24 hrs in Stockholm, The Alternative Guide

24 hrs in Stockholm, The Alternative Guide

The Motoroamers’ City Tour series

 

Sweden’s Stockholm is reputed to be one of Europe’s best, so a visit is a must!  Although as introverts, the pair of us are not great city-break lovers. We have though, come to appreciate that travel has many personalities and to avoid the city hubs altogether means we miss out on part of a country’s fabric. So we tend to do a 24 hour bounce in, to capture a little of the city vibe and retreat back to the country to recharge. Just enough time to discover its character without too much exposure to the sounds, the sights and the overwhelming crowds. 

The consequences of this approach means that we have a small window of opportunity where time is of the essence. This requires us to be smart! Smart in the research we do, in the places we choose and in the culture we uncover.  So armed with our own guide to Stockholm’s best, undiscovered treasures, we set out to explore the alternative side to this city. With grateful thanks for the inspiration from our friends over at Atlas Obscura. 

 

Introduction

Before we launch into our uniquely created Stockholm tour, let’s start with a little taster. 

Founded as a city in 1252, Stockholm has plenty of history for us. Starting off with the Vikings’ influence in the building of the original Old Town. With its archipelago position, trade routes soon put Stockholm on the map and by 17th century it was a European powerhouse. Despite this Stockholm reeled from two disasters; the plague of 1710 that killed 36% of its population and a fire that destroyed the Tre Kronor Castle together with many historical documents. So the city had to seriously rebuild, as is so often the case with cities around the world.

With its 14 major islands to explore, the inner-city waterways, parks, Old Town, 53 museums and the Baltic Coast, this city is a pretty unique landscape. It was obvious that our 24hrs would never cover it all. And in fact, it may sound contradictory, although on reflection I think Stockholm needs a good 3 day visit to really experience the best of it. Check out what we found in the time that we had…

 

Our 15 Alternative Stockholm Sights

I can honestly say that we probably experienced a deeper perspective of Stockholm than the average tourist, despite our brief visit. Here’s what we discovered in 24hrs. 

 

1. Watch the sunset with the locals at Örnsbergs Klippbad

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Three miles outside of the city hub, it’s lovely to rub shoulders with the locals and, for a moment, not be a tourist. Like nocturnal owls, as twilight comes, the locals emerge with their picnics and blankets. With its youthful vibe, harbour, outdoor swimming pool and the rocks, Örnsbergs is the place to come. Here families and romantic couples gather to take in the setting sun and watch the brave kids conjure up the courage to dive into the icy cold water.

Check out our gallery below.

 

2Alfred Nobel’s dynamite bunkers

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We all know that Alfred Nobel is synonymous with the Nobel Peace Prize. Although did you know that way before this, he was infamous for inventing dynamite? No, nor did we. 

Dr Alfred Nobel found a way of turning the volatile element nitroglycerin into a commercially usable explosive. And despite factory explosions, one of which killed his brother, he continued to explore how to stabilise it until, in 1867 he invented dynamite. Such was his explosive success, that by his death in 1896 he owned 90 armament factories. However, mortified by a French Newspaper’s publishing of an early obituary entitled ‘The Merchant of Death is dead’, Nobel decided he wanted to leave a more positive legacy. And so written into his Will, the Nobel Peace Prize was created and he bequeathed most of his wealth to a Trust that would fund the Prize. 

If you walk just around the corner from Örnsbergs, you will find tunnels that are part of Nobel’s testing bunkers for his explosives.  What an interesting insight to a man who wanted to be remembered for something more purposeful than death.

 

3. Stockholm’s cityscape vantage point

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Heading 1 mile east from Nobel’s bunkers towards the city, there is a lofty spot from which you can gaze at the cityscape, uninterrupted. You will only find the locals here in the small suburb of Södermalm as they calmly walk the Monteliusvägen path. With views across to Stockholm, revel in the tranquility of this aerial position without all the pushing and shoving.

 

 

4. The Cuckold of Skeppsbron – A carving with a sad tale

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As you cross the bridge towards the Gamla Stan, take a turn right towards the waterfront. How often do we see a carving on a building and never think to ask what the story might be behind it? 

In-between Skeppsbar and Zum Franziskaner if you look up you see the carving of a man’s tortured face. Just below his chin there is an additional feature – the carving of a vagina! Legend has it that the owner of the building, Carl Smitt found out that his wife loved another man. In a pique of anger and anguish he had a carving made of his face, below which is her vagina immortalised for all to see. A visual reminder of his wife’s betrayal and a warning to others. Now I bet you weren’t expecting that?

 

 

5. Järntorget Statue

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In the Old Town, Gamla Stan, the second oldest square is home to a bronze statue of Evert Taube, a popular Swedish artist, composer and musician. Why not grab a Fika (coffee and something to eat) and enjoy this quieter, less touristy space on the outer edges of the historic quarter of Stockholm? 

 

6. Mårten Trotzigs Gränd – Narrowest street in Stockholm

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The streets of the Old Town were never designed for vehicles and many of them are narrow and curvaceous. None more so than Märten Trotzigs Gränd. This street is both steep and narrow and it is hard to get two people side by side. There are 36 steps and at its narrowest point there is only 90 cm separating the two walls. It’s true that this is a bit on the touristy side, although non-the-less interesting to see. The street is named after a rich iron and copper merchant from Germany, who came to live in Stockholm in 16th century.  This is a big Instagram draw and probably the biggest tourist attraction we visited.

 

7. Storkykobadet  – hidden, underground swimming baths

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I love finding places that even the locals, born and bred don’t know about. And this underground swimming baths is one of those. Sadly we couldn’t get in the day we visited, although we got to the basement door if nothing else and could hear the delighted squeals of those who were allowed in.

The story to the secret baths originate from an ancient Dominican Convent built in 17th century where the space was used as a cellar. Then it was turned into a school in the late 19th century where it became baths for the pupils. The baths are in danger of being shut down, although there is a group campaigning to keep it open and raise funds for its upkeep. What a little haven that you wouldn’t even known was there.

 

 

8. Stortorget – House of Ribbing or Kaffekoppen 

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As you head through the cobbled streets, you hear the reverberation of throngs of people. This can only mean one thing! You have reached the city’s oldest square – Stortorget. It is here that you can learn more about our dynamite loving inventor, Albert Nobel at the museum named in his honour, housed at the old Stock Exchange.  

As you look around the square, you’ll notice people, for sure; eating, drinking and resting. Although look beyond the crowds. Look up at the buildings and the architecture. What a magnificent roof-life. So many of us never look towards the sky and so miss some of a city’s real landscape in its roofs. These buildings have so many stories they could tell us, etched into their brick work. 

The red building – House of RIbbing, is hard to miss because it looks so different to all the others. Although originally built in 15th century, this house became a monument to those Swedish nobility murdered by Christian the Tyrant in what was known as the Stockholm Bloodbath. 

In 16th century, Denmark conquered Sweden and in an attempt to assert his role as king, Christian II of Denmark, lured leaders to a private conference. During 7-9 November 1520 each nobleman was publicly executed. After an uprising 2 years later, Sweden was liberated and subsequently, June 6th is marked as Swedish Independence day.  It is said that each of the 82 white stones, built into the facade of House of Ribbing represent a member of nobility murdered during that bloodbath. 

 

 

9. Ancient Rune stone

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Walking down the alley beside the House of Ribbing, you need to keep a sharp eye open for Stockholm’s most subtle ancient monument. See everyone walk past this 1000 year old heritage and then marvel at your discovery. Hidden in the mortar of a building on the corner of a crossroad of alleyways, you will find a Rune Stone. An ancient Iron Age practice that, as you run your fingers over the inscription, immediately transports you to another space and time. This is a unique and  special moment that 99% of visitors are blind to. 

 

10. Changing of the Guard – Royal Palace of Stockholm

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We were actually quite lucky to see this unique event. Not so much unique as in it is rare; unique because the timing is all important. Each week day the Swedish Army do a parade into the Palace courtyard to symbolise the Changing of the Guard. And I must say I have never seen such a proud and meaningful display. 

With a parade and a Military Marching Band, this country seriously knows how to honour its Royal heritage. It’s magnificent to watch. Ideally you need to position yourself on the inside of the courtyard for a full-frontal experience and aim to get there before 11.30 and 12.30 respectively. It’s a 40 minute parade so make sure you build this into your visiting schedule. It’s a tiny window, so make sure you don’t miss it. 

 

 

11. Inside the Palace 

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We normally associate Royal Palaces with extortionate entrance fees and stuffy tours around the stately quarters! Although bearing in mind that the Palace is still a working office, getting access may not always be possible.

Although without any entrance fees, it is possible to enter the Treasury and the Royal Chapel. Here you can marvel at this 18th century building that replaced the medieval Tre Kronor Castle, destroyed by fire in 1697. You can glide up and down the sweeping staircase like a scene from Gone with the Wind.

 

 

12. The longest Art Gallery in the world

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This is a mighty fine claim to make, although not quite as you may imagine. Take a journey beneath the surface of the earth and be bewildered by the magnificence of Stockholm’s artistry – in the subway. Yes you heard right – the subway.  In 1941 Stockholm’s underground network was created and 9 years later opened to the public. The artists started their creations in 1957, bringing a sense of colour, story and texture to the walls of the otherwise bland landscape.  An artistic revolution that defied conventionality and allowed expression to be imprinted in the most unusual way.

For the price of a metro ticket, you can ride through 99 stations and experience murals, statues, mosaics and be wowed at the uniqueness of this Stockholm adventure. If like us your visit doesn’t include travelling on the underground, ask the Station Master if you can pop down to any one of the stations for free. This way you can still experience first hand what the artists’ imagination were trying to convey.   

Check out our gallery below.

 

13. Birthplace of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

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Today the Nobis Hotel may look like any other grand, high class city hotel, although within its walls is a tale of crime, compassion and psychology.  If you have ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, then you will enjoy checking out this off-the-tourist trail location, north of Gamla Stan. In the swanky part of Stockholm the hotel, a former bank, fell victim to a robbery in 1973. In the robbery’s failure, Jan-Erik Olsson, a convict on parole from prison and his friend Clark Olofsson took 4 bank employees hostage locking themselves in the vault for 6 days. 

At the end of the heist the hostages refused to testify against their captors showing a bizarre compassion towards the men.  In the aftermath, a psychologist soon determined that this was a condition adopted in hostage situations. They concluded that the victim subconsciously establishes a bonding relationship with their captor as part of a survival strategy. And this psychological condition was formulated as a direct result of the Stockholm bank robbery. 

 

 

14.  Cycle around museum island – Djurgården

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No city visit is complete without at least one visit to a museum. Although how do you choose from 53 options in such a small space of time?  Plus we are not great lovers of museums generally speaking. So our best option was to take a tour around the island that seems to be home to a large majority of these magnificent institutions. Djurgården. 

Whether it is Abba, Vaga or the Nordic museum, there are some incredible options especially if you have kids, or perhaps are a big kid yourself. Although what better way to get a flavour, from the outside at least, of the ‘Big Three’? No ferries, no entrance fees, just an admiration of the building’s architecture and symbolism.

 

15. See Stockholm from the water

Stockholm’s archipelago is a unique capital experience. Although Italy’s Venice is also an island network with an intrinsic partnership with the water, even that Mecca is not on the same scale as Stockholm.

So taking one of the ferry options to a nearby island or cruising around the city’s inland canals is a must to get a full Stockholm perspective. 

We took a slightly decadent option, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, although it worked for us. I wanted to find a boat-charter that would give us a unique view of Stockholm’s waterways and see part of the archipelago that is least frequented by tourists. So with a bit of Googling I found Jesper at Alleman who had an aluminium boat that we could charter for a couple of hours. It wasn’t cheap, although driven my a desire to, I admit it, avoid the crowds, this seemed like a great option.

We got to see the Prince’s Palace up close and personal, enter through waterways that the commercial boats can’t reach, see the magnificent Ulriksdal Castle and we found a moose!  It was a super couple of hours exploring intimate corners of Stockholm’s watery realm and highly recommended seeing something of the city by boat.  

Check out our gallery by clicking on the image below

 

Our conclusions

There we have it; 15 Alternative Stockholm highlights that most tourists don’t get to experience.  And what of our tour? How did we rate the city? To be honest we found it initially a bit grim and claustrophobic, although after an hour or so, the city began to open up. Perhaps we just started to see things in a more open way. Without doubt there was a lot we missed and I would definitely have enjoyed visiting some more of the 14 islands. Although another time. 

Getting around the city is easy. Cycling is made safe by dedicated cycling lanes everywhere. Trams, underground and Hop on Hop off Buses allow offer you the chance to see as much of Stockholm as you can, in the time you have available. 

With hotels, AirBnB and camping places all giving you a place to rest your tired feet, Stockholm is one for the list. And despite everything I feel about cities – you know what? I would go back and see some more. It wasn’t an instant love affair although it was nice enough to go back for seconds. 

 

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Travel’s Classroom – Conquering Fear at Caminito Del Rey, Spain

Travel’s Classroom – Conquering Fear at Caminito Del Rey, Spain

Travel’s Classroom

Conquering my fear at El Caminito Del Rey, Spain

Integrity is so important when you write about your travel experiences; and even more so when you proclaim the importance of living life beyond fear – as we do. So when I had the chance to walk my talk I took up the challenge!

El Caminito del Rey in the Malaga region of southern Spain is a notorious gorge walk, which is famous for perhaps all the wrong reasons. Once crowned one of the most dangerous walks in the world, with death-defying climbs, 100m + impenetrable gorge walls and narrow, suspended boardwalks with only a small piece of concrete and a few planks of wood supporting you. It all sounded pretty frightening to me as a girl who loves to feel safe and not take un-calculated risks. Although, you know the sensation you can get when, however scary something is, there is a perverse desire to do it irrespective of what is going on in your stomach? Call it ego, call it foolhardiness, call it what you wish, although there is something inside of us all that just wants to conquer and accomplish. Perhaps it’s just that insane human trait that needs to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to feel alive.

On first viewing, from the safety of the road, you can look up to the famous Eugenio Ribera’s Aqueduct and get a sense of what the walk would be like. And from afar the boardwalk paths that hug the magnificent rock faces of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes – Gorge of the Throat, look too incredible for words. Tiny lines that seem to decorate the rock, with ant-like images of walkers who have taken up the challenge of hiking El Caminito del Rey.

I felt a mixture of ‘OMG I couldn’t possibly’ to ‘Yes, come on! I’ll have me some of that’. In truth I’m not sure which one came first, the fear or the anticipation, although one thing is for sure, my desire to try the walk was greater than my fear – at that point!

Later that night I started to do some research to identify what was involved and whether I was fit enough to do it. I found this great website which is full of information, images and a place to book up your tickets.  The pictures looked incredible although strangely they started to engage my fear with their terrifying suspension, boardwalks seemingly hanging in mid air, without any visible anchors! Except  I rationalised that hundreds of people do this walk every day, so surely it must be safe.

Still there was something inside of me that still wanted to do it. So I pitched it into my hubby who took one look at the website and fuelled by his vertigo said, ‘Not a chance in Nelly’ or words to that effect. So there was my dilemma – I could do it, although I’d be doing it alone.  When my mum offered to buy it as part of my 50th Birthday, I jumped at the chance. We love to buy experiences and not gifts that will hide away in a cupboard unused.  So what a perfect present.

My fears were three-fold; was I fit enough, was I courageous enough and how would I fare alone? Myles and I have been travelling Europe in our camper full-time for two years now and it has been an incredibly enriching experience for this little Miss Safety girl who used to like her roots. In that time I’ve learned the basics of seven languages, toured through US on the back of a Harley Davidson, driven up and down mountain passes and kayaked down rapids. Surely my confidence was great enough that I could tackle this walk – which is after all only 7.7km (that’s about 5 miles in UK money).

Although having made a commitment to myself – and my mum, I was determined to give it a go, as life is just too short not to have amazing experiences. So I tentatively pressed the send button on my €18 online ticket purchase and preparations for my walk began. As always, I knew that the journey would be so much more than treading the boards – it was about overcoming my fears.

The day arrived and we found a great wild spot to camp for the night, only 10 minutes drive away. So with my body strapped and wrapped as if I was about to climb Kilimanjaro, Myles dropped me off at the entrance for the walk. Not being completely clear as to where I would meet my group, I set off to the anticipated rendezvous point. It was strangely emotional as I saw our camper drive off, leaving me there. I was so used to doing things together – being alone left my inner child feeling vulnerable, although in truth I had little time to indulge her as my first challenge was slap bang in front of me. A low and seemingly long tunnel with no lights and a no Torch App on my phone. It felt so symbolic. I was in the dark, not knowing where I was going and with a long path ahead of me.  And yet contrary to that, the pinhole light some 1/2km away really was ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’; hope that my darkness would soon end!  With affirmations running in my head about how ‘I am strong, confident and capable’, I forged ahead, talking nervously into my GoPro that would record my journey.

With the tunnel nailed, it took just another 10 minutes to find my rendezvous point at the main Control Centre. I’d chosen to go for a 10.00am Guided Walk, so that I was guaranteed to be with others and have the relative safety and humanity of like-minded souls. Donned with safety hats, which I must admit didn’t fuel my confidence, and a Ref-Link radio and ear phones, we were ready to start our journey.  Now there was no going back. With Marcelo, our Spanish Guide who translated into English for me, we were on our way, into the depths of this little known Caminito, whose soil had been blessed by a King almost 100 years ago.

The boardwalks – of which there are two sections both of which are about 1.5km each and have been skilfully reconstructed after the death of five people. A complete refurbishment of the walk took place between 2000-2015 making it a safer place to walk.  Whilst the height is breathtaking and the views beyond adjectives, the catwalks are very secure, wider and more robust than I imagined. The wire fencing and cables keep the suspended paths secure and there is simply no way you can fall or wobble. The website photographs certainly conjure up a walkway from hell in your imagination, which is simply not the reality. With each step I grew in confidence and my nervous chatter into the GoPro subsided into a mindful silence as the scenery in front of me took my breath away.

Hundreds of vultures circle overhead, gliding on the thermals and the sound of the river coursing its way thunderously through the narrow gorges makes the walk an orchestral symphony for your senses. My fears simply didn’t have any space to control me.

With a glass viewing platform to test your nerve, tales of 19th Century sailors who worked in the gorge to satiate your inner historian and the sight of 23 million year old fossils – your anxieties soon disappear.  The blend of ancient and modern Caminito stories are mesmerising and make your efforts to tackle this walk, so worth it.

And what of my fears? They evaporated within 30 minutes when I saw how easy the walk was both in terms of safety and my fitness. The most strenuous part of the hike is actually the 2km after leaving the gorge to El Chorro. And given that even with a few stops along the way for drinks and photos, it’s no more than a two hour walk from one Control Centre to another. And I would add, this is done at a gentle amble rather than a Rambler’s purposeful stride.

Then there is a strange sense of disappointment when I reached the final bridge as I realised it was over and that my return from the hidden canyons of Narnia meant I was back in the real world. And then I reflected on my feat – not my feet that had trodden the boards with the deftness of a gazelle – no the feat of my achievement and completing this incredible walk whilst learning about its secrets.

Fear paralyses us in so many ways with its deep-seated presence somewhere in our guts. It holds us back from living our life to its full potential and from doing things that could bring us joy, happiness and untold riches. Fear is only a figment of our imagination, developed into scenes of horror by our minds and is so rarely the reality. When we push beyond our fearful voice we can experience beauty beyond words. What is life, if not to embrace all of its faces and to learn about the extraordinary story that the world has to offer. Movies and encyclopaedias have their place, although they cannot begin to replace our participation in all that this magnificent place has to offer.

El Caminito del Rey? Come! It’s amazing.

 

Recommendations for your trip based on my experiences

 

  1. My visit was in January 2018 and it was cold although quite sunny. You are in gorges for 2/3rds of the walk, which don’t get much sunlight, so do wrap up in layers. The paths were dry, although if there has been rain, ensure you wear robust footwear.
  1. I suggest that you book your tickets on-line through this website rather than buying at the Control Centre, as you may risk not getting the time slot you want, as it does get booked up. Then you’re having to wait around.
  1. You can choose half-an-hour slots, from 9.30am up until 3.00pm.
  1. The earlier times are good, as you can park more easily and get a quieter experience, although the trips are scheduled in 15 minute slots so you are never on-top of one another.
  1. Only take a small rucksack with water and snack bars. You have a couple of short stops for refreshments, although there are no facilities (including toilets) once you are in the gorge. There are though toilets at the Control Centre office and again at the end of the route in El Chorro.
  1. Your phones have no signal in the gorge until you reach El Chorro, although there are plenty of people around if you decide to walk alone and you need help.
  1. If like me, you are walking alone, going with a group with your own Guide is great as you get to learn so much more and ask questions. It felt like a more rounded experience than just simply just doing the walking. Tickets for going alone are €10 and with a Group are €18.
  1. The walk is one way – north to south and not circular. It STARTS at Ardales – North Entrance and finishes in El Chorro – South Entrance.
  1. This North Entrance though is NOT where you meet up with your Group. You have two routes to take to get to the main entrance, where you present your ticket and rendezvous with your Group. You can either go the 1.5km route, which takes you 20 minutes where you go through a long tunnel of 1/2km. Alternatively you can go on the 40 minute route which is about 2.7km and it has a shorter tunnel. So if you dislike the dark and feel claustrophobic, then you will need to factor in the longer route or simply take a torch with you.
  1. You need to rendezvous with your Group at least 15 minutes before your scheduled slot, as you need to register and go through a safety briefing. So make sure you allow enough time to walk there and arrive in plenty of time.
  1. When you arrive at El Chorro there are scheduled buses that run throughout the day that will take you back up to your car, if you parked it at the North Entrance. Alternatively you can park at El Chorro and catch the bus up to the starting point. It costs an additional €1.55 for the bus.
  1. Your Guide will leave you at the bridge at the end of the Gaitanes Gorge and you will walk the final 2.1km back to the Control Centre alone. Strangely this is one of the more strenuous parts of the walk with lots of steps to negotiate. Refreshments and toilets are available at the end.
  1. And finally, if you’re in the area for a couple of days – I would strongly recommend doing it for a second time to really appreciate the walk. I was aware of my sense of awe and photograph taking and I think for a second trip, I would certainly have a more connected experience.
  1. If you travel with a camper, there are a number of spots you can stop for the night that are close by. There is an official campsite and a number of wild spots you can stop at safely for no cost:
  • Ardales Camping – official campsite a few minutes south of the walk’s Northern Entrance. It didn’t look very open when we visited in January 2018.  (36.919983 -4.80424)
  • Olive Branch Camping – El Chorro. Official camping close to the Southern Entrance – just for tents.
  • Wild camping for camper vans at Tajo de Encantada reservoir – Bobastro. 15 minutes away from the Northern Entrance (36.898139 -4.774677)
  • Wild camping at El Chorro – Southern Entrance, beside the river and in shade. Requires either driving to Northern Entrance or getting the Shuttle Bus in El Chorro (36.906272 -4760189)
  • Wild camping at the Guadalhorce Reservoir just 10 minutes away from the Northern Entrance – (36.945964 -4.789012)

Check out our bird’s eye view video of this stunning walk. Amazballs.

24hrs in Zagreb

24hrs in Zagreb

Little did we know how Zagreb would surprise and delight us.

After a brief sojourn in Hungary, we met up with friends who had Croatia on their itinerary, which suited us perfectly. Now I’ve heard so much about this country for its coastline and stunning islands, although never actually visited myself.  So perhaps you could forgive me for not knowing the capital city of this former Yugoslavian state.

One of the many things I love about travel is how it broadens not only my soul, it expands my mind and teaches me so many things I didn’t know about culture, countries and their traditions.  So my Croatian education was about to begin with a little dalliance into its capital city, Zagreb.

Unfortunately due to weather conditions in the area, our visit was only too brief; with floods, cyclones and torrential rain, lengthening our trip in Croatia didn’t seem like the greatest of ideas.  So Zagreb became a pit-stop for us and a short excursion into the city was on the cards.  Little did we know how it would surprise and delight us.

In this 24hr Guide to Zagreb, we share our heart-warming experiences of this vibrant, fresh and intriguing capital that is understated and simply not on enough people’s travel itineraries.

Zagreb’s eclectic mix

Let me create a visual jigsaw that we can fuse together for a Zagreb masterpiece! Imagine an eclectic mix of parks and greenery, rivers, ancient buildings, modern architecture, state of the art tram system, café culture, historical legends, outdoor market, mountain backdrops and you pretty much have the key components of Zagreb.  Add to that a mixture of youthful exuberance from its student population, almost as many bicycles as Amsterdam, colourful roofs and a whole host of museums to see, you can start to feel its essence and vibe.

Zagreb was only made Croatia’s capital in 1945, although the city itself actually dates back to Roman times. Through its turbulent history Zagreb has made it to the leaderboard of Croatian cities and is today the seat of the country’s parliament.  So don’t be surprised if during your time visiting the city you see a caravan of State Police escorting some nobility or dignitaries through the streets.

The first thing that captures your attention as you enter the city is its clean, smog-free highways, lined with trees, the Sava river, luscious parks and statues and fountains.  No wall-to-wall traffic jams or hooting cars, just a gentle throb of trams and vehicles sedately going about their business with the mindset of a township rather than a capital city.  It already feels like a great place to be and you’ve not even hit the main centre yet.  What a refreshing introduction that is.

City Highlights

Walking past the impressive looking railway station, you almost feel as if you have entered through an invisible gateway that sucks you into the heart of the city.  Highways are replaced by gardens, monuments and Austro-Hungarian designed museums and the cars have been swapped for trams that effortlessly glide through the capital’s streets.  

Magnetised towards the old town and the history that it harbours, the walk through the tenderly cared for gardens make you forget that you’re in a major city and you instantly feel a relaxed air washing over you.  How perfectly this prepares you for the buzz of the central plaza.  

Ban Jelačić Square has you aghast with its neck-craning hotels and traditional buildings that somehow seem to blend so well and you feel caught up in indecision as you consider which way to turn.  The traditional brown tourist signposts don’t really offer any help, as they reveal a plethora of attractions to check out, you are seriously spoilt for choice.  Whether you love museums, art, music or history, this compact city has it all.  Iliac Street is your main shopping avenue, which is strewn with a whole range of boutiques and branded shops. If you love shopping, this is the street for you.

Roof-top Perspective

Although for your 24hrs in Zagreb, to get an all-round feel for this wonderful city, why not get a panoramic perspective. You have two options:

The Observation Tower is on the main Plaza and costs €8 each to climb to Floor 16 of a modern office block.  Or you can go walk 500m further down the road and take the charming vernacular which is thought to be the smallest in Europe.  This, or the steps if you feel fit, will take you up to the old town known as Gradec where you get get lost in the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Torture and the 13th Century Fortress – Lotrščak Tower.  For €2 you get to climb this ancient tower, built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec old town and see the old cannon, which to this day is still fired to mark midday.

St Mark’s Church view

Personally the Tower had a more authentic feel for me as you swapped the modern lifts of the Observation Tower for the stone steps where you feel like you are treading the same footprints as the ghosts of a bygone era. The views from here are quite incredible as you glance north towards the unique mosaic roof of St Mark’s Church and south back towards the modern skyline.

From here you are perfectly positioned to walk the streets of this medieval part of town, still beautifully intact and take in the delights of St Mark’s church.  With the oldest coat of arms in the city and its Gothic feel, you can only gaze in amazement at the mosaic tiles forming the Zagreb flag. 

Not more than 200m to your right you soon reach yet another gate of these ancient walls, the Stone Gate.  This sacred site where local townspeople would light candles and pray is still upheld today and despite a number of fires in its history, a painting of the Virgin Mary still remains in tact.

Stone Gate

Tkalčićeva Street

Whilst on your brief sojourn through Zagreb, you cannot miss a walk down Tkalčićeva Street. In ancient times, the street used to be a creek which formed the basis for a thriving watermill industry of soap, paper, liquor and cloth. Sadly none of the mills remain, just a cobbled street paves the way, as you retrace the flow of water that made Zagreb such a thriving industrial centre.  Today the street has a more café culture, with bistros and restaurants framed by multi-colourful facades.  Listen for long enough and you may just hear the gentle sound of trickling water or is that just your beer?

Dolca Market

Heading south on Tkalčićeva Street, you’ll be distracted not only by the amazing old buildings and street art, you’ll also be intrigued by Skalinska Street.  A narrow lane that climbs steeply towards the alluring vision of the Cathedral.  It is filled, wall to wall with umbrella covered tables where eager clients wait to sample Croatian fare.  The buzz of this tiny lane is amazing and you feel as you walk up the tiny pavement as though you’re in a scene from Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Walk slowly and soak up the atmosphere, which is almost palpable.

Zagreb market mural

At the top of the street you suddenly emerge from the rabbit warren lane into the open air and a square that is filled with the vibrance of market stalls.  Welcome to the daily Dolac Market which has been thriving since 1926. Bright red umbrellas give you the first indication of something exciting happening and then the gentle buzz of locals zipping in-between the hundreds of Farmers’ Stalls that offer you traditional and local products.  This is the most popular and most visited market in Zagreb and it is unmistakable with its canvas painting backdrop of the Jalačić Square and the old town’s Cathedral. Imagine a handful of fresh figs in August plucked from the trees only that morning or the enticing appeal of home-made honeys and jams.  Fresh fruit in a rainbow of colours calling to you to buy and a plethora of vegetables in every shape and size, just ready to convert you away from meat.

Zagreb cathedral

From the hum of the market, walking down the steps brings you back to centre stage and a turn to your right will take you towards the 11th century cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary.  This beautiful Roman Catholic building hosts two claims to fame; first is its height – the tallest building in Croatia and second is that the cathedral is the most monumental sacral, Gothic building south east of the Alps.  It has survived Mongol invasions, Ottoman attacks and earthquakes; hence it has had to evolve in its thousand year history and still maintains its rightful lofty status amongst the city’s stunning architectural prowess, proudly rising above the city’s roof tops for all of Croatia to see. Spending time just wandering around these streets and the park will give you a chance to reflect back on lives of those who called this city home and those who defended it to the hilt.  Just sit quietly to hear the echoes of their voices and the sounds of ancient times.

 

And of course, to round off your 24hrs in Zagreb, undoubtedly a night visit must be on the list.  Although we didn’t get a chance to, you could easily imagine how these magnificent buildings, parks and fountains would light up once darkness fell.  I think nighttime offers a completely different perspective on a place and an alternative vibe that goes beyond the clubs and restaurants.

Zagreb is an incredible city and unlike some of its western European cousins, it gifts to the visitor an intimate city rich in architecture, culture and colour.  It appeals to every sense and seriously piques your curiosity.  Whilst the coast might well calling you, take a diversion to this capital city and be enthralled by its treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Locking up and Leaving – Top 10 Tips to navigating it sanely

Locking up and Leaving – Top 10 Tips to navigating it sanely

Having said ‘goodbye’ to Blighty, we are now rocking and rolling with the waves of the notorious Bay of Biscay, which gives me time to reflect on the last six months leading up to our nomadic lifestyle.  And what an interesting journey it’s been, with so many lessons. Here are my Top 10 Tips for navigating this period sanely:

1. Time flies
I can’t quite believe what we’ve done in six months. It has been epic when I stop to think how it was only April 2015 when Myles put forward the idea of locking up and leaving Somerset and going travelling in a motorhome. It took me until the end of August, with a little help from my mum, to work through my potentially sabotaging fears and sign up to his vision. In that moment, life turned on a six pence and the months seemed to fly by, even though the waiting often seemed painful.

However far away your D-Day is, watch how quickly the days dissolve. It is imperative to have plans in place, otherwise time will bite you on the bum.

2. Time also drags – especially the last two months
Whilst tempus fugit, there were moments where it felt like we were walking through treacle, in particular the last two months. After New Year we had two months to D-Day. Excitement was building, although each day seemed to have a ball and chain wrapped around its timepiece. I think when you want something so badly, the Universe has a very subtle way of keeping humility ever present.

Be aware that depending upon how you are feeling, time will speed up or slow down in response to your own energy. Just be mindful of this and you will navigate it just fine.

3. Stay grounded – life is now – avoid counting down the days
Myles put a time counter on the website and I remember feeling super excited when we reached 100 days. From this point we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and we began to count down the days. On reflection, I think this is really dangerous. As a Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher, I knew that spending too much time in the future was losing my life in the here and now. Yet when you’re doing something so life-changing, it’s so easy to get caught up in the dream.

So bare in mind that your excitement and expectation will hold you in an empty future – remind yourself to come back to this moment. Life is too precious to waste it wishing for a date to come quickly. We must honour the life that is happening for us right now.

The countdown continues

4. Focus on the practicalities
Whatever shape your life-change is taking, there will be a bucket load of tasks to do and even more research needed to bring everything together. The ideal is to have everything in its place so that there is as little noise as possible when you set off on your adventure. We found it very easy to get lost in the dream of what we were about to do and forget the detail that would make it a great experience.  And that detail has now paid off.

Being the organised one of us, I drew up a timeline of tasks, which we took individual responsibility for. It’s easy in the wave of excitement to miss something off the list, so the plans help you keep focused and work through the ‘To Do List’.

One a very practical note, watch out for anything that involves UK Government – they always take a lot longer than you think. Our Driving Licences are one such example. You should be able to do a change of address on-line and a new licence issued within 24hrs – unfortunately there are a small number of cases where the system fails. Being part of that ‘Club’, we had to do a paper application, which can take up to three weeks. After a few sobs down the phone when I explained we didn’t have three weeks, the DVLA offered me a high priority department to deal with our request. There is always a way around things, although they often add to the stress load that is an inevitable visitor.

5. Make emotion your friend
The practicalities are easy in many ways – it comes naturally to us as human beings to have a ‘To Do List’. What is perhaps more tricky is the emotional rollercoaster that will stealthily creep up on you and pounce when you least expect it. Change evokes some very primal responses, especially if you are letting go of your home, job and everything that defines you on a day to day basis.

Be aware of your sensitive points – what triggers you to feel unhappy, angry, fearful, tired. If you can go into this period with your eyes open, you will navigate the emotions with  dexterity. Listen to your body, your mind, your heart and tune into how they are feeling. The emotions are not to be judged, just understood. Be mindful of your emotions and make them your friend.

6. Work together
If you are making plans with a partner, family or friends, it’s essential to work as a team. Once again, with the primal nature of change, even a good change, we can find ourselves in different places at different times, creating potential conflict.

We had regular check-in points with each other – often in the evening, when we talked about our days and the progress we had made – or not! We always gave each other the space for arising emotions and tried not to fix them. If we became snappy, we both recognised why we were feeling this way and rather than cobra-bate the situation, we simply gave each other space to be, at that moment in time and let it pass.

Communication is key. Talking through where you are emotionally and practically is really important as you navigate these life-changing waves. Whilst they may not be as tempestuous as the Bay of Biscay, they will exist from time to time. Be open, listen, understand, appreciate and support.

7. Learn to let go and release
Locking up and leaving for us was the chance to declutter our lives from the stuff that we think defines us. We’ve done a couple of huge moves in the last five years and yet every time we engage in a clear out, we still seem to chuck out a load more non-essential items. I guess we outgrow household ornaments and clothes, so they’re easy to let go.

Other elements are less easy to release. Friendships, jobs, passions, activities and hobbies that used to fill your life with some sort of meaning. I was holding on to a corporate client from my old life and yet it was causing me all sorts of stress – yet the money was good. In the end, I chose to let that go as the money versus the stress equation was seriously out of balance. I also had a job, as part of my new life, at a local school, teaching children relaxation and meditation. Yet this life-change meant I needed to let go of this and the voluntary work I did at the local Donkey Sanctuary. It was hard, although necessary if we were free to follow this dream.

Be prepared to let go of things that could be excuses holding you back from making your life-changing decision. Whilst it may be hard to do, your dream holds another, more important purpose for you.  You can always re-engage with these things at another time. The letting go can be a really cathartic process so challenge yourself around it and then let go some more.

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8. Make time for good byes
When we choose a new way of life, we inevitably leave something or someone behind. Ensure that your precious relationships are handled sensitively and with respect. Family need nurturing with reassurance of connection as you leave for new horizons. Although it might feel like lots of time is invested in saying goodbye, it is as important for your friends to have the opportunity to say farewell as it is for you. Whilst it’s not a true grieving process, important relationships need holding with love as you set off on your adventures. Give space and time to them all and work out how stay in touch. True relationships will survive all the twists and turns of life’s adventures and in this period of your life, it will be no different.

9. During tough times, hold the dream
There are going to be difficult times before you reach your D-Day, be assured of that. Our expectations and fears will always throw up hurdles to climb over. If we understand this natural passage of things, then it will be far easier to navigate. When you find yourself stressed, then take time to refocus on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Picture how your life will look and all the treasure that will enrich your lives. Keeping the dream alive is really important when you feel like you are struggling.

10. The journey starts now
Our philosophy is that it is our inner journey that will define us far more than the miles Scoobie’s tyre tracks travel. And we decided at the outset, that our journey started the very moment I overcame my fears and committed to the dream. Every twist and turn is shaping you and ultimately is remoulding the very fabric of your life. Allow this part of the journey to be as meaningful as the eventual adventure you are about to take.

And so I hope these Top 10 Tips of how to navigate the Lock up and Leave journey can help you as you, tread this exciting life-changing path.

‘Make every day an adventure and each moment count.’

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With travel blessings

Karen and Myles
The Motoroamers.