Before heading to Stockholm, Sweden, my husband and I drove 3 hours north from Vasteras airport to Alfta. We went to visit David’s uncle Mike who immigrated to Sweden around 17 years ago and his daughter Isabella. Only minutes after we started driving on the highway it felt like we were heading up to a cottage back in Ontario, Canada. The tall trees and lakes throughout the countryside created an immediate feeling of comfort and safety. After an excellent stay with family we headed back down to Stockholm and explored the city of islands. From Arlanda airport there is a frequent Arlanda Express train equipped with free WiFi that takes you into Stockholm in 20 minutes. The trains were refurbished 2 years ago and are the nicest trains we have traveled on while in Europe.
Stockholm is a combination of 14 islands in Lake Mälaren. We walked everywhere from our Best Western Hotel located on the main shopping street Drottninggatan. We started our day on Djurgården Island where the Scandinavian museum, boat museum, theme park and national park are located. From there we walked across to parliament, sitting on it’s own island connected by a bridge, and across to the Old Town (Gamla Stan) where the royal palace is. The guards stand out front in a bright blue wardrobe and appear to be friendlier then the ones we have encountered in other cities so far. The old town of Stockholm is filled with little shops along cobble stone roads. Most of the buildings in the old town are from the 1700s and 1800s however the town dates from the 13th century.
Here we went into an old cellar that was turned into a restaurant to try some traditional Swedish meatballs. They were amazing and covered in a creamy sauce placed on top of some mashed potatoes. Stockholm is not very large city with primary sites located within walking distance of each other. I highly recommend renting a vehicle in Sweden to visit some of the small towns, go camping and fishing on the lakes. You can even stay in a camper in a parking lot or camp out for at least one day without paying a penny.
The bottom of La Rambla was our starting point for the day as we set out to explore the old town area of Barcelona. This tree lined street was actually once a river, with a 13th century city wall following it. At the bottom of La Rambla is a monument to Columbus overlooking the street and sea. Just off La Rambla, is one of the first works of the famous architect Antoni Gaudi, Palau Güell. The spire-like chimneys are the only hint of colour that can be seen from the street. For some fresh fruit, fish or meat be sure to stop at Boqueria food market. The market originated from the 13th century and today is one of the top markets in the world! If you have the time you can even sign up for a cooking class there.
After that, we began to wander through the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), the oldest part of the city chosen by the Romans. The Barcelona Cathedral stands on the old foundation of a Roman temple. The interior is beautiful and can be accessed anytime before noon for free, however make sure you’re covered up! We saw many women attempt to enter the church in shorts or thin straps on dresses but were required to wrap a scarf around their waist and shoulders before entering. Men wearing sleeveless shirts were also turned back. Don’t worry though, a man and woman were selling scarves out front from €0.50.
From the Gothic Quarter we worked our way to Parc de la Ciutadella and Arc del Triomf, the main gateway to the 1888 International Exhibition. In the gardens is an incredible ornamental cascade designed by Joseph Fontsere and a young Antoni Gaudi. There is also a boating lake and although we never saw any, parrots living in the palm trees.
Due to the high winds on our way to Hvar town we stopped in Stari Grad. Stari Grad is used as a safe harbour by many boaters and sailors passing through the middle of Dalmatia. Hvar is the longest island in the Adriatic. I was extremely pleased with the stop as it is the oldest town in Europe, dating back to 384 BC, and the heart of the island of Hvar. The Tvrdalj is one of the most fascinating buildings in Stari Grad. It is a fort of defence built by Poet Petar Hktorovic to protect the town from the Turks in 1520. The only entrance is over a bascule bridge. There is a fishpond and park within the fort where villagers could fish without being seen. A number of inscriptions are engraved in the stones including one saying ‘Omnium Conditori’ where Hektorović dedicated his Tvrdalj to God, the Creator of everything.
After wandering the streets of Stari Grad, we took a taxi into Hvar town. The first thing we did was climb up to the Spanish Fortress originally built in the 13th century. The amazing view overlooking the entire town from the top of the hill was well worth the 15 minute hike up. To cool down we went to the Hula Hula beach bar. In the evening I had the most amazing steak I have ever eaten in my entire life at Kogos restaurant!!! Seriously, you could cut it with a butter knife. It was the perfect end to our day.
Echternach is the oldest town in Luxembourg and one of the most beautiful areas in the country to walk around in. I found a downloadable walking tour here, where you can go on a cultural walk of the town at your own speed. This one in particular covers the entire town and everything in it. Please be aware when planning your visit that in the winter most things are closed and the population is about 1/3 of what it is in the summer. The streets are spotless and you can take a bus straight from Luxembourg City to get here.
My favourite part about Echternach was the Abbey and its Orangerie. Since it was winter the gate was closed to the Orangerie, but even peeking through in the middle of winter, one could imagine what it would be like in the summer time. The Orangerie actually has four statues out front representing each season. They were built by Ferdinand Tietz, a German sculptor. The Orangerie is just across the street from the Abbey so make sure you don’t miss it.