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  • Myra Yatco

Dancing Queen Eats Swedish Meatballs

When I think of Sweden, several words immediately come to mind: IKEA, fartlek, meatballs, and ABBA. While I didn't see the world's second largest IKEA store or sprint intermittently along snow covered pathways, I did explore ABBA's hometown while nibbling on traditional Scandinavian treats.

Since I grew up bobbing my head to Waterloo, Mama Mia, and Dancing Queen, it's only fitting that I begin my latest travel post with a musical tribute to Sweden's iconic quartet.

You can dance, you can jive Having the time of your life Ooh see that girl, watch that scene Dig in the dancing queen

Listening to these lyrics made me want to shuffle in dancing shoes (aka snowboots) towards Sweden's ABBA Museum. So if you're a fellow enthusiast, pump up your mp3 volume and booty shake your way towards this highly memorable Stockholm hotspot.

The ABBA Museum

Every square inch is dedicated to this award-winning 70s/80s pop group. The site showcases over 20+ years of memorabilia beginning with the striking ABBA light installation used on tour.

After a 4 minute video introduction to the "World of ABBA", you can browse 33 sections showcasing a massive collection of album covers, video interviews, newspaper clippings,

original costumes, recording studios, and dressing rooms. There are also several interactive stations, where you can test your ABBA knowledge, record a karaoke peformance, try on virtual costumes, and star in your very own ABBA video.

Tip #1: Scan the bar code on your ticket to capture these interactive performances/quiz results. I gladly skipped this step since I could never reach those high-pitched soprano notes. Wouldn't want my ear piercing, off-pitch recordings to fall into the wrong hands one day.

Tip #2: The museum does not accept entry fee cash so bring your Visa/Mastercard.

Cost: 215 kr (~$25 USD)

This chiquitita enjoyed every second of my tour and urges every Stocholm visitor to make that trek to Djurgården. There are several other museums within walking distance so it's definitely worth schlepping to this part of town.

Here's a photo collage from this exhibit. The rest of the photos are included in my Facebook Stockholm album.

Vasa Museum

One of my top 5 museums worldwide is just several hundred feet from the ABBA Museum. Vasa is a 17th century ship that sank during its maiden voyage in 1628. Over 25 million people have seen this maritime warship since the museum first opened its doors in 1990. Once inside, you'll find a massive wooden structure stretching along the entire width of the museum. There are seven tiers that offer a 360 degree view of the almost fully intact Vasa. Salvaged relics such as cooking pots, canons, and other restored pieces are also scattered throughout. Is this my #1 museum recommendation ever? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Cost: 130 kr (~$15 USD)

Spirit Museum

Around the corner from Vasa is Sweden's Spirit Museum. Are you interested in learning about Sweden's alcohol culture and history? If so, this museum is for you. Unfortunately, I didn't explore it beyond the entrance since I had several important stops to make before nightfall. Side note: It gets dark by 4pm during winter months.

While I only spent 5 minutes inside, I felt it was worth mentioning since they offer art exhibits (e.g. Andy Warhol), guided tours, wine/craft beer flights, and a unique taste/scent experience. For tour information and hours, click here. This will likely top my to do list the next time I'm in Stockholm. I'm still kicking myself for missing this opportunity.

Nobel Museum

I was immediately drawn to Gamla Stan's Nobel Museum since my alma mater, UC Berkeley, produced over 70 Nobel laureates since 1934. For 100 kr (~$12 USD), you can access this extensive exhibition honoring Nobel prize winners from 1901 to the present. I was most impressed with fashion interpretations of various accomplishments in medicine, physiology, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines. These thoughtfully produced garments brought many incredible achievements to life and added depth to the overall museum tour. If you're in Old Town, this intellectually stimulating visit should be on your agenda.

Starving for Reindeer and Meatballs

These back to back museum stops accelerated my metabolism and made me crave a well rounded dining experience. Luckily, I had my choice of several sumptuous restaurants such as Matbaren and Prinsen. Both were recommended by a fellow Berkeley alum, Jen, who often travels to Sweden for business. While there are many worthy restaurants in central Stockholm, these two were the most memorable.

Restaurant Recommendation: Matbaren

Mathias Dahlgren won several Swedish Chef of the Year accolades and produced a few Michelin star restaurants - one of which is Matbaren, located inside Stockholm's Grand Hotel. If you're a foodie searching for Swedish grastronimic perfection, reserve your spot at this fine dining establishment.

Tip #1: Secure your online reservation in advance - at least 24 hours prior to your visit since seats fill up quickly.

Tip #2: If you're dining solo, bar seating is highly recommended since you'll have the best view of the kitchen and restaurant.

Tip #3: Order dishes on the "from our country" menu. Waiters recommend 2 core items for lunch and 3 for dinner. Select food endemic to Sweden such as the blackened tartare of reindeer with bleak roe, potatoes, creme fraiche, and chives.

Don't forget to order a glass of wine and dessert to complete the Michelin dining extravaganza. Expect to spend well over $100 - $150. Sadly, the US dollar pales in comparison to the Swedish krona. But it's worth making the culinary exception when food and service are exemplary. Key takeaway: Matbaren = winner, winner, reindeer dinner!

Restaurant Recommendation: Prinsen

Don't leave Stockholm without experiencing a traditional Swedish meal from a classic restaurant just steps from the Stureplan shopping district. Prinsen, which opened its doors in 1897, offers a vast menu selection. I chose their famous Swedish meatballs with homemade ligonberries, pickled cucumber, and potato puree and spent hours savoring every magnificent morsel.

Tip #1: Reserve your table in advance. I was lucky to walk in at 2pm sans reservation and instantly secured a table by the window.

Tip #2: Don't stroll into the restaurant looking like a lumberjack snow bunny. I had no idea that Prinsen was an upscale establishment, where you are immediately greeted by a well-mannered maître d sporting a tux. Tres chic! Despite my ghastly appearance, I was treated extremely well even as I inconspicuously untangled knots from my wind blown hair. I made the best of my predicament by sitting straight, applying some lipstick, and pretending to look regal during 2 hours of dining bliss.

Other Notable Stockholm Tourist Spots

In addition to museums and restaurants, there are several other recommendations for first time visitors beginning with Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old Town neighborhood featuring the Royal Palace, Nobel Museum (mentioned above), and meandering medieval alleyways.

Royal Palace

I must admit that I skipped this tour altogether since I've already visited many palaces during my lifetime. But that didn't stop me from snapping several photos of palace guards and canons just outside the Royal Apartments. For those who have yet to experience a palatial tour, purchase a ticket and wander sections of this Swedish monarch's residence. If the interior is as impressive as its exterior, your ticket cost will be well worth it.

If you don't mind braving freezing temperatures, I recommend exploring the rest of Gamla Stan along Skeppsbron (waterfront views), then criss-crossing via cobblestoned alleyways until you encounter restaurants, storefronts, or even a picturesque clock or two.

Winter Ice Skating in Kungstradgarden

Looking for a beautiful gathering spot that transforms into a snow-covered wonderland during winter? Then head out to Kungstradgarden, where you can play in the snow or ice skate among locals. If frostbite didn't exist, I would have frolicked there for hours. This park is directly across Gamla Stan and several hundred feet from the Grand Hotel. The Royal Opera House is just steps away as well. Isn't this park stunning?

Accomodations that exceeded my travel expectations

The Radisson Blu Viking Hotel and Scandic Park.

Radisson Blu Viking Hotel is adjacent to Stockholm's Central Station, which provides easy access to the Metro and Arlanda Express trains. It took roughly 5 minutes to walk from the Arlanda (airport) train platform to the hotel registration desk. That's how close the hotel is to this major transportation hub. Reaching your destination quickly is an absolute necessity when it's below zero degrees Celsius throughout the city.

If you want convenience, luxury at affordable prices, and access to Sweden's famous Icebar, then this is the ideal booking option. Since you can walk to most popular tourist spots from here, reallocate your budgeted taxi cash towards a drink or two at either the Fisk Lobby Bar or the the 9th Floor Skybar.

Radisson Blu's Skybar offers stunning views of Stockholm. These bartenders can make a killer Sazerac and Old Fashioned - two of my favorite drinks. Note: Happy hour begins at 4pm.

Scandic Park Hotel

Scandic Park is just 2 metro stops from Stockholm's Central Station and directly across from stunning Humlegarden, where you can sled down a snow-covered hill or stroll through tree-lined pathways. Scandic Park is walking distance to the thriving Stureplan shopping district and a stone's throw away from the Kungliga Biblioteket (library).

Tip #1: Take the metro instead of a taxi. I learned my lesson after spending almost 200 kr on a 2.3 km ride from the train station to the hotel. Once inside the taxi, the meter arbitrarily surged several times causing my blood to boil. The metro from Stockholm Central to Stadion station would have only cost 36 kr for a 5 minute ride. If you choose the latter option, exit Stadion and walk just 2 blocks to the hotel entrance. Easy.

Roundtrip Airport Transportation

Traveling from Arlanda Airport to Central Stockholm couldn't be any easier. Once you've collected your luggage, purchase your roundtrip ticket at the Arlanda Express Information desk (Terminal 5) or any of the Arlanda Express ticket machines for 540 kr (roughly $63 USD).

Tip #1: Ticket machines only take cash or credit cards with pincodes. If your credit card does not have a pincode, purchase your fare at the Arlanda Express Information desk.

Tip #2: The train is located just below the Terminal 5 Arlanda Epress Visitor Center. You'll make one additional airport stop (Terminals 1-4) before embarking on a brief, 20-minute journey to Stockholm Central Station. Don't throw your ticket away since you'll need it for the return trip. And yes, they do check.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that this flip flop-loving California girl traded in her preferred footwear for snowboots. Exploring snow-covered Stockholm was quite the magical experience - one that I would definitely repeat in a heartbeat. I usually book trips to warmer destinations, but I'm thrilled I moved beyond my comfort zone since this fairytale wonderland did not disappoint. I love you, Sweden!

Next stop: Copenhagen, Denmark

Original Trip Date: January 16 - 19 and January 21 - 22, 2016

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