STOCKHOLM, December 30, 2016 – Stockholmers love to describe their city is “the best of the old, and the best of the new,” and that’s probably the best way to describe Scandinavia’s largest city.
Built on 14 islands, Stockholm is a thriving Baltic archipelago situated at the mouth of the country’s third largest lake, Lake Malaren, and the Baltic Sea.
The Swedes have had plenty of time to get it right, with settlements dating to the Stone Age in the 6th millennium BC. It was officially founded as a city in 1252 by Birger Jarl, a Swedish statesman who established the Old Town (Gamla Stan) on the central island.
Due to strong trade routes, the Vikings had already begun building Gamla Stan around 1000 CE. Two and half centuries later, Stockholm was a bustling community on the Baltic thanks to the Hanseatic League.
Unless you enjoy cold and darkness, Stockholm is hardly a winter destination, though the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies are held at the Town Hall on the 10th of December each year.
Summer compensates, however. When the summer sun appears with its “long day’s journey into night,” the Swedes become sun worshippers of the first order. Heads pop out of woolen sweaters and the “turtle’s” heads all point in unison to those glorious rays of warmth that produce nearly 20 hours of daylight.
Summers in Stockholm are where golfers can play 18 holes after dinner.
There was a time in the middle of the 20th century when Stockholm was an embarrassment for the Swedes. The waters surrounding the city were so polluted they had become an environmental disaster.
But no longer.
The industrious Swedes went about the task of cleaning out the slums, including many historical buildings, as well as undertaking an environmental crusade to return the natural purity of its water to the highest standards. So successful were they, that visitors who catch a fish today can take it to a restaurant and request the chef to prepare it for dinner. Oftentimes, the restaurant will do it as a source of pride.
While the traditional “blue-eyed, blonde” image of Swedes is largely a myth (there are plenty of brown-eyed brunettes to ogle as well), there is no mistaking the Scandinavian features that make Swedes among the most attractive people on the planet.
Scandinavian personalities are typically reserved, particulary upon meeting someone for the first time. Once that shy veneer dissipates, however, you quickly discover people who are fiercely loyal in their friendships.
Unlike many places in Europe, Scandinavians are well aware that their languages are not readily spoken anywhere else. Therefore English is a primary second language and Swedes are usually happy to practice with visitors. Just remember, that their innate shyness may keep them from telling you they are fluent, and most Swedes will humbly admit to only speaking “a little bit” of English.
Gamla Stan is an ideal starting point for visitors to tour the city. Its ancient cobblestone streets and buildings are picturesque and, because Stockholm is a city of islands, the Old Town creates a world all its own with its unique sense of isolation.
For lunch or dinner, Fem Sma Hus sets the a perfect mood. The ancient brick arches of five small houses that have been tastefully blended into a delightful restaurant are filled with the ambiance of centuries past.
In the evening there are pubs and lively bars to suit any taste, including Dixieland jazz. The vibe is young and, in summer, those nights are long.
Stockholm is a traveler’s gold mine thanks to its diverse attractions surrounded by its aquatic setting.
Skansen, for example, is the oldest outdoor museum in Europe and the unification of Mother Nature, historic architecture, wildlife and traditional costumes make it ideal for a day long outing and/or a picnic.
The 17th century Drottningholm Palace is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Stockholm. It is also the best preserved of the ten royal palaces around Lake Malaren as well as the permanent residence of the Swedish royal family.
Arguably, the best way to get there is by boat, which is a pleasant hour-long excursion. Boats depart regularly from Stadshusbron.
Scandinavia’s most popular museum is the Wasa Museum which houses the 17th century Swedish warship that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.
When the Wasa was discovered and raised in the 1960s, it was virtually intact because the cold water temperatures had preserved it from attacks by parasitic marine life.
Another UNESCO site is the Woodland Cemetery, or Skogskyrkogården. Designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewertz, Woodland Cemetery reflects the architectural evolution of Nordic Classicism to Functionalism.
These are just a few starters, however. You can also visit the Town Hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded each year. In fact, at the Town Hall restaurant you can even order the exact meal served at the Noble dinner for any year, right down to the wine. Advance notice is required, however.
As they say, Stockholm is simply the best of the old and the best of the new. Discover it for yourself and see just how “Swede” it is.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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