With 60 bridges spanning a filigree of waterways, Sweden’s capital seems to float, hence its “Venice of the North” soubriquet
I like the lilt of the Swedish language, and their flag – a yellow cross on a blue background. This annoys my husband, whose passion for the Danish flag – a white cross on a red background, verges on obsessive. The Dannerbrog adorns socks, crockery, and most gardens in Denmark. Failure to display it marks you as a non-conformist.
“Yellow is for cowards,” asserts my husband. “Red represents the blood of our hearts, the force of the Dan tribe.”
Who knew? Changing the subject, I praise my Radisson Blu waterfront hotel breakfast Danish pastry. “This is as good as the Copenhagen variety.”
“Blasphemy,” hisses hubby. “Everyone knows what a Danish is but you can’t just order a Swedish when it comes to tarts and crumpets.” English is not his first language.
We do agree that Swedes must be the world’s most annoying drivers, sticking to the 95km/h limit in the fast lane, irrespective of mile-long queues behind them. Gung ho overtaking is a no go, thanks to the judicious enforcement of “Fart Kontrol” where speeding fines are based on income. The more you earn, the more you’ll pay.
In Stockholm, summer is celebrated in Kungsträdgården with open-air concerts where singers of varying talents yodel tender entreaties at old men hunched over chessboards. Lovers kiss, and teens cool their feet in the fountains.
Two statues of kings called Carl – a popular name with Swedish royalty – dominate the park. Carl XII, the last Viking King, points a sword eastward; his menacing posture somewhat diminished by the seagulls crapping on his head. The other Carl (XIII) was regarded as a coward, who sought political advice from dubious soothsayers.
With Lake Malaren at its back and the Baltic Sea in front, Stockholm is easily navigable. Around 60 bridges link the 14-island archipelago that forms this composite city arranged in meatball-sized portions.
A stroll through Gamla Stan, the original medieval Stockholm, unfolds teasing reflections of baroque buildings broken up by sailing boats in the filigree of waterways. Alleys twinkle through arches. Everywhere, the water calls to you.
The salvaged Vasa, a 17th-century wooden ship that sank on its maiden voyage, is worth seeing. Around 50 of 150 passengers drowned, including the ship’s cat. The Vasa, then the biggest warship afloat, recalls Sweden’s history as a bellicose nation given to beheading transgressors with impunity.
Then, thanks to some devious social engineering, Swedes did an about-turn to become a compliant, authority-fearing lot, keen to be seen as liberal and egalitarian at all times. The Swede likes to “do the right thing” whatever that means.
- Caroline flew to Copenhagen, courtesy of British Airways and drove to Stockholm, however British Airways also offer daily flights to Stockholm