Qatar Happening, March 2015. Original article p110-111.
A Swedish treat
The cobblestoned old town, the royal castles, the Södermalm cafes, and the archipelago wilderness just at the doorstep – Stockholm is the picture of Scandinavian cool.
Is Stockholm the best little city in Scandinavia? The capital of Sweden is certainly a hot contender: a picturesque town with yellow-toned buildings and cobblestoned streets, surrounded by water as the city spreads out across the neighbouring islands. Stockholm feels like a metropolis, but any local will tell you that the skärgård is possibly the best part: over 30,000 rocky islands make up an archipelago ripe for discovery.
Landscapes vary widely across the archipelago, from ancient villages where many Stockholmers have summer houses, to coves, beaches, lush greenery, and big flat rocks. Waxholmsbolaget runs a comprehensive ferry service around the archipelago, with the five-day ticket as the top choice to really get a chance to explore the historic community at Dalarö, the nature reserve at Grinda, and the cradle of Swedish porcelain at Gustavsberg.
But there’s plenty to charm you in downtown Stockholm too, starting with the Gamla Stan neighbourhood. The city was founded here in 1252, and today it’s a popular place to eat, drink, shop and wander. The winding cobblestoned streets require sturdy shoes, but it’s worth it for the scenery of sagging buildings in shades of yellow, red and orange. A walk around Gamla Stan will take you to the Nobel Museum, which has the story of the prize and its founder, Alfred Nobel. The Swedish chemist and engineer held 355 patents, and his legacy continues to honour men and women around the world for their achievements in science, literature and peace.
Stockholm’s Royal Palace is located downtown, but the most impressive royal experience is the Drottningholm Palace, a quick boat ride away. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed castle is the home of Sweden’s King and Queen, but in true Scandinavian spirit, part of the building and the grounds are open to the public. The beautifully manicured gardens are worth the trip alone. ABBA fans can get their fill at the ABBA Museum, which has everything and then some: all that elaborate clothing, lots of gold records, Benny’s piano, and the helicopter from the ‘Arrival’ cover. You’ll walk in, promises the museum, but you’ll dance your way out.
Sweden’s world class art museum is the Moderna Museet, with its excellent collection of art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Visitors will find works from big names such as Picasso, Dalí, and Irving Penn, and benefit from the museum’s tradition of keeping close relationships with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. This mix of worldly connections and Scandinavian cool is typical of Stockholm, whose cutting edge style still manages to remain true to its traditions. Look for the Dalahorse to take home as a souvenir – this distinct shape has become a symbol of Sweden. Visit around midsummer and you’ll experience something uniquely Swedish: tall maypoles are raised as the country pretty much shuts down, as everyone gathers to sing, dance and eat on the lightest night of the year.
While it’s not the cheapest place to travel, Stockholmers will go a long way to compensate with their friendly, polite manner. A good place to meet them is the thriving Södermalm district, which has some of the best coffee houses and watering holes in the city. Try a jam tart at Gildas Rum, browse a haven of vinyl records at Pet Sounds Bar, or a burger and fancy beer at Akkurat. Local treats such as lingonberry jam, crayfish, crispbread, and pickled herring are ones to look out for, plus the classic Princess cake topped with green marzipan.
Most Swedes speak great English, but you may want to learn a few words: hej (hi), tack (thank you), and fika – the latter is untranslatable but provides a vital clue into the Swedish way of life. Practically speaking, fika is a coffee and a sticky cinnamon bun, but it’s all about the spirit of sitting down and taking a moment to enjoy life.