In less than six months spanning 2008 and 2009 I managed to visit Västerås, Stockholm, Gävle and Malmö – then somehow neglected Sweden for well over a decade. Given my love of – and regular returns to – Norway, it felt like I should check back in with its neighbour. A mixture of points and promotions – plus a couple of days off work to use up in January – allowed me to make an early start to 2023’s travels with a short break in the capital.
During the pandemic I built up quite the shopping list for things to see and do across the planet; in Stockholm they all seemed to involve tunnels or tubes! Of particular interest was the city’s metro system, sometimes described as the longest art gallery in the world. The stations themselves are a large part of the appeal – architecture as art – and I spent so long exploring the system that I’ve written it up in the next post.
From a world’s biggest to a world’s only, I had also learnt of a unique opportunity on the outskirts of Bromma airport. A 1940s wind tunnel originally used for secret aeronautics research was eventually repurposed for another experiment: flying a wingsuit, indoors. Today a complete amateur such as myself (I haven’t even been skydiving) can experience a few minutes in the tunnel after less than an hour of training. Whilst I lacked the physical awareness to get the hang of stable flight – let alone manoeuvres – in that short time, being thrown around by the blast of 150km/h air was quite the rush! My introductory session was slotted in between flights by professionals honing their skills; whilst I have footage of my attempts, I think I’d rather share some of what they can accomplish in such a tiny space:
Weather above ground wasn’t great for sightseeing – January affords only a few hours of daylight, and much of that was marred by sleet-laced rain. But I was also able to fit in a visit to Fotografiska, a museum of photography that remains open impressively late. The main exhibit, News Flash, presented a decade-by-decade dive into the vast archives of the TT News Agency. This conveniently acted as a crash course in Swedish social history, told in a particularly visual way – although it was also interesting to see which international events had been selected.
A number of factors combined into a fantastic short-notice deal on Club Europe flights from London to Stockholm. Between Christmas and New Year BA launched a sale which brought the price for a three night itinerary below £200. As staff I got another £30 off, and via the Exec Club I was able to trade 3000 avios for the same again. So, depending on how you value those, my ticket cost around £150: I’d have happily booked economy for that!
Admittedly, the 7am departure from Arlanda would require a very early start on Sunday, and the more civilised 13:20 flight would have cost significantly more. However, Club Europe bookings come with free same-day changes, so I was confident I could negotiate a lie-in. That was indeed the case, but all didn’t quite go to plan…
Thursday’s flight, though, was the perfect stress-free travel experience. Already staying near Heathrow for work, I made my way around to Terminal 5 at a leisurely pace that morning. Between business bag drop and fast track security, it took all of ten minutes to get airside. After brunch in the lounge I relocated to the gate, where I was first onto the plane (and at Stockholm I was first off!).
Club Europe guarantees an empty seat next to you, but with just 11 passengers scattered across 7 rows I discovered I had three seats to myself. I had secured 2D with my lowly bronze status a week before, but appreciated being able to swap to 2F after my meal.
Stockholm is a band 3 route, which means substantial catering at most times of the day. Although the starter and cheeses aren’t my kind of thing, the generous main course portion (plus dessert, and my earlier lounge foraging) meant I was well-fed:
I read a few chapters of my book, watched the sunset from the window seat, and before I knew it, we had completed the short flight to Arlanda. Uneventful, perhaps even routine – but I consider Club well worth the extra money to create such a peaceful journey.
Unfortunately, as mentioned the return was less of a success – but my suffering was entirely self-inflicted. At 1AM I managed to rebook to the lunchtime flight and smugly removed my 5AM alarm. What I should have done was check a weather forecast: freezing fog would cause increasing havoc at Heathrow as the day progressed.
Receiving a boarding pass at check-in that suggested a 13:52 boarding time for a 13:20 departure was a clear sign that things weren’t going well. Normally I would pass the extra time in the lounge, but the third-party offering BA uses at Arlanda’s Terminal 5 was poor – insufficient seating, even fewer power sockets, a single bathroom, and a very limited buffet featuring some of the saddest meatballs I have ever seen.
So I abandoned the lounge and returned to the main terminal: a portion of sweet potato fries didn’t break the bank, and I was easily able to find a seat with both power and a view. There I lingered for quite a while, before joining the crowds at the gate to wait some more… with the aircraft delayed before it even left London and a completely full flight, push back was some two hours later than scheduled.
The flight itself was fine – helped by another excellent meal. My late swap had placed me down in row five, but as most passengers ordered the beef cottage pie, I was still able to get my first choice: the vegetarian curry. This was incredibly flavourful, and a big enough portion to make up for our delay. Recommended!
The Heathrow fog necessitated auto-landings which in turn caused flow rate restrictions, as more separation is required between arriving aircraft. This, of course, I understand; and it could have been worse, with 60 flights cancelled entirely. What was more frustrating was that once safely on the ground, we had to wait twenty minutes for a stand… which turned out to be remote. It took another quarter of an hour before buses could be found to take us on a lengthy tour of the airport. I eventually set foot in the terminal a little before half 5 local time: 2h20 later than scheduled, and nearly nine hours after I could have arrived if only I’d stuck to my original booking!
The Radisson Rewards programme saw a number of changes in 2022, none of them good. In particular, the awards chart was scrapped in favour of a fixed value per point. Whilst this added some flexibility – any number of points can be used, against any stay – the chosen value of 0.2p wiped a lot of value from my balance. It also removed any incentive to keep collecting towards an oversized redemption, so I decided to cash out.
Given that the point price is now pegged to the cash rate, it’s worth noting these are usually cheaper in the Radisson app. For example, I was able to save 10% on my “superior lake view” room at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel. Two nights there came to 96,304 points – conveniently close to the 98K I was looking to liquidate.
My newly mid-tier status is theoretically still entitled to upgrades, but I didn’t get anything on this occasion. As is common in Europe, the bed was two singles pushed together, with two sets of single bedding. But the room was a decent size, and – in the few hours of daylight – there was indeed a decent view of the lake from this high floor.
As well as being close to the water, the hotel neighbours Stockholm’s central train station, which is also the hub of the metro system. This made it an ideal location for my underground sightseeing; I was also able to find plenty of food options to make up for the lack of included breakfast!
You may have noticed that this was a three night trip, but I only spent two at the Radisson. For the third, I couldn’t resist something rather less conventional: Jumbostay, a converted 747 up at Arlanda airport. This was the final ‘tube’ of my unusually-themed holiday, and I wrote about it here.