Fire and ice
GO SWEDEN:STOCKHOLM MAKES ME want to have an affair. Beautiful people are everywhere – men and women – all of them sculpted, fit and beaming. The dark days of winter are gone and this incredible island city is out in force. Our small group of Irish stand in our own shadows in the lobby of the brand new Scandic Grand Central as
Sweden’s young burst out of hibernation. Fashion matters here and, with no recession to dwell on, the city is celebrating in style.
I’m on a two-hop SAS airlines ticket to Sweden, letting me stop off for two days in the capital before taking in the flipside of the country in the Arctic Circle. The atmosphere in the Grand Central is electric, and not just with the young: even grey hair gets a sharper cut here. Located right next to the uncool central station, Scandic seem to have taken an entire business block and turned it into one of the hippest hotels in the city. Free wi-fi brings the tech-savvy inside, and the music bars and great accommodation all add up to a great hotel in a fantastic city that’s found its stride all over again.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has put some of that stride there for sure. We take the Millennium tour around the sites and inspiration of the books. As snow falls, we’re led into and around Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm. But don’t just follow your guide – launch yourself fully into Sweden’s capital. Stockholm is on the east coast, where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic sea. It’s built on 14 islands, so getting around should be complicated, but of course it’s not. It has a shockingly good public transport system, with a metro, light rail, bus and city bike service with dedicated bike lanes, all competing to ferry you around. Green parks are everywhere and, since we’re in Nobel prize country, museums are the real thing. There are far too many for one person to see in a weekend so I choose one, the Vasa, reportedly Scandinavia’s most visited museum.
The Vasa is a huge 64-gun warship that sank 15 minutes from shore in 1628 on its maiden voyage. There really is something in the water here because when they finally found it again in the 1960s it was so well-preserved in the deep mud of the Baltic that they were able to raise the entire structure – skeletons of the dead included – and build a massive maritime museum around it. The story of the Vasa is a great in-road into the story of Stockholm itself, its wealth through the centuries, the rise and fall of monarchs and its ever-changing place in the world.
Another way to find the story of Stockholm is in the city’s restaurants. The trendy B.A.R. restaurant with its fresh (and sometimes live) fish bar is one of the more recent and popular additions. Nearby Den Gyldene Freden, on the other hand, is the oldest restaurant in a single premises in the world, and it has been serving the same style of Nordic food since 1722. The building is rich with history, the staff incredibly professional, friendly and inviting. Every table is filled with well-dressed Stockholmers who all seem to be marking an event in this beautiful place. I start with bleak roe with goat cheese pudding, spiced pork and brioche. For my main I choose halibut with scallop, avruga, cress cream and oyster sauce. Food simply matters here: the presentation, the service, the taste. It is no exaggeration to suggest that hundreds of years of preparation is behind every meal.