When thinking about a trip to Stockholm, I was surprised that my mind immediately reverted to the serious decline in Australia’s daytime television! I can’t watch it anymore. I have never been able to sit through adverts but if I was desperate, I would occasionally watch a commercial-full show…such as to see a decent game of football. These days, like so many other baby boomers, I am watching SBS on Demand to see what the latest offering in Scandinavian Noir is. Not long after returning home from our last trip, we discovered the second series of the Swedish crime drama, ‘Modus’. Like thirsty travellers in a waterless desert, we rejoiced at the rescue from night time TV tedium. How excited were we when the opening shots showed us the complex harbour of Stockholm with its many islands that we had biked around for two lovely days not so long ago. Things couldn’t get better when ‘Modus’ action moved to a park in the Stockholm suburb of MariaTorget… that’s where our delightful hotel was! Directly opposite Hotel Rival was a park generally full of the locals, sunning themselves against the backdrop of the sculpture by Anders Henrik Wissler, ‘Thor’s fishing’, depicting the Norse god Thor slaying the sea serpent Jormungandr. It was almost like our old neighbourhood!
Our visit to Stockholm was in some ways a mistake of itinerary planning. Given that our flights had been booked well in advance of our itinerary being developed, the last few days of European trip had not been finalised. When a few free days were left at the end of our tour of Berlin, we decided to fly back to Helsinki and catch a boat across to Stockholm and spend our final three days exploring the capital of Sweden. The overnight passage to Stockholm from Helsinki has the reputation for being a party boat so we were concerned that getting sleep might be an issue. This wasn’t so. The only sign of excessive partying was when I rolled out in the morning to look to see if the café was open for coffee and there was a group of sleepless inebriated types lying around the stairwell arguing about the issues of Gypsies in Europe.
Getting yourself to your hotel when arriving in a new destination is often fraught given the predictable traveller ignorance of the layout of a new city and the route to booked accommodation. A direct transfer is the simplest but often the most expensive. We asked on the boat how to get to our hotel and we were told that a bus was the best way to get to the centre of Stockholm; we should have caught the train located not far from the docks. We discovered that the Stockholm metro train system is very efficient and the best way to travel around the wider city.
We arrived at out hotel at midday and had the rest of the afternoon to explore the centre of Stockholm. Being very warm in Stockholm in June of 2018, our walk around the heart of old Stockholm was tiring but it was worth the effort. Understanding the geography of a city spread out over a series of islands on a complex waterway is vital if you are interested in understanding the culture and the history of Stockholm. Getting a sense of the layout of the central island, Gamla Stan, is the first thing to do. This is where the old city has developed and where the Palace of the Monarchy of Sweden as well as the Parliament Building can be found.
The history of Stockholm is long and complex and not a subject to be discussed at any length here. Simply stated, it origins date back to 8000BCE around the end of the last ice age. The city itself developed as a trading port around 1200CE and the usual dramas and predations occurred up to the middle ages.
In exploring Stockholm, one key character of importance from Stockholm history is King Gustavus II Adolphus (1594-1632). By the end of the 16th century, Sweden had become a regional power around the Baltic Sea but during his reign, it rose to become a European power. This was due to the King’s talent for reforming the administration of his government and his innovations as a General in the wars he had inherited from his father with Finland, Russia and Poland. The image to the right of Gustavus as an emperor crowned by angels comes from the unique maritime museum, the VASA, which is one of the highlights of a trip to Sweden. The Museum is completely built around a restored battle ship, built in 1628 and which sank at the start of its first sea trials. It was part of a new design ordered by Gustavus to assist him in his overseas battle with Poland. More on this in a later article.
We had realised on our first afternoon in Stockholm that it was a bike city and that riding around was the most efficient means of seeing as many sites as possible in the short time available (as well as avoiding exhaustion!) There was a Council Bike Station near our hotel and a shop on the corner where we could purchase a bike card for the weekend. Waving the card over the bike station’s sensor was all you needed to do to release a bike and then return it at a different station somewhere else in the city. On our second day in Stockholm we organised to release two bikes from the bike prison in the park at MariaTorget and ride down the sloping streets to the other side of the city central island of Stockholm, Gamla Stan. Here we disposed of our bikes at a Council bike rack and bordered a ferry for a tour of the extended harbour. The water tour took about two hours and the scenery was beautiful, but we realised that given our ship from Helsinki took a largely similar route, this wasn’t the best use of our time. While there was a commentary of some interest occurring whilst we motored the harbour, the boat itself was crowded and we were pleased when we returned to the terminal.
In contrast to our morning decision, our decision to spend the afternoon exploring by bike the Island of Djurgarden was highly rewarding. The Stockholm Tourism site describes it as follows… “Beloved by both Stockholmers and visitors, Djurgården is a tranquil oasis in the middle of Stockholm. The island has been in possession of the crown since the 15th century. Like no other place in Stockholm it combines many of the city’s most famous museums and cultural attractions (the Vasa Museum, Gröna Lund, the Abba museum and Skansen to name a few) with green nature, parks, and family-friendly activities.”
From the ferry terminal we first of all rode out along two smaller inner city islands (Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen) and then back along the shore front to Djurgarten. There were many museums along our trail that attracted our attention, particularly the Nordic Museum that is dedicated to the cultural history of Sweden since early times. Built at the start of the twentieth century, it was a very impressive piece of architecture. We kept our eye out for the Abba Museum but decided that we would leave that for a future return to Stockholm. We reconnoitred where the VASA museum was located for our visit the next day. The site that dominates Djurgarden, particularly from a ferry boat passing along the foreshore is the amusement park called Grona Lund. As ageing individuals no longer attracted by death defying thrill seeking activities, we were weren’t drawn to its gates but there were certainly some spectacular sights that would attract large crowds of younger adventurers.
Riding along the foreshore of Djurgarden seemed to hold endless attractive features for inspection. One site in particular that we spent some time wandering the gardens of, was a 19th century mansion built for Prince Eugen. Its website summarises the key facts about this beautiful stop along our bike tour. “Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde is one of Sweden’s most popular art museums, beautifully situated on Djurgården in Stockholm. The museum consists of a main building, the Mansion, built in 1903–1905 as a residence for Prince Eugen (1865–1947), and a gallery building that was added in 1913. Architect Ferdinand Boberg designed both buildings in close cooperation with Prince Eugen. The prince, son of King Oscar II and Queen Sophia, was one of the leading landscape painters of his time. He was also an important art collector and a central figure in the Swedish cultural world.”
The map to the right shows all the main attractions that we visited on our bike ride. What the map doesn’t reveal is the large section of Djurgarden that we ran out of time and puff to visit when we stopped for fish and chips at a café on the edge of the harbour. We have left a large section of this beautiful Island to explore on some future visit. It was a long bike ride back to MariaTorget for dinner. Of course we didn’t have to rush home before it got dark; I won’t talk of the midnight sun but light only started to fade around 10.30pm.
On the next day we visited the VASA Museum in the morning and a review of this visit can be found at the link at the end of this article. After our visit to the VASA Museum, we spent some hours exploring the path along the other side of Djurgarden. Again this was a beautiful journey for the views across the water as well as the birdlife and sculptures that dotted the way.
In regard to the short cut through the old streets of Gamla Stan on the way back to our hotel, I’d like to make one last comment on the beautiful little touches to the streetscape that we encountered. I met what felt like an old friend; one of the copies of the famous Byzantine horses whose originals stood on top of an arch in Constantinople. No one knows for how long these four bronze horse sculptures adorned Constantine I’s velodrome, but we know they were ‘taken’ from there by members of the Fourth Crusade in the early 13th century who took them to adorn St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy. They are now preserved inside the dome of St Marks while copies, like the ones in the streets of Stockholm, stand proudly overlooking the famous St Mark’s Square.