Leaving our ship that morning in Stockholm–and leaving 3000 tourists–Rick Steves and I found ourselves alone in the middle of a great city with only 5 hours until we needed to be back on the ship. Abba, the harbor walk, the National Gallery, Swedish meatballs…how would we pack all the experiences into our memory banks without missing our boat?
While cruising may be an efficient way of getting to many cities in relatively short amount of time, you do run the risk of not getting much time to enjoy the places you visit. With limited time in each port city–and if you’re not letting someone lead you around on a pre-determined excursion itinerary, it’s important to prioritize your time. How many museums and churches will you pop into? What monuments will you be able to check off your list? Where (and how often) will you sample local cuisine? And how are you going to get everywhere you want to go? These are all important questions, and you can devise a sensible plan by doing your research well in advance with the help of good guidebooks and online sources.
So what about all the stuff you don’t plan for? Sure, it’s smart to get an overview of a place by experiencing its iconic, if touristic, sites and activities. They’re part of what lend form to the culture of any community. But how about digging even deeper by noticing, appreciating, and engaging in the slices of everyday life. It makes a traveler’s experiences all the richer. Have a picnic with locals in the park, pop into a bar chat up the old chaps who’ve been sitting on the same barstool for decades, attend a church service instead of just dropping in to take pictures of the church, find an heirloom souvenir in a community flea market, or just stop to enjoy the musical talents of a local band at a seaside fair.
We are all so much more than our history, our traditions, and our monuments. Culture lives and breathes and changes all the time. While our five hours in Stockholm were chock full of great touristic activities, we got so much more out of our visit by just being in the city and experiencing its everyday pulse.
Check out this slideshow of the Scandinavian slices of life that we enjoyed on our cruise (click on any picture to begin the slideshow).