When we were teenagers, our bedrooms resounded to the songs of ABBA. All around the house, items from a Swedish furniture giant we assembled ourselves now testify to our DIY skills. We sleep under Nordic-style duvets, eat Scandinavian crispbread at breakfast for the good of our health, and drive to work confident in our safety – thanks to the elk test. The extent to which the spirit of skandinavisk pervades our lives is uncanny, especially considering that we have never actually ventured into its epicentre. And that is clearly a situation that needs to be rectified. The timing of the invitation from Daniela Gustavsson is therefore perfect. A two-and-a-half-hour journey high above the clouds brings us to the far north. Lots of water, lots of greenery and lots of colourful houses form the backdrop to our meeting with Daniela, who greets us with a hearty ‘välkommen till Stockholm!’ Scenery and lead actress both radiate an infectious vitality. We have arrived.
Our journey into the city soon becomes a real artistic delight, as Stockholm’s metro stations are not characterized by utilitarian drabness, having instead been lovingly designed by artists. ‘I’ve got you a room at the Skeppsholmen,’ says Daniela on the way to the hotel. ‘It’s my special tip for anyone who wants to explore Stockholm on foot. It’s comfortable and cosy, it has a family atmosphere and it’s in a superb location.’ She’s right, it’s perfect: the accommodation is on an island in the middle of the city, surrounded by beautiful unspoiled nature. Noisy streets and congested traffic are foreign concepts here. ‘We’re just three hundred metres from the city centre.’ We check in. In our homely room, we follow Daniela’s advice to put on sturdy footwear as we equip ourselves for the urban safari to come. We’re ready.
A city with majesty
We head for the old city centre over the elegant Skeppsholmsbron bridge. The scene is dominated by impressive architecture which is not shy of turrets or oriels and boasts striking, colourful walls. The houses are all in their original condition: no architectural blunders here to create an eyesore in the heart of the city.
After a few minutes we find ourselves outside Stockholm Palace. Behind these venerable walls are the working chambers of the King. The wing that’s open to the public houses a museum whose changing exhibitions regularly attract locals and tourists. Currently pulling in the crowds is the wedding dress in which Princess Madeleine walked up the aisle in 2013. To the north of the Palace is the seat of the Swedish government, the magnificent Parliament House. The huge building towers majestically above us and dominates the entire surroundings. ‘I like the Royal Palace,’ Daniela openly admits. ‘It preserves a bit of centuries-old tradition in a modern age, as well as attracting lots of tourists to the city.’ We are keen to know if she’s ever met the monarch. ‘Better than that!’ Daniela beams. ‘I once stood on the same dance floor as Queen Silvia. But I didn’t have the courage to talk to her.’ Daniela would probably have enjoyed hearing her own language again, as Silvia is also German-born.
We leave the Dancing Queen at her Palace and stroll over Norrbro Bridge towards the Royal Opera House. Once the palace of the crown prince, the building is now a major attraction for fans of the opera and ballet. Time is short, so we just pay our respects from the outside. ‘But tomorrow you really must take a tour round the inside,’ Daniela recommends. She goes on to enthuse about recent performances she and Mats have seen there, about the opulence of the building and the high standard of the ensemble and her glowing descriptions leave us in no doubt that the Royal Opera is something no classical music lover should miss. We wonder whether there might be tickets available at short notice for one of the next performances.
Glamour and luxury
Suddenly we find our attention caught by an imposing Art Nouveau building ahead of us; an enormous logo perches atop the roof, inadvertently reminiscent of the badge on the bonnet of a luxury car. Daniela helps plug the gap in our knowledge: ‘NK stands for Nordiska Kompaniet. It’s a posh department store, Stockholm’s answer to Harrods in London or Galeries Lafayette in Paris. The brands on sale here are some of the finest: people who shop at NK are looking for style and exclusivity. It’s a great location for JURA, in other words.’ And we actually do find a swish JURA sales outlet inside which more than does justice to the image of the premium brand. ‘I love the relaxed atmosphere here,’ Daniela admits. She has a short chat with an advisor and asks how customers are responding to the new JURA models. ‘Contact with the staff is very important to us,’ she says. ‘Mats and I like to be very close to the sales personnel and customers. Conversations like these help us to optimize our sales outlets continuously. A friendly goodbye smile, then we emerge from the temple to consumerism back into the streets and alleyways of the metropolis, with its population of 935,000 souls.
Nordic delicacies galore
‘Anyone fancy a bite to eat?’ Daniela’s question hits the mark. We nod. With a purposeful stride she leads us to MOOD. It’s busy inside. Bright showcases contain a wide variety of tempting delicacies, their fragrances blending into an appetizing waft of fresh goodness. There’s everything here a hungry heart could desire, and more besides. We settle for the Swedish classic: Smörgås. Delicious! We wash it down with a light beer from one of the many local microbreweries. ‘People like to meet up at MOOD for a few drinks and nice chat after work,’ Daniela informs us. That we can easily understand. The atmosphere has a relaxing effect and makes us want to linger but we are not allowed to dally: outside is a city waiting to be discovered.
We are off to enjoy coffee and something sweet to round off our snack in style. As chance would have it, Daniela’s favourite café is only a stone’s throw away. At Berns you can get Sweets for the Sweets served with wonderful coffee. We are struck by the mixed clientele here. ‘Berns attracts all sorts, from cool rappers to grannies with their knitting: everyone feels at home here,’ Daniela points out. ‘What Berns offers is just as wide-ranging as its customers – it’s a hotel, conference centre, restaurant, café and night club all in one.’ Wherever we go we are met with a friendly welcome, which gets noticeably warmer when Daniela starts to speak. ‘Maybe that’s because I have a slight German accent,’ she suggests. ‘It reminds the Swedes of their queen.’ Daniela raises her eyebrows and grins mischievously.
Anyone wishing to discover the rich wealth of Swedish specialities should definitely check out Östermalms Saluhall. The market hall stands out from the street corner with its brilliant red brick façade almost as if it had sprung from a story by Astrid Lindgrens. The unique charm of antique stalls here has been captivating people since the 1880s. The breathtaking range of produce on offer includes fruit and vegetables, exotic delights, all sorts of fresh fish, elk meat, reindeer salami, gourmet products and coffees.
An absolute must: a boat trip to the islands
Stockholm is surrounded by the sea, and the cityscape is characterized by bays, spits of land and countless islands – its archipelago. There are said to be 24,000 islands around here. We wonder who could possibly have counted them all. We step aboard one of the many hop-on hop-off boats and take the weight off our feet for a little. Water taxis and ferries are the perfect means of transport for traffic-free island-hopping. They are highly appreciated by locals and tourists alike. Daniela points out an old three-master at anchor by the quayside: ‘Look, the Af Chapman. It contains what must be the most beautiful youth hostel in Stockholm, with a unique view of the old city centre. On hot sunny days you can get the best caipirinhas in the northern hemisphere there.’ We decide to verify this statement next day.
We are impressed by the large number of parks all over the city, inviting green spaces in which to rest if suffering from a lack of energy or go for a run if suffering from a surplus. ‘The most popular local recreation area is in the east of the city,’ says Daniela by way of introducing our next stop. ‘Skansen is the oldest open-air museum in the world. There are buildings and farms from all over Sweden here to whisk visitors away on a journey through history. You meet people in period costume who are reviving traditional crafts and are pleased to explain them if you’re interested.’
We have now seen Stockholm from the water and from the land. The only thing missing is the view from the air. A lift takes us up the 155-metre-high Kaknästornet, a television tower with restaurant, sky bar, café and mesmerizing views. The way back leads us past the Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh restaurant. ‘We’ve booked a table here for this evening,’ Daniela announces with evident anticipation. ‘We’ll enjoy classic Swedish cuisine in a historical ambience.’ Sounds tempting. The tour has been something of a challenge to our fitness levels, but we don’t want to miss a step. On the contrary: before we return to the hotel we still find the energy for a little stroll on the Strandvägen. ‘See you this evening,’ says Daniela. We wave goodbye and quickly lose sight of her in the crowd. She has already mentioned to us that a good part of Stockholm life takes place outdoors, and the evidence can be seen everywhere in the form of warm fur rugs and comfortable chairs outside the pubs, and radiant heaters. Another hour and a half, then we’re being picked up again. We saunter back to the hotel and glance once more in admiration at the Venice of Scandinavia, and understand how Daniela so quickly felt at home here.
Images: Kurt Pfister