Friday, July 28, 2017

4 Days in Stockholm: What to Do, See and Eat


Confession: I had never really considered going to Stockholm, and it had never really been on my radar until recently. However, after consistently hearing great things about the city, and after consistently seeing amazing airfare deals, I just couldn't resist - I booked a flight to Stockholm.



Best decision ever - Stockholm exceeded my expectations in every single way, from the charming fairytale buildings, the gorgeous waterfront views, the delicious food scene (hellooooo meatballs and cardamom buns), the beautiful, minimalistic Scandinavian design, the friendly people - even the weather exceeded my expectations.

With plenty of cheap flights from the United States, I highly recommend it as your next destination! I spent 4 days there, and felt that it was the perfect amount of time to explore and get a feel for the city. Here are my picks of what you should do, see, and eat in the city:



KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
When to go
Sweden is famous for its cold winters with its short daylight hours, and its long summer days. The Swedes love their summer, and Stockholm comes alive with many events and festivals in the summer months. I went in late May and it was the perfect time to go - I got lucky and got sunny 80 degree days, although I was the weather can be schizo sometimes. Summer is the best time to go, with sunny days and mild days. You also can't go wrong with those extra hours of daylight - even in late May, sunrise was at 3:45 am and sunset was at 9:40 pm!

Being from California, I have no idea what a real winter is and don't think I would be able to handle a winter in Stockholm. Some attractions are closed in the winter. However, the city transforms into a magical winter wonderland under the snow and there are many holiday events and markets throughout the city - a unique way to see Stockholm!



Buy a Stockholm Pass!
I highly recommend getting a Stockholm pass, as this included almost any activity you can think of! All the activities and attractions I recommend below under "Do & See" are included in this pass. It is a great value, especially if you plan to see a lot and do a lot of activities on your trip (as I did). You can also get a transit pass add-on - this costs the same as you were to buy it as-is directly from SL, the Stockholm transit agency, but I did for the convenience of not having to worry about it.



Getting Around
Stockholm is fairly small, and many of the main tourist attractions in the city center are easy to get around to on foot. Stockholm also has an extensive and efficient subway system, as well as buses, and water taxis. You can buy a transit card, or purchase one with a Stockholm pass, and these options are all included with it. You can also take taxis or Uber, but these are pricey and not recommended.

Cash vs. Credit
I did not take out any cash in Stockholm. Credit cards are accepted everywhere in Stockholm - in fact, some businesses don't accept cash. The only exception to this is using a public restroom, for which you will need kroner coins. You can always use the restroom at a cafe or restaurant that you are a customer of, or a museum that you go to. However, there were a few times when I really had to go while I was wandering around aimlessly, and had a couple of close calls!


STAY
There is no shortage of accommodation options in Stockholm, from fancy luxury hotels, unique boutique hotels, designer hostels, Airbnbs, and everything in between. Wanting to try something new and to meet new people, I opted to stay in the Generator Hostel, especially as I had heard amazing things about this popular chain of boutique hostels. It really made me rethink what comes to mind when you hear "hostel," with its award-winning decor and hipster-cool vibe. They also curate fun social events. I enjoyed my stay there, even though I was always out and about and never really spent much time in the hostel and totally failed at the "meet new people" part.


I had coffee and breakfast at Gretas, which is the restaurant at the Haymarket by Scandic hotel and absolutely fell in love with the super chic, colorful decor of the place. Their bar is also a fest for the eyes, and I would have loved to come back there for a cocktail (but could never find enough time!). Would definitely love to stay there on a future trip!

DO & SEE

Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan is the old town of Stockholm, and home of the first Viking settlement where Stockholm was founded in 1252. It is one of the best preserved medieval city centers in Europe, and is also a popular tourist spot in Stockholm, with an array of restaurants, cafes, bars, and museums.


Wander through its lively cobblestone streets and admire the charming fairytale-like architecture, grab a coffee or a bite to eat here. Sit in the Stortorget, which used to be one of the largest city squares in Europe, admire the colorful gingerbread-like buildings, and people watch.


Royal Palace
At over 600 rooms, the Royal Palace of Stockholm is one of the largest such palaces in Europe. It also contains 5 museums. After the original Royal Palace burned down in a fire, the current structure was built in the 18th century in an Italian Baroque style. Although the royal family of Sweden does not live in the Royal Palace, their offices are still here.

There is a changing of guards parade that happens daily - I had not been planning to see this, but happened to be walking nearby when it happened and it was quite the production and definitely worth watching! You can read more about the changing of the guards here.


Skansen
Skansen is the world's oldest open-air museum, and will give you a unique insight into daily Swedish life and culture throughout the years. It is designed to be "Sweden in miniature," and features villages, nature, commerce, and industry from all over the country. Over 150 farms and houses from all over Sweden were deconstructed and transported here in order to provide an insight into how Swedes once lived and worked.


Many of the staff are dressed in traditional Swedish period costumes, and you can see them showcasing handicrafts, music, and foods. Various festivals are held here to celebrate Swedish traditions. There is also a Nordic zoo, housing many of the animals that can be found in the country.

Boat Tours
Stockholm is a city built on 14 islands that are connected by more than 50 bridges, and seeing it from water gives you a unique perspective of the city. There are numerous boat tours available from Stromma, and several of these are included with the Stockholm pass.  It is a great way to see the city while relaxing and resting your feet.



I did the Royal Canal Tour, which takes you through the most famous waterside spots and through Djugarden, as well as the Under the Bridges Tour, which takes you under the bridges and through the locks that connect the freshwater Lake Malaren with the Baltic Sea. There is also an Archipelago Tour that takes you through Stockholm's unique archipelago, which is the second largest in the Baltic Sea. If you are in Stockholm in the winter, there is even a Winter Tour that allows you to see the city on ice!

City Hall
The Stockholm City Hall is one of the city's most well-known buildings. It is famous for its art and grand ceremonial halls, and is the venue of the annual Nobel Prize banquet. You will need to sign up for a tour to see the inside of the building, however, even seeing the exterior of the building (built with more than 8 million bricks) is worth a visit. There are also amazing views of Gamla Stan from here.

Fotografiska
Fotografiska calls itself an international meeting center for contemporary photography. There are 4 large exhibitions and about 20 smaller exhibitions held here each year. They are thought-provoking, sometimes controversial, and ambitious. The works of both world-renowned photographers (such as Annie Leibovitz) and new, up-and-coming photographers are showcased here. Definitely a unique museum and worth a visit! The best part of Fotografiska is that it is open until 1am, so you can make a visit when most other attractions have closed for the day.

Subway Art Tour
At over 100km long, Stockholm's subway system is said to be the longest art exhibit in the world. Ninety of the 100 stations in the system have been adorned in some way, with some of the stations being truly spectacular installations. I broke up my station visits to a few a day, but you can set aside an afternoon to tour all the notable stations in one trip.

Some of my favorites are T-Centralen, Stadion, Kungstragarden, and Solna Centrum.

Fjaderholmarna
Stockholm's archipelago is the second largest in the Baltic Sea and consists of some 30,000 islands, rocks, and skerries. Only 20 minutes outside of Stockholm, Fjaderholma is the closest island to the city and is considered to be the gateway of the archipelago. It is perfect for a quick half day trip for escaping the busy city. Ferry service is offered through Stromma (included in Stockholm Pass)or from Waxholmsbolaget.


You can take a walk around the island, sit on the rocks and gaze out at the sea and passing boats, stop into one of the local artisan shops, sit down for a nice lunch, and have a beer at the brewery. Some recommended restaurants are Rokoriet and Fjaderholmarnas Krog. The latter serves a Christmas smorgasbord during the holiday season, which would be a festive reason to make a stop onto the island in the winter.

Drottningholm Palace
Sitting just outside Stockholm, Drottningholm Palace is the official residence of the king and queen of Sweden. It is inspired by 16th and 17th century French architecture (like that of Versailles), and is one of 3 UNESCO world heritage sites in Sweden. The gorgeous grounds also feature a park, a Baroque garden, a theater, and a Chinese Pavilion.

The best way to get there is to take a boat tour there, which takes you on a leisurely cruise down Lake Malaren (this is also included in the Stockholm Pass). However, you can also drive and there are a number of public transportation options to get you there.

Vasa Museum
Disclaimer: I missed the ferry back from Fjaderholmarna, and ran out of time to go here - I have heard that it is a really interesting museum, and I definitely want to go on a future trip! The Vasa warship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, and was salvaged out of the ocean over 300 years later. The preserved and restored warship is displayed in all its glory here, which is the most visited museum in Scandinavia.

EAT
Stockholm has an acclaimed international food scene, with delicious restaurants serving any kind of cuisine you can think of. However, I was most excited about two things: Swedish meatballs and fika, which accounted for most of what I ate during my stay. Here are my picks for meatball restaurants and fika spots!


Meatballs
The one thing that I knew I wanted to eat a lot of was Swedish Meatballs. These are smaller than traditional meatballs, come coated a gravy, and are usually accompanied with mashed potatoes, ligonberries, and pickled cucumbers. I did a bit of research and sought out the best Swedish Meatalls in Stockholm, and these 3 spots below all came highly recommended. You can't go wrong with any of these 3, but I ranked them below:

Bakfickan
Located in the opera house, Bakfickan is the more casual restaurant of the upscale Operakällaren, and serves a lot of classic Scandinavian dishes. This was narrowly my favorite. What made it my favorite? The meatballs were delicious, but OH MY GOD - the mashed potatoes were heavenly. Perfectly creamy and buttery, and I wanted to fall asleep on a cloud of them. I ended up going back for lunch later in the week, except this time I ordered the Gravlax (smoked salmon) - also amazing as well.

Pelikan
Pelikan is consistently regarded as one of the best restaurants in Stockholm, and is known for its classic Swedish cuisine and has been a local favorite for more than a century. I would say that the meatballs were as good as Bakfickan, but the potatoes won out. They also serve a variety of other cuisines, and I wanted to go back to try one of them, but never made it back. Another plus is that they are open until 1am.

Meatballs for the People
This is a super popular spot for meatballs, and well,  the word "meatballs" is in its name. The cool part about Meatballs for the People is that you can choose what kind of meatballs you want - traditional beef, boar, reindeer, even veggie and vegan options - so you can taste a unique spin on this classic!


Fika
What is fika? It is essentially a Swedish coffee break, often shared with friends and a sweet treat of some sort. The idea is to slow down and to enjoy the simple things in life. It was a concept that I had read about before departing, and I knew that I would have to fika during my trip - heck, multiple times a day (because I'm on vacation and why not?!). Stockholm has tons of great bakeries and cafes that are perfect for your fika stop, but these two were amazing and won't disappoint (and also have multiple locations in the city):

Vete-Katten
Vete-Katten serves a variety of cakes, pastries, buns, and coffee, as well as lunch and an afternoon tea service. I loved the little cakes here - my favorite was the marzipan Princess cake.

Fabrique
You are coming here for the buns! Cinnamon buns are traditional favorites, and kardemummabullar, or cardamom roll, is a twist on that. I fell in love with the cardamom buns here, and I had to have multiples in a day. They are something I've dreamt about every day since getting back to the states.

Have you been to Stockholm? What are your favorite spots there?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Best Walls in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city with an abundance of amazing street art - walking down its streets is like wandering through an art gallery. Over 1000 murals can be seen in all over the city - in some parts of the city, like the Mission, there are murals everywhere you look, and this is where you can find many of the best walls in San Francisco.

I am a sucker for a good wall and I love cruising the city to find them! Here, I've rounded up my favorites for the ultimate collection of the best walls in San Francisco, and where to find them.


1. Flamingo Wall by fnnch
outside Media Noche restaurant
3465 19th St.



2. Blue Houses and Poppies by Ursula Young
Ames Alley and 21st St.



3. Rainbow Geometric Wall
Clarion Alley - between Valencia St. and Mission St.
(this alley is full of amazing walls - definitely home to some of the best walls in San Francisco!)



4. Floral Wall by Jet Martinez
Valencia St. & 15th St.



5. Tribal Chevron Wall
Balmy Alley - between 24th St. and 25th St.
(another spot with some of the best walls in San Francisco)



6. Ombre Triangle Wall by Val Santillo and Yuka Ezoe
outside Edo Salon
601 Haight St.



7. Pink wall
outside Miette
449 Octavia St.



8. Neon Feather Wall  by Apexer
18th St.& Guerrero St.




9. Pink Block Wall
Balmy Alley



10. Lip Wall by fnnch
outside Bodega
700 Columbus Ave.
*note: a blue and white version of this is also on Haight St. & Central Ave.



11. Citrus Argyle Wall 
outside Boba Guys
3491 19th St.



12. Evolutionary Rainbow Wall by Yana Zegri
Cole St. & Haight St.



13. Abstract Bird Wall
Buena Vista Horace Mann School
Valencia St. & 23rd St.



14. Tropical Leaf Wall by Elle
Sparrow Street & Caledonia St.

Where have you found amazing street art? Let me know in the comments!