Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In the Land of Volvos, H & M, and Ikea

Gamla Stan
The first part of our annual Family Moral Leave (aka summer vacation) has brought us to Stockholm, Sweden.  Our primary reason for choosing to spend our vacation in Scandinavia was that it is cooler than Albania-both our friends from Mediterranean countries (who love hot temperatures) and those from cooler climates (who don't understand why we wouldn't want to be in hot sunny places) all thought we were crazy for heading north.  We arrived and immediately felt comfortable when greeted by the cooler, more refreshing temperatures.  At the airport, our fleece wearing, Volvo driving taxi cab driver looked at our short sleeve shirts and asked if we wanted heat or air conditioning for our ride into the City.  We opted for the air conditioning which resulted in his zipping up his jacket.

We've enjoyed every minute of our stay here.  Not only has the weather been perfectly cool but with our fair skin and blond hair, we've blended in better with the locals than we do in Albania.  No one has reached out to touch or kiss Sidney because of his blond hair and bright blue eyes.  As we do whenever we travel outside of Albania, we are relishing being in a more developed part of the world.  Here, sidewalks are complete, traffic laws are obeyed, and it is safe to cross the street when pedestrians have the right of way (cars even stop preemptively when the light turns yellow).  People on the streets are polite, customer service is impeccable, and no one treats you like you are a shoplifter when you browse through the stores.  Yes, it is an expensive city but you get what you pay for.

Like most European cities, Stockholm has a well developed network of pedestrian only areas which make walking and exploring the City easy and enjoyable.  Furthermore, Swedes love children and they are welcomed everywhere.  We've joined the mobs pushing "buggies" (aka baby strollers) through the pedestrian only streets of Gamla Stan where not being accompanied by at least one toddler seems to be the exception.  We spent part of an afternoon browsing through a well stocked grocery store- not because we needed groceries but rather because we could.  We've dined on Swedish meatballs, reindeer, and lingdonberries (and of course pizza) in restaurants where every table has a highchair pushed up to it.  It is a common sight to see buggies parked on the sidewalks outside of restaurants.  Waitstaff here have a relaxed attitude towards children; playing is encouraged and when Sidney broke a glass at the dinner table the waiter simply stated that "these things happen" and focused his concern on whether there were any stray shards of glass on the table.

Paying homage to Absolut
The changing of the guard
In between nap times for the entire family (because that is what vacations are really all about), we've been playing tourist and exploring some of Stockholm's most famous sites.  We watched the changing of the guard at the Swedish Royal Palace, toured the Vasamuseet where we explored the famous Vasa ship that sank twenty minutes into her maiden voyage in 1628, and spent time in the Spirtmuseum, a museum that in my opinion wins the oddest concept award.   After viewing artwork that paid homage to Absolut vodka, we visited interactive displays that alternatively took us through the various stages of drinking.  Want to experience what it feels like to be drunk?  You can do it here.  Want to experience the awful sounds and smells of a hangover?  Yes, you can do that here as well.  You can also learn the science behind alcohol consumption and diminished sexual function.  You can even purchase "supplements" to enhance your museum going experience; we refrained.  Glenn and I were speechless when we left the museum; Sidney said it was "too loud and scary."  We couldn't have said it better.

Stockholm is a city built around the water. Ferries are as vital a part of the City's transportation system as are the trains and buses.  Instead of the ubiquitous Hop on Hop Off bus, we rode a Hop on Hop Off ferry which not only brought us to the watery steps of some of the City's best attractions but also provided us with spectacular views of Stockholm from the water.  On our final full day in Sweden we took a ferry to the island of Fjaderholmarna.  Part of the Stockholm archipelago, this tiny island is both designed for tourism yet a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the cruise ship crowds that flood the streets of Gamla Stan.  In a refreshing departure from everywhere else we have travelled in Europe, nothing was in English and being American garnered us neither special attention nor preferential treatment.  We struggled through ordering lunch from a Swedish only menu (the crepes and fruit were a delightful and tasty surprise) but relished in the fact that as Americans were we just another part of the touristy crowd.  We spent the day chasing Sidney along the island's wooded paths, clambered over rocky outcrops, and took in the beautiful water vistas.  We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the refreshing air and didn't worry for a moment about the child-friendliness of the people or the environment. It was truly a perfect ending to our stay in Stockholm.

View of Ostermalm from the water

1 comment:

  1. Fun reading your views of Stockholm, just visited my college roommate and her family there last March...Such a beautiful city! and yes, as my Swedish friend's husband said, "You are either a Volvo family or a Saab family." Glad you are enjoying your vacation!