Stockholm, Day 1-2 (& 3)

Our flight from Oakland to Stockholm on Norwegian Air was surprisingly easy. Or maybe relatively easy at least. We did end up taking a taxi at the last minute, instead of Bart. Our return flight arrives in SF instead of Oakland so we left the car near the SF Airport. The taxi driver kept his cab a sweltering 84 degrees. The 45 minute sauna ride was still better than two hours on Bart on a Friday night with our girls and luggage.

At the airport the woman checking us into our flight was amazed I was able to pack everything to fit in carry-on (checking bags cost extra money, plus we want to travel light). Finally, I got some recognition for my packing skills! My small moment of glory, who knew it happen at the Oakland Airport?

Things were a bit grumpy waiting for our flight. Vanessa, in accordance with her increasing tiredness, became increasingly manic. Zara fell apart and then, luckily, fell asleep.

Norwegian Air is a new airline and the plane was clearly new, too. The design included better overhead storage bins, taller windows, and touch controls for lighting. Zara, after waking up, quickly discovered she could play with the entertainment screen and would periodically mess with it throughout the flight.   

As a budget airline, everything cost money except for water. Want an in-flight blanket? That’s $5. Headphones? $3. That wasn’t a problem for us (we brought a blanket and headphones) and actually was a plus for an overnight flight because they didn’t push carts up and down the aisles. It made sleeping easier.

Zara did pretty well at sleeping through most of the flight. Vanessa took a couple of hours to fall asleep but eventually did sleep for five or six hours. Compared to our last flight to Europe, when she only fell asleep a half hour before arriving, this was fantastic.

I knew we were in Sweden when I saw that the airport had light pine wood floors, big windows and accent lighting. Our passport control agent looked a lot like the guy who plays Kurt Wallander in the Swedish version of Wallander. He was friendly and welcoming. There were a lot of families on our flight and at the airport. (Our kids were the quietest kids on the plane for once!)

We took the Arlanda Express train from the airport into downtown Stockholm. It was easy to use, comfortable with our luggage and kids, and the ticket collector went out of his way to tell us how we missed a special deal on the fare and how we could get some money back. I was impressed with Sweden’s welcome.  

 

It was sunset as our train sped through Swedish countryside. The land is flat, there are lots of conifer trees and bare deciduous trees. Cozy houses started turning their lights on. The suburbs of Stockholm have a pleasant, comfortable feel to them.

Our hotel was near the train station. We were happy to learn we could stay until 6 pm for no additional charge. The weather predicted rain for Sunday and we knew we’d sleep late, so it was a relief to know we could relax and stay until we needed to catch our overnight ferry to Tallinn.

Dinner was at a pub in the Old Town called St. Clara’s. We walked ten minutes in the chilly night to get there. My ears got cold and Zara kept taking off her hat and throwing it under the wheels of the stroller. Tim walked ahead of us carrying Vanessa. 

The Old Town was marked by small cobblestones and narrow streets. The pub was cozy and warm. I was nervous at first because it looked crowded but Tim had made a reservation! We tried some good Swedish beer and had a well-deserved hot meal. Everyone seems to speak excellent English, which adds to the ease of visiting Sweden. 

   

There was one bit of drama at dinner. Our waiter/bar man, wearing a black tee shirt and sporting a grey styled mustache and beard, was friendly and joking. He seemed to be a forward type of person, no shrinking violet, but he made us feel comfortable. 

Later, though, as we were blearily eating, he came over and abruptly grabbed the salt and pepper out of Vanessa’s hands, tsk-tsking at her. In my jet lag fog, I thought she was eating bread; we had moved the salt and pepper away from her earlier. But a man sitting alone at the table next to us had moved it close to her, as a polite gesture, when our food arrived. It should be noted that it was fairly late in the evening and there were no other children in the pub.

I felt a sting from the reprimand and Vanessa looked hurt, but she should not have been playing with them, so it wasn’t a self-righteous sting. Was this a case of cultural differences or a rouge bar man? Our neighbor didn’t seem to think it was ok. He took responsibility for moving the salt and pepper by Vanessa and told the bar man so. Then he apologized to us. 

Later he had a heated conversation with the bar man, in Swedish. Then he stood up to go, apologizing again and pointedly hoping we enjoyed the rest of our time in Sweden.

The bar man talked to us after he left, explaining he didn’t want Vanessa to play with the salt and pepper containers because they are food and saying the man had threatened his license over it, claiming to have authority in those matters. The bar man summed up the man by saying he had “an interesting psychological profile.” We were welcomed back any time.  

The first night in our hotel wasn’t too bad despite some wakefulness and a middle-of-the-night barf (Zara). Those Woolite packs are already handy! I washed Zara’s PJs in the sink and they were dry before we left the hotel. We slept for about 12 hours, minus the wake ups.   

When we woke it was nearly midday and the predicted rain had arrived. In typical tourist fashion we walked ten minutes in the cold rain to two closed cafes. We ended up going to a chain coffee shop, Espresso House, near the two closed cafes. Ironically we had passed one of these chains near our hotel and later discovered there was another actually in our hotel. But hey, we got to see a little bit of Stockholm on a rainy Sunday. And Espresso House had excellent cappuccinos.  

   

 

There are a few things that I enjoy in other countries, things you can’t get from guidebooks or travel shows: tv and grocery stores. To our amazement and embarrassment, one of the first shows we found on the hotel television was a David Hasslehoff show. 

The show is made in Sweden and seems to consist of him interviewing famous Swedish people. It is in English. His schtic is to ask every guest why they are famous. Hasslehoff seemed lucid but perhaps a little high. There was much mention of breasts and balls (testicles). He even declared that he had big balls. Can anyone tell me why David Hasslehoff is so popular outside of the U.S.?

To prepare for our overnight ferry from Stockholm to Tallinn, I went to a grocery store near our hotel. After carefully picking out provisions, I learned that not everyone speaks English in Sweden. The clerk indicated I needed a card with a PIN number to pay. I only had normal credit cards and she was unable to tell me where/how I could use them to pay. She simply repeated “PIN number” as if I didn’t hear her the first time. 

Tim had been in the store earlier and had no problem using his credit card. I left the groceries there, saying I’d be back, and marched back to the hotel feeling miffed. My attempt at “getting out there” and interacting with the locals had been a flop. Tim went back to the store and paid for the items with a credit card. What the hell?

Another snafu occurred when our taxi arrived to take us to the ferry. The hotel had called the taxi and knew we had small children. But the taxi driver refused to give us a ride because he didn’t have car seats for the kids. He said he could get a huge fine if the police pulled him over. Apparently it is illegal in Sweden to use taxis without car seats. We found another taxi with car seats and drove through Stockholm in the rain. When we checked in at the ferry terminal, we learned we had missed the ferry. Not technically, as the boat was still docked, but they require passengers to get there earlier than we thought. 

Tim took it all in stride and arranged for us to take it the next day instad. Then he found an affordable hotel that was very, very close to the ferry terminal. Whew, snafu averted.

The second night was not so good to us. Zara woke up at midnight and stayed awake until 4:30 am. She spent this time alternately laughing, playing, eating, screaming, crying, yelling, rolling around wildly and at times literally climbing the walls. Vanessa managed to sleep through until 4 am when the screaming was too much to sleep through. 

Desperate, we pulled out the Benadryl and gave Zara some at 4:10. Either it worked or her exhaustion finally won out. Why didn’t we try the Benadryl earlier?

Next up: Tallinn, Estonia

   

     

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Tripmas Eve

Our flight is at 11 PM tomorrow. That means it’ll probably be pretty challenging from about 8:30-11:30 with grumpy littles (bedtime is usually 8 PM) and then, hopefully, the girls will sleep for most of the flight. I can dream, right?

The Germanwings Flight 9525 crash on Tuesday has weighed heavily on me. I keep trying to rationalize something good about it, like At least it wasn’t a mechanical problem. But then I’ll think, Wait, you can fix mechanical problems. It’s a lot harder to fix mental problems, especially if there’s no hint of them in the first place. Then the irrational thoughts rise up, like, Since that plane crashed, there’s no way our plane will crash. And so it goes, round and round in my head. 

I don’t consider myself an especially anxious person but planning a long international flight with my husband and two young daughters right after that crazy, horrible wreck makes me hesitate just a bit.

Have I finished packing you ask? Almost! The winter/spring combination weather in Sweden and Estonia has challenged me. It is in the 30s at night and high 40s during the day. Our winter coats may be too warm but layers take up room in the suitcases. Rain is predicted at times…Vanessa is the only one I’m packing a raincoat for, as she is the most likely to be running around away from our single collapsible umbrella. 

Tim and I can get away with rewearing  most of our clothes but the girls need more outfits due to obvious reasons like blowouts (yes, Zara, I’m looking at you), food spills and their penchant for hanging out on the ground and jumping in any and all mud puddles. Not that we even know what mud puddles are in this drought stricken Northern California.

I packed about 12 Woolite packets for hand washing. I charged the batteries on our camera, cleared 3000+ images off my iPhone to make room, found the international power adapter, and ordered a stylish passport fanny pack for Tim to wear. Also, since Zara is too heavy to be worn in the baby carrier in the front, she’ll be carried on our backs. My diaper bag is a backpack style, which won’t work with Zara in the back so poor me, I had to go shopping and get a bag with a crossbody strap. 

Oh, and bath toys. I packed four bath toys, ideally two for each child but in reality four for Vanessa to horde away from Zara. Bath toys were so nice to have on our last trip that I now consider them essential. 

I made the mistake of googling Stockholm fashion. Gorgeous models paraded across my screen in couture clothing and unreasonable footwear. All of a sudden my black legging/tee shirt travel uniform seemed incredibly unacceptable. I will be the most unfashionable female in all of Sweden. See? It is easier to focus on these trivial concerns than thinking about airplane crashes.

I told Tim I wanted to get a Dala horse while in Sweden. He said I could probably find one at the “dala” store. Get it? “Dala store” instead of “dollar store”? That’s just a taste of the kind of comic gold that goes on around here. 

You know you want to come with us.

See you in Sweden!

Countdown to Sweden & Estonia

Somebody is starting to get in the Swedish spirit!

In one week we will once again haul our kids halfway across the world just for fun. Destination? Stockholm, Sweden and Tallinn, Estonia.

Have I begun packing? No.

Am I looking forward to jet lag with two toddlers? No. 

(Zara turned one at the beginning of March so now it really is officially two toddlers.)

But this trip is relatively short, ten days, and I’ve wanted to visit Sweden for a long time. Both sides of my family are Swedish. When I was a kid my grandparents used to take me to a restaurant in Door County, Wisconsin, called Al Johnson’s. The building had a grass roof with goats grazing on it and inside friendly blonde waitresses in traditional Swedish outfits served delightful Swedish pancakes. So I imagine that our trip will be highly similar to that experience.

We plan on spending time in Stockholm and then taking a ferry east across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn. Apparently ferries can be great ways to save money on lodging, so we planned the trip there and back to be overnight.

I don’t know much about Tallinn but I saw a travel show with Michael Palin visiting Tallinn and it looked pretty cool. 

Ten days means we don’t have to pack much, although it’s still chilly over there so we will have to bring our warm coats and such. But what we don’t have to bring?! Car seats! Yay! It’s bound to be a breeze without those heavy things. 

Anybody have recommendations for Stockholm or Tallinn?