Yes I bought a Swedish phrase book before I arrived. Luckily the Swedes were spared my bravely spewed bits of Swedish as most Scandinavians speak English very well. I remember asking two motorcyclists stopped at a traffic light for directions back to our hotel when the Gamla Stan exit dumped us in a part of town I was unfamiliar. They were so helpful and friendly, addressed me in perfect English, showed interest in my holiday experience there, and my travel companions didn't want me to ask. Our hotel is a bit of a letdown compared with the Royal Christiana in Oslo. This could be her plain-Jane sister, the Scandic Anglais. Our room overlooks an air shaft and has a rather dismal air. Don't let that deter you. To be fair it has been nicely renovated since I was there and you know how ornery I get when I am sleep deprived when traveling. My friends can attest I have a congenitally cranky mindset when traveling but I always look back on those times with the fondest of memories.
We flew out of the hotel room quickly to take Biblioteksgatan down to the Royal Palace (baroque treasure built in the 18th
Century as the previous one burned to the ground) and to the beautiful canals. Great photo ops on the water and this time we didn’t hit a dangerous squall like on the terrifying three hour tour of the fiords in Oslo.
Then it was off to the Gamla Stan, the most ancient part of the city dating back to the 13th Century and known for its medieval alleys, cobblestone streets and Northern European architecture. What we think of Gamla Stan (Old Town) now is probably much larger than what it was centuries ago as buildings along the eastern waterfront were built on landfill as additions. Think of Stockholm as fourteen different islands, but actually it’s about 29,000 islands probably. Who’s counting? Yes Stockholm can rightly be called the Venice of the North. But I find this Venice more livable and more pristine than the original. It is also the land paved with blondes. I have never seen this many fair haired natives even in other Scandinavian countries.
We are not in the Gamla Stan long before we hit town square and our dinner choice, Restaurang Stortorgskallaren at Stortorget 7 (Stortorget is the large scenic square in
the center of Gamla Stan with charming merchant houses). It’s a rather nice block long restaurant directly across from the Stock Exchange Building. The waitress stumbles with English but does admirably. They have prix fixe dinners, but why bother, order a la carte and get exactly what you want unfettered by the constraints of the price fixed menus. We order with rich-as-Trump abandon. The potato pancake with 2 caviars and sour crème with a mesclun salad. Wonderfully decadent. The fish casserole (shrimp, mussels, salmon & whitefish) was also creamy and wonderful (read: artery challenging for cholesterol-phobes). Onto dessert: how about Arctic cloudberry parfait? Just perfection. All so good, we forget what a great perch we are on to view the active passing scene.
Breakfast by the way is an extravagant affair all throughout Scandinavia. Expect the old reliables: bacon, eggs, pancakes, potato hash browns. But they add the more un-American items: herring in mustard sauce, herring with tomato and dill, sautéed salmon, cured salmon, (I even sampled a shrimp boat one time for breakfast), vegetable salads, fresh fruit, cereals (especially muesli), dried fruit, assorted juices, tea, milk and the best coffee in the world made from Arabica
beans. So much of an array, you may want to bypass lunch as I did many times.
The next morning tour tells us that Stockholm has an East Side, Parisian style, called Ostermalm, with the city’s most elegant addresses and ten-room apartments. There’s a geographic center with its sprightly designed center fountain; Kungsholmen (Kings Island) where old buildings were torn down, commercial buildings erected in its place with no residential housing for twelve blocks. Here sits City Hall with 200 rooms, made up of eight million bricks with a 106 meter tall tower, most memorable the banquet room and the Chinese-inspired counsel room; Sodermalm, formerly a haven for longshoreman, now a trendy area populated with art galleries and cafes; Oja island, Landsort (Long Island as a guide referred to it when I was there), a former military installation built for its strategic location but never actually used in WWII or the Cold War, but now has bed and breakfasts and a youth hostel; and finally the previously mentioned Gamla Stan (Old Town) originally half the size it is today, but thanks to landfill now bigger and better, but known for its buildings dating back to the 1600s.
The Franciscan monastery church, Grey's Friar Abby, claims to be from 1270 AD.
One of the reasons Stockholm has such outer beauty is that the philosophy of its planners leans towards the fact that architecture should adjust to the landscape, not dominate the landscape. Stockholm is a vibrant city, very up-to-the-minute with its outdoor nightclubs, floating raves and parties. As we meander around this evening, I think: "What an amazing city, so many pretty nocturnal nomads wandering into these jaded dens." But the Swedish bouncers seem too intimidating. Rather than suffer the indignities of rejection, we pass. Too many Swedes seem gifted with physical beauty, fair, tall,.... well, Viking-like. Should I kill myself now? Maybe after experiencing the finesse and refined frisson of a Scandinavian dinner. Plus I would raise the mean age of the nocturnal crowd considerably. So we amble the streets in search of new sensory stimulation.
The evening brings us on a trek to the highest point in Stockholm, Kaknastornet Tower, with a vantage point that allows seeing all its wonderfully distinct postal codes at once from a tremendous height. At one point it was the tallest structure in Scandinavia, but
not any more with higher structures in Malmo Sweden as well as Finland. Alas for security reasons in today's changing world, it was closed to the public in 2018. After I take advantage of a few obligatory photos, it’s off to dinner at Bellerman’s Restaurant (not my choice, but judging from the lines, the choice of every tour group in Stockholm.) The restaurant has since closed. The not very imaginative meal consisted of mushroom soup, remarkably fresh salmon with potatoes and cauliflower followed by blueberry ice cream. In their favor I can’t say I found anything wrong with the quality of the food and they do ask if you want seconds (brought out in a smaller portion). We are here because we have our (overnight) Baltic cruise from Stockholm to Turku Finland at 8:15 pm and we were with a group and homeless as we checked out of our hotel earlier. Who knew that the ferry had three restaurants that looked to be better quality and could not have been priced at $52.00 per person as was our dinner at Bellerman’s earlier in the evening?
But yes I want to go back and spend some leisurely time in further
exploration. Not that I haven't explored Sweden from West to East. I remember taking the Helsinor Ferry in Denmark to the Swedish shores, then up the Swedish coastline to Gothenburg, Sweden, a suburban city with trolleys, maze-like malls and very fair people. Ditto on my visit to Malmo, Sweden. Did you know that small towns in Sweden can be as boring as small towns in America? But European food is better than American food. No exceptions. Stortorgskallaren Restaurant, Stortorget 7, Stockholm 08/10-55-33 ; Swedish cuisine Scandic Anglais Hotel,Humlegardsgatan 23, Stockholm, Sweden S-102 44 Tel: 46 8 51734000
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