Denmark and Sweden with Josh
We had promised our grandchildren that when they turned 13, we would take them anywhere in the world of their choice with just the three of us though we and their parents had veto power (so not going to North Korea). In 2018, Josh chose Scandinavia and we settled on going to Copenhagen and Stockholm with a side trip to the island of Gotland. In June, 2018 we flew to Copenhagen where we stayed in an Airbnb for 5 nights, then flew to Visby on the island of Gotland. We stayed in Gotland for 2 nights, and then took the ferry/train to Stockholm for the remaining 4 nights of the trip.
Our Airbnb was in the IslandsBrygge section of the city which was pretty convenient with a pleasant 10-15 minute walk to the nearest subway stop. A young couple with a small child lived in the apartment which they vacated to another place when it was rented. So the place was nicely furnished and the kitchen was fully stocked though we didn’t really make use of it. We had some trouble getting into the apartment because the apartment building was locked and one needed to ring the apartment. Unfortunately in all of my communications with the host, we only used first names so I didn’t know their last name. On the list of apartment owners to ring at the front door, there were only last names. So while we were standing there on the outside trying to decide what to do, a young woman who lived in the place came by and helped us find the proper couple. There was also some confusion because I remembered that the apartment was on the 3rd floor but I forgot that in Europe, the ground floor is floor zero so the third floor is what we would call the 4th floor. In any case this was just a typical small wrinkle that is common in traveling on your own.
Our hosts recommended a restaurant near the Airbnb so on one night we went there for dinner. While eating dinner, a neighboring table had an older lady dining by herself. She must have heard us speaking in American English and eventually we engaged her in conversation. She worked as a guide for English speaking tours of the city and was in the midst of such a tour. She said that the restaurant we were in was one of her favorites, of all of the thousands of restaurants in the city. So we certainly stumbled on a good choice. On our other nights, we somehow usually ended up in the attractive but touristy Nyhavn district.
On the first day we walked around the town, along the famous pedestrian only street the Stroget, and also went on a boat tour which is great way to see the city. Much of the city is on the water so the harbor tour shows the beauty of the city. On the second day we rented bikes to see more of the city. Copenhagen is a very bike friendly town, indeed it is said to be the city with the highest percentage of workers who bike to work. We climbed the famous church with the circular stairway on the outside , vor Frelsers Kirche, that overlooks the free city of Christiana and toured Rosenborg Castle where the crown jewels of the country are displayed. In our several days of wandering around Copenhagen we somehow always ended up in the Nyhavn area for dinner. We were given the name of a small cafe that had good jazz because Copenhagen is famous as a jazz center. but had trouble finding it and then on the last day when we did finally locate it, it was closed for the evening.
On the next day we took the bus to the seaside town of Dragor on the advice of the tour guide that we had met at the restaurant where we had dinner near our Airbnb. The town is easily reached by bus as it is just a couple of stops past the airport. Dragor is charming and quaint fishing and boating town with a nice harbor and a view out to Sweden. The town itself has cobbled streets and old lovely houses as well as many seafood restaurants and cafes in the harbor area. It is a nice way to spend a quiet afternoon away from the busy city atmosphere.
At night we went to Tivoli, the famous amusement park in the center of the city. Tivoli was the first amusement park and the model for Disneyland. It is very nicely landscapped and one can have an enjoyable evening just strolling around and eating at one of the many restaurants. Josh took some rides that both of his grandparents passed on.
The last day in Copenhagen we took the train to Roskilde which has a famous Viking ship museum as well as one of the most important cathedrals in the country. For centuries the royalty of Denmark have been buried in the Roskilde Cathedral. We saw a few familiar names from our experience at the American Birkebeiner ski race which is based on an old Norwegian story. Given Josh’s interest in rowing, we naturally signed up for a chance to row a Viking replica boat. Given my extensive experience as a coxswain over 55 years ago, I was assigned to steer the boat while Josh and Lil rowed. Roskilde is also well-known for a massive music festival which, fortunately, was a few weeks after our visit.
Gotland and Visby
From Copenhagen we flew to Visby on the island of Gotland. Visby is a scenic and very well preserved medieval town with much of the town wall still standing and the ruins of several medieval churches. There is an annual medieval festival that draws a large crowd but we missed the festival. One of the afternoons that we were in Visby was the day of a World Cup soccer match between Sweden and Mexico to reach the round of 16. We watched part of the game with an enthusiastic crowd at one of the cafes in the central square. It wasn’t quite as crazy as the time we were in Italy during a World Cup win but it was fun as Sweden won handily. I suspect it would have been more lively in Stockholm.
On the second day in Gotland, we rented a car and drove up to the northermost point which is a small island called Faro. You have to take a ferry to get to the island. The island is even more medieval than Visby with several windmills and small scenic fishing villages. The most famous former inhabitant of the island is the famous movie director Ingmar Bergmann. Somehow the remoteness of the island and Bergmann’s famously obtuse movies seemed to fit well. It was not crowded at all when we visited so it’s easy to imagine that you have stepped back 100 or more years in time as one explores the small fishing shacks. There are also some famous sea stacks on the coast that Josh liked climbing to his grandmother’s dismay.
We then took the ferry and train to Stockholm for the last leg of our trip. We had the good fortune to rent an Airbnb in the middle of the old town, Gamla Stam, so we really just needed to walk around our neighborhood to see many of the famous sights. For example, the Nobel Museum was almost right around the corner. One of the first things we did was to take a tour of the Stockholm City Hall, which is a beautiful building and best known because it is the site of the annual Nobel Prize banquet.
We also visited the Vasa Museum, which is on the island of Djurgarden The Vasa was a warship that was built in 1628 but sank on its maiden voyage because it was top heavy with an extra row of cannon. In 1956 they discovered the wreckage at the bottom on Stockholm harbor and decided to raise and salvage it. It took 5 years until 1961 to complete the salvage and then another 27 years until 1988 to build the museum to house the ship. The Vasa provides a unique window into life in the 17th century and is now the most visited museum in Sweden. A very good example of making lemonade from getting lemons.
We went to visit Skansen, the oldest open air museum and zoo in the world. It is also located on the island Djurgarden in the vast Stockholm archipelago so one has to take a ferry to get there. The ride is beautiful as the Stockholm harbor has magnificent views all around. Old World Wisconsin, which we have visited many times, was modeled on Skansen. It was designed to show the way of life in different parts of Sweden before the industrial era.
There is also an open air zoo featuring Swedish native animals, including moose and bear. The moose is a symbol of rural Sweden. The bear exhibit was particularly well-done. When we were there, they hid food articles at various places in the exhibit and the bears were very active, looking for the food.
To complete our Viking tour of Scandinavia, on our last day in Stockholm we took a long ferry ride to the old Viking city of Birka. There is a large Viking museum with archaeological exhibits and reconstructed Viking boats.