Baltic cruise aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf: Stockholm, Sweden

Skansen, the world's oldest outdoor museum, paints a picture of traditional life in Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden
Skansen, the world’s oldest outdoor museum, paints a picture of traditional life in Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden

ONBOARD WIND SURF- ­ Stockholm has always been my favorite Scandinavian city, going back to my first visit here in the mid-80s.  Spread out over 14 islands, it is a city of dazzling beauty ­ clean, green, cultured and cosmopolitan.  Attesting to that, the city has been honored as both the Green and Cultural Capital of Europe in recent years.

Did I mention expensive?  Yes, it is that, but the old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies here in spades.

With a warm, sunny day at hand, Mel and I wasted no time dropping our bags at the Scandic Grand Central Hotel in the city center and setting out to see the sights.  We¹d pre-arranged Stockholm Cards, courtesy of Stockholm Tourist Board.  These are handy, money-saving passes that provide admission
to most museums and attractions and, importantly for us, access to the popular Hop On Hop Off bus and boat service.

Sweden's beautiful captal city of Stockholm spreads out over 14 islands.
Sweden’s beautiful captal city of Stockholm spreads out over 14 islands.

To get things rolling, we hopped aboard one of the double-decker buses that circle the city for a ride out to Skansen.   Founded in 1891, it’s the world’s oldest open-air museum, billed as something of a Sweden in miniature.  Much like Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Colonial Williamsburg, it’s an assemblage of historic buildings (more than 150) sourced from around the country and staffed by costumed interpreters who carry out the chores and activities of yesteryear.

We watched tanners, shoemakers, bakers, potters, silversmiths, storekeepers and farmers at work and wandered through the zoo where Mel got her first ever look at a reindeer.

Our plan was to walk from Skansen to the Vasa Museum nearby to view the 17th century royal warship on display there, but we were deterred by a half-mile long queue at the popular exhibit.  So we diverted instead to the neighboring Nordic Museum.  Housed in a humongous building that could pass for a Renaissance era palace, it’s one of the few major Stockholm museums I’ve missed during previous visits; so I was happy give it a look-see.

We were immediately struck by the grandeur of its immense 406-foot-long Main Hall, lined with marble columns and topped by a high-arched ceiling set with skylights.  Exhibits are dedicated to the cultural history and ethnography of the country from the 16th century forward.  Arranged on four levels, this exhibition is extremely well executed with state-of-the-art displays.  We found the folk art exhibits most interesting, revealing to us that the Swedish predilection or instinct for design had very early roots.

Gamla Stan, or Old Town, with its narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with cafes, bars and boutiques, is Stockholm's most popular visitor attraction.
Gamla Stan, or Old Town, with its narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with cafes, bars and boutiques, is Stockholm’s most popular visitor attraction.

Boarding a Hop On boat at a dock conveniently located adjacent the museum, we glided out for a look at the city from the water.  Many of Stockholm’s historic 16th-19th century buildings face the water, leading me to suggest that a boat tour is mandatory for visitors really wanting to get a feel for this water-oriented city.

Hopping off the boat at the lower entrance to Gamla Stan (or Old Town), we set out to explore the city’s mainstay attraction.  Dating from the 13th century, and once the city center, Gamla Stan is a charming labyrinth of winding cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, faded mustard and rust colored town houses and a dizzying array of restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques.

One particularly appealing sidewalk café, Osterlanggatan 17, caught our eye and we settled in for some lunch.  What else but a platter of traditional Swedish meatballs topped with lingonberries?  It was absolutely delish, complemented with a salad, a selection of cheese and some homemade bread, thoughtfully served in a paper bag to keep it warm.

The grand Main Hall at Stockholm's impressive Nordic Museum.
The grand Main Hall at Stockholm’s impressive Nordic Museum.

After rambling about for an hour or so, we visited the Royal Palace, an 18th century Baroque-style behemoth, regally set atop a hill at the upper end of Old Town.  It is said to be one of the world’s largest royal palaces and, with it boasting more than 600 rooms, I wouldn¹t argue the point. Visitors can peruse the state suites and various museums, including the Royal Armory.  We were growing weary so we had a look at the Armory and then trudged back to the hotel.

I don’t want to diminish your impression of our wonderful day in Stockholm, but I must say that we were really disappointed with the Scandic Grand Central Hotel.  Scandic is the largest chain in Scandinavia and I’ve enjoyed stays at a number of their properties.  In this case, however, our room (booked as a premium room) was smaller than our Wind Surf stateroom.  Other than a bed, it was furnished with just a small desk and chair, and was almost totally devoid of any shelf space.  The bathroom had no shelving or countertops at all so we had to place our shave kit, cosmetics, etc. on top of the toilet and on the floor beneath the basin.

Suffering from claustrophobia, we went out for dinner.  We looked in on a couple of uninspiring kebab-type restaurants nearby, and then, Ahoy! A Burger King!  So we stood in line for the Swedish equivalent of a Double Whopper and fries, accompanied by a whopping bill of almost $23.  Mel says it served us right.

September 2, 2016

Photos by Dave Houser

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