23.25 Söndag, 5 Maj, 2013
This week, my parents came all the way from Texas to visit me! We had a great time, and we visited many different places in and around Stockholm. Throughout the semester, I have written so many posts about all the places I’ve been, but hardly anything about the beautiful city I live in! So, this post will be a tour of Stockholm, just like the one I gave my parents!
Map of Stockholm – I live just off the northern edge of the map
Stockholm is situated on the eastern coast of Sweden, about a third of the way up from the southern tip of the country. The city is built on fourteen islands at the point where Lake Mälar empties into the Baltic Sea, which means that the city is surrounded by water. Historically, the main island of Stockholm is Gamla Stan (‘The Old Town’), where the original town was built as a trading hub to transport goods in and out of Sweden. Since the surface of Mälaren is about two meters higher than the surface of the Baltic Sea, and this drop occurs at Gamla Stan, the island was the perfect location to collect taxes on imports and exports, because the goods had to be offloaded and reloaded onto different ships. Gamla Stan used to be nicknamed ‘Staden Mellan Broarna,’ which means ‘the city between bridges,’ due to the fact that there are over ten bridges that connect Gamla Stan and the little islands around it to the mainland and to Södermalm. Nowadays, Gamla Stan is the main tourist area of Stockholm, consisting of old Scandinavian-style buildings, beautiful churches, narrow and winding alleys, the Royal Palace, and the Parliament and courthouses (on their own neighboring islands).
View of Gamla Stan from Södermalm
The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan
In the southern part of the city is a large island called Södermalm, which literally means ‘Southern Island.’ The buildings on Södermalm are located on the top of a high cliff, which (after a hike up several flights of stairs) gives great views of the city (see above). Södermalm was originally the poor area of Stockholm, where the working-class people lived. Now, however, Södermalm is quite a popular area of town. You can, though, still see signs of Södermalm’s history on some streets where the original buildings have been preserved, and even in the name of the main square, Medborgarplatsen (‘The People’s Square’). Even farther south, past Södermalm, is the Ericsson Globe, which is a concert and ice-hockey venue and the largest spherical building in the world!
Heading back north, the district of Norrmalm (‘Northern Island’), which lies just north of Gamla Stan, is the real center of the city today. This is where the central station, the main square (Sergels Torg), and many office buildings and department stores are located. There is also a large park called Kungsträdgården (‘The King’s Park’), which is a very popular place because there is always something going on there, from ice skating in the winter to free concerts in the summer. While I was there with my parents, there was a promotional fair for tourism in France, and the whole park was decorated with French flags to go along with the cherry blossoms that were just starting to bloom!
KTH, the university I attend, is located in the northern part of the city, north of Norrmalm and near a district called Vasastaden. My apartment, Lappis, is near the campus of Stockholm University, about two kilometers north of KTH. It is a little out of the center of town, and doesn’t really have a ‘city feel,’ but it is still very convenient, because it is only a short subway ride into town. My post about KTH and Lappis is here.
Just west of Norrmalm, and separated by a canal, is Kungsholmen (‘The King’s Island’). The main attraction on this island is the city hall, Stadshuset. You can read more about the Stadshus in one of my previous posts here.
The City Hall
On the other side of Norrmalm, to the east, is the Östermalm (‘Eastern Island’) district. This part of town is the upper class neighborhood, where rich people can buy large, insanely expensive apartments overlooking the water on Strandvägen, and where there are food markets and fancy restaurants, clubs, and bars.
View of Östermalm from Skansen
Southeast of Östermalm is an island called Djurgården (‘Animal Park’), which was originally the king’s private game reserve. Now, however, Djurgården is home to several museums, such as Vasamuseet, Nordiska Museet, and Skansen, as well as the amusement park Gröna Lund. At the Vasa Museum, you can see the Swedish warship Vasa, which set sail from Stockholm on 10 August, 1628, and promptly sank twenty minutes later, before it even made it out of the harbor. Skansen is probably the most important museum in Sweden – it is an open-air museum (one of the first in the world, opened in 1891) that exhibits houses, farms, buildings, and animals from all over Sweden and from different times in history. The layout of the museum even reflects the actual layout of Sweden, with the northern regions represented in the northern part of the museum, the southern regions in the southern part, and so on. The buildings are occupied by people wearing traditional clothes and who talk about life in that particular region and time period. I have now been to Skansen twice (once with my parents and once as a tour with my Swedish society class), so I learned quite a bit about Skansen and the buildings there. The reason Skansen is so important for Sweden is because it has helped to promote a ‘Swedish identity’ throughout the last century, and has been somewhat of a unifying symbol for the country, especially during times such as World War II. Skansen has celebrations for practically every Swedish-related occasion, including Christmas, Easter, Lucia, Valborg, Midsummer, the Swedish national day, and even the Norwegian independence [from Sweden] day! There are also concerts at Skansen during the summer.
The Vasa, after 333 years at the bottom of Stockholm harbor
A traditional windmill from the Swedish island of Öland at Skansen
The other main feature on Djurgården is the park. Djurgården forms the southern end of Kungliga Nationalstadsparken (‘The Royal National City Park’), which is a nature area that extends over 26 square kilometers through the city, even encompassing the forest surrounding my apartment in northern Stockholm. The park is mostly forest and some lakes and islands, and there are many very nice trails. There are even a few trails that start right outside my window!
A trail near my apartment
A few kilometers west of Stockholm, on an island in Lake Mälar called Lovön, is Drottningholm Palace, where King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia live. Drottningholm was modeled after Versailles in Paris, as a royal palace outside of the city center with large gardens, its own theater, and even a ‘Chinese’ pavilion where the royalty could go to relax. The gardens are now open to the public, and you can even go inside one half of the palace (the king and queen don’t occupy the whole building!).
To the east of Stockholm is one of the largest archipelagos in the world (by number of islands), called Stockholms Skärgård. The archipelago consists of approximately 30.000 islands, which include everything from large forested islands to sandy resort islands to rocks sticking out of the water. While my parents were visiting, we took a ferry to the town of Vaxholm, the main town in the archipelago. In Vaxholm, we walked around the small town and had lunch and fika at a little outdoor restaurant overlooking the harbor. Then, we hiked around the island and a few neighboring islands, and visited part of the fortress that protected Stockholm from enemies coming in from the Baltic Sea.
The Stockholm archipelago is a very popular summer destination, and many Swedes own summer houses on the the remote little islands, where they usually spend June, July, and August. Since Swedes are known for their love of nature, it makes sense that a place where you can practically own your own island would be so popular!
Map showing Stockholm’s location between Lake Mälar and the Stockholm Archipelago
As you might be able to tell, I really like living in Stockholm! It is a beautiful city, and it’s what I would consider lagom, a Swedish word that means, roughly, ‘just right (in size, location, etc.).’ It’s so easy to get around in Stockholm (both with public transportation and by foot), and you are never too far away from a great view, a busy square, or even a hiking trail! Unfortunately, I have to leave in two weeks, but I will definitely be back eventually!