Welcome to Travel Insider, an occasional feature in which we get the inside scoop on common – and sometimes exotic – destinations from those who have lived or traveled often there.
The place: Stockholm, Sweden
The expert: Monica Branting, 56, a native of Stockholm, now living in Sacramento and returning "home" for vacations.
A Sacramento resident for 13 years, Branting has taken her children on her annual trek back to the old country each summer.
What are the cultural differences between Sweden and the United States, and how should travelers react?
It's more formal, compared to California. Friends shake hands when they meet, although hugs are more common among good friends. It is more homogeneous and more diverse at the same time. The living standard is high for the great majority, and the differences in salaries and education are not as varied as in the U.S. The Swedish lifestyle is shared by most. On the other hand, there are 11 percent foreign-born citizens, and they've come from many countries, so you'll hear at least 10 languages on the bus or in the grocery store.
Name one local delicacy that tourists absolutely must try.
Moose steak, reindeer steak, anything with shrimp as shrimp is so totally more tasty than in the U.S. If you're brave: ask for the blodpudding or fermented Baltic herring. If you visit during August-September, try the crayfish, but ask a native how to eat this seasonal delicacy. If you're not an omnivore, try the Swedish pancakes with drottningsylt, a jam called "the Queen's jam" made from raspberries and blueberries. For tourists of all ages and persuasions, a glass of elderberry bloom drink is always refreshing!
Do you have any tips on the least expensive ways (airfare, train, ship, car) to get to Sweden?
No. It's possible to get cheap flights to transit stops like London, Frankfurt or Amsterdam, but flying to Frankfurt and then taking the train will cost you about the same. During the summer, sometimes, FinnAir or IcelandAir obtain landing rights at SFO and run cheaper flights. In general, booking more layovers can lower the fare some.
How safe and efficient is public transportation (bus, subway, taxi)?
Extremely safe and efficient, nationwide and in Stockholm. The trains, buses and subway (Stockholm) run frequently, almost around the clock, and on time. Stockholm is built on several islands, and ferries are also available for commuters and tourists. Many summer cabins on the islands of the outer archipelago (45,000 islands and skerries) can only be reached by boat. You can even go by bus to the local downhill skiing (10 minutes from downtown) during snow season.
What are two places where can you experience the real Sweden, the non-touristy part?
Take a steamboat from downtown Stockholm and head out an hour and 20 minutes toward the open sea. Bring a picnic basket and a blanket to Grinda Island, a national forest. There's an old inn, camping or cabins for rent. The Baltic Sea lapping at the shores is soothing for the soul.
If you have the time, a visit to our far north region for hiking on mountainsides above the tree line, where it's just you and some reindeer checking out the spectacular vistas.
If your in-laws were to visit you in Sweden, where would you have taken them and why?
A tour of the Royal Castle and the adjacent Cathedral in Old Town are musts – very old, very beautiful. For real history buffs and excitable fourth-graders, a visit to the Medieval Museum is very cool. The splendid Vasa Museum shows a 1628 warship sunk on her maiden voyage and recovered in 1961. A trip far out among the islands, winter or summer, is a breathtaking experience and really explains the Swedes' relationship to the ever-present waters. Skansen is an outdoor culture museum and zoo in central Stockholm, with a collection of buildings from throughout the land and time periods – a mini-Sweden with much folklore.
How would you describe the locals' attitude toward tourists in their midst?
The locals are mostly fluent in "the Queen's English" and love to practice on real foreigners. In Stockholm they might be hard to spot, as the city is growing with thousands of new arrivals every year.
What is the one place not to miss when in Sweden?
The Stockholm archipelago and the mountainous north, above the Arctic Circle.
What is the one overhyped place travelers should skip?
Main street of Old Town. Wall-to-wall thick with tourists between souvenir stores. Find some quiet back street instead.
Would you ever consider going back, either to visit or live?
Every summer, like clockwork.
If you consider yourself an expert on a city or country, be it Chicago or Cairo, and want to be featured in a future Travel Insider, please contact Janet Vitt at (916) 321-1056 or firstname.lastname@example.org.