Stockholm, Sweden – Part Two

Stockholm, Sweden – Part Two

S:ta Clara kyrka

If you are reasonably fit you can walk Stockholm. I chose to walk the city taking in; Gamla Stan or the old town, Drottninggatan, which is their high street and the NK and Galerian malls  where the well heeled shop. Stockholm is a fashion forward city but with a pared down twist. You will find a branch of H & M on nearly every corner. I am not a museum person but there are plenty for those who do, however, I do like grand old churches. S:ta Clara kyrka in the city is special.

Changing of the guards

Gamla Stan is an absolute must-see. Try visiting between 11.30am and 13.00pm when you can watch the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. It’s a major production. I did chuckle when the guards did an interesting high kicking jog into the parade ground.
You would be remiss if you didn’t take in at least one, maybe two of the islands. The contrast between the concrete high rise city and the traditional laid-back islands is vast. I chose to go to Sigtuna Island on the advice of many. It has been lovingly preserved and I got to see old homes and how the Swedes lived a few centuries ago.

Ferry to Sigtuna Island

They still have summer houses on the islands where they retreat and escape the rat race of city life. On Sigtuna Island I found runic stones, museums, castles and church ruins as well as the Church of Maria which in still use and dates back to 1247.

Skansen, on the green island of Djurgården is another must-see. It was the hunting island in days gone by. They have a zoo full of Nordic animals as well as traditional old houses and villages, an amusement park with scary rides and lots of open land. At Skansen there are also plenty museums. You can visit a cafe to taste traditional Swedish cakes and cookies, you can watch glass blowers in action, visit the pottery or watch the animals being fed at the aquarium. Get there by ferry or take the tram.

I had to visit IKEA. Diagonally opposite the Tourism office is a free bus to the biggest and best IKEA in the world. IKEA is set in a large building and you work your way from the top spiralling down in a clockwise direction taking in all sorts. Think – office decor, kitchen cabinets, linen, space saving gadgets and loads more. Plan more time than you think you will need. They have a cafe with bargain meals. I had a spinach and feta pancake for SEK29.

Sigtuna Island

Swedish food doesn’t lend itself to vegetarians. They are inclined to meatballs and mash type cuisine. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty fancy global and fusion restaurants. There are, but you will pay dearly for a meal out. At a sushi spot, my other half and I shared some Korean pancakes, then we had a tofu stir fry and one beer each. Our bill came to SEK 750. I will say, the portions were generous and the food was excellent. You frequently smell the aroma of waffles being cooked on a griddle to make ice cream cones as you walk the streets. This is one time to permit a sweet treat.

View from Sheraton Hotel

I was incredibly lucky that I was the recipient of a few nights hospitality and great advice from a friend which made my stay that much more affordable and ensured I got to see the best of Stockholm. My other half and I stayed in his summer house in Åland Island with him. We spent the last four days at the Sheraton Hotel which is located in the city centre. Accommodation prices are steep. The tourism office has a couple of computers visitors can use to find accommodation. Or you can view more on this link – Accommodation Sweden

Click here to go to Stockholm Part 1.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Stockholm, Sweden – Part One

Stockholm, Sweden – Part One

Travel in Stockholm in 2011

Stockholm city

When you think of Sweden, what comes to mind? How about, ABBA, Bjorn Borg, leggy blondes, the Nobel prize, IKEA, Electrolux, Absolut Vodka and Volvo. Swedes have a sensibility about them that is evident in their people and design aesthetic. They use the word “lagam” which means not too much and not too little, just in the middle. And that is exactly how they are.

I liked that they don’t insist on helmets for bikers, they allow drivers to use their cell phones, they permit drinking in three of their public parks and hot air balloons are free to coast quietly over the city skyline. They assume that the public will use enough sense to act responsibly. Clearly in Sweden, they do. The Swedish royal family send their children to the same schools they expect their subjects to attend. No wonder the Swedes like their royal family.
The leggy blonde bit is also true. I saw the highest concentration of attractive woman, and men, in a wholesome sort of way, than I have seen anywhere else.

Public park

As the plane flew in to land at Arlanda Airport I peeked through the window and saw forests and lakes. They say that Stockholm is one third forest, one third lakes and one third city. Stockholm is not a land mass as such, but an archipelago of 14 islands linked by 52 bridges. This makes it one of the greenest cities in the world. On a sunny day you will find Stockholm residents swimming, cycling, walking or running about. They happily bask in the sun and are spoilt for choice with places to go.

Heading north, the country becomes mainland but Sweden has 93 000 lakes in all. Sweden is clean and the Swedes pride themselves on their clear lakes. The water is good to drink and you can safely swim in their waters. Sweden has a law called – Allemans rätten – which allows all people right of access to natural land. Again, their inherent sensibility allows such a law to work.

Hot air balloon over the city

The  summer months in Sweden are from June to August. For the rest of the year it is cold. Really cold. The winters are also dark. The cold sets in from October and lasts till end of April. You can do a winter snow break in Stockholm if you fancy something a bit different. You might even be lucky enough to see the Northern lights. Just remember you also get 24 hours of night around that time of the year depending how far north you go.

Every single person I encountered spoke perfect English, so language wasn’t a problem at all. A few handy words are “hej” (pronounced hay) which is hello and goodbye; “tack” (pronounced tuck) which is thank you and “gatan” means street or road, it follows on after a street name.

Bicycles for hire

Scandinavia has a reputation for being beyond the purse of the average person. While Norway is off the Richter scale expensive, Sweden is the cheapest of all the Scandinavian countries and is manageable on a modest budget. Tour prices are around SEK300 – 500. You are looking at SEK40 for a single ferry ticket to Skansen Island. A meal out can cost from SEK100 – 400. I tended to buy a take-out salad and a sandwich, then find the nearest park to relax and eat. That would cost about SEK70 – 80. A coffee at a cafe costs around SEK40. The northern areas of Stockholm are classier and you will pay more. The southern areas were a lot more laid back with a meal costing SEK85 including a drink.

Skansen

There are a number of options for getting to the city from Arlanda Airport, which is a good 40 mins from the city centre. I chose Swebus over the high speed train, plain and simply because it was cheaper. You could also take a Flybussarna bus. Click on this link for more – Flygbussarna. These busses run regularly between the city terminus and the airport and cost about SEK99 one way.

A beach in the city

You can also avail yourself of a travel card for 24, 72 or more hours. This card allows you to ride any bus, overland train or tube train. The card costs a nominal amount and you are looking at about SEK250 for a 72 hour card. I had a SL card. Go to this link for more – travel card. Just be aware that it is cheaper to top up your card at the local supermarket – Pressbyran  – than at the train stations. I can’t explain this. You could also hire a bicycle. For more follow this link – Citybikes.

Click here to go to Stockholm Part 2.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Road trips South Africa – N2

Road trips South Africa – N2

Aloe growing on the side of the road South Africa

Most of the guests who stay at our guest house hire a car. I thought I would do a blog about the roads and road safety in South Africa.

South Africa is a lot bigger than most visitors realise. It is also a lot more developed than many parts of Africa. We were smiling at a dinner the other night, about a tourist who arrived at the airport in Johannesburg, and thought he had gone to the wrong destination. He could not believe such a large happening airport existed in Africa.

South Africa is located on the southern tip of Africa. It’s a long haul destination. We have 2798 kilometers of coastline. Our country comprises around 1 223 100 square kilomteres of land and occupies 4% of the land in Africa.  We are around 50 million people and have 11 official languages. There are plenty routes to drive and lots to see. Big bonus is our favourable climate year round. Driving holidays are a great way to see South Africa.

Rapeseed fields along the N2 Motorway

Our roads and infrastructure are generally good. Car hire is easy. In the last blog I gave some links to compare car hire prices in South Africa.

Car hire may be slightly expensive compared to some countries. Petrol prices are creeping up but we are still cheaper than most Western countries. I remember visiting Dubai and being stunned at how cheap petrol is there.

Dassiesfontein road stall

Public transport in South Africa is not what it is in Europe. Driving is essential for some people to get about. Road signs should be recognisable. There are speed limit signs so you don’t have to guess. Our local roads almost always have a verge or emergency lane, should you need to stop.

Here is a link to an article for more on driving in South Africa – driving in SA.

The main things to remember are to drive on the left, make sure you can pay for petrol in cash, ignore taxi drivers (they are a law unto themselves) and always know exactly where you are going. For AA maps follow this link – AA route maps.

Two local magazines aimed at driving holidays are Getaway and Go. You can read them on-line.

One of the best bits of doing a road trip in South Africa is the farm stalls, cafes and various vendors along the routes. It’s not uncommon for farmers to sell fresh fruit and vegetables, honey and jams or other interesting foods at stalls on the side of the road. You may get plied with tastings of luscious fresh foods.

Roadside cafes can get really cute. I showed a few pictures in this blog of Dassisfontein along the N2. Read more about them here – Dassiesfontein farm stall. A translation of the name means rabbit river. But there are plenty of quaint and fun roadside stops. Speciality meals and souvenirs abound.

Table setting at Dassiesfontein

We also have the usual petrol stop fancourt type places where you fill up and take a biological break.
There is a really comprehensive list of travel tips on this web page – tourist travel tips.

But the usual and I would hope obvious safety precautions apply. Make sure you rent from a reliable car hire company. Make sure you know exactly where you are going or be guided by locals as to where to travel. Don’t leave valuables or anything visible in the car. Don’t talk to beggars or street children at intersections. It has been known to happen that these people grab your bag or camera through an open window. It is illegal to talk on a mobile while driving in South Africa. It is also illegal to park facing oncoming traffic.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Garden Route South Africa and getting about

Garden Route South Africa and getting about

Garden Route steps leading to beach

The Garden Route is a popular holiday and retirement destination. Coming from Cape Town, it begins around Albertinia which is a tiny and not too exciting place. Give it a miss. The first coastal town is Mossel Bay (Mussel Bay). Mossel Bay is hardly a town. It is a big place and the road passes through the outskirts of it.

The other end of the Garden Route is at the Storms River Mouth. Place names like Natures Valley and Lake Pleasant give a clue to the beauty that this area holds. A mix of lakes, lagoons, estuaries, rivers, forests and mountains are what make it such an attractive place.

Dwarf and mini horses for kids to stroke. This is Henry.

You can get there by hiring a car and driving. Visit these links for price comparisons of the various car hire companies in South Africa – option 1 and option 2 and lastly option 3. The roads have recently been re-done and long queues seem to be over for the most part. The views along the way are special.

Bus companies to consider are Baz bus which is a hop-on hop-off bus. Links to other inter city coach bus operators are IntercapeGreyhound and Translux.

Maybe you might like to do a motorbike trip through the Garden Route? Follow these links – MotoBerlin and AdMo. Have yourself a Harley holiday.

Garden Route sand and castles

I would be wary of the intercity trains. I read the local news and I don’t feel I can recommend them. The Blue Train or a special train is fine.

There are organised cycle tours. I have included a link for those who would relish a chance to sit on a saddle and cycle – mountain biking in South Africa.

I would strongly discourage anyone from hitch hiking in South Africa. And I’m not sure I would couch surf either. I know of people who have done some couch surfing in SA, and maybe it’s just me, I don’t like to take that sort of risk.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Garden Route South Africa – Wilderness

Garden Route South Africa – Wilderness

Travel in Wilderness South Africa in 2011

Forest walk

I mentioned in the last few posts that I spent a week in the Garden Route. We took a day trip to Wilderness twice. The first time we took a relaxed approach. We had a meal and wandered around the shops. The second time we decided to paddle a canoe up the river, into the forest, for a picnic.

The river and the forest are set in the Garden Route National Park. Click on this link for more – Garden Route National Park.

I have to be a bit honest. My canoeing skills are not all that. We rowed against the tide when we went for our picnic and when we came back as the tide had turned. My arms ached. The river got a bit rocky in places and we had to get out and push our canoes to get them going again.

The river water was freezing cold. I couldn’t feel my feet. But it was fun. Once we arrived at the waterfall area we relaxed in the sun, listened to the birds and the water splashing in the rock pool. I could barely move after a while. It’s definitely one way to de-stress.

Canoe boat

The company we got our canoes from is Eden Adventures. Follow this link to find them – Eden Adventures. They have all sorts of activities for a person to do.

We passed wooden lodges and rondavels as we paddled the river. SA National Parks hire them out to visitors. Go back to the first link for our local national parks and find out more there. They even have a webcams so you can view wild animals.

What is a rondavel? It’s a unique South African word for a round dwelling. Wiki explain all here – Rondavel.

Rock pool

Wilderness area also has a long soft sandy beach. The sea water is warmer than in Cape Town. Sea water gets warmer as you head up the coast toward Durban.

The Garden route is definitely a must-see. It’s the Garden of Eden of South Africa. You can do nothing more than simply soak up the scenery. Or  you can get more adventurous and go canoeing, visit the Cango Caves nearby in Oudtshoorn or ride an elephant in Knysna. You will find plenty to suit your inclinations.

More links here – Knysna Elephant Park. Why it is not a good idea to play with elephants – elephant attacks handler. And – Cango Caves.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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