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June 3rd 2015
Published: July 3rd 2015
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My first day in Stockholm - Venice of the North - was also my first day in Scandinavia and the furthest north I'd ever traveled. I'd been so excited about my first visit to this city, where I have distant and unknown relations, a place I've wanted to visit for years. Once I finally arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the familiarity of the foreign, as well as the greenness and vibrancy of the flat landscape. Everywhere I looked was brilliant green, or watery blue, or grey clouds or stone. Not unexpected was the orderliness and efficiency of the city and the kindness of its people, the beauty of old city, and the embrace of the natural and the well-designed.

After dropping our luggage at the Old Town Lodge, where we were offered an early breakfast, we started our journey to Stockholm with a tour of the canals, Under the Bridges of Stockholm, a relaxing two-hour trip through the waterways surrounding the city's many islands. Landmarks aside, I most enjoyed traveling past the Old Town and Sodermalm with their fantastic architecture and picturesque skyline. We stopped for lunch at Rosendals Tradgårdskafe after a beautiful walk through the gardens there. Our other stops on Djurgården, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde and Thielska Galleriet, were my attempts to make up some of the loss from the closure of the art museum, which is being renovated until 2018. Both museums were housed in lovely and historic mansions, although the art on display at Theilska Galleriet was much preferred. The island is lovely although the weather has been none to warm, around 55 – 60 degrees, with occasional rain and much wind. The sun, however, is omnipresent, even with the clouds, and only sets in the late evening until around three in the morning. At Midsummer approaches there will be even more light, contrasting with the miserly six hours of sunlight Swedes can look forward to in late December.

Day two, back on Djurgården, this time to visit the Vasa Museet and Skansen. Took a boat ride to the island, two stops away, and entered the Vasa Museet to meet the first tour groups of the trip, who had arrived early on large buses and were not as skilled in queuing as the Swedes. Once we made it through the ticket line we got our first glimpse of the mighty Vasa ship, the largest of its kind in Sweden up until that time. The ship was built too tall and narrow and carried only half the ballast that would have made it sea-worthy, and as a result it lasted only about twenty minutes into its maiden voyage, capsizing when confronted with a light breeze. Dozens of lives were lost. An inquiry was made but no one was officially blamed. Three hundred years later the boat, protected by the bay, was resurrected, restored and moved to its current location not far from where it sank. After a lovely lunch at the Blå Porten Cafe – nearby and recommended – we made our way to Skansen, which is full of historical buildings moved to Stockholm from all over Sweden and filled with people in period costumes performed traditional trades such as glassblowing and pottery making. There's also a replica of a Sami settlement, of particular interest as the Sami people move with their herds throughout the year, and so often have at least a couple of homes. Skansen is particularly child-friendly, with a petting zoo and interactive exhibits, although there's plenty of historical interest to keep everyone occupied, including a lovely old tavern - try the aquavit!
Old Town LodgeOld Town LodgeOld Town Lodge

Well-situated in Gamla Stan with helpful staff - recommended.
Holidays are also celebrated here, particularly Midsummer and Jul. Dinner was at a traditional Swedish restaurant in Gala Stan – Beef Rryder for Clement, a less traditional mushroom risotto for me. I'm so glad to be staying in this part of town – Sweden is a lovely city but no area is as lovely as the Old Town, with its alleyways and cobblestone streets, little shops and cafes. I could enjoy spending the entire trip here in the core of northern Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval city.

Day three is full of things to do. After an early coffee at the hostel we head out to get a place on one of the guided tours of the Stadshuset, or City Hall, where, among other things, the Nobel Prize winners and their guests have dinner. We stand in the hall where they eat, hear about the dinner and the very popular spoon souvenirs that people like to take home. The interior is even more beautiful that I imagined, with nearly each room having a totally different style, influenced by various cultures around Europe. The location is wonderful too, right on the water, which makes for many a cool breeze. A
Old Town LodgeOld Town LodgeOld Town Lodge

If the light bothers you they also have beds underground.
fulling vegetarian lunch at Hermitage in Gamla Stan – recommended - the then it's off to see the oldest church in Stockholm. The main attraction here for the non-religious is the stature of St. George and the Dragon, still well-preserved after all these years, as well as some interesting paintings. Kunligga Slottet, where the royal family has lived since the mid-eighteenth century – the previous castle burned down while one of the fire watchers was away from his post, flirting with a maid – was only partially open. I particularly enjoyed the Royal Treasury, with at least ten crowns and other royal accoutrements – gold, pearls and jewels galore. A short walk to Normalmarm got us to the Kunstakadamein just in time to view the 100 paintings on display from the currently-closed National Art Museum. Anders Zorn was a personal highlight, although the Rembrants and works by Gustav Courbet weren't bad. Eschewing dinner for drinks we had a bit of a rest at the bar of the Royal Opera House before watching a very modern version of La Traviata. Good thing we knew the story well, as the supertitles were, of course, in Swedish. A wonderful night!

Our final
View from Room at Old Town LodgeView from Room at Old Town LodgeView from Room at Old Town Lodge

This was taken in the wee hours - maybe 4 am?
day took us to the Stockholm archipelago on a beautiful old boat. The photos don’t really do the boat or the archipelago justice, especially on a cloudy day – Clement enjoyed the area so much he proposed a future camping trip to the area, in the summer, of course. Stockholmers dream of having a summer house here, and one can certainly understand the lure of this calm and beautiful scenery. Upon our return we made a detour for Swedish meatballs in Norrmalm and then spent the afternoon at the Historiska Museet, which contained a fascinating display of 10,000 years of Swedish history and culture. Highlights included the Gold Room, with three 5th-century gold collars, the largest and most complete (see photo) of which is decorated with over 450 tiny figures, and the Viking exhibition, which focused on the more mundane farming and trading existence of the majority of Swedes at that time. Also featured were some of Sweden's most important female political figures, such as Queen Margareta, who formed the Kalmar Union in 1397 and Queen Christina, who was crowned King of Sweden in 1650. After a visit to Sodermalm to sample the herring at Nystekt Stromming we retreated to Gamla Stan for postcard writing and drinks at Bistro Pastis, lamenting the end of our first trip to Stockholm. Here's to our return journey! Skål!

Additional photos below
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Grounds at Rosendals TradgårdskafeGrounds at Rosendals Tradgårdskafe
Grounds at Rosendals Tradgårdskafe

Beautiful garden and delicious food. Go here if you're in Stockholm!

4th July 2015

I would also love the opportunity to visit Sweden for a second time and do more exploring outside of Stockholm. But then I would also enjoy revisiting and reliving my first visit. (The midsummer night photo is entrancing.)

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