Archive | June, 2012

Just How Expensive Is Stockholm?

I have the tendency to fall for expensive cities. What I can say – high living standards, overall efficiency and beautiful surroundings come with hefty price tags nowadays.

After my first year in Switzerland, I had gotten so used to the prices that I no longer felt the need to complain about them. This doesn’t mean that they stopped surprising meseriously? 60 EUR for a dorade royale in a supermarket? Sure, I understand it was big specimen, but 60 EUR? I don’t even pay that for the fully cooked fish in the finest of all spanish fish restaurants…

Still, I managed to get used to most of the prices I encountered on a regular basis – like train tickets, a bottle of Evian and a glass of swiss wine (all of these, unquestionably expensive according to any visitor’s view that didn’t have CHF earnings).

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm reminded me of Switzerland in many ways. The winding streets in Gamla Stan resemble Lausanne’s old town. Their clean streets holding simple and colorful buildings. And of course, the prices of pretty much anything.

Prices are relative, though. When coming from Portugal or Spain, ordering dinner in Stockholm is almost an investment. But if comparing them to Switzerland or London – you’ll realize the country is more expensive, but most of the time, it’s nothing you haven’t seen somewhere before. What I’ve learned from my trip is that, with a bit of thoughtful planning, even quite limited budgets can survive a 4 day holiday in Stockholm.

Accommodation

Stortorget Square in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Before choosing to go with Roomorama on my first trip to Sweden, I browsed and surfed looking for a variety of accommodation alternatives in the capital. Hostels, hotels, B&Bs – all of it. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task to stay on the affordable side. I was prepared for the worst. Hotels started up by 65 GBP per night – if spending the night next to a motorway and 20 minutes drive outside the city sounds appealing to you (because it certainly wasn’t for me). Anything more centrical already doubled the price (set that as a minimum – from there, it only goes upwards). We found a few cute B&B, but generally had an issue on being 3 friends instead of the harmonious 2 (or 4).

My Tip: We were thankful for the credit I got from Roomorama – Stockholm is certainly one of those cities where you can appreciate this most. However, Roomorama’s selection on apartments in the city is still rather limited, so I’d recommend to check AirBnB and Wimbu as well. Hostels mostly offer single beds in reasonable sized dorms for 20 to 30 GBP per night, but if you want to cut accommodation costs as a whole, Couchsurfing is definitely the best option!

Alcohol

Systembolaget - Swedish Alcohol Monopoly

Alcohol is one of those things that make Stockholm seem prohibitively expensive. Sweden has high alcohol prices because of the high tax rates imposed on it. Herewith, the governments intention is to reduce overall alcohol consumption or at least moderate the regular intake. If you want to buy wine, beer or spirits to have some drinks at home, you’ll need to search for a Systembolaget shop – a state own monopoly for alcohol sale. Their opening hours are quite restrictive, which is why many swedes and expats stock up! In restaurants and bars, drinks become even more pricey – I’ve paid between 6 and 8 GBP for a glass of wine (and I wasn’t being very picky!).

My Tip: If you can, buy a bottle of wine in the duty free shop before departure. If your luggage restrictions don’t allow for this, make sure to check the opening hours of your nearest Systembolaget shop (and don’t forget to bring your ID).

Food

"Capers" at SMAK, Stockholm

You know me. I travel through food, and Stockholm was no exception. Even before landing, I was already dreaming of smoked salmon, meatballs with lingonberry jam and all the fresh and exotic game – like reindeer and moose! But freshly cooked food comes for a price – specially in central locations frequented by tourists.

On our first night in the city, some friends took us to SMAK (flavor) – a restaurant tucked away in an obscure side street in Östermalm. SMAK’s concept is simple: few dishes, simple names and 3 sizes (3, 5 or 7 plate menus). Each dish carries the name of the predominant flavor. Each dish was a creation for itself. Prices were mouth-opening, but let me tell you: It was totally worth it.

My Tip: Get familiar with your local supermarket and unleash your inner cook. By having breakfast at home and preparing picnics for lunch (as simple as nordic bread with cream cheese and smoked salmon), you won’t feel bad about letting go for a special dinner.

Transport

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

WALK. Don’t even think about taking a taxi. I’ve done it, and believe me – it’s no fun. Only use the tube whenever completely necessary (like those days it’s pouring non-stop and you only wish to be teleported to the closest mall). We got ourselves a tube pass for 18 GBP (200 SEK) that we could use 8 times and could be shared among a group of friends.This was enough for 2 people and 4 days in the city (including one of those forced mall days).

My Tip: Pack comfortable walking shoes, an umbrella and a hardcore rain jacket – Even if it’s summer time, some days might be really wet. When you arrive at the tube station, look for a kiosk inside or around the station (tickets and passes are a bit cheaper than at the counter) and choose which option suits you best depending on time, weather prediction and condition. Note that single tickets are sold at almost 4 GBP!

Have you been to Stockholm? What do you think about its prices? Do you have any other recommendations to keep these basic costs low when traveling to expensive destinations?

Photo Essay: Colorful Streets of Stockholm

As we arrived in Stockholm and walked towards the tube station, it immediately hit us: the city has something magical and fairy-tale feel. Perhaps it’s the golden details of its majestic buildings, the round towers that make me wonder if a swedish Rapunzel is trapped up there or the way the dreamy street lights reflect on the peaceful water – but there’s certainly something.

Round Tower in Stockholm, Sweden

Can you see Rapunzel waving from the balcony?

Stadshuset (City Hall) is one of the best surprises: from the street, it seems to be not more than a simple red brick building – but once inside, it’s beauty is undeniable. The construction’s waterfront offers, in my opinion, one of the best afternoon views of the Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Södermalm (heart of bohemian culture).

Golden details on top of the City Hall

Stockholm Skyline, Sweden

Afternoon view over Gamla Stan from the City Hall waterfront

Stockholm is a walkable city – If you pack a pair of comfortable shoes, you will hardly need to use the tube to move in between islands. The walk from Östermalm (the district that holds the City Hall) to Gamla Stan is only about a 10 minute walk! Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s old town and one of the best conserved medieval city centers of the World. Stortoget Square is known to be one of Sweden’s oldest squares and is now popular for its many cafes and restaurants.

If you happen to be walking close to Stortoget Square and feel like coffee and something sweet, I recommend trying the Valrhona chocolate ball at Chokladkoppen. If you like dark chocolate – you’ll love this!

Stortorget Square in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Iconic buildings around Stortoget Square

It is easy to get lost in it’s small winding streets, but it’s also easy to find yourself back again since it really doesn’t take you more than 15 minutes to walk from one corner of Stadsholmen (its main island) to the other. The streets are packed with cozy cafes, art galleries and (pricy) handcraft shops.

Small Alley in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Romantic alleys in Gamla Stan

One of my favorite parts of the visit was discovering these small alleys – each of them seemed to be taken out of a fairy tale. I tried to imagine a medieval life happening on theses streets, and am sure they have kept secrets for centuries. Is there anything more magical than that?

Stockholm Like A Local: A Roomorama Review

As soon as I had booked my flight to Stockholm, I began to think about the consequences of my spontaneous decision. Sure, my flight was ridiculously cheap (probably the one and only advantage of flying with Ryanair) – but wasn’t Stockholm one of the World’s most expensive cities? Looking back at the SEK/EUR exchange rate for the past 3 years, I realized that, where once I would have received almost 11 SEK for 1 EUR, I now hardly get 9 SEK.

I was going to get ripped off.

When Roomorama offered me credit to review their service, I jumped at the opportunity. I was going to save a lot in accommodation – giving me much more to spend in experiences!

Roomorama: An Introduction

Roomorama

Roomorama believes that there is more to travel than visiting a city’s main attractions. They defend the idea that, when living like a local in one of their many short term rentals Worldwide, you improve your experience and understanding of the country your visiting and its culture.

As a firm believer of the good behind getting lost in cities, living like a local was exactly was I was looking for.

The Search And Booking Process

Stockholm Apartments Roomorama

Roomorama not only offers apartments, but a wide range of accommodation that ranges from a single room in a shared flat to luxurious villas with infinity pools. Booking at their website is very simple: you choose your destination, dates and number of guests, and they will provide a list of available places. You then can refine your search to match your price range and needs (elevator, internet, TV, etc).

If, like me, you have a specific neighborhood or area in mind – you can use their virtual map to spot each choice. As I was particularly looking for a centric place to avoid paying too much for transport, I chose a room in Östermalm (one of the wealthy and calm areas of the city, close enough to walk to the buzz of the center).

Before booking a room, you need to get in touch with the landlord or agency. This can be complicated when visiting countries in which english isn’t a first language or isn’t widely spoken. Sweden is a country with a very high level of english among young people, but can get difficult when talking with previous generations.

The Room & Neighborhood

Östermalm Neighborhood Roomorama

I admit it – having your own room is really relaxing. I had booked it with 2 very close friends and it turned out to be perfect: 3 single beds, a place to put our luggage, a window overlooking the neighborhood and our own separate bathroom. We had full access to the kitchen (which we took good use of!), coffee and tea for free throughout the day and two sets of keys to come and go whenever we wanted. Helena, the landlord, kindly provided us with city guides and maps of the city center.

The apartment was located in a residential neighborhood in Östermalm, only 50 meters from the tube and 15 minutes walk to the city center. There were very few hotels in the area, so we hardly ever passed tourists at all. On the first day, we explored our area and soon found what we soon started to call our supermarket.

The Pros and Cons

Breakfast in Stockholm with Roomorama

The Benefits

  • Privacy – You get your own space, allowing you some time to relax whenever wanted. Plus, you don’t have to lock up your stuff whenever you go out (even for going to the bathroom!)
  • A Real Kitchen – Having access to a proper kitchen to prepare breakfast and sandwiches to take away for the day. This helped us keeping our costs relatively down and eating healthy fresh and unprocessed food.
  • Flexibility – Our landlord arranged for an extra bed without any additional cost and allowed us to check out late in the afternoon.
  • Local Experience – Knowing your way around the area, being just another neighbor feels gratifying. You know that prices in the surrounding shops are for real, and not just for tourists!

The Drawbacks

  • Internet vs Reality – There is a possibility that the accommodation you book isn’t as good as it seems. Marie from EurotripTips had an unlucky experience in London, where she didn’t have hot water nor a reliable internet connection. One way of avoiding this is by revising other people’s reviews on this property and owner.
  • Additional Costs – To the daily price, you will usually have to add a Roomorama fee and, in some occasions, a cleaning fee. Before booking a room, always check these additional charges as these can be high for very short stays.
  • Cost Effectiveness – It might not always be the most cost effective option for a solo traveler – it really depends on your destination.

My Final Veredict

Overall, my experience with Roomorama was great. Throughout the whole booking process, I got every question answered clearly and timely by a member of the team – I was taken care of and valued as a customer. I was glad to choose their services to cover my accommodation in Stockholm – a city I had never visited before and now I believe I know quite well. The website is simple to use, effective and offers something for any sort of traveler (yes, as demanding as you may be!). I’m already checking apartments for my next destination… and you should, too!

Note: Roomorama has offered me a discount for my stay in Stockholm in exchange of a review on my blog, but my opinions and impressions are as always my own.

Picture This: Summer City

Stockholm, Sweden

Have you ever visited a city and thought this place is the prettiest during winter or this city is perfect for summer holidays? Maybe you’ve visited a city full of parks and rows of trees in every street, which makes it shine when their flowers start blooming in spring?

Stockholm is, for me, a top european summer destination.

Sure, most of the time, it’s not as warm as in the Mediterranean region – but when the sun comes out, the city is buzzing with life more than you would have ever imagined!

PS: I’m just back from a short holiday in and around Stockholm, so expect a few posts on this beautiful city and why I’m adding it to my list of top summer escapes.

The Road Between Friends is Never Long

I switched cities when I turned 18. Sunny Tenerife for busy Valencia (and shortly after, even busier Madrid). At that time, I had to say goodbye to people I cared about – to friends I grew up with, to my closest family.

Hiking in Tenerife, Spain

I knew I was returning eventually – for summer holidays, Christmas, Easter and the occasional long weekend. But with time, these home visits became less frequent. Time had grown me apart from the island and so to most of my friends in it. We went separate ways and, although I do keep in touch with some of them, I must admit, I haven’t seen them in almost 3 years now.

Distance is the greatest test of friendship.

It is easier to feel your heart close to someone who lives right around the corner (or, well, at least in the same city). In the moment the physical distance between you becomes larger, it won’t take long to realize whether they are one of your friends that you can count in one hand.

It’s true that proximity plays a very important role in friendships. Living close by, studying the same subjects or working together gives you something in common and, overall, makes it convenient. This said, proximity isn’t all – A friendship based on post codes doesn’t have enough base to go through thick and thin.

Having been living away from home for the past 10 years, my friendships have been continuously challenged. I’d like to say that I’ve become less apprehensive to goodbyes, but I haven’t. I still board on planes with a tear rolling down my cheek after every adieu. Some of the people I’ve said goodbye to, I will possibly never meet again – they were convenient, temporary friends with nothing left to share but occasional Facebook messages. In other cases, though, distance has grown the relationship stronger than ever.

Birthday Flowers, all the way from NYC to London

So far yet still so close.

On the day of my birthday, I was surprised with these beautiful orchids. An even bigger surprise was to realize that they came from New York! (Ok, not literally, but you know what I mean…).

What I have learned during the last 10 years is that, when it comes to maintaining a strong friendship, it’s not about distance but about connection. If it’s strong enough, it will definitely survive any distance. In fact, some of my closest friends haven’t shared the same country of residence with me in the last 3 years.

Formentera, Spain

It’s hard to get used to this physical distance - not meeting for an after-work (or after-class) drink, not having brunch together on a sunday going over all the weekend happenings, not improvising a weekend escape. But when it comes to real friendships – those with whom you follow through a regular connection – this drawback is quickly topped with greater advantages:

  • You’ll always have a couch to crash on when you travel. In the past 7 years, I’ve visited cities in England, Portugal, France, Spain, Australia, Germany and Switzerland (among others) without having to spend money on accommodation!
  • You’ll have the best city guides. Friends might not always be city experts, but they are experts on you, are excited about your visit and hungry for discovery.
  • You’ll expand your global network. Put it this way: if every friend you have that has lived or is living abroad has at some point met other expats or locals that you meet when you go for a visit, you might as well be increasing your network of friends around the World (and maybe one of these new friends gives you tips for your next trip to Stockholm or puts you in touch with people in South Africa!).
  • Plus, you’ll never run out of anecdotes and stories to tell!

For me, the key to long distance friendships is closeness – via E-mail, Skype, Facebook or any other media possible – and finding a way to keep the excitement to know about each other, alive. Unexpected text messages starting with a “Remember when….?”. A very short visit (even when having less than 5 hours between 2 flights). Planning an exotic holiday (or, uhm, hen party) together. Sending a postcard from a place you’ve recently visited or a flower bouquet for a special occasion. With every detail, I feel closer to my friends – even when having oceans, mountains and uncountable times zones in between.

How do you keep your long distance friendships alive?

Like the Stock Market, But Better

Back at Uni, I learned about how psychology could explain the effects and anomalies of the stock market, which, in extreme cases, can lead to bubbles and market crashes.

Wall Street, New York

Wall Street from the Ferry – I know it looks calm from the outside, but inside it’s a Jungle!

Well, some of these investor biases show up on my daily life. If something goes well, I’ll feel overconfident and floating on a puffy cloud. Usually, I start paying less attention to small details and, as soon as there’s a turn of events, I crash. After a few falls, I’ll feel more averse to taking up new challenges and risks – Nobody likes to fail and get hurt, right?

Right. But wrong.

I should be better than the stock market!

Studies show that positive and negative information of the same importance do not have the same weight in our minds. They don’t balance each other out – instead, we’ll feel worse than neutral. Naturally, our mind tends to give more weight to the negative experience than to the positive one (this is called Negative bias). For example: if someone has given us a bad first impression, this one is more resistant to disconfirmation than a first good impression, which leads me to this month’s dare.

June dare: Fight against the negativity bias to stay in betweenneutral and positivity.

Water in Es Ram, Formentera, Spain

I found outside peace in Formentera – Now it’s time to find internal peace, too.

Those who know me, know I can be an emotional roller-coaster. I may have started the day bright and with a smile, but if something goes wrong, everything just feels like it has crumbled into pieces. Every evening, I used to evaluate the day on my way home:

  • The bus came on time: + 5 points
  • It started to rain: -5 points
  • I forgot my umbrella at home: -10 points
  • I got positive feedback at work: + 10 points
  • I lost my Oyster card with 50 GBP on it: - 50 points

At the end of the day, I felt mediocre and deflated – even though the day, as an overall, hadn’t been that bad! Was I aiming for perfection all the time? Maybe. Maybe I was being too harsh with myself and maybe I was just being ridiculous monitoring each day’s performance.

Putting more weight on negative experiences than on positive ones is exhausting. I continuously tried to improve the day, and when the overall outcome was below zero (or neutral), I felt like it had been a bad day overall.

Instead of trying to change every days score, I will change the way I evaluate the day. I will be grateful for the good things that happen throughout the day and hold on longer to these positive experiences than to negative ones. In addition, I will continue to actively search for new positive emotions, since they help us to counteract negativity!

Do you tend to cling to negative thoughts too long? What do you do to wipe them away?

Diamond Jubilee in London (or How To Deal With English Weather)

The Queen marked 60 years of reign on the 2nd of June and, to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, she has given the country a four day weekend. Communities all over the country have a long weekend days packed with activities and local events, all in red white blue!

Diamond Jubilee London 2012

Everyone has been looking forward to this weekend.

Early june, four days off, lots of happenings… plus, summer seemed to just have started taking off (finally!) last weekend, with temperatures of 25ºC and hardly any clouds in the skies. That was, until monday – when temperatures dropped quite radically, together with my hopes to enjoy four days of park hopping and Pimm’s drinking.

Despite waking up to the rain on sunday morning, I got myself out of bed and rode to Battersea Park. I had been invited to join a full day house party, watch the river pageant from the south bank and join a local festival in the park. My mood was low and I considered turning back home several times on my way (Don’t blame me for that, I’m from the Canary Islands… sun is what keeps me glowing and happy after all).

Thames River Pageant 2012

When I arrived, I was cheerfully greeted with a glass of Pimm’s and a variety of english sweet treats. It might have been pouring outside, but it didn’t feel dark, wet and cold anymore. In the contrary, it felt warm and welcoming. Weather started to lose it’s importance.

After watching the river pageant for a few minutes under the rain together with thousands of locals and tourists waving british miniature flags, we headed towards the park. What would be the worst thing that could happen? We were already wet, and it wasn’t going to stop raining. Was english weather going to have a say on our plans?

Of course not.

Celebrating Diamond Jubilee in Battersea Park, London

I danced with my umbrella, I danced without it. I jumped into small puddles and got completely soaked. At some point, I stopped realizing whether it was raining or not and was having plain simple fun (I’m sure the glasses of Pimm’s I drank before had something to do with it).

Lesson learned. I will never again blame it for not allowing me to have a great time.

Diamond Jubilee in London 2012

What about you? Have you ever danced in the rain?

PS: My monthly dare is running a bit late this time, sorry! It should be up in 2-3 days.