AN AMATEUR’S GUIDE TO STOCKHOLM

Stretched across fourteen islands on the east ‘bum’ of Sweden lies the capital Stockholm, a vibrant, friendly city buzzing with tourists and residents alike wrapped in hats, scarves, and drinking expensive coffee. Welcome to an amateur’s guide, where I, an amateur traveller, talk about my experiences as I set off to new, exciting places in the world carrying not enough money and a too heavy suitcase.

This chapter, I’m off to Scandinavia again to a new capital. Earlier this month, I fell in love with Copenhagen, a quiet city with palaces, parks, and cycle roads scattered across this small haven. I knew once I had left, that I would be returning to Scandinavia within the year, and Stockholm was a place I’d always wanted to visit. It’s a vibrant city filled with culture, history, and lots and lots of food.

In & Around

Getting to Stockholm was actually one of the worst travelling experiences I’ve ever had, but don’t worry, it was all to do with me and not airlines or transport provided. So I doubt your experience would be the same. Missed trains in the middle of the night meant an expensive taxi from London Paddington to Gatwick Airport, meaning 24 hours of no sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever understood the term ‘dead man walking’ until now.

Getting around Stockholm is the opposite of a problem. There are many ways to get from the airport to the city centre. The best by far is the Arlanda Express, a quick, luxurious train that takes 20 minutes and takes you straight into Stockholm. It isn’t the cheapest option, but if you’ve been awake for too long, been stressed and had a break down while back in England, a smooth, beautiful train that takes you through Sweden’s autumnal countryside is just what you need. The trains are about every twenty minutes and run all day and almost all night. It looks like a long way, but the speed you’re going at and the comfort you’re feeling, you’ll think you weren’t riding that train long enough.

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After that, just like in Copenhagen, you’re walking. And it’s so worth it. There is a metro line you can take if you’re planning on going into the suburbs outside of the centre, but I wouldn’t use it to get to tourist attractions as they’re all so close to one another. Stockholm is also super safe and, while busier than Copenhagen, still not overcrowded and unsafe. I felt completely comfortable and safe walking around the city late after dinner out, even down quiet streets where I wasn’t too sure where I was. So don’t worry about walking to and from places at night, and people will be more than happy to stop and help you. Scandinavia on the whole is very good at cracking on with their English lessons, and even speaking to older people we found that they spoke fluent English. But, if you still want to be polite (like I was), just ask “Pratar du Engelska?”, but usually they figure it out even before you speak to them. I asked a lady in a store once if she spoke English, but I only knew how to say it in Norwegian (Snakker du Engelsk?) and she still understood. Trust me, you’ll be fine.

Doing Stuff

One of the things I loved about Copenhagen was whenever you turned a corner, you were standing in front of a beautiful, archaic palace. It’s wrong to assume that all Scandinavian capitals are the same, especially when you’ve literally only been to one, but I was quite surprised with the lack of large palaces in Stockholm. There is, of course, beautiful architecture and I could walk around the city all day, but there was nothing spectacular like The Marble Church.

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Djurgården Park from the bridge that connects Djurgården to Östermalm

One of the best things, however, was the Vasa Museum on the island of Djurgården, which is also home to many other museums and even an amusement park for young kids. Not only is the island beautiful with a walk along the harbour looking over at the rest of Stockholm, the Vasa museum is an affordable, really interesting trip that houses a real life and preserved 17th Century warship that sank on her maiden voyage. I loved it, and I’m not usually crazy about museums; it was an interesting look at Swedish maritime as well as how they preserve such a huge, practically intact ship. Also great for kids, or if you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day!

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The jewel of Stockholm is of course, Gamla Stan, one of the smaller islands but also the most touristy and dubbed Stockholm’s ‘old town’ because of it’s narrow passages and beautiful and sometimes tiny buildings. It’s almost completely pedestrianized save a road or two that go around the outside of the island, but everything is walkable so don’t worry about getting there on trains/buses/taxis. Obviously, however, if you’re disabled or have mobility issues or you’ve had a super long day and you just can’t walk around the whole of Gamla Stan, the island has it’s own stop on the metro on the green and red lines.

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It’s important to know that there are many places and public transport that are cashless, meaning that they only take credit/debit cards. I was a little concerned about this, but we were only caught out once at the front of the queue at a coffee shop. Everywhere else has taken cash no problem; sometimes that meant going to a cashier in a store instead of self-service or having to join a different queue for people not paying by card, but Stockholm does cater to people with cash. If you were just thinking of taking your card, or even a travelcard with Swedish Kronor loaded onto it, then you’re trip maybe that little bit easier.

Good Views

This is always my favourite part of going away. I absolutely adore finding the highest points in the city and taking some amazing shots with my heavy camera that I’ve been carrying around all day.

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Gamla Stan from Mariaberget

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I knew of one place that would be a fantastic place to get shots of the colourful buildings of Gamla Stan, and it was free, quiet, and easy to get to. Mariaberget is an observation point on the hillside walking deck called Monteliusvagen, which boasts incredible views of Stockholm and the river. It’s a fair walk away from any stations or bus stops and isn’t very easily sign-posted, so make sure you have google maps at the ready! It was one of my favourite places to go, and I found it was the best, maybe even the only place to go and take pictures of the whole of the city. Unfortunately, there was nowhere within the city itself to get a shot that would be completely 360, as a lot of the taller buildings weren’t accessible to the public.

Where To Stay

Gosh, each time I write one of these guides, I can never decide what to call this part of it. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

As I’m still very much an amateur and always that little bit anxious when it comes to hostels, I went for the safe option and stayed in a hostel chain that I’d stayed in in the past. Generator Hostels are, by far, not the best hostels in the world, but they’re safe, clean and easily accessible. Like always, they won top marks on location, price, and rooms. The Stockholm one was different in some ways than Copenhagen, and I would argue that Copenhagen is in fact better.

The room was much smaller, but still tried to pack in everything the 6 bed female room Copenhagen had. It meant moving around the room was difficult, and we were often in other girls’ ways. The shower and the toilet were also not separate, and the sink was inside the the bathroom, which meant if someone was in there, no one could do anything else. In Copenhagen the sink was in the room with us, which meant washing your face/brushing teeth etc could be done without locking people out of the shower and toilet. In Stockholm, if you were bursting for the loo and someone was in the shower, you were screwed (or you could just navigate your way around the hostel looking for the communal toilets, but you’ve paid for the ensuite so really, you should have access to them).

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Once again, there were no kitchens to set yourself up in, which I think is just normal for a Generator Hostel and I expected as much. What I didn’t expect was literally nowhere to eat save for the very pretentious bar/club that seemed to only sell one type of dish a day. It was always busy, with people drinking in the middle of the day with very loud music thumping overhead. There were no couches, nothing like a pool table or a place to set up camp if you needed to work on a laptop. It felt a lot more hostile unlike in Copenhagen, where there was an open space with lots of recreational places to hang out and even an all day menu which meant we could order nachos at 3 in the afternoon. We never once ate here apart from taking food back to our room that we’d bought from 7-Eleven. This also means I don’t know what the breakfast situation is like, but if it’s anything like Copenhagen, then it would be great with lots of offer. But remember to pay, as in Copenhagen we didn’t realise the breakfast wasn’t paid for until after we’d eaten it and left. I know that wherever I go next, it will not be a Generator Hostel just so I can try something new!

And that’s me done for the year. I’ve been so fortunate to have had the time and the funds to go on three trips in 2017, and it’s certainly made my year that much brighter than what was a very negative 2016. I’ve overcome so much and battled anxiety and it’s meant that I’ve been able to do stuff like this. Last year, going away with friends to a new place that I’d never been before felt like something impossible. But, if you suffer from anxiety or anything that stops you from travelling, I would definitely start off with Scandinavia. It’s safe, not busy, and not far from home (if you’re from the UK like me). Next year? I’ve plans to go to Prague, Budapest, maybe even Lisbon. Harder languages, countries further away. It’s all about taking small steps, only to then turn around and see you’ve climbed a mountain.

To next year, amateur travellers!

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On the Kindness Of Strangers

Today, I had a bad day.

Bad days, over the last few months, have been common for me. There are bad days and there are non-days which, to me, are bad days. But recently, as I’ve gained support and understanding from friends, family, and professionals, my bad days are few. But sometimes, they still creep up on you, and they can make you feel a whole lotta things that just aren’t true.

Today it was that I wasn’t good enough.

After being unemployed for a long amount of time and working on my health, going full force back into a job was never the plan unless it was the job of a lifetime. Working in my local bakery was an idea of my dad’s to slowly get me back into working life, and they only wanted me for 2 days a week.

But by day two, I was already struggling with the pace, the pressure, and my anxiety flared and I cried in front of my boss (my 21 year old boss who has her life far more together than I ever did at 21). We had a chat and she had a smoke and we shared a lot about each other in the space of a few minutes. It was nice and strange; I tend to be an oversharer but not about things so personal to someone I barely know…let alone someone who is my employer.

But it was important. We talked about mental health, and she told me that almost everyone that passed through the bakery had some sort of struggle when it came to their mental health. And while I haven’t found stigma or prejudice of having mental health issues affect me, it was very eye-opening to see how not alone I am.

I was left to take a breather, given an orange juice, and sat outside in our British heatwave until the door to the lot next door opened. Oh God, the hairdressers next door were going to see a blubbering 24 year old sat with a sad carton of Capri Sun.

I was bullied for exactly one week at school, and then sporadically when I found myself alone without a fight in me. But I remember the people that did it, I remembered what they looked like and how they acted and it contributed to I feel what a lot of girls experience during that difficult time in life; internal misogyny. While I’ve definitely unlearned so many drilled in prejudice and discrimination even of my own gender, all I could think of when I saw these hairdressers, caked in fake tan and lashes on their fag break was shit, they’re going to make me feel pathetic.

It started with them all subtly trying to get a glance at me while trying to make it look like they were just making sure not to blow smoke into each other’s faces, swapping seats occasionally so they all had a turn at sitting where they could get a good look at me and my blotchy red face. I’ve never stared at a Capri Sun so intently. Every time their laughs got loud, I shrivelled into myself. Not only had I fucked up at work, I was also getting judged for it. I didn’t need this.

“Ummm, are you ok?”

I didn’t even see which girl said it, only that a few had left and all that remained were two. I glanced over and smiled and waved them off.

“Yeah, just first day at work stuff.”

And instead of anything shitty, they moved their chairs so they could talk to me. They spoke of their experiences of anxiety and stories of their first days, cut throat practicals while studying for a qualification in hair and beauty, and how sometimes you just gotta cry and that’s OK. They told me they knew my new colleagues very well and that they were lovely and understanding, and so I had nothing to worry about. They made me laugh, and offered space in their air conditioned salon whenever it got a bit too much in the stifling bakery.

And I just got this overwhelming feeling of aren’t girls just great? It’s not a new concept that girls are always there for each other. I’ve experienced it in so many other places; nightclub toilets, queues, on the bus, but there was something so incredible about female solidarity in a non drunk, non forced situation. These girls could have ignored me, mocked me, but instead they just did so something simple that perked me up for the rest of the day. I felt shit for assuming they would be awful based on what they looked like, it’s still something I have to unlearn and not flinch at. I always try and make space for women, always assume they’re good (whereas I always *eye emoji* at men I don’t know) but even now I’ll have subconscious feelings of unease and pre-judge people.

It’s become very important to me to try and be there for strangers, to not judge and just give a little support when someone’s in need. I’ve always been that way, but when it happens to you it you make sure you are aware of it.

The kindness of strangers is mighty, and I aspire to be like the hairdressers on their cigarette break.

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