Lorraine Worsley Carter spends 48 hours in Sweden’s cool capital, Stockholm
One person’s ‘cool’ is another person’s eye roll, perception is no doubt the key.
Our idea of cool culture on our 48-hour visit to Stockholm, was as diverse as can be. A visit to Abba Museum in the morning and a visit to the Vasa Museum in the afternoon. Never heard of the latter. Await to be amazed!
We arrived at midnight at Arlandia Airport after a pleasant two-hour SAS Airline economy flight from Manchester – the free tea and coffee on board was a welcome addition. We had booked our Arlanda Express train tickets in advance and it must be said, even though I knew the way, having visited Stockholm previously, I loved the ease of finding the railway station.
Those who kindly read about our trip to Milan and the search for the Malpensa Express from Milan airport, will no doubt remember our pain! To walk out of the airport arrival doors and see a pair of lift doors, emblazoned with a picture of the Arlanda Express is just what was required. Of course, the train left on time, was clean and bright and the conductor friendly and courteous, as she checked our tickets on our phones.
We had chosen to stay at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel and had paid for a superior room with a view of part of the harbour and some of Stockholm’s islands and inlets that are surrounded by the Baltic Sea. The view was as stunning at night as it was in the morning especially when we were greeted with snow fall as we opened the blinds.
After a hearty Scandi breakfast at the hotel we set forth to ABBA The Museum, where we were told, we would ‘walk in and dance out.’
Not so long ago I had been fortunate to attend the ‘ABBA Party’ in Stockholm, it was great fun and expertly fashioned, so that very soon guests to the ‘Party’ began to feel they really were part of the Mamma Mia! film. ABBA The Museum, we hoped, would provide us with the story of Björn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha from their childhoods to super stardom.
We had many questions, for instance, what were their lives like when they were growing up? When did music enter their lives? How did they meet? And how did they come together as the pop group ABBA? The Museum gave us the opportunity to explore all of this and more, while we walked in the footsteps of ABBA.
We found a cornucopia of exact replicas of places where ABBA had lived and worked during their career, featuring group members’ personal belongings and other memorabilia. Together with other visitors, we were even allowed to experience what it was like to be ABBA.
For visitors who wanted to know even more about each ABBA member there was a recently recorded audio guide, provided at a reasonable extra cost, where you could listen to the members’ own stories and memories from their amazing career.
We found the Mamma Mia! exhibition a delight, the actual costumes worn by the actors in the films are all there for viewing as are some of the scripts, and it is possible to try some of the costumes on, virtually, if you wish to rock your inner Meryl Streep or Colin Firth.
Undoubtedly, the best way to immerse yourself in the story of ABBA is to do so both in analogue and digital form. In the exhibition, you can also try on ABBA’s costumes (virtually), sing, play, mix original music and become a member of ABBA by performing on a large hologram stage, together with Björn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha. We took part in this and so, for one afternoon only, ABBA became six not four.
You can choose different instruments from the studio on an iPad and listen to how they sound on a recording when all the other instruments have been removed. You can also listen to Frida and Agnetha’s voices without the surrounding music. Some of the interactive features allow you to record your personal participation if you like and download the results to your computer with your personal ticket number. I assure you that the link to our appearance on stage with hologram ABBA will forever be for our eyes only!
After a fabulous morning at the museum, we certainly had danced out, and following a visit to the shop, stopped at the very lovely café/restaurant attached to the museum, for a lunch time glass of wine. Talking of wine, it might be a good point to warn those newbie visitors to Sweden about the licensing laws of the country. As Sweden is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Europe there might be those who would decide to buy a bottle of wine from a supermarket to consume in their hotel or lodgings, rather than pay bar/restaurant prices. Please be warned that should you try and do this after the clock strikes 3pm on a Saturday, you will be very disappointed, as no alcohol is sold over the counter anywhere until Monday. You can still buy a drink in a bar or hotel, so all is not lost, apart from quite a few of your Swedish Krona!
We had a pit stop for a snack and coffee at the lovely Sjöcafeet restaurant, the low glass building offers fabulous scenic views. We walked past the Nordic Museum (one for next time) past the Viking Museum (looks best for families) to the ‘Vasa Museet’ – the Vasa Museum. On my last visit to Stockholm, during a sightseeing boat ride (more on that to come) I had spied an enormous building glaring above our little boat and the guide explained to us that the building housed the ship called the Vasa which had sunk nearly 400 hundred years ago, in the very waters we were sailing through. I knew my husband would find a visit to the museum of interest, but I was not prepared to be so captivated also.
The Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628 and sank in Stockholm harbour. The Swedes could not bear to see the masts of this giant ship sticking out above the water line and so the masts were sawn off! Although the expensive guns were salvaged in 1660, the wreck was not salvaged until 1961, after 333 years under the sea.
The reconstructed vessel, 98% original, is splendidly adorned with hundreds of carved sculptures. Vasa is quite rightly, in my opinion, one of the world’s foremost tourist attractions. There are many virtual exhibitions to see and experience on the museum’s excellent website. For me, nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of this beautifully preserved ship.
After a day of absorbing two very different museums, it was time for Swedish meatballs, and I couldn’t wait to take my husband to the restaurant I adored on my last trip. First, we needed to cross one of the many bridges to the cobbled streets of the Old Town on the lovely island of Gamla Stan. It is hard to imagine that most of the island was due to be flattened in the 1950’s as it was considered a slum, the fairy tale houses were decaying and ‘Modern’ was the order of the day. Thankfully, a Swedish author and journalist, Vera Siöcrona led a mighty and effective crusade and saved the day.
I was delighted to find that we were only third in the queue at Gästabud Restaurant, Österlånggatan 7, and we were able to fit snugly inside this small welcoming restaurant with its great menu of hearty traditional fayre.
For our second day of adventure, we were taking to water and had booked a ‘Stockholm Winter Tour.’ There was just time for a quick coffee in Berns. Having read about this iconic venue it was important to us to visit. Founded in 1863 this 19th Century gorgeous, enormous dining room is now all things to a lot of people! Lovely restaurant, coffee shop and bar and yet it is also a club and concert venue boasting top artists and DJs. There have been sympathetic modern additions and we were told there was even an outdoor terrace in the summer. As we meandered to the waterfront to find our boat, we noticed heaps of bikes, fencing, prams piled high on the pavement, there were divers of all ages retrieving the items from the harbour waters. Sadly, we were unable to understand the posters explaining what was happening, but it must have been a recycling initiative.
An entire summer would not be enough time to afford one the opportunity to explore all the gems of Stockholm’s archipelago. The city of Stockholm is situated on 14 islands and on the banks to the archipelago where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea. Over 21,000 islands make up Sweden, so a sail on the Baltic Sea had to be undertaken and there are many crafts available to take you on a variety of excursions
We boarded the 1909 Steamship, diesel-ice breaker ‘ANGANTAR’. There were around 50 tourists on board and there was room on the top deck for more people, although that would only appeal during the summer months!
The tour was to take us out of the city and around the archipelago island of Fjäderholmarna , which actually consists of four small islands. On the way we listened to a wonderful potted history of some of the buildings and islands that make up Stockholm city. Should we have wanted to, we could have purchased wine or hot drinks and snacks from the tiny galley on board.
We learned about the Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist, Alfred Bernhard Nobel. Born in Stockholm in 1833, Nobel invented dynamite and other more powerful explosives and of course he also founded the Nobel Prizes and Stockholm is home to The Nobel Prize Museum.
Somehow, we didn’t expect to see a huge amusement park come into view, Grona Lund was founded in 1883, it has around 30 attractions and is the site of a huge concert venue. We were told Bob Marley and the Wailers played to an audience of 30,000 people there in 1976.
Some 30 years before that, Ivor Novello, born in Cardiff in 1893 as David Davies, travelled to Sweden in 1918. He had been posted there, while serving in the Royal Navy, to counter the popularity of German entertainers and he set up his own troupe to provide British music and song. He was discovered a year later and became a film star.
We glided past Junibacken, the story book museum, much of it dedicated to author, Astrid Lindgren’s books. Although I have never read any of the author’s books about her character Pippi Long stocking, I am now minded too. Apparently, Pippi was named by Lindgren’s daughter Karin, who asked her mother for a get well story when she was off school. Pippi is red-haired, freckled, unconventional and superhumanly strong – able to lift her horse one-handed. She is playful and unpredictable. She often makes fun of unreasonable adults, especially if they are pompous and condescending…she sounds good to me! The tour then took us to the green and pleasant island of Fjäderholmarna, populated by little wooden houses, and a world away from the city we had left behind.
Returning to the city, we cruised past the imposing and grand, royal palace, known as Stockholm Palace on Gamla Stan Island. It is the official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarch. The offices of the king and other members of the Swedish royal family, as well as the offices of the royal court of Sweden, are located there. The palace is used by the king as he performs his duties as head of state. We noted that on a future visit to Stockholm we would ensure that we watched the changing of the guard ceremony at Stockholm Palace. It takes place every day from the end of April until the end of August at 12:15pm, Sundays at 1:15pm, in front of the palace and lasts about 40 minutes. It is worth mentioning that in autumn and winter the schedule is different and the change of the guard doesn’t take place every day.
Talking of residences, we spied a beautiful ornate building which, our guide informed us, used to be a Semolina factory, but is now a retirement home. Sadly, it appears would be residents have to have their names down from birth, it is so popular!
We disembarked our trusty sea-worthy craft and headed for ‘PUB’ not ‘the Pub,’ I hasten to add. PUB has recently rebranded to the Haymarket Scandi Hotel, their grand entrance stands on Hotorget (Haymarket) Square and welcomes everyone to step into a 1920’s era of elegance. Many of the original features of the building have been woven in with a contemporary design. PUB was a department store, where film star, Greta Garbo worked in the millinery department. A cinematic vibe has been preserved with black and white stills and even a real film camera in the lobby!
Hotorget Square is very much a meeting place, there are flower and fresh produce stalls, and peering down on everyone is the fabulous statue of Orpheus, by sculpture, Carl Milles. The statue stands outside the Royal Concert Hall.
Our sojourn to Stockholm nearly over, there was just time to pop back over to Gamla Stan to buy a bag of cinnamon buns and locate Under Misteln Skafferi & Bar, a tiny underground bar at Kåkbrinken 1. It is very easy to miss, as the door is tiny, and there is a need to crouch down and take the stone steps down to the cave like bar, lit by fairy lights. Seated with our delicious tasting Irish coffee, we looked back on our visit to Stockholm, a curious and wonderful mix of the old and new.