Chasing Aurora Borealis – Part 1 – Stockholm

The idea of this trip was conceived 3 years ago when all of us dreamt of seeing the northern lights. And here we are 3 years later, stranded at an isolated train station in Abisko. We actually alighted at the wrong train station and next train will only come in another 2 hours. Not bad for me, I found myself a nice cozy warm corner to type this blog. This trip is full of surprises starting from the minute when I booked the wrong plane tickets for Harshad. Every turn has been an enriching “first-in-life” experience like no others.

This is our longest and biggest trip ever, in terms of money, time and distant. In a span of 15 days, we will travel over 27,210km, covering 5 different cities (Stockholm, Abisko, Kiruna, London and Edinburgh).

I have spent a bomb gearing up for this trip. I bought a new Canon 16-35mm wide angle 2.8ft lens, 6 new Canon batteries and 1 battery grip, 1 carbon fiber Gitzo superlight tripod, 1 weatherproof Sony Action Cam, 1 weatherproof LED lantern for the night walk, 3 A3-sized waterproof/anti-condensation zip-lock bags, 1 weatherproof Bushnell binocular, 1 weatherproof Vanguard camera trolley, 2 portable electric pots, 4 sleeping bags for the family and a couple of snacks to last us out in the snow.

By the time we finished packing, we have a total of 14 luggage bags! Dragging 14 pieces of luggage bags was no small feat (even though it sounded quite manageable with 3-4 luggage bags per person). It was a nightmare for all of us to drag these heavy bags up the cab, on the train and in/out of hotels. No regret as all these equipment comes handy for us.

Our first stop is the capital city of Sweden, Stockholm – Home to some of the world’s most famous and notable museums like the Nobel and the Abba, Stockholm city is spread across 14 islands with many scenic parks, bridges, design galleries and beautiful bright buildings. It reminds me of Venice except Stockholm is much bigger and more artistic and “designer-centric”.

I love the streets and interior furnishings of Stockholm. Clean, earthly, natural and simple. I love the Swedish; they are very friendly, helpful and good-looking. My cousin Yei was right about the Scandinavian beauties, the girls here are extraordinary attractive. Even Felicia and Tracy agreed on this point.

We parked ourselves at a very cozy 466-year-old hotel (Hotel Anno 1647) overlooking Stockholm City Hall. I got a big nice room to house all 5 of us. The hotel’s location is superb! The hotel was just 15-min walking distance to most of Stockholm’s city attractions. The shops and subway station were less than 100m away.

We spent 2 days exploring the city, exploring museums and shopping lanes. Like most European cities, the gems are actually hidden within the narrow alleys. There are lots of interesting shops and window displays. This is what I love about strolling and getting lost in European cities – every turn a new surprise.

Here are our top 5 highlights at Stockholm:

This is my favorite museum. The Vasa shared many similarities with the ill-fated Titanic. It was the largest warship built at that time and it sank during its maiden voyage. For over 300 years, it sat at the bottom of the ocean until it was rediscovered and salvaged in 1961. Tons of efforts were made to put all these together. Today, the original 69m-long vessel is being exhibited at the Vasa Museum and it is one of the most popular attractions of Stockholm.

Put together by the Nobel Library and the Swedish Academy, the Nobel Museum celebrated the greats works of its past winners. It is very small museum but it showcases many great works/words of wisdom by legendary people from the past and present eras.

This is the official residence of the Royal Family of Sweden. With over 600 rooms, it is the world’s biggest royal residential palace. We visited its Treasury, the Hall of State where we saw the Silver Throne, the underground Tre Kronor Museum and the Guest Apartments. It is grand but not one of the most glamorous palaces I have been. Some of these rooms are old and plain. Maybe it is time for a small little renovation. Photography is a no no in many areas. Just be careful with your camera. No touching on the glass showcases too. Elkan was caught and warned by its security.

Tracy, Elkan and I had our rounds of fun at the city’s ice skating rink. It is one of those impromptu moments when we just put everything down and had fun! For 30sek, we rented a pair of ice-skating shoes for 1 hour. This is another “first-in-life” experience for all of us – our first ever outdoor ice-skating!

We boarded a 50-min sightseeing cruise where the boat took us along the key water channel of Stockholm. Along the riverbank, we saw many iconic houses for the rich and famous (holiday homes for Abba, the royal families and the local tycoons). With only 850,000 people staying in Stockholm, it is a very quiet, beautiful, peaceful, safe and comfortable city to live in.

Next stop – Our long 15-hour ride from Stockholm to the northern tip of Sweden, Abisko! And hopefully, we will be able to catch the magical Aurora Borealis (Named by the French scientist in 1621, Aurora is the name of the Roman Goddess of Dawn and Borealis is the Latin God of the Northern Wind! We certainly need tons of divine’s blessings in this. We can have the best planning but without Mother Nature’s luck, we might just end up here fruitlessly waiting in vain. Crossing my fingers now!)

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