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Stockholm, Sweden
Story written by Rick Archer, Sept 2012

Stockholm is a far-flung city situated on 14 different islands.  Marla wrote extensively about the highlights of this city, so be sure to check out her Stockholm piece for more information.

As you can see from the picture, despite the immense size of the city, the cruise ship was able to dock right in the middle of everything.  Wherever I went, the ship was always in convenient sight to reassure me.

My day was divided into three parts - roof hopping (2), a missed meeting with Marla (4), and a long walk with Jan Davis and her lovely daughter Melissa to an island named Skeppsholmen (5), followed by another long walk back to the ship (1) at the end of the day.

Stockholm has a very unique geography.   It is surrounded by a vast network of lakes and rivers. 

If you study the map, you will see a faint purple line that serves as the entrance from the Baltic Sea to Stockholm.

In a manner very similar to Houston, Texas, Stockholm is located 50 miles inland.  The big difference is they didn't have to build a ship channel.  Ships have been navigating that route since time immemorial.

Stockholm is known for its abundant clean water and many parks.  It is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of the North".  I didn't see any gondolas ala Venice, but I got high up and could see waterways in every direction.  This city is not only very green, it is definitely full of water. 

Unlike Russia's St. Petersburg where they had to bring in tons of dirt to create islands out of swampland, the Swedes were able to use the 14 existing islands to build their city around the water. 

I can attest that the water did appear to be unbelievably clean.  They say the water is safe to fish in and safe to swim in.  I believe that.

This picture gives a good idea of the complexity of Stockholm's design. 

The water is so wide from shore to shore that you begin to realize this is not your average "river". Indeed the water you see in this picture is not a "river" but an actual "bay". 

This water area is known as Riddarfjärden Bay, or "Riddar Fjord" if you prefer.

As the picture suggests, there is a great deal of water to the west.  About ten miles or so to the west of Stockholm there is a gigantic lake known as Lake Mälaren.  

Stockholm is situated on an  island cluster or island chain known as the Lake Mälaren Archipelago.

The Swedish Coastline

The approach from the Baltic to Stockholm is very picturesque.

The picture above shows the river or channel that serves as the approach to Stockholm from the sea.  This area of water was so wide that it felt more like a lake.  Please note there was another coastline behind me as I took this picture.  We were sailing down the center of the channel.   

The rugged coastline of Sweden is highly reminiscent of Alaska.  There are long undeveloped stretches of land that are heavily-forested.  The wide channel was lined with little islands everywhere I looked.  Very beautiful. 

As the ship got closer to Stockholm, we began to see trophy homes built on some of the larger islands.   What may not be clear from these pictures is that there is another body of water right behind the homes.   Many of these islands were only large enough for one, two, or three homes.

Wouldn't it be fun to live on your own little island? 


Roof Hopping

I have known Jan Davis all the way back to the late Eighties.  Jan was part of our wonderful "Studebaker's Gang".  Every Monday night an entire group of friends would meet at Studebaker's for Happy Hour.  In exchange for buying a couple drinks, we got a free meal and a chance to dance East Coast and West Coast Swing to great oldies music from the 50s and 60s.

For sideline entertainment,  we watched in great amusement as Hal Perry spent the night dodging waitresses.  Hal had lost his job and was trying to save money.  Once Hal realized he could get a good meal at Studebaker's for free, he would slip in to get a meal when the waitresses weren't looking.  Then he would spend the night running onto the dance floor anytime a waitress came near to take his drink order. 

One night Hal even grabbed me.  I was the only one around at the time and Hal panicked as the waitress approached.  Once we were on the floor, I said, "Now what?"   Hal grinned at me and started to freestyle. 

Those were the days, my friends.  We thought they'd never end.

Jan said her daughter Melissa had talked her into an excursion called "Roof Hopping".  Jan invited me to join them.  I had no idea what "roof hopping" was, but I was curious.   When I looked at the vague writeup, it sounded interesting.  It sounded like "urban zip lining".  Sign me up.

Marla and Velma were not interested in risking their lives, so they signed up for something else.  Since both of our excursions ended around 12:30 pm, Marla and I planned to meet for lunch in the middle of Stockholm, then walk around the city.   Nice tan, Marla!

Say hi to Eva on the right.  She was our intrepid leader.  In addition to keeping us safe, Eva entertained us with her good cheer.  Her knowledge of Swedish history was so vast I assumed Eva was a history major. 

No, it turns out she is an actress.  Eva said she had a bit part in the movie Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Now I know what moonlighting actresses do... they hop from roof to roof.  I suggested Spiderman as her next movie.  Eva smiled.

My favorite Eva story revolved around the ancient ritual of public hangings in Stockholm.  These Friday events were so popular they were attended by huge gatherings.   She said it was not at all uncommon to collect human heads after death and use them as drinking bowls.  This was derived from the morbid Viking custom of drinking mead or ale from the skull of a fallen enemy.  In fact, Eva declared, this led to common practice of saying "skoal" as a drinking toast.  Eva added that "skoal" is Swedish for "skull".

To tell the truth, I didn't believe her.  However Eva insisted she wasn't making this up.  You know me.  I had to check it out.  Wikipedia said this is an urban legend.  Too bad.  I liked that story. 

So what exactly is "Roof Hopping"?  Based on the quite vague explanation in the excursion book, I visualized that we would walk across a roof, then take a zip-line ride to another roof.   That would have been cool.  As it turned out, there was no roof hopping at all.  We stayed on one roof.

The actual activity was far less exciting.  They tethered us to a steel cable and let us walk around on the metal path.  Since there weren't any handholds in some places, it was possible that someone could lose their balance and slip.  If this happened, the tether would keep the person from sliding over the edge.

Don't get me wrong.  There was an element of danger.  After all, the drop was definitely significant.  However, in my opinion,  the tethers removed all possible risk.

Too bad.  I was really looking forward to zip-lining from house top to house top like a modern-day Urban Tarzan.  As a boy, I used to practice my Tarzan yell.  Not today. 

Eventually I figured out the real purpose of the activity was to offer spectacular views of the Stockholm landscape.  With that in mind, I took full advantage of the stunning views.

In this picture you can see the "Kommerskollegium" building.  This is where the National Board of Trade and Commerce has its headquarters.  This was the building upon whose roof we walked.  We could actually see people working in the offices below from our rooftop vantage point.

In this picture you can see the hole in the roof.  Eva took us up to an attic at the top of the building.  Then we came out through a door where those people are standing.   They have just begun to figure out how the cable system works.

Some views of the city.  That is Riddarfjärden Bay.  Our ship is just to the left about two miles away, but out of sight behind those buildings.

On the right is a tall church steeple.  Later you will see a picture of an old German church in Gamla Stan - that will be the same place. 



This was a tunnel for a train to go under the river.

The ship is still hiding.  Those buildings to the left are "Gamla Stan".

Now if they wanted this event to be ultra-cool, we would zip line to those other roof tops.  Nah.  No such luck.  At least the views are nice.

My final disappointment was the discovery that our roof walk was nothing more glamorous than a walk around this giant rectangle.  Our starting point had been in the upper left hand corner of this picture.  We would now walk back on the left hand roof to return to the starting point.  This building was city property, by the way.  The joke was that if we fell, what good would it do to sue city hall?

As it turned out, the adventure was pretty tame.  Still, the three of us do deserve marks for courage.  The writeup made it seem a lot more risky than it turned out to be.  Based on what we thought we were getting into, we definitely deserve the "Macho Man Merit Badge".   The adventure wasn't all bad.  Based on Eva's great stories plus the great views, I'll give it a C+.  However, they should not have hyped it so much.

We are about to visit Gamla Stan, Stockholm's "Old City".  The red star marks our roof walk building and now you can see the cruise ship in the distance.  This picture shows the major freeway that separates Gamla Stan from the government buildings.   In the center right of the picture is a spire with scaffolding.  That is the old German church we will pass during our walk through Gamla Stan.  The giant rectangular building on the center left is the Royal Palace. In the center of the picture is the Clock Tower.  It was 11 am when we started our walk. We will eat lunch close to the Clock Tower at 1 pm.

Gamla stan

Eva concluded her roof walking about 11 am.  She said the next stop would be a tour through  nearby Gamlastan, the oldest part of Stockholm.  Gamla stan is located on an island right in the middle of Riddarfjärden Bay that runs through the center of Stockholm.  

Eva explained that Gamla Stan is one of the best preserved medieval city centers in EuropeThis is where Stockholm was founded in 1252.  Today it serves as one of the foremost attractions in Stockholm.

Gamla Stan is a pedestrian-friendly village of full of sights from another era.  Besides the fascinating architecture, there restaurants, cafés and bars.  If you are looking for a place to shop, Gamla Stan is similar to our own Renaissance Festival because it has many shops full of handicrafts, curios and souvenirs.  

Stockholm became a modern, technologically advanced, and ethnically diverse city in the latter half of the 20th century.

Many historical buildings were torn down during the modernist era around 1930-1935 including substantial parts of the historical district of Klara. These buildings were replaced with modern architecture.

However, in parts of the city such as in Gamla Stan, many "old" buildings, blocks and streets survived this era of demolition thanks to a strong effort to preserve some of the past.

Thanks to being isolated on its own island, no one could bear to level this charming neighborhood.  Why not just keep it the way it is?

As it turned out, Gamlastan was right across the freeway from our rooftop adventure.  We simply crossed the highway and there we were.

So now I am going to take you on a walk through Gamlastan.  First we had to cross a major freeway. 

Eva grumbled the whole time.  "We should have put this freeway under water.  We had to destroy many fine buildings!!"

I thought to myself Eva would never survive long in Houston with that kind of attitude.

If there is a forest or a building in the way, no one in Houston ever hesitates to knock it down if it means another chance to widen a precious freeway.  I call Houston the "Concrete Jungle".  You aren't going to disagree with me, are you?

Oddly enough, all the many freeways of Houston never bothered me till I began to travel.  That's when I discovered stunning European cities such as Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and now Stockholm.  These cities do their best to preserve much of the past as well as create a city structure that lives in harmony with their environment. 

Houston is too flat to ever be a truly stunning city, but we do grow trees in abundance that we could take better advantage of.  At the very least, I think we need a long river walk along Buffalo Bayou.  

Plus we need to wide the Bayou so a cruise ship can dock downtown.  What a good idea!

Using the map above, you can trace our path.  I have put numbers next to various landmarks.  For example, #1 shows the spot where we crossed the Freeway from our Rooftop walk into Gamlastan.

#2: Riddarhuset - House of Nobility... where the nobles used to meet.  I think it is a tourist attraction now.

We are about to enter Gamla Stan.  These would be the last cars we would see for the next hour and a half.

As we walked down a series of narrow streets with four story buildings, it was easy to feel like a mouse in a giant maze. 


#3: Stora Gramunkegrand Street

That's Jan and Melissa walking in front of me.

I never had any idea where we were. I wish I had a map to keep track of our wanderings.  It was only after the fact that I retraced our route.

Aha!  A solid landmark.  Corner of Prasgatan and Storkyrkobrinken.
This spot is #4 and #5 in the map below.  We are headed to the red star.

So where are we?   For starters, we are clearly on #5 Prasgatan.  Eva is heading for the edge of the Royal Palace (red star).  From there she will head to the Clock Tower (51) and the German Church.

From there she will head south to the bottom of the picture to a long street known as Osterlangg.  At the end of our walk, we will travel the length of Osterlangg back towards the Royal Palace and have lunch.

I began to feel like I was lost in a maze again. I just wandered along and followed Eva, taking pictures the whole time.
In the middle picture, you can see the Clock Tower up ahead.  The Royal Palace is just up ahead about two blocks away.

#6: Front edge of the Royal Palace.  Now we turned to the right.

#7: Slottsbacken Square next to the Royal Palace.  This is a major drop off point for tour buses

We passed Storkyrkan Cathedral.  Finally I saw the building attached to the Clock Tower I had been noticing all morning.

This church has three names.  It is most commonly known as Storkyrkan (The Great Church), but is also called the Church of St. Nicholas and the Stockholm Cathedral.

Storkyrkan Cathedral is the oldest church in Gamla Stan. It is an important example of Swedish Brick Gothic.

Situated next to the Royal Palace, it forms the western end of Slottsbacken, the major approach to the Royal Palace, while the street of Storkyrkobrinken passes north of it.

Just south of the church is the Stockholm Stock Exchange Building which  faces the Stortorget Square.  This building contains the Swedish Academy, Nobel Library, and Nobel Museum.

We were about to pass both the Square and the Nobel Museum

#8: Nobel Museum in Stortorget Square next to the Storkyrkan Cathedral.  The Nobel Museum is devoted to circulate information on the Nobel Prize and the various Nobel laureates from 1901 to present

The Nobel Prize takes its name from the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel (1833-1896). Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. He was the inventor of dynamite. Nobel held 350 different patents, dynamite being the most famous.  He used his fortune to posthumously institute the Nobel Prizes.

The museum opened in the spring of 2001 for the centenary of the Nobel Prize. The museum boasts exhibitions featuring celebrities such as Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela, and Winston Churchill, to name but a few. 

Since its opening, the great demand for guided tours from school classes have made the premises in the old town cramped for space.  Current ambitions are to relocate the institution to a more suitable building on Skeppsholmen, the islet further east in central Stockholm already home to other museums.

Skeppsholmen is the island that Jan, Melissa and I would visit in the afternoon.

Stortorget Square was very crowded.  It would have been fun to stop and have a beer or some wine and watch the tourists go by.

Row of Cafes at the edge of Stortorget Square with the Clock Tower of Storkyrkan Cathedral in the background.  That's the Nobel Museum.

#9: Stortorget

#10: Skomakargatan.  You should try typing some of these. 
Spellcheck is going nuts!

Skomakargatan and Tyska Brinken

#11: Tyska Brinken and Prasgatan -  see below

#11: The Old German Church.  "Fear God.  Honor the King"

Tyska Kyrkan is Swedish for "Old German Church"

#12: Tyska Stallplan

#13: We went down the narrow alley of Marten Trotzig Street

#14: corner of Osterlanggaten and Norra Bankogrand.  We didn't know it at the time, but  we were now on the final leg of our journey.

#14 Osterlangg would take us all the way back to the Royal Palace.   Note the series of small streets on the map to the right of Osterlangg.
I will explain these streets in just a moment.

#14 Norra Bankogrand was the first of about 20 small streets we would pass on our right.  So what are Jan and Melissa staring at? 

They just noticed the water at the end of the alley.  That is the Riddarfjärden Bay.  Eva said if we kept watching through these openings, we would soon see our ship.  

Here is another small street that leads to the bay.  In the old days, merchants would dock at the edge of Gamla Stan, then bring their merchandise into the town through these corridors. 

Aha!  Eva was right!  There's our ship as seen through one of the alleys.  It is always nice to know our ship is still there. 
The time is now a little past noon.

The next twelve pictures were taken as we strolled along Osterlangg on our way back to Slottsbacken Square next to the Royal Palace. 


A statue of Saint George slaying the dragon.  Gamla Stan definitely had a lot of interesting things to look at.  This was a fun place to visit.

Suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel.  After a 20 minute walk on this street, could this be the end of Osterlangg?  It sure looked that way. 

We finally got to the end of Osterlangg only to be rudely greeted by cars. Yuck.  I hadn't given it any thought, but I had walked for over an hour without being bothered by a single car.  Can't say I missed them much!

Eva said this was the end of the tour, so we all thanked her for an excellent walk through the Old City.  It had been a great morning.

If you identify the Red Star and the Red 1 on the upper right corner of the map, you can see where Eva left us.  We had finished our tour of Gamla Stan here at the Royal Palace.  

Now it was time to find Marla for lunch and our afternoon walk.
Please click Stockholm II to read Part Two of the story. 

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