David and I reached Stockholm, the third of twelve countries we are visiting this Christmas season, and checked into our home away from home for the next two days: Hotel J, tucked away on Nacka Island, a short ferry’s ride from Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (old town). We were so excited to explore Sweden, and to experience the delightful holiday foods and ceremonies that we had heard so much about from friends who have urged us to get to visit as part of our world trip. This far north in the world, days are short — with the sun setting around 3:15 every day! We arrived at Hotel J mid morning, and had a few hours of sunlight left. After a short break to get our bearings, we set off to explore Gamla Stan.
Gamla Stan is Sweden’s old town, built on a small island in the heart of the area’s vast system of waterways. Like many old European cities, the streets are cozy and it’s a pleasure to spend a few hours strolling about without a particular agenda in mind. We were kept very busy with the areas cafes and myriad antique shops. We were particularly impressed by the nautically-inspired antique store Seaborne Fartygsmagasinet. We ended up losing ourselves while antiquing (something that happens far too often), and had to pull ourselves away to leave time to find the central Christmas Market before the sun set.
Stockholm’s Christmas market is lively and festive, surrounded by beautiful buildings laid out in pastels, pointing toward a central decorated tree with spokes of small cabin-style stalls arranged around. Compared to Oslo, we Stockholm’s market offered a larger assortment of traditional foods, with a wider variety of traditional sweets particularly. Although, perhaps this shouldn’t have been too surprising, given how famous Sweden is in the US for it’s delicious candies. Before leaving the market, we found a set of beautiful papier-mâché ornaments to take with us for our #12CountriesOfChristmas tree that we’re going to decorate once we arrive in the Alps for Christmas.
As the sun set, we set off to freshen up at Hotel J. Ever since first seeing them on Instagram, I was excited to make a second home at the property, with it’s nautical Americana themed decor with minimalist Swedish design sensibilities. Nestled on the coast of Nacka Strand, the property’s design is inspired by America’s Cup J-boats, the very ones that David and I learned to first sail on in NYC at the Manhattan Sailing School. We loved the minimalist reminders of nautical adventure and the giant map of our favorite island – Nantucket! – that greets you as you walk through the front door. After dropping off our shopping bags, we returned to the hotel’s lounge, where we sat in front of the well-fed fire and caught up on a few tasks over email. Here in Stockholm, we started noticing a trend with Nordic fires — it seems that most are made by arranging logs in a half-teepee style rested in a back corner of the fireplace, as opposed to the American way of logs arranged centrally. It actually seems to make a lot of sense for feeding a fire continuously, as the embers form their own mini-mountain underneath the logs, and you only ever need to add one or two new thin logs to the top to maintain a beautiful flame.
In the evening, we taxied across town to experience a traditional Swedish “Julbord”, or Christmas Dinner, at a cozy spot called Stallmästaregården. They had transformed their event space into a generously decorated venue , and as we entered, the lively ambiance washed over us like the warmth of a holiday fire on a cold winter’s day: people from all over Stockholm dressed in their evening finery were talking with laughter and merriment, and occasionally getting up to fill their plates from an abundance of food. The julboard is a highly anticipated holiday pastime for Swedes, and felt similar to an American Thanksgiving — the variety and quantity of food is staggering. In Sweden, this Christmas dinner features several courses, and people can choose from any of dozens of traditional Swedish dishes served buffet style (from Swedish meatballs and several varieties of pickled herrings to the the finest glögg and a candy-store’s worth of sweets). With our short time in Stockholm, we loved getting an overview of all of the traditional foods. My personal favorite was the Swedish meatballs, while David loved the variety of pickled herring.
On our second day in Stockholm, we had the chance to reconnect with our fellow global traveler, Joe Lindsley, and met some of his Swedish friends. Stockholm is much larger than Oslo, and definitely takes at least a couple of days to get your bearings. We continued to explore the downtown area outside Gamla Stan and stumbled across the world’s largest living Christmas tree in Skeppsbron, which is over 125 feet tall! We returned to Gamla Stan in the evening for what is now my new favorite Christmas tradition: a Living Advent Calendar. Each night during Advent (the several weeks of anticipation leading up to Christmas Day), one of the old houses in Gamla Stan will open it’s windows at 6:15 pm and offer 15 minutes of song and storytelling and I loved the boys choir’s rendition of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” the night we were there.
While our time in Sweden was too short, we left with warm hearts and wonderful memories of the hospitality and traditions that make this place so special. We can’t wait to plan a return trip! For now though, we are off to catch a ferry to Helsinki for the fourth country in our #12CountriesOfChristmas journey.
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for Stacieflinner.com