[Editor's Note] Our good friend George Tau recently visited Sweden and shares his thoughts with us. Great article, George! -Brian
When I told my friends I decided travel to Sweden for my vacation this year they could hardly believe their ears. After all, part of the reason I moved to Florida was to get away from the cold, snowy north.
I chose Sweden for several reasons. The history of the land intrigues me. I love a good Viking story and I knew I would be able to learn about the subject firsthand at the historic Vasa Museum. I wanted to get out of the States to just experience a whole new culture; to see the world from another angle, and for the excitement of going to a new place to see if I am up to the challenge of being totally displaced from everything I know. I was blessed to have made some friends in Sweden many years ago so when I told them I would be visiting they said they would be ready for me to arrive and show me a good time. With all plans finalized I packed my rucksack, grabbed my brand new passport, threw on my warmest pair of long underwear and headed for the airport.
I only budgeted myself about $600 for the trip after the price of the ticket so I had to be a bit frugal with my funds. While the exchange rate at the time of my travel was 1 SEK for every 14 cents (US Dollars) the relative price of things in Sweden were much higher than back home.
Stockholm street art
The reason for the high cost of goods in Sweden? Nearly everything must be imported. A nice dinner here in the States for $25 would cost upwards of $40. (About 290 SEK.) I was happy to find that airplane food is not as bad as everyone says it is. They kept me fed quite well. Upon my landing in Arlanda I was pleasantly surprised to find Taco Bell and Pizza Hut were there. At any point in the trip I was able to get some inexpensive and familiar food. Ordering was not problem because I soon found out nearly everyone there can speak English fairly well. I also felt it appropriate and respectful to learn a little Swedish before I left in kind. I did my best to speak Swedish at first when interacting with people. I found most locals to be very understanding and allowed me my attempt to speak their language, but it always ended in a chuckle and both of us switching to English to better understand one other.
After spending some time in the airport I got a ticket for the Arlanda Express train. A short 20 min ride later I found myself in the capital of Sweden, Stockholm. Stepping out onto the streets of the largest city in Sweden for the first time it reminded me of every big city I’ve ever been to in the States. That was soon to change. After a few hours of wandering around my friend showed up and we hopped a bus to a place called Old Town or Gamla Stan. This was the original city of Sweden set up during the 13th century.
The architecture of old town proudly displayed buildings as early as the 17th century. It is also home to a great number of restaurants, tourist shops, art studios and museums. I booked my first night’s stay at a hostel called “The 2Kroner” using Hostelworld, a website that allowed me to compare room prices for all of the hostels in Sweden, consult an interactive map for locations, and receive a very informative tourist guide to the city and book my room on the spot. Normally, when staying at a hostel you pay only for one bed and most often you share the room with several other people. It’s a great way to get to know other people traveling through the city and make new friends.
The streets of old town
I requested the two-bed room and booked both beds so my friends and I could have the room to ourselves. While hostels are a good place to meet people it’s also a lousy place to stash your gear while you go out on the streets looking for adventure. Renting both beds in the room let us leave our stuff safely locked up all for much less that the price of any hotel room you could find. We stopped at several cafés for pastries and coffee during our walk. As you can imagine, it’s very cold in winter so stopping in for coffee offered us a nice break from the freezing cold. We stopped at a few antique shops, visited a sci-fi book store, wandered by the Royal Palace for an official visit to the monarchy and then we turned in for the night.
The next day we checked out of the hostel and headed straight for the Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum is home to the largest Viking war ship ever made called the Vasa. The museum is filled mostly with relics from the war ship giving free with guided tours every few hours in both Swedish and English.
A scale model of the Vasa
Once we had our fill of the past we hopped a bus to my friend’s home where we sat and visited with her family for a bit. With generous hospitality they laid out a feast of Swedish food in from of me that included traditional Swedish meatballs, many different varieties of bread, followed up with a healthy helping of pickled herring. I was surprised to learn that there were many different ways to make pickled herring and that, in small portions, it wasn’t that bad. I also had something that resembled breakfast potatoes mixed with sardines. The different breads resembled pita bread or crackers. While sampling I took some jelly and spread a good portion of it on a cracker. I guess that’s not something the locals do because everyone started to laugh loudly. It took some convincing but I managed to get them to try it. When the initial shock wore off they nodded their head in approval of my strange American custom.
Cafeteria in the Jumbo Hostel
After spending several days with old friends and making new ones I got a buss back to Arlanda where I would spend my last night in Sweden. My flight out was at 7am so I needed to find a place near the airport that I could get to very easily, very early in the morning. Once again I visited my favorite site and booked a 2 bed room at the “Jumbo Hostel”. It’s actually a jumbo jet converted into a hostel. It was an amazing site to see. The staff was very friendly, the food was great, the cafeteria was fully stocked with treats and the rooms were immaculate. You could not ask for more. The next morning was full of sad goodbyes. After taking a connecting flight through Vienna I was back in the states in less than 15 hours.
Overall I would say that my trip to Sweden was excellent. The only thing I will do differently next time would be to go during the summer. Being a Florida resident I don’t hold up very well in the cold. Also it would have been nice to know a bit more Swedish than I did. However, if you don’t know much of the Swedish language don’t let it stop you from going!Almost everyone there knows English and all the importing signs you will need to navigate around the city will be printed in English as well. Remember, politeness while traveling will get you a long way. Now to plan my next adventure.