So the weather gods still hate us. Yesterday’s drizzle has turned into full blown rain and it follows us all the way into the old city which we are exploring today.
The old city, Gamla Stan, is set on a small central island in between the mainland and the southern area we explored yesterday. As befits a city of its age, it has beautiful narrow cobblestone streets, softly hued buildings and glorious architecture everywhere we turn.
With the inclement weather we focus on indoor pursuits – the royal palace, Kungliga Slottet, where hopefully we will manage to hide from the worst of it.
Drowned from the walk in, our timing otherwise is pretty good: we managed to stumble upon the changing of the guard just before we enter the palace. I have to hand it to them, you can’t tell from the look on their faces that it’s pelting down. They march on, stoically going through their paces.
Our first stop is the royal treasury, depository of the crown jewels, septres and jewellery dating back from the 17th and 18th century. Who knew that one royal family would have so many crowns? I was under the impression that there was one crown passed from monarch to monarch which was perhaps changed or remodeled every 100 – 200 years or so. But no, the Swedish royals have at least 30- 40 crowns in their history. There’s serious serious bling here. Diamonds the size of thumbnails, glorious deep green emeralds and sapphires abound. Unlike the London crown jewels some of these crowns are quite small, particularly the female regents’. Dainty, in a “but don’t I have a lot of lovely carats” way. They have quite the fairytale look about them, especially the crowns from the 18th century with their pointed tips – very reminiscent of festive paper hats, albeit made from much fancier materials.
Understandably, photography is not allowed in this section of the palace so I’m afraid you’ll just have to make do with picturing it, but if you imagine a room full of gorgeous sparkly things you long to play dress up with, you will be very close.
Next on the tour are the royal apartments, grand rooms with beautiful proportions, finished in luxurious fabrics and furnishings. This is still a working palace with 608 rooms: the royal family has lived here since 1754. It’s still also used for some official duties. These are conducted in the state rooms, the most richly decorated of all – very formal rooms, gilt finished, with enormous chandeliers. Whenever we tour palaces, I’m always very grateful that I am not in charge of keeping the chandeliers sparkling.
We also visit the chapel, see a display of insignia bestowed upon those who held title at court over the centuries, and walk through the lovely Karl XI gallery, inspired by Versailles Hall of Mirrors.
We had selected a recommended restaurant serving traditional Swedish food for lunch, but they are ending service as we arrive. We instead settle for a delicious Spanish meal across the road. I walk away with a new recipe for whipped lemon butter – an excellent addition to minute steak, not one I would have readily thought of.
We still have three more stops on the palace tour, the first of which is the remains of the original palace, Tre Kronor razed by fire in 1697. Legend has it that the fire got quickly out of hand when one of the watchmen was off flirting with a kitchen maid instead of maintaining his watch. He and his superiors paid a high price – the palace was lost. They were originally sentenced to death, but instead made to run the gauntlet, an ancient punishment of running through two rows of soldiers whilst they administered a repeated beating. It was a harsh punishment, only a couple of them survived it.
All that remains of the original palace is its foundations, and part of the north wing which was incorporated into the new palace. Also displayed are examples of armoury and rescued remnants of kitchen and military lives gone by. Of the palace treasures, almost nothing was saved bar a beautiful writing desk, some tapestries and Queen Christina’s stunning silver throne which is displayed in the palace. The display and tour are set amongst the 13th century defensive walls.
We also visit Gustav III’s Antikmuseum, showcasing a series of sculptures collected during the 1780s when Gustav, the then monarch, completed his Grand Tour of Italy and a 400 year collection of clocks. There are quite a few very beautiful pieces in these two collections, but I particularly love this one, which could easily be captioned for modern times: “checking one’s email”. Doesn’t the tablet she’s holding look just like a mobile?
Last stop on our tour is the Riddarholmskyrkan, the burial place of the monarch and their families since 1290, nobles seem to have joined in since the 1600s. The church is laid out with a series of crypts, floor and wall headstones, and interestingly, walls of black commemorative wooden plaques, painted with family crests and detailing the date of birth and death of the honoured. Very hard to look at, are the royal childrens’ coffins, tiny in their eternal repose. The church is a 13th century masterpiece, built by Franciscan monks in the 13th century.
It’s late afternoon by now, and the rain has finally stopped. Fortified by coffee and cheesecake, we take the opportunity to surface, to explore the shops and marvel at the architecture.
Stockholm is a truly beautiful city, its setting across 14 islands, with endless kilometres of waterfront just begs for sunshine and long exploration.
I’m hoping the weather holds for tomorrow. We hope to island hop again, north this time and it’s a little too far on foot – the bikes would be perfect.
But for now, it’s been a long day and we walk home in a lifting mist. I’d love to stay out and explore Stockholm under night lights, but one of us is not a night owl.