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July 18, 2016
This is one amazing city that we saw on a beautifully clear day. Stockholm is built on several islands connected by bridges and tunnels. Each area of the downtown is more interesting than the former. We had a great tour.
After arriving at 6 a.m. we went to the hotel, checked in, and immediately began to tour. I had been here before and, unlike Helsinki, had a sense of deja vue.
First stop was City Hall. Ordinarily the idea of spending time looking at a City Hall would not be appealing but here it was a surprise. The city fathers wanted to build a City Hall to show how great Stockholm was. They hired an architect who, in his own way, was bizarre. He was a perfectionist with an ever changing concept of what the place should look like upon completion. Construction took years more than expected and the project was constantly over budget. Each of the public rooms is more amazing than the next. The main hall is where the banquet for the Nobel Prize winners is held (first photo below). There is even a reception room that was made up of millions of tiny gold tiles encased in glass (fourth photo). They got their unique City Hall and a citizen palace at the same time.
The Royal Palace had to work to be more spectacular than City Hall but pulled it off.
I have had a hard time getting my head around this city. I often look for parallels with other places we have been and use that as a way to organize the discussion. Stockholm does not lend itself to such comparisions. Having islands mean lots of water to be crossed, which mean lots of bridges (but not just for pedestrians like Venice), which also means lots of boats (with opportunities for boat living - junkier than Copenhagen), which means lots of places to have commercial and residential structures lining the waterways (looking like similar structures elsewhere but delightfully lacking any architural coordination). The buildings are colorful as in many island cultures. But the picture all this creates is a capital different than the capital of any other major Western power but, at the same time, like all of them.
Old Town is like Old Town in most Western cities, compact and picturesque with narrow winding streets filled with buildings that are typically shops on the first floor and residences above. There is a town square with a central water pump that is still producing potable water.
The streets are alive with people, in spite of the fact that the locals are on vacation in July. The tourists are in evidence everywhere - walking in swarms and arriving by the busload. The Japanese and Chinese make up a large proportion of the tourists we've been seeing and they are a polyglot of dress, both native and what they think is chic Western. I have never seen so many selfie-sticks!
Finally, because I visited Stockholm decades ago, I again looked for pictures from that time to compare them with today's photos. The most startling example was the Vasa, a ship raised from the harbor which sunk on its maiden voyage. I was under the impression that the Vargas was a Viking ship. It actually was a ship commissioned by the Swedish King. It sank on its maiden voyage. The pictures on the left were from ~50 years ago. Note that the ship was just being preserved at that time. On the right, are two from today, after decades of rather amazing restoration.
Legendary Cultures 2011 | Greece & Turkey 2012 | Circle The Arctic | France-Denmark 2016 | Helsinki-Norway 2016