. It was a fabulous last night in Stockholm, and I was ready to press on to Norway the next day!

BTW...Stockholm was my favorite "big city"! Especially Galma Stan...I just loved the narrow cobblestone streets and pastel row houses - very quaint!