What’s Stockholm like ? Quiet. Uncrowded (peak time travel on Tunnelbana metro near the Central Station was like a lazy Sunday morning at Bank in London). Peaceful, clean, modern, well organized, visitor – friendly. Is it colourful ? Absolutely. Me and my two mates visited the capital of Sweden in mid March and there was so much more to it than cold temperatures, rain and grey skies.
Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town seems rather small on the map but we realized we could easily spend a whole day wandering around, stopping and admiring 17th century townhouses, intricate details, splendid doors and little alleys. No Scandinavian minimalism here, their Cathedral is in fact a Baroque church, lavishly decorated and not at all austere. It even has an impressive sculpture of St George killing the dragon, a metaphor for Sweden bravely defending itself against its enemy, Denmark. On our first day the rain eventually stopped around 6 pm and we headed back to see Gamla Stan by night. It was quite deserted, except for the streets where most souvenir shops were located. We managed to get a coffee and ice cream in a cafe that was still open around 8 pm. Coffee breaks are sacred in Sweden. They can be had any time of day and night, really. They’re called Fika, and anyone who ever watched a Scandi drama or read such a book will know it already 🙂 Coffee normally comes with fikabröd, a little sweet delicacy, be it a cinnamon roll or a custard pastry. I had them in cafes and I also bought some in a supermarket before my flight home. All were delicious.
Moving on to colours of Stockholm. We saw lots of various shades of red, from pale pink to deep crimson, like the somewhat “hellish” Solna station. Every metro station in Stockholm features some kind of colourful artwork, some even have statues or insects display boxes. These warm hues create a cosy feel in a city associated with long, dark nights and bad weather.
That said, I actually enjoyed the greyness, the atmospheric fog and what was left of ice after the cold snap that happened only a week or so before we travelled. Back then, the temperatures at night dropped to -14. Stockholm has a interesting light, a tiny ray of sunshine can appear very bright on a cloudy sky and really transforms the scenery. It was well worth a trek to the scenic point Skinnarviksberget to see a beautiful panorama. By the way, Stockholm is not flat, even some streets in the old town were quite steep.
One of the reasons why Stockholm architecture is so appealing is all these rich shades of yellow, from brownish ochre to vivid canary and gold – as seen on the crown above. We were told by our tour guide it was obligatory to see and touch this crown 🙂
The old town reminded me of Warsaw a bit, but also to some extent of Wroclaw and Krakow. In fact, it was what Warsaw might look like now if it had not been destroyed during the disastrous uprising of 1944. Sweden used to be a very war-prone country, and a powerful one too, but during the last 200 years it has been neutral. Not a bad course of action; these historic buildings are still intact, unaffected by bombings, very well maintained. The mysterious rune stone above can be found near Prästgatan street and was apparently made in the 11th th century in Uppsala, then somehow ended up in Stockholm.
Stockholm has many, many museums, ideal for a rainy day. We went to ABBA interactive museum, a must see for fans and a pretty interesting experience for anyone who is into pop music. Howewer, Vasa Museet (Vasa being a Swedish dynasty name) was definitely a highlight for us. A real, 17th century warship sank in 1628 within minutes of leaving the harbour due to design faults and spent the next 333 years on a sea bed, only to be found in 1961 and consequently recovered. It is now said to be 98 % original, with only things like bolts being replaced and it is amazing how well preserved it is. It’s a magnificent and formidable ship, so big I couldn’t find an angle to photograph it in its entirety. The museum has several floors and was build and dedicated to this one ship, and telling its story in the context of the 17th century politics. Nowhere on many information boards I could find a direct explanation where the ship was destined in the first place. The truth is, it was going to invade Poland, a country Sweden was in a conflict with and attacked numerous times, causing unmeasureable destruction and human losses. It’s all in the past now, and we are friends again 🙂
It struck me how quiet Stockholm was. Literally quiet, people never speak loud, or shout. We had to keep our voices down on public transport. The Tunelbanna, or underground, itself was very silent – nothing like that deafening section of Victoria line between Tottenham Hale and Euston 😉 We invested in a 3 day travelcard, which worked a treat. An easy tap in, tap out system covers Tunnelbana, buses, trams and ferries. Stockholm is very walkable so in a fair weather I’d recommend simply using one’s legs.
Above, Stockholm public library, and its very Instragrammable Rotunda, ABBA recording studio and our Airbnb neighbourhood. The flat was small but had everything we needed, including a smart TV, a superfast broadband (mobile internet was also extremely speedy everywhere in central Stockholm) and a municipal central heating 24/7 – an unknown luxury in the UK, a norm elsewhere. It also had a fully equiped kitchen, which meant cutting down on eating out expenses, apart from Fika. I can confirm the prices in Swedish supermarkets in Stockholm city centre are 30 – 50 % higher than in the UK. Coffee however, even in the heart of Gamla Stan, was affordable 🙂 The only alcohol available in supermarkets was a very weak cider, or an almost alcohol free beer – like beverage – rather tasty, actually.
I can’t complain about the first quarter of 2023. Three wonderful wintery trips: Bath, Venice and recently Stockholm. I also treated myself to a three day birthday “marathon” in London: Turandot at Royal Opera House, The Winter’s Tale in Shakespeare’s Globe/Sam Wanamaker candlelit Playhouse, Landcape Photography of the Year 2022 free exhibition at London Bridge station and, finally, a second visit to Tower of London. This time I didn’t have to queue at all to see the Crown Jewels (some removed for the Coronation), or other bits I missed last October. This was my last London weekend for the time being. I have finished working in Hertforshire and I am back in Chester for just a few days. Next comes a 2 months holiday in Poland, divided between staying with my family in Krakow and travelling across the country. I will show you some fantastic sights and introduce you to places you probably never heard of so stay tuned!
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