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Hayley Travels

Goodbye to Northern Europe!

SWEDEN | Friday, 19 August 2016 | Views [397]

I've now spent over two weeks in Northern Europe (and Barcelona) and I'm loving it! It's been a great reprieve from the intense heat and sun of Southern Europe that I battled for nearly two months. I have found that Northern Europe is much more similar to the United States than the southern part. Most people speak English fluently (to the point that I felt a bit ridiculous thanking people in their native language - something I always did in the south). While there definitely are distinct cultures, customs, and practices in the north, they are more familiar. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved Southern Europe (aside from how hot it was!). The food was incredible, the people were friendly (for the most part), the cultures were fascinating. This is a comparison of the two, not a criticism of Southern Europe!

 

STOCKHOLM

Oh. My. Goodness. If Barcelona was my first love, then Stockholm is my second love. I quite honestly cannot believe that Stockholm is for real. The skies and waters are so blue and clear, the clouds are white and fluffy, trees/shrubbery is vibrantly green, the architecture is gorgeous, and the food is delicious. How can one city have so much going for it?

My days in Stockholm were very relaxed. I spent the majority of my time in Gamla Stan (Old Town). It has narrow cobblestone streets that run between old colorful buildings housing souvenir shops, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. In the area you will find picture perfect churches and buildings. I literally spent hours walking down every street, looking into different shops and looking at the menus of the different restaurants. While you're there (or Stockholm in general you need to try the typical Swedish dish of Swedish meatballs in cream sauce, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, and lingonberries. Unless it's an international restaurant, I guarantee that they will have that meal. I grew up eating Swedish meatballs and love them, but the ones I've eaten in the United States - even in Ikea - can't compete with Swedish meatballs in Sweden (sorry Mom and Grandma!). I may or may not have had Swedish meatballs three times while in Stockholm.

If you get the chance, walk along Hornstull Strand. There is a big park and walking path right along the waterfront. The pictures I took there look like they were professionally taken (if I do say so myself) but they have literally no filter on them! On Sundays there's a small market nearby that is like a mixture of a flea and craft market that has a wide variety of food trucks at the end. I spent a couple of hours just walking along the waterfront. You'll see people jogging with their dogs, pushing babies in strollers, riding their bikes, swimming, tanning, walking with friends, and sitting on benches reading. It's so peaceful and gorgeous and idyllic. There's also an outdoor gym at the park which is really cool.

If you like museums, Stockholm has got you covered. I didn't have the money to see all of the ones I wanted to see, but I am definitely planning on going back to see them. There's the ABBA Museum, Spirit Museum (like alcohol spirits, not ghost spirits), Nordiska Museet (Nordic history), Vasamuseet (where there's a really big ship), and the Nobel Museum, just to name a few. The only museum I went to was Skansen, the world's first open-air museum. For my Nebraska friends, think of Living History Farms in Des Moines. It was super interesting with the buildings not being replicas, but being buildings that had one time been used and then transported to Skansen to showcase the Swedish ways of life. There is even a zoo with Nordic animals! It was a lot of fun even if it was mostly families. At the end there is a little market where you can buy traditional Swedish crafts and foods (bear jerky anyone?). It is right by Nordiska Museet and Vasamuseet.

Stockholm was absolutely amazing and I totally encourage y'all to visit if you ever get the opportunity. It is tied with Barcelona for my favorite city I've visited (and that is a surprising statement coming from me because I fell head over heels in love with Barcelona).

 


BERLIN

Berlin is a bit of a confusing city. It's all at once gritty and glamorous, historic and cutting edge, industrial and modern. You can't really put Berlin in a box and from what I could see, its residents prefer it that way. At first I wasn't super impressed with Berlin (although I'll be the first to admit it's probably because no city was going to measure up well immediately following Stockholm), but the more time I spent there, the more I liked it.

Berlin basically has three city centers: the historic center, the West Side center, and the East Side center. I spent most of my time in or near the historic center. There was always a lot going on, so it was prime for people watching, and there was a street fair right outside the metro station so I got to eat quite a bit of food for cheap!

There are a couple things that I recommend you do if you visit Berlin. Spend some time in the area of Brandenburger Tor. It's a recognizable landmark a ways from the historic center. Right next to it is the Holocaust Memorial. I definitely recommend that you go there. It's quite incredible to look at but what surprised me is that the main part of the memorial is not nearly as somber as I expected. It's poignant and thought provoking, but not somber. There are several parts to the memorial in the area that you can check out. There is also a beautiful park that is super relaxing.

I also recommend you spend some time at Museuminsel (Museum Island). This district is home to five museums. You can visit them individually or you can get a museum pass. If you plan on seeing more than one, it makes more sense, financially, to get the museum pass. I went to the Altes Museum, which houses art and archaeological finds from the Romans, Etruscans, and Greeks. I also went to the Neues Museum, which is the Egyptian Museum.

There are many other museums, galleries, and districts to visit. I did not visit as much as I had planned because it was rainy and kind of cold while I was there. But even so, I saw some wonderful things, so I can't complain!

 


AMSTERDAM

If you're interested in canals, I'd recommend Amsterdam over Venice. I wasn't sure how i was going to find Amsterdam. I had heard a wide range of stories and thoughts about the city, ranging from wonderful to mediocre to crazy, but I really liked it! It was chilly and rainy the day I was there, but I still had fun. There is an almost overwhelming amount of museums you can visit and because I'm on a budget I visited exactly zero of them, but I'd like to return one day to visit many of them. I saw the Anne Frank House, but did not go inside. I walked around a couple of the main plazas and squares in the city.

But the best thing I did was take a canal cruise. It was 10€ for an hour long tour. The captain of my boat was really funny and interesting. We went all throughout the city, from the main train station to the Red Light District. I learned about the history and culture of the city and it was absolutely fascinating.

 


BRUSSELS

Even more so than Amsterdam, I heard mixed reviews of Brussels before I went. It seemed people either love the city or recommend going elsewhere in Belgium (like Bruges or Antwerp); there really was no in between.

Like Amsterdam, I only had one full day in Brussels. It was also cold and rainy that day. I didn't really want to spend money on museums or tours or anything, so I just went to this area called Grand Place that has beautiful buildings, shopping, and lots of food. I highly recommend spending a couple of hours in the area. Because it was cold and rainy, that's the only place I really went in the city.

I spent my day in Brussels basically eating my way through the city. Belgium is known for its frites/chips/French fries (whatever you prefer to call them), chocolate, waffles, and beer. I had three of those four things. I started with getting some fries at one of the stands. I talked about these shops in my post on northern Italy, and you'll find these shops all over Italy, but especially in Amsterdam and Brussels. I stopped by several chocolatiers. Many will give you free samples, so take advantage of that. I ended up getting some chocolate covered strawberries at one of them. Then I got a Belgian waffle topped with strawberries and Belgian chocolate. I finished my day of eating in Brussels by getting a lookwurst. I may not have done much in Brussels, but I sure ate well that day!

 


PARIS

Man, oh man, Paris is magical. It really, truly is an incredible city. The first day in Paris I window shopped along Champs-Elysee. It's a huge street filled with shops and cafes. One of the streets of the main avenue is lined with designer stores. I walked along it and gazed longingly at Elie Saab (my all time favorite designer), Jimmy Choo, Celine, Valentino, among many other high end designers. I did not go inside any of the stores, however, since some of their clothes and accessories cost more than my entire trip. Besides, Loft jeans and an Old Navy tank don't exactly scream, "Hi, I'm here to drop $500 on a pair of gorgeous heels." Along Champs-Elysee itself there are more reasonably priced shops, like Zara and H&M. I recommend that you stop in Laduree, the famous maker of macarons. You can buy a box of six macarons of your choice, which is what I got. I chose cherry, rum vanilla, salted caramel, chocolate, lemon, and peach.

After I got back from window shopping, I spent some time walking around my hostel. I stayed a little ways from city center but my hostel was right on one of the canals, which was really cool. There was some sort of fair or celebration going on along the canal and although it appeared to mostly be families with young kids, I checked it out briefly. It was relaxing and fun.

My second day I started at the Louvre. I knew it was a large museum but it is so much bigger than I anticipated. It's absolutely massive. I almost got my 10,000 steps in for the day while I visited! As I have previously mentioned, I am not a huge fan of art museums; I much prefer history or archaeology. That being said, I loved the Louvre. It has a wide variety of art mediums, from paintings to sculptures to furniture to ceramics. While I did make sure that I saw the Mona Lisa, it by far was not my favorite part of my visit.

If you, like me, are not as interested in paintings, I have some recommendations of what to see while there. The gallery of Near East (that is, Middle East) antiquities is wonderful and fascinating. The Egyptian gallery was beautiful set up (are you sensing a theme here?). But I had two absolute favorite exhibits. First, there is an area dedicated to art from Africa, Asia, the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, etc.), and the Americas. There really weren't paintings so much as hand crafted masks and statues and jewelry. It was intriguing and gorgeous. Second, Napoleon III's apartments. This area is lavish and opulent and ostentatious. I loved it. There's an abundance of spectacular chandeliers, plush furniture, gold accents, and stunning artwork. Surprisingly, the Louvre ended up being my favorite part of my time in Paris.

After the Louvre I went to the Eiffel Tower. To be honest, unless you want to pay the money to go up, you really don't need to go there. You can get better pictures from other parts of the city, simply because it is such a massive structure. Going right by the Eiffel Tower is like going right by the Washington Monument in DC - it's too big to get a good picture. But, there are a lot of stands selling food, crafts, and souvenirs which was fun to look through.

My last day in Paris was only a partial day. I took an overnight bus to Barcelona that night, so I had a few hours to kill before I left to catch my bus (which I almost missed. More on that in a minute). So, I decided to do a little more sightseeing. I first went to see the Notre Dame. I did not go inside because the line was so long but I did take some beautiful pictures and admire the building. Then I walked around in that area and took some gorgeous pictures of the river. Afterwards I went to see Sacre Coeur. Again, I did not go in but took some pictures and looked around nearby. By that time it was time for me to head back to my hostel where I had stored my bags and grab some dinner. The hostel I stayed at had a sport bar attached to it and hostel guests got 25% off their meal, which was great. Most of their menu was pretty American but they did have one traditionally French dish: Croque Monsieur. It's a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a kind of cheesy sauce. It becomes Croque Madame if it's topped with a fried egg (which is how I had it). It's not super different from something you could get in the States but the difference is that it typically uses European cheeses which have a richer flavor. I recommend that you try that, crepes, and pastries while in Paris.

Now, story time! I mentioned I almost missed my bus to Barcelona. That's not an exaggeration. I left my hostel almost two hours before the bus was supposed to leave. I got to the general area and literally could not find the bus station. I spent over an hour looking for it and was getting super frustrated. Bus has been my main mode of transportation between cities during this trip because it's so cheap. So far I have taken 22 buses (not including city buses), so I am well aquatinted with bus stations of many types but I did not see anything that looked like a bus station. Finally I saw a smallish sign with the busline I was using next to what looked like an industrial garage. Guess what it was? If you guessed the bus station, give yourself a cookie. I see my bus and was then told that I need to check in downstairs, which is something I had literally never had to do up until that point. I finally get checked in and the bus driver has to reopen the luggage hatch so I can put my backpack in. I find an empty row (because a family moved closer together so I wouldn't be squished against a stranger) at the back of the bus and sat down. I looked at my phone. 6:59. My bus was scheduled to leave at 7:00. I had basically sprinted from check in to the bus so my throat was sore and I hadn't had a chance to buy a bottled water. But luckily we stopped three times on the way to Barcelona for people to stretch, use the restroom and get food (at 8:30, midnight, and 3:30 in the morning). It was a fourteen hour bus ride. I slept a little but it was only for an hour or so at a time and was super restless. By the time we arrived in Barcelona, my back hurt, my neck hurt, and for some reason my knees hurt. Needless to say, despite arriving in Barcelona at 9 AM, I did literally nothing that day.

 


BARCELONA (Round 2)

My second foray into Barcelona (my one true love) was very laid back. The day after I arrived there I was still pretty tired (even though I went to sleep before midnight - something I haven't done since Portugal), so I relaxed at the hostel for a bit before going to Sagrada Familia. This is Gaudi's famous unfinished cathedral. I didn't pay to go inside (again, sensing a pattern?) but the view from outside is spectacular. I also spent awhile walking around in the area. I called it a day around mid afternoon and went back to my hostel to relax.

My second full day in Barcelona didn't start until around noon. I knew I was going to be up late that night so I didn't want to be too tired. I went back to La Boqueria and continued my quest to eat my way through the market. I ate ham croquettes, which were good but we're cold - they would have tasted better warm. Up next were mini cured sausages, which were quite tasty. Following the sausages was a huge slice of cheese pizza. The pizza wasn't as good as what I had in Naples but was still delicious cheesy goodness. I wandered by the same crepe place I went to last time and couldn't resist, so I got a cheese, tomato, and black olive crepe. I finished my eating with an Oreo macaron ice cream sandwich. I walked along La Rambla, the street La Boqueria is off of. I spent a little time there the first time I was in the city, but spent more time there this time around.

That night was what has so far been the highlight of my trip: the FC Barcelona game. Barça is my favorite professional soccer (football) team. If you don't know much about the sport except for watching the World Cup, Barça is the team that Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez (yes the one that bit another player in the 2014 World Cup) play for. The game was the second leg of the Spanish Super Copa final against Sevilla. Series that are played in legs like this are decided on aggregate (meaning a team could lose one game but win the other game by more than they lost by and thus win the series). Barça had played at Sevilla three days before and had won 2-0 so unless they lost the game I went to by three goals, they were going to be Super Copa champions. Instead they won 3-0 so it wasn't a concern!

The game was so much fun. I didn't get to see all of the main players play because a lot of them were being rested since the regular season begins soon, Neymar was in Brazil for the Olympics, and one of my all time favorite players (whose jersey I have), Iniesta, had gotten hurt in the first leg of the series and was unable to play. But I'm not complaining, because I still got to see one of the sport's all time greatest players play. Messi is spectacular to watch. I've seen him play on TV many, many times but that doesn't even compare to seeing him play in person. It's simply amazing.

I spent quite a bit of money on my ticket but it was worth every penny. I was on the teams' side of the pitch and was only about 10-15 rows from field. I could see the players' faces and the abs of the Sevilla players' sweat-soaked white jerseys, and could hear the coaches yelling. It was also really awesome because this was a lower stakes game, a lot of the players who played were younger or the players who were just signed during the recent transfer period, so we're being given a chance to show what they can do. Camp Nou, Barça's stadium, seats just under 100,000 and even though it was definitely not filled to capacity, it was loud and passionate and full of pride for the team. Camp Nou is absolutely one of meccas of sports in the world. One day I plan to go watch El Clasico (the game against Real Madrid, the team Cristiano Ronaldo plays for and Barça's biggest rival) at Camp Nou - I cannot imagine how incredible that would be. All in all it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

The game did not even start until 11 o'clock at night. I chose a hostel that was within a 5-10 minute walk of the stadium since I knew it would be a late game. Since they won a trophy it was an even longer night and I didn't get back to the hostel until around 1:30 AM. I was so amped up after the game I didn't fall asleep until close to three. Knowing that, I slept in and planned for another low key day.

I went to Park Guell, Gaudi's park. There are two parts to the park: the free area and the monuments zone. If you really love architecture, it's probably worth the money to enter the monuments zone. As it is, I don't regret buying the ticket, but if I were to do it again, I wouldn't have. There's plenty to see in the free area and you can still see some of the buildings in the monuments zone, you just can't go inside them. If you do want to go into the monuments zone, I recommend buying your ticket online. For me it was actually 1€ cheaper than buying at the park and you can pick from available time slots ahead of time. Try to go in the morning. You'll thank yourself. When I was choosing my times, I had the option of 8 AM or the afternoon. There was no way I was going to be getting up for the eight o'clock time slot after staying up late for the game the night before, so I had to settle for the afternoon and it was really warm and sunny with little breeze.

 


I am sorry for the delay between posts! I meant to post after Amsterdam or Brussels but did t have much written by the time I would have posted so decided to lump these six cities since I'll be in Eastern Europe for about three or four weeks. I can't wait to see what Poland has in store for me!

 

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