Just the size and shape of California, Sweden packs into its borders sophisticated urban attractions such as restaurants and clubs of every form and shape, world-class museums, stunning fashions and glittering award presentations.
Stockholm is rich, with many faces. No two travelers find the same Stockholm, whether that is because a particular area or visit has dominated their experience, or the eco of a distant particular history has them enthralled. I was lucky to find myself there while visiting Sweden in mid-December and even luckier to find a room at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen, at Slussen (www.hilton.com), overlooking every which attraction I was planning to experience during my brief stay.
Outdoor markets, with servings of warm glögg; the Lucia tradition; smörgåsbords turned into extravagant Christmas tables - this is all part of pre-holiday Sweden. One of the more popular excursions for the locals this time of the year is the Skansen (skansen.se), the oldest open-air museum in the world. Its outdoor areas and variety of old buildings fill up with visitors looking for that special crafted decoration, specialty food items or simply a warm cup of glögg and “home-baked” Christmas bread. No visit to Stockholm is complete without a tour through the Vasa Museum. Final resting for the centuries old war ship, which was rescued only a few hundred yards from shore and 100 feet below the surface in 1956. A magnificent ship, the Vasa had only one flaw.
She couldn't sail. On August 10, 1628, she left Stockholm, Sweden, and sailed less than a nautical mile before capsizing. After the rescue in 1956, she was immaculately restored, down to the last detail, and put on display in the Vasa Museum in central Stockholm. The 17th century warship has been admired by millions of visitors, and has become one of the country's great tourist attractions.
Dining out is a favorite pastime for Stockholmers and the city has a magnificent potpourri of restaurants, bistros and even the ubiquitous fast food approach to life as evidenced by both international chains and local Food Palaces.
But the doyen of all restaurants is Operakällaren (the Opera Cellar - www.operakallaren.se) located in the same building as the Royal Opera and one of the most opulent restaurants in Europe. It opened in 1787 and was originally a popular haunt for artists, the literati and the aristocracy. By 1892, the old Gustav II Opera House gave way to a new and larger theater and also dining room, which was enthusiastically received by the public. Its luncheon smorgasbord is famous throughout Scandinavia for the range of choice and the preparation of its numerous dishes.
Here, at the undisputed flagship of Swedish restaurants, is where this time of the year you will find the most lavish Christmas table.
December is also the month of Nobel Prize festivities. Following a ceremony in the Concert Hall in which the King presents the laureates with their awards, a sumptuous dinner is served in the City Hall. The Nobel awards dinner at Stockholm City Hall is a spectacular banquet for some 1,300 guests, including the Nobel laureates and their families, other outstanding scientists, the Royal family, and some of the country's most influential people.
For a sampling of such a dinner, there is Stadshuskällaren, the City Hall Cellars restaurant (stadshuskallaren.gastrogate.com). There, in a carefully composed setting that gives authenticity to this grand event, you can pick a Nobel dinner of your choosing. (The dinner we had was from 1993 and included marinated red char, roast fillet of reindeer, Nobel ice-cream parfait, and three excellent wines, including a Moscatel de Setubal with the dessert)
In Stockholm there's also the Nobel Museum, which is quite a treat this time of the year (nobelprize.org/nobelmuseum/).
Located at Stortorget, in the very heart of the Old City, it has a number of exhibitions, one of which focuses on creative milieus, such as the Paris cafés where future Nobel Prize laureates Ernest Hemmingway and Samuel Becket gathered back in the 1920s.
While on the subject of Nobel, we must not forget Den Gyldene Freden, (the golden Peace - www.gyldenefreden.se), the restaurant in the Old Town where the Swedish Academy meets in an upstairs room and picks the next year’s winners. It is the country's oldest restaurant. A charming place with candle-lit vaulted cellars, Den Gyldene Freden has become somewhat of a national shrine, a must for anyone interested in history - and good traditional Swedish cooking....
Progress, sophistication coupled with simplicity and rustic, down to earth living make Sweden even in the wintertime a fascinating destination.
Written & photographed by Bo Zaunders
HAPPY DISCOVERY: Air travel, as we all know, is not exactly what it used to be. Between long hours at the airport, security checks, increased fares and more crowded planes, it is often far from a pleasurable experience. I was therefore pleased, and not a little surprised, to find that SAS - the most natural choice when going to Scandinavia - has come up with a most clever idea: ECONOMY EXTRA. Right behind Business Class and in front of Economy, for a small additional fee, you will get wider seats, a lot of extra legroom, and service which, for all practical purposes, is equal to what you get in Business Class. It's well worth checking into. More info, visit www.flysas.com