About first times

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They say that there’s a first time for everything. And this fits perfectly when it comes to traveling. In the end, every new destination is a first time. But for us, the trip to Stockholm was full of them, while allowing some room for the future too.

And sometimes you expect to not have so many first times, especially after you travel for a bit, but every time you do, you remember why you’re doing it: every new place is an open window that faces a new world and you wish that, when you add them up, you’ll have as many open windows as possible.

Other first times:

  • first time out of the country was in Chisinau
  • my first flight was with destination: Rome
  • first time I was proposed to, and I hope it’ll be the last, was in Munich
  • first time I was bumped out of my accommodation was in Athens
  • first time I faced reality in London
  • first honeymoon and I hope it’s not the last, was in Indonesia
  • my first canceled flight took me to Cape Verde

About flying standby

If you remember, I was telling you through my blog about my new job. Long story short, right before leaving for the Maldives, I went to an interview with a company that offered me my dream job. One of the reasons for this is that, due to the company’s nature, I have access to very cheap plane tickets for me and my husband.

There are several ways of using this benefit. I can travel standby, which means I can buy the tickets anytime, but I can get on the flight only if there are enough free seats at the end of the boarding procedure for the full-paying passengers.

So, if there are still available seats right before the plane leaves the gate, me and my husband can get on board, and we will only pay the airport tax and a small amount that covers our food and drinks, something in the area of 10 CHF for Economy class and 30 CHF for Business class tickets, on short-haul flights, which covers all Europe.

Still, even though I have access to the seating chart at any moment, so I always know how many empty seats are available, there’s always a small chance that the plane will become full due to a last-minute situation; on the other hand, there’s a chance that a flight is overbooked, but in the end, there are still a few available seats right before departure.

Of course, I can also buy firm booked tickets, so my ticket will weight as much as anyone else’s, but these tickets have two big downfalls: they are more expensive and, if the flight becomes overbooked and all passengers end up checking in, me and my husband will still be the first ones to be bumped out of the flight: this is due to the fact that we did pay less than other passengers, we are “family” and understand how this goes, and we cannot file complaints about this situation.

Because we need to go to Romania quite often, you can imagine we’ll be using these benefits on so many occasions. And, even though no one from the office knows about this site, for me this means a pretty cool opportunity to travel more.

On the other hand, it also means that I have more chances of getting into an unexpected situation. More than usual, I mean. Of course, I am so far out of my comfort zone: not having plane tickets two months before going somewhere, taking the risk of not getting on a flight and having to find solutions for this, and even being in a situation when I cannot get to the destination on the same day – all these potential risks are so new to me that I have no idea how I’m going to handle this.

My colleagues told me all kinds of stories that seemed funny, but I think they were a nightmare when they happened. A few examples:

  • My colleague’s first trip to New York and he decided to go there standby. He got on the plane, with another guy and his three children, all of them flying standby; he was a flight attendant’s husband and the wife was traveling on duty. Due to the very limited space, he got offered a jump seat; these are seats that are not being sold, are located in the staff area of the plane, and they don’t have an entertainment system or a tray. It is not ideal, but the alternative would have been for them to not get on the flight at all, so they accepted these seats. After the boarding was completed and the airplane door was closed, but before taking off, a flight attendant came to him and told him to follow her. He left the jump seat and went to that area of the plane that I think it’s a legend: First class. Apparently, they made a mistake: they were not allowed to fly with 5 people on jump seats, and when they realized this, they couldn’t have kicked him out because the boarding was marked as closed, and there was no connection to the gate anymore. This being said, they had to place him somewhere, and there were no other seats on the plane on lower classes (hence the jump seats in the first place). It was his first and only flight in First class.
  • The same guy managed to leave the gate one time due to him being told that the flight was full. On the way out, they called him on the announcement system and made him turn back to the gate and continue waiting. It seemed like there was a couple that managed to lose their passports somewhere between the passport control and the gate. In the end, he and another guy traveling standby got their seats in Business class.
  • The same guy (I’m starting to think we may be related, considering the stories that he could share) couldn’t fit on the second leg of a trip. He had a layover in Singapore and couldn’t get on the second part of the flight. But it was not scheduled for him to stay there, so he didn’t have a visa to enter the country, he only had a transit visa. He had to stay in the airport for the night, and to his luck, there’s a hotel in the airport where he could check-in, but the price was probably not easy to handle.

Choosing Stockholm

After I have intensively analyzed the app used to make reservations, and after I have read the rules multiple times, I felt I knew even less than before. No matter how talented I am at fast reading and at memorizing huge amounts of data, this system blew my mind. It’s still unclear for me when do I have a higher priority, when am I allowed to ask for a refund and when I can be sure I’ll be on the next flight.

And while I was struggling with all of this, we have discovered there was a long weekend coming, since Easter was in two weeks. Our surprise was based on the fact that last year, we arrived in Basel during the Easter vacation, so we didn’t know there were 4 non-working days in a row. And, as we complained before, in here there are not so many national holidays, so we feel compelled to use as many as possible, thus we decided to go somewhere for Easter.

So, let’s celebrate our first trip for Easter! My husband had the bright idea for us to go somewhere standby, to at least see how this works before using it when we truly need to go somewhere. Of course, there was also an intense negotiation about the destination, since there were so many things to take into account:

  • the destination needed to have multiple inbound flights a day, to have a fall back in case we wouldn’t fit on the first flight;
  • the destination needed to be close so the flight would be short and we would enjoy the place as much as possible;
  • the destination needed to not be closed altogether for Easter;
  • we wished to go to a destination where it wasn’t snowing – it sounds funny, but in Basel, it snowed more in April than it did all winter;
  • it was ideal if we also had something to see, we didn’t want to go somewhere just because it’s (almost) free.

On the shortlist we had some cities in Spain, Norway, two other cities in Scandinavia, and also Minsk, because why not? We eventually choose Stockholm because it seemed to match all of our wishes: it had three flights a day, the flight was two hours long, everything was opened even for Easter, the weather forecast looked promising and the city seemed interesting. There was still the small problem of having seats on the plane, but we shouldn’t focus on this, right?

Getting into Stockholm

So we made our reservations. Our flight was scheduled for 6:00 in the morning because we thought no one will choose this amazing flight at this amazing time. We thought it would be best to have our flight back around 4:00 PM, and to have another option around 8:00 PM, just in case. Anyway, we had our laptops with us and we were ready to book a room in a hotel close to the airport, so we could work from home if we really couldn’t reach Basel in time.

The inbound flight was early so we had to book a room in Zürich since the departure was from there and we couldn’t find a train to take us to the airport so early. We booked a room at Ibis hotel, a place that will probably make it on our preferred hotels list since it’s close to the airport and it also has decent prices, or whatever this means when it comes to staying in Zürich. You don’t even need to check-out from the hotel, you can pay when you arrive and just leave your key when you have to go and catch the first tram in the morning. Not too shabby, I tell you!

So, after we checked out and got into the tram at 4:00 AM, we reached the airport. In here, we checked in quickly and took a similarly fast breakfast. After that, we got to the gate that was weirdly close to the security checking area, considering how used I am to have my departure always from the last gate and the last terminal, in any airport. Maybe this is how it works when you’re not flying low cost. Who knows?

At the gate I did what I should have done at home: I went to the restroom at put some make-up on, trying to look like something similar to a human being. I also changed my clothes to the pretty ones I have to wear while flying, no matter if it’s Business or Economy class. There’s a rule that everyone who flies as a staff member has to be very nicely dressed because they represent the company’s image when they do. So, yeah, I had to search for the nice outfits for this flight.

I had a short chat with the guy from the gate, letting him know we were there as standby passengers and it was our first time so that he knew about our situation. And, what I have forgotten to mention before, is that the number of available seats, which I can verify almost in real-time, went up and down so many times, going anywhere from 8 to -5 available seats, making us worried and thinking about the most diverse scenarios. This while my colleagues were telling me the above-mentioned stories, just to have fun.

One day before we were on the waiting list, on the second and third places, and there were 5 available seats, and right before we left the hotel two more appeared on the waiting list, with a priority lower than ours, because apparently, people buy plane tickets at 3 in the morning. The guy from the gate told us that it seemed to be enough room for all of us, but he has to wait for all passengers to be boarded first, and he will let us know once he knows more.

I was on the edge that whole hour and I felt nervous every time someone knew appeared in line. In the end, we managed to get on the flight and we were the last ones to get in, and the other two didn’t make it. So, let’s celebrate our first standby flight!

Of course, we slept for the entire time, since we had slept for like 4 hours that night. We woke up at the perfect time to watch an amazing sunrise right above the archipelago we were going to visit. Only now we started to believe it was real.

Because my husband found a cool way to get around for the four days, we bought the Stockholm SL card for 7 days right from the airport, and you’ll soon understand why.

To get to central Stockholm, we didn’t use the express line, which is usually more expensive, but we used the 583 bus from the airport to reach the Märsta station and, from here, we used a regional train that was also included in the SL card. This train took us to the T-Centralen metro station, a huge station where you’ll have to ask for directions.

No worries, almost everyone here speaks English really well and everyone understands that a station on 6 or 7 levels, for multiple means of transportation, can be confusing for any newcomer.

We finally got to the hotel and we agreed on our plans for the day. The hotel was the nicest that we have ever stayed in, the building had a triangle shape that allowed for natural light to get inside its middle area, and our room had a bull’s eye window I could fit in, so that was my new favorite place to just hang and watch the city lights.

A few fun facts about Stockholm and Sweden

  • The tap water is entirely safe to drink. I’m a very big fan of this since it’s an easy way of being friendly with nature and our budget.
  • You can love whoever you want in Sweden, and you can marry that person. Of course, if s/he agrees.
  • The Swedish have made an art out of taking a coffee break, and they invented the word “Fika” exactly for this art. As I could read in a menu from a coffee house:

Fika is the moment when you take a break, often with a cup of coffee or tea, together with a pastry. You can do it alone or you can do it with friends. Either way – it’s delicious!

  • A principle common for all Swedish people is the Law of Jante. This law mostly says that no one is entitled to think that they’re better than everyone else. Due to this, lots of famous people buy properties here just because it’s a place where they can be treated like normal people.
  • This country is very child and parent-friendly; the maternity and paternity leave are long and paid for, and general education is affordable and of high quality.
  • Stockholm is a new technology hub. Programmers are very desired in this part of the work and, due to this, they can easily get a visa, no matter where they come from.
  • The weather is highly unstable. One week before we got there it was snowing and the iced wind was very strong. We got to see the cherry blossom and got a sunburn while we were there.
  • In Stockholm, the roads are long and dusty. So don’t forget to have comfy shoes and to find a way to clean them if you have to look good on your flight.
  • We have no idea how a Swedish krona looks like. We didn’t have to use anything else but the credit card. Also, if you live outside of the European Union, for example in Switzerland, in Stockholm you can find options to buy things tax-free, you just have to look into it.

Do you love fun facts as well? Check out this travel quiz for your next Trivia quiz night!

First day in Stockholm

The first thing we did here was, of course, a free walking tour. It’s almost the norm for us to do this on our first day in a new place. We choose one of these tours and we were not disappointed. We found out interesting things, like the fact that Sweden is often mistaken for Switzerland (I know they’re kind of similar in English, but come on!), about some well-known Swedish brands (Spotify, ABBA, IKEA, H&M), how did Stockholm appear in a not so cool way and about some pretty important Swedish rulers and their unexpected decisions for the times they lived in.

We also found out how did the Stockholm syndrome appear, that the city center looks like it does due to some important protests way back, how did the Nobel prizes appear and how to look for French and American signs in the city’s architecture. But it was also the first tour when I heard someone saying, without any attempt to hide this, that no one was, in fact, neutral in the Second World War.

So, let’s celebrate the first completely honest tour! The tour was pretty difficult to handle, we made 15.000 steps in two-three hours and I could almost feel my soul hurting when we finished the tour, but it was all worth it, considering how many interesting things we found out.

After this intensive experience, we decided to go have something to eat. Our initial plan was to eat one full meal a day since we found out that Stockholm is known to be an expensive place. But this day was way longer than a usual one, so we got hungry earlier than expected. So, without looking too much into it, we just got into a restaurant to grab something. Everything looked nice, the beer was good, the general vibe was that everything will be fine.

This lasted until we got our food and discovered that some people worked some time ago to invent the fire for no good reason. I got some lightly smoked, but uncooked salmon, and my husband got a tartar steak that he said it tasted like pate (but I suspect he didn’t want to admit it was awful). Yeah, I know, these are delicacies, everyone eats this sort of thing. There’s nothing anyone can say to convince me it’s better to eat uncooked meat instead of cooked versions of it, so don’t even try.

The Nobel Museum

After this super awesome experience, we went to the Nobel Museum.

Tip: if you can, try to go here on a Friday, between 5:00 and 8:00 PM. You’ll enjoy a free entrance.

And another tip is to search for a guide that works for the museum. These guys are very knowledgeable and passionate about the place they work in and you’ll get a very cool presentation from them. You’ll find out everything about how the Nobel prizes appeared, why one of the prizes is granted in Norway instead of Sweden, you’ll find out why the prizes were not granted in certain situations or the winners refused to receive them, and also where do the money for the prizes come from and how does the entire celebration look like.

The museum itself doesn’t look like much, but it’s full of stuff you’ll want to look more into. When we were visiting it, there was a gallery about Martin Luther King, and there were lots of cool quotes wherever you would look around.

Every great scientific truth goes through three stages. First, people say it conflicts with the Bible. Next they say it had been discovered before. Lastly they say they always believed it.

Louis Agassiz, 1807-1873

Anyway, this place makes you feel like you’re in the presence of great people. And the employees, as I said, amazing! Try to have a guided tour, believe me, you won’t regret it. You’ll even find out where do the flowers from the banquet come from, this is how good these guides are.

After all this awesome knowledge we got, we couldn’t do anything else but get to the hotel, in our bull’s eyed room, to wait for the sunset, because our day was getting bigger and bigger.

Second day in Stockholm

After a very filling breakfast than made us ready to enjoy a new day, we went to the Stockholm city hall, aka Stadhuset. This building is still used for administrative reasons so it cannot be visited without a guided tour. The place is pretty interesting, especially thinking that these sort of buildings are not usually also museums at the same time.

In here, we visited the Blue room, the place where the Nobel prize banquet is held. This room, although it looks empty and simple, hides some pretty cool details than make it special. For example, I wouldn’t have thought that a simple staircase can be a pain like it was for the architect of this room. We also saw the rooms where marriage ceremonies are performed and the rooms where different council meetings take place.

But the two last ones were the best, in my opinion. The first one was a huge painting on a long wall, and it is said that the painter realized his work became better and better over the years, so in the end, he destroyed everything and started from scratch again; he was such a perfectionist! Kind of like me with this site: when I read the first posts again, I can almost cry, and I’ll probably redo them at some point.

The second room is impressive because it’s covered in gold. And no matter how much I don’t like golden stuff, when you see yourself here, in the delicate lights of candles, you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of tranquility. This feeling doesn’t last, because you immediately find out some pretty graphic stories full of blood; is there a nation in this world where they don’t have these sort of stories? This story is similar to a Romanian one, if you don’t consider a pyramid made out of human heads being a simple coincidence…

And because one walking tour wasn’t enough for us, we decided to take another one, just for the old town area, the so-called Gamla Stan. This time, the guide was from Australia, and he wandered around the world a lot, providing walking tours along the way. He showed us different things he finds interesting in here, like the smallest statue in Sweden, and he explained why do Swedish people eat pea soup at a certain special holiday, but he also told us about kings with a passion for culture and queens that have given up their thrones.

He also told us where can we enjoy a beer to have a beautiful view, better than the one at the Ericsson tower (where we decided not to go due to the huge price for what they were offering), and where could we enjoy a beer right after the tour.

We just had to follow his advice on this one and we went, together with some other people from the group, to rest our tired feet, enjoy a drink, and to talk about different subjects, like why are people leaving their countries. Speaking of tired feet, Stockholm was the place where I got to the 20.000 steps mark without even making an effort, and this was the first time I was the first one in my friends’ challenge list.

It was planned for us to get to the Royal Palace, but our tired feet and the cold beer made us get to the palace 10 minutes before closing time, so we had to take it out of the list. We regret this, but, when we did our itinerary, we didn’t take the distances into account, as we did in London. But we decided to do something else from the list: a metro ride.

Yes, you read that right, it was on our list to go and wander around by metro. This is also a first, one that I have never expected to experience. It looks like the metro stations in Stockholm are a very long art gallery, and no metro station looks like another. In here, we could see full gardens, sculptures, caves, some mechanisms that look like in Sci-Fi movies, paintings and full stories painted on walls.

It is seriously the first place where I find it interesting to just use public transportation. And I find it pretty cool that everyone, while on the daily commute, has access to such interesting art forms. Not everyone can afford to go to art galleries, and most people don’t even think they would be interested in it.

But, if we’re in the presence of greatness, we are all impressed, no matter how (un)educated we are. It’s an unforgettable experience, I fully recommend going to this huge art gallery, it’s something special and you won’t regret doing it.

Third day in Stockholm

The Vasa museum

The third day was focused on the things you can find in any Stockholm city guide. We visited the Vasa Museum, a unique place from so many points of view. But, first of all, I have to post a disclaimer, because apparently, people complain about this museum on different websites: Yes, it’s a museum for a ship, what did you expect when you read the name and any description longer than three lines? In short, the museum’s story has two steps.

The first one is about the ship itself, a very beautiful vessel that was supposed to be a proof of the Swedish king’s greatness. Unfortunately, back then, there was no Quality Assurance and Control department, and when different constructors complained about some areas of the ship, they were told so shut it, because it was king’s idea to build the ship like this. So this amazing ship got to the day of the first departure, left the harbor area, and sank a few meters away from the shore, without it being an accident, but a very bad way of building the ship.

The ship sank in very shallow waters and the bigger sticks remained outside of the water, which let to a pretty small number of deaths, in the end. But the place where it sank was very well “chosen”, as the ship remained almost intact due to the cold water that didn’t allow wood-eating bugs to appear, and to the low salt content of the water that helped to keep the wood in pretty good shape. It was there, on the bottom of the sea, for 333 years.

The second step started when a very passionate guy managed to locate the ship and to raise funds to get the ship on the shore. It is a very interesting process to take out of the water a pretty big ship, without tearing it apart, after it was sunk for so long, with the technical means available 50-60 years ago. But, most of all, we have to think about the fact that, now, this would be impossible due to lack of interest and money to do such things.

So yes, it’s just a ship, but this ship has so many stories in it, I think you have to be highly hypocritical to say it’s not worth it.

The Skansen museum

The Skansen museum is a small, open-air town. Once you get here, you enter a whole different world, a world without cars, a world where you can see reindeer and wolves, a place where you can hear a pottery worker telling you stories about his work, that he does for 40 years now, and he’s not bored yet. You can find here everything you can think of related to the traditional Swedish culture.

There are workshops for every industry and you can learn to work with wood, glass, gold and silver, how to make cookies and everything else that you could think of. Of course, you can buy something from every workshop as a souvenir, and a very good one was a delicious cinnamon roll. We also saw school, churches, wind and watermills, stables and houses from different centuries and Swedish regions.

But a pretty cool place was a small zoo with animals from Sweden since in here there’s a huge area still covered by forest and these animals still live in the wild too. It is a place to visit, especially for the feeling you can get, from time to time, that you’re on a movie set.

And I have to mention another first time. It seems that Sweden is the only place where they still eat reindeer, and we also enjoyed this delicacy. I am very sorry if I’ll upset people that are against this, but for the others: it’s delicious, it got to the first place on my list of goodies, taking over the beef I usually enjoy, and some other weird things I have tried, which I won’t mention to not gather even more hate from people. As I said, lots of first times here, in Stockholm!

Leaving Stockholm

While we were leaving we realized everything was pretty ordinary. Well, apart from the plane tickets, but only for the way in, as the way out was pretty easy to handle. But I will have to get used to this and to even embrace it. I can feel more adventures are coming our way, and we’ve got some new doors open now.

As I was saying, there’s always room for a first. But we have never experienced as many first times as we did in Sweden’s capital city. Try to visit Stockholm, I know it’s not the first place on anyone’s list, but you’ll have lots of surprises here and you will leave with some good stories about this place.

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