After my official engagement of two and a half weeks in Stockholm, Shikha arrived and together we traveled to Denmark and Norway too. Although most of the Scandinavian cities bear the same look and feel in terms of landscape, architecture and even culture, Stockholm will always, always hold a very special place in my heart as the most breathtakingly charming city in the world. Yes, I display my biases very unabashedly. :) But truly, Stockholm is spectacular for many reasons but most importantly because of its unique geography which is a set of islands surrounded by lakes on one end and Baltic sea on the other end.
Björn Ulvaeus, Swedish songwriter and a former member of the Swedish musical group ABBA had once said something that I understood while walking through city.
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from a summer on the Stockholm archipelago. – Bjorn Ulvaeus
How can anyone tear themselves away from a landscape as stunning as this?
This is the Grand Hôtel. It is a five-star hotel in the city center of Stockholm and it’s been around since 1872. The most special part of this hotel is that since 1901, the Nobel Prize laureates and their families have traditionally been guests at the hotel.
This was a few of us from the SIMP batch of 2014 after we took the archipelago tour.
We had many varied dining experiences during our stay in Stockholm. One of the most scenic cafe’s we visited was Herman and to my absolute delight, this was a vegetarian restaurant. Located on Sodermalm, Herman’s boasts incredible views looking back into the city and across the water to Gronalund, Stockholm’s famous amusement park.
We also visited the Stockholm City Hall on the second day we arrived in Sweden. It is one of Sweden’s most famous buildings, and one of the capital’s most visited tourist attractions. It houses offices for 200 people including the Municipal Council. Because we were a part of a Swedish Government sponsored program, we got an inside tour the entire city hall. The City Hall is also the venue of the Nobel Prize banquet held on 10 December each year.
After an exquisite meal in the Blue Hall guests take the stairway up to the Golden Hall (Gyllene salen) to dance. The walls of the Golden Hall (seen below) are covered with more than 18 million glass and gold mosaic pieces. Using a Byzantine inspired style the mosaics depict portraits of historical figures and events in Swedish history. The hall is dominated by the “Queen of Lake Maelaren” on the northern wall which represents Stockholm being honored by the East and the West.
Directly across the Civic Court lies the Council Chamber (in the picture below) where Stockholm’s City Council assembles every third Monday. The interior of the Council Chamber is absolutely majestic and its 19 meter-high ceiling takes its inspiration from the Swedish Viking Age. The public gallery has room for about 200 spectators to attend the council meetings.
For two weeks straight, we had all kinds of Swedish delicacies for all meals. For a vegetarian obviously the options are very limited so I was longing for some spicy food. So when we arrived at a hotel closer to the city center, we all rushed to the nearest Bangladeshi Indian restaurant and had our stomach’s fill of samosa and chai.
Up to almost six in the evening everyday, we used to busy with sessions. So only time we to go out and actually hang out as a group was late evenings. One such very, very late evening after dinner and brief stopover at a bar, we stumbled upon Fotografiska at 11 PM in the night. It happens to be one of the world’s largest meeting places for contemporary photography. It is basically 3 floor’s of the most unusual, most stunning and if I may also add, the most disturbing collection of photographs from world’s most famous photographers. It was a very weird experience. We were about 7-8 of us and all of us wandered through the three floors at our pace so at almost all given times, I was by myself on a certain floor surrounded by the strangest pictures. For instance, there was a whole exhibit on drug addicts – their intakes, depicting the longing for a substance, one exploring the theme of forbidden love, one on stifled emotions…. quite an experience. After little midnight adventure, we then walked back to our hotel through the subdued, quaint lanes of Stockholm.
We also visited the much talked about Vasa Museum – one of Stockholm’s most famous tourist spots, receiving over one million visitors a year.The Vasa is the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world, and a unique art treasure. More than 95 percent of the ship is original, and it is decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures. The 69 meter-long warship Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in the middle of Stockholm in 1628, and was salvaged 333 years later in 1961. For nearly half a century the ship has been slowly, deliberately and painstakingly restored to a state approaching its original glory. The three masts on the roof outside the specially built museum show the height of the ship’s original masts.
I wasn’t as fascinated by the ship itself as I was with painstaking efforts taken by Swedish government towards the restoration of the ship. Every scrap of history, in their worldview, deserves all the efforts towards preservation and celebration.
Hands down, the most spectacular memory that I will carry of Stockholm is the special tour and exclusive dinner that 20 of us got to have at the Nobel Museum ‘after it was closed to all visitors’. So it was just 20 of us, 4 staff members from the program and the two curators of Nobel Museum. It was an exclusive tour followed by a four-course meal at the Nobel Bistro. I carried a head rush the whole time thinking about what a once in a life time experience this was. The best part is that after our meal at the Nobel Bistro, the curator asked us all to stand up and flip our chairs, only to discover that each chair had been signed by every Nobel Laureate who has visited the museum (which is basically everyone who’s won the award :))
View from the Gondolen
And that officially was my last dinner with the SIMP team. The next day morning, Ms. Shikha was scheduled to arrive and I was to check out of my hotel and check into a hostel we’d booked online. So my discovery of Stockholm was in two distinct phases ‘Before Shikha’ and ‘After Shikha’. This below was our first meal after Shikha arrived.
And then we headed over to the ABBA Museum. The Museum is an interactive exhibition about the pop-group ABBA that opened in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2013. It houses stage costumes donated by the band members. I’m familiar with the band and a few of their songs but my dad is a huge ABBA fan. As a child, I remember all the audio cassettes from my dad’s collection neatly labelled as Abba, Eagles, Carpenters, Beatles. So I guess for his sake, this museum was on our checklist.
We walked a lot that day, after Abba and Nordic Museum, we walked over to Skansen which is the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden and is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm, Sweden. It was founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius (1833–1901) to show the way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era. It’s basically a huge, beautifully landscaped park.
On our last day in Sweden, we visited Gamla Stan -the Old Town, which is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe, and one of the foremost attractions in Stockholm. This is where Stockholm is said to have been founded in 1252.
It’s a beautiful place with cobblestone paths and lots of little cafes and souvenir shops. We picked up a bunch of stuff here for friends and family.
And finally, after Shikha arrived, I guess this (below) is where we spent the maximum amount of time shopping at a feverish pace picking up gifts for all family members and ourselves too, of course. :) H&M is a Swedish fashion brand that has stores all over the world. There’s literally an H&M store at every corner and we took every opportunity we got to step in.
A fitting end with another Bjorn quote. :) Echoes very elegantly, exactly my feelings walking through the city.
There are days when I walk through the center of Stockholm when I get this sudden feeling of happiness – a sense of belonging and at the same time gratitude that I’m so privileged that I can live my life in my city. – Bjorn Ulvaeus