Sweden: To my delight, your fika, lingonberries and balls tickled me bright.

From the time I arrived at Arlanda airport I could already tell it was going to be a great trip. I had been to Sverige once before, many years ago, to see a friend, Jonaton Tillander, graduate from high school. He lived on the West Coast, in a beautiful coastal city, Goteborg.  At the time, I was in Danmark visiting friends in Kobenhavn, and boarded the ferry across the Kattegat (Danish: “Cat’s Throat”) strait, forming a link between the Baltic Sea and North Sea. In 1995 they built the Oresund Bridge, attaching Danmark and Sweden.  It is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe, including a 4 kilometer tunnel, connecting two major metropolitan areas, Kobenhavn, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden.

However, this would be my first time to the spectacular East Coast city of Stockholm.  To say I was elated would be to lessen my true excitement. It was always on my bucket list and now it would become a blog entry to inform other travelers. But this time in Sweden would be very different: I would be seeing it as an injured traveler, in a wheelchair.  Like any new place one goes while injured, I wondered how they would treat me, the condition of the streets, would I be able to access all or some of the astonishing tourist attractions, could I use public transport, would I be able to enter my hotel room, toilet and shower, and so many other concerns – too long a list to index here.  Game-on!

As with any new country I arrive at in a wheelchair, I immediately assessed my transport concerns. The city was a twenty minute drive by taxi or a bit further and complicated if I attempted public transport.  As is the case with most European cities but especially Scandinavia, public transportation is reliable, efficient and safe.  Trains departed  twice an hour from the airport’s Arlanda Central Station, between terminals 4 and 5, dropping you at Stockholm’s Central Station. The train ride is 38 minutes. Coach was also an option, with Flygbussarna buses departing the airport every 10-15 minutes.  They also dropped you in city-center at Stockholm’s Central Station.  I opted for the easiest option: taxi.

The taxi pulled up to the Generator Hostel, I paid, departed, and was on my way – let the enjoyment begin. As I entered the hostel, a chain throughout Europe (now with one in Miami), I was immediately welcomed by the warm and affable staff at the counter. I knew I had picked the right hotel. A few minutes later they had me sorted out and I was off to my room. The hostel had an elevator to reach the upper floors, lucky me. As is the case with many hotels I book while traveling, there is a process of elimination to find a room that actually is best suited to my injury needs. Not the case with Generator – all was perfect. The door had an automated option, though it was in repair during my visit.

Generator Hostels are my favorite places to stay in Europe. In the past year I have stayed at Dublin, Ireland and Amsterdam, Holland. The staff is friendly and welcoming, always willing to accommodate the injured traveler – they make your stay comfortable. Otherwise from experience, while journeying throughout Europe, I can tell you it can be a nightmare in a wheelchair.  For me it is very convenient to have everything I need on a bad day within feet of my hostel door: restaurant for food, bar for drinks, meeting area(s) for friends, handicapped accessible bathroom(s) and general area for shared enjoyment. Stockholm even has a mini ping-pong table. Beat Boris and get a free breakfast. I ate free for a week.

The room had four bunks but I was the only one there at that time. I settled in, unpacked, took a shower and then stole a short nap to recharge my batteries. I had flown to Sweden direct from Iceland, a three hour flight, and so was not very knackered. Usually my first day in a new city I take some time to relax and understand the lay of the land – I’ll look at maps, do some research and plan accordingly.  Since it was a hostel with a large shared space for eating and fun, I headed downstairs to the communal lobby/bar/restaurant area. As with most my life, not ten minutes had passed and I was already meeting other world travelers – making new friends.  Molly from Canada was the first.  Let the good times roll!

Map of the city understood, obligatory first drink with new friends finished, planning aside, it was time to dig in to the local eats. The hostel also had a club attached to it which served as a business meeting venue during the day, replete with a full chef’s menu and all the accoutrements.  Word in the hostel halls was the food was extremely tasty, and also well priced.  I would not be a true tourist if I did not make my first order Kottbullar (Swedish meatballs), served with lingonberries, mashed potatoes and pickled cucumber slices.  The tiny pork and beef meatballs were served in a nutmeg and cardamom flavored gravy, which suited the mashed potatoes just fine. They were mouthwatering. I was in love.

Dreams of meatballs and berries aside, the next morning I awoke to a phone call from a friend from United Kingdom, Lawrence, who had just arrived at the airport, was on a bus and would soon arrive at the hostel. He had flown into Vasteras, an alternate and cheaper airport for flights from Europe, located 100km from Stockholm – so though his flight, return London for 60 quid (pounds), was cheaper – he ended up paying for the inconvenience and time. Being an injured traveler I opt for convenience over cost savings anytime practical and pragmatic; though could be my age too. Sure enough, twenty minutes later there was a knock at my door. It was beer time – Brits would have it no other way on holiday.

That night we did not venture far, deciding to check out Bar Hilma, the club that was a part of the hostel. There I met Tahir from Kashmir, in Scandinavia selling the highest quality Kashmir and Pashmina scarves.  Shortly after, Nick from Texas, US joined the group, Ajay from London, England and Monica from Oslo, Norway, moments later.  Not long after, abound with a smorgasbord of personalities and stories from all over the globe alike, new life-long relationships were in the process of being formed. To date, I still speak with all the unique people from all parts of the world I met on my trip to Stockholm. The club and hostel catered to my injured needs swimmingly – Stockholm was delivering on her promise: fun for all.

Before departing each others’ company that night, some had agreed to spend the next day together sightseeing the local neighborhood. Being that it would be my first day out-and-about in the city in a wheelchair, it was most welcome to have some of my new friends along with me for the ride.  The next morning I had the most appetizing breakfast with Lawrence – scrambled eggs and soft bacon with fresh warm baked bread and newly harvested fruits. I then relaxed and did some reading and journal writing before meeting the others to explore the city. The hostel is centrally located downtown; everything you would want to visit is only a short distance away.  All attractions are a close walk, taxi or bus ride.

Over the next few days I spent time with different friends going various places. Everyone had their own interests and, as long as I was able to do so in a wheelchair, and they were willing to have me along, I joined. One sunny afternoon with Nick, Ajay and Lawrence we visited Skansen Island, world’s oldest open-air museum, where there is a small zoo, traditional Scandinavian sod roof homes, windmills, restaurants and historic enactments. After lunch, at a historic hotel, we had drinks at a WWII torpedo factory. The Raksmorgas (prawn sandwich) was delicious. A day spent with Joel, a nurse from France I met at the hostel, in his car to see more of the city and gardens otherwise inaccessible, was splendid.

What one immediately takes notice of, once past the small lip at the entrance of the hostel, is just how friendly the sidewalks of Stockholm are for the injured – blind included. The sidewalks are smooth, with cement ramp entrances and exits wherever a curb could be seen. The streets and walks were orderly, well lit and properly marked, reminiscent of a walk through any IKEA store – buses, trains and their stations, the same. There was ample parking for handicapped persons, almost always located right at the front entrance. Museums throughout the city had reserved parking spots very close to the entrance. Public buildings all had ramps as well.  I was overly impressed by the convenience provided for injured.

Stockholm is known as the ‘Venice of the North,’ also commonly referred to as the capital of Scandinavia. It is a city of old buildings and unique design, surrounded by water, dating from 1250s to 1600s – as the city was sparred being leveled by bombs in WWII, with the exception of a few ‘accidental’ Soviet bombs – though some say it was the German or Finnish Air Force intending to provoke the Soviets. The modern city is a lovely mix of old and new, apparent everywhere you looked. There is a lovely waterfront promenade where one can enjoy its famous multi-colored buildings and remarkable architecture, while having a drink or lunch with friends – or simply just taking in the breathtaking vista.

Their museum and art installations are world class. My favorite was Fotografiska centre, filled with contemporary photography, conveniently discovered in the Sodermalm district, with gorgeous views of the Stockholm harbor. Vasa Maritime Museum, located on Djurgarden Island, with its almost fully intact, 64-gun warship, that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, never making it out of the harbor, was stunning.  A city of fine art – a ‘street art’ tour in Ragsved neighborhood, as well their subway stations, is one-of-a-kind – with over 160 street artists’ graffiti showcased – a must see.  Stadsbiblioteket, Stockholm Public Library, designed by Gunnar Asplund, is one of the city’s most distinctive structures.

Stockholm, hub of Scandinavia, alive and electric, is also filled with great shopping, endless culture and exciting entertainment and nightlife. The food, not just their fika, the almighty Swedish coffee break, with over 1000 restaurants, located in close-by districts of Norrmalm and Vasastaden, was affordable and most delectable. Ferries are also available to sail you to other exotic locations like Helsinki, Finland or St. Petersburg, Russia. As I mentioned in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life is best lived when Doing The Dirty Dishes, getting out-and-about, traveling the world, experiencing life, living – getting your hands dirty.  Stockholm should be on everyone’s bucket list – your fika dishes await – Nu gar vi!

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