Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011 - Stockholm Stay

Year 2011 started of a bit slowly in Melbourne with not very clear idea of when we can start our travel, as Paddy managed to break his foot. Also, the New york assignment for January did not happen as we hoped... The result was a few stints at Stockholm to experience all 4 seasons :)

January 26 - to Early April Stockholm - Leaving it till late January, did give the foot a chance to heal, so Paddy could actually wear proper shoes and  not the open toed CAM boots, to get exposed to the peak winter of Stockholm with temperatures never crossing the -20

Street scape of Stockholm in Feb
Finally arrived in a very white Stockholm on January 26 , Luckily, it was sunny :) we were prepared for very very short days, but it turned out better, and the snow actually made everything look beautiful The only problem was that we had to really be covered head to toe, and still feel cold. It was a mild -20C , but got used to the layers very soon. The apartment complex was lovely with some nice views of the harbour. The other good news was the food... In 1994 when we first visited Stockholm, vegetarian food implied that the meat actually came with a side serve of vegetables.  However, on very first day, we just wandered into a sandwich place for a quick lunch called 'Sandy' and found about 4 or 5 vegetarian options of wraps, sandwiches and such.

View from our apartment Window
The same night found a quick and cheap all you can eat vegetarian place with a OK option of vegetarian food that was a bit bland but quite good.  The views from our apartment was also really gorgeous and we had a lovely time. Another lovely thing abut Stockholm we found was the language... Yep you had to just hesitate for  micro second and immediately the English came out. All TV was also in English with Swedish sub titles, made it a lot easier in a way, though made learning even a little of Swedish very difficult. Result is after spending almost 5 months in total here our Swedish is limited to hey hey, hey Do, and tak tak :)

The first real effect of a winter storm was felt on our wedding anniversary, February 11th  It was strange watching the snow swirl around in the balcony when we were inside. It was so bad, that the buses could not run that morning. Also, could not get any taxis etc. So were forced stay at home for Paddy, with the main entertainment was to watch the snow clearing vehicles clear the bus depot to get the buses out :) This meant Paddy could  get to work around 1pm.
Only trouble was he had to walk with his dodgy foot from the station that evening :) 

BUT we were not going to let the weather spoil it for us, in fact the snow made the place almost magical and loved the Gamla Stan with its narrow paved lane-ways, and snow covered roofs and the lovely warm cafes,  and another wonderful vegetarian place called hermitage. Our first attempt on the Archipelago tour got abandoned as the ice breaker could not cut through the ice enough to leave the harbour, and only made the ferry move sideways.. We also enjoyed the first ice hockey game and it was good fun. Loved the way the players were introduced with music and the general vibes in the hall.  

The ice Bar
The other memorable trip was to the Vasa museum which was amazing. Saying that the two of us, who usually last about 30 mins in a good museum spent an hour and half here tells you a lot about the way the ship is preserved and the amount of info about it.  Another visit that was a bit tacky nevertheless an experience I will not forget was visiting the ice bar in Stockholm. This is a bar made entirely of ice, right down to the bar tables, and glasses, and yes they lend you these stylish ponchos and gloves :) 
Winter highlights of Stockholm 
  • The days are much longer than I expected, and it was nice to have daily sunlight hours increase by about 15 mins each day.
  • Watching the little pre-schoolers that were made to walk in their cute little snow bunny outfits to the park, where they used little frisby like disks to Toboggan down the tiny slopes Made you understand , why most swedes we saw were looking fit and non flabby.
  • The absolutely white landscape that could not distinguish where the land ended and the water started

As the weather began to thaw in March, walking in the park had a different feel, now instead of slipping and sliding on the snow/ice, there was slush everywhere with the snow melt. The paths started to look very wide :) 
We visited the Skansen but it was still a bit too cold for the animals to come out of hibernation. Did manage to see a few rein deers, and bears that were a bit lazy and sleepy...   Managed to do the Archipelago tour and noticed that there was still a lot of ice floating in the Baltic sea. 

Also visited Sigtuna ,  a cute little town which is claimed to be one of the oldest twos in Sweden and has been a town for more than 1000 years. It was snowed in, and we could not wander through the ruins of the 1000 + years churches we would have loved to. 
View of Sodermalm in spring
The highlights of spring in Stockholm?
  • The emergence of large masses of blue showing off the fact that Stockholm is actually made up of many many islands and the reason why people talk in terms of number of bridges when they talk of how far from the city they live in
  • The number of cycles that are in use and the fact that people cycle in normal work clothes/shoes, including girls in mini skirts :)
  • The parks are almost marshy and messy with all that snow melt. 
  • It is finally above 0, and girls are out in mini skirts, but to me its still colder than Melbourne winter on most days :)
The next trip back to Stockholm was at end of summer, its end of July and as the flight comes in to land, can see this absolutely gorgeous sight of green carpets and blue oceans everywhere. Its picture perfect. Suddenly we find all this day light time to make full use off. The archipelago tour of thousand islands for the whole day and it was ... well how do you describe paradise. NOW I understand why the Stockholm people put up with all those miserable days in winter, to have this absolutely gorgeous place for about three to four months. Looks like weather is never bad here in July/August. 
Thousand island Cruise
enjoying the 100 island cruise
Made full use of the long days and visited the many natural spots in the vicinity and had many hikes with packed picnic even on work days... Even managed to go on our cruise to Helsinki and that three hours through the entire archipelago on Friday evening was nothing short of Magic. The archipelago in Helsinki felt very tame after the one at this end :( 
Enjoying a picnic dinner in Brunnsviken

Summer Highlights
  • The park usage by all the sun worshippers - and swedes are not bash people and like to tan all of their bodies :)
  • The gorgeous views of blue and green where ever you go , now you could see the thousands of islands you keep hearing about
  • The long days and lovely weather to enjoy it
Our final trip back to Stockholm was not until Mid November, start of winter. This is my least favourite season in Stockholm. The days are absolutely damp and is getting shorter each day by about 15 mins :(  We seem to get about 1 or maximum 2 hours of sunshine if that, and the sun seems to be really lazy and  stays low down.  Did visit the Christmas market in Gamla Stan which is OK. The only plus I can see is the Christmas lights. You do get to enjoy their beauty for longer time frames, and the lighting is very discrete and lovely.

Highlights of Stockholm in early winter 
  • Damp and not great weather
  • Short days , shortening even more rapidly 
  • Fantastic  Christmas lighting that is discrete and lovely
  • Christmas shop windows that are unique and not like every other city in the world. 

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