Our most recent trip to Europe was more haphazardly thrown together than any I can conjure in recent memory. I didn’t arrange any elaborate tours. I barely read about any restaurants. I knew practically none of the history of any place we visited. Essentially, I just used the advice of my friend Rae, who said, “Go to Denmark!” as a launchpad to assemble cursory travel plans and haul our tiny family across the proverbial pond.
At first, I planned for Sweden and Denmark, with a night in Helsinki tossed in, just so we could cross Finland off the list. However, when we got to Stockholm, I found an unusual quaintness — a small big city-ness (or was it a large small town-iness?) — that welcomed us with open arms, and I simply didn’t want to leave.
In Stockholm, we stayed at the Grand Hotel, a classic, where Nobel laureates and their families have stayed for over a century when in Stockholm to receive their prizes. It’s very stately, with a beautiful lobby and excellent service. It’s also perfectly located on a little harbor, just across from the Royal Palace and the House of Parliament, right where boats launch to take tourists on cruises through the city’s many canals or to ferry visitors and residents to various sites on the city’s different islands.
When we arrived at the hotel, our room wasn’t quite ready, so we had to wait on the pier out front for a while. As we cashed in the free hot chocolate/coffee vouchers the hotel had so thoughtfully given us, a cool, but not cold, breeze ruffled our hair, even as a summery sun beat down on our heads and shoulders. I realized in that moment that we’d picked the right place to visit, a city whose summer was Houston’s winter.
As an aside, I was further convinced we’d made the right choice when I split my newly shellacked middle fingernail and saw there was no way I’d make it two weeks without a visit to a nail salon. In Spain, I’ve struggled time and time again to get a decent manicure. I mean, STRUGGLED. I mean, the shellac peeled off all ten of my nails in a matter of hours. In Florida, I’ve had my nails turn into a comedy show. Think lumps and bumps where smooth polish should be. I feared Sweden might be the same, but I had to risk it. My hangnail was too unbearable to ignore and too gigantic to handle on my own. So, I googled nail salons near my hotel, and I landed on what turned out to be the most fabulous salon I’ve seen in ages — Nail Democracy. The sweet ladies there ushered me right in, sans appointment. They did their best to match my quirky green polish, so I could just fix that wrecked middle finger, rather than squander valuable time on a full manicure. And within minutes, I was back out on the road in Ostermalm, pounding the pavement back to Josephine and Jamil. If you’re ever in a nail bind on vacation in Europe, I hope it’ll be in Sweden.
But back to our first day in Stockholm!
I wanted to make each moment last in Sweden because we only had a few nights there. Fortunately, Stockholm is loaded with museums, many of which are a short walk from the Grand Hotel. One of those museums happens to be dedicated to ABBA, whose music flows through so many of my memories. I knew the lyrics to the Super Trouper album before I could read; I can still sing the entire Chess soundtrack by heart. And since Josephine was a tiny baby, my mom has sung Dancing Queen to her, Josephine the Dancing Queen. So that seemed like the perfect place to spend our first afternoon in Stockholm, a place that could hold our interest despite our zombified state after the long flight over.
The ABBA museum was really the perfect stop. I learned more about Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha, and Frida than I ever wanted to know, from their humble beginnings to their post-ABBA careers. We saw their original costumes. We belted Take a Chance on Me in a mock sound booth. We touched their actual mixer. We took pictures with their eerily good wax figures. While a weird tribute in some ways, the museum was really fun, and Josephine absolutely loved it. By the time we made the trek back to the hotel, we all felt like we’d made maximum use of our first day, and I felt confident Josephine would sleep like a baby.
Author: Jessica Givens