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‘For the love of Sweden’ or 14 islands doth a Stockholm make

December 5, 2012

snowEarlier this year I wrote about my Viennese connections and after a recent trip to Stockholm, I have discovered there are a few Swedish connections as well.  Not so overtly familial, but more subliminal messages from my parents as well as the three trips to Sweden in the last two years.

First there was a trip to Malmo two years ago and later a trip to Stockholm.  And just before this past Thanksgiving, we spent six days in Stockholm.  The first Stockholm  visit was quick and there was a bit of intrigue as I wanted to sightsee in the city locales featured in the “The Girl with Dragon Tattoo” books which I thoroughly loved.  In the spring of 2011, I even assisted Sony Columbia with some costumes and props for one segment in the movie when the two principals fly to London from Stockholm to investigate a family connection.

At any rate, Stieg Larssons’s trilogy of murder and mayhem in Sweden was chilling as well as exciting and I had a contemporary excuse to visit Stockholm and follow the trail of Mikael Blomkvist.

Back  in 1966, my parents started buying Volvos – a tradition which would continue for some 30 years.  There had to be half a dozen parading through my life – when I would visit home in Los Angeles or when they drove cross-country.

I can always remember my parents loving everything Swedish – from a wide variety of furniture, dishes, silverware – and then the Volvo cars through the years.

They had a clever way of buying their cars, and at the same time having one swell of a vacation.  My parents loved to travel and take mostly driving vacations, with some intercontinental trips thrown in.  Whether they’d drive from LA to Utah for skiing as they did for many years, or drive across the USA as they did a few times, they preferred to drive and have their own sightseeing freedom, visit friends and just do what they enjoyed.

First they would pre-order a car from a local LA dealer, fly to London and connect on to Gothenburg – site of the Volvo factory, drive through Europe and end up in London and then have the car shipped to San Pedro, California.

They took the Volvos everywhere and thus avoided renting a car- in those years, the 60’s through 80’s, renting was almost as costly as buying a new car.

Now they were turned on to Volvo’s for several reasons. One, they loved the safety aspects of the car (no – this is not a commercial for Volvo), but the USA dollar was strong in those decades and European cars were quite a buy, especially if you could bring it back to the USA as a used car and not have to pay the more expensive import and new car taxes.

Well enough of my family’s Volvo ranting, although it does further explain my love of travel and driving around Europe.  I’m sure there’s a travel gene in me that was inherited from both parents.

So far as Sweden goes, there was this insurmountable urge to visit Scandinavia for many years, and even throughout my career with British Airways, I just never got there; a solid business reason to travel to Sweden never materialized.  But now, I’m fairly familiar with Stockholm.

waterStockholm is a picturesque city comprised of 14 islands;  there seems to be water everywhere since it is bounded on the east by the Baltic Sea.  Most everywhere one walks or drives in or near the town center, one sees water; and, of course, the accompanying pleasure, fishing and sightseeing boats, small ferries and large cruise ships.  You can’t escape it.

vikingOver the centuries, the sea, with a few other elements, determined the culture, growth, history and tradition of all Scandinavia; Sweden being no exception.  Just think – from where  did many of the Vikings come from – by sea from Sweden.  They weren’t all that sweet and kindly to most of the places they visited, but it was their sea faring expertise that allowed them to establish outposts in many areas of Europe,  Iceland, Greenland and North America.  By way of this convoluted introduction to the Vikings, one can gain a mass of information and knowledge by visiting Stockholm’s Viking Museum.   I wonder if the V in Viking has anything to do with the Vs in Volvo.  There’s enough gold treasure and booty, journals of sea lore, statues, replicas and videos of Viking villages and life to keep one thoroughly busy for two days at least.

There’s the Vasa Museum, not to be missed.  It houses a 17th century warship, that when launched in April 1628 in the Stockholm harbor, it immediately sank due to it being massively overweight with too many cannons and ammunition. Over the centuries the harbor waters remained so consistently cold that it was salvaged fairly intact in 1961. Since then, the ship underwent reconstruction, and in 1990, it was officially opened.  Work has continued to re-paint and refit the ship as well as improve the climate control of the new museum in which it is housed.  The Vasa museum was literally built around the ship, and it is now one of the most popular “must see” sights in Stockholm.

nordicThe Nordic Museum in Stockholm houses the ethnic history and contemporary life of Sweden.  It is contained in a most wondrous and beautiful castle located a stone’s throw from the Vasa Museum on the Island of Djurgården, just across the water from the center of town.

Sweden’s National Museum is by the water, just a hundred yards down the street from the Grand Hotel, holding the country’s major art collection including numerous old masters, a few impressionist paintings, and, of course, some more traditional sculpture and canvases that reflect contemporary Sweden.

summer palaceA visit to Drottningholm Palace, the summer palace and country home of the current King and Queen, is a must on the list.  It’s actually located on an island about 20 minutes from the town center and not really out in the country, but it’s their summer residence.  There are guided tours in English and one is ushered pretty much throughout the palace – most all the public rooms are viewable with the exception of the royal family’s private quarters.

By the way, everyone, and I mean everyone in Sweden, speaks English.  It’s required learning at a very early age in the Swedish schools.  Something that American schools should learn from since most Americans don’t speak a second language, and are not even exposed to a new language until middle school – way too late in my opinion.  Everybody working in department stores, shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, buses, trains and airports – they all excel in English.

shopThe main department store in Stockholm is NK – the Swedish equivalent to Bergdorf Goodman.  It has everything, and for most Swedish products, prices are a bit cheaper than in the USA.  For foreign brands, you will pay very high prices.  Meals at NK are terrific with several restaurants around the store; the ground floor’s restaurant best recommendation is the shrimp salad, either for lunch or dinner. It’s the best value with what looks like hundreds of tiny shrimp with tons of fresh vegetables.

Other great stores in Stockholm are Illums Bolighus, Ahlens and H&M. Don’t forget to ask for the VAT forms when shopping to get your tax on your purchases refunded.

A fun, real shopping expedition is to visit the original IKEA store, opened in 1965, and now the chain’s flagship location situated in Kungens Kurva, about 20 minutes drive south of the city.  You can snack on Ikea’s Swedish hot dogs or meatballs. What really makes it uniquely fun is the free roundtrip bus transportation between the city center and the massive store; you even get a bit of sightseeing along the way.

grandhotelThe restaurant scene in Stockholm is plentiful with everything from McDonalds, Subway, and Friday’s to small local restaurants serving everything from sandwiches to sushi.  But for sheer splendor and chic, there’s the Grand Hotel.  Everyone should experience the Smorgasbord at the Grand, at least once, just so you can boast you’ve been there, done that.  It is grand in every way.  Also the Opera Bar restaurant behind the Opera house is excellent as well, particularly after a performance for a late evening snack, digestif or coffee.

Sweden, and mostly Stockholm in my limited experience, is a glorious and picturesque city – both in the summer and winter.  The two extremes give it balance and beauty not found anywhere south of the 55th parallel.  The summers can be hot, sultry and humid, while the winters are usually gray, cold and brutal.  Nevertheless it is a city and a country with rich history, unique design, a friendly population and well worth the visit.

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  1. Great read and interesting in the familial history. sounds like a place worh visiting. all the best Peter

  2. Really nice post. I visited Stockholm a few months ago and was blown away by the cost of food. Did you find the same?

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