Travel Writing: It’s All Swedish To Me – Nordic Notions


Helmeted and strapped up, I mentally prepared myself to jump off what was, objectively speaking, a fucking huge building. The girl checking all the bells and whistles asked me a question in an unfamiliar language.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t speak Swedish.”

“Neither do I,” she replied in perfect English, “we’re in Norway.” The thin zip line suddenly seemed a lot more appealing as an escape route.

In my defence, I was slightly preoccupied with thinking about all the potential ways that I could die, or worse, make a complete ass of myself, and we were also travelling to Sweden the next day. I was in Oslo, on the third day of a two week long “why not?” adventure, which was to continue in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki.

If you ever choose to visit Oslo, I can’t recommend a trip to Holmenkollen Ski Tower enough. Standing on the hillside above the city centre, the ski jump dominates the landscape. You can explore the world’s oldest ski museum, with skis dating back 4000 years (that’s not a typo – they figured out how to get about pretty early on).  The views from the top of the tower are like something from a travel Instagram account, and by zip lining the 60 metres down to the foot you can experience what it’s actually like to be an Olympic ski jumper.  I mean, without the exercise, dedication, talent and actual hard work. In essence, you get to whizz down and enjoy the stunning views with no effort on your part whatsoever; ideal for lazy slobs like me.

In Copenhagen, if you like amusement parks, it will be recommended that you visit Tivoli gardens, right in the heart of the city. I will not though, as it’s decidedly ‘meh’. Instead, take a short trip up the coast to relatively unknown Bakken. It’s the oldest amusement park in the world but appears to be overlooked by most foreigners. English speakers are a bit harder to find here, but that apparently won’t stop old dudes from cracking jokes in Danish to you on the rides. Entry is free and it’s in a park, so you can have a picnic then go get spun upside down (or the other way around, if you don’t fancy spewing). Do as the cool cats do and turn up in the evening with a bottle of wine.

Snaps of picturesque Stockholm streets in the sun will be sure to deliver a lot of likes and favs on your social media platform of choice, and with 14 different, confusingly connected islands, you’ll feel like a real explorer. If you don’t want to splash out on a street map, then why not book a rooftop tour of the old town to orientate yourself? Seven storeys up on the Old Parliament Building, you have the perfect view of all of Stockholm, including the former execution hill. There are only two such tours in the world, both in Sweden, so you can be truly pretentious and show off to all your chums.

If you arrive in Helsinki by boat (on one of the daily ferries from Stockholm), then laid out before you will be the bustling market and the fancy as hell government buildings, bordered on one side by the whiter-than-Iggy-Azalea Helsinki Cathedral, and by the trippy Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral on the other. Both are brilliant, but the Orthodox church – the biggest in Western Europe – was top dog. Ludicrously ornate with portraits of ancient, ridiculously thin men (unrealistic body standards, tbh), it harkens back to a time of more regal and luxurious Eastern splendour.

Scandinavia (and, to an extent, Finland) has a reputation for being pricey. I won’t lie to you, dear readers, it can be. But there are some ways around it. Depending on what you’re planning, it can be handy to buy a (insert city name here) Pass. Each city has one, and it covers all your public transport, most museums and gives you a discount in some restaurants. If that’s not for you, then it’s worth nothing that a lot of museums do student discounts. The market at Helsinki harbour does damn good food at reasonable prices, so long as you don’t mind fending off the psychopathic seagulls (these guys are the real deal, putting Glasgow’s gulls to shame). Copenhagen Street Food also won’t make your wallet cry, and is sufficiently hipster enough to ironically love it.

Booze, however, is stupidly expensive, due to strict alcohol pricing laws, so it’s best to pre at home and head to a club around midnight. Pro tip: don’t do as I did and drink a ‘local delicacy’ – i.e. a disgusting shot tasting of liquorice or possibly fish. Let’s just say I did not make it to the club.

All four cities are great fun; Oslo also has a nifty Viking ship museum; Copenhagen has a frankly unnecessary amount of palaces; Stockholm has an ABBA museum; and Helsinki has a surprisingly pretty island fortress. Just remember – it’s always smart to keep track of which country you’re in.

[Louise Wylie – @WomanPendulum]

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