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
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
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
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. Its 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 Swedens 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. Its 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
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
1500s 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 1700s.
As one can see, Sweden offers an amazing
variety for a country with such a small population.
Its not just a land of leggy, blue eyed blondes
and gigantic, expressionless men. It is that and much
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
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 its time for celebration.
Its commendable that in less
than a century, Sweden has transformed itself from being
one of Europes poorest countries into one of its
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.
Its worth a visit
to see how todays Vikings [Swedish industrialists
and lawmakers] have used lagom to reach
where they are.
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)