Monday, February 28, 2011

Walking in a Winter Wonderland (part 4)

To start 2011 off right, we spent our last day in Stockholm hitting the pavement early.  After dropping our suitcases off at the bus station, we headed towards Djurgarden - yet another of one of the many islands in the archipelago.  Being Royal Land, it has escaped commercialism but instead is a peaceful oasis close to the city center.  Full of old wooden houses, Joseba and I set off to make a loop of the island and admire the playfully colored homes before it got dark. 

With some street food to hold us over until lunch, we made the trek to the island on a tree-lined walkway.  With snow covering the limbs, it felt more like we were walking through a snow tunnel and magically came out at the bridge over to Djurgarden.  With joggers whizzing by and tourists shuffling towards one of the many museums on the island, Joseba and I strolled along the snow-packed roads, without a set destination, just appreciating the woodcarved decorations on the homes, the mixes of stone and wood, the hanging icicles and the smoke puffing out chimneys.
As dusk set, we headed back to the center of the city to meet up with our friends for one last meal before we both headed back to different countries - us again to Denmark and them to Finland.  With enchiladas on the brain, we hit up the Mexican restaraunt we had eaten at the first day again and after walked Laura and Alain to the metro station in the dark.  With only three hours to spare, we continued our destination-less walking tour and stumbled upon Riddarholmen, or 'The Knight's Island' as it translates to.  Home to the very important Riddarholmskyrkan - the church on the island, which has been deemed the final resting place of Royals since the 16th century, the island is packed with buildings that were used in the 17th century.  Now, it is most well-known for its views of the Stockholm skyline.  That evening, it held up to it's popularity, and we were able to see all the lights of the city, Christmas ones and normal ones, shining across the water.

Cold to the bone, we spent the last few hours in and out of shops, and finally in a small restaurant, planning our remaining days in Scandinavia.  Our next stop, which we were excitedly reading about, was to be Malmo.

After about 6 hours on our night-bus, Joseba heard the loudspeaker announce we were coming up to Malmo.  Now, we had originally planned to go all the way back to Copenhagen, drop off the suitcases and make the train trip back across the bridge to Malmo - Sweden's second biggest city and only a stone's throw from the Danish capital.  However, we were lucky and the bus went right past it, so we were able to get off early and save the whole hassle!  The only downside was that we arrived at the bus stop 30 minutes before it opened and had to do some serious dance moves to keep warm until the sliding doors opened at 7:30am.

The wait was made worth it, when the customer service woman explained a bit about Malmo and told us her idea of the must-sees in the city.  Quite comical, she highlighted the clothes stores as an important stop in the city tour.  Even more comical is that she didn't recommend a single store for Joseba, just shops I should go see haha.  Map in hand our first priority was to get a coffee and a small but sweet breakfast.  As the Swedes rushed off to work, either on bike or on foot, we sat warmly in a small café in Stortorget - the Main Square.  Originally Denmark's second biggest city, Malmo didn't actually come into Swedish possession until the early 17th century.  Facing almost extinction, Malmo only could claim 1,500 inhabitants in the mid 1700s due to the war and a viscious plague.  After that though, Malmo slowly grew and grew, with the creation of the Swedish southern railway lines and the founding of the shipyards.  Now, Sweden's southwesternmost city is a welcoming stop for people who travel the almost 5 mile bridget that connects Denmark and Sweden.
Knowing nothing about Malmo or having even had thought of visiting it until the day before, we took our guide books advice for our first 'stop' in town - the pharmacy.  Listed as Sweden's oldest pharmacy, Apoteket Lejonet (Lion Pharmacy) has been in business since 1571.  Housed in a gorgeous brick building, complete with reliefs, a pointy green spire and even a few gargoyles, the building was just as amazing outside as inside with old apothecary bottles lining a mezzanie level above the marble-floored pharmacy that was decorated with original wooden inlays and an ancient looking water fountain.

With the streets almost still deserted, we were happy to wander about the streets, taking in the mix of the antique buildings standing short next to newer and modern office buildings.  On one block you could even see the old buildings reflecting in the all-wall glass building across the street from them.  A strange sight to see for sure.

On the hunt for the popular outdoor food market in the international district, we eventually found out that this market, filled with various types of food from all over the world is more of a summer thing.  Stands to reason, seeing as the temperature at the time was below 20º!  Instead of fret, we kept walking and eventually ended up back the Old Part and somehow right in the middle of the square.  Although we had eaten breakfast in the Main Square, the action in Malmo doesn't really happen there, but instead in a smaller square that was added to the city when they decided thier town was too big for just one square.  This square, Lilla torg, is where all the most popular restaraunts and bars are, and although small, is always said to packed.  Since it was built atop an old marshland, I was happy we didn't sink!

Thanks to our book, we headed through a small passageway into a interior courtyard to die for.  With stone buildings at our backs we were mostly in awe of the bright yellow house facing the street.  With the eye-popping yellow against the dark brown support beams, the house looked as if it might collaspe at any moment.  Seeping into the snow, the uneven tiled roof gave proof that the buildings in Lilla torg were from about the 16th and 17th century!

Near the square we next gazed at Radhus, the town hall, which is topped with varios elaborate statues, some of which date back to the buildings erection date of 1546.  It is said that the restaurant below has been in use as a tavern for more than 400 years!  Continuing our walking we mosied along the river which was full of frozen shoes, bikes and assorted other items, assumably from New Year's Eve.  Right off the river stood a large cemetary all with vertical standing tombstones.  After walking amongst the dead and thier fancy tombs, we headed to the multicultural district yet again, but this time for lunch.  En route we passed Folkets Park, or the People's Park, which during the summer is a small amusement park.  With a cold winter hanging out about though, the rides were halted, the children's laughs silenced and the music cut.  BUT the bathrooms still had working heaters!  Hooray!  Warmed from a bathroom visit we set off in search of food - at a Thai restaurant our book had recommended.  It was a bit sketchy, because the book said that at the time it was written the restaurant was actually illegal and didnt have a food liscense but that the food was so tasty, he was going to point people to it anyways.  Lucky for us, Krua Thai was open, and it seemed to have obtained a liscense because it was quite big and equally busy.  With a lunch menu no one could resist, we dined on stirfried noodles and chicken curry soup. 

With my mouth burning from the extremely spicy curry (which I just love) and Joseba full up to his neck with noodles, we slowly made our return to the city center to catch our bus.  On the way though, I made it a point to pass the Malmohus - a castle from the 15th century.  While our book said it was one of the ugliest castles in Sweden (and I have to agree after having seen it), I was determined to see a castle with a moat.  Never having seen one in my life, I think it is maybe every girl's dream to see a castle with one!  After the very out-of-the-way walk, we arrived only to be disappointed as the booked warned us.  With falling bricks and mismatched colors, it seems believable that this castle was used as a jail at some point and that Mary, Queen of Scots' husband was once inprisoned here.

With the sun quickly setting, we made our way back to the bus station just beat.  Our early morning wake up had been helpful and saved us a lot of time, but also took its toll and when we arrived back in Copenhagen 45 minutes later we ordered a family-size greasy meatsa pizza and a beer and just crashed.  Shamefully, our hostel guests were a large bunch of British men, who drunkingly barged into the room around 4am.  This led to us sleeping in very late the next day and missing almost the entire daylight time.  We did manage to seize a bit of the rays and used them to explore Christiania - a free town - of sorts.  If you read my blogs from my first visit to Copenhagen, I spoke more at length about the community and actually posted some pics, but this time, they were quite ardent about no photos, so I don't have any to share wtih you, so instead I will try and describe what we saw.  Walking into what used to be an old naval base, the citizens of Christiania were mostly dressed in black and sported black beanie hats.  I think every single one was smoking a cigarette or marijuana as they socialized over burn barrels ablazing.  Some sat in cafés that were inside makshift buildings or behind a tarp.  Every where you looked though, you saw what I would call garbage.  Extra windows, random items littering the ground, an old TV here and there but the thing is, that these people took all of these 'junk' items and made them great.  One house, which was falling apart, was painted with bright colors like a sunrise) and the extra windows were placed in a mismatched pattern around the house. Other houses were shaped like houses in India, and others with scrap metal decorations - basically a mix of everything.  For it being mostly trash, the 'look' was quite impressive. 

When we left, we crossed under a sign that said 'Entering the EU' which made us chuckle a bit and we headed towards the Old Part, poking into second-hand shops on the way and a quick stop for a piece of pizza that reminded me of the kind you get in school (rectangle with no crust).  Eventually we ended up in Norrebro, a hip neighborhood with a lot of bars and cafés.  There was even a bar that had a laundromat underground - talk about having fun washing your clothes!  For dinner the hostel recommended a hole-in-the-wall place called Kate's Joint.  Unrecognizable from the street, the only clue that it was what it was was a small plaque on the door with the name.  From outside it just looked like someone's living room, but mmmmm the food tasted like it was a great restaurant. Nothing fancy, but very hearty, we filled up on huge portions at our red-tulip adorned picnic table.  For our last night in Copenhagen, we spent it relaxing and reading magazines in the large lobby/living area the hostel had.  And for our last day, we only had a couple of hours and spent them wisely.  A 7-11 breakfast of coffee and chocolate croissant and more second-hand shopping, we were definitley tired for the plane ride home, which went off without a hitch and Joseba's brother and sister-in-law were waiting with smiles for us when we arrived home.  The most unbelievable was that after so many days in freezing temperatures, a south wind blew into Basque Country and when we deboarded we were shocked by 70º heat!  When we took off our coats and layers of fleeces and gloves, we realized our trip had come to an end, but what an amazing trip it was.

We loved both places so much, but are leaning more towards Stockholm to visit again in the summer.  I mean, its gorgeous with snow, but we also want to see it without a white blanket!  So, maybe in the future you will read another Swedish adventure :)