Travel highlights: Stockholm, Sweden

I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in Stockholm recently. I visited with my then-fiancé/now-husband in August of 2011 after having spent a week meeting and spending time with my distant Swedish family in Gothenburg.

One week we’d be living like Swedes, the next we were tourists sleeping almost every night in a different room in our hostel. It was a big change, but we couldn’t help but spend time in Stockholm on our first trip to the country.

Here I’ll highlight some of my favorite parts of the city so that you might enjoy your trip as much as we did.


IMG_1353 copyWe visited Stockholm in the late summer, which is ideal for tourists looking for mild weather, but not so ideal if you’re looking to get an idea of what life in Sweden is like. Much of Sweden goes quiet in the summer, when almost everyone takes their vacations, heads up north or gets out of the country altogether for a while. This leaves room for the tourists to swarm into the city, occupying every narrow alley.

You’d be among few tourists in the winter, but of course the weather might not be to your liking. The city does set up a huge ice skating rink in Vasaparken, though, if you’re into that.

Spring might be a happy-medium, catching the Swedes before they head out and the tourists before they rush in.


For about $30 a night, we stayed in the Gustaf af Klint, a hostel located in the lower levels of an old ship.

The Gustaf had a lovely complementary hot breakfast with plenty of options, served with – of course – coffee. The view from the common area overlooked the water and had a nice view of historic Gamla Stan. It’s centrally located off the Slussen subway stop, so you can easily get to all parts of the city.

We had a room to ourselves the first night, shared a room with another couple a few more nights and stayed in a common bunk room with 14 others the last night. All experiences went just fine, although the French couple we bunked with left some pretty dank towels hanging to dry at a few points. I prefer the solo rooms, but I don’t mind sleeping in bunks, either.

Where to go

If you’re like me, you’d rather wander than plan out your day around museum and tour schedules.

Wander aimlessly through Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s “Old Town” area with beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets. There you’ll find a mix of tourist shops and fine goods, along with some delicious restaurants.

Take a tour of the archipelago. There are several hop-on-hop-off boat tours of the archipelago, which you can take to learn a lot about the history of the Swedish capitol and see some stunning views of the islands. Their beauty cannot be understated. If you want to just sit back and relax, hanging out on the boat all day taking in the views is an option. Or, get out at any of the stops and explore.

There is plenty to do in Stockholm, but the first step is to get a lay of the land. Take a walk and take note of where the tourists gather. Avoid those places if you can.

Things to do

Figure out your priorities: History? Shopping? Art? Museums? Animals? Architecture? Politics? Crazy awesome food? It’s all there and more. Make a list of your top to-dos before you head out each day so you won’t miss anything.

Politics, culture & history: Visit the Riksdag (Congress), the royal palace or the Nobel Museum. The Vasa Museum is a must-see if you’re into ships, or even if you’re not. It’s a ship that was preserved for hundreds of years in the brackish Baltic waters, and it’s in remarkable condition. It also has a hilarious backstory. There’s also the Swedish History Museum, Gripsholm Castle, Vaxholm Fortress, and about a hundred more historical museums and sites to visit.  (More suggestions.)

Shopping: This is the birthplace of H&M. There is shopping everywhere. You’ll find stores you love whether you intend to or not. Head to Nybroplan if that’s your thing.

Art: I loved the Fotografiska museum. They happened to have an exhibit with Robert Mapplethorpe when we visited, which was a beautiful coincidence, since I love his work to pieces. There’s also the Royal Dramatic Theatre, the Royal Opera House and, yes, the ABBA museum.

Animals: Skansen is a must-see zoo and cultural park where you’ll learn about vikings, Saami people, Swedish animal species and more. The aquarium is neat but underwhelming. You’ve been warned.

For everything else, there’s, which can guide you through the city with ease.

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To-Do List Neurosis: Debt phobia, goals and Sweden

On Lake Vänern

On Lake Vänern

I hope you’ll forgive me a humblebrag/reflection post today.

Yesterday was a huge day for me: I paid off my final student loan. At 25, four years after graduating from an expensive university, it seems impossible.

How did I do it? Well, the last few steps were accomplished thanks to two things: 1) an overwhelming fear of debt and 2) an obsessive need to check things off my to-do list.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps tale. I grew up suburban with a supportive family; I have a dad who had a good job; and I got a decent public education. I am white. All of these things helped lead to my success throughout grade school. Those privileges also helped me network and land great jobs out of college.

Still, I graduated with a hair above the national average in student loan debt, around $30,000. It’s not too shabby, considering that during my four years at Susquehanna University, the tuition hovered around $40,000 annually. For those of you playing along at home, that’s $160,000 in costs overall.

Debt phobia

May 2011

May 2011

I asked Google whether there’s a term for a phobia of acquiring debt. I came up empty.

It’s apparently A Thing, whether it has a name or not, and I found plenty of financial advice columns on how to overcome this fear. I don’t think I’m debt-phobic – I’m not kept up at night – but I’ve been preoccupied with my debts since I entered college. I didn’t understand how loans, creditors, or interest rates worked, and that lack of knowledge quickly translated to fear and avoidance.

This fear helped me early on: It meant I applied for lots of scholarships. In the end, more than half of my tuition each year was paid by scholarships and federal grants. I also worked while going to school full-time. A retail job at first, then interning and freelancing for my regional newspaper. All out of fear for the financial system in Big Education.

To-do list neurosis

What propelled me more than a fear of the unknown was a compulsion to make to-do lists: on paper, in my head, in emails, in organizational apps on my phone. And an obsession with whittling those lists down as quickly and completely as possible.



These lists are the only way I make it through a day without forgetting, you know, the basic aspects of being a functioning adult. I rely on them for everything. Each day, I keep a task list in the calendar on my phone: Pick up Rx; gym; transfer $ from savings; call mom. But there is a broader, more imposing task list in my head at any given time: Pay off debts; build up funds; apply for residence permit in Sweden; move. It gets a little fuzzier after that, but even post-Sweden life isn’t unplanned.

I had realized something important: I could use my neuroses for good. I took my goal of moving to Sweden and turned it into something I knew I couldn’t resist: a to-do list. Day-to-day pressures, reminders and steps to take to lead my husband and me down that path. We’re making not just specific savings goals and payment plans, but lesson plans for Swedish, research goals for immigration information, tasks to connect online and meet up with other ex-pats in Gothenburg.

Paying off my debt is the first major step to our Big Move. I turned it into just another item to check off my to-do list. Starting a new life in Sweden is something we’ve been talking about since our first trip to Gothenburg in 2011. We sat in the car outside an office building, watching the sun rise before I went into work, and made a five-year plan: we’d save up, we’d learn a bit of Swedish, we’d visit again (in 2014), we’d learn everything we can about emigrating, and we’d make it happen.

For someone with an obsessive personality like mine, it’s a huge relief to continue to check those items off the list.

The Photographer-Journalist 2015 (Reprise)

For those of you who have been wondering what’s going on with my life since I abandoned this blog in 2012, below is a brief list, in no particular order, of the various changes I’ve experienced in the last few years.

For those of you who have lost interest in my life since 2012, why are you here?

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1. I am inspired.

I’ve recently become connected with a huge network of devoted women writers. These writers are insanely talented and immensely supportive of each other. This network has introduced me to countless stunning pieces of work that fill my heart daily as I read them. It has provided me a safe place to ask my questions about writing, editing, freelance work and more and get prompt expert responses from women who have been where I am.

Most importantly, surrounding myself with smart ladies and their writings has inspired me to strive for a level of professionalism, motivation and enthusiasm for both writing and photography that I couldn’t have otherwise imagined.

And I’ve made new friends! That’s always a bonus.

With these ladies’ support, I’ve decided to delve into the realm of brief, topical personal essays. I had one brief stab at it in February 2014, when I revealed to the world my less-than-secret love of death metal. While that one was fun, I have so much room to improve. I’ve got more stories to tell, and I’ve got my eye on a few outlets where I’d love to contribute. So, I’m reading more engaging authors and honing my storytelling skills.

I’m making a photography comeback as well. No, not weddings. I’ve decided to continue a series I began in college called Through the Windowpane. You can read the artist statement at the link, but in brief I’ve taken slide photos that my father took of our family before I was born and projected them in various parts of a home, inducing sometimes haunting scenes. Parts of the piece were published in plain china, a literary magazine, in 2011. It has been one of my favorite series, and I could see it morphing into its own book someday.

I have finally procured my own semi-portable projector, so I can now take the show on the road – so to speak – and shoot in almost any location. I’m even seeking out other families’ slides, and scouting antique shops for strangers’ discarded, old slide photographs. I am unspeakably excited about this project!

Here’s a slideshow of my past Through the Windowpane photos.

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 2. I’m more in love with Sweden now than ever.

My husband [Side update: oh, right, I got married in May 2013.] and I visited Gothenburg again in August 2014, this time also with my father. It was his first time meeting his Swedish family and seeing his motherland. I believe it was as transformative for him as it has been for me, although he’s not hellbent on moving there the way I am. Perhaps it’s my mid-twenties naiveté.

On this trip we saw as much and more — the bustling city of Gothenburg during kulturkalaset (cultural festival), the beaches of Lake Vänern, the forests, the aquaducts, our first real-live castle called Läckö Slott, rainy Borås, Oslo city, and other sights too lovely and fleeting to embed themselves in my fragile memory. We spent lots of time with our family, which was priceless. Joe (husband) and I decided, definitively this time, that we’re moving to Gothenburg. It’s only a matter of treacherous, crawling, arduous time.

Here’s a slideshow of our many escapades.

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 3. I’ve become obsessed with Westeros.

I’ve read the five main-series books; debated the HBO adaptation with frienemies who dare to say that Danaerys is a stronger feminist than Arya; delved into the new A World of Ice and Fire history epic; and even bickered with my husband over the Risk-esque board game. (If the Targaryens were a playable house, I could just fly dragons to non-adjacent areas and burn all your supply tokens. So there.)

This probably shouldn’t even be on this list, but I swear it’s important. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has inspired me to be a reader again. It has been much too long since I have immersed myself in a fictional world so deeply that I can escape when I need a break from the toils of life. Not since Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings have I declared myself an expert in characters and worlds of little to no real-world consequence.

I credit the series with re-introducing me to the beauty of fiction. I had entirely written off the genre as not-for-me. So, indirectly, without A Song of Ice and Fire, I wouldn’t have been so quickly introduced to Swedish-Finnish writer Tove Jansson’s brilliance in “Fair Play,” which is easily the most touching book I read in 2014.

In related news, I also briefly reacquainted myself with popular Young Adult fiction, devouring both The Hunger Games and Divergent series, and also sweeping up “The Fault in Our Stars” just for fun. It was a nice little fling, but I think I’m done with YA for a few more decades.

A friend bought me some delicious poetry books for Christmas, and I consumed Tytti Heikkinen’s “The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal” and Patricia Lockwood’s “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” with great glee.

Those are the major life-updates for now, although there’s much more spinning around in my headspace.

Stay tuned, for in the coming days I’ll grace the Internet with a thousand thoughts about debt and goals. You’ll love it.