Death to Kings

Stockholm Travel Blog

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I woke up late this morning, my last in Stockholm. The clouds from yesterday’s snow storm have dissipated (they gave over a metre yesterday, which is a lot for Stockholm), so it is colder but clearer, with beautiful blue skies. I spent an hour wandering around Gamla Stan, which felt like a different place in the fine weather. The Palace was opened, so I snuck a look in the Royal Chapel, and I visited the statue St. George and the Dragon. St George doesn’t look very brave it in – in full armour from on top of his horse he is striking an oversized goanna with his sword. Passing by the Parliament (Sweden has a single chamber parliament with 349 seats, ruled by a coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party) I read how they were making a small dam around it, using high power underwater concrete jets, to raise the water level of the lake around. Because of the melting of the ice in Sweden, the heavy pressure pushing the bedrock down is being removed, so the country is springing up at a rate of 40cm/100 years. This means that the wooden pylons holding up Parliament and several other building are being exposed to the air instead of the brackish water, and are in danger of rotting away unless the dam is built.

With my last hour in Stockholm I took a boat cruise through the city. The summer pathway is closed in winter, so the boat took us east through the islands and to the innermost islands of the Stockholm archipelago. Stockholm is built over fourteen islands, having spread from the central island where Gamla Stan is. It was founded in 1252 as a fort to stop invading Vikings sailing into Lake Mälaren and attacking the towns on the lake. We cruised between the islands in our boat, a 100 year old icebreaker, cracking through the ice when we neared sheltered inlets. The ice was only ~30 thick, but the boat can still handle ice nearly 2m thick. We passed the Vasa museum, the gardens of Djurgården (the management of which is one of the few jobs of the King), Manila House (a mansion that is now a school for deaf children), and entered the Stockholm archipelago. The archipelago consists of around 40 000 islands, which stretch nearly to Finland. About 12 000 people live on them year round, but they are mostly used in the summer. The Swedes flock to the islands in summer (one in five people in Stockholm own a boat), some to summer houses (85% of the islands are privately owned). Even those without summer homes can camp in the archipelago, because of allemanstratten, the legal right of all people to have access to private lands, being allowed to camp for a few days as long as they keep away from houses and treat the land with respect.

On the way back to Stockholm we passed God Father on Heaven’s Arch, a Carl Milles statue consisting of an enormous half-arch over 100m tall, completed on the other side by a fountain of water, with God standing on top hanging stars in the sky. I like it because he built it as a monument to peace when the United Nations were created; even better, the UN rejected it because of the religious symbolism, so it now stands in Stockholm.

We also passed the Royal Palace again, and I was told that Carl Gustov XVIII is actually from a French dynasty, because in 1818 the King of Sweden was old and heir-less, so the nobles started searching for a new king (it is very odd, like Norway asking for a Danish prince to become King of Norway when they gained independence from the Swedes, how can a ‘divine’ royal right be bestowed?). They had picked a Danish prince, but he died suddenly on his horse (an odd phrase, I think), so they asked Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s field-marshals, to be adopted by the King, he renamed himself Carl Johan XIV and started the current dynasty. Apparently he was quite good, even if he didn't learn Swedish, but funnily enough he had a tattoo saying Mort aux rois (Death to kings), from the days when he participated in the French Revolution.

Now I am sitting in Arlanda airport, and the sun is setting, not that it even reached more than 20 degrees into the sky, even at noon. I loved my trip to Stockholm, I think I could move to Sweden, even with the language barrier. The country is beautiful in the snow, I love rugging up against the cold, and feeling warm under piles of blankets at night. Everyone says it is beautiful and leafy in the summer, the water through the city is clean enough to swim in. The people are friendly and the atmosphere is wonderful. They are very environmentally conscious, changing to green industry and being careful with recycling and waste management (and 25% of their energy is from renewal resources). The people are considerate of others, the influx of the largest population of Iraqi refuges without any racial violence shows their tolerance. Education (even through university) and health care are both free, and religion is declining in importance to their lifestyle – in 1996 a new law was passed that people have to actively register their religion rather than being passively included as their parents religion (a big shift considering it only became legal to leave the church and become an atheist in 1951). I do love this country :)

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photo by: Chokk