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Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Meet Cute" Stockholm - Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden 1
Drottingholm Palace, built in 1662, where the Swedish royal family has resided since 1981.

That's screenplay speak for the point in the movie when two characters "meet cute." An infinitely shorter title than "How I ran off to Sweden because a fortune teller said I was supposed to meet my future husband." For the record, the plane ticket to Stockholm was purchased before I even heard the fortune teller's prediction. But yes, there was a man involved and we had met twice before (He's my friend's friend's friend.) so I guess technically it wouldn't have been the first time we saw each other for the real "meet cute," but who wants to be technical? You want to hear a good story right?

According to Wikipedia, movie critic Roger Ebert explains the "meet cute" as a scene "in which somebody runs into somebody else, and then something falls, and the two people began to talk, and their eyes meet and they realize that they are attracted to one another."

So do I start my story at the "meet cute"? Or do I give you the background story that led to the "meet cute" in the first place? Well, since I don't want to get too personal, I will tell you quickly that the fortune teller was accurate about his age and height, but I've told you that before. She said I would meet him in mid-August, which was the date on my plane ticket. I can't remember what else she said about him, although I do have it written down somewhere. She was also right about several other things that weren't related to him, but that would require too much background story.

And because a girl can't spill all her secrets online, that's all the personal details I tell you. ;)

Recently, when I told my friend I was going to blog about Sweden and asked if he wanted a nickname, he chose "HH." For "handsome hero," he said. Ha! "Hapless hero" more like, I replied. But very well, henceforth, he's HH.

Of course, as you know, I went.

And fell immediately in love at first sight with...

Stockholm - Sweden Panorama
View of Sodermalm from City Hall.


Oh? A girl can't fall in love with a city you say? Well, Edinburgh will always be my first love but Stockholm is a close second. Now I know some of you have seen these pictures before, but I thought it was high time I did a proper travel post for one of my favorite cities.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Stockholm was built on islands located between the Baltic Sea and Lake Malaren. In the mid-13th century, a town wall was built and the streets of Vasterlanggatan and Osterlanggatan had a wall on one side and water on the other side. Later the walls were used as building foundations. In April 1407, a great fire broke out and only the Royal Palace and a few stone buildings were left standing. After another fire in 1419, an ordinance was passed requiring all houses inside the town wall had to be constructed of stone.

The greater Stockholm area has 1.8 million residents who live on 14 islands, connected by 54 bridges. I mainly explored three of those islands. Gamla Stan (Old Town) has winding lantern-lit cobblestoned streets, antique shops, ice cream parlors with freshly made waffle cones and cloudberry ice cream, old town squares, the Royal Palace, and my favorite little statue. Norrmalm, to the north of Gamla Stan, is the downtown area with hotels, shopping, and the train station. Sodermalm, south side of the city, is more residential and where we often dined.

After my friend picked me up from the airport, we had to park in Sodermalm (on the left) and walked across toward his apartment in Gamla Stan. This was my first glimpse of the city.

Stockholm, Sweden 2

On the left, Stadshuset (City Hall). The Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, economy, physiology or medicine, and literature are awarded here each year on December 10th, Alfred Nobel's death date. The Nobel Peace Prize, however, is awarded in Oslo, Norway. The reason is at the time Nobel wrote his will, both countries were united.

Stockholm, Sweden 3

One of the things we often did was simply lie on the lawn in front of Stadshuset. He frequently napped. I wrote in my travel journal and people-watched. Once I saw a Chinese tourist ask permission to take a picture of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler. I was amused, thinking of how the woman would later show pictures of her Swedish vacation to her friends in China, including one of the "natives." Swedes aren't all blonde-haired or blue-eyed though. HH's friends that we hung out with were Greek-Swedes. Stockholm is a very cosmopolitan city. The tiny local grocery store even stocked fish sauce.

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The view from city hall. On the left is Gamla Stan and across the way is Sodermalm.

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View toward Gamla Stan through a gate on the side of city hall.

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It wasn't always sunny, near the end of my stay, we got caught in the middle of a quick downpour and took shelter underneath a bridge. That pale blue building is where you can buy tickets for short cruises to explore the many islands around the harbor.

Stockholm, Sweden 9

The daily Changing of the Guard. Singular. Remember that. The ceremony started in Norrmalm with a procession through town before they reach the Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace). Each day a different regiment performed so the procession I came across was different from when I got around to taking photos of the ceremony in the palace courtyard.

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Stockholm, Sweden 11

Stockholm, Sweden 12

See? Changing of the guard. Singular guard.

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The new guard.

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More pomp and circumstance.

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My friend hated his tiny apartment, but I loved it. It was located on Stora Nygatan, in the heart of Gamla Stan. The apartment was the very top floor of an old building, up a winding staircase, with a big black iron door, that had one of those old-fashioned skeleton keys. And even then, I still had to walk up another flight of stairs to the apartment itself, which had sloping ceilings with big wooden beams across and the tiniest kitchen ever. Everything was mini-sized: only two burners, a half-sized sink, a mini-fridge. All completely concealed inside by closing cabinet doors.

Even with that mini-kitchen, I managed to make com ga Hai Nam (Hainanese chicken rice), Lasagna with Meat Sauce, French onion soup, Thit Heo Kho Voi Dau Hu (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Tofu), and Nem Nuong and Nem Nuong Cuon (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patty and Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patty Salad Rolls). Yes, it was HH at the end of my recipe who brought me back a 2-lb box of After Eight mint chocolates in anticipation of eating my nem nuong. We quickly established a routine. I explored the city while he was at work, and came home in time to make dinner. He did the dishes. Occasionally we went out. And he cooked on weekends.

The apartment's central location made it ideal for exploring the city at my leisure. Would you like to go on a virtual walking tour with me from Gamla Stan to Norrmalm?

We begin at the corner of Prastgatan and Kakbrinken, where you'll find a rune stone embedded into a wall with a cannon in front of it. The rune stone written in ancient Nordic reads: "Torsten and Thorgun erected this stone in memory of their son." Notice the tiny glimpse of the square at the end of the alley? We'll be heading there next.

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Stortorget. Stockholm's oldest square. As seen in the Hewlett-Packard commercial. Turn 90 degrees to the right and you'll see the Nobel Museum. I visited but did not take photos. The Nobel Museum is housed inside Stockholm's former Stock Exchange, built in 1776. There were benches scattered throughout the square. One evening, during one of our nightly walks, while we were stargazing, a very, very drunk Swede sang very off-key.

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In the center is the town well, where heads rolled. You thought only the French did that? In 1520, during a power struggle, many of Stockholm's aristocrats were beheaded. This was also the site of the town's pillory until 1770.

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Now we get to my favorite part of Stockholm. Stand to the side of the Royal Palace facing the obelisk, built to honor the Stockholm burghers for their support in the war against Russia (1788-1790). Look for the pale yellow-orange walls of the Finska Kyrkan (Finnish Church). Erected in 1648-1653 as a royal tennis court, and from 1725 has been the church of the Finnish parish in Stockholm. The church is small and there's a sign so you don't confuse it with the much larger cathedral beside it. Behind the Finnish church is a small courtyard, where you'll find the smallest statue in Stockholm.

Only 14 cm high, that's 5 1/2 inches for Americans, he is known as "Iron Boy." Some say he represents the orphans who had to transfer cargo from ships. I crocheted a little beanie and scarf for him. People left candy, cookies, and even a miniature pinwheel. HH and I often checked up on him during our nightly walks and the beanie stayed on all three weeks I was there. For a more current photo, Oanh of Half Way Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon, nicely photographed the new scarf and beanie I crocheted for him.

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Keep going around the corner of the Royal Palace, and the cows were on parade. Well, they were that summer anyway. They've moooooved on now. Sorry, I couldn't resist. :P

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While Norwegian Vikings are more well-known, Sweden had Vikings too.

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Osterlanggatan. Notice how the street veers upward on the right? The water used to come up to this street. Osterlanggatan was the seashore in the 12th century. In Medieval times, piers stretched out into the harbor. Gradually the land was reclaimed and those piers became streets.

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Now we leave Gamla Stan, walking past the small island that houses Parliament, toward Norrmalm.

Kungstradgarden (King's garden). This literally used to be the king's kitchen garden where vegetables were gathered for his table. Now it's a city park with coffee shops on the side and lots of people watching. The building in scaffolding on the left is the opera house. That pointing hand is a buoy. Try encountering that thing for the first time at night while it bobbed around. A little freaky.

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Playing chess in Kungstradgarden.

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Street musicians on Drottninggatan, the main shopping street. Also located just off this street, although I don't remember the cross-street, is a small Asian grocery store. If you're coming from Gamla Stan, look in the side alleys on your right side. Just in case you needed to stock up for any reason.

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Which ends at Sergels Torg. For the ladies, there were at least three H&Ms around the plaza. Behind is Kulturhuset (Culture House) where exhibitions and concerts are held. Near here, although I can't remember the street, there's a bookstore with a pretty good English-language section. In case you frequently read on vacation like I do and need to stock up.

Stockholm, Sweden 29

Hotorget (Haymarket). Daily farmer's market near the movie theatre. Below the movie theatre is Hotorgshallen, a indoor food market where I bought chili pepper, lingonberry, and cloudberry chocolates, and dragonfruit and mangosteens to bring to my uncle in Norway. This is also where you catch the bus to the ship terminal to Tallinn, Estonia.

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More cows on parade.

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And our tour ends with the Swedish Viking cow.

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You can read all Europe posts with the tag Series: Europe, but I suggest reading this particular trip in this order:
"Meet-Cute" Stockholm - Sweden
Helsinki - Finland: A Two-Night Cruise and One Day
Sigtuna - Sweden: More Rune Stones Than Any Other Town
Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) - Sweden: Beowulf and Burial Mounds
Uppsala - Sweden: Birthplace of Celsius
Tallinn - Estonia: A Two-Night Cruise and One Day
Eger and Sirens Valley - Hungary: Floral? Fruity? Woody Notes? What Notes?
Agios Georgios, Corfu Town, and Vidos Island, Corfu - Greece
Glass Bottom Boat, Corfu - Greece
Gaios, Paxos Island - Greece
Parga - Greece
Autostitch of Parga - Greece
Paleokastritsa, Corfu - Greece
Butrint and Saranda - Albania

Things to do:

Changing of the Guard in front of the Royal Palace:
From mid-May to September, the Changing of the Guard takes place daily at 12:15 p.m., 1:15 p.m. on Sundays, in the Royal Palace courtyard, Gamla Stan. The free ceremony lasts about 40 minutes.

Drottningholm Palace
You can drive there or take a boat from city hall. Regular boat services in summertime depart from Stadshuskajen (the City Hall Quay) to Drottningholm. For departure times and fares, call Strömma Kanalbolaget at +46 8 587 140 00.

Nobel Museum
The Nobel Museum celebrates all 700+ winners. Located in Stortorget, Gamla Stan.

Riksdag (Swedish Parliament):
The 349 members of Parliament are chosen in direct elections by a system of proportional representation for a period of four years. There are currently seven parties represented. At 43 percent, Sweden has the highest proportion of women members of Parliament in the world. Free daily and hourly tours during the summer.

Europe's first open air folk museum with 150 buildings. Very popular with the kids.

Stadshuset (City Hall):
The Blue Hall is the banquet room where the Nobel Prizes are awarded.

Places to eat:
Since this was prior to blogging, I didn't take photos of food. I did collect business cards for my photo album though so these are the restaurants I enjoyed. Not sure if they're still in business so please confirm before going yourself.

A la Turka
Skanegatan 80
+46 8 643 82 25

Restaurang Malaysia
Luntmakargatan 98
113 51 Stockholm
+46 8 673 56 69

Restaurant Indian Inn
Verkstadsgatan 11 - 13
+46 8 668 92 31

1 year ago today, my cousins' housewarming.


  1. Hey WC - Wonderful photos! We met a really nice couple from Sweden in Siem Reap....they were quick with a smile, and so very mellow.

  2. Sorry if this posts twice, but I was having some technical difficulties.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, from the meet cute story to the street level travel guide! I'm a total Scan-o-phile. Hubby is Danish and I lived in DK for 3 years. Nearly everyday I saw or learned something new about DK and Scandinavia. Best experience of my life.

    Anyhow, I never made it to Sweden, even though I was dying to go. We lived in Copenhagen, and on a clear day you could see Malmo. The ferry was pretty cheap at that time. Now I hear they have a bridge. For Hubby, Sweden was not exotic or far enough to bother. And he'd joke that all the Swedes would come to DK to get drunk because alcohol was so expensive there. I don't know if you picked up on the friendly rivalry between the Danes and the Swedes?

    H&M- I LOVE that store, but I'm American.

    Buoy hand and cows on parade- freaky and funny; great insight into Swedish humor!

    changing of THE guard--I think the swedes are like danes and are generally pretty casual people. But the royal family and all that seem to be the last bastion of formality? Being an American, I couldn't fully appreciate the royals. Interesting to see.

  3. thank you, thank you, thank you :-)

  4. Beautiful photos, you are soooo good!

    When you get a chance, visit my blog and pick up your Arte y Pico award, I present it to you with thanks for your wonderful blog...posted today, July 12, in case it's a few days before you get there.

  5. wow, it looks gorgeous there. thank you for the info :) P.S: the cow parade were in my city last year :)

  6. P.S: I love Edinburgh as well but it is sooo expensive there.

  7. Thank you for the tour of the beautiful city of Stockholm. I keep hearing nice things about this city, maybe it's a sign i should go there too. haha.

    And the cows were in New York last year. :-)

  8. Wow - what a fabulous tour and narrative to go with! That second photo looks like it could be a painting. I love the clear almost dreamy light you've captured. I can't believe how much you were able to cook in that mini-kitchen.

  9. Kirk,
    Thanks. I think the social welfare system keeps a lot of Scandinavians pretty mellow since they know they'll be cared for.

    So close! I can't believe you didn't visit. I could see your hubby not thinking it's a big deal, but still worth a visit. I seriously was so surprised by how much I liked Stockholm.

    You're welcome! I hope you checked again and got my correction on Stadshuset. I do so hate being wrong b/c I misremembered.

    Aww, thanks!

    I know! And the dollar is so worthless these days I don't know when I'd be able to go back. I looooove Edinburgh.

    Zen Chef,
    Oh! You must go! The city is so lovely.

    Any nice photos are purely by accident! These photos were actually from a film point-and-shoot that I had developed onto a disk. I cooked a lot in that little kitchen. Which just goes to show, you don't need a whole lot.

  10. love love LOVE the under the bridge in the rain picture.

    seriously, what a lovely way to spend a week in Sweden, and a great set up, wandering around town and then home to make a meal, and him doing the dishes. sigh.

  11. Lan,
    I spent three weeks in Sweden. It was hard to go, I was enjoying myself so much.


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