June 23 and 24 - Andrew Fernando
Our first step in our trip was to fly from Sydney to Stockholm. We selected Qatar airways over Singapore Airlines and Emirates for our flight. It was not the cheapest option. We selected it because the total travel time was only 27 hours which was the lowest for this flight. Every other airline had very long waiting times in airports. The second important point was that Qatar Airlines has been voted as the best airline . We expected the service to be better than all the other airlines. One thing we failed to consider was the part where we had to fly to Adelaide in a domestic Qantas flight. Onward journey from Sydney was no hassle as we could check in our bags from Sydney to Stockholm directly. But on our way back, we will have to claim our bags in Adelaide and do custom clearance and then check the bags in again for the domestic flight. We tried to change the flight, but there was a big payment to change it. We decided to keep it unchanged.
The flight from Sydney to Adelaide was in a smaller plane. They assigned our seats in two different places. It was full and also there was hardly any leg space. We really did not mind as the flight was only 90 minutes.
The Qatar flight from Adelaide to Doha was in a Airbus 350. The flight took 14 hours, but it was comfortable. Service was excellent and the food selection was very good. I would rate Qatar airways as one of the best airlines. We had only two hours waiting time in Doha. Our plane landed in
Doha twenty minutes early and had to stop far away from the terminal. We were transported to the terminal in a bus. From Doha, we took the next Qatar flight in a new plane called Boeing 787-8 Dream liner. The flight was excellent, even better than the previous flight. Our problem started when we landed in Stockholm. Just after immigration, we heard an announcement asking the two of us to contact Qatar customer service desk. We were informed that one bag did not come with the flight. They have located it in Doha and it will be delivered to us the next day in our hotel. Luckily it was my bag, not Mala's bag. I had all my clothes in the bag, not even a change in my hand luggage. There was nothing we could do to fix things. We decided to go to our hotel and assess things.
The Arlanda international airport is about 40 kilometres from Stockholm city centre. There are several ways of travelling from the airport to the city centre. First one is to take the fast train known as Arlanda Express. Second one is to take a slow bus changing buses at an intermediate point. Third one is to take the airport coach called the Flygbussarna. This last option is the easiest and relatively cheap one. There are buses every fifteen minutes and they are waiting for you as soon as you come out of the terminal. There is a ticket machine near the but stop and you can buy tickets using your visa card. One ticket was 119 SEK. Our only problem was the language barrier. There was an option to change languages, but we did not take it and the kind gentleman who was behind us translated the instructions for us and helped us to get the two tickets from the machine. The bus trip was uneventful. There was nothing to see on the road other than a few commercial buildings. The bus stopped near the last destination which was the Central Station in Stockholm. Our hotel Radisson Blu Water Front hotel was only a two minute walk from the station.
We checked into our hotel and informed the reception about our lost baggage. Alexander, the person who was at the reception was very nice and tried to contact Qatar customer service immediately. Their service desk operates only from 9:00 am to 12 noon. He asked us to contact him in the morning to follow up with the airline customer service. In the mean time, I had to buy some clothes to manage till I get my bag.
The next day, Friday 24th June happened to be a public holiday in Stockholm called Mid Summer holiday. We were told that all the shops would be closed. We could not take a chance and wait for our bag to come. We decided to stop everything and do cloth shopping. The main street for shopping is called Drottingg and only a five minute walk from our hotel. This street was unusually crowded , full of shoppers and revelers. In a few places we found some playing music. There were a few beggars waiting on the way side, an unusual sight for us. Stockholm city centre area is a tourist paradise. Clothes and food are not cheap in Stockholm. We bought a few items just to manage for two days and had dinner in a Chinese restaurant called Holiday Restaurant before coming back to the hotel.
Why did we decide to have dinner in this restaurant. There was a man carrying a board standing on the road advertising the restaurant. It looked very familiar and we decided to walk in try the food. It was an "all you can eat" type restaurant with a huge variety of food,. It was not just Chinese food. They had a corner for Japanese food and also a cold salad section.
We got up next morning and had breakfast in our hotel restaurant. We went back to our hotel reception to check the status of our lost baggage. Alexander was there to help me again. He called Qatar customer service sharp at 9:00AM He was put on a queue and was the fourteenth person on the queue. He was holding the phone for forty minutes and moved to the seventh position. I would mark down Qatar customer service as one of the worst. There was probably one person handling the customer calls. Alexander in the mean time found another way to check the status of my baggage on line using our booking reference number. Our baggage was found in Doha. There was no update to say whether it was sent to Stockholm.
We decided to spend the day visiting tourist attractions without wasting our time . We walked to the tourist information centre which was in the Central station. While planning our trip to Stockholm, we purchased two Stockholm Passes on line. We received them in post. This pass allowed users free entry to all the attractions, unlimited free travel on Hop on Hop off bus and unlimited travel in boat rides for 72 hours. It also had discounts for many other things including bus travel to airport. Strangely, the Tourist Information Centre had a different card. The girl at the help desk counter pretended that she knew nothing about our card. When we explained that we bought this card on line, she changed her stand. Yes she knew about this card, but there is another party who sell these cards. They have their own network including their own green Hop on hop off buses and boats. Their office is on the other side of the road . We could check with the normal red Hop-on-hop-off buses whether they accept this card. We walked to the bus stand and found there are two different bus stops one for the green bus and another for the red bus. Our tickets were valid for the green buses. We found there were many other tourists who were like us and totally confused about these two different cards. If we We patiently waited while three or four red buses passed the bus stand and finally when our green bus came, it was full of passengers. We did not give up, we got in with the crowd . This was fun, just like a bus ride in Sri Lanka or India. Some people who could not get in from the entrance near the drivers seat, got in from the rear exit door while the driver was protesting. The driver closed the doors and we were on our way to see the great city of Stockholm. Obviously this was the first green bus that came after a long time and the next bus stop had even more people waiting to get in. The driver did not stop the bus. He announced and asked whether any one wanted to get down. If there was no one, he would not stop, because the bus was already full.
We finally got down from the bus when we came to Vasa Museum bus stop. Vasa museum was one place that we had to visit. It was about a sunken ship in the 17th century. The war ship was built with massive wooden beams to withstand enemy fire and had huge cannons installed on the ship to destroy enemy ships. However within twenty minutes of its maiden voyage, it capsized and sank to the bottom of the sea. It stayed at the bottom of the sea for more than three centuries and later salvaged in 1961. It was housed in the Vasa museum and has become a huge tourist attraction.
Our next destination was the royal palace. We knew we had to select and visit only two or three attractions . The royal palace is the official residence of the present king and the queen. Most of the monarchy's official receptions take place in this palace. It is open to the public . Any one could see it from outside and visit the gardens, but you have to purchase tickets to visit the internal chambers and rooms. Our Stockholm pass allowed us to visit the inner chambers of the palace. There was a restaurant in the palace premises. We had our lunch and a soft drink in that restaurant. The best part of the lunch was the pine apple quarter piece with the skin and top cooked or steamed to perfection.
We decided to take a boat ride which was the last thing for the day. When we come out of the palace and walk down to the main road, we could see the boat ramps. We got into a boat that accepted our card and enjoyed the full round around the city. We got down near the Royal palace and took the hop-on-hop-off bus back to our hotel.
The lost baggage was still not there. Alexander was there to help us again. He checked and found that our bag has been transferred to Stockholm from Doha and due to be delivered to our hotel. We decided to sit and relax in the hotel and have dinner in the hotel restaurant. We asked Alexander about local dishes which we could try in the restaurant. He recommended two things. One is a lamb dish and the other is a meat ball dish. Both are special local dishes.