Tuesday 22 July 2014

Stockholm 4 - Storkyrkan and Fika

The Silver Altar, Storkyrkan
Our last day in Stockholm, I had to leave at noon for the airport so we wanted to make the most of the morning. After breakfast we walked the short distance to Storkyrkan (Great Church) which is the city's cathedral. A church is reputed to have been built on this site in the mid 1200s by the founder of Stockholm, Birger Jarl. The oldest part of the present building dates from 1306. One side lies beside the Royal Palace and many royal ceremonies have been held there.

I was surprised when I entered to find that it was, unlike Riddarholm, very ornate and Germanic in style, but apparently the church was Catholic until 1527 when it became Protestant Lutheran. Unlike us in England they did not have a Henry VIII to destroy much of the Catholic ornamentation and so it survived.

The altar was very beautiful, it was made mainly of silver, so different to anything I'd seen before, it was donated by a Stockholm councillor in the 1650s To it's left was a massive (fourteen feet high) wooden sculpture of St George and the Dragon by Berndt Lotke of Lubeck in Germany dated 1489. There was also the largest Torolf Engstrom and has been in the church since 1972, it was a very beautiful creation and we both bought a candle and added it to the globe.

The Candle Globe, Storkyrkan
St George and the Dragon, Storkrykan

One of Gamla Stan's Quiet Alleys
After looking around Storkyrkan we separated for a while and I went for a general exploration of Gamla Stan. The main roads - well that's the wrong word really as most of the Old Town is made up of narrow cobbled alleys and there is no way cars can enter which is rather nice! So, the main alleys are quite touristy, but it is so easy to find quiet alleys and lanes off the tourist track. I wandered through a few of them and was intrigued to see people working on their computers inside these ancient buildings, old and new living side by side. I thought that was wonderful, these old places are still very much part of Stockholm's day to day living.

I went back to the hotel and met up with Yvonne and we checked out and left our cases at reception. We headed out in search of fika. Fika is a Swedish institution, basically it is a break where you have coffee and cake which sounded good to us and we were keen to follow the tradition!

We found a nice looking cafe called Schweizer Konditori just down the road in Västerlånggatan. Yes it sounds more Swiss than Swedish but inside it was full of Swedish delights. The fayre on offer at the counter was amazing and beautifully presented, but we went for fika, coffee and cakes, I had a raspberry tart and Yvonne had what they called a princess cake. Both were delicious and it felt a very fitting way to end our short stay in Stockholm.

Part of the Counter at the Schweitzer Konditori
Our Fika Cakes

  All too soon we had to leave. We went back to the hotel, reception ordered a taxi for me, I said my goodbyes to Yvonne (she was leaving later in the day) and walked down the road a little to get the taxi. The cab got stuck behind the changing of the guard for a while and the relatively short trip to the railway station ended up being the most expensive taxi journey I've ever had, but hey I was on holiday!

Soon I was on the Arlanda Express once more hurtling at 200kph through the Swedish countryside towards the airport. I had really enjoyed the few days in Stockholm, it is a gorgeous city and its people are welcoming. I could have done with a week there though as there were things I didn't have time to see and I would have loved a trip outside of the city. It was a kind of life journey for me too, that wish to visit Stockholm was planted in my mind as a fifteen year old girl and it took a long time, but I've finally been there, so this felt like the end of two journeys for me.

Thursday 17 July 2014

Stockholm 3 - Under the Bridges and Saying Hello and Goodbye to a Queen

Again we were up bright and early, had breakfast and out into a overcast Stockholm, mind you, even in that weather it looked beautiful. We were heading to nearby Stromkajen where we were joining the Under the Bridges of Stockholm boat tour. This tour passes under fifteen of the bridges that link some of the islands that make up Stockholm.

Gamla Stan from the Water
The boat was barge-like and chugged along at a leisurely pace. We passed by the gorgeous Grand Hotel . and then Djurgarden and had a good view of the Vasa Museum and the Grona Lund amusement park.  We passed Gamla Stan and then passed through a lock that separates Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. We then skirted the north shore of the island of Södermalm. There were some gorgeous turreted buildings built up on a hill facing Gamla Stan, they were very Germanic in style which is something I noticed with many of Stockholm's old buildings. We passed many residential areas, the apartments all had large balconies brimming with colourful flowers and there was lots of greenery. There were also many houseboats lining the shore.

We passed the island of Langholmen and then looped around Lilla Essingen and south of the small island of Reimersholme. There we passed a huge wooden barrel on the shore, this marks the site of the original Absolut vodka factory founded by Lars Olsson Smith. We continued on and followed Sodermalm's southern shore. We passed a huge hospital that had dozens of allotments on the slope below it all with brightly coloured sheds.

The Grand Hotel
On our way back to the berth we passed the spot where the Vasa sank all those years ago, it was very close to the museum where it resides now. And that was it, I really enjoyed the boat tour and we saw more of the city than we would have any other way. Being built on many islands you often get the best views from the water.

Before I go on with the next part of my trip as promised I'll let you know what drew me to Stockholm in the first place. When I was around fifteen I read a book called Desiree by Annemarie Selinko. It was a novel based on fact about a silk merchant's daughter called Desiree Clary from Marseilles in France. She was engaged to Napoleon at one time and married a French general called Jean Baptisite Bernadotte. In 1810 Jean-Baptiste was asked by the elderly, childless Charles XIII of Sweden to be his heir. Eventually in 1818
he was crowned King Charles XIV John  of Sweden and Desiree became Queen Desideria and to this day the Bernadotte dynasty is still Sweden's royal family. Since I read the book I have been fascinated by Napoleonic times in France and how a silk merchant's daughter from Marseilles ended up as Queen of Sweden and I wanted to see Stockholm for myself one day. I waited a very long time but now I was there.

We then went to The Royal Palace (and saw another changing of the guard up close) which is the royal family's official residence and place of work. It also houses royal departments and state apartments where visiting world dignitaries stay. We went in and climbed marble steps with diagonal lines across them into the palace proper. We wandered through the rooms that ranged from very opulent to oppressive, beautiful and homely. It varied a lot, there was even one very modern room which was the present king's homage to Swedish design (no it wasn't furnished by IKEA!) Apparently there are over 600
Me Outside the Royal Palace
rooms in this humongous place!

There were a few portraits of Desiree and her family, mostly from before she actually lived in Sweden - she moved there permanently in 1823. She had been very unhappy in Sweden, she hated the cold, never learnt the language and always longed for France and she became increasingly eccentric as she grew older. Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the palace which was a shame, but I suppose flash can damage old paintings and tapestries.

There were several museum's within the palace but we didn't have time to see them all so we decided go to The Royal Armoury. It is the oldest museum in Stockholm and was founded by King Gustav II Adolph in 1628 and is now situated in the vaulted cellars of the palace. Upstairs was an exhibition called Power Games which housed costumes from TV and film such as Elizabeth the First and Game of Thrones. To be honest I wasn't at all interested in that so I went further down to another lower floor to see the real historical things.

It housed royal belongings going back to the 1500's, there was a beautiful blue velvet cape with golden crowns on it from very early times. Gustav II Adolph's horse, Streiff, which he rode at the battle of Lutzen in 1632 was stuffed and put on display here. Clothing of various kings and queens, swords, crowns, even
Riddarholm Church
ornate carriages and amazing sleighs. The latter reminding me that  this is a Nordic country with lots of snow and the waters around Stockholm's islands are frozen in winter. It was very interesting and I enjoyed looking
round the museum.

We had a snack of cakes and coffee and then again went our separate ways. Yvonne wanted to go to the Photographic Museum and I wanted to go to Riddarholm Church. which was only a short walk from the cafe. It is one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm with parts of it dating back to the thirteenth century. It has not been a functioning church since 1807 but was reserved as the burial place for Sweden's monarchs until 1950. It's distinctive cast iron spire replaced the original spire that was destroyed by lightening in 1835.
Nowadays the church is primarily the resting place of royalty and also a museum and in summer it is the venue for classical music concerts.

The church is a typical Protestant type with little ornamentation. It has various chapels along each side where the various royal families tombs lay. The floor is stone with some ancient patterned slabs. I was especially
Tombs of Karl XIV Johan and Desideria
interested in the Bernadotte chapel which was dominated by the huge marble tomb of Karl XIV Johan. In front of it was Desiree's tomb, with her royal name, Desideria, along the front. I was surprised that I found it quite moving to view her tomb. This was the last resting place of a
woman from history who had an amazing journey from a French silk merchant's daughter to a reluctant Queen of Sweden and who had captured the imagination of a schoolgirl in the north of England many, many years before. It felt like the end of a journey for me and I said hello and then goodbye to her, it felt like it was something I had to do.

I went back over the bridge to Gamla Stan and looked round some shops and ended up in the beautiful square of Stortorget.  The Nobel Museum was bustling and my Stockholm Card gave me free entry so I went in. It was busy but also fascinating, it was a very interactive museum. By now though I was getting tired and though I would have liked to have spent longer there I didn't stay that long.

Nobel Museum
I went back to the hotel and freshened up and by time I was ready Yvonne was back from the Photographic Museum which she has enjoyed very much. Before going out to eat we went to the library in the hotel and finished our bottle of wine watching the action on Västerlånggatan

When we left the hotel we soon noticed a restaurant called Gasgrand 4 (Goose Alley) in an alley of the same name close by. It looked nice so we went in, we had the choice of a table upstairs or one downstairs in the cellar, we went for the latter. It was small and very atmospheric, reached by curving stone steps, it was quite dark and had stone walls, I liked it.

My Elk Burger
I decided to go Swedish and had the elk burger which was lovely, surprisingly more like beef than venison. It came with saute potatoes, pickled cucumber (which they seem to love here), lingonberry jam and salad.
And seeing it was our last night and we had money left, we splashed out and had a bottle of wine and a delicious dessert too. We took our time and had a lovely, relaxing last evening meal in Stockholm.

I felt sad that it was our last night, I loved Stockholm and there was so much to see and not enough time.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Stockholm 2 - Island Hopping and a Doomed Warship

We were up early and went down for breakfast. It was lovely, a good choice of typical Continental breakfast fayre along with more Swedish things like herrings in a creamy sauce, caviar, crispbread and pickled cucumber. They even had a choice of 3 minute and 6 minute boiled eggs wrapped in linen cloth to keep them warm. A member of staff was constantly checking and keeping everything topped up.

After breakfast we walked through the
arches of the government buildings and over the bridge. It was a beautiful morning and old Stockholm looked so lovely with its spires and gorgeous historical buildings. We walked on into the modern city centre.

We saw a lovely chocolate shop on Drottningsgatan (Queen Street) and just had to go in. We saw an interesting shop full of chocolate and other delights so we just had to go in! There were some chocolate things

called skumtopp which made us smile, they are marshmallow covered in chocolate and much more delicious than they sound. They also sold Swedish crispbread which was circular with a hole in the middle and dozens hung on a pole above the counter.

We walked on to the Tourist Information to pick up my Stockholm Card that gave discounts on trips and museums. We also booked the Under the Bridges boat tour for the next day.

Then we caught the hop on hop off bus. We had decided to do a circuit first and then get off at places we wanted to see more of. We toured the centre of the city, passed the City Hall its three golden crowns on the tower gleaming in the sunlight. 

The Opera House which was beautiful, and, like a lot of the buildings, it had a Germanic look about it. We skirted
The Royal Palace
Gamla Stan with its narrow roads it was impossible for the bus to enter properly. 

We passed the huge Royal Palace and saw the changing of the guard. We then crossed a bridge onto the green island of Djurgården   which is Stockholm's leisure place with amusements and parks and also where many of the city's museums are. 

On the second circuit we got off the bus at the Vasa Museum which houses the Vasa warship. The building itself was spectacular with the "masts" soaring out of the roof of the building. The Vasa was built in 1627 and sank on its maiden voyage 1300 metres from where it set sail. It lay on the seabed until it was recovered in 1961. It was in an extremely well preserved state and put on public display. 

We got our tickets and went in and immediately are in a huge room dominated
The prow of the Vasa
by the Vasa, it was stunning, so much bigger than I expected. There were galleries at different levels to the side of the ship so you could see all levels. To the other side were exhibits of articles found in the wreck and videos about its history. 

The ship had a huge, curving prow and highly decorated stern, the masts were massive. Looking at it I wondered how this huge ship floated at all! 

The highly decorated stern of the Vasa

We had a snack in the museum's restaurant before leaving. I had wanted to go to the Nodiska Museum close by but it was closing. I pondered on going to the Abba Museum further down the road which only opened the previous month, but decided against it as it was extremely expensive and we got no discount with our Stockholm Card. 

We caught a tram back to the centre of town and then went our separate ways as we wanted to see different things. I headed back to Gamla Stan and crossed a bridge and onto the small island of Riddarholmen. I wanted to see Riddarholm Church, now a museum and burial place of Swedish royalty until the 1950's.  Unfortunately it was closed, so I headed back to our hotel, popping into some shops along the way. There were some beautiful old buildings in Gamla Stan with ornate carvings around many of the doors. Its so good that it has been preserved for us all to enjoy. 

Before we headed out too eat that evening we had some wine (that I had brought with me knowing how expensive Sweden is for alcohol!) in the lovely little library area of the hotel. It is on the first floor and looks out over Västerlånggatan. It has a comfy leather suite and books to read, very relaxing.

We walked the short distance to Stora Nygatan to an Italian restaurant called Rodolfino's. By coincidence we had both noticed it on our way back to the hotel earlier, it was a bit away from the main tourist area and was therefore a little cheaper than some we'd seen. It was decorated in the red, white and green of the Italian flag, basic, but comfortable and friendly. More importantly, the food was delicious, we shared some wonderful garlic bread then for mains I had a ham and mushroom pizza and Yvonne had seafood pasta and we both ate the lot. 

It was after 11pm when we headed back to
the hotel. It was still light and ahead of us the tower of the cathedral, Storkyrkan, rose above the other buildings and the usually busy main streets were quiet. Already our first full day in Stockholm was over and we were both loving the city.