Skol! to the medieval town of vikings!

“Oh, there is so much to see here, I want you to see everything but I don’t know how to show you the directions”

Freyr, a swedish local

With a silvery overcast sky, the cold wind crept to our legs, finding ways to slide inside the leather boots or under the wool of the neck scarf, having already turned ears to apples. No, it wasn’t winter here in Stockholm, but the onset of summer. So, one could not blame the winds but our bodies accustomed to the comparatively mild winters of Delhi. Amid this cold raining on us, we were warmed by the very path we were walking on. The Vasabron bridge in Normalmm was an entry gate to a picturesque art. On both sides of it lay historical buildings in architectural brilliance, but with a touch of vintage, classic and not the old per se. They had a beauty that only time could bestow on them. Beneath the bridge, the Lake Malaren flowed like an old crone walking, but as you go near it you realize it has the ferocity and power of time itself.


As your feet get numb in the cold, walking fast is the only way to keep them warm. But the canvas ahead doesn’t allow you to do that. It calls attention, tells you to stop and admire the beauty around. Though, we had but only a short eye contact because our hunger for more was far from being satiated. 

The Vasabron Bridge over Lake Malaren,  Stockholm, Sweden
The Vasabron bridge over Lake Malaren, Stockholm, Sweden

As one high rising marvel was sitting next to another, we matched our feet to it. Since we began walking, without a route or a map in hand, we had offered ourselves to the lost streets.

Suddenly, at the other end of the road, the concrete roads stopped, it had reached the threshold of history. From there on lay the cobbled streets with invisible marks of hooves that might have carried men and maidens all over the city.

Entering the crocodile’s mouth:old town

Without having any idea about the place, and eager to enter into a time machine, we booked a ride into the past. The streets opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, getting narrower as you move inside. At one point you feel you have reached the endpoint, but where the mouth ended the stomach began. It was a quagmire of lanes, definitely imperceptible to a first-time visitor. But it was a place where one could get lost for a lifetime. Somewhat like Harry potter’s Diagon alley. You do expect to find Hagrid buying you a white owl and a wand to do your magic.

Narrow streets of Gamla stan, lined by Cafes
Entering the crocodile’s mouth-Narrow streets of Gamla Stan lined by cafes

The lanes of Gamla Stan or old town, were full of small, cozy cafes inhabited in tall three to four-storied colorful buildings. It was like entering a garden of architecture with flowers for buildings. Sometimes here and there you come across dwarf cafes, it’s as if they lie in a cave. You soon reach a small tunnel smeared with the color of terracotta. You would want to stay inside it and pretend it’s raining outside.

As you cross several lanes, brush yourself against some Swedes and some tourists, they all feel drunk with beauty, a smile permanent on their faces and eyes sparkling with peace and ecstasy. You do realize you are in a Scandinavian country, the happiest people on the planet. 

The scent of the stalker

We had been walking for long and it was getting cold as the sun had closed its curtains to the clouds. There was no silver shine, but a grey shroud.

In every nook and corner, we were being followed. An ending aroma of coffee never seemed to get tired of the chase. It charmed us to savor a cup, and when it became unbearable to wait any longer, we went for it headlong. As we narrowed down our options, we soon found one where from tall glass windows you could see people huddled together with dim yellow lamps, seated on leather couches with what seemed to be a replica of elf skin. Needless to say, we entered the Espresso House and ordered cups of coffee with a Swedish Fika. 

I don’t know whether it was the coffee itself, its companion, or our intoxicated senses that the coffee tasted like melted beans, with an aroma so strong, a wine couldn’t have stood against it. Nothing, simply nothing could have satiated us, like a fragrant cup in a warm café full of happy-looking faces calling for conversations. But we were like children full of curiosity and so we ventured out from our warm nest.


Stumbling your way across the lanes, we reached what is called point O, officially called Stortorget. On all four sides, you see postcard buildings of yellow, orange, green, cream, grey colors with a small area in the center. It was actually the site for the Stockholm bloodbath in the 1500s. But now, it was like a peace summit, no matter the Nobel Peace Prize Museum lies in this very square. In the center of the square stood a triple-layered cylindrical stone edifice with 4 devil’s mouths on all sides from which water trickled down. Besides this, stood a musician who with his saxophone tried to make the wind reverberate with symphonies that hitherto were cold and harsh. As we were failing to locate the best angle for a perfect shot in the square, a familiar tune reached our ears. Of all the songs in the world, the saxophone sang- “Kal ho na ho”. It was like God speaking to you, telling you to live and store this very moment inside your heart because this might be the happiest, most beautiful memory of a foreign land. We had reached the brim of delight.

The Song

After which every emotion just overflowed. 

Point 0 or Stortorget in Gamla stan, Stockholm, Sweden
Point 0 or Stortorget surrounded by colorful buildings on all sides

In between the cafes, a large portion of the lanes was filled with souvenir shops. Moose horns, moose horn cups, Vikings helmets with horns (again made of moose), woolen caps with moose embroidered on them, all symbolizing their national animal called Elk/moose. You can’t suppress your childish whim to enter and experience it all. 

It was time when the day had already changed into its night robes. But like an insomniac, it would not sleep until 9pm here. It’s just that the day was changing its moods and now it was a time to relax in the receding twilights or the happy pajamas.


Our feet were begging us to get back to the hotel but our hearts wanted to sleep right on the very street, not wanting to enter the 21st century again. This was good, this was warm, the lanes were actually a barrier to the numbing winds.

When God placed your head, much higher than your heart then you tend to be more realistic, especially in a foreign land (though it had started feeling like a newfound home like you had dug up your ancestry and found you have Scandinavian roots).

So, we were headed back to the hotel. While walking on our way back, we heard loud music leaking out a vintage-looking bar. Well, our head might be driven by us, but as for the heart, God drives that one, so, amen.

As we entered it looked like a tavern, for one sec you expect men with long crimson beards, ragged clothes, dancing away their fatigue. Until 1880, a premise of the church, the bar had a cellar that dated back to the 17th century. Stuffed animals and antiques hung from its ceiling with permanent dust of antiquity on them. There was no room to look down at the floor, people occupied every bit of it. It wasn’t crowded but plump like a juicy grape. Somewhere between these hung small lamps, with enough light to see your companion next to you. Built-in a narrow longish space, on one side, was a bar with a handsome Swedish man you can mistake for a Viking. He had tattoos all over, with his hair braided in a ponytail, his beard reached the most part of his neck and his blue eyes were other-worldly. Only when he spoke, we realized we weren’t dreaming. He wasn’t the Ragnar, Bjorn, or Ivar from the Vikings series of Netflix, but a 21st century Swede bartender. As we placed our order, he informed us to quickly grab a space because the performance was soon to start. 

Cafe Stampen, Gamla Stan, Sweden
Café Stampen, Gamla Stan (Picture credits: Stampen, official website)

Jazz, I might have overheard the term often, without giving it any specific attention. So, when the band started performing, I didn’t hold any expectations. I didn’t even know what type of music it must be. The all-boys band had the most energetic one for the singer. As he began moving, the wine inside us felt more intoxicating. With every foot he tapped, our weary feet followed. The air inside was dancing. A maddening ecstasy, of dancing to new rhythms in a dark, warm old space was my entry into the world of Jazz. Even after his performance ended, the music wouldn’t leave our ears and our feet wouldn’t stop moving. In a blurred vision as we re-read the name of the bar, it was called Stampen. And, all the way from that bar to our hotel, all we did was to stamp. 



We stayed in Stockholm for 7 days, for which for at least 4 days we went back to the time machine and hopped for a ride to old-world charm. Every time, we experienced something we didn’t before. There were hidden treasures all over.

One of our most valuable finds was a Viking Café. It was hidden from the main street. You need to climb down several steep steps of stairs to find a wooden door with Aifur, the Vikings café written in a unique Viking font called Floki.

Aifur, the Vikings Cafe, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
Inside Aifur, the Vikings Café

As you enter, your jackets are no longer necessary. There is a rush of voices filled with the overpowering scents of candles and coffee. Yes, candles were the only source of lightning in the dark dome-shaped café which could easily have been a subway for anti-social dwellers. Withstanding its name, the café had left no stone unturned to take their customers into a Vikings tavern. Wooden stools casually aligned the walls, wherever there was a space, leaving little room for people to pass by. There was no room for interior designing, but rustic, antique space with vintage as its only design.

You might call it ‘cramped’ space, but the experience was almost liberating. It’s like a couch full of loved ones, hygge on the full course!

People in small groups occupied the upper berths, while down below several feet long wooden tables had large groups chatting and eating. The chairs had moose skins over rugged wood. Though for you to see that close, your eyes will have to strain a little. The roof was made of brick like the rest of the space, with small wooden Vikings ships hanging all over. Wooden mugs and what seemed like Elkhorn mugs were there. If you are someone you just entered you will feel it’s a full house, but somehow you would still want to wait no matter how long, for no matter how small or cram-ish the table to fit in. You ought to taste the Viking here. Coming to Sweden without the Viking experience? It’s like a wine without grapes.

So, while our tea emanated an aroma of spices filled with wooden notes (probably from the cup), our coffee was bare black. As we ordered milk with it, we got a cold cup and we were told that’s the way it is here. With no scope for a further bargain, we added the cold milk to the hot espresso.

I need not tell you what was the taste, you know it already! Yup, melted beans, strong and smooth, the cold milk couldn’t hinder the experience, it rather made it novel. Who could have imagined having something like this, and still get a similar experience? But again, was it coffee beans really?

Have I missed any of the hidden jewels in Gamla Stan? Do let me know in the comments below!

Would love to have you back!

Travel isn’t what you think it is

“I feel like the world would be a better place if more people experienced a little bit of someone else’s experience.”

philip rosenthal

Whenever you plan on a holiday, you always have a ‘to-do’ or ‘must-go’ type of a list. If you are a tourist, these 2 lists are all you have. And if you are a traveler, you might have at least one of them.

We often go to see the mountains we have heard about, the island which is all over Instagram, the hidden gem of a forest we saw on Youtube, or a place that is simply ‘trending’ or somewhere we long to go due to some reason.

After narrowing down a destination, we often to jot down the places we would be visiting there.

But, what we don’t plan is ‘who’ we will be meeting.

We forget the human element surrounding our journey


After all who populated these beautiful landscapes and made them known to us? Who built the historical sites we are so eager to visit?  And who comprises of the cultural arenas we love to hang around in?

Yes, people!

Those who you meet when you land at the airport, the bus-stand or the railway station. When you hire a cab or an auto-rickshaw, the driver is excited to meet you. If you aren’t a snob and would love a conversation, he would love to tell you about his home city.

If you get lost and seek the help of those around, he would (more often than not) be out there to help you to the best of his abilities. But only when you are open, to the reception.

Some will simply care     

When I was walking on a snow-clad road in Kashmir, which was hardened by the decreasing temperatures and hence slippery, somewhere along the road a man dressed in his pheran (Long dress made of wool), having no connection to me, said ‘

madam side side se chalna dhere dhere

(Madam, walk along the sides, slowly). As I smiled and thanked him, I wondered, why does he care? That was my ‘city mind’ talking. Here, we see each other with the eye of a skeptic. Everybody around is there to either rob or hurt us, that is all!


But traveling rings a different kind of a bell. Ironically, we are more comfortable with the people there, in an alien environment.

SOME WILL be happy to talk

“Because you know what happens when you say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning?’ You make a connection. And isn’t that what being human is all about?”

philip rosenthal

Talking to strangers on road, is like talking to culture in flesh and blood. You just need a hello, or khamma Ghani. That is all we said, when an elderly Rajasthani man came in while we were having tea in what came out to be his tea-stall. He has several tales for us, from the hardships of life in the Thar desert, to the honesty of people in the area. We did lost track of time and got up only when ours was the only voice on the road.


Though natives have the most potent kind of a story. You also love sharing your experiences with fellow travelers.

As we boarded the long-tailed boat in Koh Lanta, Thailand, we saw a couple who greeted us with a smile as we hopped on. That was the only signal we needed, because after that we were transported to Canada and Japan, the two countries the couple belonged to.

some will seek respect

There are some people you meet on the road. While others who are a part of your holiday fever, the ones you meet at the ‘must-go places’.

An average Indian tourist always believes the locals are there to rob them or charge a hefty sum. I don’t say their allegations are baseless, but these are too general.

A cranky man, who seeks to go up a mountain because he read about its beauty in a blog, would simply want to go, would believe the owner of the pony should be ‘present’ at his ‘command’. The poor local man, would fight for his dignity and quote a sum he would be highly profitable in. That is because for him, you are a source of income only!

On the other hand, there’s another man. He calls the pony man, “bhaijaan kitne mein chalenge?” (Brother, how much will you charge?) and then begins to bargain, does so with an apparent ‘human touch’, one that makes the local happy because he likes a man who talks, that too with respect and love.


The native is there to help you with your travel goals, and earn some money. But if you understand the ‘help’ first and the ‘money’ later, you will see how he makes sure you get the fun equivalent to every penny paid. And in doing so, sometimes, they might go a bit too far.

some will make you cry

As it happened to me that I was being hand-driven on a sledge. While I enjoyed the comfort, along with the snow-clad Pir-Panjal Range, I saw a red drop fall on the snow, where the man driving my sledge walked on. As I informed him of his injury, he would merely wipe clean the blood, smile and moved on.


For the rest of the journey, I merely enjoyed walking with him while having a conversation, till we reached our destination.

After that, only his words lingered in my mind, the stained snow and I forgot all about the mountains.

some will make you laugh

In the hot deserts of Rajasthan, when the sun was about to retire, we were heading for the dunes. Our man, dressed in a sand colored dhoti-kurta with teeth that laughed all white, came with a shiny black jeep vibrating with Rajasthani folk music.  

As our car mounted on one sand-dune to the next, he would make a loud noise, encourage us to dance, and forget we were different. We drove in the desert for 3 hours and at that moment, we were ‘all one’.


We had already negotiated the price, it would have been less of trouble if he would drive us down, silently and let us seek our adventure on our own. And somehow he became a part of us even when we headed home.

His laughter and voice, where he sang his own name, “Ali, Ali, Ali” in delight, still catches our ear now and then.

The part played by the locals is not only to help you discover the city but to make sure you have a great time. And if trouble strikes, and you are kind yourself, then kindness shall prevail.

some will help you (without any motive)

You will agree how embarrassing it is to wait for your turn in the queue, get an order ready, and discover you have no means to pay the cashier! Well, that too in a foreign land!

As we finished our meal, we wanted a hot cup of coffee to power up our senses for another stroll in the cold streets of Sweden. So I got in the queue again and ordered 2 hot cups of cappuccino. Even after trying twice, all the 3 of my debit cards wouldn’t get approved. Being a cashless café, they wouldn’t accept any other payment mode. While I opened my mouth, for an apologetic cancellation, the man at the counter announced my order to be prepared. All wet in embarrassment I repeated that I couldn’t pay. The man smiled and said,

“I know mam, don’t worry, it’s on us!”

That didn’t happen to me, so far in my life, in my city, like ever! Is it related to the fact that I had complimented the food, only a while ago because I was genuinely too happy about it? Or would you say the locals-only care for the tourist?

I think, We are far too busy distinguishing people into races, religion, caste, country, ethnicity, locality. It is only through travel that you realize underneath the different skin color, features, built or clothes, is the same human in flesh and blood.

He or she is willing to welcome you in his/her home, shelter you, and let you feel welcomed. Not because you generate revenue for them, but because no matter the money, every human loves to talk about himself and learn about others.

And as human, when trouble strikes, people genuinely care.

some will come at your rescue

Like the time my brother forgot his bag on a tram in Stockholm and the next thing we see is, he sitting in a car and driving away. Later we were told, the man wanted to catch the tram, in order to retrieve my brother’s lost bag. That was a total stranger!

Or another time, when being lost in the all encompassing snowy landscape of Gulmarg, with no connectivity, we were trying to locate our cab driver. It was -6 degrees, our feet were wet and numb, and we were hell tired. Then again, two locals read our trouble, offered to help, and used their cellphones to locate our driver.

It might have been their loss, their loss of time, but humanity always prevails.

Perhaps, we often forget what is to be human in our daily lives. It is only when we see a new set of people, we are willing to be nice again. Though, it is true for only some of us, who are kind enough to ‘respect’ the other, rather than being skeptical.

I remember when my hostess in the houseboat in Srinagar came rushing to me with a heater, asking (in a relatively demanding tone):

Tumhara cap kaha gya? itni sardi hai , baal sara geela, bimar padhna hai kya?

(where have you left your cap? It’s too cold and your hair is all wet, do you want to be ill?)

She reprimand me like a mother, but why? I wasn’t paying her for keeping me healthy, she shouldn’t have cared, after all, I was just a stranger!

That is when I found what travel actually was and realized:

SOME will make you HAPPY , some will make you CRY, some will HELP you, some will CARE or some might just be happy to TALK,

because travel isn’t just about places,

travel is all about people!

Are you someone who feels the same about travel? Are you more interested in ‘meeting’ new people, tell me down below!

Would love to have you back