Sweden

IMG_4414M. and I had the chance to spend a weekend in Stockholm at the end of July with our dear friend, L., who lives in another part of Sweden. Just an hour’s flight from Riga, Stockholm was the perfect place for a quick summer getaway. Spending two days in a place barely qualifies as visiting, but with a tight work schedule and limited time, we made the most of this opportunity to get a small taste of Sweden.

Our main objective for the weekend was to catch up with our friend (sadly, her husband was unable to join us), and any sightseeing would be an added bonus. L. was a fabulous hostess and showed us a sampling of some of the fabulous things that Stockholm has to offer: the natural beauty of the Swedish coastline, a charming Old Town, diverse neighborhoods, and excellent restaurants.

With sunny, blue skies, and the cool, late summer air, we chose to spend our time outside as much as possible; thus, we didn’t visit any of the city’s numerous museums and galleries on this trip. Instead, we strolled around some of the islands that make up the city, wandered around Old Town, ducked into a few quaint shops, and, best of all, took a boat trip to get a sampling of one of the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, east of the city.

We rented an apartment for the weekend in Södermalm, a hip neighborhood (the Brooklyn of Stockholm, as L. put it), on the island of the same name in central Stockholm.  It was the perfect home base for exploring the city on foot.

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A glimpse of Stockholm’s Old Town, from the hilltop in Södermalm.

Between walking, shopping, eating, and a Sunday morning run, we covered just about every square meter of Södermalm by the time the weekend was over.

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This charming shop, called Saltå Kvarn (Saltå Mill, in English) offers gorgeous freshly baked breads and pastries, as well as a variety of organically grown and harvested grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. It was just across the street from our apartment.

My favorite meal of the weekend was a lovely brunch at Hermans Vegetarian Restaurant and Garden Café. With a wide variety of delicious plant-based dishes on offer in its buffet and a tranquil garden overlooking the water, Hermans is about as idyllic as it gets.

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A few of the many salads and side dishes that make up brunch at Hermans.

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The people who run this place are after my own heart.

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The view from the outdoor terrace at Hermans.

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This sign, wishing Hermans patrons farewell, sums up the restaurant’s relaxed, earth-loving vibe quite well.

Södermalm is a diverse neighborhood, reflective of Sweden’s constantly evolving population. Our other meals over the weekend included falafel, Thai food, and Indian food, all within about a mile’s radius of one another.

Of course, my weekend would not be complete without a run, especially when I have the chance to explore an area totally new to me. We quickly found that there is no shortage of running space in Stockholm. Paved pedestrian paths are everywhere, and though the photos don’t show it, plenty of locals were out enjoying them as well.

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This photo shows the rocky edges of Södermalm.

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The sky is almost as blue as the Swedish flag (and also matches my shirt).

Many of the old wooden Swedish houses reminded me of the wooden houses in our neighborhood in Riga, also flanked by cobblestoned streets.

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These beautiful wooden houses are near Katarina Kyrka (Catherine Church) in Södermalm).

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M. and L. pose for a photo.

One of the best things about Södermalm is its hill, which boasts beautiful views of the city, especially at sunset.

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End of July sunset view of Gamla Stan (Old Town) from Södermalm.

The island on which we spent the most time aside from Södermalm was Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town. Although Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century, most of its buildings are a bit younger, built in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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Gamla Stan’s light-colored buildings and church spires.

Paved with cobblestoned streets and alleys dotted with outdoor restaurants and cafes,  Gamla Stan was the place to be on a summer Saturday evening.

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A typical quiet side street in Gamla Stan.

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Some of Gamla Stan’s alleys offer surprise views.

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Gamla Stan’s Stortorget (“The Big Square”) shows off its iconic architecture.

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The fountain in Stortorget.

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The mouth of the fountain in Stortorget.

Stortorget is also home to the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Museum.

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The Nobel Museum is dedicated to teaching people about the Nobel Prize, Nobel Laureates, natural sciences, and culture.

On the edge of Gamla Stan sit Stockholm’s Royal Palace and Storkyrkan (Great Church).

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The Royal Palace, right, is the official residence of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. On the left sits Storkyrkan (the Great Church), built in 1279.

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The Royal Palace, on the right, flanked by the colorful buildings in Gamla Stan on the right.

The highlight of our weekend, aside from the company, was a boat trip through the Stockholm Archipelago to the small town of Vaxholm, about an hour away.

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L. and I smile for the camera as we wait to board our boat bound for Vaxholm.

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A view of Gamla Stan on the right and Södermalm in the distance as we wait for our boat to leave.

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Just as we were getting ready to leave, the threat of a storm began to appear in the sky.

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As L. had correctly told us, the best way to see Stockholm is by boat. With this panoramic view as we left the city center, I’d say she was absolutely correct!

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A dark sky hovers over Gamla Stan as we make our way to Vaxholm.

On our way to Vaxholm, we passed dozens of tiny islands, dotted with quaint homes and surrounded by rocky coastline.

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We traveled away from the storm and managed to stay ahead of it all the way to Vaxholm.

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I couldn’t get over the beauty of the islands in the archipelago.

We reached Vaxholm just in time before the sky opened up with rain, lightning, and thunder. We waited out the storm with some tea and coffee (fika, as it is known in Sweden, a concept meaning “to have coffee” which is similar to English afternoon tea) in a darling little cafe owned and operated by a friendly couple. Once the rain stopped, we wandered around the island for a while before heading back to Stockholm.

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One of Vaxholm’s main streets, with a definite small town feel to it.

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Vaxholm’s main square.

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This giant chess board sits in Vaxholm’s main square. The pieces are indeed movable!

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A typical scene in Vaxholm.

We had sunnier skies as our boat made its way back to Stockholm in the early evening.

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The contrast of the dark green trees against the bright blue sky and water reminded me of Northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

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M. and I enjoyed the afternoon on the water.

The greatest surprise of all came toward the end of our boat trip. We were in deep conversation about Swedish political and social issues when I suddenly looked up to see a beautiful rainbow stretching across the sky.

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If you look closely, there is actually a double rainbow!

Although our visit to Stockholm was brief and gave us only a cursory sense of the city, we enjoyed it immensely. We’re already planning our next visit!

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