Though the virtual world connects people in distant places and the internet facilitates sightseeing, the essence of travel is secreted through the sense of touch.
Fortunately, before the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic that put cities in lockdown, I took advantage of an inexpensive deal and flew to Stockholm. The experience of taking cheap flights has taught me two lessons: First is that the timing and destinations of cheap flights are mostly awkward, and second is the cost in terms of money and time is actually greater than normal flights that land at main airports.
For some people, the adventurous nature of traveling or the instinct to explore is higher than the cost of travel. Whatever the reasons, traveling is essential because it helps to broaden our ideas of others.
Every penny counts. So by being an organized, punctual and well-informed tourist one can save both money and time. But to find goldmines, one must be adventurous, an explorer and open to learning new things.
I flew with Ryanair and landed at Stockholm Skavsta Airport on a freezing and rainy morning in October. For a moment, I thought I made a mistake but slowly I realized that everything happens for a reason, and all weather has its own appeal.
The next moment, I saw Karin, my journalist mate, host and a guide in Sweden. She drove a Saab, a Swedish car. I asked her what else is very Swedish. A simple answer was to wait!
We had to drive to Orebro through Stockholm, so everything was well organized. That’s a cool feature. After a short drive, we stopped at Nykoping, a small village surrounded by a park and a graveyard, where her grandmother is buried. The word "nya" is also in Urdu and it means the same – new.
Surprisingly, I learned how a few European traditions are common in Asia. Karin stood silent to pay homage to the deceased before Christmas. In Pakistan, most people visit graves on Eid’s and on Fridays. Ah! Of course, no matter how well the graveyard is kept, its residents don’t talk.
On the way to Stockholm, though the weather was windy and pouring, spectacular landscapes, countryside, passing by villages, historic buildings and a skilled way of storytelling made the journey memorable.
By the time we reached Stockholm, the capital of Scandinavia, I realize the choice to come in the winter wasn’t that bad. Stockholm is a city of festivals, fashion, music and art. Honestly, all seasons are fabulous to discover it. Although, we had only a few hours to reconnoiter Stockholm as I planned to come back for a weekend after the Orebro visit.
Considering the short time span, the glittering and compact Island of Gamla Stan, the old part of Stockholm, would be an ideal place to begin your walk. Notable sights include the old colorful buildings of the 16th and 17th centuries, besides the medieval Storkyrkan cathedral, Stockholm Palace and 14th century well-preserved Den Gyldene Freden (The Golden Peace) restaurant that still functions.
Like many European cities, besides royal sculptures, Stockholm also recognizes its associated scholars, poets, artists, politicians, civil and military figures whose statues are erected on the city’s prevalent major pathways, buildings and parks.
While wandering in the old part of Stockholm for a few hours, I recognized the city’s vibrant and luxurious lifestyle and its historic grandeur. The colorful and ancient buildings are surrounded by the calm river, which acts as a mirror after the lights are switched on in these buildings. The river gives sanctuary to passenger cruises and small private boats, which add to Stockholm's beauty.
The Marten Trotzigs Grand – Stockholm's narrowest street – houses well-maintained dwellings of the 16th century. Around 35 centimeters (13.7 inches) wide, it was initially erected to stop attacks by fighters on horseback. The street was finely painted before my visit so Karin showed me a picture to show how it would have looked without graffiti. This leads to a walk-through alley and shop that sells souvenirs, wooden toys, handmade glass materials and small coffee sets.
Packed shopping malls, bars and restaurants were all signs of a hot travel destination. I briefly visited a shopping mall and stopped at a book shop after noting a Pippi Longstockings (Swedish: Pippi Langstrump) book, a fictional character of a young rebel girl who stood up for the weak and oppressed.
In just a few hours I found myself falling in love with Stockholm, because I was lucky enough to have experienced the sunset on a mild, cloudy day. We decided to continue for Orebro and left the rest of the exploration for the weekend.
I wasn’t too excited to leave Orebro, a historic and vibrant old city, but it is normal for tourists to have to move on. The city establishes good transport connections with tourist destinations across Sweden and beyond in Europe. I had an early morning train to Stockholm and if Karin had not dropped me off at the Orebro train station in heavy rain, I could have missed a lot.
As I boarded and waved my hand to say goodbye to Karin, a Swedish couple next to me offered smiles and that was enough to engage in conversation. They were part of the Orebro music lovers who were off to Stockholm for the Sunday "Harakiri for the Sky" live concert.
The train is faster, safer and sometimes cheaper if one gets a deal at Rome2rio. The eye-catching scenery, landscape and enlightening conversation raging from tourism to Muslims in Europe made the two-hour journey interesting and comforting.
Upon my arrival in Stockholm, my new Swedish friends guided me to Birka Hostel, a low-cost hotel, close to a mosque, halal food store, cafes and restaurants, and near the bus and train station.
I spotted Nils Ericson’s statue erected outside the central station surrounded by a fountain. As I walked toward Birk, I noticed a poster of a film called Unge Ahmed (Young Ahmed) on the window of a store. Later, I found it listed on the Edinburg International Film Festival in 2020, a story of a Muslim teen who attempted to kill his teacher.
I left my luggage in a Birka hostel locker and hurried to explore the city from where I had left it. The "to-do list" in Stockholm is pretty long, requiring at least a week and if possible in summer. I am a total tea lover and treated myself to a Swedish afternoon tea – fika or feekah – that is refreshing with cinnamon and cardamom baked buns. Trust me, the best place to drink fika is here.
Although Stockholm has 13 museums, I had to choose only one, so I went with the VASA – the maritime museum home of 17th-century warships – leaving behind the Nobel and Abby Museums.
After I bought my ticket, I learned that it is free for journalists upon showing their organization’s card. It is also free for youngsters under the age of 18 and senior citizens. Admittedly, I have visited several amazing places in the world, but Vasa is something beyond explanation, a must-visit place in person.
The museum purposely provides a complete tour guide beginning with the idea of assembling, sailing, drowning and finally rediscovering it. Stunningly, every single moment of the Vasa is professionally captured, well preserved and well presented.
From the life of Vasa soldiers wearing uniforms, their weapons, clothes, winter leather shoe, pegs, hand gloves, instruments, kittens, rooms, beddings and so much all on display in the sailor's corner.
A number of galleries are hosting fabulous pictorial presentations with written texts and computer screens that take visitors back in time to hear sea noises and sailors who were present on the ship. Amazingly, every stage of manufacturing the giant warship was designed in pencil works as well as in wooden crafted models, which are erected to offer a taste of the ancient past.
For those who want to have a virtual taste of the Vasa, here is its "incredible story." In Europe, around 5 p.m. in freezing winter resembles midnight, but I had to resist it. Next, the plan was to discover segments of evening life. Obviously, a memorable evening meal was on top of my to-do- list.
Walking along the pathways of Soderstrom River, I reestablished my mood that went slightly low because of rain and darkness to continue discovering early nightlife. The city hosts a few Arab and Turkish mosques and several halal food places and dining at Turkish restaurants.
It was getting dark and as the city was up to celebrate Halloween night, so I decided to get back to my hostel safely and on time. If you are planning to go to Stockholm, visit this website for news on current events. I will come back to the city of Alfred Nobel, which is just as impressive as the city of Mozart.