Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lost in Stockholm's Gamla Stan

Over the past two years, I have been quite fortunate to be able to travel to Europe for about three times already. I could have chosen to travel elsewhere, but there is something in the region’s medieval cities, old palaces and cobblestone streets that keep me coming back for more.
When I took my first step into Gamla Stan, the Old Town district of Stockholm, Sweden, I knew that I had made the right decision to visit this particular city, one of out all wondrous cities of the world.
Established as early as 13th century, Gamla Stan is one of the best preserved old town districts in the world. The entire area is a maze of medieval alleyways, colorful houses and buildings, and cobblestone streets, that is quite common in Europe.
Gamla Stan,has its distinct look and feel. The old town is a melting pot of different architectural styles including Northern German Architecture and Scandinavian standard towers and spires.
Gamla Stan is peppered by souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants
The center of the old town district is a large square named Stortorget. The square is dominated by a large medieval fountain.
Surrounding the square are a collection of colorful buildings and merchant houses including the Stockholm Stock Exchange and the Nobel Museum. The red/pink merchat house which appears in almost all Gamla Stan photos is the Schantz House built in 1650.
I visited in late December so a tall, Christmas tree also adorns the square. As I walked along the main square, the locals would smile at me and say holiday greetings to me.

The Nobel Museum in Gamla Stan
While the square is the most visited and most photographed place in the city, it holds a different meaning for locals. This is where the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520 happened. Then Danish King Christian II massacred Swedish noblemen which led to a revolution.
Another important landmark in Gamla Stan is the 17th century Royal Palace or Kungliga Slottet. It is one of the biggest palaces in the world with about 600 rooms.
The Swedish Royal Palace

The Olaus Petri statue in Slottsbacken
The main facade of the Royal Palace
Because of its size, the Royal Palace can be accessed through different streets and corners, but most because choose the Slottsbacken.
Slottsbacken stretches from the Stockholm Cathedral to Skeppsbron.
For architecture junkies like me, another interesting landmark would be the Arch of the Parliament at Drottninggatan Street. The entire passageway is lined up of interesting busts and stone carvings dating back to the 17th century.
The people of Stockholm enjoy hanging out and chatting  in this street because of its wide space. it is also located near the bridge to the old town.
As I mentioned, I visited during the start of winter and the streets near Drottninggatan is full of carts selling hotdogs and warm wine (vin brulee).
All over the district, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, small churches and museums all cater to the imagination and appetite of both locals and travelers alike.
The Arch of Parliament
The geography of Stockholm is dominated by the mighty Lake Malaren. Because of this, Gamla Stan is connected to the main island of Stadsholmen through a bridge. Several bridges also connect Stadsholment with the other small islands of Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen.
Smaller canals are scattered all over Stockholm which add to the city’s romantic appeal.
Sunsets in Stockholm are especially memorable. The fading light gives the city an ethereal look. This is especially so as the lake reflects both the city’s skyline and the yellow light cast by the setting sun.

A view of Stockholm before nightfall

I spent a whole day walking around Gamla Stan. I decided to leave my city map at my hotel room and explore the district on my own. I wanted to discover its every nook and cranny and understand what makes this place so special and memorable to those who have visited it before.
After checking out all the streets of the district and after a whole day’s worth of people watching, I finally understood what made Gamla Stan stand out.
The simplicity of the Swedish people, set against the elaborate and grandiose architecture of the city gives the place a rather ‘homey’ feeling, which relaxes your soul, and makes you think of happy memories.
Gamla Stan and Stockholm are happy places. I felt so happy during the days of my visit. Even now, I smile when I look back to the days of my visit.
If I ever get a chance to visit Stockholm again, I would, in a heartbeat.
The cobblestone alleys of Gamla Stan


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