And just like that, Stockholm was done. It feels strange, since we've had four nights here, but it has flew by. This has been a rather lovely stop, again, probably because we had no expectations going in. Scandinavia has been freeing in our complete lack of preconceptions and as such we've be able to really form our own opinions and experiences untainted by popular opinion.
I had spent quite a bit of time in central Stockholm, and really wanted to get out and see a bit more of the place. I hadn't understood before looking at the map just how fragmented the city, and indeed country, is. It is sprawled over an archipelago of hundreds of islands. It's like a cold, northern version of South-east Asia. Boat transport isn't just a novelty, it's a necessity. I did a quick Google for places worth a visit, and settled on Vaxholm. I wandered down to the quay and boarded a boat. I hadn't really thought about the time involved, but it turned out to be an hour trip.
I had a sandwich on board and disembarked onto a place that I didn't really know anything about. It was a rather charming seaside fishing town beside another island with an imposing fortress on it. The Voxholm Kastellet was built in 1544 to protect Stockholm against ship attacks from the east. I almost took the ferry across to visit the museum inside but as time had grown short before it would close I decided it wasn't worth paying to rush around it.
Instead, I wandered up the quaint main street and around the waterfront. Ambling up into the suburbs - less than 5000 people live on the island, but it is a popular summerhouse location for Stockholm inhabitants - I enjoyed the cool day and beautiful atmosphere. I followed the general flow of the public, not having a map, and stumbled into a beautiful little cafe and museum further up the hill. The museum, situated in an old cottage, was free to enter, and was kitted out like out would have been in the 1800s. It was a very cool insight into the history of the place and with the pristine waterside views it was easy to picture the long dark nights spent huddled around the range.
As I was wandering through the rooms, a mother and her child were also browsing. The toddler was fidgety and kept playing with things - ancient, precious relics, on display but certainly not for touching - and the mother was indifferent. I physically cringed as the boy picked up delicate, wireframe reading glasses off the dresser and rifled through an ancient, yellowed, book of sermons. Not his fault, obviously, as kids will touch anything, but I was furious that the mother was enabling it to happen. Painful.
After ducking upstairs to view the fishing equipment, with a traditional boat, all kinds of nets and tools, and a study set up like a cordwainer's workspace, I felt peckish. The cafe was rather fantastically set up like a banquet, with a huge array of fresh cakes on display on a table, and after selecting a slice of what you wanted, you'd go up to the counter to pay. I grabbed a sponge roll and a cappuccino and then settled outside. I was seated in the sunny garden of a traditional Swedish cottage, overlooking the beautiful waterfront and archipelago, having afternoon tea and watching the clouds as a change rolled through. Pretty fantastic.
Of course, when I was done, I had to catch the boat back to Stockholm. As it happened, that was about an hour's wait, so I sat on the waterfront and enjoyed a relaxing evening until the ferry arrived. As we motored back (another hour of travel), the sun began to set over the islands. Beautiful. When we docked in the city, I realised it was later than I'd planned - after 7:30pm. I walked to the central station to get the airport express train tickets for tomorrow's early start, and then walked back towards the hotel.
I stopped for Italian at about 8:30pm, having had it three nights earlier but in the vestiges of the food poisoning and thus unable to really enjoy it. The place had something I'd never seen before - self-serve, classy antipasti entrees set up alongside the wall before your main arrived. I made a pretend bruschetta with oiled bread and fresh tomatoes. The bolognese I ordered - it was cheap, okay - arrived quickly and with that nice juicy, oily base of an authentic pasta. Lovely hit of chilli, too; from our experience, not traditionally Italian, but appreciated. Look at me, upstaging the food blogger. What have I become?
Anyway, Helsinki looms tomorrow. It seems like we were just there, en route to Milan and then Florence for our first stop. Now we'll be back, on the day that marks the mid point of our trip. From Helsinki on, we're officially closer to coming home than leaving. I can't quite work out where all that time is - we've done so many of the countries already, with just Finland, Norway, the UK, Canada and Japan to go, and about ten already crossed off. We're going to be luxuriating now, rather than rolling steadily onward from place to place.