Yup its official – the Collinge family, being true country bumpkins, managed to get well and truly lost in Stockholm, not just once, but twice in one day! We were lucky to be there at all, as we very nearly missed our flight out of Heathrow – you guessed it, we got to the boarding gate just as it was closing. To say that we lived by the seat of our pants on our first family flight together is an understatement. Breathless, and needing the “toiletta” (well, Tim was) we made it on to the plane with seconds to spare!
Having landed in Sweden, we were met by Sara Riggare, god bless her. We would never have got to Stockholm city centre on our own. To be frank, we would have got lost just making our way out the airport! Our lodgings for the week – a rather sensational tall rigger “Af Chapman” – being the Stockholm youth hostel accommodation and very reasonably priced. (If I have described the Chapman boat incorrectly, I apologise – I know next to nothing about boats and absolutely zilch about sailing.) To say “Wow” was an understatement. She was, sorry, is, a real beauty. She must have been a stunner when sailing the Seven Seas, but these days the Chapman boat is permanently moored alongside the STF Skepsholm hostel smack in the city centre. The outlook from our portholes was over the water to Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s rather beautiful Old Town) and one of the Royal Palaces.
Our first full day in Sweden started off with a hearty breakfast over at the hostel building. Having paid for a self-service buffet style breakfast every day, I took the view that we “stock up” for the day, and much to my family’s amusement I loaded my bowl to the brim with muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit, dried fruit, milk, frankly anything which came to hand. This was accompanied by a rather large roll crammed full of numerous slices of meat and cheese. Fantastic – I wanted my monies worth and more to the point I didn’t need to stop for lunch. By the end of the week my family saw where I was coming from with this and apart from Antonia adopted the same routine, sort of.
After a hearty breakfast, we set out on foot to explore the nearby city centre. We had a wonderful day, until we came to go back to the boat. Seeing some masts in the distance, we set off thinking we were headed for our accommodation, only to find ourselves walking down a road we didn’t recognise and then had trouble finding where we were on our map. Fortunately a local dog walker kindly came to our rescue and put us right – we were headed in the direction of the Vasa Museum! (The Vasa is a 16th Century Swedish warship which sank within 1500 metres of her maiden voyage. She was retrieved from the sea bed, virtually intact, in 1958 and is now housed in her very own museum. She is an amazing feat of engineering and craft work. Beautiful, but sadly doomed from the moment her prow hit the water!)
When we finally got back to the Chapman boat it was rather late, we were meant to have been en-route to Sara’s 40th birthday party by that point. So, one hasty change of clothes and off we set to another part of town, this time taking our chance with the buses. Mistake Number 1 – we caught Bus number 65 rather than Bus number 55 and ended up in the wrong part of town. Two bus changes later and a lovely night-time tour of the City, we finally ended up on the right road, but on the wrong side and at the wrong bus stop. (The only good thing about this tour was that we “played dumb” and wandered on and off buses at free will without paying a single Kroner!) And then we hit Mistake Number 2 – I had forgotten to print out Sara’s invitation and couldn’t remember which bar the party was at! Mistake Number 3 – I had managed to leave my mobile back at the Chapman boat – so couldn’t even call Sara on her mobile to ask where the party was. After visiting about 10 rather dubious bars, including taking Antonia in to the “toiletta” of one bar for a much needed call of nature, we gave up and hailed a taxi. Mistake Number 4 – the taxi driver was Indian and had never heard of the Chapman boat. To say that I was getting rather irritated by this point is an under-statement. It was gone 9:00 at night, we were over 3 hours late to a party, my children were cold, hungry and in tears, and I was beginning to wonder what on earth we were doing in the middle of a strange city on a very cold night! To my relief the next taxi driver I went to spoke English, knew the Chapman boat, and had us back in familiar surroundings within 10 minutes, and in my view he didn’t charge much for the privilege.
The rest of the week was rather more successful – we recovered our spirits after a good nights’ sleep (and a hearty brealfast), and started off our sightseeing with the wonderful National Museum – a mere 5 minutes walk from our lodgings. On Sara’s advice we had purchased Stockholm cards, which gave us unlimited travel on the public transport, and free access to over 70 Museums and heritage sites in and around Stockholm city. Over the week we visited the Vasa (the highlight for me personally), the Modern Museum a mere stones throw from us (housing works by such artists as Andy Warhol, Salvador Dahli, as well as an exhibition by Eva Lofdahl which I absolutely loved, and works by many others), the Nordiska Museum, Skanska Zoo, the rather strangely named Tom Tits Experiment (!) (which included a 44 metre slide that my girls had great fun on), Junibacken (which was based on the works of the author of the Pippi Longstocking books – Astrid Lindgren), the Architecture Museum, the worlds biggest spherical building The Erricson Globe, and the TV tower, to name but a few. At the Globe we took the Skyview ride – needless to say my fear of heights took its inevitable grip and I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon and refused to stand up until we were safely back on solid ground. I found the TV tower not quite so daunting – maybe it was being surrounded by all that concrete! I must admit I did bail out a couple of afternoons as rest was needed if the Parkie effect didn’t come out in full force, and Tim gamely took the girls out on his own.
We also spent a rather slippery afternoon wandering the icy alleyways of the historical Gamla Stan, watched the changing of the Guards at the Royal Palace, and predictably, spent money in H&M buying clothes (well, the girls and I did anyway!). Antonia, true to form when on holiday, was also on a mission to visit as many “toilettas” as possible! This became rather expensive, as each trip cost us 10 Kroner – or £1 in English-speak. It puts a whole new meaning on the English expression “Spending a penny”! Having missed Sara’s party, we did have opportunity to catch up with the Riggare family on a couple of occasions, and our children had the opportunity to get to know each other when visiting the Tom Tits Experiment referred to before.
The week went by in a flash, and exhausted, we took our sad and rather reluctant farewell from Stockholm city. Sara’s husband, leaving nothing to chance, kindly drove us back to the airport. Determined not to run the risk of missing our flight, I managed to trick my family in to being at the gate a full hour and 15 minutes ahead of take off time! But our adventures didn’t stop there – we even managed to get lost trying to leave the car park at Heathrow – durr!
In summary, we really didn’t know what to expect, but we found Stockholm to be a beautiful city, exceptionally clean, and unlike London (which is a rather dirty noisy place) it seemed quiet and peaceful in spite of the traffic. We felt safe, even to the point of taking Elise and Antonia out to play in the snow late one night – something we would never dream of doing in the middle of London. It was -15 degrees some days, but certainly didn’t feel it. The Swedish, with the exception of one bus driver, were very polite, helpful and spoke English almost better than we could. They are also, of course, true masters of design, and we absolutely loved the furniture and spent many a happy hour trying out various chairs, sofas, etc in different swanky, chic, and somewhat expensive shops. We also discovered the Swedish love of candles – they are everywhere – I kid you not. We have a friend in the UK who is a fireman – I think he would have had a nervous breakdown by the end of the week, especially at the top of the TV tower!
I want to end this blog by saying a huge thank you to our wonderful friends the Riggare family for inviting us out to Sweden – if I didn’t have Parkinson’s we would never have met them, and to be honest it would never have occurred to us to visit Sweden without that invite. Having been once, we have all fallen head over heels in love with the country, and have definite plans to return – if nothing else to visit the Brown Bears at Skanska Zoo which were predictably hibernating when we went one rather snowy afternoon.