SWEDEN – land of the midnight sun
As a holiday destination Sweden is for sightseers not sunseekers when you visit in March and the temperature drops as low as minus seven!
Having said that, unlike us when the slightest snowfall brings the country to a grinding halt, the Swedes seem to carry on regardless of adverse weather conditions.
In Stockholm, where we were staying, most of the public buildings have double (even triple) entrance doors, lockers for outdoor coats and shoe scrappers at the ready. Pavements are all covered in grit and an ice-breaker boat goes up and down the waterways clearing a passage for trapped vessels.
We travelled by easyJet from Bristol Airport with no hitches and took an expensive taxi to the Sheraton hotel which is just across the bridge from the historic Gamla Stan, the old town, one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centres in Europe.
First impressions of Sweden – beautiful, bleak and multi-cultural - well out of its 10 million inhabitants, two million are recent immigrants.
Because of climate constraints Swedish people aren't necessarily dedicated followers of fashion but where Nordic style surpasses is in the exterior and interior design of its buildings, fittings and fixtures from the country which gave us Ikea.
Everyone is friendly, and everyone spoke English including the Irish barman, Somalian/Persian/Tunisian taxi drivers, ladies from Japan and Thailand, man from Poland, family from Italy and more.
The ground and flight crews at the airport, hotel, palace and museum staff were very helpful and we gleaned lots of ‘interesting facts’.
These include Bristol airport can be busy with departing stag (and hen) parties on a Thursday, if you have an Italian designer handbag leave it at home because the metal clasps aren’t manufactured to stand the below freezing temperatures in Scandinavian countries and alcohol laws in Sweden are strict.
The lady at the palace (not the Queen) told us lots including there is much disapproval of young Russians tourists who appear ‘drunk’ early in the morning.
Night one at the hotel and in the packed bar well-heeled people, many wearing big boots and fur lined coats, queued for drinks. They were seated in a roped off area which initially we thought was reserved for VIPs.
Much to our amusement we had inadvertently joined a speed dating session for 18-30s and much to our misery we found out from table service that wine is £10 a glass and beer not much cheaper!
With only four days to act like an American tourist and see as many places as possible in the time this is what we did in order of preference:
The Vasa Museum which houses the only preserved 17th century ship in the world and many of its treasures – a no-brainer, simple the best place ever for those interested in the ancient mariner;
The Royal Palace but with more than 600 rooms we can’t honestly say we visited them all! The chandeliers and tea top tables are what I remembered most that and struggling to find the front door;
The Moderna Museet a large collection of contemporary art in a family friendly setting on Skeppsholmen island – with its post Art Nouveau outdoor sculptures to its black and white prints this is eye-boggling brilliance and a delight for any town planner;
Stockholm Cathedral dates from the 13th century and is home to several relics as well as an impressive statue of Saint George fighting the dragon;
The Nobel Museum with pegged up on high - like white sheets on a washing line - potted histories of nearly 1,000 recipients although less than impressive was only 48 have been women; and lastly and least liked
The ABBA Museum – to be fair we were probably suffering from culture overload when we got here and had left it until last as we thought it would be light-hearted and fun. It lacked music! We thought ABBA songs would sound in every orifice but sadly it was a sanitised history of the group…and it is because it is the most expensive we gave it a thumbs-down.
The ABBA museum was our only experience of blatant commercialism while in Stockholm as everywhere we went we had free wi-fi, free lockers, free water and no-one stopped you taking photographs (instead of insisting you buy expensive guide books) although flash was frowned upon in some areas.
Security in Sweden isn’t as stringent as in the UK – no bag searches going into government or tourist haunts BUT armed soldiers and police much in evidence. Only the modern art museum asked for backpacks to be handheld or fixed full frontal.
Another piece of advice I’ll share is go to Sweden for its culture not its cooking – unless you like fish.
The stable diet at breakfast was pickled herrings but the Tegelbacken hotel did serve full English alongside its continental early morning buffet.
We ate brunch by candlelight at the Chokladkoppen café on the square – very Germanic shabby chic with wax and scorch marks adorning the walls and early evening we tried the Sheraton 360° restaurant which served me overcooked duck in a salty glutinous sauce. Not good but what was good was they waived the bill for this dish.
Having said my tastebuds do not like salty dishes so perhaps I was as much at fault and my husband loved his celeriac Thai curry. For dessert Rob had French apple tart with fig sauce and I had a scrumptious cheese board with the red currants from his pudding.
Needless-to-say I had to wash it down with several glasses of Spanish Cava.
I said to the waiter: “I fear our bar bill is going to be higher than our room bill.”
He replied: “Welcome to Sweden.”
We loved the Ebenist restaurant at Stortorget, best service, best surroundings and most importantly best food and good value. Two creamy mushroom soups followed by one fish stew and another spaghetti vegetarian option at set price of £12.50 each.
The cafes in the museums were great for coffees and our favourite cinnamon cakes plus a bit of people watching.
What else did I notice – no street sleepers, too cold; no hotel doormen, too cold; and at Arlanda Airport they didn’t banish smokers outside, too cold, but provided indoor booths.
We will definitely go back both to Stockholm and the Sheraton with its comfy beds and duck down pillows but ‘in the summertime’ as the Mungo Jerry song goes with lots still to explore and we want to see the countryside.
Ironically, we arrived home to more snow as Britain is experiencing its worst winter since 1991 with more winter storms predicted.