For the next intrepid interview, Michelle tells us about her 11-day trip to Sweden and Norway. The trip sounds absolutely phenomenal, from exploring the Old City in Stockholm to seeing the incredible scenery from a mountaintop in Bergen. Without further delay, here’s her Scandinavian travel experience.
You just got back from a trip to Sweden and Norway. How long were you there? Tell me a little more about where you went and what you did.
I was there for about 11 days.
I was originally in Stockholm for a weeklong robotics conference. I had some time to do sightseeing in between talks, and then I decided to take another few days and travel Norway.
There’s a tour called Norway in a Nutshell, which includes a train and a boat ride. It takes you from Oslo, Sweden, to Bergen, Norway. You get to go through the beautiful mountains and fjords – including some of the most gorgeous scenery on a train in the world. Then, afterwards, I went back to Stockholm!
How did you decide upon Sweden/Norway?
Sweden was because of the robotics conference, so I didn’t have much of a choice – though I did intentionally decide to submit to the conference because it was in Sweden!
One of my lab friends booked the Norway fjord tour before leaving. It sounded amazing and like an easy way to see Norway, so that’s why I decided to do it. I didn’t have time on the trip to see Denmark and Finland, but Norway was beautiful, so I was really happy I got to see it.
Did you go on your own, or travel with anyone else?
This is the first time I’d ever traveled on my own. Though many people from my lab went to the conference, we all traveled separately, and after the conference we all went our separate ways. So, I really was all on my own after the conference was over.
What was traveling alone like?
It was a little bit lonely – I wanted to have somebody to share things with. But it also meant that I could do what I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about what someone else wanted to do. If I wanted to go back to my hotel room and take a nap, I could do that.
I also felt like I had conversations with locals and other travelers that I wouldn’t have otherwise, including a lot of Australians who were traveling alone through Scandinavia. That was definitely different from how I’ve traveled in the past. I also definitely ended up talking more to restaurant staff as opposed to keeping my head down and only talking to people I knew or my travel companion.
Did you go to different cities? How long did you spend in each place?
I spent a week in Stockholm, but only 2-3 days of that were sightseeing. Then I spent a day in Oslo, a day in Bergen, did the Norway tour, and then came back and spent a day in Oslo.
I wish I had more time to spend in Bergen, that was my favorite spot of the whole trip. It was gorgeous. It was a small city in contrast to the others. Oslo felt very industrial and Stockholm is also very built up and modern, whereas Bergen was scenic, felt more connected, and like it had a richer history.
Before you left, did you have your trip completely planned out? Did you play any of it by ear when you got there?
No! This was actually really anxiety-inducing, but I wanted to wait until I got there before deciding whether I wanted to spend more time in Stockholm and Sweden or elsewhere.
So, the only part I had planned out was the first week in Stockholm and my flight back. There were 4-5 days in between that I didn’t have planned at all, so I decided it while I was there. It was really different from how I usually travel.
As an extreme trip-planner, I can empathize. But it sounds like it worked out, right?
It definitely did, yeah! I think if I had planned it in advance, I wouldn’t have ended up going to Norway. I would have probably just stayed in Sweden. So I was happy that I did it that way. I felt a lot more confident about my abilities to travel alone after a week in Stockholm than I did before.
As much as I like to travel, I haven’t traveled that much in my life, especially by myself – so it was a new experience. And though I found out about the Norway tour from my lab partner before we left, I hadn’t seriously considered it as an option until the conference was winding down.
How did you get around in Stockholm?
Stockholm is really walkable; in fact, all the cities I went to were. At one point I did take the T-bana, the underground subway, and the bus, but for the most part I just walked everywhere.
Do you speak any Swedish? Did you get around speaking mostly English?
Nope! Almost everybody there speaks English. Towards the end I kind of understood what they were saying to me – like, “Do you want a bag?” at the grocery store. But Swedish is a very weird-sounding language and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. However, some of the spellings are very similar to English, so you can often read signs and figure things out.
And people weren’t offended when you tried speaking to them in English?
Oh, no, not at all. People are excited to practice their English. And I only ran into a couple of people who didn’t speak any English at all.
Did you do anything touristy while you were there, or did you go off the beaten path?
I was very touristy! The Norway in a Nutshell thing is very touristy, and sometimes it was a little corny and pandering, but it was fun to do anyway. I did a bus sightseeing tour in Oslo, and I also went to some museums.
I didn’t go off the beaten path much, except maybe when I was trying to find dinner. But because I was only spending a day or so in each place and traveling on my own for the first time, sticking to the main sights was really all I felt I had time for.
Where did you stay? How did you decide to stay there?
I did hotels over hostels – definitely for comfort and anxiety reasons. In Stockholm things were paid for due to the conference, so it was super close to the convention center and a great location. When it came to finding places in Oslo and Bergen, I ended up sticking to the cheapest places I could find that were also close to the train station – especially since a lot of my evening plans involved taking trains.
How were things cost-wise while you were there?
Food is ridiculously expensive, especially in Norway. The kroner was something like one eighth of the USD, but I divided by 10 just to make things mentally easier and knew I would be lowballing a bit. Even so, it’s hard to have a concept of cost, especially in a foreign currency.
Though, at some point I decided, “Well, I’m here, I might as well spend some money to do or eat what I want instead of worrying about whether dinner is $40 instead of $20.” For example, if I’m in a fish market in Bergen, I should eat seafood. After all, when am I next going to be there? That being said, hotels and transportation were reasonable, it was really just the food that was outrageously priced.
Why was that, do you think? I noticed that in Iceland, too, but I thought that was because it’s an island.
I asked somebody that in Oslo, actually. She said that everybody there generally has a higher income, and they don’t have to worry about things like healthcare costs and education. So, they don’t have as many expenses. It makes sense that the more money you can keep, you have more money you can spend. Also, if people are paid more, including restaurant staff, that money has to come from somewhere, like having higher food costs.
What was your favorite moment of the trip?
Bergen is surrounded by incredible mountains, including one called Fløyen, which has a funicular train that takes you up to the top with a view of the city.
The view of the city is amazing and I sat up at the top for an hour and a half. The temperature was perfect and there was a breeze. Up there I realized, “Wow, I’m in Norway; I should take this in as much as I can.”
I think the view from that mountain was definitely my favorite moment of the trip.
What was your favorite meal on the trip?
A couple – the best one was probably the first day other people from my lab were also in Stockholm. We went out to dinner with a former lab member who now lives in Stockholm. He took us to one of his favorite restaurants in the Stockholm Old City called Österlånggatan 17. The food was pretty good, but sharing it with other people and knowing this was a local’s favorite spot was what made it special.
My other favorite was the first night I was there. I walked into a random, tiny restaurant called Slingerbulten in the old city and had potato pancakes and pork – I don’t know what it was, exactly, but it was delicious.
What was your favorite place on the trip?
Bergen, definitely. Between the beautiful mountaintop, and Bryggen, which is a historical part of Bergen with museums and such. It looks like it was built in the 1100s and is a UNESCO Heritage Site – there are tiny alleyways and wooden buildings. It’s cute, it wasn’t too crowded, and it didn’t feel as touristy as I expected it to be. There are some tourist shops, but you get the feeling that there are also locals walking around.
What was the biggest surprise on the trip? Was there anything that caught you off guard or was unexpected?
The scenery. I’m not generally a person who’s like, “Oh my god, nature!” I think it’s pretty, but not breathtaking. I did the Norway tour because people said it was scenic. I expected to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s pretty!” and move on. But it was absolutely amazing.
I left Oslo at 6:25 in the morning and a guy at the station said I could sleep for the first 2 hours but I would really want to be awake after that. At the time I didn’t know why, but when I woke up 2 hours later we were up in the mountains – with a beautiful view and snow on the ground. Mind you, in Sweden it was very much springtime.
It was also disconcerting because we were so far north; so, the sun never really set until 10:30 pm. The light at 7 pm in Boston is what it would be at 10:30 pm in Bergen. It’s strange because all the shops are closed and there’s nobody on the streets, but it’s still light outside.
What tips do you have for people traveling to Sweden and Norway for the first time?
It’s totally okay to wander, and in fact it’s a great way to explore. That’s something I was wary about at first, but you really do feel safe and the cities are small enough that it’s easy to find your way around.
In Stockholm I didn’t really have anything to do or planned out on the first evening, so I just wandered around the Old City and it was really nice. There’s a lot of architecture that you wouldn’t necessarily see if you took a tour. Setting aside that time to explore on foot is important.
Also, be prepared to spend a lot of money on food. And take the train to Norway! I hate flying anyway, but there are some very good reasons to take the train in this case anyway. It’s less cramped, less stressful, and it’s a more relaxed, scenic, and enjoyable experience.
All pictures courtesy of Michelle Rosen.