Sweden. The land of open spaces, open minds and open smiles
What do you imagine when you think of Sweden? Do you see lots of blonde haired, blue eyed, fair skinned people, driving around in Volvos with lots of Ikea furniture in their houses and listening to either Abba or Roxette? Well believe it or not, back in the 90’s that’s what I sort of expected. However, I was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered, as I knew very little about it.
It was late July 1990 when after travelling northbound along the rugged Norwegian coastline to the city of Tromsø, I crossed over the Swedish border by bus and train to the remote northern mining town of Kiruna. Renowned for its huge iron ore mine, the?largest and most modern in the world, I naturally felt a guided tour was in order. It was quite fascinating and gave a very good insight into working life underground.
Heading southbound, I stopped at the coastal town of Luleå, and visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gammelstad. What a quaint town, a “church village” in fact, with hundreds of old preserved wooden houses built around a beautiful 15th century stone church. The locals were very warm and friendly and while I was there, I had the opportunity to taste a local stew made with reindeer meat. Mmm.. surprisingly delicious!
Taste of the big city – Scandi-style
My next destination was the Swedish capital, and after a long 12-hour overnight train trip in a very comfortable sleeper, I arrived in beautiful Stockholm. Being a city on the water and encompassing 14 islands and about 50 bridges, it has been referred to as the “Venice of the north”.
As an intrepid backpacker in those days, I’d been reading about a youth hostel with a difference. The af Chapman is a fully-rigged sailing ship built over 130 years ago. It’s moored on the shores of a small island overlooking medieval Gamla Stad (the Old City) and since 1947, it has been operating as a youth hostel. A truly unique and memorable place to stay, right in the heart of the city.
Upon recommendation, I purchased a Stockholm Pass (Stockholmskortet) which gave access to public transport and free tours. This was perfect, as the next few days were spent discovering the city on foot as well as exploring the canals on a short boat tour. Such an enchantingly beautiful city with a vibrant heart buzzing with activity; full of shops, cafés, and restaurants, topped with an amazing view from the top of the City Hall tower.
The highlight during my stay would have to be the visit to Millesgården. Once the home of the famous sculptor Carl Milles and his artist wife Olga, it is now an art museum and sculpture garden. Its waterfront location is on one of the islands on the outskirts of the city. A reproduction of one of his last works, the Hand of God, also appears in the Kings Domain in Melbourne. Such an inspiring collection of works in a beautiful serene setting, with the sculpture park overlooking the water.
Stockholm was a great finale to my visit to Sweden. Such a great way to start from such a remote rural setting in the north to this cosmopolitan city. This country really celebrates the outdoors, the beauty of its wilderness, and the creativity of its people. From the glory Viking days to the history of the Swedish royal family; from the arts to its commercial industries. Once you scratch the surface, there’s so much more to reveal and discover.
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