A Weekend Guide to Stockholm

One of the best things about living in London is the proximity to most of Europe. In just over two hours you can be almost anywhere on the continent, so those of you living or working in the UK can take some fantastic weekend breaks. it was with this in mind we spent a weekend in Sweden’s capital of cool, Stockholm. Below is our guide to a weekend in the capital to maximise your time and see most of the main sites.

Saturday Day 1:

Kick off your day with a grab and go breakfast from one of the bakeries or supermarkets in the main train station. You will quickly find Scandinavian countries are expensive so a cheap breakfast will keep you on budget as well as save you time.

While eating breakfast head down to the Stockholm Town Hall. First guided tours in English are at 10:00am. The town hall is home to the Nobel Prize Banquets, is beautifully decorated inside and gives you a great introduction to the city. In the middle of summer you can also climb the town hall tower for some excellent views over the city.

The Stockholm Town Hall gives a great historical introduction to the city

The very impressive "Gold Room" of the Town Hall

The very impressive “Gold Room” of the Town Hall

From the town hall it is only a short walk over to the Old Town of Stockholm on the island of Gamla Stan. The Royal Palace is situated here and has a rather unique changing of the guards ceremony (12:15 daily, 13:15 Sunday’s and holidays). Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Gamla Stan, there are a number of museums including the Nobel Prize Museum, peruse the numerous souvenir stores selling everything from Viking paraphernalia, anything yellow and blue to wooden Dala horses a traditional Swedish gift. Alternatively you can take in some retail therapy (remember H&M is Swedish)  along the pedestrianised shopping street of Drottninggatan.

The changing of the guards ceremony drags on a little but the colourful uniforms make for some great photos

The changing of the guards ceremony drags on a little but the colourful uniforms make for some great photos

This evening head over to the Skeppsholmen (an island opposite Gamla Stan) to watch the sunset over the city. Tonight you can dine in one of the many restaurants in Gamla Stan or head over to Södermalm home to loads of cool restaurants, bars and pubs. While you find them all over the world nowadays the original Ice Bar is in Stockholm, it is best to book ahead.

Sunday Day 2:

After an easy start to the day it is time to hit a couple of museums. First visit the Vasa Museum, showcasing the recovered and restored Vasa an enormous warship from the 1600’s that lay under water for over 300 years (it only sailed for less than 20 minutes!). Amazingly this museum is dedicated to one of the country’s biggest screw ups but is incredibly impressive. Make sure you watch the short documentary, the recovery of the boat is almost as fascinating as the boat itself.

The Vasa is dedicated to Sweden's greatest military and naval disaster but the restoration is amazing

The Vasa is dedicated to Sweden’s greatest military and naval disaster but the restoration is amazing

From the Vasa a short walk will take you to one of the newest museums. Time to break out the sequins and flares as you step into the Abba Museum. With interactive displays, a piano linked up to Benny’s piano back home, so when he plays it plays and a flashing dance floor continuously pumping out Dancing Queen you don’t have to be a diehard fan to enjoy it!

Deep down everyone has a favourite Abba song!

Deep down everyone has a favourite Abba song!

Can you name the Swedish Fab Four?

Can you name the Swedish Fab Four?

The rest of Sunday you can do as you please, perhaps take a cruise around the islands, or just chill out in one of the many parks with the locals before you have to head back to the airport and home.

While a weekend is definitely not long enough to explore all Stockholm has to offer, for those of you short on time this plan of attack will help you cover most of the main attractions of the city.

– Dean

Chilling out at the Chocolate Cafe in Gamla Stan.

Chilling out at the Chocolate Cafe in Gamla Stan.

Practical Information: 
There are regular flights from London to Stockholm, check out http://www.ba.com or http://www.easyjet.com.
There is a regular train service from the airport to town centre and reverse and costs approximately, wait for it, £50, welcome to Scandinavia everyone!
Advertisements

Why We Love January

January is one of our favourite months of the year. If you ask Natalie the reason is simple, her birthday is in January. However there is another reason we love the first month of the year. In London it means one thing, travel shows!

January is home to two of the biggest and best travel shows in London. Last weekend was the Adventure Travel Show, and in two weeks time we have Destinations, the largest travel show in the UK. If you are looking for adventure and travel inspiration for the upcoming year, these are the places to go.

Just imagine, row after row of tropical island getaways (very enticing in what is normally a dreary and cold month in London), snow capped mountain hikes, world cruises, coach trips, overland truck adventures and independent travel ideas all waiting for you to discover. Any wonder why we love these shows.

There is always plenty of inspiration on offer at Travel Shows

There is always plenty of inspiration on offer at Travel Shows

If you are looking at booking some type of travel these shows are place to do it, with many companies offering special deals and discounts during the shows. If you are planning a trip independently then it is a great chance to chat to passionate people, pick peoples brains or see what many of the expert companies do which can help in the planning stage.

The other awesome thing about these travel shows is they quite often have excellent forums and guest speaker presentations for you to attend. I love public speaking and find it a real buzz, if there was a way I could get paid to stand in front of an audience and talk about my travels I’d be happy man! This weekend we were lucky enough to hear arguably the greatest adventurer of modern times, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, talk. As well as current adventurers Monty Halls and Dave Cornthwaite speak. Destinations has a fantastic line up of guest speakers as well, and we plan to make a bee-line for Levison Wood’s talk.

Travel Show work mode. Getting ready to do what we love most, talk about travelling!

Travel Show work mode. Getting ready to do what we love most, talk about travelling!

In the past few years these travel shows have also quite often meant we have been working. In fact Natalie was on the Oasis Overland stand all weekend sharing her passion and expertise about Africa and South America with would be adventurers. I have helped out several companies over the years as well. Again, standing around talking about travel is almost as much fun as travelling itself!

London is not the only city to hold such shows, with all major cities worldwide hosting something similar. So now its up to you, find out when your next local travel show is, head down, get talking and start planning!

– Dean

p.s. Anyone attending the Destinations Travel Show in London, head down to the Oasis Overland stand on the Sunday and say hello to Natalie!

 

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was five years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter….

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

 

Overcoming Your Fears: Learning to Dive

When Natalie and I first met, she was already an accomplished diver, while I had had neither the opportunity to learn or had the inclination. This was quite a surprise for Natalie because on the surface this should have been something that appealed to me. It wasn’t until we had been together for about 18 months that I seriously thought about learning to dive.

I was in Central America on my annual enforced hiatus from Europe to stay within visa regulations when I had the idea. “When I get to Mexico I am going to learn to dive,” I told Natalie over Skype one day. “Seriously?” was the response on the other end, “that’s awesome”. After promising I would take the plunge so to speak there, was no getting out of it. So upon arriving in Playa Del Carmen I searched around until I decided Phocea Mexico was the dive company to help open up this whole new World to me.

When most people think of learning to dive some of the common fears and concerns are things such as breathing underwater, or encountering rather large and somewhat hungry marine life. My fears were a little more personal. Having worn glasses or contact lenses since I was 18 my biggest fear was what would happen if I lost my mask, and the possibility of my contacts washing away. This had always played on my mind and reared its ugly head again when I first learnt to dive.

I found Nemo!

I found Nemo!

The PADI course was a great mixture of theory and practice, slowly building up your confidence and skill sets in between experiencing the wonders of life underwater. Initially we went through the basics in a large swimming pool, something that I hated. Every time we went under the surface I was engulfed in a sense of claustrophobia, doubts spinning around my mind that this was not natural or ‘normal’. Amazingly on our first dive in the open water I was totally at ease. There was no feeling of claustrophobia, no uncertainty just a feeling of peace and being at ease. The tests and procedures continued and I never did feel comfortable removing my mask and that fear of being nearly blind underwater was ever persistent in the back of my mind.
Completing my Open Water certification was an amazing feeling, I had overcome my doubts but more importantly a new world of travel experiences had opened up for me, and ones both Natalie and I could now share together. As with any new skill you master there is one very important factor in ensuring those new skills ‘stick’, and that is practice. Sadly after learning, Natalie and I had little to no opportunity to go diving. With wedding planning and numerous visas eating into our time, diving slid off into the background of priorities. Just over two years after learning we were able to spend a few days at the end of our honeymoon diving together for the first time. As we kitted up, the procedures and training I had received in Mexico quickly came flooding back and my excitement levels rose.

Most importantly for me during that two-year gap I had received laser eye surgery and no longer needed contact lenses or glasses, a huge boost to my diving ‘career’ and my confidence! The one thing that had made me nervous before every dive was now non-existent so there really was nothing to hold me back.

As we planned our recent adventure we had decided it would be a great way to finish with a relaxed, almost mini holiday / honeymoon in the Philippines, and the basis of this trip was to do some quality diving together. The nerves and apprehension that had once been there was now replaced with excitement. To refresh my skills and improve my diving I completed my Advanced Open Water Certificate. My confidence and ability underwater soared over the two weeks in the Philippines and I was slowly catching Natalie in air consumption (or lack of!) and buoyancy control.

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’, and it was so true with my diving. Control, manoeuvrability, buoyancy and breathing all became second nature down there and rather than constantly worrying about what I was doing I was now able to enjoy my surroundings.

Learning to dive really does open up a whole new world. From stunningly colourful coral to the intricately decorated tropical fish to schools of sardines that swim around in enormous schools as if controlled by some sort of collective consciousness, you certainly get a greater appreciation for just how amazing nature really is. The silence of life underwater is probably the most notable difference from life above the surface. For the most part all you hear is your breathing and the bubbles escaping your regulator. Over the last two weeks of our trip I was lucky enough to dive with turtles, hundreds of variety of fish and even see my first sharks!

Looking like a pro!

Looking like a pro!

The beautiful thing about travelling is you are constantly challenged and given the opportunity to overcome your fears. Whether it is bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing, or in my case learning to dive, the opportunities are almost always there when you travel. However, if you do challenge yourself and do something you would never have dreamt of back home, you may just discover a new hobby or new passion that will enhance future travels. That is what happened to me, I love diving and cannot wait until our next underwater adventures.

 

– Dean