Feeling at Holm in Stockholm

Lastly, finally, three months overdue, reflecting on the closing stop of our six-month journey…

Somehow, it was time for the very last travel day of our trip (!). Our hotel was conveniently located right around the corner from the train station in Copenhagen, so we checked out and walked over, planning to grab a small bite for breakfast before the train. We walked by the big schedule board, and there was one odd line in red that caught my eye. It was our train. And it had been cancelled. Of course.

I was immediately furious. But intent on finding a solution. We tracked down an employee who told us to hop on an earlier train (leaving in 12 minutes) to Malmö, Sweden, and make a connection from there. So we fixed up our Eurail passes and ran to hop on a train, sans breakfast. After 45 minutes and a passport check at the border between Denmark and Sweden, we got off with everyone else and waited on the crowded platform. The next train coming through the Malmö station was headed for Stockholm (whew!). It was also our original train (wait, what?). Apparently, it was only cancelled at Copenhagen for some reason, but we were able to catch that train from elsewhere. I could finally breathe again, and enjoy the train ride to Stockholm.

We were really excited to finish our journey in Stockholm of all places, because we wouldn’t be going it alone. We were staying with my college buddy, Franco, his wife Patty, and their adorable then-14-month old daughter, Rowan. They weren’t Swedish, but had been living there for a few years now, thanks to a wonderful job opportunity that brought them abroad. Though it had been a few years since I had seen Franco, this trio came through San Francisco the previous fall when Iz and I were packing up the apartment, and we all got together for dinner and had a really lovely night. So we were super excited to see them again, and experience our last new city from a local perspective with some good friends.

Franco met us at the train station when we arrived. It wasn’t hard to pick him out of the crowd, because Franco happens to be 8 feet tall. Seeing him approach in a long black rain coat pushing along a tiny stroller was the most adorable and humorous sight. We hopped on a subway/tram to their apartment. It was so welcoming being in a real home again. Great location in a young neighborhood, with balcony views of the water a block down, so very picturesque. (Also, an apology to Franco … he read every single one of our blog posts, following along our trip. No doubt he was excited to read about his inclusion, that seemingly never came. Yet three months later, here it is!)

The previous weekend had been Midsommar (which I was told was pretty much same as the movie trailer, minus all the drugs, hallucinations and horror stuff), so after Patty got home from work, they set the table with a full traditional Swedish meal to celebrate! If salty seafood isn’t entirely your thing, I promise you everything tasted SO much better than it appeared. It sorta felt like I was at a Passover table, but instead of making a charoset-maror-matzoh sandwich, it was knäckebröd (a giant, crispy triscuit) with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and tubed caviar (okay, creamed smoked cod roe). I don’t know if I’m giving it its due diligence, but trust me when I say, everything tasted so so good, and we all enjoyed eating so so much.

We drank shots of akvavit, a cardamom & anise-flavored liqueur, while Franco and Patty regaled us with their best attempts at traditional Swedish drinking songs. We learned that while cheers-ing in Sweden, you do not clink glasses; you simply raise your glasses, make eye contact with everyone at the table, and say “Skål,” and enjoy. And for dessert there was a traditional cheese pie … which might not sound like it was necessary, but once we tried it, well, it was gone. The food was all gone. It was nearly 11pm, we were just finally slowing down our eating, and it was still bright as day outside.

Patty warned us that the sunlight comes barreling in through the windows early on, but luckily, Isabel turned me on to wearing a sleep mask, so we were both more than covered (thanks again, Melatonin)! The next morning, and each morning after that, we sat with Rowan while she ate. I don’t have any photos or videos, or particular stories, but just take my word for it that it provided endless entertainment and was thee cutest thing in the history of the world.

After a late breakfast and her post-lunch nap we set off for some sightseeing. As our luck would have it, Franco had spent a few months giving guided walking tours, and showed us around (he was quick to point out that it had been a while, and he was hazy on 50% of the details… but he could’ve said anything, and we would’ve taken it as gospel)! This was three months ago and the finer details are now a bit lost on me, so let’s do with some show and tell!

From a side entrance to Stockholm’s Royal Palace, there is a free museum exhibit, showcasing royal clothing, items and paraphernalia from the kingdom’s storied past.

The exceedingly picturesque Gamla Stan, the Old Town, is one of Europe’s largest and best preserved medieval city centers. It’s also where Stockholm was founded, back in 1252.

Stortorget, or Grand Square, is the oldest and most historic central plaza of Gamla Stan.

The final stop on our sightseeing tour was a memorial dedicated to Roul Wallenberg. I’d never heard that name before, but I’ll be hard pressed to forget it from now on. While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944, Wallenberg issued protective Swedish passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as official Swedish territory. He saved the lives of 120,000 Hungarian Jews. Yet his own fate would not be so kind. The very next year, he was called in to a Soviet office for questioning, and was never seen again.

Having spent our afternoon sightseeing and learning about Stockholm’s history (I didn’t even get around to mentioning the Stockholm Bloodbath), we built up quite an appetite. Luckily we had reservations to dine with Patty at the supremely delicious and incredibly named Rolfs Kök. I don’t quite recall what it was that we ate, but I remember it was unique as hell, and f%&#ing delicious:

The next day, Isabel and I journeyed out on our own to the Vasa Museum. Franco had mentioned the Vasa Museet (Museum) several times … explaining that he had been there on many occasions, letting on that it was very cool and interesting, happened to be the most visited museum in all of Scandinavia, and strongly recommending that we not look anything up and go into it totally blind. Which was easy for me, because I had absolutely no idea what it could be.

The museum is dedicated entirely to the Vasa, a warship that sunk while leaving harbor during its maiden voyage in 1628. Construction ordered by King Gustav, he brought in the finest wood from one nation, the strongest rope from another, and brought in masterful ship designers from all over. It was very tall and very long, yet mind-blowingly narrow. The ship’s exterior was painstakingly decorated with ornaments and designs, and also held way more weight in battery and personnel than intended. Pulling out of harbor in front of thousands of onlookers who had all either been a part of or witnessed its construction over the past two years, it survived the first gust of wind without toppling over. But not the second. Thirty people onboard perished. Experts today say it would have sailed without any problems had it only been one meter wider.

Though sunk and shipwrecked just 1300 meters offshore, it remained there, unable to be salvaged … until it was finally successfully lifted out of the sea in 1961, after 333 years submerged underwater. Today it stands restored with 98% original parts, in the Vasa Museum. Along with the mighty ship itself, the museum includes a 20-minute documentary, free guided informational tours, historical recreations and virtual simulations. It’s a fascinating subject and a beautifully curated museum, truly a must if you’re ever in Stockholm.

After our educational outing, it was time for a fika outing. In Swedish culture, a coffee and cake afternoon break is deemed so essential, it has its own name!

Upon returning to Franco and Patty’s apartment for dinner that night, we brought in some pizza … Two of them, to be exact, which we totally finished off. They were gigantic, and one was a gyro pizza. This sounds like something that I would normally be really excited to try, yet ultimately disappointed by. Not the case. It was positively transformative.

If I hadn’t already mentioned it, and you’ve never been nor looked at a map, Stockholm is an archipelago. The capital itself is a group of 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges. There are more than 220,000 islands in all of Sweden altogether. On our last full day of our travels, we all ventured back in to town one more time. We took a ferry boat out to the small island town of Vaxholm. It was adorable.

Upon arriving home, in lieu of dinner, we went all in on the great Swedish tradition of lördagsgodis. lördagsgodis means “Saturday candy.” Way back when, in an attempt to curtail Swedish children’s sugar intake, it was decided that kids could only enjoy candy on Saturday. But on that holiest of days, they could enjoy however much they want. Naturally, every corner grocery store has a wall of pick-and-mix bins.

You can bet your bottom dollar Iz and I engaged in local customs all right. That’s what world travel is all about!

Finally, sadly, it was time to say goodbye. To Franco, Patty and Rowan … to Stockholm … to our 6-month trip. It was hard to believe it was really and truly over. Even now as I write this three months later, it’s difficult coming to terms that it’s over, and equally hard to fathom that it was only three months ago. This entire year has been such a wild ride. We both have so many thoughts and emotions about our trip, maybe we’ll put together a full trip reflection post … maybe we’ll even get around to it before the year is out.

Our first three months of 2019 we were in Southeast Asia. Entirely new for me, many a return for Isabel, a world away from life as we knew it in San Francisco, totally out of our element. The next three months we traipsed around Europe, ticking off an offensively long list of places, seeing more than most would hope to accomplish in a lifetime of travels. The last three months hasn’t been any less of a whirlwind … We landed in New York and stayed with my parents, flew down to Raleigh to sign a lease on an apartment, then back out to San Francisco to stay with Isabel’s parents, see friends again, get out stuff out of storage and pack a POD shipping container, then flew out to Raleigh to unpack and set up our home. Now Isabel’s in full swing with her classes, working on her masters, and I’m three weeks in to a new job. And we’re working on making Raleigh our new home.

From one adventure on to the next.

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