Stockholm Card aside, there are plenty of things you can do in this awesome city, without following sticking to a schedule and paying. And, in retrospect, these probably involve the nicest moments and experiences, because they best synthesise the general feeling that you get while visiting the Swedish capital.
First of all, Stockholm metro is a sort of immense subterranean museum. There are a couple of stations that are awesomely painted and decorated, and we spent quite some time admiring and photographing them. After some debates, our top 3 was made up of T-Centralen, with its gorgeous blue walls, apparently painted in this colour for the calming effect that it might have on the travellers, Solna Centrum, with the dual red- green theme, that is all about the Swedish industrialization process and the environmental problems generated by it, and Stadio, a sort of rainbow ode to the olympic games, that, obviously, impressed me profusely. We have also seen Kungsträdgården, with the red, green and black-white harlequin model, Hötorget, the station that is call the “bathroom” because of the blue tiles covering the walls, and Rådhuset, with it’s bricky walls and the feel of grand cave. Anyway, it’s a pleasure to travel underground in Stockholm, especially since, unlike other big cities I’ve visited, it’s hardly ever crowded here. Ok, mayhe in T-Centralen. But, the trains are never packed and you always find a place to sit down, they run from 5 am to 1 am and there are elevators and escalators everywhere, which is useful when you are completely beat after walking all day long or you carry a lot of luggage.
Djurgården island or the royal island is a green oasis in the middle of the city. Partly wild forest to get lost in, partly perfectly mowed lawn and carefully studied flower arrangements, it’s visited by both locals out for a jog or a walk and tourist busy exploring the numerous attractions found here. The diverse flora is completed by an interesting fauna. Besides all sorts of flying creatures, to our amazement, we saw a dear. Somewhere in the centre of the park lies Rosendal Trädgård, a public garden set in the middle of the city, where people grow, of course in a bio environment, all sorts of fruits and vegetables. There is also a lovely orchard that is also a playground and relaxation spot, and some former greenhouses that have been converted into cafes and socializing spots. It all comes together in a great urban space, that is probably one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen.
Östermalm definitely deserves an in-depth visit. As I said, it the high-end neighbourhood of the city. Regular apartment blocks are replaces here by buildings of beautiful architecture, with interior taken out of magazines, decorated with art works, crystal chandeliers and all sort of wonders meant to charm your eyes on the long and dark winter days of the north. Besides the residential area, another nice part of the neighbourhood are the pedestrian streets, filled with small and stylish boutique shops and inviting terraces. Mesmerized by it’s windows, we entered Fabrique, where we had the best brownie ever. We then walked over next door, to Androuet, were we tryed an assortment of cheese that totally maddened our taste buds. And, just as we were thinking it’s time to put an end to the culinary indulgences we discovered Saluhall, the place I had read was known as the Mecca of the city and totally …bulversat. with it’s endless delicacies spread across shelves and inside refrigerators. I can honestly say we were basically terrified that we would get swept away by the frenzy and spend all our money there, that we run as fast as we could to the Coop around the corner, where we put together a perfect salad from the extremely well stocked and diverse salad bar, and we managed to satisfy our hunger in a decent manner, more adequate for our wallets. (at 11 sek/100 grams, for 50 sek we ate plentifully).
Gamla Stan is the heart of the city and draws most of the visitors. But, although all the tourists gather here during the day, it never gets annoyingly crowded. It’s got the old medieval city vibe, and reminded me of Prague, Copenhagen or Sibiu. The houses are colourful and well maintained, the streets are narrow and twined, the terraces look great and no matter where you go, since we are talking about an island, you will end up on the water front, enjoying a nice view. We ate a couple of nice things in Gamla Stan. We were more than delighted to get acquainted with the Ramen soup, a noodely wonder served at Cafe Stiernan. As for deserts, we tried out a decent lemon meringue pie and an apple strudel at Schweizer Konditori. In the evening, Gamla Stan gets pretty quiet, the light turns perfect and you can walk around freely and enjoy the streets all by yourself.
One of the nicest experiences we had was quite unexpected. We were walking around the old city and we happened to find ourselves in front of the royal palace just as the changing of the guard was taking place. And, in Stockholm, during the summer, that implies a little concert offered by the military orchestra. The performance started with a couple of classical tunes, nothing impressive, but then it totally blew us away with a modern interpretation of the hit Don’t worry child. A hit that I’ve never heard of, played by the local musical ensemble Swedish House Mafia, that, in it’s original version sounds very plain electro, but, in the bursts of drums and the puffs of trumpets gives you the goosebumps. The next day we run into the band marching around town and thus found out that, in the summer time, the spectacle starts at the Army Museum and parades all the way to the Royal Palace, where the changing of the guards officially starts at 12.45 every day, except Sunday, when it starts at 13.15.
While following the sun on the abrupt streets that went up to the top of Södermalm island, we discovered, quite by chance, that the perfect spot to admire the sunset is the Monteliusvägen alley. A winding little road set high above, that gives the feeling you are somewhere in the mountains, that offers a great panorama over the city. You can take a sit on one of the benches or, you there is room o the grass of the little park along the way, Ivar Los Park.
If you want to get out of Stockholm, see how things look like in the country side, you can take a trip to Sigtuna, the oldest Swedish town. Well, actually, it’s more of a village, set on the side of lake Mälaren, with pretty little houses, a main street, a couple of shops, a nice church and a cute little harbor. You get to Sigtuna changing a train and a bus, but it’s not at all complicated.
I might add the whole of Stockholm and its surroundings are filled with linden trees, that were in bloom and wonderfully scented the air all around, a thing I always appreciate. Once you leave the central area and walk towards the suburbs, the city has a feeling a wilderness, with houses spread here and there in the middle of little woods, wild berries on the side of the road and pretty few people. In fact, this is one of the main characteristics of the place. It often looks uninhabited. Especially in the evening, the relative buzz of the days dies down and you find yourself wondering the empty streets. Thing is, you don’t see many lighted windows either, so you have to wonder were are the people in this city. We couldn’t solve that mystery. But I hope I get the chance to go back and find out more.