Scandinavian Summer, Day 12: Gällnö

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While planning the vacation part of the Sweden trip, multiple blogs and articles spoke of how a visit to an archipelago island was almost a non-negotiable part of a trip to Sweden.  This is true of both the East and West Coast archipelagos near Gothenburg and Stockholm, respectively but there seemed to be a greater focus on Stockholm.  I suspect this is mainly due to Stockholm being a more popular tourist destination, especially for those on shorter trips just trying to get a taste (or smaka!) of Sweden.

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I hadn’t made any plans so after returning to Stockholm, I had an inner debate on what to do on my only full day left before my return flight.  I really did want to explore an island within the Stockholm archipelago but I also thought wandering Gamla Stan more, seeing City Hall and going to the Nobel Museum also sounded really cool.  And it’s true, staying in Stockholm another day would have been awesome.  But, ultimately, I decided that there are always more museums to see and things that stay off the list so rather than do more of the same by staying in the city, I decided to venture out for a day trip to experience the Swedish Island lifestyle.

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Once I made that decision, I had to figure out which island I wanted to go to.  I was in Stockholm one week before the tourist season starts, aka Midsummer.  Once Summer arrives, there are many more ferries and seasonal routes open.  I really wanted to go to Utö but in the off-season, there was no direct ferry from Stockholm.  My second choice was Gällnö, reachable by direct ferry even in the off season. The ferry that was running was the Cinderella line (no Disney affiliation). It also went to Voxholm, Grinda, and Sandhamn.  Voxholm has the fortress and is nearby, but looks like a small town rather than a nature-focused island.  Grinda sounded a little too family-friendly but would have likely been fun.  Sandhamn was a two-hour ferry ride one-way and that just seemed like a little too much for a day trip.  Also, it has a reputation as a nice harbor for luxury yachts so I think it is a little posh.

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So, Gällnö.  I picked it because it sounded very undeveloped and a great place for biking, hiking and swimming.  There is a hostel there that is very popular in the Summer and, when passing it, I can see why.  It looks delightful and is in the most idyllic spot.

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Breakfast is served!

I had made up my mind the night before, so I timed my hotel breakfast so that I could enjoy the delicious food and then head to the pier without stressing about the time.  The breakfast was awesome.  I started in the drawing room but after I saw another guest outside, I wanted to eat outside too.  It was an amazing morning and the guy was very nice.  He was a bariatric surgeon from Chicago, traveling with his lawyer wife for what sounded like their annual big trip.  He was well-traveled and she joined us after awhile and they were fun and interesting to talk to over coffee.

I biked to the pier and boarded the ferry.  It left about 10 minutes later.  I paid onboard, a one-way passage with a small bike supplement since I took the bike from the hotel.  After 90 minutes, I was dropped off at Gällnö.  All by myself.  It was disconcerting to be the only one let off with only a few farmhouses visible as the ferry steamed merrily away.  Uh oh.

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But don’t worry!  Everything was fine.  I hopped on my bike and went towards the hostel and store.  The store was very small and had limited food, mostly geared towards group campers.  I wasn’t very hungry and only bought a snack, but a picnic would have been a good idea.

I kept biking and I’m pretty sure I biked on a hiking trail for a bit.  I found a beautiful beach and laid out in the sun for a bit.  I also scrambled around on some nearby rocks.  It was really beautiful.

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Then I hopped on my bike and went a few miles in the opposite direction and found another beautiful spot by the coast. I sat for a bit and really, didn’t think much about anything.  I just kind of sat and enjoyed how beautiful it was.  I tried to hone in on all the sensory inputs so I could have a vivid mental snapshot to go back to as a memory.

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Then, although it had only been a few hours, it was time to bike back towards the dock.  There was another timetable listed for another ship, maybe a commuter type ferry?  I flipped the dockside indicator to show that I was waiting for the boat.  I wanted to stick with what I knew so I waited for the Cinderella boat, which was the first one scheduled to arrive anyway.  They put the gangplank across and I boarded.  I bought a hearty late lunch (risotto!) that was impressively good for being cooked in a ship’s galley!

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I bought my ticket on-board again and word to the wise, if you think you can avoid the ticket lady, they do check your ticket stub as you disembark so no cheating!

I had to leave really early the next morning so I decided to take care of as much as I could the night before.  I took the tram to the rail station with my roll aboard, which I locked in an overnight locker.  The reason for this is that I was leaving so early the next morning that the tram to the station wouldn’t be open and I didn’t want to drag my suitcase for 1.5 miles.  I bought my Arlanda Express ticket as well.  On the way back to the hotel, I did some last minute sight-seeing along the way.

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Guard outside Stockholm Palace
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The stuff of nightmares.
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Kungliga Djurgarden Gate
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It’s a bird’s life, sitting on the head of a Swedish Aristocrat/Composer’s statue.

That night, I treated myself to a dinner at Oaxen Slip.  It was so good.  I had the herring dish again.  To me, it encapsulated new Swedish cuisine in one dish.  I had the rhubarb lemonade again and an awesome strawberry and merengue dessert.

 

 

Scandinavian Summer, Days 11: Stockholm Part 2

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View from the Terrace- I strongly recommend a visit!

After the conference, I headed into Stockholm.  Once I got to the city, I headed to the hotel which was on a boat!  Yes, after a less-than-stellar AirBnB earlier in the trip and seeing the boat from an amazing lunch at Oaxen, I had booked a two night stay at the Prince van Orangiën.  It is a former private yacht now turned into a unique boutique hotel.  I booked a room with a shared bath but had it to myself the two nights.

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The hotel.  There have been better pictures, I’m sure.

The boat was beautiful.  It was very luxurious with gleaming wood, marble fixtures, and gorgeous furnishings.  There were several deck areas to relax in and the central room was relaxing and opulent at the same time.  Breakfast was served in the mornings, although I could only partake the first morning since I had to leave super early on the second.  I highly recommend it, although I think when I go back in the future with SMS, I would book a room with a private bath just to ensure privacy and access (I sound like I’m talking about a private beach).

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Katrina-Sofia

So after check-in, I decided to find the cool part of Soderhalm which according to this guide, are south of Folkungagatan. So, really, it seems to be the area of Katrina-Sofia, at least on Google maps.  The hotel lent out complimentary bikes so I biked across several bridges to explore.

I went to Grandpa and tried on some clothes, leaving with two dresses that will hopefully evoke Swedish cool whenever I wear them.  Then I headed over to Urban Deli to peruse their grocery items (does anyone else like wandering through high-end grocery stores, especially on vacation?).  The store was awesome, although very Dean & Deluca and slightly impractical for a day-to-day shopping list but for a special treat?  An excellent choice.

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Park Nytorget
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Mural outside Urban Deli
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Going up the hill towards Sofia Church

After eating my snacks across the street in the Park Nytorget, I wandered up the hill towards Sofia Church.  The area’s historic name is Bergsprängargränd.  Based on the occasional information signs (SE/EN), it used to be the Stockholm slums where shipyard workers, rock-blasters and other day laborers lived.  The small red homes are still there but based on appearances, it looks like the real estate prices have climbed quite a bit since then.

Next, I wandered down the hill to Såzargatan.  This was also a poor shipbuilder neighborhood now almost completely rebuilt apart from a few protected houses.  There are three that are high above the street due to rock blasting that occurred after they were built.  #11 has a door that will open to a fairly significant drop so I wouldn’t recommend taking that exit.  There was also a box with an angled mirror called a “gossip mirror” so you could see who was on the street without having to actually stick your head out to look.  This sounds slightly creeper and antisocial but also kind of awesome.

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On the terrace, Fotografsika in the immediate background

THEN.  I found the highlight of my wanderings and a place that is very high on my list of recommended things to do in Stockholm.  Reg Anders Fogelströms Terrass has a fantastic view of the city.  Really, you have to go here…and it is not like me to tell any traveller that they have to do anything.  The views are exceptional and it just feels like it completely captures a quintessential Stockholm experience.

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Terrace View towards Gamla Stan
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Terrace View towards Tivoli Gorma Land
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The staircase from the cruise dock entrance/transportation hub.  For reference, the fotogarfiska is at the bottom.

There are a few ways to get there.  In addition to wandering through Katrina-Sofia, there is also a staircase near the Fotografiska which is great for my family taking cruises there later this year because the staircase is right across from the cruise ship docks.  Caution, there is a lot of construction there currently (Summer 2018) so it may be hard to cross the busy street.  There is also a way through the Slussen subway station and Katarina Elevator but again with the construction, it is still confusing and a longer walk than the staircase.  But no matter how you get there (take an Uber if you hate to walk!), I promise you, it will be worth it.  Well, at least on a day that you can enjoy the views, aka, maybe not during a storm.

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Screenshot of the Terrass.  I put an open circle around the ferry dock icon.  The filled in circle (blob) indicates the approximate location of the staircase.  I know it’s all smushed at the bottom but I wanted to show the islands you can see from the terrace.
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One of the protected old houses, covered in flowering vines.

Nearby, there is a small cafe with ice cream in the Summer and warm drinks in the Winter.  I wasn’t hungry but it looks like Fjällgatans Kaffestuga would be a great place for a fika!

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I am a sucker for peonies, like almost every other person.

Then I walked through a small neighborhood garden and another formerly poor neighborhood called Stigbergsgatan.  Then I went back to my bike and cycled to the hotel.  The evening was beautiful and I took several pictures of the boat.  Then, it was time to go to sleep.  The bed was very comfortable and I drifted off immediately.

Scandinavian Summer, Day 7: Stockholm

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Embrace the ridiculous!

It was our last full day together so what better way to have couple-bonding time than borrowing a tandem bike from the hotel?  Well, actually, there are probably lots of better ideas since it can be a stressful experience but SMS and I did pretty well!  There were a few initial wobbles but then we were set.  SMS took the lead seat since he is a much more avid cyclist than I am and I just peddled along in the back.

We headed over to the Vasa museum, which was listed as a “must-do” by many sources.  The Vasa is a Swedish warship that sank very, very quickly in 1628 on its inaugural voyage.  It only made it ~1300 m before it heeled and water came rushing in.  Apparently, the center of gravity was much too high and it was very unstable.  This was actually known before the launch but there were time pressures (from the King!) to get the ship battle-ready.  There was an investigation which sort of fizzled out once the council realized the king would partially be at fault for approving the original plans so Henrik Hybertsson, the main ship designer died in 1627, seems to have been blamed and any other culpability assignments were avoided.

The Vasa is very impressive.  We took an English tour and then wandered around.  The museum has a lot of supporting exhibits.  The most interesting one to me was the movie about the ship and the excavation, complete with footage from 1961.  All in all, it was a very cool museum but if you have a really short time in Stockholm and you can’t get to it, I would say it’s ok.  There are so many amazing sights in the city so see what strikes your fancy, rather than being bossed into seeing something because everyone says you should! 🙂

After the Vasa, SMS was hungry.  When this occurs, it can be a quickly escalating emergency.  I talked him into checking out a restaurant a mile away, which we biked in tandem towards, a happy couple!  Forget the suspicious glare from SMS who has, unfortunately, been caught in a situation where I assure him that there will only be a small wait and the opposite occurs.

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A wonderful find!

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But in this case, it was an excellent idea!  I had used Yelp and found excellent reviews for Oaxen Slip , a self-described Nordic bistro.  We were seated on the covered patio and ordered several small plates.  It was all so good.  We also ordered a cocktail made from their housemade rhubarb lemonade and aqua de cedro.  It was amazing.  Our dishes included Norrøna herring with brown butter, warm potato salad, chopped egg, beetroots & hazelnuts and other dishes no longer on the menu but included a mozzarella dish with scattered bread crumbs, a reuben-like sandwich (good but not my favorite), and a delicious salad.

We also saw the Prince van Orangiën, a luxury yacht converted to a small hotel.  It looked very cute and got me thinking for my time in Stockholm after the conference…

After lunch, we cycled back to the hotel to turn in our tandem bike.  Then we walked over to the Fotografiska, the photography museum that had also received rave reviews.  It may have been better to take public transport since, by the end of the day, we had done  a lot of walking but it was still cool to see the city.  The museum itself was ok.  The exhibits were all modern photography and only highlighted the photos, with no technical details or camera equipment displayed.  There is a good snack bar with a great view but overall, I found it to be overhyped for my particular level of interest in modern photos.

After the museum, we walked towards Sodermalm, which I heard was a very cool part of the city.  We didn’t find the cool part on this walk.  I did find it when I returned to Stockholm but this walk was a bit of a bust.  Plus, we were walked out.  So, we hopped on the subway and headed to the Central train station.  We walked to the Smaka for some more food.  We finally got our Swedish meatballs (yay!) and then we sat down to listen to some live music.  I took a few classy crowd pictures (see below).

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Looks like the guy in the glasses caught me taking the photo!

We headed back to the hotel and up to the 9th floor.  This time, it was late enough that the rooftop, which is reserved for spa users during the day, was open!  We relaxed in hammock-like chairs and just chilled out for about 40 minutes.  It was delightful and the views were amazing.  I felt very lucky.  It was a nice way to mellow out after a busy day and enjoy each other’s company on our last day in Sweden together.

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So happy!

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Scandinavian Summer, Day 6: Gothenburg to Stockholm

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Trädgårdsföreningen

Although I loved Gothenburg, we woke up and it was time to move on.  This trip, I booked two nights in each of the cities plus one night in Hven.  I would have been happy staying on the West Coast of Sweden but I had FOMO if I shortened our time in Stockholm.  I admit, there were several travel blog posts from the time Volvo was promoting its European Delivery that made a trip up the coast to the islands very tempting but ultimately, I resisted that particular temptation.

After another A+ waffle breakfast, we walked over to the Trädgårdsföreningen to see the gardens more closely than we had been allowed to during the GARDENfest.  The flowers were absolutely beautiful and I took a lot of pictures.  It was a quiet morning with beautiful light and it was really a delightful time.

Afterwards, I decided we needed snacks for the train and we accidentally came across the downtown Saluhallen, which was awesome because I had actually meant to visit there at some point during the trip but then forgot.  There were multiple stands with the most fantastic looking food.  We bought some nuts, bread, cheese and the world’s tastiest crackers.   The cheese tray also included two macarons for dessert.  Yay!  The merchants were really nice and it was a great stop.  I’m always a little superstitious about buying nice food for the train since I have a childhood memory of when Mom and Dad splurged on a really nice grocery haul for an overnight train to Norway and the bag was left in the train station.  TBH, I think it may have been partially my fault since I was usually entrusted with stuff as the oldest kid but regardless, in the fluster (cluster?) of getting six people with luggage on the overnight train, the food was left behind.

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This may look unattractive in its half-eaten state but it was DELICIOUS!

This time, however, the food came with us.  The train took us through the green countryside and forest across the country to Stockholm.  We walked from the central train station to our hotel, Downtown Camper.  It took about 5 minutes and it was very convenient.  The hotel was great but much bigger than I expected, with big tour groups as part of their main clientele.  It was fine but based on the website, I thought it was going to be much smaller and boutique-y.  No matter, it was still great.

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Happy at the bar

We walked towards the Kungsträdgården where the Smaka food festival was going on.  We checked it out and decided to come back later when we were hungrier.  We headed back to the hotel and had a drink in the 9th floor bar that had an exceptional view of the city.  After our happy hour, we went back to the Smaka and had a few small dishes, including reindeer!

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People feasting at Smaka!
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Reindeer Games
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The most handsome Swede!

We walked towards the Gamla Stan (old town) and walked towards the Riddarholmen Church, which has a beautiful wrought iron spire.  It’s the burial ground of all the Swedish monarchs with the exception of that Catholic convert who went to Rome, Queen Christina.  She will show up again in my Uppsalla recap!  Back to the church, I wonder what it’s like to be a young royal heir and know exactly where you will be in several decades?

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Riddarholmen

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Then, it was back to the hotel and to bed, gearing up for tomorrow’s full day in Stockholm!

Scandinavian Summer, Day 5: Gothenburg and Trollhättan

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Looking up the canal near the Riverfront

In reading these trip synopsis, I would caution you that part of the fantastic-ness of this trip was the incredible weather we were lucky enough to experience.  Apart from one drizzly morning during my conference when I was inside anyway, it was bluebird skies all day, every day and the days are quite long in a Swedish June.

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So, we woke up and ate at the Hotel Royal.  The breakfast spread included a waffle maker station so it got the A+ of the trip from SMS.  Then we walked towards the water to go to the Emigranternas Hus.  The old customs house, now a casino, was the center of emmigration from Sweden in the late 1800s-early 1900s.  1.3 million Swedes, about 1/4 of the population, moved to the US and took over Chicago.  I kid, I kid, they went to a lot of places in the US although Chicago was a huge destination.  The small museum located on two floors highlights the trip between Gothenburg and England and then England to the US.  It is really well done with a few interactive displays, such as walking through a re-creation of a ship’s berthing area, complete with (stuffed) rats :(.  Upstairs, there are more display signs with texts and pictures to give more detail on the movement out of Sweden.  Basically, many people were running out of farmland as the plots got smaller and smaller as they were divided up among the next generation.  Stories were told of little country mice Swedes that got caught up in the city life of Gothenburg and swindled out of the remainder of their passage money.

There was also a slightly perplexing set of poster-board-like displays on racism in America.   So, the text first states how Swedes were treated pretty well in the US for unknown reason (implicit in the text is “Because Swedes are $#%^ing AWESOME” as there’s a lot of understated but powerful Swedish pride!).  Then it point out the contrast between how Irish were treated, which was almost as bad as African-Americans which then leads into a discussion of slavery all the way up to Black Lives Matter.  In three paragraphs.  This seems to give short-shrift to a topic on which there are whole museums dedicated to, but at least they tried?  After pointing out how racist America was/is (and I’m not arguing that this is incorrect), the Swedish author did point out that Swedes are perfect either (*what?!*) because they liken the attitude of Americans to the Irish as similar to the Swedish disdain for “Finnish males in the 1960s migration.”  Sigh, poor Finns. Anyway, it’s a comprehensive but slightly weirdly abbreviated, off-handed addressing of a pretty big topic.

After our museum tour, we met with one of the staff and did some genealogy research.  It was absolutely fascinating.  I may have a new hobby!  SMS didn’t have a lot of info- a name, an approximate birth year, and a departure date.  From that info, we figured out great-grandmother Thekla’s birthday (we were one year off) and found her whole family in the Parrish record.  She had 5 siblings and the oldest fraternal twins were 16 years older than her.  Her mother had her at age 45 in 1870!  This sounds very 2018!  The record showed that one of her brothers left for Amerika in 1885 and then she left with her sister in 1887.  It was really neat to see how records last and can tell stories so many years later.

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It is fun to celebrate in a flatbed truck!

After the deep dive into genealogy, which I think I was more into than SMS even though it wasn’t my family, it was time for lunch!  On our way to lunch, we were passed by a flatbed truck packed with Swedish young people wearing yacht captain outfits (guys) and traditional dress (ladies).  They were clearly celebrating with loud music and sound makers.  I’m pretty sure it was a graduation celebration but I’ll be honest, I’m not completely sure.

We went to the Feskekôrka, an indoor fish market.  There were beautiful displays of fresh seafood and some ready-made options.  We opted for a picnic at the self-serve tables outside.  We bought herring with lingonberries, a shrimp sandwich, and fish soup.   It was very tasty.  It was also a bit cheaper than going to one of the restaurants attached to the fish market but we were able to eat the same things offered there.

On our way to the train station, we passed the Gelaterian Goteborg.  Sorry Hven, I found another paradise.  Oh my goodness.  It was amazing!  It was a super-cute shop with delicious gelato.  I had the licorice which actually tasted like a delicious adffogato.  I can’t get over how delicious it was.  SMS was a trooper and indulged my stop even though I hadn’t thought I was hungry after such a delicious lunch!

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In front of the 1801 locks

After feasting, it was time to continue retracing Great-Grandmother Thekla’s footprints by going to Trollhättan.  Americans may know the place best as the site of Saab headquarters.  There’s now a few museums there but we decided to walk along the Göta canal towards the current (and former) locks, one of West Sweden’s seven wonders!  The Göta canal was completed in 1832.  There were three lock systems to see.  The first was opened in 1801 by King Gustav IV Adolf.  It was a series of eight locks and although too small for exclusive use by the time the canal opened, they were used until 1916.  The second set of locks was from 1844.  Finally, the current lock system has been in place since 1916.

The locks are super-cool.  Each Summer, there are river boat cruise that go along the river as well as thousands of private craft.  In order to navigate the Falls, the locks are used to bring the boats up or down to the necessary level.

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Yum, yum, yum!

After admiring the incredible feats of engineering and taming of the falls, we walked back to Trollhättan to catch the train back to Gothenburg.  I had some licorice to tide me over until we got dinner.  We walked along the Kunsportsavenyn but ended up going a little into the side neighborhood Vasastaden to eat traditional food at Smaka, which was tasty.  We ordered the Smorgasbord sampler, which was a feast!

It was an awesome day, one of those days where we fit so much into it that it makes me wonder why I can’t be that efficient with my time at home!