Elephant Dream Valley

To be completely honest, I wasn’t originally going to visit an elephant sanctuary when in Thailand.

I’m not sure what changed, and when, but I do know that about 2 weeks before flying into Bangkok I found myself researching elephant sanctuaries that you could do a tour of from Chiang Mai.

I spent hours on this. Why? Because I knew that I wanted to visit a smaller place. Elephant Nature Park, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary are all very popular (in Boon Lott’s case, fully booked until next summer!). I fully support the work that these places perform. I knew, however, that I wanted something…more intimate, for lack of a better term.

Cue the dissapointment.

Because it would seem that I would stumble upon the website of a supposedly “ethical” place, only to dig deep into the tripadvisor or facebook reviews, or even find a personal blog recollection, and find warnings that these places DID now offer rides, use hooks or chains, and other unethical actions.

My requirements were simple
-NO riding. Not even bareback. An elephant is seen as strong, but it’s backbone is NOT structured such that human bodies should be placed on top. That, and the terrible treatment the elephants undergo to become “submissive” to riders.
-NO hooks and NO chains

I was getting very disheartened as my research seemed to come up nill.

Until…

I don’t even remember how it happened. I think i had googled “ethical elephant sanctuary in chiang mai” or something similar. A few results down (it may have even been the next page) a link matching exactly with “ethical elephant sanctuary” appeared. I clicked. I read. I went to their facebook and tripadvisor site.

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary (more commonly known as Elephant Dream Valley) is run by a local Karen Hill Tribe and sees small groups of around 12 people on half day and full day tours. I signed up immediately. I knew that this was what I had been looking for. And so it was.

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Deep in the Chiang Mai mountains, we met their 5 elephants. Two families; one consisting of a Granma, mom, and baby, and another family of two with one mom-to-be. We got an introduction on how to behave while feeding, where to stand, how to stay safe, and some background information on the elephents. As soon as we began feeding the sugar cane I couldn’t believe I had almost passed on this whole experience.

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The half day passed way too fast. I wouldn’t hesitate to come here again, and cannot recommend Elephant Dream Valley enough to anyone reading this who is interested in visiting a sanctuary. One thing that impressed me was that the tribe members actually had elephants from the same family. While reading about how some elephants are captured for riding camps, it pained me that these creatures who live in family units spend the rest of their lives alone. I was so incredible happy to know that the elephants were literally family at Elephant Dream Valley.

Another thing that impressed me were the mahouts. They were incredibly kind by offering to take pictures and answer questions, and during the mud bath they were having so much fun! This did not feel like something that was done solely for money or profit. As a non-profit all the money goes back to buy food for the elephants. And by running small group sizes, everything about my time there felt very personal and…intimate!

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http://www.elephantdreamvalley.com/weben/
https://www.facebook.com/ElephantDreamValley-1199804953378938/

Best,
N

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When in Bangkok

-Be amazed/horrified at how nobody on the road seems to drive in the lanes

-Realize that instead of the “yield to other drivers” signs you follow back home, that’s the LAST thing you want here; everyone for themselves

-Get laughed at by Dutch people because they think you can’t ride a bike

-And, of course, see some temples and Eat some food (only some (kidding))

6 days in Bangkok (2 more to come before I fly to Bali) gave me quite a bit of time to see the city itself, see outside the city, and bike the city at night (I am surprisingly still alive).

I was so exhausted from my travel day Tuesday/Wednesday (6 hours to Dubai from Zürich, 5 hour layover, then 6.5 hours to Bangkok) that all I could muster the energy for during my first full day was some light walking (read: to get food) around where I was staying; about 40min from the city centre.

Friday required a bit more energy, as I met with a university friend to explore the Grand Palace, Wat Poh, and Wat Arun. My advice to anyone visiting Bangkok is to get to the Palace right when it opens. Even at 9:30am the body heat of all the tourists combined with the already humid air was not pleasant. We left around 10:45 and there was a massive line up to get in.


After the madness, the relative quietness of Wat Poh (home of the Reclining Buddha) was welcome. I could’ve easily spent another hour just wandering and taking pictures.

After lunch and wandering an air-conditioned mall, we finished off with the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun. In the early evening because why not. I would love to see it again once the renovations are complete.

The weekend was a time for markets. Morning markets, weekend markets, floating markets, all for fruit and food, gifts, souvenirs, and amazing flowy pants. At the floating market me and a friend took a 100 baht boat ride to a temple and orchard farm.

When we returned home I very last minute signed up for a day tour to Ayutthaya. I had originally been looking up ways to get there by public transport, but as I did more research I got increasingly stressed thinking about doing this on my own. The idea of having pick-up and drop-off organized for me filled me with a sense of ease, and for my mind and comfort’s sake I signed up for Asia-discover.com’s day trip from Bangkok (http://www.asia-discovery.com/travel/bangkok/daytour/ayutthaya-day-tours-from-bangkok-bkk-12n.htm). I don’t regret it at all. If it makes me more comfortable and less stressed, I will choose that option.

The trip was amazing. The history of Ayutthaya, the old capital of the Kingdom of Siam, is endless, and the temple grounds and ruins were exactly what I had wanted to see (I did no research prior, though, so this consisted of me excitedly whispering “oh, oh, I wanted to see this one too!” whenever we stopped at a temple whose picture I recalled.

I’m currently in Chiang Mai, and on Tuesday will head up even further north to Chiang Rai, before coming back down to Bangkok for 2 days and then flying to Bali. Lots and lots to write about!

Until next time!

While in Transit: 6 Days in Zurich – A Review

As I write this, I’m bound for Bangkok!

And I’m super nervous.

Admittingly, whenever a travel day comes up I’ve felt a mix if nervousness and anxiety. Will I get to the station/airport on time? Will it be easy to get around? I can happily say that over the last 5 weeks, those worries have been for naught. But now, heading to South East Asia, somewhere I’ve yet to explore, the nervousness is a bit different. A little bigger…but combined with excitement (and dread. Because humidity. Why I did this to myself I’ll never know…).

5 weeks flew by. It was a wonderful first experience travelling solo in Europe and there’s so many places I hope to return to, and many more to see foe the first time. I met with friends and family, spent time with some cool new people, and found some mountains to calm my heart.

I spent the last 6 days in Zürich, Switerland and yes, it was expensive. Mainly the transportation…food was as expected.

The first night I shook off the exhaustion of an 8 hour train ride to go for dinner with a friend. We drove through mountains and I felt like I was back in BC. 

<img width="5312" height="2988" alt="" src="https://pertainingtothepresent.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/20170712_1935291.jpg" title="My mountains

Then when I returned to the hotel I proceeded to crash and sleep for 12 hours.

So I took the next day easy. Explored around my place, got some groceries, and then went for dinner in Lucerne. In the evening, what is more than likely a hige magnet for tourists was calm, peaceful, and shining over the river. A beautiful way to finish off an easy day.

On Friday I explored around the town. I climbed up the Grossmünster for amazing city views, and walked along the water. 










On Saturday I did a beautiful hike from Felsenegg to Uetliberg. It was about 6km, and I had expected it to take 2 hours given that I planned to take pictures.

It took me 1 hour 20 minutes. Even with taking photos. I also hiked up the next evening, this time from the bottom of the same area, instead of somewhere 6km away. This time I did it with 2 friends I met back in Vancouver who both lived in Zürich.

















Monday was a short boat cruises around the lake. I had originally planned to take the boat all the way to the opposite side of the lake to a town called Rapperswil. That would have costed me…$80.00

So I took the short round trip whoch only cost $18.00

While it may not have taken me all around, it was still a glorious way to enjoy  the sun and be on the water; in addition to seeing the city from another angle.



And today…

Welp I finished this post way faster than anticipated…

Visited a waterfall, walked around a small old town where a technical university is located…and now waiting to board my flight to Bangkok (with a layover in Dubai).





Until next time!

Next up, Thailand!

4 Days in Berlin + 1 in Dresden – A Review

Before I continue I would like to correct a mistake in my previous post; I mistakingly wrote that Copenhagen Central was the biggest train station in Europe. It isn’t. That honour goes to Gare du Nord in Paris (at least in terms of number of railway passengers). I horribly misread wikipedia and apologize.

Wow, Berlin, where to start…I stimultanesouly feel as if I did a lot, and nothing at all. Berlin is huge, with no true city centre. While I hit all the sites I wanted to see, there were some cafes and small sites I never got to visit, and a daytrip to Potsdam wasn’t something I managed to fit into my schedule.

Oh well, reasons to go back!

I had decided to bus from Copenhagen to Berlin. It was the same travel time (7 hours) but less than half the price, so my decision was easy.

How naive I was.

I arrived into the  Berlin bus station at 10:45pm on a Thursday evening…and we were supposed to arrive at 9:30pm. I can handle 3.5 hours on a bus (as we took a ferry from 5-7pm and I got the chance to stretch my legs). However, when you’re in a cramped, full bus that has apparently air conditioning but none that you can feel, and everyone surrounding you is starting to smell BO heavy…get me off. Plus my back ached and I was tired and hungry.

When we arrived I didn’t have the energy to figure out the 40 minute metro ride to my hotel. I took a cab. No regrets. Sometimes you just need to get where you’re going, NOW.

The next morning I met up with an SFU classmate and we got to talk about her time in the city and my plans, which was a welcome way to begin my exploration of the vast city. Afterwards I attempted to find my way to Museum Island…and got hopelessly lost. I gave up, went for lunch, and by that time it was HOT. I was sweating as I ate and as I made my way back to the hotel. Not wanting to feel like I wasted a day, and also remembering that I needed to look up timeslots to walk around the Reichstag, I took an easy afternoon. I got one of the only remaining slots to the Reichstag during the week I was in Berlin, and after confirming my booking I spent a leisurely two hours planning out the 3 other days I’d have in the city.

That evening, it thunderstormed. Apparently this was the most rain Berlin had seen in over 100 years. Thankfully it let up after about 20minutes, leaving my views from the Reichstag calm and cool as I overlooked the city.

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The next day I was up early to catch my bus to Dresden (thankfully not as painful as the one from Copenhagen). I was excited as the city had held my fascination for 10 years, ever since playing a concert band piece that recreated the bombing of the city. I did a 2 hour walking tour and then had time to explore myself. It was a surreal feeling to walk the ground where nothing but the shells of buildings once stood.

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The next 3 days I took easy. I made to Museum Island, East Side Gallery, the market at Mauerpark, Nikolaiviertel, and met with a longtime friend after 8 years apart.

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Unfortuantely, my low blood pressure acted up on my final two days.

I iron pills with mw, but because I had felt fine for the first few weeks I was only taking them every 4/5 days. This resulted in my getting dizzy quite easily when standing up, or laying down. The worst sympton is my lack of energy…Monday I didn’t start my day until about 11am which was fine, but Tuesday I couldn’t even bring myself to leave my room until 3pm, I felt so exhausted. I’ve stocked up on more pills and will be  taking them more frequently.

I feel as if my exhaustion was a combination of things. My low iron for sure was a large factor. Another is that, right now, I’ve been travelling for 1 month. While I had more time in England, and thus more time to relax, it’s been a bit more rushed getting to everywhere else, planning my days, packing, repacking, and repeat. The next few legs of my journey will be a bit more relaxed, which I’m looking forward too!

The last reason, I suspect, was the amount of transit I was taking while in the city. Remember how I said Berlin is huge? Well to quantify, everything I wanted to do/see in the city was at least a 30minute transit ride, usually with transfers. That place in turn could be anywhere from 10-30 min to the next place I wanted to see. It may not sound that bad in practice, but when you’re spending a good 1-2 hours on 3-6 transit trips in one day, it really takes a toll. And it’s very hard to walk, given the size of Berlin, so transitting is really the only way to go.

Were I to revisit, I’d make it out to Potsdam, take an alternative art tour, and find 1 or 2 cafes to relax at during the afternoon. And take iron pills more frequently.

Until next time!

Next up, Zürich!

3 Days in Denmark – A Review

Well that was odd…got a mild cold while I was here, thankfully only for 3 days…

I decided to try the long distance bus to Berlin…which should be interesting given that there should only be 49 people on this bus yet there are 50…

Ok anyways, onto my 3 days in Denmark! NOT just Copenhagen, actually. I was telling people I had 3 days in Copenhagen but I was only in the city itself for one day. I was staying in Roskilde, a city about 20 minutes outside Copenhagen by train. It’s a gorgeous city, and given how close it is is to Copenhagen I highly recommend for everyone to make the trip out. I did a lot of walking on my first day. I walked to and along the harbour. And kept walking. And kept walking. Eventually, the harbour views become fjord and farm views. Not complaining; it was lovely to have those kinds and views and trails a 20 minute walk from a city.  

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As the seaside turns into a nature path

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Vancouver like weather…gorgeous sun and then 5 minutes later clouds, rain, and wind

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Will my coloured building cravings be satisfied? Stay tuned to find out!

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Cute art along the shopping street of Roskilde

Oh, I forgot…I wanted to open this post with a giant rant about how I could never return to Copenhagen Central station and be perfectly happy for the rest of my life. I will forever associate that place with all things negative.

The first thing…it’split into 2. Depending on where your train comes in, you may have to go up a set of stairs (or elevator) and cross the road to actually get to the station itself. This makes a bit more sense now that I know Copenhagen central is actually the biggest train station in all of Europe…but after Stockholm and Oslo, both impeccably clean and organized, Copenhagen was a shock. It was loud, dirty, full of what were either backpackers or homeless people essentially camping out along the edges (OK they were probably backpackers and not actually camping out BUT SHOCK OF THE MOMENT PEOPLE), and the outside of the station smelt like pee.  And then to make matters first I had no idea which train I wanted to get to Roskilde. I asked at the information desk and the lady said to me “we have thousands of trains coming in every day,”  

Umm yes OK I figured, given that this was a TRAIN staion (I didn’t actually say that).  

“But the next train to Roskilde is at 4pm, platform 26.”  

“Thank you” I breathed in relief. I bought my ticket and followed the signs to platform 26.  

“EFF.”  

Remember how the station is split into two? Well to get to platform 26 I had to exit the station and cross the street. I was sweaty, tired, hungry, and just wanted to get to Roskilde.  

“Eff this” I muttered as I illegally crossed the street to save myself a 5min walk. I saw a train waiting, and I started to walk faster. As I approached, though, I noticed “SJ” printed on the side. I slowed. SJ were Swedish rail trains. I looked up at the screen. “To Göteberg.”  

I went clammy and could feel my breathing get heavier and my face get hot…what the hell? Did that lady even know what she was talking about? I had to grit my teeth to prevent myself from full out crying. I saw one of the train attendants outside, and asked whether this train stopped at Roskilde. She shook her head.   “You’ll want a regional train for that.”  

OK. Thankfully I’m pretty good at talking myself down. “Go back to the main station. Wait 10 minutes, then walk around and see if you can find where the train to Roskilde actually departs from.”  I thought to myself as I trudged back the way I came.

I groaned and swore some more as I lugged my bag up the stairs and illegally crossed the street once more (I refuse to take elevators with a 14kg bag). As I entered into the main station again I happened to glance at the screen to my left and one word caught my eye.   ‘Roskilde”.  

“YES”. I yelled. Out loud. I think. I actually can’t remember but that was the wave of relief I needed.  

I walked down to the next platform and double checked with a station attendant that this train did indeed stop at Roskilde. After a 6 hour train and an adrenaline/panic filled half hour, I was on my way.  

So that was my travel day…to reiterate I hope to never find myself back at that station again…  

Anyways, back to my first day.  

I had planned to walk around the town, and then head back home. But after my harbour/nature walk I remembered a cafe I had looked up as a potential refuge. I ordered their brunch, and spent the next 2 hours enjoying my meal and tea, and people watching. Afterwards I felt re-energized and went to the Roskilde Cathedral to continue my explorations. Plus the lady was super sweet and let me in for 39kr instead of 40kr because I was one coin short.   The cathedral (domkirke) was gorgeous, and a must-see (in my humble opinion). The 12th century building (and a UNESCO site as of 1995) holds the tombs of deceased royalty, including Fredrik 5 and Christian 1. Some of the chapels are breathtaking, especially the ones of white marble and with richly decorated frescoes. I spent about an hour taking in the history that the cathedral holds, as more people wandered in to take refuge from the rain.

This took me to about 4pm, at which point I was finally ready to call it a day.  

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Cafe Satchmo; my afternoon refuel station

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Exterior of Roskilde Domkirke

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Interior

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Margrete I’s sarcophagus from 1423

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Chapel of the Magi; King Christian I and queen Dorothea are buried in small burial chambers under the floor

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Details of the frescoes

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Fredrik 5’s marble chapel

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Christian 9’s chapel

Day 2  

Copenhagen! I had planned to go for lunch at a street food market, then walk back to city hall for free walking tour I’d signed up for.  

When will I learn that my visits to food markets are just not meant to be? As I attempted to follow my giant map, the route I needed to take was blocked by construction. As I consulted google maps, it was useless at providing me ways without passing through the construction. Defeated, I decided to just find a cafe around the city to eat something and prevent the caffeine headache I could feel coming on.   After about 15 minutes of walking,I came across a diner. My cravings for breakfast food intensified, and my choice was made. I had hashbrowns, pancakes, bacon, and coffee and it was a glorious time.  

The walking tour was very well done. I went through Sandemans New Europe Tours, which took us around the main city sites in about 2.5 hours. When I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed  in a new area and unsure what I’m looking at, I find walking tours are a great way to get introduced to the city. For me, the only thing on my Copenhagen list was take pictures at Nyhavn, and so figured a walking tour would be a good way to spend the afternoon.  

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Nyhavn aka the only reason I’m here

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Wouldn’t you want the caption in the background of the selfie…?

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The Marble Church

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That night, I was trying to plan out my trip for Fredericksborg Castle, somewhere I had been dying to visit since I first sawy photos a few months back. As I entered my journey into the Danish route finder, I swore again (another recurring theme) because everything that came up was at least an hour and a half. And the train routes,w hich were about 10 minutes shorter than the bus, involved several transfers, any of which had small red information marks, indicating that something was disrupting their regular  schedule.

I decided to go to bed. Everything could be figured out the next morning.

Day 3  

I ended up taking the bus, as it stopped a bit closer to me than the train, and involved no transfers.  

Fredericksborg castle is a beauty to behold. In the 17th century, it was built as a royal residence for King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway. Sadly, a fire destroyed the original building in 1859, but what stands now is commonly referred to as the “Versailles of the North” due to its impressive Renaissance-style architecture. The interior is absolutely gorgeous, especially the chapel and the great hall.

I recommend using the audio guides if you go (they’re free with admission) as there aren’t a lot of signs in the rooms.  

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The chapel is breathtaking in person and in picture

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The Great Hall

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Detailing of the ceiling

And that brings us to here. If I had more time in Denmark I would have taken a extra day in Copenhagen (to do the food market lol) to explore some of the districts, and then would have done a full day exploring the other sites around Fresericksborg (such as Kronberg and Fredensborg Castle).

Until next time!  

Next up, Berlin!

4 Days in Stockholm – A Review

“There’s a black hole deep inside of me, reminding me
That I lost my backbone, back home, somewhere in
Stockholm…”

Avicii anyone? To be honest there’s a small part of me that feels like the major reason I visited Stockholm was to use those lyrics in an instagram caption (I’m 80% joking).  

I flip flopped between making this post a summary of my 4 days in Stockholm, or about something unrelated with little anecdotes about the city thrown in here and there. You’ll find I chose a bit of both.  

June 27 was my travel day to Stockholm. After a fire in one of the tunnels at Stockholm Central caused my train to be delayed by 2 hours, I finally arrived at my hostel. Location wise, it couldn’t have been any better: dead smack in the middle of Gamla Stan (Castanea Old Town Hostel, for anyone wondering). I went grocery shopping that evening, which gave me a small taste of the cobblestone and shop-lined streets. As I walked back with my grocery bag (I’ve already mentioned that cooking your own food saves you so much money right? Because it saves you SO MUCH MONEY) I felt ready to go exploring the next morning. 

Or so I thought.

Because there was one big fact that I didn’t realize: Stockholm is huge. Like, really fricking big. Compared to Oslo, a giant of inhumane proportions.  

“Shit…” I whispered as my small map unfolded…and kept unfolding, until a picnic blanket lay in front of me (Ok a bit exaggerated but I needed metaphor…).  

So day one was…very basic. I walked around the Old Town and took refuge in a cafe afte realizing I had no idea what I was doing nor looking at. As I walked back to my hostel I remembered that one of their billboards had advertised walking tours around the old town. Just my luck, they were also free to join and started in one hour.

That was a good choice on my part. I got to see the narrowest alley in the Old Town, the oldest street, the oldest restaurant, and the famous Stortorget and it’s buildings.  

Day 2 was a bit more organized. I went for coffee at a local roasters with 2 girls I had met the night before, got a take-away falafel lunch, then walked over to take the ferry to Djugården. On Djugården I made my way to the Rosendals Trägård; the site of gardens and a cafe that focuses on sustainable practices and locally grown food. Afterwards, one of the highlights of my trip, Vasamuseet (the Vasa Museum). It’s hard to put into words my feelings as I stared up at this enormous ship…awe, mainly, but a huge range given the history this vessel holds. For those who don’t know, in 1628, the Vasa made her maiden voyage…only to sink after 1500m due an eveness of weight (too heavy at the top and not enough weight at the bottom). Many died on board, and thought she was ost at the bottom of the sea  forever. In the 1970’s she was pulled from the ocean and preserved; the first attempt of it’s kind. The museum was fascinating because the science of how she was recovered and preserved is described, and is still ongoing (For exmaple, all the bolts holding her together are a specially created stainless steel, and the museum is climate controlled to prevent any changes in humidity). Anyone who knows me knows I fear deep water and those creepy diving suits that look like robots…guess what one section contained.  

The next day I still had use of the 24hour transit pass from the day before, so  made my way to the Historika Museet, the Swedish History Museum, expecting to maybe spend an hour or so. But, in a theme that followed me throught Sweden, it was way bigger than expected. I ended up spending 2 hours there and could have easily spent more, given that it contained everything I needed to get my Swedish history on fleek. A giant timeline from the 1100’s to present, an exhibit in which religion and contemprary art met, and a giant gold rooms featuring a total of *kg of gold and silver artifacts. I also walked to the public library to take photo of their rotunda style main floor.  

And day 4 was a reunion with a friend I met in Taiwan 3 years ago. We went and walked around Naturhistorika Riksmuseet (the Swedish Museum of Natural History), laughing at the incorrect English translations and spellings, because we are cruel, cruel people. We also got to explore the public art on the Swedish metro system, something I had been curious about but wasn’t sure whether I’d have the time to do it.  

So it took a day to get my bearings, but I feel really good about my time in Stockholm! I could have easily spent another 3 days to explore different districts, get out for a hike or to visit Uppsala, and do something like a food tour. I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to come back.

Below are my recommendations/suggestions if you’re planning to visit or find yourself uncertain at what to do like I did at first!  

-Cook your own meals! I opted to not buy breakfasts or dinners and so mainly bought lunches. It’s incredible how expensive eating out is in Scandinavia.
-Mazimize use of your 24 hour transit pass. Taking 3 journeys more than 1 hour apart already makes this pass a good deal. Whether it be the bus, tram, metro, or ferry, you can see a lot and do a lot by travelling throughout the city!
-Free museums! I was shocked at the amount of free museums in the city. I went to the Swedish History Museum (Historika Museet) and  Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorika Riksmuseet), but the Modern Art Museum, Nobel Museum (on certain days), Nordic museum (Tuesday or Wednesday evenings), and Swedish Viking Museum are all free.
-Free Walking Tours! A great way to get introduced to the city and learn the history. I went with Free Tours Stockholm and you can tip the guide if you think they did a good job, but they are free to join and nobody forces any money out of you (LINK).
-Vasa Museum: As opposed to my regular strategy of getting there right at opening time, I actually visited at 3:30pm on a weekday afternoon, and I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. The tour groups and crowds were few and far between, and it was really calm inside. If you’re not a morning person, go in the late afternoon to avoid crowds. When you’re there I recommend watching the introductory film before starting your exploring for a background on the history of the ship.
-Chill out in a cafe with a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). That’s all I’m saying.  

Until next time! Next stop, Copenhagen!

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Kanelbulle = cinnamon bun. Aka my diet the last 4 days…

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Exploring Gamla Stan

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Stortorget

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Taking the ferry to Djugården

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Rosendals Trädgård

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Gift shop in the garden

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I wanted one but it’s probably for the better that I didn’t buy it

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Stockholm views

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The Vasa in 98% of her original glory

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The BEST. 3 paragraphs of Swedish = 1 in misspelled English 😂

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Exploring the subway art