Escaping to Uppsala

 

escaping_to_uppsala

It’s about a 55-minute train ride to Uppsala from Stockholm Central Station. In that time you witness the busy maze of densely packed Stockholm streets gradually give way to tranquil, verdant countryside.

We got very lucky with the weather on the day of our visit. Despite it already being early October, there was just a hint of autumn crispness in the air and the electric blue sky was perfectly clear save for the odd wispy cloud or two.

Gamla Uppsala

View from atop one of the Royal Mounds in Gamla Uppsala

The first stop on our day trip to Uppsala lay outside the boundaries of the city itself. A 15-minute bus ride away, Gamla Uppsala is best known for its ‘Royal Mounds’ (pictured above and in the top image).

This was the seat of power for the Ynglings (don’t ask me how to pronounce that), Sweden’s oldest known dynasty. The region was also held in high esteem by early Scandinavians, who believed Uppsala to be the home of the Norse god Freyr. Legend has it that under these sizeable grassy lumps rests Freyr, and alongside him Odin and Thor.

Gamla Uppsala

A bit of leaf peeping in Gamla Uppsala

The Royal Mounds are open to the public and free to access. The locals treat is as a park replete with jogging trails and shady trees for family picnics. For tourists like ourselves there is a small museum on site that provides a size overview of the significance of the area.

As much as I found the mounds and museum interesting, I derived more enjoyment from simply walking around, breathing in the fresh air, and admiring the autumn foliage.

Uppsala

Historic Central Uppsala

Uppsala

Uppsala

Following our visit to the Royal Mounds, we journeyed back to Uppsala. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves in the heart of the city’s historic district. Bisected by a narrow river, Uppsala’s two halves are connected by beautiful bridges.

Buzzing with activity on a Saturday afternoon, we stumbled across a riverside cafe with a line out the door – we knew this place had to be good.

As it turned out. We were right. The cafe, called Guntherska Hovkonditori & Schweizeri (again, don’t ask me to pronounce it!), was well worth the wait.

Raksallad, kanelbulle, and other selected goodies

Decided on what to order was difficult, so I was left with only one option: order much more than I needed. My “main course” was räksallad (Swedish shrimp salad) with a side of bread and butter. For dessert, I opted for kanelbulle (cinnamon roll), a Swedish favourite. Then I admittedly went completely overboard and ordered a trio of tiny desserts.

With our stomachs full and the afternoon wearing, we made it a point to stop by Uppsala University.

Uppsala University

Universitetshuset

The university was a short walk from the centre of town and was founded in the 15th century, making it the oldest in Scandinavia. The campus has strong links to the sciences and is best known for its Museum of Evolution and connection with Carl Linnaeus, credited as the father of modern taxonomy one of the fathers of modern ecology.

Uppsala Cathedral

Uppsala Cathedral

The university’s main hall (Universitetshuset) is its most impressive building and stands opposite the towering Uppsala Cathedral. Separating these powerhouses of science and religion is a small park, strewn with rune stones.

In total we probably spent around seven hours exploring Uppsala and were back in Stockholm in time for dinner. With its pointy church steeples, historic sites, and charming centre, Uppsala has all the hallmarks of the kinds of places I like to visit – close enough to a major city to access, but far enough to keep most tourists away.

Getting to Uppsala

Trains to Uppsala Centrum depart from Stockholm Central Station several times an hour throughout the day from Stockholm. The journey takes 55 minutes on the commuter train and 38 minutes on the express train. Find out more information about reaching Uppsala here.

What Lies Beneath: Inside Stockholm’s Amazing Metro Stations

 
Solna Station

Solna Station in Stockholm, Sweden.

Subways are great. They shuffle people around cities with the greatest of ease and relative efficiency. I mean, say what you want about the London Underground (it’s hot, dusty, cramped, I could go on…), but I dare you to try getting across town faster in a car.

That being said, subways stations aren’t typically places you want to linger. They’re simply a part of a greater artificial organism that transports you from point A to B.

That is, unless you happen to be in Stockholm.

Having been fortunate to schlep around many subways systems around the world, I can say with confidence that Stockholm’s T-Bana is the most beautiful I’ve seen.

Stockholm T Bana

Painted tunnel of T-Centralen

I’m no geologist, but it’s pretty clear from riding the T-Bana that what lies beneath Stockholm is solid rock. Tunnelling through to create the city’s subways lines must have been a massive undertaking, but left an impressive network of what are essentially caves.

Instead of smoothing out the rough edges, painting the walls a soothing neutral colour or plastering them with tiles, Stockholm took a more artistic approach to its subway stations.

A few, like T-Centralen, stick out in particular.

Stockholm T Bana

T-Centralen

The T-Bana is a pretty extensive network, but I managed to photograph a few of the most notable stations during my recent trip to Stockholm.

Stockholm T-Bana

Radhuset Station

Stockholm T-Bana

Solna Station

Solna Station was one of my favourites. I love how deep the red is and how it contrasts with the green landscape.

Stockholm T-Bana

Stadion Station

This archway connecting the two platforms at Station Station really show off the texture of the rock (and the rainbow is a nice touch too!)

Stockholm T-Bana

Thorildsplan Station

The artwork didn’t stop above ground. Thorildsplan is an overground station featuring a Nintendo theme.

If you only have time to visit one of these stations during a quick trip to Stockholm, make it T-Centralen. For a complete list of notable stations, check out this page from Visit Stockholm.

You can purchase subway tickets at designated machines inside each station or at a ticket desk. Prices are as follows:

SEK 115 (9 GBP) for 24 hours
SEK 230 (18 GBP) for 72 hours
SEK 300 (24 GBP) for 7 Days

 

Iceland Circumnavigation Cruise: My First Impressions

 
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Sunset on Day 1

After nearly three hours of driving through central London to reach Heathrow Airport followed by a two-and-a-half hour flight to Reykjavik, the BF and I finally arrived at our home away from home: The MS Ocean Diamond.

On the itinerary for the next nine days was a series of port stops and excursions around the whole of Iceland – there will be much more about that to come. But first, I’d like to share with you my first impressions of my first cruise.

Cruises come with their stereotypes. They tend to be associated with older people who prefer a more leisurely form of travel. This cruise, in which optional excursions included trips to far flung glaciers, I thought would be different.

I was wrong.

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What to Pack for Iceland

 

ICELAND-whattopack

In a few days I’ll finally be setting off on a cruise around Iceland. The great thing (I’m hoping!) about cruises is that you pretty much have your transportation sorted for you – there’s no need to worry about missing a train or catching a taxi, or getting lost. The less-than-great thing is that you’re basically trapped on a boat with no access to the normal stores you’d find in a town or city.

In other words: you better pack well.

Luckily this is my second trip to Iceland, so I’ve got the benefit of experience. With that in mind, here’s a list of the bare essentials I’m bringing along with me. This is for a summer trip to the island, so I’ve focused a lot on clothes that I can layer. If you’re visiting in the autumn or winter, you can still use this list as a base – just bulk it up a little.

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My New Panasonic Lumix GX-7!!

 

Panasonic Lumix GX-7

Ok, I’ll admit this is a bit of an odd follow up to my previous post which was all about how smartphones come with really impressive cameras these days. But, hey, what’s a girl to do when she gets an early birthday present from her boyfriend?

A New Camera – YAY!

After almost two years of smartphone-only photography, I finally have a brand spankin’ new camera with some manual features that should allow me to take better shots. It’s a Panasonic Lumix GX-7, and it’s super cool. I just got it yesterday so all its little feature and doodads are still new to me, but so far I’ve been really happy with the snaps :)

Panasonic Lumix GX-7 vs Samsung Galaxy S5

Earlier I went out and took some test shots using the Panasonic as well as my Samsung Galaxy S5. Both cameras take 16MP photos, but I definitely saw sharper quality photos with the Panasonic.

Panasonic Lumix GX-7

(L) Panasonic Lumix, (R) Samsung Galaxy

Panasonic Lumix GX-7

(L) Panasonic Lumix, (R) Samsung Galaxy

Why Now?

Well my readers, I’m glad you asked. I find myself in the possession of this nifty new device in preparation for an upcoming adventure. Next week I’ll be embarking on a cruise trip around the whole of Iceland, stopping to take in the scenery along the way. Needless to say I’m pretty excited to get out there and start snapping photos — there will be much more on the Iceland cruise to come!

#NoFilter Amsterdam

 

Amsterdam_canal_fi

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been asked to take part in a #NoFilter photo competition organised by London City Airport. The project aims to highlights popular city break destinations, such as MilanDublin, and Madrid, through a series of unfiltered images by travel bloggers. Now in its 6th instalment, Amsterdam is the next #NoFilter city.

Amsterdam Travel Tip – Get Lost

What I love about Amsterdam is that is has historic palaces and grand museums to rival that of any other major city in Europe, but it’s also the kind of place that you can just walk around and get lost in. In Amsterdam, getting lost is a good thing.

Amsterdam_Cat

Strap on a comfortable pair of walking shoes or hop on a bike and get off the beaten path. Venture away from the busy tourist streets and get lost along little residential canals. It’s here where you’ll discover and endless supply of photo worthy street scenes, cute cafes, and the occasional cat in a window display.

#NoFilter Tip – Paint with Light

Amsterdam and London share a very similar climate. Cloudy days dominate the weather forecast, so when the sun does decide to come out, you might as well make the most of it. Bright, sunny outdoor shots are lovely, but I’m particularly partial to the way light streams into indoor spaces. Interiors can be tricky to photograph, especially if you’re a smartphone-only photographer like myself. My suggestion is to use natural light to your advantage. Experiment with different angles and don’t be afraid of shooting against the sun.

Amsterdam_GrandCafe

The photo above is from one of Amsterdam’s beautiful and historic grand cafes. I just happened to catch the sun pouring through the cafe’s old stained glass windows as I sipped on a latte one morning. Of course, by the time I finished my coffee, the sun had slipped back behind the clouds.

#NoFilter Tip – Snap Photos in the Evening

There’s something especially beautiful about Amsterdam in the evening, right before the sun goes down and just as the street lights come on. The streets are usually quieter around this time as well, and the lights give your photos that extra little sparkle.

 

Amsterdam_FlowerMarket

Amsterdam Travel Tip – Take Advantage of the Low Season

Some travellers are put off by the colder weather and the grey skies, but I think Amsterdam is a great city break destination at any time of the year. Head there in December to take part in festive Christmas celebrations and markets, or snag a great deal on a hotel in March or April – right before the warm weather kicks in.

Amsterdam_canal

The #NoFilter Amsterdam photo competition is organised by London City Airport and will be judged by fellow blogger Duncan Rhodes of The Urban Travel Blog

Dispatches from Dublin: In the Footsteps of St. Patrick

 

st patrick

In the US we have a saying: “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

So close is America to its Irish roots that we wear green, put on parades, and even dye the White House fountain green to mark the occasion.

Amidst all the pomp and circumstance, however, the meaning of Ireland’s national holiday has been lost to many of us.

On my recent trip to Dublin I sought out to uncover the man behind the holiday.

Who was St. Patrick?

This was the first question our guide asked as we began our walking tour through Dublin. Not surprisingly, our group – which consisted of mainly Americans I might add – didn’t come up with any satisfying answers. Not to worry, our Dublin-native guide filled us in.

St. Patrick

St. Patrick (Image Source: http://www.catholic.org/)

According to him, the patron saint of Ireland started out life in 5th-century Roman-Britain. Some say Wales, others aren’t quite as convinced. Either way, most agree that as a teen he was enslaved and brought to the Emerald Isle where he worked as a shepherd in modern-day Country Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was here that he forged a relationship with God. After six years he escaped slavery and journeyed back to Britain.

Back home and reunited with his family, Patrick experienced a “vision” some time later that urged him to return to Ireland. Following his vision he sailed back to the Emerald Isle, where he converted and baptised thousands of early Dubliners to Christianity.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Our walking tour in the footsteps of St. Patrick took us through the very core of Dublin; past remnants of old Viking settlements, past Christ Church Cathedral, and then finally to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Situated in an otherwise unremarkable corner of the city, it occupies the same general area where Patrick did his handy work. Legend has it that Ireland’s future patron saint used the clover – or shamrock – to explain the Holy Trinity to early Dubliners. Evidence points to him converting thousands of pagans to the Christian faith, and is thus credited for driving the snakes (paganism) from Ireland.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Stone marking the site where St. Patrick baptised early Dubliners

Stone on the cathedral grounds marking the site where St. Patrick baptised early Dubliners

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Interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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Green floor tiles of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The cathedral’s simple stone edifice conceals a colourful interior featuring geometric floor tiles and intricate stained glass injected with a heavy dose of green. Forget the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Whiskey distillery, and the rowdy pubs of Temple Bar – THIS is Dublin’s must-see attraction.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

Patrick was named the patron saint of Ireland in the 7th century. Much of what we know – or think we know – about him comes from a handful of old texts and through oral history.

As the centuries wore on, his legend grew. Evidence of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, originally a religious feast, can be traced back as far as the 11th century. The holiday’s more recent incarnation, which is much more closely tied with Irish nationalism, can be traced back to Irish uprisings during a time when the whole of Ireland was under British rule. St. Patrick’s shamrock and the colour green soon became synonymous with Catholicism and Irish national identity.

Dressed in green for St. Patrick's Day

Dressed in green for the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day parade was started by a group in homesick Irish immigrants in New York City in 1762. In moderns times the holiday has gone global. Monuments across the world, including the Pyramids of Egypt and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil all went #Green4PatricksDay this year. Over in Ireland’s capital city, it has evolved into a multi-day festival highlighting Ireland as a cultural and tourist destination.

As St. Patrick’s Day celebrations spread across globe, I think it’s interesting to look back and see where it all began. If you’re visiting Dublin in mid-March you can walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick with Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours of Dublin. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is open daily to visitors.

For more information on what Ireland and Dublin have to offer, visit Ireland.com and VisitDublin.com.

(My trip to Ireland was sponsored by Tourism Ireland. However, all opinions are my own.)