Sunday, April 13, 2014

Five Days in Stockholm: ABBA, Vikings, Shopping & Buns

Flying into Stockholm at sunset is a rather magical experience; the jagged patchwork of islands glowing beneath you, bathed in a phosphorescent pinky-yellow that you only seem to get in the Nordics. I’d last been to Sweden ten years ago, on the way to the Roskilde Rock Festival in Denmark, and before that to visit a friend in Gothenburg, but never to the country’s capital.



Our long weekend was largely spent shopping (Stockholm has a good range of boutique/vintage and unfamiliar high street clothes shops), eating cinnamon buns, eating generally, and bimbling around the different islands across which the city is spread. There were occasional bouts of culture (if you can count ‘ABBA the Museum’ as such), and some very special time spent with family in the leafy suburbs, but mostly we were there to relax and soak up the atmosphere.


Before going to Stockholm, I’d had a vision in my mind of a sparkling and elegant city, with sparkling and elegant inhabitants. It is certainly a smart city in places, but turned out to be a lot shabbier around the edges than I’d expected, largely due to extensive ongoing building work around the place, and a slight grubbiness which may well have been a symptom of the time of year we visited: not quite in the bloom of spring, but falling out of the mysterious darkness of winter into a more exposed state.


But it was an easy place to be. Our apartment was on a quiet street in Södermalm (apparently the hippest part of town), and only a short walk across the water in the Gamla Stan (Old Town) and on into Östermalm – the chi-chi city centre whose extravagant department stores make John Lewis feel downmarket. It was in one of these that Ant managed to finally replace the beloved Stetson Hatteras hat he’d lost some time ago on a train, and where I had to have words with myself about the practicalities of transporting a fabulous-but-enormous light fitting back in my little wheelie suitcase.


One of the highlights of the city for me was the surprisingly dinky cathedral, which is tucked away in the Old Town. The interior was smart and light and not at all oppressive (which many grand religious spaces can be), sporting stylish light fittings and some old artworks that were well worth a look. I was also rather taken with the foodie culture of the place. We managed to eat very well, especially at Rival (which I am told is pronounced ‘Reevaal’), the restaurant in Benny from ABBA’s swanky hotel which was just around the corner from our flat.


On the last day of the trip, we travelled a short way north of Stockholm to visit Uppsala, a significant historical site which you may recall, if you have been watching Vikings, as the setting for sacred pilgrimage, debauched festivities and gruesome human sacrifice. All that is left of such legend now are an impressive 250 barrows (burial mounds) and a 12th century church which may have been built on the site of the fabled Norse temple that is believed to have once been at the centre of these dark rituals. The freezing weather on the day we visited only added to the chilling atmosphere of the place, which even though boxed in by roads, a railway line and housing estate, manages to maintain an eerie ambience. No doubt his was fuelled in part by my own fascination with Viking culture, which has lately been re-ignited by the terribly silly but compelling TV series.


Much of the trip is captured in this little video diary we kept along the way, which ends a bit abruptly because we forgot to film a final entry when we got home. But have a watch if you fancy seeing a bit more of Sweden's capital. There are lots of cakes and it gives a good feel for the different parts of the city.