Having posted my IETF report for the recent Stockholm trip, I’ve now gotten things together to write up the tourist part of the trip. If you just want to see a bunch of the photos, go to my Picasa album. If you’d like to hear what I have to say about things, read on.
Stockholm is a city on a set of islands, located on Lake Mälaren where it meets the Baltic Sea. The islands are separated sometimes by a fairly wide bit of water, and sometimes by just a narrow stream, so it’s often not clear how to refer to the water. Many times, we wanted to say “the river”, sometimes, “the canal”. And there are parts that are officially called “bays”. But they’re all blobs, branches, arms, legs, and tributaries of Lake Mälaren.
The parts where we spent our time were the downtown area (lower Norrmalm), which is actually on the mainland; the attached eastern district of Östermalm; the islands of Kungsholmen, Södermalm, Skeppsholmen, and Djurgården; and the Gamla Stan (Old City) area, comprising four more islands, Stadsholmen, Helgeandsholmen, Riddarholmen, and Strömsborg. Home base for this part of the visit was the Nordic Sea Hotel, right next to Central Station. Except for a day outside town, we walked everywhere.
Gamla Stan, which literally means “Old City”, is very picturesque, very characteristic, and very touristy. There are many shops, most trying to sell you stuff to take home. There are lots of restaurants and cafés, some of them quite pricey (we spent SEK 400, about $55, per person for dinner at Mårten Trotzig, so that wasn’t bad for a nice dinner). There are churches and museums to visit, and, of course, there’s the royal palace. We caught a bit of the pageantry as the guards rode in on horses, and such... but the crowds were thick, and it was hard to see much (here’s a Wikipedia photo). Not surprisingly, this is a very busy tourist season in Stockholm, with beautiful weather and school vacations.
South from Gamla Stan is Södermalm, roughly translating to or “south district”. Being farther from the city center, this was decidedly less touristy, and we spent our time in two areas: Götgatan and “SoFo”. The north end of Götgatan also has the Stockholm City Museum.
Götgatan is a long shopping street, with plenty of restaurants and shops to check out. We walked it down to the bustling Medborgarplatsen, then headed east on Folkungagatan. Off in that direction, and south, is the area called SoFo. New York has SoHo, for “South of Houston”; Södermalm has SoFo, for “South of Folkungagatan”. And they’re similar in character in some ways, with funky cafés, shops, and galleries. We browsed some of the shops, had coffee and a pastry in the retro-cool Café String, talked with the proprietor of the Nyagatan restaurant (traditional Swedish cuisine, in the midst of many other ethnic varieties in SoFo), and walked through the tree-lined Katarina Bangata — one of the many pleasant, tree-lined walkways Stockholm has in the center reservations of the streets.
Another tree-lined street, Karlavägen, leads into Östermalm, the east district, an area of nice residential neighbourhoods and more streets of shopping, pubs, and cafés. It was on Karlavägen that the Barry med öl photo I posted last week was taken. And it was at Östermalmstorg (Östermalm Square) where we browsed the saluhall (indoor market) — full of counters selling fish, meats, cheese, desserts, and jams — and grabbed a spot of lunch one day.
Joining Östermalm with Norrmalm (the north district — the city center) is the new bridge area (Nybro), consisting of Nybroplan (new bridge field), Nybrokajen (new bridge quay), Nybroviken (new bridge bay), and Berzelii Park. What’s interesting is that there is not actually a “new bridge.” A bridge was originally planned over the bay, replacing the old bridge in the 1840s. But King Charles XIV decided to have it done as landfill instead, turning the whole area into a land-bridge.
Walking along the quay to the west puts us on Raoul Wallenbergs Torg — not actually a “square”, but a very seriously elongated rectangle, a strip along the bay extending to the Djurgårdsbron, the bridge to the island of Djurgård. There one finds a number of museums, including the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) and the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum), as well as Gröna Lund (Green Grove), a popular amusement park featuring a concert venue and three roller coasters.
We saved our museum visits for Monday, our last day in town... without realizing that most of the museums, including the major art museums, are closed on Mondays. So we didn’t get to see the National Museum or the Moderna Museet. But the Nordiska Museet (of Swedish culture) was open, as was the Nobel Museum at the Swedish Academy on Gamla Stan, so we saw those and enjoyed the day.
I have some square-dance friends in the Stockholm area, and we spent a beautiful, sunny Sunday with them, visiting out-of-town areas. Arne and Birgit took us to Taxinge Slott, which has a fabulous pastry kitchen — it’s hard to pick just one thing to have... so we didn’t — and Gripsholm Slott, one of the royal palaces. Add a nice late lunch on the shore of Lake Mälaren and some wandering around towns in the sun, and... ahhhhh.
A few words about the language
Of course, you know how I love language, so, of course, I had a nice time coming to understand bits of Swedish and figuring out how to pronounce things passably. I learned, for instance, that former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld’s surname is properly pronounced with a guttural sound, as the German “ach” or the Scottish “loch”, for the “skj”. Similarly for the “vsj” in the Stockholm district of Älvsjö, pronounced, approximately, “EL-*oo” (IPA ɛl-ɧœ).
There are two other interesting things about Swedish pronunciation. One is that they hold some consonant sounds for longer than we do. The other is that they use low and falling tones — it’s not tonal to the extent that Chinese is, and I don’t think it changes the meanings of words, but the combination of the tones and the long consonants gives Swedish its characteristic rhythm and sound. I can’t do either of them with even the most remote hope of being right. And, of course, if one does it wrong, one just sounds like a dufus, so I didn’t try. Maybe at next year’s Fürstenhagen dance I’ll buy Arne a beer and ask him to teach me.
As with German, Swedish makes long words by stringing modifiers together. That can make the street names hard to get along with, but a few tricks help. First, gata or gatan is “street”, väg or vägen is “way”, and torg or torget is “square”. So chop those off the end when they appear. On the beginning, we’ll often have Ny (new), Gamla (old), Norr or Norra (north), Söder (south), and so on. Chop those off too, and it becomes easier to figure things out. Kungsgatan becomes “King Street”; Gamla Brogatan becomes “Old Bridge Street”, and Norrmalmstorg becomes “North District Square”. Even if you can’t make sense of the bit in the middle, sorting out the prefix and suffix makes it much easier to figure out where you are. Gyllenstjernsgatan is a long name, but Gyllen - stjerns - gatan quickly turns it into “Golden Star Street”.
 Note that I’ve switched to Picasa from Flickr because of the latter’s silly limits on what free accounts can do. Competition is a good thing.