I think it was always going to be tough for the location that came after Lofoten to have a fair shot. I want to make sure I give Stockholm a fair judgement, but I also want to be honest!
We arrived in Stockholm right as it was getting dark the first night. When we went to Copenhagen, as soon as we stepped out of the train station and into the city, I was really overcome with how much I knew I loved it, immediately. (I’m writing this blog post after we have already been to Amsterdam, and *spoiler alert* Robbie and I had this same feeling walking out of Amsterdam Centraal too!). I’m a girl who can totally and easily change her mind, so even though I walked out of Stockholm’s train station (that cost us a whopping *drum roll please* $75 to ride a train from the Arlanda Airport into the city of Stockholm. Yeah, took me awhile to feel like we could even afford to breathe the Swedish air after that) and didn’t have any “awe factor,” I was very very willing to give Stockholm a chance! I have had a number of people tell me that Stockholm is their favorite place or they know someone who it’s their favorite place, so we were very excited for it!
We only spent three full days in Stockholm, which is actually usually about the right amount of time (to us) to spend in a city (and then we think you should go outside of the city to explore the rest of the week if you have the time). These three days were spent so differently than any other trip we’ve taken. We aren’t much for museums, but we went to two here that were highly recommended. And we ended up doing two walking tours of a couple different parts of the city that were about two hours each. Robbie helped me find a place to get some incredible Swedish meatballs at a traditional restaurant and the rest of the time we spent trying to stuff ourselves silly with butter and jam toast, cheese, and cereal that were all provided free at the hostel each morning so that we’d be full through lunch and only have to really think about buying enough food for one meal a day. hahaha I mean Sweden is as expensive as Iceland, people! Robbie and I need to get better at picking places to visit that aren’t so steep!
Day one we decided to go to the “Vasa Museum.” This is the first thing that pops up anytime you read about what you should do or see in Stockholm and we had a friend and an enthusiastic information counter worker both tell us it was worth a visit. And it was! We spent more than three hours there, in Scandinavia’s most-visited museum. Swede’s loved telling us that the Vasa Ship isn’t Sweden’s most proud moment in history, but they turned a crappy situation into something great by putting the ship on display for everyone now, allowing the world to be able to step back in time to the best and only preserved warship of that time period. What happened in a nutshell was in 1628, the king of Sweden was eager to show the world, and specifically Poland, how powerful they were before going into war with Poland. He ordered a massive ship be built, something like 170 feet high and 230 feet long– wooden with 700 wood carved “gods” and other images of strength and intimidation. The builders knew it was too top heavy and needed more work before it’s maiden voyage, but were too scared to have open dialogue about their concerns with the king. So, the ship set out with the entire city of Stockholm watching along the harbors to see the Vasa Ship officially set sail with more than 400 people on board it. Literally less than one kilometer into the journey, a strong wind swept through the sails and ended up tipping this enormous vessel and it sank quickly, killing thirty or so people on board! It’s really not funny, but since it’s been more than three hundred years, you gotta just laugh! So embarrassing. So it stayed sunken in the Stockholm Harbour for three centuries before getting brought out of the water. And they found that strikingly, it had been preserved so beautifully that some of the paint of the outside of the boat was still in tact in certain crevices, some of the bones of the dead bodies were still wearing in-tact shoes and everything! So in the museum, you don’t get to walk on the boat but it’s out there for you to admire and there’s a ton of cool history and facts to learn surrounding that time period to go along with it. This was really fun!
Since the band Abba is from Sweden, advertising for their Abba Museum is everywhere. Even though we definitely didn’t go in, Robbie still made us stop and take the most goofy photos of us with our faces in cardboard cutouts of the band outside of the museum, and for some reason I thought this was hilarious. I think you’ll laugh too when you see the photos.
One quick note note about the sweetest thing Robbie and I don’t want to forget. The hostel we stayed at was owned by this sweet middle aged man who also ran the whole thing by himself during the week. Robbie uses an electric shaver at home and didn’t bring it with us on our trip because even one more item in these already stuffed backpacks would have been overkill. So since it had been a month since he shaved, Robbie asked the guy if he had a recommendation for somewhere we could go to get him a dirt cheap shave. The man said he knew nowhere in the city where Robbie could go for any less than $30. Ugh! So we figured we’d wait it out and see about the next city we were in. Anyway, not to make this too long, but the very next morning, the owner remembered Robbie asking about this and brought in his electric razor from home and let Robbie use it for free!! We were just so blown away by this kindness. I’m telling you guys, the kindness of people around the world is so encouraging and wonderful. ❤
Our hostel (that we had a private room in but with no windows so it really threw our bodies off!) was centered right in Gamla Stan. This directly translates as “Old Town,” which is actually situated on an island and was the original extent of the whole city of Stockholm back in the day. Now Gamla Stan is just the Medieval, historical part of Stockholm that still holds the grounds of the Royal Palace and a ton of ancient orange and yellow “clay-looking” buildings that are mostly shops with apartments over the top of them. We decided to take the Gamla Stan walking tour of Stockholm first since that’s the area we were staying in. We had been so disappointed by the walking tour in Dublin, that we were hesitant about free walking tours (wait.. did someone say FREE? and in SWEDEN?! We’re in!), but all humor aside, Brett and Jeff told us not to give up on walking tours, so we wanted to try one again. Georgette was our guide and she was the cutest, shortest blonde British girl with the quirkiest most colorful style who had moved from London to Stockholm a little over a year ago. She said that London is literally “Sweden’s 4th biggest city” because of how many Swede’s move to London every year. Interesting! (Reminded us of the statistic that Nebraskan’s love: Husker stadium is Nebraska’s 3rd biggest city on game day! 🙂 ) She had such a great confidence about her, and she made the tour super entertaining and engaging. We loved it.
So here’s the part of the blog where I talk about interesting facts of Gamla Stan and Stockholm that I found so fascinating. A “pillar” of being Swedish is to not stand out. They actually try to blend in. When she said that, Robbie and I smirked at each other because we had totally noticed how everyone in Stockholm wore black from head to toe. Not in a gothic way, actually in a professional way. But it really did help you to spot who was a tourist and who was from there. So while there is still a “reigning” king and queen of Sweden, the whole monarch is losing relevance and so it was popular opinion that the last royalty would be who is currently throned. But I guess the queen and king’s daughter, Princess Victoria, who is an adult is SO well liked in the country. In fact there’s been petitions to make her queen right away in place of her mother because people hold her in such high esteem. Apparently she met her husband at the gym and this is just one of the “wonderful things” she’s done as princess (just being a normal down to earth girl). One more thing about Gamla Stan that we found so fascinating is that back in the 1500’s when these buildings were being erected, it was apparently a sign of wealth to have windows all over your home because there was a large tax on windows that most ordinary people could not afford. We wouldn’t have noticed had Georgette not pointed it out (and once it was pointed out to us, we couldn’t not notice them), but there are all these fake windows on the buildings. Like literally someone poorly painted a blacked-out window from paint on the concrete that the exterior was made from. hahaha Hilarious!
We grabbed a cinnamon bun from a bakery after the tour and made our way over to the Moderna Museet (modern museum) that was full of modern works of art from Picasso to Andy Warhol. We really enjoyed wandering this place. Besides the exhibitions, this modern art museum is free. Art is weird, as usual, but there were a few pieces that really intrigued us or inspired us. And afterward Robbie and I sat in their lobby drawing pictures of our own on the paper provided. My sweet Robbie is a weird and eclectic guy, so I know all the funky art really triggered Robbie to want to create. He loves getting his hands messy in any kind of art project. So even just sitting at this table with other adults using markers made him happy. He drew the weirdest art piece that was still beautiful and so well-done, as usual. That’s something a lot of people may not know about him is that he’s actually an amazing artist– mostly cartoonist but he can do anything. I love his stuff because when he draws it’s so Robbie, you know? Like I could spot one of his drawings from a mile away. It has his name written all over the style. So even though I drew also, I was more just leisurely drawing while I waited for Robbie to finish up. We taped his fun work to the wall along with a million other visitor’s works. I love that sense of community that art can leave you with.
Our last day we took another walking tour, but this time of the newer, hipper neighborhood south of Gamla Stan called Sodermalm. Apparently not even too many years ago Sodermalm was the poorest area of the city, and was even considered a slum. Now it’s a beautiful area of town, definitely the coolest part (to us but even still, it didn’t do too much for us) with old churches and restaurants and fancy shops. We didn’t love this tour like we loved the one of old town, but it was still interesting and we learned a lot. Like, did you know that Spotify is a Swedish company? Or that Swedish people are the 4th or 5th top consumers of coffee in the world, only being beat by it’s Scandinavian neighbors of Finland, Norway, Denmark, etc? They call their coffee breaks “Fika” breaks and the Swedish work day revolves around 4 Fika breaks. I have a lot of American friends who would probably love it if their work allowed them 4 long coffee breaks a day. 🙂
Unfortunately, this tour guide was especially profane and vulgar at times and gave some pretty hard-to-hear details of how Swedish people “date” and then went into how proud the Swede’s are of being the most secular country in the Western World. While standing in front of a beautiful old church, he spoke of how 80% of Sweden is convinced atheists and believe churches should be supported as humanitarian organizations over anything else. We weren’t expecting it to, but these comments immediately bummed Robbie and me out. We just felt down about it. I think partly because we seriously had had some conversations together just a couple days before about how obvious it is that the many many Europeans we have encountered and even slightly gotten to know are definitely not believers. At the mention of our own story and what God is doing in us through this trip, people have been pretty instantly turned off. And we haven’t ever felt offended by it, honestly. It really hasn’t even been something we’ve dwelled on in any way. We understand that some will get it and others won’t, but we should be giving God glory in all that we do, so we tell our story knowing it’s God’s to use, not our own. But these comments along that day’s tour, and then later my own “research” and confirmation of the information he provided on the tour, really got Robbie and me thinking how crucial it is to be praying for Europe.
It’s not common to think “Pray for Europe”, but how necessary it is!! This place is really void of bold believers and these people have nearly no one around to display examples of living fearlessly for the Gospel. We’ve thought countless times across the last month and a week or so about how crucial having our passionate community of believing friends back home was and still is to our faith! It’s been difficult not having our church home to run to and abide in and rest in each Sunday. It was definitely a happy place of ours. I’ll never forget the tears that poured from Robbie’s eyes our last Sunday at Citylight Benson in August, serving communion for the last time to our brothers and sisters before we’d take a giant pause for a few months away. The people there, not the building, but the leadership and community under the Lord have empowered us to be where we are today and we don’t take that support and love for granted, as we know it’s a direct reflection of the love God desires to show us through His people. So all that being said, we are learning to be the church, two tiny minuscule pieces of the body, for the few people we encounter on this journey. But we need your prayers! Both for Europe as a whole, to experience a revival of faith–and also for us! That we would be bold to share even when it’s being received awkwardly or hesitantly. That we wouldn’t be ashamed of the Good News.
We spent the rest of our final evening in Stockholm at Espresso House (the same coffee shop we found ourselves at several times in Copenhagen. I guess it’s like Scandinavia’s version of Starbucks. But it’s wayyy better than Starbucks both for it’s coffee but also for their food selection and atmosphere.) for five or more hours just reading our Bibles, praying, talking. It felt like the best thing we could do after just feeling bleh about the city as a whole. We didn’t hate it– by all means, it’s still a cool city. It just didn’t settle within us the kind of excitement that the city of Copenhagen brought, and so we realized our bar is set high now.
Off to Amsterdam!