Kids – and adults- should never disobey their parents. I for one, am not a proponent of it. But sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s got to do and the saying “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” temporarily overrode my conscious to mention the following to my parents (love you mom and dad). I’ve always wanted to go on a solo trip and somehow, someway, somewhere, after landing back in Milan from Morocco just enough hours to take my midterm exam, I jumped back on a plane for my first trip to Scandinavia.
First stop: Copenhagen, Denmark.
Not exactly the first place one envisions going temperature-wise at the end of October, Copenhagen’s charm, trendy districts, top safety, high-class and impeccable design, revived gastronomic reputation, and world-ranked happiest people in the world, makes it a definite destination for everyone no matter what time of the year.
Of course for the foodie in me, first food. Off the Norreport stop is Tovernhalle, a gourmet food and goods hall, comparable to Madrid’s Mercado Centrale or a somewhat smaller version of London’s Borough Hall. Set inside two glass buildings with a fresh produce market in between, this super market has dozens of stands ranging in offerings and variety, from eco-friendly hand scrubs to fancy smorgasbords to fresh baked bread, fragrant cheeses, high quality meats and delicious seafood. My personal favorites included Grod, the famous make-it-yourself porridge place, and Palaeo, Denmark’s first paleo food chain, but tapas from Tapa del Toro and duck confit sandwich from Ma Poule were equally noteworthy.
Happy on a full stomach, I strolled over to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is the world’s second oldest amusement park, the first also being in Copenhagen. Even though I am pretty sure I was the only college-aged kid there, the smiles from joyful families, the wafting smell of freshly sugar-coated almonds, and the sight of the park all decorated for Halloween gave me all the feels of fall. Though it’s only open in the summer and certain holiday months, it is the perfect activity to enjoy with family and friends and be sure to check the schedule for special events or showings as well.
Something I highly recommend, whether alone or in a group, is taking a free walking tour. Each city has their own individual company so by researching online ahead of time the city you would like the free walking tour in, you can usually find the top TripAdvisor-rated professional free walking tour company. Despite the rain being a bit of a damper, nevertheless I went on the Grand Tour of Copenhagen, which included main sights like City Hall, Christiansborg palace, picturesque harbour Nyhavn and Royal Palace Amalienborg, which was a great way to get to the know the city with knowledgeable guides on a low budget. As per recommendation by our tour, a few friends that I met on the tour and I headed over to Paper Island to grab some dinner. Centrally located in the harbor, Paper Island offers a variety of art, showrooms, and killer street food. Offering everything from Colombian stew to British pancakes to American/Korean fried chicken, this international street food hall offers eveything you could ever want and more, complete with a lively night scene and outdoor seating for warmer (and colder) months.
The next morning started off with a peaceful stroll through the Botanical Gardens, which covers about 25 acres with over 13,000 species, and holds impressive and historical glasshouses dating back to 1874.
Past the Botanical Gardens is the Rosenborg Castle. Rosenborg Castle is a renaissance castle built by Scandinavian king Christian IV whose main attractions include the Knight’s Hall complete with coronation thrones, royal portraits, and Denmark’s crown jewels. In need of a little warming up, I popped in to Conditori La Glace, the oldest (and arguably one of the best) bakeries in Copenhagen. Upholding old-fashion service by serving you at the table, this cafe is perfect for people watching and indulging in their famous cakes, hot chocolate, Danish pastries, or all of the above.
Onto another walking tour to explore more of the city, this time of the famous Christiana. Christiana, also known as Freetown Christania, is best known for its autonomous inhabitants’ different way of life. Established in 1971 by hippies who occupied some abandoned military barracks, this neighborhood holds their own set of society rules, which are completely independent of the Danish government.
Stop two: Stockholm, Sweden.
Called the Venice of the North, the capital of Sweden is built of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges with characteristic districts each boasting of their own style, design, great shopping, unmatched museums, pretty parks, and unique atmosphere. My first night I stayed in Södermalm, which is known for it’s trendy cafès, restaurants, bars, clubs, and stunning views of the entire city. The second night I stayed in Norrmalm, where the main, commercial centers, key museums and downtown is located. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to Djurgården, which possesses some of Stockholm’s best museums, attractions, waterfront cafes and cycling paths, but any area in Stockholm has something to do and see for anyone.
There’s something I must admit: I’ve never had IKEA meatballs. Now that may sound like a sin to some, but taking into consideration my distance from the next closest IKEA and my preference for other meats, it really is not as crazy as it sounds. But without a doubt, there was no way I was going to pass up real Swedish meatballs in Sweden and Meatballs for the People made up for all the meatballs I have been missing. Serving homemade meatballs of veal, venison, poultry, moose, and anything else fresh that day, this spot’s cozy ambience, friendly staff, and of course delicious meatballs prove why Swedes love their meatballs and you should too.
Integrating into Sweden like a local, you wouldn’t be in Sweden if you didn’t stop for a fika. As written in Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, “Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about.”
If there’s anything Swedes like as much as their fika is their sweets. The most popular and delicious sweet to accompany a fika is the kanelbulle, which is basically a Swedish cinnamon roll, typically made with cardamom and topped with pearl sugar. According to the Swedish Board of Agriculture and Statistics Sweden (2010) the average Swede eats cakes and pastry equivalent to 316 cinnamon buns per year. Making a minor dent in my 316, out of the three places I tried, I’d say that Bröd & Salt came in as my favorite kanelbulle, with their vanilla, cardamom, and almond cream one all tying for first place.
Another free walking tour through Gamla Stan, the medieval heart of the city, took me through cobblestone streets and history of Stockholm’s Old Town. In the midst of Gamla Stan on Österlånggatan is Ded Glydene Fredene, which has the world’s oldest unaltered interior of a restaurant, and more notably amazing food that is worth the steeper price.
My last stop in Stockholm was Söderhallarna, one of Stockholm’s three main food halls. Here you can find the fancy Västerbotten cheese, fresh gravlax, and other influences prominent in Swedish food culture.
Despite the higher prices and colder weather, my time in Scandinavia was one for the books. I don’t think I learned so much on a trip as I have on this one. One is that despite being on a “solo” trip, we are never truly alone in this world. There is always someone to talk to, to meet, to share moments with and to become a part of each other’s story. Another thing I learned is that contrary to what I often think planning ahead accomplishes by reducing stress, not having plans can actually be relaxing and allows one to enjoy the present moment. In addition to that, traveling without a schedule made me really let’s you “do what makes you happy”. If you want to see 14 museums in a day; do it. If you want to eat all the pastries you can, do it. If you want to walk around neighborhood streets all day and take pictures; do it. Wherever you go, it’s your experience so make it one you’ll enjoy and want to remember. And last but not least, I learned that things can and will go wrong, but taking each moment as it comes, learning from each situation, and having friends and family to be there to help you through it is the best thing to do.
Oh… and to answer the however- many-years-old question: Copenhagen or Stockholm? It’s hard to say as each city has it’s own individual personality, but something about the quaint culture of a smaller town, happy community, and of course great food, gave an extra gold star to Copenhagen in my heart.