78. Accidental Cruise Ship

One of the benefits of using a Eurail pass is that there are often associated discounts, for example, ferry and bus rides where trains don’t go. After I decided on a whim to extend my Stockholm trip and head to Helsinki, I quickly discovered it would take days to take the train from Sweden to Finland, and the stretch across the border would require a bus ride as well. Plan B was to check out my ferry options on the Eurail website. There were two, and one of them (the Viking Line, no less) had an option that was overnight, and cheaper than a hostel (with the Eurail discount). Sounded like a good money saver to me!

Maybe it was because I booked in a bit of a rush, (I’m unsure why I completely missed all of the warning bells), but when the “ferry” had options for cabins, I should have realised it wasn’t your average passenger ferry. It wasn’t until I was hopping on and was greeted by dancing girls in tiny, sequinned, vegas style bikinis, with Cuban music blasting that I realised it was actually a cruise!

I went straight to the information desk to find out where I could set up camp and was handed a program of events for Cuban Night onboard, with dancers, DJs and drink deals in the multiple bars. My first stop was the cafe to find some space and take advantage of the free wifi.

Cuban night in full swing

And what a sight it was! I was at least 60 years younger than most people there, and there was some kind of bingo/quiz thing going on. It was all in Swedish or Finnish, I’m not too sure. But when the old crooner came out to sing classics, sinatra style, the hilarity escalated exponentially. His rendition of the Pussy Cat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha” was a particular highlight of the evening.

Later on I decided to check out the “nightclub” scene. I wasn’t expecting too much, so I was pleasantly surprised to walk in and find a full Cuban dance spectacle unfolding before my very eyes! Most entertaining. The costumes seemed more like they were from Rio, but that was fine. All adding to the novelty. From that moment I decided I needed to take up cuban dancing. From the look of the dancers it is a very good exercise program! Not too sure if I’d be found in those costumes though. I can tell you on very good authority that they are every bit as unsecure as they look.

I figured the best way to get festive and embrace the mood was to have a gin and tonic – clearly the most cruise appropriate drink. So clear, in fact, that it was the “cocktail” on special.

Unfortunately when the dancers were gone, some truly grotesque (as in, toothless grotesque) drunk Russian sailors quickly realised I was the only female in the bar (it was a very quite Tuesday night) and it seemed they didn’t understand English when it came to the words “F*ck” and “off” or any other variations implying they should get out of my face ASAP. So my Cuban night adventure was over as quickly as it started and I went back to the seating area to set up camp.

The reason the ferry was so cheap (45 euro return), aside from the Eurail discount, was that I hadn’t paid for a cabin, but instead just the passenger fare, which meant a small room with aeroplane style seating. There were a few people who had pushed chairs together in the cafe to make beds, and when I retired to my lodgings I found the better option was to use my jacket, a couple of jersey’s and my pack to make myself a little bed. Worked pretty well! There was one other person asleep down the back so it was nice and quiet. Unfortunately, when the bar closed it turned out the creepy sailors were also stingy like me, and came stumbling in to the little wee room. With one other person out cold down the back, and no-one else anywhere nearby, suffice to say I didn’t feel like I would be having a relaxing and quiet night’s sleep in that room. Even if I was worrying unncessarily about any sketchy behaviour, it was a prime moment to recall some helpful travel advice from my mother along the lines of ‘if in doubt, get out.’ So I packed up my bed and found a nice patch of carpet near the couple sleeping in the cafe and felt far better about the situation!

I was woken up fairly early in the morning, not so much from the sun rising, but from an almighty crunching noise coming from below. As it turned out, it was the sound of the ship forging its way through icy seas. Another fascinating experience to add to the list! As the sun rose, I went to the restaurant on one of the upper decks where they had a Nordic Breakfast Buffet for 9 euro as I watched the sun rise and the shores of Finland get closer. It was a bargain, mostly because I managed to sneak a packed lunch of sandwiches, cake and boiled eggs out of it. Win.

All in all a pretty hilarious way to travel! The entertainment was a laugh, I’ll sleep on the floor for a bargain any day (so long as there are no creeps near me) and the cafe’s and bars weren’t too bad a deal either. Sadly on the way back it was Cuban night again which made me feel a little cheated. Had my cruise been later on in the week and in peak season, or even just with some travel companions, I reckon it would have been a pretty awesome “night out” whilst also getting from A to B.

No shortage of scenic views of Stockholm and Finland along the way

77. Skansen

Skansen was a definite highlight of the Stockholm trip. Skansen is a large open air museum/zoo on the island of Djurgården. I’m growing quite fond of outdoor museums, and this one really had it all! From stone age farmsteads, the King’s holiday home to a zoo of Scandinavian animals. It was all very exciting.

A Norwegian hut, from back when Sweden owned Norway

The Scandinavian animals were great – first time I’d ever seen a moose or a reindeer. There was an owl that looked both hungover and disappointed, elks, otters, seals and grizzly beers. Lucky for me they had just recently come out of hibernation.

Not to worry Margaret, I found that disappointed owl.

As I looked in to the beer enclosure I couldn’t help but think of just how often the phrase “don’t poke the bear” has come in to my mind whilst travelling Scandinavia. In both Denmark and Sweden, I get the feeling they are very proud of their welfare system here. In Denmark income tax is 68%, 60% in Sweden, and in return (in Denmark at least) they get free healthcare and there are a lot of benefits available to almost anyone that needs them. The result of that, is that in my experience, Danes and Swedes are incredibly judgemental of homeless people. The viewpoint is that there is no reason for anyone to be homeless – the welfare system that people pay through their teeth for is so good that anyone that is still on the streets is generally a drunk/drug addict or mentally ill and refusing help. The argument is that they are there by choice. Certainly every homeless person I have ever come across has been either ludicrously drunk or crazy – many of them yelling at passengers on the bus, or continuing to ramble at me no matter how many times I tell them I don’t speak Danish/Swedish and don’t understand them. Often other people will argue back to them, and I’ve even witnessed a few hobo fights. My philosophy in these situations is always “don’t poke the beer” – if someone is clearly of questionable state of mind, making them angry is never going to work out well!

And so I found myself at a zoo, thinking about politics and economics. SUCH a nerd.

The rest of Skansen was really interesting too – like Den Gamble By in Aarhus there were a number of shops and homes with actors, from bakeries where you could by old style baked goods to a glass blowing factory. There were also stunning views of the rest of Stockholm in a few of the spots. Skansen was huge and there was a lot to see. Sadly, once again I was a victim of the pitfalls of winter travel – there is usually a huge market area with stalls that are open, but there was still plenty to see. Definitely allow plenty of time if you visit Skansen. It is also a really nice walk on the way there.

76. Cafe Fatoljen, Sodermalm

Cafe Fatoljen in Sodermalm was another excellent food recommendation, where we learned of another Swedish culinary delight – baked potatoes filled with a delicious shrimp-y, mayonnaise-y concoction. Really getting amongst the Swedish food! I accidentally ordered a salad thinking I was getting a sandwich, but it was amazing, and some welcome relief from all of the sometimes foods we had been eating!

Immediately behind the counter you can see the chefs whipping up amazing cakes, and the staff (or at least the one waitress we interracted with) were lovely. The waitress pointed out menu items, educated us on the very swedish baked potato dish, and prescribed a tea by the (appropriate) name of “Really Good Tea” for a member of the team who was feeling under the weather.

The décor was nice too, a wee touch of Andy Warhol, and Jimmy Hendrix watching over us as we enjoyed the lunch deal: anything on the menu plus a coffee or tea for 90Kr. It was places like that which really made me wonder how good the expensive places in Stockholm must be!

74. The Vasa Museum

On the way back through from Finland, I realised I had about 5 hours to kill in Stockholm, perfect to cram in another of the 100+ museums! Unfortunately my 5 hours were from 6:30am, and no museum was open before 10am, so it turned out I really had to whip through my chosen museum quickly to make by 11:15 train.

You can even see in to the wee cabin thing where the captain would have… made plans and drunk rum and other such piratical steroetypes

The Vasa Museum is one of the top rated museums in Stockholm and I absolutely understood why. The Vasa was a ship that was constructed on the King’s orders, meant to be a thing of beauty, a bastion of intimidation and ultimate show of power. It certainly achieved that purpose, but form won out over function and it sunk almost as soon as it set off on its maiden voyage in 1628. While the Swedes learned their lesson about letting the artists design the ship instead of the engineers, the ship itself was missing until the 1950s, despite being so close to the harbour when it sunk.

What it would have looked like

Once it was located, it was discovered that it was completely intact (something about the water in the Baltics preserving the ship as opposed to eroding it). After some serious planning, a very careful removal effort was initiated to float the ship to the surface in one piece. Afterwards, scientists painstakingly treated the wood with chemicals then let it dry, over and over for 9 years to preserve it, and built the Vasa museum around it to display the ship. Considering they didn’t have the kind of computer technology available that we do today, they also did an amazing job of finding traces of paint and materials in all of the artistic features to create replicas in near original colours. Almost all of the objects on board were also preserved.

Bit of 1628 action

The Vasa is a magnificent ship, and the museum itself full of all kinds of extras including videos, displays of what Stockholm was like in the 1600s, replicas of the insides of ships at the time, and a lot of information on everything from how the Vasa was originally made, to the inquest after it sank to determine who was at fault.

I found it quite amusing that when the inquest begun to implicate senior management’s decision making as the key cause for the failure of the ship (I.e. the King, the Bishop and the head of the Navy) it was all mysteriously dropped and the paperwork disappeared almost as fast as the ship itself.

There was also a fascinating replica of the iron ‘tank’ that was used to try to recover all the valuables on board at the time, as well as a visible lab on the ground floor where work is ongoing to preserve the ship/its items and historians are continually piecing the story together. It was certainly worth every cent and I really wished I had more time there!

Quite amazing how much detail is still in tact

Replicas of the detailing on the ship

73. Swedish Museum of Natural History

No shortage of stuffed animals here

The Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet in Stockholm came highly recommended, although it is a (quite expensive) subway ride out of the centre of the city. You’ll find it on the grounds of Stockholm University, which are also quite nice to have a wander around. We made the mistake of heading there on a Monday and not actually checking the opening hours. Turns out many museums in Scandinavia aren’t open on Mondays, so it is definitely advisable to check the hours before you go.

On attempt number two, it was quite interesting to explore yet another magnificent Stockholm building. Unfortunately, being the off-season, what was probably the best exhibit was closed for repairs/maintenance/whatever the museum terminology is. The exhibit in question is the famous one where you walk through a giant human body. I could see the top of his head above the door but alas! Other than that there was what could have been a quite interesting exhibit on Climate Change had it had more translations, and a tonne of stuffed animals. (As you can see I’m giving the exhibits my own super creative English names). The human evolution exhibit and giant whale skeletons were pretty good, and the highlight of the open exhibits was probably the animals-on-record covers one – a collection of old record covers that feature animals in the art. There was a fairly novel duke box too, very much in theme. I played myself Fleetwood Mac’s “The Albatross” as I perused the collection.

My favourite part was the following elephant skeleton, largely because of his accompanying hilarious story:

This poor elephant was shot in South Africa in 1844 by engineer and scientific explorer Johan August Wahlberg (not the funny bit) who gathered large collections for the museum on his own initiative (i.e. that justified his hunting). He financed these expeditions with elephant hunting, by selling ivory as well as financial support from the Museum and the Royal Academy. In 1856 Wahlberg was trampled to death by a wounded elephant. Serves him bloody right!

All in all I found it quite overrated, but if I’d paid extra (it was already fairly expensive at about $15 to get in) for the 3D Imax cinema, or the human body exhibit had been open I think my experience may have been quite different. Lesson learned – do the research, especially with expensive museums in the off season.

Lucy! The evolution nerd in me got a little excited

Excessive amount of dead birds, in my opinion... I really felt the point could have been made with just killing off the one bird

Cool interactive steam generating... thing

Look at him! Taunting me... The bastard.

Serious babes.

How to become a girl's best friend

72. Pastry Heaven

Café 60 was one of the few cafes I have ever seen that can get away with throwing a whole bunch of unrelated crap in a room, with no clear design or theme, and still look great. The theme was carried on with the food – it was practically lined wall to wall with every possible type of sandwich, pastry, handmade chocolate, dessert and cake you can imagine, and many more that you never would have. You could tell it was the sort of food where the focus was on the quality, rather than making sure the cakes and pastries look exactly how they are meant to, a la most other bakeries around. We didn’t actually get round to trying any of the amazing creations, as we were there for the amazing breakfast deal: 25kr for a coffee or tea, a juice, a piece of fruit and pretty decently sized sandwich if you are there before 10am. I definitely recommend it to anyone wanting a decent cheap breakfast. There were a million and one menu options if you wanted to upscale a bit for a few more kroner too.

71. Underground Art

As I stepped off the escalator in the Subway, it suddenly felt like I was at a very cool, niche gallery. Stockholm is famous for the modern art all through the subway system, and each station we were at had very cool and different murals all around. Some had quotes from philosophers, others famous writers. Here’s a few snappies of some of the art around the various stations.

70. Sleep in a Burial Chamber

Interhostel Stockholm sure was an interesting experience. It had pretty mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, one of which was “The room was like a burial chamber.” It was also the cheapest in a very expensive city, and in a pretty good location. We decided to chance it.

Aside from the room with no windows or ventilation, the French couple that kept leaving the door unlocked, the incompetent front desk staff, the used condom under my bed and the near communal showers it really wasn’t too bad.

69. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Tour

A huge book/movie sensation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has certainly drawn a lot of attention to Stockholm, and for some, put the city on the map. I’d read (most of) the books and seen one of the Swedish versions of the film franchise, so I thought I’d see what this tour business is all about.

Not many modern books are so precise and specific with their real life locations and addresses, so it is easy to see why tour providers in Stockholm have begun to capitalise on the franchise. However, being a 23 year old in 2012, there’s no way I’m paying for some tour when I can just do a quick google search and find the info myself. Larry and Sergey certainly provided, with numerous pages giving lists of addresses, and this particular one picked out some highlights in Sodermalm, all very close together. I must say I’m not that great a fan, but thought it could be a novel way to wander about the area. I also thought it might be a nice way to help my parents live vicariously through my adventures, as they are pretty big fans of the books, and Dad had already emailed me to ask if I’d seen the locations!

Given that the books are about rapists and murders, I figured there was no better way to wander about the locations than alone at night. Don’t worry mum, it was actually only 6pm and on the way to tracking down dinner!

Salander's Apartment

The first stop was the ‘million dollar/kroner’ apartment Lisbeth bought with the money she extorted from the caregiver that assaulted her. Actually took a wee while to find, but it seems housing in that area has all value in the location. NIce view, though. After that I headed done and past the 7-11 where she apparently lived off a diet of microwave pizzas. She must have had the metabolism of a marathon runner to also fit the book’s description of being skinny to the point of having the body of a child. At this second location, It really confirmed how ridiculous it would be  to pay anyone for this tour – a 7-11 being in the top 7 sites. Next stop was the bar she apparently hungs out with her emo lesbian friends. Turns out it isn’t really a bar at all but a German style restaurant. Not that exciting.

"The" 7-11 apparently. Because there aren't a million of them all over town.

At that point my commitment to the tour was on par with my commitment to the books and I cut it short partly through location/book number three in search of dinner.

Turns out Kvarnen is a restaurant, not a gothic lesbian hangout as the book suggests

On the way back through from Helsinki I found myself with a few hours to spare in Sodermalm from 7am-10am (nothing was open until 10) so I continued the rest of my adventure. As it turned out, I had been snapping away at the buildings around where Blomkvist was meant to live on the way to “The View.” In a particularly hilly street, these tall old buildings had bridges connecting the tops of them. Very cool.

After wondering around with my pack for a tad too long, Melqvist Kafe, supposedly where Stieg Larsson did a lot of his writing. It happened to be one of few places open and had a really good breakfast deal, so I wandered inside. It had a very cool seating area, but I have no idea how he would have acheived anything, as the tables were all benches or coffee tables… Wrote some emails there though, just to get in the spirit! Just call me the next Stieg!

Apparently there is actually someone by the name of Blomkvist living there. I felt like waaaay too much of a creep to go find out

Someone met someone at this cafe... or something...