Published: August 8th 2007April 2nd 2007
The famous Ice Bar
The wind assaulted us the moment we stepped outside the hotel lobby. Jodie’s hair flew around her head in crazy circles. “Bloody Hell!” I shouted above the melee. “I’m glad we didn’t come in winter!”
Regardless of the breeze, Stockholm looked remarkably pretty from our viewpoint overlooking the water’s edge. Buildings of every colour lined the edge of Gamla Stan, the old town, and beyond it, the higher elevated district of SÃ¶dermalm looked just as fine. Regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, we walked across a bridge leading towards the Stadshuset (City Hall), the first of our sightseeing stops.
Some facts about Stockholm’s City Hall: One, its construction used a staggering eight million red bricks. Two, its Blue Hall is where banquets are held after Nobel Prizes have been handed out. Three, in July 2006, a young man climbed the 348ft tall tower and threw himself off. He was killed instantly. And four, as Jodie and I sauntered through the central courtyard, we came across a painted wooden horse. It seemed slightly out of place, but did offer a good photo opportunity.
With the wind dying down slightly and
View of Stockholm
blue skies appearing behind the clouds, we headed off towards Gamla Stan. Dating back to the 13th century, Stockholm’s old town consists of medieval cobbled streets and alleyways, together with some of the city’s most famous sights. The founder of Stockholm, Birger Jarls, constructed a fortress there in the 13th century and today the small island of Gamla Stan is a tourist magnet, but this hasn’t always been so. From the mid 19th century, until just after the Second World War, it was considered to a be a slum, with many of its historical buildings left in a poor state of health until regeneration kicked in.
The first building of note was the Riddarhuset (House of Nobility). Between the 17th and 19th century it was a sort of equivalent to the British Houses of Lords. Since 2003 though it has been in private hands, acting to maintain the profile of Swedish nobles.
Just along from it, the Church of Riddarholmen stood proudly. Built in the 13th century, it serves as a building for royal burials. In fact, it contains the tombs of a couple of medieval monarchs as well as the tombs from nearly every king
Towers and Spires of City Hall
and queen of Sweden since the 17th century.
“Let’s find that tower thing,” I said to Jodie after admiring the church awhile. Finding medieval towers had become a sort of ritual since finding the Powder Tower in Riga. This one, known as Birger Jarls Tower was built in the 16th century as a defensive structure. As a member of the Royal Family, Birger Jarls (born 1210) established Stockholm as a major trading post. We eventually found the tower named after him behind some buildings close to the water’s edge.
With coffee time fast approaching, Jodie and headed for the heart of Gamla Stan. The tower of Storkyrkan (the Great Church) was a visible landmark to guide us there. Built in the 13th century, Storkyrkan was a gothic cathedral and Jodie and I wanted to see something in its interior. Stepping inside, we walked to the front towards the largest medieval monument in Scandinavia. St George and the Dragon was carved in 1489 from wood. It looked magnificent, depicting a warrior, presumably St George, about to slay a nasty looking dragon trampled beneath his steed’s feet. As well as looking impressive, it supposedly contained actual relics of
Eat up, Horsie!
the saint himself.
After coffee, the wind had died down sufficiently enough, enabling us to wander up and down the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan. Shops peddling the usual tourist fare lined many of the streets, jostling for position among the bars and cafes. We soon found ourselves in a centrally located square called Stortorget with the old well in the middle. However, the buildings around the edge of the square stood out most. The ones located on the western side were particularly fetching, especially the tall red and yellow buildings, and are the ones to be seen on many tourist photos of Stockholm.
The square has a suitably bloody past. In the 16th century, under the command of the Danish King, Christian II, Denmark conquered Sweden. After being sworn in as the new ruler, Christian held a celebration banquet lasting three days. And then the fun really began. On November 7th 1520, Christian summoned many high ranking Swedish officials to the palace. Prior to this, he’d granted these people amnesty in return for their surrender.
During the night, in a scene straight from a medieval film from Hollywood, soldiers carrying lanterns and burning
Church of Royal Burials. No longer a church for mass though.
torches broke into the great hall and marched away some of the guests. Later that night, the remainder of the Swedish entourage were rounded up too. The next day they were all sentenced to death for heresy. At midnight, the first of the executions took place into the main square. First a few bishops were beheaded, followed by a choice selection of nobles, magistrates and town councillors, with the other executions taking place the next day, with even a spot of drowning being carried out as a side distraction. In total, about eighty people were killed, including twenty commoners unlucky enough to have stores in the vicinity. Known as the Stockholm Bloodbath, the cobbles of Stortorget ran with the blood of the unfortunates, and the Danish ruler earned himself the moniker of Christian the Tyrant.
Taking centre stage in Gamla Stan is the massive Royal Palace, a huge rectangular brick building completed in 1760. The official residence of the Swedish Royal Family and guarded by the blue uniformed Royal Guards, it houses 609 rooms, making it one of the world’s largest royal palaces actually inhabited by royalty. As we stood admiring the view, a film crew turned up.
Birger Jarls Torg - Birger Jarls was the founder of Stockholm
Soon a whole platoon of guards assembled themselves into lines where they proceeded to stomp and move their weapons as filming took place.
Just opposite the palace was the Finnish Church, a quite unremarkable building, but inside a small courtyard behind was something we wanted to see. Flowers in pots and a collection of benches facing inwards led towards the smallest statue of Stockholm. It was a boy sitting on a table and could only have been a few inches high. Known as the Boy Looking at the Moon, it was placed there in 1967. Around the base of the boy was a small collection of coins which Jodie added to. We later found out that the Finnish Church regularly collected up these coins in at attempt to restrain this strange activity.
Along one cobbled street, we came to MÃ¥rten Trotzigs GrÃ¤nd, the narrowest street in Stockholm. Named after a 17th century merchant who owned a few properties down the alley, it comprised of 36 steps, only about 3ft wide. We moved on, heading towards a new part of Stockholm.
South of Gamla Stan, connected by a couple of bridges is an area known as SÃ¶dermalm.
The Great Church
For a long while, this part of Stockholm was regarded as being the working class area, known for its slums and rampant poverty. Nowadays it is a fashionable place to live, with its many bars, cafes and restaurants offering a bohemian atmosphere. And interestingly, Greta Garbo was born there in the 1920’s.
Because SÃ¶dermalm is on relatively high ground, Jodie and I took the Katarinahissen, a 125ft tall lift that gave a beautiful, if windy, view of the city. Walking into SÃ¶dermalm, past a grand looking square called Mosebacke Torg with a theatre at one end; we came to an area known as HÃ¤ckejÃ¤ll (Hell’s Forecourt). In the 17th century, locals believed witches congregated in the area, kidnapping children before taking them away to the devil. The witchcraft trials of 1675 led to many innocent people, including children, being killed as witches. The nearby Katarina Church was where locals prayed against these witches. A major church of Stockholm, it has been rebuilt twice, once in 1723 and again in 1990, after a fire wiped out everything but its outer shell.
“Look at her,” said Jodie, pointing off to our left. I looked and saw a gaunt,
Stockholm's smallest statue
thin woman of perhaps thirty standing on one leg. As we both watched, she moved to her other foot and spread her arms out for balance. The woman was barefoot and wearing only thin clothes, which must have made her freezing. But she seemed oblivious of this and
of our interest in her, because she then stood on both feet and shuffled off at a slow pace back towards HÃ¤ckejÃ¤ll with her straggly hair blowing about her head in wild circles. Most strange.
After watching the strange lady disappear around a corner, we headed off to find the Butcher’s House. It wasn’t difficult to locate, especially with its pink exterior. Jodie asked me what was famous about it.
“In the 18 century a disturbed man used to kidnap young women,” I told her, “and take them back to this house. And then he’d kill them with his array of butchering instruments. Apparently he was a qualified sausage maker as well.”
Jodie regarded me solemnly. “You’re making this up, aren’t you?” I nodded, smiling. The real truth behind the name was rather more mundane. Towards the end of the 18th century, generations of butchers worked
Sphere of Candles, inside Great Church
“Oh,” said Jodie. “I actually prefer your version. Much more interesting.”
After lunch we headed back into Gamla Stan, passing the Royal Palace and Parliament Buildings once more. However, our destination, just north of Gamla Stan, was the Opera House. Commissioned by King Gustav III, it was finished in 1782. Almost ten years later whilst holding a masquerade ball, the King met an unfortunate end because he was shot dead. His murderer, a former captain of the King’s Guards was soon arrested and executed in a most grisly manner. Locked up in irons for three days, whilst being more or less continually flogged, was only the start of his ordeal. Phase two involved chopping his right hand off, presumably the one that had fired the trigger. And finally, they finished him off by decapitating him. That’ll teach the bugger to kill a king!
Before we entered the Ice Bar, we donned some impressive space age silver Eskimo suits complete with mittens attached on pieces of string. Like arctic spacemen, Jodie and I opened a doorway entered the bar itself. Kept at a constant minus five degrees Celsius, we could feel the cold immediately. “Wow!”
Take that, you nasty dragon!
said Jodie as we surveyed our surroundings.
Stockholm’s was the world’s first permanent ice bar, though there are now others in Milan, London, Tokyo and Copenhagen. And though it was smaller than we’d imagined, it certainly looked the part. A bar (made of ice, of course) lined one edge, and at one side of the room were ice seats covered in what looked like animal hides. All around Ice, ice, ice!
“What would you like to drink?” asked the barman, a young man wearing a Russian style fur hat. We perused the menu, choosing one of the Absolut Vodka cocktails on offer. While he made our drinks, Jodie asked him how long his shift lasted inside the ice bar.
“We work for three hours and then we can warm up again,” he laughed.
A few minutes later, as we sipped out sub zero drinks in glasses made of ice, Jodie grinned. “This is the highlight for me. This bar is so cool!”
Forty five minutes later (The maximum time allowed) we were sitting in a normal bar warming up. My feet had become really cold in the freezing temperatures, but Jodie
Central Square, site of the famous Stockholm Bloodbath
had been right, visiting the ice bar had been a definite highlight of our trip.
With the sun going down, and temperatures hovering just around zero degrees Celsius, we wandered up towards Sergel’s Torg. This vast public square comprises of a large roundabout with a 37metre tall glass pillar at its centre. Towering above it were the five skyscrapers of HÃ¶torgsskraporna. We’d actually been here earlier that morning, but everything had looked nonedescript then. But now, all lit up, it was simply quite stunning.
For the reminder of the evening, we hit a few bars and had a meal in a Mongolian Barbeque bar before retiring for the night. And the next morning, after breakfast, we had a couple more hours of wandering around Gamla Stan before catching the ultra quick Arlanda Express train to the airport. Another succesful jaunt to a European captial city had come to an end.
• Beautiful old medieval town of Gamla Stan.
• All the major sights within easy walking distance from each other.
• The Ice Bar - simply a must, even though it’s quite pricey.
• Very safe city.
• Very tourist friendly.
Express gets you from the airport into the centre of Stockholm in exactly 20 minutes.
• Everyone speaks perfect English.
• Very clean - the almost total absence of heavy industry means low air pollution.
• No beggars anywhere - at least as far as we could tell.
• Expensive - a beer costs between Â£3.50 and Â£4.50. A meal for two at an averagely priced restaurant will cost about Â£45 for two people.
• Away from the tourist areas, Stockholm is really just like any other European city.
• Tall people - they made me feel small!
There are more photos below