Thursday 6 June 2019

Scandi Weekend: Stockholm's Amazing Metro

My lovely colleague Wendy and I spent a lovely morning exploring the beautiful Old Town area of Stockholm: the stunning and elaborate palace, the little streets, the colours reflected in the water, the cinnamon buns... I could go on.  But that's a story for another day, as Sunday afternoon proved to be considerably more eclectic.

Lunch warmed us through and we set off in search of the Fotografiska, a photography gallery. We walked there, crossing onto a new island and passing a ferry port where huge cruise ships had lined up to drop off the hoards of tourists. We didn’t actually enter the museum as we lacked the time to justify the entrance fee, but they were exhibiting Kirsty Mitchell’s amazing collection of photographs entitled Wonderland, blending fashion, fantasy and fairytales. I had seen some of these beautiful artworks before in a gallery in London and I would have loved to visit again, but sadly it was gift shop only for us, and I had to settle for flipping through the book of prints.

Wendy was very keen to visit the Ericsson globe, which she claimed was a must-see sight of Stockholm, being the largest spherical building in the world, or somesuch. I was less convinced, having googled it and found that it was simply a concert venue. There didn't seem to be much there to actually do or enjoy, and it was a solid 45 minute walk away.

But Wendy would not be denied and so I dutifully martyred myself to her cause and cheerfully complained the whole way. 

Much of Stockholm is incredibly lovely to simply stroll around, but the same could not be said of our lengthy trudge along the duel carriageway in the grey, gathering dusk. We had to divert several times, striking off into a housing estate as the route was not pedestrian friendly. Another obvious indication that VISITING THIS BUILDING IS NOT A COOL OR FUN THING TO DO WENDY!!!

We caught sight of the not-especially-impressive building in the distance, on the opposite side of the road; unhelpful as there were no immediately apparent ways to cross to it. It looked like a grubby white bubble, somewhat lit with pink lighting, and obscured by larger building-shaped buildings on a couple of sides. 

Wendy took a picture. I complained some more that we had left the beauty, calm, serenity and culture of the old town to get a picture of an unimpressive industrial estate perched on a dual carriageway.

There was basically no one there as it was closed and there was indeed nothing to do (BECAUSE THIS IS NOT A THING WENDY) Close up, you can’t even tell what shape it is.

It would be a bit like going to visit the O2 in London, if you didn’t have tickets and it was closed and you had to schlep along the M25 to get there.

In case it’s not clear, my review is: don’t go. BECAUSE IT IS NOT A THING WENDY.

Having squeezed just about as much small-minded whining as I could out of the situation, we went to locate some public transport back to the old town. This necessitated the directing of some further anger towards google maps as it persisted in lying to us about where we were and where other things were. But eventually, having missed one metro station, we found the next one.

A single ticket in the Swedish system is based on time, rather than the actual number of journeys. So if you buy a ticket, you can travel on as many buses, metros and trams as you like for the next hour and a quarter. So we decided to do just that!

I had read that Stockholm’s metro stations had been imbued with art and we were keen to see them. Because it’s actually a thing, unlike a certain grubby bubble I could mention.

We determined to maximise our hour or so, riding back through the old town and all the way to the central station. This was easily my favourite of the ones we visited as huge blue and white vines arched overhead, twining over the cave-like ceiling. In London, on a Sunday evening, the tube would invariably be packed and loitering about taking pictures would be impossible in the crush and you would be guaranteed to be a huge irritation to literally everyone.

But there was hardly anyone around in subterranean Stockholm and I could play with my wide angle to my heart’s content, enjoying the cavernous artwork.

We rode the tube out west to visit another station, with a more industrial, cave-like design and then rode back east to see a red-hued monster of a station. There was an almost volcanic feel to being in its subterranean clutches and I felt the need to cast away the One Ring. But I satisfied myself with taking pictures and twirling for photos. Finally, we rode back to the Old town, alighting at Gamla Stan in search of dinner and cocktails.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If I ever get to return to Stockholm, I am going to spend loads of time riding around tube stations and no time at the Globe. 

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Exciting Adventures Around the World

As I write this, I am surrounded by cups of tea, travel guides, chocolate, naturally and notebooks of plans and lists and ideas, all of which pertain to travel. This is because, in three months, my partner Pete and I will be hightailing it out of Old London Town and spending a year travelling the world.

And I. Cannot. Wait!

I have resigned from my job, we are renting out the flat, we have been planning and plotting and saving pennies and now it’s actually on the horizon!

I say a year; in reality it will be about ten months, partly for budget reasons, and partly so that I can find a job for the new school year when we return (so if you know of anyone who needs a Maths teacher in a year, hook me up!). In that ten months, we will be taking on five continents - not necessarily the five you might think - and if you count starting and finishing in London you can chuck Europe into the mix too. We have planned a rough route, a few flights have been booked between continents, and the odd excursion planned here and there. The rest we shall make up as we go.

We have been preparing for over a year now, and I almost can’t believe that it’s nearly upon us. Taking a year out to travel has always been something of a dream for both of us, and in the end, we realised that actually, there was nothing stopping us. It will be wonderful to share the experience together and we definitely intend to really make the most of it.

We’re departing in July to take on Mexico, heading down to catch bits and pieces of Central America. Then we’ll be hitting Colombia come September and spending the next three months absorbing South America. We’ve both visited the continent before and loved it, so it will be amazing to explore more of this part of the world together. We’ve also booked a couple of once-in-a-lifetime trips to see the Gal├ípagos Islands and to visit Antarctica. If you’re going to go on a dream trip, you may as well do it right.

From South America, we’ll then be heading off to explore New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Australia before heading north into Asia to spend our final few months wandering around there. 

We really hope to be able to share stories, updates and pictures as we go, although that will depend on our internet access. Pete is building us a shiny new website and the photographer and the scrapbooker in me are extremely excited to have so many things to record and document and reflect on. 

I’ll share our web address here once it’s ready, and I will follow up before we go with a post to share how I’d like to keep a journal of the whole adventure. Until then, it’s a matter of watching the next few months tick away, catching up with family and friends as much as possible and dreaming up plans and ideas for our year away.

Here’s to dreams coming true.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If there's anywhere you think we should go, give me a shout!

Monday 22 April 2019

Scandi Weekend: Exploring Skansen

One of the most famous sights to visit in Stockholm is Skansen: a big outdoor museum and park. Wendy and I had heard good things and so we set out to explore! Google maps took us on yet another bizarre detour enroute. Fortunately, we found it anyway, but maps kept changing its mind about where we were and which direction we were headed, and we were haunted by the floating blue dot of indecision. Google maps was not covering itself in glory and I promptly decided to stick to for all future excursions on foreign shores. It’s just so much more reliable.

The sun was sinking low in the sky by this point, as being further north in Europe meant shorter daylight hours. We had half an hour until the museum’s closure, but the park remained open so we decided to head on in.

And we were so glad we did! We visited the old-style, traditional houses (and enjoyed taking numerous pictures) and you could venture inside some of them to see how people lived and worked.

Although I will say that this was slightly awkward at points: are you supposed to talk to the people inside? Poke around or stand back and watch? And most unsettling of all was the chap I mistook for a mannequin, until he moved which was both surprising and disturbing. We backed out of the house hastily.

We strolled further into the huge park, sliding on icy paths, twirling around a vintage phone box, posing with my camera in a pavilion and admiring the sunset. 

The dusk drew on and we spotted some of the animal inhabitants of Skansen. We met reindeer scraping at the snow with their hooves, seals sculling around in freezing-looking water and otters burrowing in for the night. 

It started to get dark and so we made our way out of the park and went in search of a tram. With six minutes until the next one, we did hasty battle with the machine, emerging victorious and managing to hop the tram back to T-Centralen. It was nice to watch the city lights slide by, and we successfully navigated through the station on our first try to rock up back at the Radisson Blu Waterfront hotel. 

And ooooh, it was nice! They upgraded us to a water view room which was fab and it felt good to get back in the warm, get changed into a slightly nicer outfit, and chill properly for the first time since about 3:20am. Jeepers. The minibar was obviously overpriced, but Wendy had filled her pockets with free sweeties from the hotel lobby and I had nicked a few twirls off my students the day before (what they don’t know won’t hurt them) and so we supplemented the free tea and coffee with the makings of our own minibar. #travelhack #winningatlife

Kisses xxx

P.S. Stockholm is possibly one of the most beautifully photogenic cities I have ever visited. More stories and pictures will be forthcoming shortly!

Friday 19 April 2019

Scandi Weekend: Stockholm's Vasa Museum

When Wendy and I spent our half term weekend in Stockholm, we decided to visit the Vasa museum as it had been recommended to us by several people. The Vasa museum had come recommended to us and once inside we could completely understand why: it houses a huge, 17th century Swedish ship which was sunk on her maiden voyage without ever leaving Stockholm.

For over 300 years she had lain lost and half forgotten among the waterways which divide Stockholm’s islands, but then she was fished out, drained and cleaned in one of the most impressive restoration projects I have ever beheld: 98% of the structure is original.

The structure looms out of an enormous, dim, temperature controlled vault and you can stroll around the ship as she towers over you. Massive and beautiful, it was such a brilliant experience to learn about a little of the history and see such a fantastic artefact restored to glory.

After a busy and exhilerating first day in Stockholm, we collapsed cheerfully through the door of our hotel room. However, we weren’t going to spend our precious three days holed up in our room, no matter how nice it was, so by 6:00pm sharp, we were changed and ready to head out for dinner.

Wendy had found a restaurant called Tak on the internet. The restaurant isn’t on the internet you understand; it’s in Stockholm. But it came recommended, seemed to dish up great-looking Japanese food, had chill vibes (apparently), views over the city from its 13th floor location and a rooftop cocktail bar.

She didn’t need to sell me on it, so we had made reservation for 6:15pm for an early dinner, thinking we would probably be feeling sleepy after our early start.

We wrapped up warm against the dropping night-time temperatures - despite the early hour it was completely dark - and found the right building despite being pursued once more by the floating blue dot of mystery which told us google had no clue where we were.

We rode the lift (Hiss, in Swedish, which I think is delightful) up to the 13th floor and came out into a lovely restaurant with the faint murmur of conversation, lovely soft gold decorations and tinkly music in the background.

We settled into our seats, perused the menu and accomplished the nearly impossible task of choosing a dish. The table next to us had somehow acquired miso soup which didn’t seem to be on the menu, but I determined to have some of that too. When the waitress came over, we enquired if we could get some soup; and oddly enough were told that the restaurant didn’t serve soup. They only dished up the items on the menu.

So we both ordered the chicken donburi and the waitress told us it came with a complementary starter of miso soup. Go figure; I think something got a bit lost in translation there. The food, when it arrived, was delectable: soy marinated chicken thigh with pak choi, kimchi, crispy garlic and a just-set soft egg with a gloriously runny yolk on a bed of rice and all dusted with fabulously crispy garlic. It was the idea of crispy garlic that cliched this on the menu for me and it did not disappoint!

The food disappeared rapidly and we chatted and reminisced about our day and made plans for the morrow. We also decided to make a habit of splitting dessert, following our lunchtime success.

When our dessert arrived - which we duly shared in a ladylike fashion - it was delicious and the flavours were surprisingly interesting. The base was a liqueur-soaked brownie topped with yuzu caramel, amaretto cherries, puffed rice and black rice ice cream. To die for. Or better yet, to live for, especially as the ice cream had a slightly salty, almost savoury flavour that cut through the sweetness of the other elements.

I chased my food with a pot of green tea, and Wendy ordered a fruity mocktail; but bobbing in the top were several ice cubes. Disappointing, as we have already learned that Wendy does not like ice in her water.

Dinner consumed, we wandered up to the rooftop bar in search of a cocktail to crown the night. I can’t recall the name now, but mine was apple, ginger and mint-based and an impressive shade of green to boot, served in a glass with city-skyline silhouette. We sipped our drinks, looking out over night time views of Stockholm, and giggling like school girls as we texted a new boy for Wendy. Fun!

Eventually our early start began to catch up with us, and we left, Wendy casually pilfering my pretty cocktail glass as a souvenir and hiding it in her hat.

We traversed the now-much-colder city streets and arrived back in our hotel, immediately jumping into cosy PJs and snuggling into thick, white duvets. Wendy had brought a Korean face mask for us each and we crowded the bathroom mirror, applying each of the three stages and then collapsing back onto the beds to let them work as give ourselves radiant, youthful glows. Hard work when you’re functioning on minimal sleep.

As midnight approached, we set an alarm for 8:00am (may as well get up and get cracking) and I fell asleep very happily indeed.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Reminiscing about this trip is making me keen to do another European hop somewhere. Any suggestions?

Friday 12 April 2019

Scandi Weekend: Arriving in Stockholm

In February half term, my lovely colleague Wendy and I hopped a cheap flight to Stockholm to treat outselves to a little adventure in a beautiful Scandinavian city. We had to get up scandalously early (3:20 am, baby) to make our flight from LHR. But we met up and doodled around the airport, inhaling a much needed cuppa at Eat. We made a beeline for Eat actually, simply because last year on our Copenhagen trip, we schlepped around the whole of terminal 2 sizing up the options and settled there, so this time we didn’t bother checking out the competition.

I had a sensible breakfast at an insensible hour of fruit: an apple, a pear and 2 satsumas swiped from my fruit bowl at home. Which saved me a few pennies. I then chased it with a Twix which I had swiped from a student the day before. You know you’re on half term when you’re munching on chocolate pinched from one of your pupils and that there can be no comeback for a week.

A few sleepy selfies later, we were at our gate, boarding our plane and looking forward to spending the next three days exploring Stockholm.

This preamble is actually just a long way of saying: got up early, got on plane. Yay holidays. And also that it's totally acceptable to lean over people who steal window seats on planes but then fall asleep and fail to notice the most glorious sunrise.

The flight ran smoothly, there was a free cuppa (winning) and we dozed, trying to catch up on a little sleep. Swedish border control is beautifully calm and efficient, and we were soon negotiating trains into the city centre. Or at least, Wendy was. She established that we had about 10 minutes to cross the airport, get a ticket and find the train. Which we did but then ran aground with the ticket machine. Almost £50 for a return to the city centre? It was literally cheaper to take a cab.

However, we somehow managed to track down a special ticket with a cheap rate and then glanced at the board to discover our train left in 3 minutes. Genius here, never one to refuse a challenge, charged down the stationary, apparently broken escalator only to have it start moving.


This caused me no small amount of surprise, not having been anticipating movement, and I high-tailed it sheepishly back to the top while Wendy laughed at me. We dashed down the correct escalator in pursuit of the train and eventually came to our platform with just under 2 minutes to spare. 1 minute 57 seconds to be precise, as the platform clock was literally counting down the seconds.

The ride to the centre was only about 20 minutes and we emerged into Stockholm cheerily and commenced battle with Google maps which point blank refused to decide where we were. After an awkward 2 circuits of the station and nearby building, the nice lady in tourist information took pity on us and directed us to our hotel. Which we had somehow missed even though it was right outside the station.

The hotel proved very nice (by which I mean there were free sweeties on the reception desk) and they looked after our luggage so that we could get out and explore. Let the adventure begin!

Shrugging off our earlier tiredness, we went in search of lunch. The weather was glorious and it was nice to be out and strolling the streets. We stopped often, cameras poised and wandered into a church: S:ta Clara Kyrka. It was beautiful and peaceful and lovely to visit.

Given that breakfast had happened at around 5:00am, I was quite peckish and so when noon rolled around, we slotted ourselves into a table at tasty burger joint, Barrels, Burgers and Beer. Wendy had found mention of this particular burger emporium in the in-flight magazine and it did not disappoint. We were the first customers in and ordered quickly, playing around with cameras while we waited. Wendy uses her phone camera to get fab pics, but tends to use apps which make me look like an anime character when it comes to selfies. A little disconcerting

The restaurant quickly filled up and before long, tasty-looking buns were placed in our path. I appreciate that no-one’s main reason for visiting Stockholm is the burgers, but if it was, you could certainly do worse.

Mine was plastered with crispy onions and jalape├▒o and sriracha mayo, and oozing with cheese and it was So. Good. And also proved that if you wish really hard and your heart is pure, burgers will come to you.

So good in fact that we followed it up by splitting a dessert burger: a chocolate muffin bun with vanilla ice cream patty, caramel sauce and chopped nuts and chocolate chips.

Having refuelled, we were ready to set out and explore properly. We pottered along to the waterfront and walked along the banks. The streets were calm, wide and incredibly clean, the air was fresh and pure, and giant, cracked sheets of ice coated the water in a mosaic of crystal. It was so lovely to be outside and on half term and we strolled along admiring the city, the views and boats we could see (and of course, Captain Teddy).

Wendy was too chicken to swim in the water - I think the floating sheet ice put her off. She doesn’t even like ice in her drinks, so if figures that she didn’t want ice in her river water either. I obviously would have swum, but I didn’t want her to get lonely. Totes. Obviously. 

We crossed over a bridge into the next island and made our way passed the beautiful building which housed the Nordic Museum and pressed on to the Vasa Museum; another story for another day...

Kisses xxx

P.S. The more I see of Scandinavia, the more I love it.