blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The delights of Stockholm

Children's playground in Norrmalm

At the Grand Central hotel
Stockholm is clean, elegant and friendly. As our stay there went by, we discovered ever more pleasant surprises. The city had a sense of fun, too, with playgrounds for children everywhere, and ponds and fountains where they could splash around. We were staying in a themed hotel, the "Grand Central" (referring to the station in New York), 1960s or 70s America being the theme. As you come out of a cubicle in the ladies' ground floor washroom, a crowd of paparazzi confronts you with their cameras from an enlarged photo on the wall. Opposite the hotel entrance was the Oscarsteatern where Så som i himmelen (As it is in Heaven) was showing, as a musical, I assume. I have seen the film so might have been able to follow the play, but didn't take the opportunity. Norrmalm, this commercial-cultural district, has no lack of theatres. The imposing Dramaten, by the Berzelii Park at the waterfront, was putting on Peer Gynt. I'd like to have seen that too.

Makrosbollen fontän
Strindberg Monument
We were on one of the main streets, Kungsgatan. Nearby was the City Conference Centre, on the site of a former school, with an unusual fountain in front of it, the Maskrosbollen fontän. In the evening, the Stockholmers gathered here in outdoor bars, ordering cocktails. In the long summer evenings, everyone stayed out late. Further up Kungsgatan is the "blue building" as one of Chris' colleagues called it, Stockholms Konserthus, on a square used as a farmers' market by day (Hötorget). Another street to remember is the Drottningsgatan, a very long, straight street that descends the hill at the top of Norrmalm, where the playwright Strindberg used to live (I found a sculpture commemorating him in the Tegnérlunden Park), and leads you past many shops all the way to the Riksdag (parliament buildings) and old city (Gamla Stan). Much of this street is free of traffic, like Strøget in Copenhagen.

In the Humlegarden
On the first morning, Sunday, Chris chose to find out where his place of work would be on Monday. We took the wrong train to start with, but worked out that if we got off at the first stop we could take a connecting train to Rådmansgatan where we needed to be. From there it was a few minutes' walk down Rådmansgatan to one of Stockholm's main thoroughfares, Birger Jarlsgatan, where the conference venue (Spårvagnshallarna) is situated. This office workers' / residential district reminded me of Germany, with its tall, early 20th century buildings in pastel shades of stucco. On the last morning of our stay I went back there, on foot all the way on that occasion, and found nearby Humlegården, a old fashioned park with lawns, ornamental ponds and old trees, and parties of school children walking along the paths in file, with a statue of Linnaeus, the famous botanist, at its centre.

At the city centre end of Birger Jarlsgatan, past some posh department stores, is the waterfront. Continuing along Strandvägen past the tour boats we found an almost Parisian boulevard with a path between the plane trees, and bistros along the edge. We had a drink out of doors, at an eco-friendly one. Our lunch too was at an outdoor table, in the Kungsrädgården, the tulip filled park at the next inlet. We had made the happy discovery that we could have an hour's boat ride simply by buying a 30 kroner (senior's) ticket at the nearest bus / tram stop, and using it to board a commuter ferry, using this means of transport for a there-and-back cruise, not getting off the boat. This also saved us a long queue in the hot sun for one of the tourist boats.

Like Sydney Harbour, Chris thought, as we boarded the ferry from Nybrohamnen (i.e. new bridge harbour). Multivarious watercraft filled the inlets, from kayaks, small pleasure boats, tugs and tall ships to full scale cruise ships. Working boats were there too. We sailed past the fun fair, the Aquaria and the Vasamuseet, famous home of a restored wooden fighting ship, on the Djurgården side of the harbour, with a windmill and stately homes on the shore. Our boat sailed down the Saltsjön, to Kvarnholm and back to Nybroplan.

Another serendipitous find was the Medeltidsmuseet, the medieval museum below the Riksdag. In the 1970s they had begun construction of an underground carpark there, only to discover that the excavation site was rich in archeological treasures, a whole city's worth. Entrance to the museum, in a peaceful small park with fountains, flowers, and chestnut trees, is free. Inside are medieval people made of wax, doing the things that were done in those days, in a cleverly realistic setting. We learned of some horrible parts of Stockholm's history mainly to do with the Swedes' resentment of brutal Danish dominance: piles of decapitated heads in squares and other kinds of blodbad. The punishment of various crimes was gruesome too. Nobles had the privilege of being put to death by the sword, whereas the lower orders of criminal were killed by slower means, women sometimes buried alive.

The name Stockholm means stick island, since posts in the water, around the shore, protected the original settlement. A 12th century ruler, a bishop called Erik, buried in Uppsala cathedral, was canonised after his assassination. In later centuries the Royal Palace was accessible through a stone tunnel, now part of the museum.

I more than once wandered round the Gamla Stan during our stay, preferring to linger in the quieter areas and the grände (narrow alleyways) of this inevitably touristy district. On our first look, on the Sunday, we stopped to watch a young busker making music with wine glasses, as Mozart once did, and a couple of girls in Swedish costume walked by. On Tuesday (after visiting the landmark Stadhuset on the other side of the water, site of the annual Novel Prize banquet, with a swarm of other tourists), having remembered a perfect spot for lunch, I ate smoked herring on a patio opposite a fountain and dramatic statue of St. George slaying the dragon (representing Sweden v. Denmark in the old days!). Nearby, I found a small gallery, with me the only customer, where a lady called Ulla Neogard was selling artifacts she had made from birchbark. She answered my questions and sold me a spectacles case for my daughter.

That afternoon I also walked onto the adjacent island of Skeppsholmen, but was becoming exhausted and footsore in the heat by then, so sat down on the far side and waited for a ferry that connected at Djurgården with a tram that took me back to central Berzelii Park.

Chris didn't get so exhausted on Monday and Tuesday, at least not physically, for he was busy all day at his conference; in the evenings he wanted a walk, which meant yet more footsteps for me. We kept finding our way back to benches on the water, the sometimes fast flowing Lilla Värten. The setting sun was reflected in the windows of the Royal Palace and Stockholm's other fine buildings for a long time.

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