Eskilstuna: A Brief Stop in Industrial Sweden

A year ago, I went to Sweden and got to explore a few different places.  Part of the visit was drive into the countryside (starting and ending in Stockholm while circling Lake Mälaren) with the only planned stop on the way back was Uppsala, a charming college town not far from Stockholm.  But around lunchtime as we drove west of Stockholm on the E-20 highway, we decided to jump off the highway and find a place to eat in what seemed a large town in the area:  Eskilstuna.

I will be the first to admit that I had never heard of this town.  Not surprisingly for a non-Swede, I suppose.  It has over 65,000 inhabitants (so larger by 2.5 times than Andorra’s capital which I recently visited!).  The history of the town takes it back when an English monk named Eskil made the existing tiny town his home.  It felt a very industrial town but it was not dirty.  We passed a Volvo plant of some sort in getting there.

Its main square was pretty and very spacious but, at the time, I did not see any “café” life.

Eskilstuna, Södermanland County, Sweden, Sverige

The main square of Eskilstuna

Eskilstuna, Södermanland County, Sweden, Sverige

Looking out onto the square

However, we did find a great pizza shop (Redfellas)  on the main square after exploring first the pedestrian shopping street in the heart of the town.  Not a quaint or charming street, just a regular shopping street.  I could see Redfellas being very lively at night given its spaciousness and decor; sadly, I was not staying intown overnight.

Eskilstuna, Södermanland County, Sweden, Sverige

The old building where Redfellas is located

Eskilstuna, Södermanland County, Sweden, Sverige

At Redfellas

The town’s church, Klosters Kyrka, dating from the 1920s, certainly looked a little different than the ones I am used to and that made it interesting but we skipped checking it out as we were wanting to keep moving on our day trip.

Eskilstuna, Södermanland County, Sweden, Sverige

Looking towards Klosters Kyrka (Church)

Eskilstuna may not be a tourist destination but it was an opportunity to see beyond the well-trodden places in Sweden and peek at a “non-descript” (pardon me, Eskilstunians!) town.


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Eskilstuna, Södermanland County, Sweden, Sverige


 

 

Uppsala – Worth the Drive from Stockholm

A long weekend in Stockholm sounded like fun.  And off I went last October with a college friend, John.  While Stockholm was the focus, I have always wanted to see something of ‘rural’ Sweden:  lakes, charming homes, and lots of green.  At least, that is how I envisioned it.  So, once in Sweden, I was eager to get on the road at least for a day of driving around.  As I looked at the map, Uppsala caught my eye:  I knew it was a university town AND it was approximately 1.5 hrs away from Stockholm so not a stretch for a day trip.

The streets of Uppsala

After veering west and exploring, the day ended in Uppsala.  It was getting dark but we got to walk around the pedestrian friendly town center where we saw the university grounds, the cathedral, and the shopping district.  Being fall made the streets by the main cathedral and university a lot more charming with all the fallen leaves.  It was beautiful.

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Around the commercial area

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Charming architecture

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Around the university

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Canal lined by yellowing trees

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Beautiful cobblestone street covered in leaves

Uppsala’s Cathedral

Erik the Holy -or Saint Erik-, patron saint of Sweden, is buried at the cathedral, the site where he was killed a long time ago (12th century if you want to know!).  The cathedral itself was finished in the 15th century and it claims to be the largest church building in the Nordic countries.

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The cathedral of Saint Erik

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Cathedral at night

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Saint Erik’s tomb

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We happened upon a recital rehearsal when we visited

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Drink, please!

We were a tad surprised that a university town did not have an obvious ‘bar scene.’  Perhaps tainted by the U.S. college town experience?  Probably.  But we were wondering where to go hang out and grab a bite to eat; a place with personality.

And an online app suggested what turned out to be the perfect spot:  the Churchill Arms gastropub.  We sat at the small bar where I ended up teaching the young bartender how to make a Manhattan.  Then the loungey chairs (just two of them) by the bar freed up and we decided to grab them instead of going to one of the regular tables in one of the wood-paneled eating rooms.  There, we could see everyone coming in and out.  I enjoyed some mussels (moules marinieres) in a white wine sauce – mmm!!

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Nice collection

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The bar

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My moules marinieres and French fries!

Once again, going off the beaten path proved rewarding.  If you ever go to Stockholm, hop over to quiet but charming Uppsala.  It was beautiful in the fall, I can only imagine how it would be in the summer and spring.  After dinner, we headed out back to Stockholm to wrap up a day of semi-aimless driving around and seeing what we came upon.  Another post will share more of what else we saw that day!

Around Katarina Church in Stockholm

While I like seeing the main sights of any city I visit, I also enjoy walking around aimlessly and seeing what I discover.  Katarina Church (Katarina Kyrka) in Stockholm (Södermalm) was one of those discoveries.  Perhaps if I had done my research ahead of time, the church and its neighborhood would have ended on a ‘must-see’ list.  But it was a lot neater to run into this neighborhood by sheer luck and wanderlust!

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Church as seen from Gamla Stan

Katarina Church

The church grounds were pretty in the fall colors and in the gray weather I experienced pretty much the entire weekend I was in Stockholm.Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The church was undergoing renovations

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Cornelisparken – good views of Stockholm

I then walked off a side sidestreet on the opposite side of the square from where I had entered it, Mäster Mikaels gata, with quaint homes that ended with a park, Cornelisparken, that offered a great viewpoint that overlooked Gamla Stan and other parts of Stockholm.  I seemed to be on a roll discovering great spots with great views in Stockholm (another was from City Hall)!Mäster Mikaels gata, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, Gamla Stan, Cornelisparken

View towards Gamla Stan

This part of my longer walk was probably my favorite of the whole weekend and I think yielded some of my favorite photos from the trip!

 

Stockholm’s City Hall – Great Vantage Point

Before my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I took advantage of a cheap airfare to spend a long weekend in Stockholm. I had been there a while back on a day stop from a cruise with my family. It was summer time and it allowed us to get a flavor of this city by walking around Old Town, visiting the Vasa Museum, and enjoying a nice lunch. Of course, Stockholm was charming and I hoped for a return visit someday. And that materialized when a college friend found the special fare and asked if I’d be game for a slightly mad short trip there. Having not used vacation time in the year, I thought “why the heck not!”

The plan for the trip was to just go with the flow. I had already seen key sights so that was good with me. Serendipity can yield interesting experiences!

One place I discovered on this trip was Stockholm’s City Hall. My hotel was maybe 2.5 kms / 30 mins’ walk away and we were making our way from our hotel in Kungsholmen towards Old Town. We ran into the the City Hall and wondered what it was. It faces the water with great views of Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Sodermalm across the water – excellent photo opp spot!

Here are some of the images of the building and the views from its unique spot in the city.  If you find yourself in Stockholm, go the extra distance outside of Gamla Stan to get to this spot!  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The “First Cousins” Capitals: Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm

It has been an interesting exercise to try to think of the Scandinavian countries and come up with a good and succinct outline of what makes them different from each other without requiring a degree in history, architecture, and other similar fields.  So I decided to not be that ambitious and limit this to taking a look at the Scandinavian “first cousins” capitals – Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen – and see what I came up with…

All of these first cousins felt very manageable for a first time visitor.  There was nothing daunting or complex about getting around which made it easy for me to walk aimlessly to see what I would discover.  Everyone spoke English which certainly facilitated the visit though I am OK attempting to communicate in any number of languages I can dabble in.   I visited them all more or less around May or June making my comparison even in terms of weather.  Clearly the time of the year I visited made them all come across as “alive” since everyone by then had finished thawing off from their winter “slump”.  Everyone was out and about enjoying the weather – and their cities.

Oslo

In Norway, they were actually having a warm spell in early May (I carried a coat through Europe because I was supposed to need it when I got to Norway; it was hotter than anywhere in Europe at the time!).  Everyone was out at the parks and streets just hanging out.  The outdoor cafes were all packed, everyone enjoying a beer or four.  I partook even if I was a little horrified at the cost of everything.

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Looking towards Akershus Fortress at sunset

My favorite meal was a bucketful of fresh shrimp and beer sitting at a water-side restaurant (maybe by the Herbern marina) right around Aker Brygge, a modern shopping, entertainment, and office district near the Nobel Peace Center.  Of course, my favorite activity overall was taking a brief boat ride down Oslofjord but that is a different story!

It was neat to walk right by boats selling their catch to local restaurant buyers right across from City Hall.

Olso, Norway, fisherman, boat

Buying seafood right from the boat!

Oslo probably felt the smaller of the three cousins (I actually have not looked up population statistics) and the more relaxed, perhaps because of its size, perhaps because people just wanted to enjoy the newly found warmth by chilling (!) outdoors.  I loved scenes like the Akershus Fortress and the massive ski jump off in the distance!

Stockholm

As a capital city, Stockholm didn’t have a presence that screamed “big city”.  And I liked that.  It sits comfortably by the water built on and surrounded by islands.  It is quite easy to move about even if unfamiliar with it – its vast waterfront makes it hard to get lost.  I have previously written about this city by the water so I will not elaborate here.

We headed first to the area where the Royal Palace sits, “Stadsholm”, an island itself.  This is all part of old town or Gamla Stan.  Gamla Stan is full of charming architecture and beautiful streets.  From there, one can easily cross to a small island where Parliament sits (Riksdag) and exit it on the other side to enter the pedestrian shopping street (Drottninggatan) and move on to parks and other areas of town.  Almost across the water from the Royal Palace, of course, on another island, one finds the Vasa Museum (a must-see in Stockholm).

Gamla Stan, old town, Stockholm. Sweden. architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Charming architecture in Gamla Stan

Riksdag, Parliament, Stockholm. Sweden. architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Riksdag (Parliament)

Stockholm, and the people, there felt very relaxed, none more so than the students celebrating being done with school atop a party bus, one of the city scenes I shared in another post.  I could see myself lounging a few days, weeks, or more in this capital.  Of course, likely not during winter.

Copenhagen

During my visit to Copenhagen (three days), we toured around all the main areas of town you are always told to see and visit.  These included palaces, museums, the maverick community of Freetown Christiania, and other key sights.  As with many cities, my favorite part of Copenhagen was exploring the smaller side streets and finding that little jewel of a restaurant (as happened to us, with Restaurant and Café Nytorv which sits at about 150 years old).

We also happened upon the Copehagen Carnival (in June!) which made the main pedestrian street, Strøget, a lively corridor.  It may have lacked the wildness of Rio’s Carnival or Nawlins’ Mardi Gras but I certainly give it an “A” for enthusiasm and effort!Carnival, Copenhagen, Denmark, parade, colorful, fun, Canon EOS Rebel

The Danish capital definitely felt the more developed of the “first cousin capitals”, the more urbanized, the more identifiable as a capital.  While it sits on the water’s edge like the other two, it lacked the splendid fjords of Oslo or the charm of the many islands in and around Stockholm.  Granted it may have more diversity of older and modern architecture than but it often was not impressive.  For example, the buildings composing the royal palace/residence at Amalienborg were not imposing, nor terribly interesting from the outside, nor graced with gardens or green spaces (Rosenborg Castle fares much better.)

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Amalienborg Palace

While it was interesting to visit Copenhagen and walk its old streets, I hate to say, it did not wow me.  I didn’t feel an urge, say, to live there for 6 months, nor linger longer (though that may be precisely what I should do to “get” Copenhagen?).

Have you visited these first cousins?  Which one did you like best/least?  What influences your answer?

City Life – Street Scenes of Stockholm

I wrote about Stockholm being a great city to visit in summer time (as probably any part of Sweden!).  As I said then, it is likely a charming city well-worth visiting any time of the year.  But summertime not only offers warmth and longer daylight hours.  It offers better opportunities to observe life happen as I hope the photos in this post show.

Enjoy and let me know which is your favorite scene!

More pix of Stockholm here and of other parts of Sweden here!!

Stockholm: A City One with the Water

It is a cold day at home and, somehow, instead of going for warm, I look at pictures of my cruise in the Baltic.  But, in my defense, it was June there.  Still not tropical weather but my eyes and mind wandered to my pictures of my stop in Stockholm, Sweden.  And what I take away is what a great city it is to enjoy in summer time.  I am sure it’s a great town any time of the year (I said having spent 3 weeks in Helsinki, Finland in the dead of winter many moons ago…).  But in the summer the city is bright and alive.

I guess what I really liked about Stockholm compared to other cities by the water is that the transition from water to land felt more smooth.  It did not feel abrupt with large man-made banks holding in a river (think London) nor city walls holding the sea back (think San Juan or Dubrovnik) nor  being in the water proper (think Venice) nor with development keeping the city from the water (think Miami).  I liked that the sea and city were seamlessly one.  Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The islands around Stockholm

I also liked the many islands right by the city.  I felt I could just skip and hop around endlessly.

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Cruise ship approaching Stockholm passing through many islands

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House on an island around Stockholm – nice spot!

History of that sea – the Vasa Museum

This close relationship with the sea around it is not limited to the landscape or topography.  Stockholm and Sweden’s history is tightly related to the sea around it.  No better place to see this come alive than the amazing Vasa Museum, itself on an island (see what I mean?).  Shaped itself like a modern steel vessel, this well-designed set of exhibits walk you through maritime history and 17th century Sweden, with a great collection of items, all well-labeled.  The Vasa was a ship found in 1960 in the waters around Stockholm which had sunk on its maiden voyage back in 1628 (what is it with ships sinking on the maiden voyage?  think Titanic… I think I will avoid any ship’s maiden voyage just in case…)  The entire ship is not the original (clearly after over 3 centuries over water, this was not to be).  However, they have done a great job so that it is obvious which pieces of the ship you see are part of the reconstruction/reparations and which are original.  The museum also includes actual ships moored next to it.

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An Imperfect Baltic Cruise Was Perfect for the Family…

A couple of years ago, I embarked on a family trip with my mother and stepdad, my sister with her husband and teenaged kids, and my aunt and uncle.  The reasons for the trip were many but we more than anything wanted a grand trip all together to give my niece and nephew a great memory of their first trip to Europe and for the rest of us to get some R&R.  We chose a cruise as it facilitated a group of 9 people traveling together since the cruise ship offers many options for at-sea days and there is no moving from place to place every few days carrying or rolling luggage around, something the older ones in the group would not have been able to easily do.  We have done cruises before together and knew the cruise dynamic works well for us giving everyone things to do and space when needed.  Much as I may have enjoyed driving around one or more European countries, it would not have made sense with a group like this one.

We decided on a Baltic route as it was new to most of us and because if we were ever to do it, this time of the year was perfect.  I personally had a goal of getting to sample a few of the countries in the region to know where to focus future trips.  The destinations involved were Copenhagen, Tallinn, Warnemunde (but really, Berlin was the target), St. Petersburg, and Stockholm.  I had been to none of these cities though I have been to Germany a few times.  I will write separately about my impressions about these places but St. Petersburg, in particular, was top of my list of places I have not seen in Europe.

Copenhagen is where the cruise departed from so we planned to spend a couple of days there before and after the trip.  We wanted to arrive early in case there were issues with the flight over – so we would have a couple of days of “cushion” especially given the size of the group.

Nyhavn harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark

The cruise line (Costa) was supposed to be very decent and we got cabins with blocked views (by the lifeboats) which were cheaper -obviously- than the ones with a view.  But we chose them as it allowed us to get some sunlight in the room for the little time we spent there and not feel like we were in a box.  That was a good choice.  My cabin was even better as it faced the space between two lifeboats so we could actually look out!  The ship was no different in design and options as past cruise ships I have been in which was good and bad.  Good because I had liked them but bad because there was nothing new to discover.  It may have lacked a little in activities on at-sea days which was surprising.

The biggest shock of this cruise vs. all the other ones we had been on was the food.  My past experiences have been that I look at the dinner menu and I want EVERYTHING on the menu.  This time, I generally struggled to find a main entree that I REALLY wanted .  I was surprised at that (others in the group felt the same way).  I cannot quite put my finger on what was off with the menu but it proved true every night.  However, the pasta served as first dish was outstanding every night and that was the most enjoyable part of my nightly dinner.  Desserts were generally OK except that the first night’s creme brulee was almost egg soup.  After hours or in between meals, the choices were extremely limited (mostly to pizza) and the ice cream machine was off!!! (Contrary to past cruise experiences.)  So overall, the dining experience was not up to snuff for me.  On the bright side, I only gained one pound!

The onboarding and disembarkation processes were very efficiently run though perhaps that assisted by the fact that there were 2 embarkation ports which meant the load was split.  However, organization of the cruise tours was equally efficiently run so perhaps this is a strength for this line.

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Tallinn – a city we all found charming

The drawback for me of taking a cruise is the limited time at port.  I wish, for example, the visit to St. Petersburg has been split over two days as my Mom experienced on a past cruise there.  Seeing these towns in two days even is not enough but I sure wish we could have spent one overnight in any of these towns.  Given the limited time, we left the boat as early as we could which meant we had an early wake-up time every day.  We had 3 days in a row visiting ports so by the 3rd day we were fairly exhausted as we also did a lot of walking in the cities visited.  However, I do not regret it as there is no way I would have missed seeing as much as I could but so much for the “rest” part of R&R!

So even if it was not the perfect cruise experience, I can tell you that the memories still live on. Sadly, the rhythm of life moves on and the health of one of the group does not allow this type of long trip anymore.  Believe me when I say I would gladly suffer a poor creme brulee (and more) for another opportunity to be with this group doing something like this…  It sure puts it all in perspective…

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