The hostel is a former prison on the island of Langholmen, which is a 10-minute walk from the Hornstull metro station on Sodermalm. We got out of the station and, for the first time in Stockholm, found ourselves fairly turned around. Luckily everyone in Sweden is incredibly nice. Two people saw us struggling with our map and both offered help and pointed us in the right direction, which turned out to be over a bridge and onto a fairly sparsely populated island. Not too surprising, considering the hostel was a prison! It was nice and park-like, with lots of walking paths, piers, beaches, and boats docked waiting for the ice to melt
. The place looked like it'd be a summer paradise, but it wasn't too bad in winter either. The unanimous vote is that Langholmen wins the prize for best accommodation of the trip, partially because we had our own room with an ensuite bathroom, but also because it was in an old cell with all sorts of cute prison-themed decor. The whole place was done up adorably, and really felt more like a hotel than a hostel. Maybe we accidentally got some sort of upgrade, because we had a flat screen TV (which, again, we didn't use) and a set of towels and bedding (you usually provide your own or rent a set in hostels), but we weren't about to argue. We were living like queens!
Once we were settled in at the hostel, we crossed back over to Sodermalm and explored that island, which has some of the best views of Stockholm because the edge of the island is a steep cliff face. We walked up some stairs, and down some stairs, and up some stairs, and down a hilly path, and up some stairs...you get the idea...and there was a lot of oohing and aahing at the views. We walked along the cliff all the way to the address of the fictional Blomkvist from The Millennium Trilogy
, which both of us are partially through. The area is so hilly that some of the houses have entrances via bridges that cross from doors in the third floor to the street adjacent. It's just a really neat area, which is probably why it's one of the more trendy and hip areas in Stockholm. There are lots of little boutiques, galleries, design shops, and restaurants, as well as the insanely cool photography museum that we'll get to later.
After our walk, we stopped at Lidl and got some supplies to cook our New Year's Eve dinner in the hostel kitchen, then we got ready and headed out because we had a reservation at the Ice Bar
. The Ice Bar is a branch of the Ice Hotel up in Kiruna, and it's pretty much what it sounds like, a bar made of ice. You make a reservation and then you get 45 minutes to explore the bar and have one drink (they have a menu of vodka drinks or non-alcoholic) in a glass of ice. We decided this would be a cool (hehe) and different place to start our celebration. When we walked in, we were helped into heavy fur-lined ponchos with gloves attached and sent through an airlock that's designed to keep the bar at -5 degrees Celsius. Everything in there is made of blocks of ice, some sculpted into faces, and lit with pulsing blue and green lights. The bar is a slab of ice, there were a few ice tables and some ice blocks with furs draped over them for sitting. The only things that weren't ice were the ceiling and floor (I can see this being a problem). Joy had a Northern light, which was vodka, raspberry, and lime, and I had a Wolf's Paw, which was vodka and lingonberry, and we sat and sipped our drinks. Once we got over some hilarious awkwardness with arm holes and being tangled like strait jackets, the coats kept us pretty warm, but it was a bit uncomfortable to hold the drinks after a while. It was a fun experience, but I don't think I'd want to be in there for more than 45 minutes (the full-sized hotel actually has sleeping rooms made of ice). We noticed they played Niki Minaj the whole time, probably because they don't want people getting too relaxed because then they'd be cold, so they stuck with the dance music
. FACT: No one looks good dancing in a giant shiny fur-lined hooded poncho.
We left the Ice Bar and headed back to Sodermalm, where we heard people tend to go on New Year's Eve for a good view of the fireworks, and general revelry. We stopped in a bar that looked cute and made a few Swedish friends. Boris, who graciously answered all of our questions on how to pronounce words, went to watch the fireworks with us. Around midnight, we noticed that people were pouring out into the street and making their way towards the shorelines, so we followed. There were bottle rockets being lit off all around, and general noisemaking in the streets, which was fun but a little disconcerting if you're not used to people lighting fireworks off willy nilly. The oddest part of ringing in the new year in Sweden was that there was no real countdown, and no Auld Lang Syne, except for the few bars that I provided. It was just kind of...midnight...and there were fireworks, and some chinese lanterns, and everyone went back inside and continued the party.
We were pretty hardcore--we closed the bar--so we gave ourselves time to sleep New Year's Day. Most museums were closed, so we got a late start and decided to head to Woodland Cemetery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site a bit further from the city but still accessible by T-bana.It was rainy and cold, actually freezing rain because the ground got quite slippery
. As Joy put it, either a perfect day to be at a cemetery or a terrible day to be at a cemetery, depending on how you look at it. The place was beautiful, though, and massive. Because it was the holidays, many of the plots had lanterns and candles lit over them, which really glowed in the dreary day. We tried to find Greta Garbo's grave and think we got close but couldn't actually locate it. It was hard to see and freezing, so we headed back to the hostel and walked through a museum exhibit that was set up about the prison. The courtyard was the site of the final execution in Sweden, the only one done by guillotine. The island itself was quite rocky originally and still is, but is much more green and parklike now because of all the work the prisoners had to put into it. It was neat to learn about how much impact the place had on its surroundings, and the general justice system in Sweden. The country actually as fewer inmates than employees in its prison system, which is refreshing when you come from a country with overcrowded prisons.
When we were done with the museum, we cooked dinner and watched the Packers beat the Lions (woo!) thanks of the miracle of the Internet, then went to bed.
Monday was our last day in Sweden (boo!). We did some last-minute shopping in Gamla Stan, then tried to go to Skeppsholmen for the Architecture Museum, but were thwarted because it was closed for some reason
. So we headed back to Sodermalm and walked around the boutiques to take in some more Swedish design, and checked out some more great views of Gamla Stan, then went to the Fotografiska, a photography museum. The museum had three amazing exhibitions. The first, by Nick Brandt, was called "On This Earth, A Shadow Falls" and was photos of African animals, panoramas, and calcified skeletons. I found it very interesting that the close-ups of animals he defined as portraits, and the fact that they were framed that way really gave the animals character and depth. The second exhibit, was by Aitor Ortiz, who photographed structures but did it in such a way that it's impossible to get a sense of the whole building. It makes for some very disorienting photographs. I found the idea behind it fascinating, but not moving in the same way as the Brandt photos (ok, maybe I just like cuddly animals). The last exhibit was also disconcerting. It was "Surrounded by No One" by Margaret M. de Lange, and it was portraits of people that were supposed to capture what happens when they're left alone. Generally there were a lot of scarred and pained people, which was a bit hard to look at but I still really enjoyed the exhibit because the work itself I thought was good.
We did not anticipate being finished in the Fotografiska so early (sometimes I love museums like that, that you can see in a few hours and not feel overwhelmed by), and we still had some time before a dinner reservation at Herman's, a vegetarian restaurant, so we walked around Sodermalm a bit more
. Then we feasted! Harman's was great. It was an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet, and wow it was amazing. I planned to try a little bit of everything...and I managed it but it was just waaaay too much! My favorite were the roasted potatoes which were seasoned really nicely, the eggplant salad which was in some sort of yogurt and dill dressing, the kale and almond salad, the red cabbage salad, and the tasty nutty bread. The view was beautiful, since the restaurant was right above the museum on the cliff directly across from the Skansen museum, and the place was hopping! It was definitely up there with the best meal of the trip.
After dinner (2 hours later we finally felt we could move) we headed to the room and packed up. I had to be back up at 2:30 to fly, so there wasn't much else to do! All in all, it was an amazing trip. Totally did not expect to fall in love with Sweden so much, but I guess it can't help being so awesome. Joy makes a great traveling companion. She doesn't mind when I stop and take 80000 pictures of the same thing, and she's always ready to just do "one more exhibit really quick" in any museum.
Now it's back to the dissertation grind in Dublin, but there will be at least one more Sweden window shopping post and some fun Christmas in Dublin and Limerick catch-up posts.
My New Year's Resolution? Don't get so behind on my travel blog (among other things).
On the final morning of 2011, we moved to our last hostel of the trip. It was located a bit further out of the city centre than our first two Stockholm hostels. We actually had to take the metro (called the Tunnelbana, or T-bana), which was kind of fun because they have a lot of different art in the stations there. It's actually said to be the world's longest art exhibit at 110 kilometers.