Ten Hours in Stockholm
How it would be like to be in Sweden for seven weeks and not to visit its capital at all? Checking the weather forecast whole week, I concluded this Saturday should be the right time for a trip. I found out Stockholm is often referred to be the capital of Scandinavia, so I was really curious about it. Another thing, which increased my interest in the city, was that Stockholm extends across 14 islands, right where Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea meet. However islands of the City of Stockholm are only a small portion of the Stockholm archipelago, its 30,000 making it the largest archipelago of Sweden and the second largest one in the Baltic Sea.
There is a very good public transport connection between the cities of Uppsala and Stockholm: trains couple times per hour as well as bus (company is called Swebuss). Trains of this line are operated by two different companies (SJ and SL), which has some effect on price of the ticket as well as on time of the journey. Since traveling by bus takes just a bit longer than the slower train, but is significantly cheaper (69kr for one-way ticket) I took the bus.
I wanted to be in Stockholm before 10am, so the only way how to get there was a bus leaving from Uppsala at 6:40am. Unsurprisingly Uppsala at 6:00am was even emptier than usually, my only companions on the way to the station being deer doe who I met really close to the dorms and it did not look being bothered with my presence, and birds who were just getting up.
Other three people took the same bus, so I wondered how moneymaking this line was. Anyway, the bus driver spoke English and the ride was fine. Shortly after 7:30am I was standing on a street of Stockholm, my first views of city being as the following:
The building of bus station. I have no idea what the sign “World Trade Center” refers to, however it should have been a hint I was in an international city.
If I had been to Stockholm before, I would have never called Uppsala windy and cold: it took my only five minutes to realize combing my hair was a waste of time and other five minutes later I thank myself I had taken a spare sweatshirt with me.
So early in Saturday morning streets of Stockholm were rather empty and everything was closed until 10am. Except for tourist information which opened at 9am. To warm up myself and remember some landmarks near the Central Station, I walked through couple of streets crowded with closed stores and took first snapshots. While strolling through some of narrow streets, I chanced to found an empty bottle of Czech beer sunbathing in a beer-garden:
Although I am not such a drinker and have not touched beer for several weeks, I kept my sense of recognizing Czech beverages.
Finally I made it into the tourist information, where I got a free maps of downtown Stockholm. At that time I naturally had no idea it would be of barely any help to me later on.
It is time to explain, why it was so important to arrive to Stockholm until 10am. I wanted to take part in a free walking tour of the downtown. At least during the summer, there is a tour almost everyday and except for the City Tours, evening Old Town Tours are offered as well (http://www.freetourstockholm.com/).
The tour was joined by more than two dozens of people of various nationalities: lots of Americans came to see Stockholm, as well as Canadians and a group of people from Mexico. Russians, a Chinese woman, girls from Colombia, Brazil and an Australian guy came along, too. The guide of today tour was Mark and he made the tour to be very enjoyable and also funny, and he shared lots of information with us. I believe most of the stuff he told us could not be found in any guide books nor in Swedish History textbooks.
The tour was two to three kilometers long and took good two hours. We met at Sergelts Torg (see the photo above for the road leading to the square) not far from the Central Station and Mark began the tour with a legend of Stockholm’s foundation.
The very first city of Sweden was Sigtuna and thanks to iron mines it was very rich. Once it was attacked by pirates and Sigtuna’s inhabitants saved their treasures by sending them into the sea. A new city should have been established once the treasures would reach the land again. The legend says they had landed in island of Stadsholmen (City Island), where the oldest part of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, was started.
The tour covered sights such as Konserthuset (Concert Hall), Oper (Opera), Riksdag (Parliament), through Kungsträdgården (King’s Garden) and streets of Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street) and Kungsgatan (King’s Street).
Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street) was named after Queen Kristina and nowadays it is mainly a shopping street. Since Sweden tries very hard to keep sex equality it did not take too long until was decided that Kungsgatan (King’s Street), which became primarily banking center, was needed as well.
There is no doubt Queen Kristina is one of the most controversial figures of Swedish history: she converted to Catholicism, left Sweden and moved to Italy, taking lots of royal possessions (pictures, jewelry, gold) with here. This made Swedes angry, however she saved all the stuff from being burned unintentionally, since the Royal Palace went to flames some time after her departure. Queen Kristina was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican, being one of only three women who received this honor.
It was also during the time of reign of Queen Kristina, when Sweden significantly contributed to the history of philosophy. It was Queen Kristina, who invited philosopher René Descartes, to Sweden. He gave her private lessons and introduced her to Catholicism. Unfortunately it was the last thing he did. He got a cold in Sweden and died of pneumonia ten days later.
Konserthuset (Concert Hall) is the place, where Nobel Prize Award Ceremony is held on December 10 annually.
I completely forgot it takes place in Stockholm! A surprising information for me was the following one.
Only four out of original five Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm. The exception is Nobel Peace Prize which is handed over in Oslo, Norway, which was a part of Nobel’s will. In the past Sweden and Norway used to be one country and from Nobel, this was probably an attempt of Nobel to avoid its division.
There was a big market held at the square in front of the Concert Hall and mainly fruit and vegetables, flowers and souvenirs were sold there. Lots of the seller seems to be from Arabic countries, Turkey or southern Europe. I do not think I have ever been to a louder place. They were trying really hard to sell their goods and while they were shouting loudly (I guess the praised their merchandises), I could not say which language(s) it was at all.
The oldest skyscraper of the city of Stockholm
Passing the oldest skyscraper of Stockholm (nowadays quite hidden between all those department stores, banks and office buildings), we reached a street where a fitness center called “Balance” was located. Can a fitness center be relevant to a city tour? Yes it can, and this one is even relevant to modern history of Sweden.
The story of Balance is as simple as follows:
A personal trainer of a name of Daniel started the company, where he met Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden. Since he was a commoner, it was a problem to their relationship for long seven years. Finally they got married in 2010.
If Berlin’s popular meeting point is Weltuhr, London’s one is Trafalgar Square, and Times Square in New York, then Stockholm has got its Svamp (Mushroom). The place was originally meant as a rain protection and its design absolutely reflects this intention. It is nothing else but a boring grey, flat, circular roof, in its center attached to a boring grey column. I guess it is its location rather than its look what made it so popular. It is close to Spy Bar, a place with unusually long opening hours and where (according to Mark) Madonna likes to go partying, and Biblioteksgatan that is a very expensive street, both to live and go shopping there. This street should also be the right place, where you can meet famous stars. However I was not lucky this time. By the way, “spy” in Swedish means “vomit”. A weird name for a bar?
We finished the tour not far from Gamla Stan (Old Town) at the Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace), which is located in the neighborhood of the Riksdag (Parliament) and Storkyrkan (The Great Church), known as Stockholm Cathedral. The original look of the Palace was very different from the current appearance and a history of rebuilding the Palace building is an interesting one.
A French architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger desired to become famous due to building something great. He offered King John III. to rebuild a former white fortress into a palace for him. The King refused such an expensive project and asked Tessin just to do some repair work. While the minor renovation was being done, the fortress got in flames. Since its foundations were mainly wooden, it did not take long until it was reduced to ashes. The rumor has it that the fire started from the place where Tessin was staying.
Whatever led to the fire, Tessin escaped from Stockholm and while waiting for the situation to calm down he worked out a blueprint of an enormous Renaissance-style palace. The king finally agreed to have a palace rebuilt on the basis of Tessin’s plan. It took more than 50 years until Tessin’s project was finished. Finally his name went down in history and Stockholm got the world’s biggest palace (the famous Buckingham Palace in London is one room smaller).
View of Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace)
The Swedish Parliament used to have 250 members originally. However, once during some voting it happened that it was a draw and they could not decide. As a result, number of Parliament members was reduced to 249.
Building of Riksdag (Parliament)
The Royal Palace was also a last stop of the tour, to me it was a place, where I started serious taking of pictures. Being near the Royal Palace at noon time I could witness part of the ceremony of Changing of the Guards:
From the Royal Palace I returned the same way back to Sergelts Torg, however with occasional detours once I spotted something interesting. What disrupted me the most were banks of Lake Mälaren and bays.
In the King’s Gardens there was an event which captured a lot of my attention: Czech Food Festival. Once I spotted it, I got a strong hope for kolacky and any similarly good pastry. However, the reality way true cruel: the main attraction was beer, followed by cooked Prague ham, which is sort of a delicateness. Honestly, its price was relevant to its reputation.
Once I realized there would be no sweet Czech surprise in the capital of Sweden, I kept going for more sightseeing. I passed the house of Opera once again.
Gustaf III. Vasa was murdered by a group of aristocrats in this building in 1792.
Once I reached the building of Konserthuset again, I decided to spend some time there and have a closer look on a place, where Nobel Prizes are awarded. I was really lucky to be in Stockholm now, since they had a free exhibition about the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony for a limited time. I did not plan to do so, however it was nice to see some of the interior of the building with blue facade and I enjoyed the exhibition a lot: lots of photographs were supplemented with interesting background information and stories of some of the Nobel Price Laureates were presented.
I also made it to a cloakroom, this time still as a tourist:
Leaving the exhibition at about 2pm and with plenty of sight on my “to see” list I had to face a decision, what my next stop should be. Before doing so, and to take a little break, I went to PUB in the meantime. No, it was not a place where I could get tipsy, but the Stockholm’s oldest department store right in front of the Concert Hall.
PUB was founded in 1882 by Paul U Bergstöm, which probably explains its name. It was also a place, where Greta Garbo had worked, before she became an actress and moved to Hollywood.
The famous Vasa Museum should have been the next place to visit. Although it was quite far from the main square and other sights on my list, the way to get there looked very simple: pass the Nationalmuseum and continue along the coast, than take the first right turn to another island, Djurgarden. I did passed the museum and I did have nice walk alongside the bay, however I never reached the Vasa Museum. To be frank, I hardly could, since it was the bay of a different island, Skepsholmen. This island was a very small one, so I walked it all around.
Boats in Stockholm, bike/motorbike included:
As I realized I probably would get to the Vasa Museum quite late a did not want to waste my time with a long walk there, I decided to spend more time in Gamla Stan (Old City): made up from narrow and winding streets, and old houses with facades of all different colors, it was a great place for an evening stroll. The only thing which was not so great was that it happened to be a very moneymaking place: packed with restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops selling their items for much higher price than e. g. PUB, and crowded with people. The only exception was Riddarholmskyrkan (Riddarholmen Church named after the island where it is located), the burial church of the Swedish monarchs. Gamla Stan being so busy place, I regretted I had not been there in the morning.
Czech Wafer on a Trip to Stockholm:
If I had found this very original guidepost, I might have been lost less often and might have seen much more of the city.
Being a tourist in Stockholm may get complicated because of their “pay-to-pee” system, which is rather difficult to get around. You should always have 5kr, but rather 10kr coins, prepared. To make it to a bathroom, you have to get through a cash-operated turnstile. However, very often there would be nobody to give you change, so you could use the turnstile. This kind of system is used even in shopping malls! Having a little treat in any of the ubiquitous cafes, which was my original plan, does not really solve the problem: lots of them were just kind of an outdoor seating with no solid inside facilities. I accidentally found a free bathroom of a very good shape in the Konserthuset (Concert Hall).
On the other hand, Stockholm offers plenty of possibilities how to go around the city, varying in price and level of environment-friendliness. Except for a boring walking and conventiional public transport (buses, trams and underground lines) you can rent a bike, go for cruise or choice to paddle in a kayak instead, segway road-trip and so called “hop-on hop-off” buses are available, too. English knowledge of locals as well as vendors, occasional public city plans and majority of signs in English surely help to make a stay in Stockholm easier. At the same time, however, I missed signposts a bit.
I enjoyed most of my time in the capital of Sweden, although the very first impression was not so great. To be honest, I considered the city to be a bit dirty at the beginning of my visit. I was a bit disappointed that the visit of Stockholm did not help me much in learning about Sweden. It was way too international to give me a true picture of Sweden. While I was hoping to run into anything truly Swedish, I was passing US fast-foods instead. Another thing I was not prepared for was that as there were more and more tourist around, the number of beggars grew as well, accompanied by people rummaging in rubbish bins. Yet, one of the poor people made his appeal for a coin rather artistic:
However, as I stayed in the city a bit longer I started admiring its beauties: centuries old buildings, bays and bridges, and I particularly enjoyed my stroll through Gamla Stan. To sum up, I am glad I could spend a day in the capital of Sweden and if I ever have a chance to return, I definitely want to do so. There is still so much to see and experience: churches, more than 80 museums, shopping streets and galleries, theaters, guided tour through the Old City and for sure even more.