Subways and semla in Stockholm….

For those of you who followed my recent adventures in South America, you will know that I booked a surprise trip to Stockholm for my partner, Ken, upon my return in February, to say thank you for supporting my decision to take four months off work while I worked through my mini-midlife crisis. I stepped off the plane in Amsterdam – wearing shorts to the bemusement of the cabin crew – to be greeted by a smiling Ken, who had just read my latest blog and was therefore aware of the surprise trip. If you’re wondering why Stockholm, you can read about it in this post.

It seems we have a knack for surprises in our relationship as, unbeknownst to me, Ken had gone to the UK to pick up the cats the previous week and they were at the door to greet me when I got home. Having been away for so long, it was a special homecoming. However, Ken took it one step further, as I discovered when going to the bedroom to change clothes only to be greeted by my best friend, Leah, who he’d picked up in the UK on the way back to the Netherlands. I was somewhat overwhelmed to be honest, and the endorphin rush was intense, like after a good workout. Or so I’m told. Perhaps I should go to a gym if it really does feel this good afterwards.

img_uhkln6829675111.jpgUnfortunately, our flight to Stockholm was booked for the following morning, so we said tot ziens to Leah and the cats, with promises to take her to her favourite restaurant on our return to the land of orange, evidenced above!

Ken and I haven’t really been on holiday in the 18 months we’ve been together, save for a few day trips in the Netherlands, so the upcoming 24/7 would be a new experience. We treated ourselves to some bubbles in the lounge despite the early hour and soon found ourselves on the Arlanda Express – how bloody much?!?!?!!! – whizzing our way to the city centre. I had booked a cute AirBnB apartment that didn’t disappoint. Despite it’s small square footage, it was designed perfectly and was very gezellig. Not that we spent that much time there. No, we came for the subway stations and unfortunately they require being outside. Well, underground, but you know what I mean.

As we had three days in the city, we took it easy on day one, exploring the narrow streets of Gamla Stan (the old town), and it wasn’t long before I persuaded Ken to partake in a spot of fika at Chokoladkoppen, a cute cafe on the main square. Thankfully they were still serving semla buns (they’re only available at certain times of the year, and you can read more about the tradition here) and it didn’t take me long to demolish one. Given that eating out in Stockholm is so expensive it requires remortgaging one’s dwelling, we took advantage of the fully stocked kitchen and had dinner at the apartment that evening.

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The next day was bright and sunny, but perishingly cold, so we decided to save being underground for the following day when the weather was due to be overcast, and instead took a boat around the archipelago. The guide was very engaging and informative, and Ken was very happy being on a boat, despite spending most of his adulthood on one having first worked in the Merchant Navy before pursuing a career as a marine engineer! It may, however, have been the hearty soup and dubious looking shot glass of liquor that put a smile on his face. By the time we returned to the dock, the temperature had turned even more baltic so we made a pit stop at H&M to buy some gloves for Ken and an extra jumper for me. I then managed to persuade him to allow me to push the boat out – it didn’t take much to twist his arm to be honest – and eat at an amazing looking restaurant we passed by the evening before.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t put it off anymore, it was time to do what we came to Stockholm to do, namely tour the subway to view the art installations. Unlike Ken I’m not a transport geek, nor do I know anything about art beyond imitating Patsy Stone (‘yeah, but is it art?’), however seeing Ken’s growing excitement – wait, that sounds rude – gave me a fuzzy feeling inside, and after all, I brought him here to make him happy. Mission accomplished it seemed.

I don’t often ride the metro in Amsterdam, but I know that if I lived in Stockholm – not that I’m willing to sell a kidney to do so – I’d look forward to getting on the tunnelbana every day. Words I never uttered during the 12 years I rode the Tube in London! Perhaps Ken’s enthusiasm was catching. The T-bana stations are truly incredible, as you can see from the photos below. I’m heading back to Stockholm this weekend for a tournament with Amsterdam Netball Club and I’m already looking forward to introducing them to these magnificent structures.

Centralstation

Solna Centrum

Thorildsplan

Universiteit

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Tekniska Högskolan

Tensta

Rissne

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Stadion

Rådhuset

Photos taken before I realised I should’ve noted where we were!

Sailing the Dalmatian coast….

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My upcoming trip to South America a.k.a. the reason this blog exists in the first place, was this year’s birthday present to myself, a tradition I started a few years ago having grown up in a family environment which didn’t really go in for an annual celebration of ageing. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve treated myself to a foreign escapade around my birthday in October, one of which was a week sailing along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.

My friend Neil had mentioned in passing that he was thinking of booking such a trip, so I naturally invited myself along. I had never been on a sailboat, nor to the Balkans, nor on a holiday where the vast majority of my fellow travellers would be strangers. We booked our trip with G Adventures; mainly because it was reasonably priced, they had availability on our desired dates and, probably most importantly if I’m being brutally honest, they mentioned that one could do ‘as little or as much’ sailing as one liked which immediately led to me envisioning a reenactment of the ‘Rio’ video by Duran Duran (yes, I’m quite old). This ‘no mandatory sailing assistance’ didn’t entirely eventuate however as we were all given a task to perform when it came to docking or setting sail, although in fairness, when we were on open water, it appeared a similarly lazy disposition afflicted most of my crewmates as the skipper – a delectable Scot called, um, Scott – pretty much did everything.

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A ‘picigin’ player

Our trip began in Split, although it wasn’t the best of starts when the bus driver looked at me rather strangely when I insisted on paying the fare with Czech Koruna, before it dawned on me that, indeed, I had exchanged £300 worth of useless currency at Gatwick. Having gotten over that hump thanks to a stray five euro note I found lurking in my wallet, which was accepted with less chagrin, we spent a couple of relaxing days in Split, drinking cheap beer on the beach while watching the native men playing ‘picigin’ in the tiniest of speedos and wondering how this sport was not yet part of the Olympic programme. I soon realised I would love Croatia.

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Giethoorn – the ‘Venice of the North’

I moved to the Netherlands in June 2014 and vowed that I would do my utmost to visit as much of the country as possible if I was going to call it home. I soon learned of a village called Giethoorn in the Overijssel province. It is inaccessible by car and has plenty of walking and cycling trails, but more excitingly, canals for boating.  Now, you may be struggling to see the appeal for an Amsterdammer to go somewhere like Giethoorn considering that my home city is not exactly lacking in canal action itself and which also bears the moniker of ‘Venice of the North’ – why come up with a new name when this one can, quite frankly, be applied to almost every Dutch city? Anyway, I digress.

My boyfriend’s birthday was fast approaching and we had discussed going away somewhere for a few days.  Respite was much needed having just spent four days in my one-bedroom apartment in the company of my mum, sister and nephew, so the pictures of Giethoorn conjured up what I thought would be the perfect tonic.

I approached a couple of Dutch friends and colleagues asking for recommendations and they were nothing if not consistent in their advice: “don’t bother going, it’s full of Chinese tourists”. Unbeknownst to the Dutchies, however, this was actually a draw for me having spent the last three years feeling like a midget in this land of blonde giants. It’s also why Japan remains my favourite holiday destination, that and, well, everything else. Although if I never saw another squat toilet it’d be too soon. I thought I had the requisite thigh strength, but the splash back confirmed otherwise.  No wonder the Japanese live so long though; they’re super supple.

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