Nordic Countries

Country #100 - Sweden

The 100th Country!!!!!

I’m excited to be back in Sweden for many reasons, but the most important is that I have finally hit 100 countries!!!! It has been a crazy past eight months and it is honestly hard to believe that I have made it this far, but here we are! I’m now officially been to 100 countries and am more than halfway to visiting them all. It is an exciting milestone for sure, and I can’t wait to keep going!

Sweden seemed like an appropriate country to be number 100 for a few reasons First and most importantly it fit that way on my schedule. But for more sentimental reasons it was a perfect fit. Sweden is actually the first country that I ever visited on my own. Almost two years exactly to the day I flew from London to Gothenburg, spent a day in Gothenburg, and then flew to Stockholm for a few days before heading to Finland. It was an amazing experience and I like to think it helped to spark all of this!

I only had a few hours to enjoy Stockholm this morning. I wish I had more time but it’s unfortunately a Monday so most things would have been closed if I stayed an extra day, and tomorrow I would have to deal with flight connections instead of a direct flight to the US so I made the difficult choice of only one day in Stockholm.

I started my day by getting a great night of sleep and then having a nice breakfast at Hotel Rival. Afterwards I walked just down the street from the hotel to Monteliusvägen, which offers an amazing view out over the entirety of Stockholm. It is a great path to walk along and totally worth it just for the amazing views! I then took the T just two stops to Galma Stan (the Old Town). Gamla Stan is fantastic - it is basically a tiny island in the middle of Stockholm that is home to countless tiny shops and restaurants.

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I had about an hour to spare and I spent it walking around Galma Stan. I really enjoyed just walking along the streets and going to the stores, and also got a hot chocolate from a great spot called Kaffekoppen. I got mine to go but I recommend sitting down as it is a cool place inside. To finish up my visit to Galma Stan I headed in a store that I realized was the store that I bought my current hat in last time I was in Stockholm: it was quite the coincidence!

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I decided to buy myself a new hat since this one has been through the ringer for the past two years, and also to help celebrate country number 100! The brand is Sätila and it’s pretty cool as it is a Swedish brand that has been around since 1896. I also really love that they include a tiny text on the inside of the hat that tells you who actually knitted it. I also bought a cute Swedish ram stuffed animal (yes, it’s for me..) to commemorate my 100th country. I’ve found over my two trips here that Stockholm is basically an endless money pit. I don’t know what it is, maybe all of the cute stores, but money seems to go much quicker in Stockholm than most places I’ve been!

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After my walk around Galma Stan I then headed back to Mariatorget where I stopped in the Sandqvist store. I bought my first Sandqvist backpack two years ago at this store and still absolutely love it. I bought another to use on my trip and it has been great for everything that I have needed. I love the Swedish brand and couldn’t leave without stopping by and looking around. I bought a tiny pouch that matches my backpack that I’m going to use to store my extra foreign money keepsakes in.

I then made my way back to Rival Hotel to grab my bags and then took the T back to the central station. I unfortunately missed the first train to the airport by just a few seconds (I would have made it if the signs in the station had been accurate - they listed that it was running seven minutes late but it definitely was not). The next train left fifteen minutes later. I wasn’t late to the airport but I definitely wasn’t early. The line for security was very short but then the line for passport control was over thirty minutes long. It was not ideal but I eventually made it through! I was totally fine, though, because my flight ended up boarding and departing about thirty minutes late.

I’m flying straight from Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) to LAX. It’s a long flight but at only around $180 is quite the bargain, as all my transatlantic flights with Norwegian tend to be. I’ll land around 4pm, and then take a flight from LAX to Dallas. Good news is I have a whole row to myself on the ten-hour flight! When I get back I’ll spend the next few weeks in Dallas really working to make the rest of my trip happen. I’ve gotten it all logistically planned, but I still have to get the financial situation figured out. I know that it’s possible, but the next few weeks will be all about making it a reality! After my time in the US I plan on starting the Asian leg of my trip. Asia is the region that I have been most looking forward to since starting my trip, and I am so excited for it!

This past month of travel has been so crazy. It’s been stressful but it has also been fantastic. I have met amazing people all along the way; whether it be on a train in Hungary, the airport in Guinea-Bissau, or a hotel in Algeria, I have really enjoyed getting to meet so many people. I have really enjoyed these countries as well. I won’t miss the indoor smoking in the Balkans but I will miss learning about such a unique region. I’ve officially finished up with Europe so I am of course going to miss it, but I know I will be back someday so it is thankfully not too difficult to say goodbye for now. I also began my time in Africa, and along with doing so my level of worry for that part of my trip has decreased as I have only had incredible experiences so far. It’s been an amazing month, but I’m excited to go home for a bit and take a nice, long nap!

100 countries down, 95 to go.

For more information on Sweden click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Rival Hotel click here.

Country #74 - Denmark

The Copenhagen Sprint

Our boat arrived in Helsinki around 8am after a pretty uneventful night, though it was a little more bumpy of a ride than the outward trip had been. We were quick off the boat to make sure that we would be through immigration quickly (we were) and that we would easily catch a tram to the central station to catch a train to the airport (we did). When we got to the airport it was almost eerily empty for a major airport, but we weren’t complaining. We breezed through to our gate and ended up having over an hour to relax in an empty airport. Other than being empty, Helsinki airport (HEL) was pretty great thanks to its awesome wifi and really relaxing terminal. Who knew that was even possible?

Our flight was to Copenhagen, Denmark where we would be connecting four hours later back through to Amsterdam. The flight was relatively quick and when we arrived in Copenhagen we headed to put our luggage in the airport lockers to go into the city for two hours. Lucky us, though, the lockers would not work with our credit cards. We tried everything! Visa, Mastercard, debit, credit, pin, no pin, everything. And it wouldn’t accept cash. Other people were able to use the lockers no problem - it was so frustrating! After wasting probably twenty minutes, if not more, of our time in Copenhagen on the unsuccessful locker situation we ended up just taking our bags with us. We hopped on the metro and were in Copenhagen within fifteen minutes.

We walked out straight into a Christmas market - it was quite the welcome! We walked through with our annoying bags in tow and then made our way just down the street to Nyhavn. Nyhavn is the colorful, waterfront canal area that you might picture when you think of Copenhagen. I really wanted my mom to see it, and I’m so glad that we were able to make the quick stop into the city work! We then walked down towards the water where we were able to look out and see the Skuespilhuset theater, Copenhagen Opera House, and Copenhagen Street Food (PapirØen). After doing so and taking in the area for a bit we then made our way back to the metro to head back to the airport.

It was definitely sad to just pass through Denmark so quickly. I had an amazing few days in Copenhagen last year while visiting my friend Sydney when we were both studying abroad. Some of my favorite things were Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Louisiana art museum, and just walking around the city. Tivoli is an amazing old amusement park that is so charming and so much fun. Louisiana is one of my favorite art museums ever. I highly recommend them both and, obviously, recommend that you spend more than two hours in such an incredible city!

When we got back to the airport I found my witness signatures and then we passed through security and actually ending up with time to spare before our flight. I had a tasty pizza ciabatta and sausage roll to hold me over until our next stop. We are headed to Rotterdam for the night!

74 countries down, 123 to go.

Country #72 - Finland

The Snow

This morning my mom and I, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to Amsterdam after a perfect two days. It was a really early morning at that, as our flight from Amsterdam to Helsinki was at 7am. We took an Uber to the train station (because transit was not running yet) and then took a quick train to the airport. Now that we are in the Schengen Zone we didn’t have to go through immigration so the process at the airport was really simple. It wasn’t too long of a flight thank goodness, but we made a new friend on the flight! My mom chatted more than me but Ralph talked with us about lots of different things. Feel free to check out his blog (ralphslond.com)! You never know what kind of cool people you will meet on an airplane.

After we landed we took the train into Helsinki. It is super simple and is actually one of the first places that I that I travelled on my own when I studied abroad, so it definitely holds a special little place for me. I loved my last visit to Helsinki and was really looking forward to today! We were in the city in about twenty minutes and stored our luggage in the lockers in the Helsinki central train station. Our next stop was to eat lunch at a great little burger spot near the station called Friends & Brgrs. It was a great place to just look out at the city, which was especially interesting today because it was Finland’s 100th anniversary of Independence! We had no idea until we were leaving Amsterdam that today was so important in Finland, but hoped that it would make the day even more interesting!

After a filling lunch, we made our way to our first stop of the day, to try and find my mom a new memory card for her camera because hers had broken. We quickly found out, however, that 100 years of independence means that literally every store is closed. Restaurants and most tourist sites tended to be open though! Our first actual stop of the day, then, was the Kamppi Chapel of Silence. Kampii Chapel is a spiritual building (but not technically a church) that is open to everyone. The coolest part about it is that is just open for anyone to come in and sit and think, and it completely cuts off all outside noise from the busy square just right outside. It is also a really uniquely designed building, which makes sense when you learn that it was built as part of the World Design Capital program in 2012.

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After enjoying the silence we made our way to Kissima, Helsinki’s Modern Art Museum, and honestly one of the best modern art museums I’ve been to! What is so impressive is that both times I have been to Kissima it has been entirely different, but both times it has been incredibly innovative and insightful. This time was especially cool because the current exhibits focused on technology and art. If you ever find yourself in Helsinki this museum is a must see! What was also pretty funny was that while we were in the museum we saw a van accidentally run into a statue outside. I say run into, but it was more like a gentle tap. That gentle tap, though, caused a giant leak in the van, and as we progressed through the museum the scene outside progressed from the guy in the van realizing he screwed up to the police and a tow truck on the scene.

After Kissima we headed over towards Helsinki Cathedral, one of the most iconic spots in Helsinki. I love how giant and imposing the church is, but also how simple and beautiful it is! My visit this time stood in stark contrast to last – there was absolutely no one there when I visited last February, but this time there were crowds everywhere due to the adorable Christmas market! It was truly the perfect setting for a Christmas market, right in front of the incredible Helsinki Cathedral. The stalls were all very original and local which I really appreciated. We really enjoyed walking through all of them, and I was very excited to find that Regatta Café, one of my favorite stops on my last trip to Helsinki, had a stall as well! It is a cozy little café on the edge of a tiny pond out of the center of the city so we didn’t have enough time to see it today, but the stall was definitely a good way to make up for that! We had some tasty (and warm) hot chocolate and a great plum pastry as well.

Once we finished at the market we then walked over to the Market Square area which was filled with people for the Independence Day celebrations. There were one hundred Finnish flags set up which was really cool, and the area in general is a great one because it is right on the water. Our last stop of the day was to walk up Esplanadi, which is sort of Helsinki’s high street and was adorably decorated for Christmas. In fact, Helsinki killed it with the Christmas decorations. It felt like there were beautiful street decorations around every corner, and each street was unique. It was great! After walking down Esplanadi and passing by Stockmann department store to look at their great window decorations, we then headed back to the central station to get our bags and buy a few snacks.

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From the central station, we took the tram straight to the West Terminal, where our ferry/cruise (I’m still not quite sure what it would be classified as) was leaving from. We are taking the cruise from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then back again in two days. The exciting part about doing St. Petersburg this way is that we don’t need to get a Russian visa, which can be about $300. Taking this ferry (the Moby/SPL line) saved us cost and also was not too bad on time as both rides we would be sleeping overnight. We checked in and received our boarding card/room key, arrival card, and departure card. We then walked up to board the boat and headed to our room. It was tiny, but I’m glad we at least splurged to not have the beds right on top of one another! The room felt kind of like a hostel level accommodation, but we did have our own small bathroom at least, and the room was clean.

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We got settled in our tiny space before heading up to explore the boat. There were a few restaurants, a casino, lounge, sauna, movie theater, and a few other amenities. We decided to eat pizza and were able to watch as Helsinki faded away into the distance, as did my cell service. We were soon in the middle of absolute nowhere (technically the Gulf of Finland), and after we finished eating we headed back down to our room. We both fell asleep really early as it had been such a long day and we were exhausted. I’m hoping to get a good night’s sleep on the boat before we hit the ground running in St. Petersburg in the morning!

72 countries down, 125 to go.

Country #58 - Iceland Day 3

The Blue Lagoon

This was the first time I’ve spent almost three whole days in a country (other than the US, obviously) and I’m so glad it was Iceland. Sydney had an earlier flight than me so we decided to actually walk around Reykjavik this morning before taking her to the airport. Our first stop was breakfast - we ate at Sandholt again and this time we actually sat down for the meal which was a good call because it was very tasty.

We then began our walk to the few spots in town to see. For the capital city of an entire country it is very tiny (but cute) and there is not a ton to see, though we definitely saw some of the highlights. Our first stop was Hallgrímskirkja church. You can see it from all over town and it is an incredibly unique design. The inside was very plain but there was an organ player playing the giant organ which was cool to see! From there we walked the main street, Laugavegur, where Sydney bought some gifts and I bought a wool sheep magnet (of course).

After we finished up on Laugavegur we headed to our last stop in town, Harpa. It was one of, if not the most, incredible Opera houses that I’ve ever seen. It was unlike anything architecturally I’ve seen before and the use of glass and light was really amazing to see from both the inside and out. After walking through we started the drive to the airport. It’s only about forty-five minutes from the city and Sydney was there in plenty of time for her flight. It was so great having someone join me for a stop, especially in Iceland! I think it would be really difficult (but obviously not impossible) to do Iceland on your own of every country that I’ve seen because there is so much driving, it can get really expensive, and seeing some of the coolest stuff ever it was nice to have a friend along to experience it with!

From the airport, I made my way to the infamous Blue Lagoon. I was not going to pay (almost $60 minimum) to go in the Blue Lagoon but I still wanted to see one of Iceland's most famous landmarks in person. I had three hours to kill before I needed to be back at the airport for my flight, and it was only a twenty-minute drive away. When I got there I found the cafe where I bought an orange juice and was able to sit and look out at the Lagoon from inside! It was definitely interesting, but I enjoyed walking around the other blue pools outside of the main entrance much more. You could get up close to the water which was better than watching a bunch of people swim around in basically an overpriced pool (that’s blue). I am glad that I saw the Blue Lagoon but also glad I didn’t pay to do it.

From the Blue Lagoon, I drove through some of the cool mossy rock landscape for a bit before turning back towards the airport. I drove past the airport to the coast where I found two cool lighthouses and also almost completely froze when walking to take their picture because it was so windy. I then drove on to the next town near the airport and just enjoyed driving around and seeing more of the country and especially the small towns because we saw so few of them. After a short drive back to the airport I returned the rental car with ease and was only a little early for my flight.

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I’m really sad to leave Iceland and I can’t say enough good things about it. It was the coolest place that I’ve ever seen from the incredible landscapes throughout to Reynisfjara Beach, the Northern Lights, and everything in between. There is so much to see and I definitely recommend you put it towards the top of your list! And the good news is, even though I’m leaving Iceland at least I’m headed to Spain (and Andorra)!

58 countries down, 139 to go.

Read about my second day in Iceland here.

To learn more about Old Charm Reykjavik Apartments click here.

Country #58 - Iceland Day 2

The Northern Lights

Today we started the day off by pretty expectedly oversleeping. We were so tired and another long day was ahead of us so an hour late start was totally justified. We grabbed a quick breakfast to go from a place called Sandholt and then headed off towards the Golden Circle. The first thirty minutes of the drive were exactly the same as yesterday, and then we curved off towards the left to start the Golden Circle at Kerio.

Kerio is a giant crater formed by volcanic activity - basically, the magma drained out, the ground collapsed, and Kerio was born. That’s the gist of what I gathered, at least. We walked along the outside of it and it was a pretty quick stop as literally there is nothing to see other than a hole in the ground. From Kerio we drove on to our farthest point for the day, Gullfoss (another waterfall!). This one was pretty spectacular but, unlike Skógafoss yesterday, it actually reminded me a lot of Iguazu Falls. It basically felt like a mini Iguazu, but even at that, it was amazing and breathtaking. So much water was continually flowing over Gullfoss and it was so interesting to learn about the history as well. There are great views from the top and bottom of Gullfoss so I recommend you do both!

From Gullfoss, we drove maybe five minutes back up the road to Haukadalur. Haukadalur is an active system of geysers and is right next to a geyser called geyser which, uncoincidentally, is where the name geyser came from! The namesake is actually no longer active but it was really cool to see Haukadalur in action. It would explode to varying degrees and send water shooting up between every five and ten minutes. It was also enjoyable to walk around and see the smaller pools of water.

After Haukadalur we made our way to Þingvellir National Park. We didn’t spend a lot of time there because we didn’t have time to really walk through it, but at the main visitors' entrance there is an amazing view out over the park and you can also actually see the break in tectonic plates. This was our last stop for the day before dinner. There aren’t a ton of restaurants outside of Reykjavik near where we were so we had to drive back into the city. We ate at a cute place and I had an amazing and much-needed burger, fries, and garlic mayo. I finished the whole burger before Sydney was even halfway through proving definitively that she is the slowest eater I know.

After dinner, we stopped back by Old Charm to put on extra layers before driving forty-five minutes outside of the city to attempt to see the Northern Lights! We were too tired to even possibly try last night, and also yesterday there ended up being clouds that were not originally in the forecast (and clouds make the Northern Lights impossible to see). So all day today I gave an hourly cloud update and good news, the clouds never came! My hopes were definitely up after reading the forecast that we had a possibility of seeing them. This is the second time I’ve tried to see the Northern Lights, the first being when my brother visited me last year during study abroad and we walked around a frozen lake in Norway to no avail. So I was definitely hoping that this freezing lake experience would be a more positive one.

The drive out went from being in Reykjavik to being in the middle of nowhere in what felt like ten seconds. Once we were on the road driving to the lake I drove so slow because there was no one around and it was so dark I wanted to avoid driving off the side of a cliff into a lake that I couldn’t see. We found a parking spot on the side of the road and started to look. I had read that you never know when during the night that they will be active, so when we saw a faint light upon our arrival I almost didn’t believe it. It was really faint - so much so that we weren’t sure it was the Northern Lights. But within maybe five minutes tops we were positive. It was them! I was so excited!

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They were so cool to watch the lights move and we took pictures for about an hour and a half (keep in mind that it’s actually freezing outside). We tried so hard to take pictures that weren’t blurry and thankfully got a few good ones! There are definitely some pretty funny bloopers, though. The Northern Lights has been at the top of my list to see for a very long time, and they definitely surpassed my expectations. Seeing the Lights, coupled with more stars than you could even imagine, just did not feel like it was even real it was so cool to see and experience.

It was another successful day in Iceland and I really don’t want to leave tomorrow. Every second was amazing because even on drives across the country I was constantly enamoured with the otherworldly views of the country. I would love to come back and spend a week (or more!) driving all over the entire country, especially since we Googled it and, square mileage wise, Iceland is smaller than the state of Alabama (so very easily doable to drive the whole thing). I had no idea that Iceland was so small because like everything else near the poles of a globe it looks so large! If you weren’t convinced after day one to visit Iceland I hope that you are now. It is truly indescribable but I hope that I’ve done it at least a little justice in the blogs!

58 countries down, 139 to go.

Read about my first day in Iceland here.

Read about my third day in Iceland here.

To learn more about Old Charm Reykjavik Apartments click here.