The HIC! part is also as I write this at the close of 2017, but it is just the beginning in the series of many from my December escapades. Stockholm was at first the way into my bigger story in Sweden. The Northern Lights in Abisko, the Swedish Lapland. But then a memory from my childhood wafted right before my eyes. It was a car accessory, a clown really, gifted by my pen pal from Sweden when I was still in school. I’ve preserved it till date and I remembered being utterly curious about the land she came from. So I decided on impulse that it had to be a stopover. Here’s a tale from 3 days in a city that totally has swag.
DID YOU KNOW STOCKHOLM IS A BUNCH OF ISLANDS?
Imagine a city centre that is on an island! That’s Stockholm for you. Bundled around 14 islands with the freshwater Lake Mälaren flowing into the Baltic Sea, makes this capital city unusual. The waterways that border the islands makes the city fun to travel too. See, you can now take the boat, subway, bus and well the choices do make it a lot inexpensive to travel. But if you really want to save up on both travel and visiting attractions, just book the Stockholm Pass + Travel card before you leave. It takes care of so many sights as they are scattered across the islands and is the best way to see the city.
As a part of a country that has been pretty peaceful for over 150 years (Sweden didn’t participate in WW2), much of the old city and buildings in the heart of the city have stayed intact. So the more you move around, the more you will discover. Also I was there in December and I can tell you that the cool, cool winds will make you feel the shivers all day long. And with just about 6-7 hours of daylight you will want to feel comfortable especially in the open-air museums. So come with seriously warm clothing or shop at the trendy Södermalm (I stayed in this island in Hotel Rival)
DO THE UNUSUAL & THE UNMISSABLE
#1: Cave Art, Modern Art, Social Cause Art ~ Subway as Art
You will thank me for buying that Travel Card because the best way to see this art is by going from one subway station to the other. I believe 90 stations have their walls and platforms looking vibrant with many artists’ expressions. But of course the coolest ones I felt, were those that dominated with color. Stockholm’s Tunelbana (T-bana) invited creative folks to use the underground to democratize art. Read between the lines or then take an Art Walk (English tours only available between June – Aug) and you’ll see themes range from events like the Olympics to issues linked to ecology and even women’s rights. Some are paintings and some others sculptures. A post dedicated to Art in Stockholm subway follows.
WOW FACT: Some of these paintings are over 50 years old
(Calming blue vines can be seen at T-Centralen station)
(Kungsträdgarden murals depict a garden and the history of the site that once housed a palace)
(Solna Central was used to make a statement about the environment)
#2: Quirks on a street walk
Am sure there are many and the ones below that I saw popped up out of nowhere. A few questions to passersby revealed err…different stories. But I’ll go with what made sense to me.
Meet the homeless fox. He is part of nature and there in the beginning of the Drottninggatan street (Norrmalm area) to remind us that we need to watch over animal life to ensure their preservation. Urbanization could render them homeless. Seems like I bought into a ‘story with a moral’ alright. Well for a fox, he is cute no?
This one below is dedicated to the late theatre/film actor Margaretha Krooke, who was much loved and awarded. Outside the Royal Dramatic Theatre at the very same spot that the statue is, she’s said to have sneaked out often to smoke. The story goes that she hated statues as she felt they were cold, hence her peers decided to put this one up with a bit of a twist after she died. Touch her tummy and you actually feel the warmth. Just like our body temperature it is apparently heated internally. What a relief it was, to have this instant warmer at arms reach, while walking around at -1C.
#3: Take the boat to Djurgarden
RATING: SMALL JOYS & TIME FOR DISCOVERY
Now this one will take up an entire post. But all I am going to do here is share some of my fun experiences from the short trip (it deserves a full day) to this island. Just 20 mins from the time of boarding the boat, you reach this island which is full of ‘to do’ things for adults & kids too. Well I was pretty much a kid for most of the time here except when I entered the Museum of Spirits. Ofcourse you have to be all adult if you want even a sip of some of their happy drinks. And did I tell you it has a bottle shaped like well….a human (male specifically) organ. Legend goes that it was filled with vodka and sprayed on crops to ensure fertility of the soil. I’ve heard that this shape & its associated fertility legend has a cousin across continents. Somewhere in Bhutan perhaps! Crazy!!!
So what I saw and enjoyed most were just the few I packed in before it got too dark. I had a concert to attend that evening and I wanted to get to the old town, Gamla Stan well within time.
LOVED THE VIKING MUSEUM ~ I discovered the real history of the hunters, gatherers and even oracles among the Vikings, in a fun, partly interactive way. History truly makes you an investigator.
GET HIGH JUST KNOWING ABOUT THE SPIRITS OF THE LAND ~ Only the glugging variety ofcourse. Absolut had an exhibition here that was quite eye catching. You discover the Swedes love for the drink of choice in every century. And as you meander on the 1st floor you can do some tasting too of some other spirits. There is a nice café below, but pre-book if you want a table.
ABBA POP HOUSE ~ This one brought alive Sweden’s biggest export to the music world. ABBA was pop alright and it was a bit of a fan girl moment for me to do a gig with the 4 of them on stage. Get there to know more. It was just fab to see the 1970s fashion sense, journey of its 4 stars and well the music still sounded groovy.
(Once you head down to exit, don’t just yet. Turn into the room which is all jazzed up with music and static/film shots from over 5 decades)
SKANSEN ~ Do you want to know how the Swedes lived in the 15th Century? Come right here to time travel. When at this quaint re-created village, I caught the energy of the Christmas market as well as some dancing and music. Loved glögging (Glögg is a Swedish alcoholic drink with spices) and moving with the rhythm.
There is much more here. The Gröna Lund is Sweden’s oldest amusement part and kids would love it. I’ve noted Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde, which I read is a beautiful art museum, for the next time I am there. Look up the Stockholm Pass for all that it covers in Djurgarden. It’s a really good buy, if you want to keep your wallet warm and full up.
#4: Get wowed at the many waterfronts
I’d say stand here and stare. Just stare. It’s modern & traditional, colorful and symmetric in parts. And don’t forget to walk as much as you can along the waterfront. Am going to let the pictures show you my experience. They capture all the sights my lens loved as I was leaving the city centre, getting back, approaching an island, crossing a bridge, at sunset….
#5: Walk into the old & very colorful Gamla Stan
The row of buildings that you often see on Instagram of Gamla Stan was blocked in parts by the Christmas markets. That was really where you headed to tantalize your taste buds. It was also the square where years ago many heads rolled. Executions happened in that very street by deceit. By the way the Stockholm Pass has a free Guided tour for the Old Town scribbled in its list of activities. You may want to read up and pre-book this one. But even if you walk around for the visual delight, I promise you will totally enjoy it as the turns can surprise you.
(This is one of the public squares in Gamla Stan and you can miss it if you aren’t peeking into small arches. Called Brantingtorget it is the courtyard of the Annex of the Chancellery. The nude statue here is called Morgon (Morning) and was made in 1962)
Once you have finished with the Old Town just walk into lanes and turn into corners so you get deeper into the city through its islands and reach the King’s Garden (Kungsträdgarden). Below is the statue of Charles XII who was known as a skilled military head and managed to thwart & defeat many hostile enemies from a very young age in the early 18th Century. This garden is said to be stunning in spring and turns into an ice rink in snowy winters.
#6: Christmas Markets means having glögg & fika alternately
RATING: SO YUM
Christmas is the time to feast and shop for the prettiest curios in the little stores across the market. It’s also when you will smell & taste an abundance of cinnamon. Eat apple strudel, lucia buns and down some glögg too to keep yourself warm. Fika is really a coffee break of sort, but could also be tea with pastries or cookies or anything sweet. Just only to keep yourself from getting totally high and happy. Joking!!!
And while you are drinking in some warmth take a bite of the S-shaped buns flavored with saffron and cinnamon, called Lussebullar, a festive snack during St. Lucia celebrations.
(Santa Marathon where the residents, big and small, human and animal participated)
#7: A Medieval experience at the Lucia concert
This was one show I did not want to miss. While the Pass would get me into the Cathedral if I just wanted to see the beautiful interiors, for the performance I chose to book online before I reached Stockholm. Saint Lucia (unique to the Swedish culture) is considered the bearer of light and the woman in white with the crown of candles symbolically represents her. This is from an earlier agrarian Sweden when the coldest darkest winter nights were lit up by her glow and the sounds of music. I watched this at the Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) and it was mesmerizing.
SMALL WORD OF CAUTION: Check the seating plan when you book and avoid the areas just behind the pillars inside the Cathedral, as they block the view completely.
This is a Christmas tradition and starts 11 days before 25th Dec. You can however do bookings for other events in the Cathedral here
#8: Go veggie just to hog at Hermans
RATING: SHIFT IN STATE OF MIND & BODY
I am vegetarian, so this one was like a drop of pearl in the mighty ocean of meat offerings. But along with the meal I loved the décor, thoughts framed on colorful walls, the location and the communal kind of layout for the food serving. The seating is intimate so you are often talking to complete strangers whether you are sitting alone or otherwise. I met a couple of lovely people and enjoyed our intellectual talk too. It seemed a bit like a cabal full of people with a point of view, so do it atleast once. Just like that.
#9: Get the Royal vibes at the Royal Palace (Kungahus)
Just go inside to see the dazzle of all the wealth and beauty. It won’t take up too much of your time but it’s nice just because royalty is exquisite wherever it’s still alive, even notionally. While I didn’t wait for the Change of Guards I happened to catch some of the action as I was heading into the Old Town
#10. Rule the night with the Ghost Walking Tour
RATING: SCARY IS WHAT THEY’D LIKE, FUN IT IS ALL THE WAY
I won’t say much except that you will learn the history of Stockholm’s deathly, gory past. From plagues, to murders, to the house of pleasure and executions. It will be one long night. You can do your booking here but I recommend you write to them. It is worth doing this walk.
Phew! That’s a lot for one post. If you’ve enjoyed it and reached this far, I’d say be smart and take the Stockholm Pass & Travel Card. Here is the link to the Visit Stockholm page. It was mighty useful both the site and the cards.
If you have more time & you are there during the summers do these trips too. I have tied it in a gold thread for my next visit. For a week-long stay some more dazzlers:
- Head to Birka for a Viking Trail – This is to experience life where it thrived for the Vikings. A day trip for sure
- Drottiningham Palace – I’ve heard it is really beautiful. You need to take a boat to get here. Again included in the Pass attractions
- Stockholm Archipelago – Do the boat tour that lasts about 3 hours or so. Go see it for its beauty. Bookings can be done here
- Fotografiska – For all things photography.
Just 3 days in Stockholm got me this far. But I did leave for Abisko wanting more. I still have to share what’s the best place to stay in and back stories of the kings and the land itself. I know I have so much to discover too. Perhaps this city deserves an encore. Stockholm does pretty much draw you to it and get you all addicted to its charm. A different kind of Stockholm syndrome you’d agree. One I am happy to experience again. Am sure so will you.
My Swedish sojourn had all loose ends tied well together because of tons of referencing on the Visit Stockholm site. Super grateful for all other recommendations by the Visit Sweden team.
If you enjoyed the pictures here, drop by my Pebblewalks Instagram page and join me as I tell you many visual stories from my travels, long and short.4