labels: leisure
Stockholm - a rhapsody on waternews
Mallika Menon
28 March 2007

Let your curiosity get the better of you before you land in Sweden. Look down below and feast your eyes on this rough collage of colours - green and blue. Get closer and you are in for a treat of miles and miles of lush green forests with silvery lakes on its virgin territory. Set foot on land and become aware of its sheer size and clean emptiness.

A paradise for those seeking escape from pollution, Sweden offers itself as one of the last green lungs of Europe. Nowhere is there a greater determination to keep it that way than in Stockholm because love of land and affection for their country is deep rooted in Swedes

The Swedish novelist, Selma Lagerloff aptly called Stockholm,"the city which floats on water". It spreads out in a shimmering panorama of blue water and the red of old buildings, set as a sharp contrast to the stark white and glass of the new. All cut through by green swathes of trees and grass. The islands of Stockholm Archepelego are estimated at a 25,000, in different shapes and sizes and contours. The innumerable number of boats along the edge of the inlets and islands indicate the passion of every Stockholm family to own and sail a boat. Here life is still focussed on water.

The visitor to Stockholm should start his sightseeing with a walk in the cobbled alleyways of ‘Gamla Stan’[the old town]. It is like taking a walk through another age -amongst the medieval arches of monasteries and stately facades from the 17th and 18th centuries.’Gamla Stan’ has the oldest parts of Stockholm. It has art galleries, plenty of good food, shopping and numerous restaurants.

Even an aimless stroll in these cobbled streets is enlightening and it would automatically lead you to the Royal Palace. This is an impressive structure of baroque style with its wide courtyard, grand entrance, huge cannons and uniformed guards.

The palace has about 600 rooms. Only some are open to the public. The staterooms and the departments of Chivalry are worth a visit. These are lined with portraits of the Royalty. Till recently the present king Gustav Carl XVI and his family lived there. Now they have shifted their living quarters to the palace in the island of Drottingholm, another magnificent structure overlooking the Lake Malaren.

Among the museums, the one most recommended is the Vasa Museum. It’s impossible to miss this oddly shaped building which houses the Vasa warship.

The ship was built in the 1620s for the 30-year war on the orders of Sweden’s warrior king Gustav II Adolf, in honour of the founder of his dynasty, Gustav Vasa. It capsized and sank in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961. Before the eyes of the public, the wreck has been transformed into its former shape with complete lower rigging. It’s a magnificent ship with 700 sculptures and carvings.

Not far from the Vasa Museum is ‘Skansen’, the oldest open-air museum in the world. It has 150 buildings of cultural and historical interest from various parts of Sweden, representing different periods and social conditions from the Middle Ages to the present century.

Many old trades and handicrafts are still practiced at Skansen. It also gives a picture of the Swedish countryside and wild life today. The animals at Skansen mainly represent Scandinavian fauna, but there are also some tropical species.

One building that dominates the skyline in the south of Lake Malaren is the City-Hall. Itsmassive square tower rises from one corner of the elegant central building, made of red brick. The building is topped with small spires, domes and minarets. An observatory platform is set on the tower from where one gets a breathtaking view of Stockholm.

A guided tour is a must to know the minutiae of each room in the building. The Blue Hall is where the Nobel-Prize celebrations take place. The Golden Room has 23-carat gold paintings on the wall. The City Council Chamber or the Red Room is one of the most functional rooms in the building. This is where political discussions and debates take place.

The Nordiska Museet [museum] represents the life and work of the Swedish people from 1500’s to the present day. The peasant culture of the Swedes is highlighted here in the form of clothes, toys, furniture, paintings and photographs. The room depicting the Lapp culture is very absorbing. The National Museum is for art lovers. It contains a unique collection of 17th century Dutch paintings.

A boat trip to the peaceful town called Marie-Fred is really worth its while. This is a lazy summer lake town with enough outdoor cafes and restaurants to suit all tastes from hamburgers to Dover soles. The highlight of this town is the old Gripsholm Castle.The impressive pile of the castle protects the Royal portrait collection and a marvelous theatre from the late 1700’s.

As one can see, Sweden offers an amazing variety for a country with such a small population. It’s not just a land of leggy, blue eyed blondes and gigantic, expressionless men. It is that and much more.

Stockholm especially is very cosmopolitan. You can see people of all shapes, sizes and colour here. Many couples have adopted children from Asia and Africa. The stereotyped image of Sweden being a dark cold place where people scuttle between their warm houses is also a myth.

Swedes are great ones for celebration. They perhaps willfully never really got rid of their folk mentality and continued to practise some of the pagan rituals, in spite of having adopted Christianity centuries ago. No festivals are allowed to pass without full-throated singing and dancing. Winters may be cold and dark, but they indulge in sports like skiing and tennis etc during this time. Come spring and summer, and it’s time for celebration.

It’s commendable that in less than a century, Sweden has transformed itself from being one of Europe’s poorest countries into one of it’s richest. The secret lies in their unity, a feeling of oneness. They have great national pride. They are very vocal about their opinions and argue vociferously among themselves. But when it comes to important collective decisions, they put their differences aside and choose a middle way, which they call ‘Lagom’.

It’s worth a visit to see how today’s Vikings [Swedish industrialists and lawmakers] have used ‘lagom’ to reach where they are.

(The author has been a resident of Athens for more than a decade. An intrepid traveler, she has visited several European countries. This is a first hand recount of one of her many travelogues)


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Stockholm - a rhapsody on water