A walking tour around Östersund, Frösön Island & Lake Storsjön
After our long travel day yesterday, and the excitement of losing then retrieving our jackets, we both slept like logs last night and enjoyed a bit of a sleep in this morning. Mind you, sleeping in ’til 7:00am is nothing compared to the locals, who seem to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning and don’t show their faces until at least 11:00am. So even though we were off to late start (for us), it was still dead around town when we took ourselves for a walking tour through Östersund. It’s a pretty enough town, with a number of landmark buildings and historical sites (highlights of our petite tour are shown in the photos below).
Since the town centre of Östersund is so small, our self-guided tour took all of half an hour. So we stocked up on some supplies from the local supermarket and spent the rest of our day hiking around Lake Storsjön and the island of Frösön, which is accessible from Östersund and the mainland via a bridge. Most of Frösön is taken up by residential suburbs as many of Östersund’s permanent population lives on the island; the lakefront is all parkland however, and made for an easy, peaceful walk with lots of gorgeous views over Lake Storsjön.
Storsjön is one of the largest lakes in Sweden, covering an area of over 460 square kilometres. This beautiful lake is 91m at its deepest point and is said to be home to the Storsjödjuret – a serpentine lake monster not unlike the Scottish Nessie. There have been numerous reports filed over the centuries by people who claim to have seen the monster in the lake, and the Östersund Tourist Information Office even has a map of the lake with prime Storsjödjuret-spotting sites marked. We looked long and hard, but unfortunately did not spot any lake monsters today. We did come across a number of lovely fields of wildflowers and soft, green grass that were perfect for contemplating the wonders of the universe, however. We did lots of contemplating. Lots.
We managed to walk our requisite 10km minimum today and earn our picnic lunch, which we ate in a field of green grass and flowers that we shared only with the odd bumble bee. It was an easy walk, but an epic one. We’re heading off now to enjoy dinner and some more free live music down by the lakeshore again. We want to make the most of Östersund’s beautiful lake and the atmosphere of the music festival while we can, because tomorrow we’re on the move again: tomorrow we’re leaving Sweden behind and are off to Norway! So our next post will be from Trondheim, but until then, feel free to enjoy the following examples of how beautiful Östersund can be…
We left Stockholm today (awww…), heading North for the lakeside town of Östersund (yaaay!). The train journey took us first from Stockholm to Sundsvall (on the East coast of Sweden) on an InterCity Express train (very schmick); in Sundsvall we then had to change to a much smaller (and slower) regional train. It only took 3 hours to cover the first 380km, but a further 3 hours to do the last 190km – the joy of regional trains! Still, the trip was great for scenery; the regional train from Sundsvall took us through some especially pretty Swedish countryside, past lots of postcard-perfect farms, lakes and rivers.
We decided to come up to Östersund for a couple of days to see something of inland, regional Sweden. Östersund was an easy choice as it’s on the way to Trondheim (Norway), our next stop, and is famous for its lakeside setting. This small city of 60,000 is built along the shores of Sweden’s fifth largest lake, Lake Storsjon, opposite the island Frösön. It is the government, trade and business hub for this region and is Northern Sweden’s largest city (which tells you how sparsely populated the rest of Northern Sweden is – this town is pretty small!). There is also a university here and in winter this is popular winter sports destination. In summer though it’s all about the lake, with lots of holiday makers coming here to relax and enjoy Lake Storsjon. We love relaxing, and we don’t mind a nice lake setting to do it in, so Östersund seemed like a good place to hang out for a little while.
The first thing we did when we arrived was check in to our hotel, where we promptly realised we had left our jackets on the train. Both of us. DOH! Neither of us is THAT attached to our clothing, but seriously, what are the chances that we would both be that distracted by the gorgeous scenery that we BOTH failed to notice our respective lack of warm clothing?? *SIGH* So we rang the train company and they informed us that our train was on its way to Trondheim in Norway at that very moment but that it would be coming back through Östersund at 8:30pm, and that our best bet was to meet it at the station and ask the conductor about our lost articles of clothing. We crossed our fingers, hoping no one between here and Trondheim liked the look of our well worn jackets, and that they would be returned to us at 8:30pm.
In the mean time, we went out to hunt and gather for some sustenance and check out the town. What we found was a very cute, though rather small, town, with lots of cafes and restaurants…. that were all closed. And lots of shops…. that were all closed. And lots of empty streets. “Errrrr…., this is peak tourist season up here (all the hotels are booked out apparently), so where are all the people?” we wondered.
After a bit more strolling around, we decided to head for the water-front, and that’s where we found ALL the people of Östersund (and a good many tourists too). Turns out the Östersund City Council organises a rock/alternative music festival every July, with lots of bands playing on the various stages set up around the lake. The whole festival is free, and heaps of people flock here form all around for the week to enjoy the music and camp out by the lake. Turns out this year, the festival is on this week! No wonder town was empty – every man and his dog (literally – there were dogs everywhere) was down by the lake rocking out to the music and/or having dinner and a drink at one of the many restaurants along the lake. We have since found out that for the music festival week, lots of the local restaurants move down to the lake. So it’s all happening by the lake! We totally scored without even realising it: free music in an epic location, with loads of good people-watching to enjoy.
Having found all the people, we decided to join them and had dinner on the water-front listening to some local rock group sing some much-loved Swedish classics… or at least, we assume that’s what they were singing – everyone else knew the words and was singing along in Swedish whilst we sat there confused but entertained. And just to end the night on a high note, when we went to re-meet our train our jackets were exactly where we’d left them, no worse off for having taken a quick trip to Norway and back without us. Yay! So in the end, a successful day all ’round!
Cruising Lake Malaren to visit Drottningholm Palace, oh and walking 5km to do some laundry!
For our last day in Stockholm we decided to catch a ferry into Lake Malaren to see Drottningholm Palace and its gardens. Stockholm sits at the mouth of Lake Malaren, where it drains into the Baltic Sea. This freshwater lake is huge (it covers an area of 1,140 square kilometres) and contains numerous islands, including Lovon Island – home to Sweden’s royal family. We cruised past the central part of Stockholm on the way out to Lovon Island, watching as 18th and 19th century buildings gave way to more modern 20th century apartment buildings, and then to free-standing houses. Within an hour even the houses disappeared and the islands we passed were forested and wild. We saw heaps of people swimming, sunbathing, boating, fishing and kayaking around the lake; it must be wonderful for Stockholmers to have such easy access to so much natural beauty, especially in summer when you can really make the most of it.
Out in the middle of Lake Malaren, on an island all of its own, sits Drottningholm Palace. This pretty castle, modelled on Versailles in France, was first built in 1580 by King Jon III as a summer retreat for his queen. It was used as such for the next 3 centuries, until 1981 when it became the permanent home of the current King and Queen (Carl Gustaf XVI and Silvia), and their family. The Swedish royal family lives in the Southern wing of the castle, but lets people visit the rest of the palace and its gardens, which is very nice of them I think. We love a good palace and it was a gorgeous day (again!), so off we went to see if we could find a Swedish royal or two to wave at.
*Note: Apparently Sweden has had a monarchy since prehistoric times, with records found from as far back as the 1st century confirming this. The kingship was originally an elected role, but has been an inherited one since the 16th century when King Gustav I led the Swedish war againt the Danes, ending Dannish rule in Sweden; instigated national religious, political and industrial reform in Sweden (he nationalised all the wealth from the Roman Catholic Church – clever man!); and set the Vasa family as the rulers of Sweden. Since 1974 the role of the King in Sweden has been mainly of a ceremonial nature, but the Swedes seem to still love their royal family. For example, a few of the locals we spoke to recalled fondly the 2010 wedding of the current heir to the throne Crown Princess Vistoria to American Daniel Westling, her former personal trainer. The whole concept of royalty seems so irrelevant these days, but I guess it’s a like to the past and to a national heritage that people still value.
Alas we saw no royals at Drottningholm Palace, but plenty of grand palatial rooms, old paintings, tapestries and old furniture. The castle had about it an air of fading grandeur that left us a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fairly well maintained, but certainly not in a “as it would have been back then” state; it was quite dusty and dark, and though there were a few rooms that had been beautifully restored, many obviously need some TLC. The gardens themselves were better maintained, with lots of fountains, grass and trees for people to enjoy (the gardens are free for anyone to enjoy – it’s a giant parkland basically). It’s essentially a Baroque style garden, complete with 7 fountains, woodlands, and a man-made lake built to attract water birds to the garden. We spent a good part of our day exploring the grounds of Drottningholm Palace, working on our tans a bit more. Seriously – who comes to Scandanavia and get sunburnt? We do apparently!
Within the palace gardens we found the rather unique Chinese Pavilion. This tiny palace is decorated inside and out in a Chinese motif. It was built in 1753 by Swedish King Fredrick for his wife, Queen Ulrika, as a surprise 33rd birthday present. It seems Chinese themed decoration and fashion were all the rage in Europe at the time, and the Kinna Slott was not only built to look Chinese-ish (they didn’t quite get it completely right, but an iteresting interpretation of the Asian building style none-the-less), its interiors were furnished with goods imported all the way from China. I can’t imagine how expensive all those Chinese furnishings, statues and knick-knacks must have been; no wonder the Chinese Pavillion was considered such a unique, exotic marvel!
Following our not-so-strenuous walk around Drottningholm Gardens we had some lunch ($20AUD for 2 sandwhiches and some water – man this place is expensive!), then cruised back to town for an afternoon of chores. First challenge of the day: to do some laundry. Not as easy as we might have hoped: turns out laundromats are not at all common in Sweden. We saw quite a few dry cleaners and places offering laundering services (i.e. they do it for you), but for $15AUD a shirt, that was way beyond our budgetary comfort zone. After utilising our Google-fu (i.e. like kung fu, but more internet-based), we discovered that in the whole of Stockholm there is in fact only one “self service laundry”. Just the one. And it’s about 2.5km from our hotel. *SIGH*
Not wanting to be stinky backpackers, we packed our dirty clothes into a bag and trudged across Stockholm. You’ll be hapy to know we found the laundromat and got our clothes washed and dried. It took almost 2 hours (lots of almost-stinky backpackers waiting for machines) and cost $15AUD to wash and dry a single load. Yikes! We knew Scandanavia was going to be expensive, but sometimes it’s frightening how much the simplest things cost here.
After walking 2.5km back to our hotel we were exhausted and barely had enough energy to drag ourselves up to the top deck of our boat/hotel to sit and relax in the sun. *GRINS* And this is where you currently find me, dear people, sitting at my “desk” on the top deck of the SS Malardrottning enjoying another sunny Stockholm afternoon. We’re going to go out for dinner soon – pizza me thinks (apparently pizza in Sweden is amazing, so amazing we have to try it!). Tomorrow we leave this fantastic city and head North to the small town of Ostersund. We have really loved Stockholm and can only hope we’ll be back some day for more sun, sea and Swedish meatballs.
Evening blog fans and welcome one of the best days of our lives! We spent our Sunday cruising the Stockholm archipelago on the SS Waxholm III and it was AWESOME. We covered over 150km on our 12 hour cruise, stopping at a few of the islands for a quick look around (see map below). As luck would have it, the weather was on our side – it was sunny, warm (that’s Sweden’s version of warm: 21C), with no ocean swell and just enough of a gentle breeze to ensure we didn’t over-heat (Ha! Ha!). We were also very fortunate to get a day when the cruise boat was virtually empty; they had 53 passengers on board a vessel that can cary 120 people. An almost private cruise – yay!
The cruise set off from Nybrokajen, past the Stranvaagen and some of the islands and buildings we walked around yesterday. Stockholm really is a gorgeous city – or at least it is in summer, we might have a completely different opinion if it was mid-winter! (Winter temperatures around here hover around 0C to -5C, with lots of snow and rain; sunrise in winter is as late as 9:00am and sunset as early as 3:00pm. Yikes!)
Not long out of Stockholm we passed through the Baggensstäket (translation = Baggen Strait). This strait was the primary southern trade route into Stockholm for many centuries and is still an important access point for boats sailing through the archipelago. The channel has been regularly dredged since the 16th century to ensure it remains deep and wide enough for sea-faring traffic. Interestingly it is the narrowest strait in the Stockholm archipelago; at times we could literally see into the gardens of the homes on either side of the strait. It was all very picturesque.
Once through the Baggensstäket we sailed South-West for another 2 hours, past numerous wooded islets and inhabited islands. Many of the islands had farms on them, with this part of the archipelago being sheltered enough to sustain grasslands and forests. Around noon we pulled in at our first island stop of the day: Kymmendo. This small island is owned by one farming family who raise sheep and let out rooms to summer holiday-makers. Though small and obscure, the island receives a steady stream of visitors due to the fact that August Strindberg, a famous Swedish author (famous in Sweden anyway), stayed here during his summer holidays and wrote a novel based on his experiences and the people of the island (“Natives of Hemsö”, published in 1887). Having never heard of the author or the novel, we weren’t as excited as some of the Swedes on board about visiting Kymmendo, but we were quite excited to hear that the earliest recorded inhabitants of the island were the Mortenssons – perhaps a distant relative of Shane’s?
We really enjoyed our walk around the island. It was so lush and green, and the black-faced sheep they farm were huge compared to the plain white ones we have back home. Shane even had thoughts of going for a quick swim in the ocean until he stuck a toe in the water and just about lost it to frost bite.
From Kymmendo we sailed due North to the islet of Bullero, with lunch served along the way. The tiny island of Bullero is a nature reserve with just a pier, a camping ground and a couple of summer cabins on it. It was lovely to see one of these unspoiled islands, more or less in its natural state. Bullero is one of the outer islands of the Stockholm archipelago and was a good example of how barren these more exposed islands can be, compared to the sheltered ones closer in. With no protection from the winds, the outer islands had far fewer trees on them and many were just rocky outcrops. We had great fun climbing over the rocks, checking out the island of Bullero.
Finally, from Bullero we sailed another hour or so North towards Sandhamn. This island is home to about 100 permanent residents, but in summer the population swells to over 2,000 as people move to their summer cottages for the holidays. The island is only about 50km from Stockholm city and has been a very popular holiday spot for people from the city since the 19th century. The village itself was so cute, with tiny lanes between brightly coloured wooden houses and summer flowers everywhere – it was like something from a post card. We would love to come back to Stockholm one summer and rent a cottage on an island like Sandhamn for a week or so and just enjoy the laid back holiday atmosphere and beautiful scenery.
Once we left Sandhamn they served us dinner and we settled in for the cruise back into Stockholm. The views along the way were just magnificent, as the sun began to set. It was a long day (12 hours in total), but an awesome one. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. We love Stockholm!
Today is officially our 20th anniversary so we decided to celebrate with a year off and a trip around the world. We don’t put a lot of weight on ceremony or grand gestures so we aren’t doing anything too spectacular for today; it’s enough being together….oh and this whole YEAR OFF TRAVELLING thing is a pretty good way to celebrate 20 years of married bliss. It’s awesome being able to spend every day, all day together. Or at least I think it’s awesome – not sure how Shane feels about it exactly, but I’m going to assume he’s ecstatically happy about it too. *GRINS*
It was a lovely day in Stockholm today, a great day to celebrate 20 glorious years together and to see more of this great city. It feels like ages since we did a decent 10km hike so we decided to take ourselves on a walking tour of Stockholm. There are boats that cruise through the canals, covering all the main scenic sights of the city, but we seem to have an aversion to doing things the easy way, so we put our walking booties on instead and set off nice and early this morning.
First stop was the Swedish Parliament building, set on its own on the island of Helgeandsholmen, just North of the Gamla Stan. Very impressive. From there we walked around to the Nybroplan, where most of the sightseeing boats that cruise around Stockholm leave from. From there the views back across to to the Royal Palace and the Gamla Stan were epic. This is such a pretty city!
We then wandered across the bridge to Skeppsholmen, a small island that used to be a military base and home for Stockholm’s defensive personnel. It is now all parkland, with the old military buildings converted into museums. From there we were able to walk on to Kastellholmen, an even smaller island that is basically just a little hill sticking out of the water. Atop the hill there is a fortress, built in 1667 as part of the city’s defences, from which we got some great views of Stockholm.
Our self-guided walking tour then continued all the way across the Strandvagen, where lots of Stockholmers were relaxing in the morning sun, sharing their Saturday morning with friends over coffee. The Strandvagen is a beautiful, wide boulevard facing the water that is apparently one of Stockholm’s most prestigious addresses, and has been since the 18th century. The buildings along this street were really beautiful, and we were so captivated by the view across the water that we had to stop for a coffee too and join the locals for some rays.
Our final destination for the morning was the Kungliga Djurgarden(translation the Royal Game Park). This 689 acre park was once the Swedish Royal family’s private garden, woods and hunting grounds, but is now Stockholm’s biggest green space. It’s a beautiful park, containing areas of manicured lawns and perfect flower beds, as well vast tracts of relatively untouched woodland. Djurgarden is also home to historical buildings and monuments, museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes, an amusement park (Gröna Lund), and a small residential area (no doubt another very prestigious address!). We spent hours strolling through the gardens and even enjoyed our own picnic, Stockholm style, under an apple tree on the lawns of the Djurgarden (we found a supermarket and a way to feed ourselves for less than $50AUD per meal – yay!).
Once we’d had enough of strolling through the Djurgarden (relaxing in the sun gets tiresome after a while), we found the closest ferry stop and cruised back to the Gamal Stan – much easier than walking! The map below outlines our journey for the day, including our ferry trip home. After our adventures we had a quick shower and headed back to the old town for dinner where Shane enjoyed his $10AUD Heineken and $50AUD reindeer* steak, and I had a $40AUD serve of lamb. We’re still trying to get our heads around how expensive it is to eat out here, but at least dinner was good. All in all, not a bad way to spend the day! Hejda until the morrow good people…
*Shane says: Xmas presents might be late this year as I think I just ate Rudolf. Reindeer is even more delicious than wallaby; like baby panda but gamier. [PETA please note: No actual baby pandas have been eaten. Not even nibbled.]
Sailing into Stockholm – what a way to start the day!
Thanks to a 4:00am sunrise and thin curtains our day started nice and early. By 6:00am we were up on the top deck of the ship, watching as the first islands of the Stockholm archipelago came into view. It was still pretty cold at that time of day (about 10C) and the wind was bracing to say the least. Unsurprisingly we had the whole top deck to ourselves for the first hour or so!
As it warmed up other passengers began to emerge and the clouds dissipated, revealing the real beauty of the Stockholm archipelago. Some of the islands we sailed past were quite big – big enough to have their own roads and to be serviced by ferries to carry vehicles to and fro. Other islands were tiny, no more than lumps of rock. Most of the islands were forested, densely covered in pine, spruce and other conifers. The ship passed right by many of the islands as it navigated its way towards the city heart of Stockholm so we got to see many of them up close.
Many of the islands had homes on them, most likely summer holiday homes (statistics show that most people in Sweden have vacation homes – there are over 600,000 summer cottages in Stockholm alone; the highest rate of second home ownership in the world). There were lots of beautiful big houses, with large manicured lawns and piers at the end of the garden. We also saw quite a few tiny shacks, the perfect size for a summer retreat no doubt. No matter the size of the houses, however, there was always a boat moored nearby. Makes sense really, in a city like Stockholm, built across 30,000 islands, how else could you get around? The cruise through the Stockholm archipelago was stunning, definitely one of the highlights of our journey so far!
We arrived in Stockholm at 9:30am and made our way to our hotel, where we were able to check-in straight away (yay!). Our hotel is pretty unique: it’s a ship moored just off Riddarfjarden Island, one of the 3 islands that make up Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (translation = old town). The Malardrottning was first built in 1924 for a Mr CK Billings, a millionaire from New York. It was then sold to the Huttons, of Woolworths fame and Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, received it as a gift from her father on her 18th birthday. She gave it away to the Royal English Navy. During the second world war the ship was moved to Norway where it was used as a training ship. In 1980 the ship was bought by a Swedish entrepreneur, refurbished and anchored where it is today.
It so cool – we’re sleeping on a ship! The ship moves a little with the waves, but not much – just enough to lull you to sleep. It’s also very cool because we’re literally 5 minutes from the Gamla Stan and some of the best sights in Stockholm! The cabin/room we’re in is small but comfortable, with 3 portholes we can peak through for our very own water views. You can’t get much better water views than this!
After dropping off our bags we went straight over to the heart of the old town to check out the oldest of Stockholm’s historical buildings. The Gamla Stan marks the site of the original township of Stockholm and was heaps of fun to wander through, with its narrow cobbled streets and cute central square, complete with a fountain where locals used to collect their fresh water.
The main city of Stockholm is built across 14 islands and is characterised by beautifully restored old buildings, lots of water and lots of parks (apparently over 30% of the city area is made up of waterways and another 30% is made up of parks and green spaces). The name Stockholm means “log island” in Swedish; the name was given to the town when it as first established in the 11th century to describe the characteristic features of the island Where the Gamla Stad still stands. There are no logs on the island any more, but there are lots of beautifully restored buildings, some dating back as far as the 16th century, but most from the 18th and 19th century.
The 17th century saw Sweden grow into a major European power and in 1634 Stockholm became the official capital of the Swedish empire. Today it is a lively, vibrant city with a population of about 2.2 million and a reputation as a very liveable, safe and modern city. We’ve only been here a day, but we certainly like what we’ve seen so far!
After wandering through the Gamla Stan, lunch was calling. We discovered that eating out in Sweden is seriously expensive (e.g. 2 cappuccinos = 72 kronor or about $12AUD; 2 sandwiches = 120 kronor or about $20AUD). We will need to find a supermarket if we want to stick to our budget! It could also be because we’re in the touristy part of town, so it may be that wandering further afield reveals cheaper eats.
Once we were fed and fuelled up we decided to go visit the Kungliga slottet (translation = the Royal Palace of Sweden). The current palace was built in 1697 atop the ruins of a much older medieval fortress which burnt down in 1692. The palace was decorated in the Baroque style of the time and was to be an example to the wealth and might of the Swedish Empire, which was at its peak in the late 17th century. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the castle, but you can see from the exterior that it’s a pretty impressive construction. And though the interiors are nowhere near as awe-inspiring as those of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, they were still splendid. Our extensive tour through the Royal Palace brought our first day in Sweden to an end – and what a great day it was!