Stockholm: Gamla Stan, The Old Town
I've just returned from my second trip to one my favourite cities, Sweden's capital, Stockholm, where our luck with the weather was, again, so fortuitous that I should probably be buying lottery tickets. Both times it was unseasonably warm - hot even! - by a good 10 degrees. One day I couldn't find my sunglasses and didn't have a hat, and I started to get sunstroke when I had to queue in the sun for about 30 minutes. But I wasn't going to complain about glorious weather. (Yes, I'm sensitive.)
Even when the sun isn't present, Stockholm is a city of yellow. It's especially prominent in the structures of Gamla Stad, the 'old town', along with saturated shades of orange. The painted buildings far outnumber the naked concrete ones. But elsewhere you're only ever around the corner from a burst of sunshine.
So let's take a little tour through the streets of Gamla Stan, to be followed for the next several days by scenes taken from the water - the architecture is varied and just so cool and colourful, and we spied many sunbathers on rocks - and other places around Stockholm, including Marimekko who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their iconic flower print, Unikko. (They're a Finnish heritage brand but they certainly fit well with the joyful aesthetic of Sweden.)
Um, 7-11 is way better looking than I remember it back in Canada...even inside it's styled like an internet cafe - are we still saying that? Is there a cooler name now? The branding of American institutions in Stockholm, such as McDonald's (there are not many others visible in the city), assumes a higher level of sophistication when communicating to its demographic. In that it doesn't seem to be parsing out a specific segment of the population to talk down to. I might be jumping to conclusions here, but you can see the tax dollars (or krona in this case) put to good use. People are well taken care of in terms of social programs, the streets are clean, there's a commitment to green spaces and work/life balance, gender equality is a reality and not a lofty notion, and you have to go out of your way to find food that's not good for you. And although it's a very expensive city, the salaries are commensurate with the cost of living. So it's just us tourists that feel the crunch! But it's worth it. It's a city of people who actually look happy. And healthy. I've mentioned their peachy glow before which I admit I am in awe of. Peachy glow! People here in the UK pay for that and then wind up looking orange. (Hint: it comes from within. You can't buy it.)
Pippi Longstocking was the trendsetter for this look:
Even a sophisticated city like Stockholm has its cheesy tourist shops, though they're thoughtfully condensed to one street. This t-shirt that survived the 70s was only trumped by the 'Rasta Baby' - a stoned baby in a pot leaf-emblemed hat smoking a joint. I'm not showing that, I don't want it on my blog! I didn't want it on my brain, either.
Walking out of Gamla Stan toward the water will take you through the Parliament buildings and the palace:
Notice the Brutalist addition to the top of this wing of Parliament building (above).
The parliament building is quite a grand presence (above), while the palace across the water is less ornate, at least from this viewpoint. Love the yellow guard station though:
We got to see the changing of the guard which was different from what you'd see at Buckingham palace in that the guards included women and they were all quite young. Two from the procession stepped up and peformed the ritual with the on-duty guard that involved a lot of (seemingly) angry shouting. Whatever they were saying, they meant it! When the new guard was in place we noticed that her bayonette was mighty sharp. I think I saw daggers as well. You don't really see bayonettes much these days, do you?
The lion with its mighty paw on the globe symbolised the Swedish empire's reign as a great European power in the 17th and early 18th centuries. (And they didn't miss a detail in carving out that lion's undercarriage.)
This was an unusual sight - a classic American muscle car, in purple no less, cruising through Gamla Stan. It's kind of hard to see, but in proper muscle car style, the driver is watching the girls watch him. He likes what they see.
More to come...in the meantime you can see photos from my previous trip to Stockholm here (just scroll down a bit as this is the Scandinavia category and includes everything).