Here’s a quick summary of our favorite places, sites and features of Stockholm:
Archipelago – We only visited two of the many islands: Fjäderholmarna and Vaxholm; both offered a different view of the history and people of Sweden. Vaxholm has an ancient fort that is now a museum. We ate a traditional herring dish at Hamnkrogen, which is a good place to hang out and see what the locals are doing. On Fjäderholmarna, we saw what Stockholmers do on their days off: find as much sunshine as possible. We discovered that even in those rustic surroundings, there is art everywhere; we also found that the Swedes are as crazy about their flag as Americans are.
City Hall – not a museum specifically, but there are sculptures, murals, architecture, and it’s the site of the annual banquet for the Nobel Prizes, so the tour is interesting.
Drottningholms Slott – the Queen’s Palace. We had just missed the start of the English language tour when we arrived, so we went off on our own (there is no audio guide) and regretted it. There are very few signs in English, so for much of the time we stared at stuff that might have been significant, but we didn’t know why. The gardens are supposed to be worth a good look, but it was windy and rainy that day, so we didn’t see much of them. We would have gotten more out of the trip if we’d planned a little better, but sometimes you just have to go when you can and make the best of it.
Fika – the mid-afternoon coffee break that includes all sorts of desserts: cheesecake in all of its forms, carrot cake, strawberry rhubarb pie, endless variations of chocolate – and some we hadn’t seen before, like Princess Cake.
Fotografiska – the Photography Museum. As far as we know, there are no permanent exhibits at the museum; when we were there, the highlights were Nick Adams and Brian Adams. We also liked the Greta Garbo pictures, taken or collected by a life long friend. The cafe at Fotografiska has been called the best museum cafe in the world. That may be true, not only for the food and atmosphere, but the spectacular view of Stockholm. This is also the only museum we’ve been to that’s open until 1:00 AM on Thursday nights.
Historiska Museet – the Swedish History Museum. A thorough introduction to the history of Sweden, from prehistoric times to the present. There’s an extensive exhibit on the Vikings:, with plenty of material on sailing and battles, but also a fair amount of cultural information, too. For instance, I never realized that the Vikings had converted to Christianity, or had done such amazing jewelry.
Nobel Museet – the Nobel Museum. There’s a lot of information on the Nobel Prizes and the winners. In our view, there was too much effort spent on humanizing the laureates, but not enough telling what they did, why it was significant, or how why they stood out among their peers.
People – Swedish people aren’t generally effusive, but they do have a deep sense of kindness, which translates to tolerance and fairness when dealing with others. We experienced that ourselves as sometimes confused foreigners and random people would stop what they were doing to set us straight. Statistically, it shows up in the current refugee crisis: Sweden has taken in more refugees per capita than any other country: 400,000 with a population of 9.5 million. (Germany has taken in a million refugees for a population of 80 million; the U.S. contribution is paltry by comparison.)
Pride Week – the whole city of Stockholm turned out for Pride Week. There were rainbow flags everywhere: restaurants, stores, hotels, even city buses. The Pride Parade went on for hours, which it needed to, since tens of thousands participated and hundreds of thousands watched. There was a little bit of everything in the parade: Stockholm police and fire departments, the American Ambassador to Sweden, the Swedish Army (singing Y-M-C-A), gay Jews, gay Muslims, even a rainbow Viking boat. Locals told us that there really isn’t a “gay scene” in Stockholm because they are so integrated into day and night life, there isn’t any need for one.
Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde – the house, collection and art studio of Prince Eugens, a pretty good amateur painter who just happened to be a prince, so he got to paint what he wanted, including a mural in City Hall. The top floor was devoted to his studio, which of course had perfect lighting and tons of space. The temporary exhibit was about Swedish female plein air painters of the late 19th century: their art, their lives and their struggles.
Restaurants – we can’t try to do a thorough review of the best restaurants in Stockholm. For one thing, we tried to hold down costs by eating in the apartment for two meals a day (mostly breakfast and supper). We liked our local Thai place, Hang Chow for good food, fast service and low prices; Vau De Ville (near the Opera) has a nice selection of traditional Swedish and other food; Gnarly Grill for the wait staff, plus a decent variety of bar food and draft beers; Ciao Ciao for Italian food, low prices and the cabbage salad that Maggie loved; Pesso Bageri, our local bakery – and while we’re at it, Gelateria Italiana across the street. There are many, many others; we haven’t even scratched the surface.
Skansen – the world’s oldest open-air museum, devoted to the history, culture and animals of Scandinavia, with the emphasis on Sweden. We spent several hours there, and came away with a better appreciation of the country.
Transportation – we loved the public transportation; no need for a car, just buy a monthly pass and use the subway, buses and trams to get anywhere in the city. The whole network fits together well, so you can go from bus to subway to intercity train with a minimum of walking between stops and waiting for the next departure. Walking is also not a problem, since there are relatively few cars on the road for a city this size and drivers respect the pedetrian right of way. (Watch out for those bicycles, though – mopeds and scooters can ride in the bike lane, so you have to look carefully before crossing the bike path.)
Vasa Museet – museum of the Vasa, a sailing ship that sunk in 1628, mostly due to poor design: it was built too narrow and with two rows of guns, so the lower gun ports took on water in light seas. They knew that before it sailed, but it was needed for the war with Denmark, so it was pressed into service anyway. When the Vasa sailed out on its maiden voyage with all of its gun ports open, the crowds of people on the shore watched in horror as it sank within a few hundred yards off shore. The ship laid on the bottom for more than 300 years until it was recovered, remarkably intact because the Baltic Sea isn’t salty enough to be a good habitat for shipworm; otherwise it would have been devoured by then.
So there you have it – the highlights of the month we spent here. There’s a lot left to see and do, but we need to get back. For a lot of the places we’re seeing, Maggie and I think that this may be our last visit, but we hope that’s not the case for Sweden.