Stockholm definitely tops the list of gorgeous views while descending in an airplane. The area is made up of hundreds of green islands, throw in a few colorful aspen trees and you've got some breathtaking scenery.
During this trip, I have enjoyed getting to know cities and playing the, "let's wander around for a few hours, then find my way back with the map" game. My newest hobby seems to be flying to a new city and finding my way to a specific address without a map. You can probably imagine how that game goes.
I decided to try my hand at Couchsurfing-a website that connects you with locals who you can stay with for free. I was staying with a girl named Alex and had an address and the metro stop where she lived, but nothing more. I had to ask about five people in order to actually find the metro station, but luckily virtually all Swedes speak perfect English.
After an exhausting two hours of wandering Stockholm and stopping strangers to ask for directions I managed to make it from the airport to Alex's apartment! Alex is an engineering student at the local university. We had a great conversation about Sweden, and I think this is one of the few countries that does things "right." Education is free (the system is competitive, but many students get paid to go to school), everyone learns English, the city is clean and loaded with parks and has some of the best air quality for a city in the whole world!
I spent my first day wandering the streets admiring the red, orange and yellow buildings and browsing in Sweden's famous design shops (all like mini IKEAs). I must admit, I went a little crazy with the Swedish design stores. The colorful pop-art prints captivated me, and I decided right then that when I return to the States, my kitchen will be done in Swedish Design style (that started me thinking about doing each room in a different country style...I'll leave that for another blog post, though). With that being said, I had to purchase a few inspirational elements for my new kitchen!
For such a small country (only 8M) they are famous for quite a bit: Volvo (they're everywhere...yippee!), Swedish massage, Swedish healthcare, IKEA, Swedish fish, H & M and Swedish design.
The only downside? If you are looking to go bankrupt, this is the place you can make your dream a reality. Prices are out of control. A bottle of catsup runs $7, I bought a plain coffee and muffin today for $10, and any meal under $15 is a steal. Needless to say, I will not be eating out anytime soon. The ironic thing is that Stockholm is famous for it's shopping. Really? What planet do you come from to be able to afford this place?
Never again will I complain about American prices. Go out and buy a $1.79 bottle of catsup and $.99 hamburger for me!
Yours truly braving the cold Stockholm weather!
Before I left on my trip, there seemed to be a popularity war between Budapest and Prague. Half of my friends said to avoid Budapest and spend my time in Prague and the other half said that I would fall in love with Budapest and Prague would be nothing more than a dot on the map. I decided that with all this controversy I would have to investigate the two cities for myself.
I took the nigh bus to Prague and instantly felt at home when I saw billboards and skyscrapers-something Budapest was devoid of. What a strange thought, I never knew such urban nonsense could be so appealing.
I managed to visit almost all of Prague's sites in the first day. The city is very lively and gorgeous. It was Hitler's favorite hangout, so it remains untouched from both world wars. One of the city's biggest industries is tourism and there are tourists EVERYWHERE! The streets are jam packed with people reading maps and street vendors, a little stressful if you ask me.
Interestingly, The Czech just emerged from communism a mere 22 years ago and is already a top European tourist destination. They have a very different past from Hungary.
The communist government lasted for 40 years until a group of students assembled a protest in Wenceslas Square. Thousands of people gathered shoulder to shoulder in the square and held up their house keys and began to shake them. Right then and there, the government was turned over to the democratic party. Not a drop of blood was shed hence the term, "Velvet Revolution."
On my second day, I wandered the city wondering what I should do. I settled down at an outdoor restaurant and decided to sample some typical Czech food-a pork skewer and some beer.
I was surprised when the waiter returned with a skewer at least 18 inches tall loaded with pork, bacon, peppers, potatoes and onions. It was the single largest serving of meat and potatoes I have ever seen, and I quickly became Czech food's number one fan. As for the beer, it costs less than a bottle of water which is a plus, but the bottom line: its got nothing on Colorado beer!
Feeling completely satisfied from my feast, I set out wandering the city again. I stumbled upon an exhibit for Prague's Design Week and decided to check it out on a whim. It was called Design Blok and from the ticket attendant's broken English description I had no idea what to expect, but I was about to discover the Czech's best kept secret.
Design Block had turned an office building into an exhibition of interior, fashion and graphic design. Each designer had a room that she decorated to display her product. The designers held nothing back. They supplemented the rooms with new flooring, curtains, painted walls and lighting. My favorites were a room where the designer sodded the floor and hung lights made of plants from the ceiling, and another where the room was turned into a meat market selling jeans with actual meat and blue jeans on a butcher block.
I spent a good portion of the day wandering around the exhibition and even got to attend a fashion show in the evening.
Design Blok and Prague definitely didn't disappoint. My final assessment? Both Prague and Budapest are lovely and offer stunning scenery and great attractions, however, I've got to give it to Budapest for the authentic borozo experience, grand parks and excellent wandering streets.
Charles Bridge, Prague
My GINORMOUS skewer...and that's only half!
A designer's room with a plant lamp and sodded floor...impressive!
A jewerley display, the designer is in the red outfit dancing.
Fashion show in Prague