Stockholm syndrome - hijack my heart

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hi guys,

Profuse apologies for not posting for a week. Sweden has been a bit of a whirlwind so far (blizzard would also be an apt description) and I seem to have done so much in this time that I haven't written a bean, which means I have to write a handful of entries today and get them uploaded before you all go on a permanent reader strike. Sounds like a challenge.

So what actually happened way back then? Good old Tallinn put on a lovely day for my final hours in town, allowing me some last wanderings before boarding the overnight Regina Baltica ferry bound for Stockholm.

I ended up in a B4 cabin with two Lithuanian construction workers en route to Norway and another older guy from Estonia. The builders actually spoke basic English so we wiled away many an hour having a stilted but generally productive conversation whilst polishing off about two litres of apple-flavoured vodka and cokes. Blerk... Still, I awoke at a reasonable hour the next morning and promptly went aforedecks to catch the sunrise and sight of some of the ten thousand islands we were passing in order to reach the port in Stockholm harbour. All a beautiful sight indeed.

I had come to Stockholm to meet with my wonderful sister Ainsley and old faithful drinking and working buddy Olof (plenty more of him later). Ains has been working in London for a number of years now but we always manage to catch up once a year or so. When I mentioned I'd be in the general vicinity she decided to come and visit, so booked a very cool hotel on the southern Stockholm island of Sodermalm. The Clarion Hotel is almost brand new with very contemporary minimalist decor and a funky urban clientele. I just liked the ultra comfortable bed and great central location four stops down the green line of the Tunnelbana (metro). Nice work mate!

Ains was only around for three days so we got moving on the sightseeing front. To get an overview of a very hard to comprehend place (the greater Stockholm area with its islands, harbours, lakes and islands within lakes etc) we headed up to the Fjallgatan area on the north Sodermalm waterfront to get a skyline appreciation view. This is where harbour masters used to have cute little houses looking down from prominent cliffs to see what the ice was doing in wintertime (and whether/where boats could bust their way through the ice).

Anyway, from this great view it became clear that Stockholm is very water-bound place, much like my home-town of Sydney, which makes this a great summer sailing location. Equally evident is that it's a very low-rise city, filled with richly historical buildings that we should go and explore directly.

Gamla Stan is the historical and modern centre of the city - a tiny island that was no doubt easily defendable in the years after the town's foundation by a chap called Birger Jarl in 1252. It takes about ten minutes to walk across, but there is a bunch to see and do here making a half day wandering its cobbled and winding lanes a more feasible sightseeing option.

Ains and I did a walking tour compliments of the indispensable TimeOut Stockholm guide, taking us past buildings dating from every period from the 13th to 18th centuries. Highlights included the main drag - the Vastarlangattan, Academia square - where Nobel Prizes are dished out each year, the 'Black Man street' - one of the oldest streets here which led to the old Dominican Monastery, and Marten Trotzics Grand - a tiny laneway that you can shimmy up if you dodge the pedestrian traffic.

But the main attraction here is the little details - wrought ironwork here and there, cannons cemented on street corners to protect the buildings from passing traffic, small statues set discretely in corners, alleys ducking off into the bowels of the town and the beautifully ornate architecture of many of the buildings - regardless of period of design. It has a great feel that one can enjoy any time of the year.

At the northern tip of Gamla Stan lies the Royal Palace. Ains loved the grandiosity of this old building, I think it more boxy, but it certainly have a royal allure to it even though it was closed for business during our stay. In a further stroke of misfortune, we ended up visiting on a Monday which meant the attached museums such as the Armoury we also closed, so all we could do was admire it from afar, and watch a surprisingly coordinated changing of the guard (I'm told by reliable sources that the Swedes aren't known for their army's disciplined precision).

Further wanderings around the city, on neighbouring islands such as Riddarholmen and Skansen, and riding the harbour ferries continued to reveal a wide variety of magnificent architecture. The weather and the icy streets weren't doing us any favours but then again it was quite mild so we could stay out and about until our legs wearied and our stomachs rumbled. The metro system was a lifesaver through all this, whisking us around town without a hitch.

As usual with cities like this, the churches were particularly spectacular, but even more so in this case due to the diversity of design and some unique features I haven't noticed before such as hexagonal layout of a chapel near Sofo (above left), and the skeleton spire on Riddanholmsk where Swedish Royalty is now buried (above, second from left). The rounded layouts in particular were due to defensive necessity it seems, and I've seen more of this in elsewhere in the country since Stockholm, so you will see them in the near future too.

That just about wraps up a general overview of Stockholm. Next entry I'll go into more detail about a couple of specific attractions that we thoroughly enjoyed before heading out into the snowbound countryside. Should be good so stay tuned.

Next entry -> the wildlife (inc. moose) at Skansen and Vasa ships

Words from the wise #24

"Love me when I least deserve it, because that's when I really need it."

Swedish Proverb, compliments of Nathan H.
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