Author Archives: Marcus Cederstrom

About Marcus Cederstrom

I was born in Sweden and moved to the US just before my 6th birthday. I grew up in the United States eventually graduating from the University of Oregon. After graduation and about 17 years in the US I made the decision to move back to Sweden. I have been living in Stockholm since the summer of 2007. Since graduation I have traveled throughout eastern Australia as well as in Sweden and Europe.

Iceland – A Top Tourist Destination?

I spend more time than I care to admit planning trips that I won’t be taking.  I get wanderlusty, and so I start searching for cheap tickets to places I’d like to visit.  I might not necessarily have the vacation days, but it is still fun to dream.

Iceland has been near the top of my list for quite some time now, but I’ve never made my way over there.  It’s almost as if when I get down to actually planning a trip, it gets forgotten up there in the north.  It might also have something to do with the fact that there are virtually no trees and it is an island.  Kind of disconcerting really, but the stories I’ve heard, the pictures I’ve seen, they all keep my interest.

Picture courtesy of ezioman.  More pictures by ezioman.

But recently, Iceland has been in the news.  Not necessarily for good things.  There was the volcano that shut down Europe and led to more travel chaos than I have ever been privy to.  And then there was the banking crisis.  Iceland was not alone in hurting, but their monumental collapse became international news.

Picture courtesy of neatephotos.  More pictures by neatephotos.

In spite of, or maybe because of, this news, Iceland seems to have shot to the top of several different lists for top travel destinations in 2011.  In my planning of trips I won’t be able to take, I kept stumbling across articles espousing the virtues of Iceland.  The unique landscape, the natural hot springs, even the volcanoes, and of course, the low prices (turns out that banking crisis may have been helpful if you’ve got the money to travel) all add up to a great destination.  Not only that, but several different airlines have begun adding flights to Reykjavík.

I’m always a little skeptical when it comes to top ten lists.  I like to stray from the beaten path every now and again.  But what happens when the path less taken becomes the beaten path?  Regardless of the rankings, Iceland is still on my list.  And I’ll continue to plan trips that I might not take.

So what do you think? Will Iceland be on your travel itinerary this year?

We’ve researched “10 of the Best Hotels in Reykjavik for all Budgets“. You can also find great deals on hotels in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik using the LateRooms search box below.

Vasaloppet – Cross Country Skiing with Kings in Sweden

Last week I wrote about Vikingarännet, an 80 kilometer long distance ice skating race between Uppsala and Stockholm.  It’s perfect for those who want to sweat a little during their European travels.  Of course, some people prefer to be on skis rather than skates and Sweden doesn’t disappoint.

Vasaloppet, a 90 kilometer ski race in Mora, Sweden takes place every February, and has since 1922.  The race is supposed to follow the path that Gustav Vasa took as he raised a rebellion to take the throne from the Danish King back in 1520.  While the route may not be exactly the same, sometimes it’s easier just to play along, like the story of the first marathon.  The course has even been declared a nature reserve meaning that a strip of land 90 kilometers long and 10 meters wide is protected, which I just think is kind of cool.

Vasaloppet is incredibly competitive.  People train year round for this race; you’ll even see people during the summer on cross-country ski equipment designed for asphalt.  Luckily, the race organizers recognize the intensity that may come with having to sprint 90 kilometers on cross country skis.  That’s why they also offer an open class in which you can follow the path of the race, but the Sunday and Monday following the actual race.  Even if you’re not willing to strap on a pair of skis, the race becomes a winter celebration and an event well worth attending.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never entered Vasaloppet.  The closest I have come is having a few cousins finish the race.  Not quite the same, I know, but it’s on the list.  And one of these days, Mora, Sweden will be on my itinerary.

First picture courtesy of mill56.

Second picture courtesy of AndrewEick.

More Tips for Things to Do in Sweden

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Vikingarännet – Ice Skating with Vikings in Sweden

Looking for a little outdoor activity at your next European destination?  Look no further than the Swedish winter then.  Sweden seems to take pride in lengthy outdoor activities in the midst of the cold and dark.  There is Vasaloppet, a cross country ski race covering 90 kilometers and said to follow the route of King Gustav Vasa in 1520.  The race has been held since 1922.

However, a new tradition has come about, harkening back to a time even before Vasa and the 1500s.  Since 1999, Vikingarännet has attracted long distance ice skaters every February who are willing to tackle the 80 kilometers between Uppsala and Stockholm.

Courtesy of linek

The race is skated on Lake Mälaren, a large fresh water lake that, according to the organization, follows “along an old viking route.”  This is of course in reference to the landmarks along the way.  The old Viking town of Sigtuna, for example, is on the shores of Mälaren as well as Drottningholm Palace (not so much a Viking landmark, but an impressively beautiful palace nonetheless).

Courtesy of Carles Tomás Mart

This year’s race will take place on either the 13th or 20th of February depending on ice conditions.  So if you’re the outdoorsy type, the type that thinks it’s not really a vacation unless you sweat a little, head up north to Sweden and take part in Vikingarännet.

More Tips for Things to Do in Sweden

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The Aran Islands of Ireland

New Year’s Eve is coming up and there are plenty of exciting things to explore in Europe.  I love watching the fireworks throughout the city of Stockholm for example.  But it’s also the middle of winter, and sometimes it is nice to remember that beyond the dark and the cold, summer is out there.  Somewhere.

That’s why it’s time to take a trip to the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland.  Ireland isn’t always known for its sunny disposition, but I got lucky.  And when looking back at pictures, that shining sun sure makes the memories a little bit sweeter.

We took a beautiful ferry ride out to Inishmore, one of the three Aran Islands (no cars are allowed to make the trip).  The islands rely heavily on tourism now, and upon arrival we were overwhelmed by choices in transportation. There were horse drawn buggies, bicycles, even vans, all offering to take us around the island.  With my grandfather’s bad hip, we opted for a van and a leisurely tour of the island.  It was well worth it.  The little titbits from our tour guide (like the town gossip about who was recently pulled over by the police and the newcomer from Boston) and the love and respect for the island made for an unforgettable trip.

Not only that, but along the way we were able to tour Teampull Bheanáin, a Celtic church from the 11th century so small that my wingspan was large enough to touch both walls.  The highlight though may have been Dún Aonghasa, an Iron Age ring fort that sits high atop a hill on Inishmore and looks out over the water.  It is an impressive display of power and history.

The Aran Islands are known in knitting circles for the Aran Island sweater, their walls, and the fact that Irish is still the main language used.  In fact, many people head to the islands to learn Irish.  But it was not these that attracted me, it was the history and the ruins that still stand today.  With winter creeping by, it’s time to start planning for those European destinations.  Make sure the Aran Islands make your list.

The Christmas Goat of Gävle, Sweden

About two hours north of Stockholm a goat stands in the town of Gävle.  It’s a large goat, a Christmas goat, a straw goat.  This goat is a tourist attraction, it is known, simply, as Gävlebocken.  The Gävle Goat.

A Swedish Christmas tradition accounts for a Christmas goat that also delivered presents.  As a small child, the Christmas goat scared me.  A lot.  It was loud, gruff, and just kind of ugly.  Luckily, the Gävle Goat is less scary and more impressive.

Each year, Gävlebocken is built, and each year, people try to burn it down.  Turns out that a goat made of straw is an inviting target.  This year though, there was a new twist as an attempt was made to steal the goat with a helicopter.  Someone thought it would be a good idea to steal a straw goat that weighs 3.6 tonnes, is 13 meters high and seven meters long.

The chess game between the potential vandals and the protectors of the goat has become a sort of holiday tradition.  Since the first goat was burned down in 1966, 24 subsequent goats have been burned.  So far, the 2010 goat still stands, and would make a perfect day trip from Stockholm for anyone doing some last minute European travel planning.

This goat, as you may imagine when people are trying to burn you and steal you with helicopters, has a story to tell.  That’s why Gävlebocken has a blog, a Twitter account, and even submits itself to a webcamera.  Learn more about the Gävle Goat here.

Picture by plastAnka.  More pictures by plastAnka can be found here.

More Tips for Things to Do in Sweden

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Swedish Winter Activities – Ice Hockey Games

Stockholm is in the midst of another winter.  It happens every year and every year it is dark and cold.  That’s one of the reasons Stockholm isn’t always at the top of the list of best places to visit in Europe during the winter.  Which is a shame.  The city has so much to offer.  Stockholm is amazing shrouded in snow, and the Christmas markets are hard to beat.

But there are so many other things going on in the Swedish winter.  Like sports.  There’s bandy, and ice skating, and skiing.  And hockey.  Of course, hockey.  The Swedish professional hockey league, Elitserien, is one of the best hockey leagues in the world.  The talent pool is deep and is usually home to several NHL prospects or former NHL players.  One year the second division even managed to sign Ed Belfour, a potential Hall of Fame player to play for the season.

Ice Hockey in Sweden

The nice thing about ice hockey in Sweden is that you don’t need to be interested in hockey.  The game becomes more of a cultural experience.  The singing, the chanting, the mass of people in black coats preparing to head back into the Swedish winter waiting outside, it all comes together to give a greater understanding of Sweden and a look at a part of life that so many people forget when traveling abroad.

It needs to be experienced in person. It also needs to be noted that if you have small children who speak Swedish, the language can be a bit, well, adult.  Be warned, but enjoy!

More Tips for Things to Do in Sweden

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Five Reasons I Love Ryanair

In November of 2006 I drove around eastern Australia for over a month.  It was an amazing experience that has nothing to do with Europe.  Except for a lesson learned there.

I had just graduated from university and didn’t have a job.  Which meant I was looking to save money anywhere I could.  Food, drink, lodging.  Especially lodging.  That’s why I asked the woman at the mildly expensive hotel if there was anything cheaper in the area.  Kindly, she said yes.  With a warning.  “You get what you pay for, love.”  Down the road I went and found the very hotel she spoke of.  It was cheaper.  And I got what I paid for.

The can of Raid was a hint.  The cockroaches that came to life once the lights went out were the reason.  It was disgusting.  But I got what I paid for.

That lesson has stuck with me, even when travel planning in Europe.  It hasn’t forced me into actually spending more for things necessarily, but instead forced me to find things that are cheap, but still effective.  It’s why I love Ryanair.  People complain about the customer service but, “you get what you pay for love.”  And with Ryanair, you don’t pay much.

Plenty of us here at Europe a la Carte have written about travel methods, and even some budget airlines.  Some of us love them, some of us prefer trains.  I love Ryanair.  And here’s why.

It’s cheaper than a taxi in Stockholm.  Usually.  It’s nearly impossible to get anywhere in Stockholm by taxi for less than a few hundred crowns.  It’s pretty easy finding a trip with Ryanair for less than a few hundred crowns.  Sure, you have to pay to get to and from the airport, but in Stockholm at least, the price is nearly identical to get to the main airport as it is to get to Ryanair’s airport.

I’ve become an expert packer.  Seriously.  Those restrictions are so tight that I have learned exactly how much I need, how much I don’t need, and how much I can get away with on nearly any trip.  From the short weekend getaways to the longer one week adventures.

I have seen places I never would have thought of without the help of Ryanair.  Sometimes I get caught up in going to the places I’m supposed to see in Europe.  It’s fun, but it’s missing something.  That’s where Ryanair comes in.  Instead of going somewhere specific, I let Ryanair take me wherever the cheapest flight is.  Like the round trip ticket to Wroclaw, Poland and an unforgettable trip.  I only paid the taxes.

They get me there on time.  Every time.  I have never been late.  That’s not something I can say with any other airline I have ever flown.  Of course, every time we are on time, I make fun of that horrible recording that announces we made it on time.  But that’s part of the fun really.

And finally, the people watching.  Admit it.  You like to do it.  There’s a hint of schadenfreude there.  And Ryanair is great for it.  The elbows flying, the sprinting for the most sought after seats.

So when looking for your next European destination, check out Ryanair.  Just be warned: you get what you pay for, love.  Take our advice and at least avoid paying the £5 per person per flight admin fee by using a Mastercard prepaid debit card.

Picture by aromano.  More pictures by aromano here.

St. Lucia Day in Stockholm, Sweden

Winter is a surprisingly good time to visit Stockholm.  Or at least December is.  Despite the dark, the Christmas lighting and any snow lying around really brightens up the city.

With all that darkness, brightening up the city is pretty important to most Swedes.  That’s what makes Lucia such a great holiday.  Way back when calendars weren’t always on the same page as they are now, the longest day of the year was said to be the 13th of December, St. Lucia day.  Today, that tradition is celebrated in Sweden with candles to light the winter (and plenty of delicious baked goods).

The traditional celebration involves a young woman, chosen as Lucia, leading a procession of stjärngossar, or star boys.  On her head is a wreath of candles, and in her hands she carries lussekatter, or St. Lucia Buns, along with coffee.

Photo by Bengt Nyman.

In the early 1900s, an official Lucia was elected in Stockholm and that has continued to this day.  Every year, voting is held for Lucia, who is then crowned at Skansen and leads a procession on Luciadagen.

This year, the crowning will occur on the 4th of December, the procession will, of course, be held on the 13th of December. Skansen during the Christmas season is an amazing experience.  Coupling that with the Lucia procession is even better and makes for one of the best places to visit in Europe during the holiday season.

More Stockholm Tips

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More Tips for Things to Do in Sweden

We’ve lots more travel tips for what to do in Sweden.

Using English While Abroad

We write a lot about the amazing places you can travel to in Europe.  But what about when you get there?  When you’re off the plane and ready to see everything you came to see?  What then?  You’re in a foreign country, with a potentially foreign language, with potentially foreign currency.  It can be a bit of a shock.  Especially the language.

I’m a big proponent of learning new languages.  Especially if you find yourself spending an extended period of time in a certain country.  I blame my parents for this completely and having grown up speaking Swedish and English.

But what about when you’re just traveling abroad for a couple of weeks, or even just a couple of days?  To expect someone to learn the language for just a small trip isn’t realistic.  Being able to master a few phrases though, is doable and can be very helpful.  Please, thank you, hello, good bye, maybe a few numbers when paying, they all get used on a regular basis when touristing around.  Even the use of key phrases in your host country can lead to misunderstandings.  There are of course the pronunciation issues.  The words “kissa” and “kyssa” in Swedish mean to pee and to kiss.  Mispronouncing the two can lead to some awkward moments.  But along with the linguistic misunderstandings come the cultural misunderstandings.

Again, in Sweden, often times the Swedes think it rude to not speak English with someone who clearly hasn’t mastered Swedish.  At the first hint of an accent they switch to English.  From an English language perspective, this in and of itself can be seen as rude, suddenly, while trying to make an effort to speak the host language, the host switches to English.  It is as if they are acknowledging that their Swedish is better than your English.  Which it may very well be.  But in the short cultural exchange, misunderstandings arise.

My first trip to Italy was a cultural misunderstanding.  My friend spoke Italian.  I did not.  I decided to venture off on my own and asked for a few key phrases before I left.  My attempts at mastering Italian in just a couple of minutes fell woefully short and the man at the counter immediately switched to a broken English.  A much less broken form than my broken Italian.  I thought I had nailed the phrase.  I had not.  But it was a learning experience, because in the end, he acknowledged my attempt and showed appreciation that I would even try.  Even if I did butcher his beautiful language.

I’ve always found that regardless of the perceived situation, attempting to speak the host language is appreciated.  Even if you butcher it.  Even if they switch to English.  Even if they don’t understand exactly what it is you’re saying.  Those short moments of acknowledging the cultural differences are what make travel abroad so interesting.

So how do you handle the different languages of all of your European destinations?  Do you include language or phrase books in your European travel planning?

Photo by jasejc. More photos by jasejc here.

Dublinia - Things to do in Dublin

Catching up with the Vikings in Dublin

Dublin is a Viking town.  Or was a Viking town at least.  It’s an impressive history that dates back over a thousand years and involves Viking settlers (or marauders depending on whom you ask) and Irish heroes (or villains, depending on whom you ask).

Dublinia - Things to do in Dublin

Dublinia

Dublinia, the Viking and Medieval museum in Dublin explains this very history.  Despite my love of nearly all things Scandinavian, I did not set out to visit Dublinia.  In fact, I set out to visit Christ Church Cathedral and a mummified cat and rat.  Lucky for me, the two are connected by a foot bridge and a combined ticket price.  Just 11 EUR for adults and 8.50 EUR for students.

I’m a sucker for Vikings and thought it just as well to check out both.  And I did.  And quickly realized that, while an impressive museum in its own right, much of the museum was geared towards a younger audience.  And I’m getting old.  Had I been about 12 or a little younger, this would have been right up my alley.

The museum has quite a few different exhibitions focusing on everything from the history of the Viking Age to the archeology of it.  There are even a few people wandering around in period clothing.  And, to top it all off, there is a medieval game room.  I’ll be honest; this was the part that, despite my earlier complaint about getting old, kept my attention the longest.

Mummified cat & rat at Christ Church Cathedral

As I mentioned, it sometimes seems like it is catering to children rather than adults, but all in all, Dublinia offers a really good overview of the history of the Vikings in Dublin.  If you have kids and are planning a trip to the Irish capital, Dublinia would be a great thing to do in Dublin.  You can admire the architecture of Christ Church Cathedral as the kids marvel at the mummified cat and rat, then head over to Dublinia and enjoy the medieval game room and the Viking past of Ireland.

Best of Dublin Tips

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