Arlanda & Uppsala
I’d originally planned to go straight from Stockholm to Kiruna, but thought better play it safe and fly the next day rather than risk missing the flight. So I stayed a night near Arlanda airport, (at the coolest hostel: STF Jumbo Stay – a decommissioned 747) and took a bus to nearby Uppsala for a daytrip.
The long flight and the travel nerves all started catching up with me when I arrived at Arlanda. My initial impression was of space – everything felt really big and oddly quiet at international arrivals. The air was crisp and even though the low teen temperatures would probably be considered mild by locals I definitely felt the pinch of the cold.
I took one of the free shuttle busses (took me ages to figure out where to be and how it worked, there were plenty of signs it just was all a bit overwhelming for me!) to the hostel to drop off my bags before heading back to Arlanda for my bus to Uppsala.
Hej Sverige! So excited to be here :D Barely arrived and already I doubt I’ll find a more awesomely Swedish bumper sticker than this one (and it’s on a SAAB too, double Swedish! ) #sweden #sverigeärfantastiskt #bumpersticker #saab #moose #älg #seesweden #totalrourist #kapstadentillkiruna #travel #snapshot
First impressions of Uppsala on a Wednesday morning – super chilled. As a South African first-time traveler I wasn’t really sure how much of what I was seeing was typically Scandinavian vs. just typically European, but Uppsala definitely reminded me a bit of university towns back home, mostly Stellenbosch…with the canals and bicycles I’d associate with Amsterdam thrown into the mix.
Big, quiet streets, cobbled walkways, wide canals and plenty of trees, it’s a really pretty place.
I’d planned a list of things I’d wanted to see (with helpful info on directions and distance) in advance but in my flustered state had left it back with my bags at the hostel. Ah well, best laid plans and all that…luckily the most obvious one was visible from a distance – the huge church.
The general quiet on the streets was both unsettling and lovely. Heading down the corners along the backway to the church most of the scenes I passed were totally devoid of people.
Coming round the corner I realised I’d lost sight of the church…it was a bizarre moment when I looked up and saw it towering above me. Never have I seen a church that big, it was truly amazing. I didn’t have a lens wide enough to do it justice.
In hindsight I regret not looking for more of Sweden’s ancient history – I would have loved to have seen more viking artifacts and kinda assumed they’d be all over the place, but they weren’t. Some of the only things along those lines that I encountered happened to be in Uppsala. Walking around the Domkyrka (looking for the entrance) I passed a collection of beautiful stones with Viking/Celtic art and runes on them. I was too caught up in the bad photographic conditions to appreciate them properly at the time, unfortunately.
Around the corner I saw what would be the first in a long line of renovation projects – a huge section of the church was draped in tarpaulin and scaffolding. The scene was rendered totally bizarre because of the security guard on site to keep an eye on the construction site: he was the only other person around…and he was fast asleep in his van, in full cartoon style – head back, snoring loudly, while Bette Midler crooned Wind Beneath My Wings from his van radio.
Thinking the church off-limits I headed back around to where I started, to investigate some lunch options.
That was another trippy juxtaposition, this 13th century architecture dominating the skyline and a row of competing falafel trucks dominating the street below. I opted for the most jarring of the three – Dr. Falafel, complete with clipart stethoscope decor.
A couple were arguing loudly by the truck so I retreated to eat around the (other) corner where I discovered the actual entrance to the cathedral and that it was in fact open to the public. Delicious falafel wrap inhaled, (the arguing couple had caught up to me and threatened a full-on shouting match with each other right there outside the church) I headed into the church and was truly in awe of its size and splendor. I’ve never been religious, but ancient sites of worship are undeniably powerful places, and I’m definitely of the belief that giant Gothic buildings inspire more awe and contemplation than soulless modern churches.
Again though things became unintentionally and bizarrely comic, this time due to the small organist playing with an intensity that felt completely out of place. I truly kept expecting him to segue into Phantom of the Opera at any second. A small crowd watched him, some taking videos. Apart from that the church was mostly empty.
Back outside and now that I was facing the right direction, I saw followed one of the many helpful signs to the next place on my mental list – the old graveyard, Gamla kyrkogård.
The graveyard was really beautiful, it felt like the centrepiece of the town. The first section I came to was very old, with some of the graves dated several centuries old. A large headstone similar to the ones at the church was captioned as the oldest part of the graveyard, donated by a professor of antiquities in the 1600’s.
The graveyard grounds were fully open and very big and, along with the long avenue that ran next to it, seemed to serve as a scenic walkway across the town. It was still very quiet walking around the area but I saw a few people tending to the graves and a young guy in high viz driving a small offroader around, clearly doing some kind of garden maintenance. Definitely a place I’d frequent if I lived in Uppsala.
Uppsala provided one of the best places to see all the Autumn colours at their best, the graveyard especially was full of beautifully coloured trees in varying shades of red, orange and gold.
Quick shout out to my mom for lending me the perfect camera bag for my trip – her Billingham Hadley Pro. I felt a bit like I was borrowing a Ferarri, and guarded it intensely…I also took regular proof-of-life pics of it to send back home.
I’ve since bought my own Hadley Pro but the blue one and I will always have Sweden…
The graveyard was a beautiful and tranquil place; on my way out I passed a collection of watering cans, rakes and other maintenance equipment available for use which I though was very lovely (not sure how common this kind of thing is but it was totally unusual to me).
I got a little lost but eventually found the general direction to the botanical gardens, which involved cutting across Carolina Parken.
I’m still not sure where exactly I wound up…I know that several of the greenhouses were closed for the season (I really wanted to visit the Linnaeus garden) and parts of where I wanted to walk in the street were closed to the public (more construction work) but I got a look at the very geometric Baroque garden before visiting the castle.
Must say I was a bit disappointed by the castle, especially after the majesty of the church…Uppsala Slott isn’t particularly interesting visually, but the viewpoint with the cannons was quite cool.
I spent a short while inside the freedom museum (Fredens hus) in the castle. There were some interesting exhibits, but I confess, I was mostly there to use their wifi. I still had to buy a local sim card and it was getting late, so I headed back towards the station and hoped the shops were still open…
There were some interesting buildings along the way, and more construction in parts of the street. I headed back along the canal and through another pretty park, Stadsträdgården. There were a few more people around now, heading home for the day on foot and bicycles.
I’d looked up the nearest Telia store while I had wifi but still struggled to find it and managed to get lost. Wandering around and having abandoned hope, some pretty Asian lanterns caught my eye and I headed down their road, which lead me straight to the phone store, it was amazing! Managed to get a sim and data top-up package (so much easier than back home) really quickly.
I headed back to the station but was a bit early for my bus, so waited in the warmth of the train station. The most immediate thing about the station was the smell – coffee shops were everywhere (literally on every side of me as I sat and waited) and the smell of baked goods, particularly kanelbullar, was overwhelming…and not in a good way. This smell more than anything is my most visceral memory of Sweden.
At this point I rapidly developed the beginnings of what would later become a crippling migrane. The light was making it worse but the hardest part was dealing with the nausea, exacerbated by the smell of cardamom.
The piercing air outside helped, thankfully.
I took some headache pills back at the hostel and was passed out before 8pm. So ended day 1 in Sweden!
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