After a long day of driving we opted for creature comforts and spent the night in a campsite about 10 kilometres out of Stockholm. I think we grabbed one of the last spots because almost everywhere else we looked was occupied. This was because it was a long weekend. Actually it was an extra long weekend, with both Monday and Tuesday being public holidays. We can't escape them. Danny made a fantastic French onion soup (from scratch!) and we drank sparkling wine we bought in Slovenia to celebrate 7.5 hours of driving today. It was an early night for both of us.
Luckily for us there was a huge car park right outside the caravan park, so we left our van there the next day and took off to explore Stockholm. The city was made up of several islands, with bridges connecting them all, which meant it took some time getting from one location to another. The water provided a soothing, laid back atmosphere - it almost felt like we weren't in a city at all.
Our first stop was the town hall, which offered a climb up their tower. Of course I wanted to do this. The only problem was that we were required to sign up for a time, with the next available opening being in one hour. We didn't know where we would be in an hour so we didn't bother. Instead we wandered around the main island, past a double-storey outdoor plaza and up to a food market where everything was way out of our budget. I couldn't resist the lamb baguette though - braised lamb (it had been so long since I had eaten braised lamb), braised veggies, boiled potato wedges, lettuce and chilli sauce. It was humongous, delicious and filled me up until dinner time. We then happened to stumble upon a Thai festival, with food stalls that smelled amazing. I was so full I couldn't even look at the food.
After walking through a huge, slightly odd sculpture park on Skeppsholmen, we headed over to the old town. This was probably the best part of the city, set on a small island in the middle of the everything. The palace was okay (with unusually chatty guards), the church was decent but it was the thousand or so cafes that caught our attention. There seemed to be one cafe for every person in Stockholm. I guess it's not so different to Melbourne. We stopped at one bar and, after discovering the barman was a kiwi, stayed to chat to him for a while. My minuscule cider from the tap cost about $7 and Danny's beer cost more than that, so it was only a one drink stop.
Over on another island we found an elevator that travelled up to a restaurant and viewing platform. Across the road there was another lift, although that lift wasn't free and it offered the same views. I wasn't sure why people would pay for it, given the proximity of the free lift. The viewing platform wasn't very high and the views were subpar. I was glad we didn't fork out money for it.
We walked back to the central part of the city and I asked a shopkeeper where I could buy a bottle of wine (we couldn't seem to find alcohol anywhere). His reply was, "Not at this hour". I wasn't sure what that meant, until I later found out that Sweden had very strict alcohol laws. You could only buy alcohol from a store between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, reduced hours on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays. I felt like I had stepped back in time. We weren't impressed with these rules.
Danny stayed in the city at night to catch up with an old work mate. I was exhausted so made my way back to the van, ate my packed sandwich from lunch for dinner and chilled out. I was fairly surprised when Danny walked through the door fairly early. He said he only drank two beers, which was very unDanny-like. I guess Sweden wasn't as affordable as we were hoping. We ended up sleeping in the car park outside the caravan park, where we could still access internet and use the caravan park toilets. At least something was cheap in Sweden.
It was raining when we woke up and that was the way it stayed for the rest of the day. Glad we weren't planning on doing much sight-seeing today. We drove five minutes down the road to see Drottingham palace, a beautiful building set on the water. Unfortunately the rain put a dampener on things, so we left after only a few minutes.
An hour's drive north of the city was Uppsala, where there was almost no traffic and it was extremely easy to find a car park. We walked past Scandinavia's largest cathedral (which looked like any other cathedral) and visited the Museum Gustavianum, which we later learned was a university museum that exhibited a bit of everything. There was an old anatomy lab with anatomy specimens (including alien-like human and animal foetuses), findings from Viking burial grounds, plus some old scientific equipment. It was semi-interesting but we wouldn't be in a hurry to go back.
Once we finished with the museum we walked back to the car along the river and headed to Gamla Uppsala (old town), a few kilometres north. The appeal of the old town was the Viking burial grounds that we could walk around for free, plus a museum containing findings of the mounds. When we arrived all we could see were a few hills in a paddock that could have been anything. We didn't bother with the museum.
After exploring disappointing Uppsala we started the big drive (another one) to Finland. Garmin told us it was 1100 km, 12.5 hours, to our next destination. It was hard to get motivated by these figures. The scenery didn't help, just trees and the occasional river. The most interesting part of the drive came about an hour before we stopped for the night, when we heard a grating sound coming from our car. We pulled over and discovered our exhaust pipe trailing along the ground. Danny picked up the loose end and the whole thing broke off in his hand. We just threw the broken pipe in the back of the van and kept going. Our only other stops were at petrol stations, trying to use up our Swedish currency. We even ate dinner at a petrol station (a good-as-can-be-expected curry pasta soup).
We made it just over halfway before deciding to stop, the monotony of only driving on the one road the entire time fuelling our exhaustion. The night was spent in a roadside turn-off with several other campers and trucks. There were also free toilets, which was a bonus. The downside was the swarm of mosquitoes that buzzed around our ears all night.
We haven't seen nighttime for several weeks now and I think it is starting to affect our sleep. Our minds don't start to shut down until we have put all the blinds up and it still takes an hour or two to fall asleep after that. Even though the sun set hours ago, we can see the lingering daylight through the gaps in the blinds. Tonight I didn't get to sleep until after 2 a.m., which was not ideal given the amount of driving we need to do tomorrow.