While travelling in and around Stockholm, the kronor spent in a several-days ticket for the insanely efficient mass transport system is a wise investment. You can get pretty much anywhere by train, bus, subway or tram if your feet are getting to you, not worrying about fares. And everything comes obsessively on time – can’t speak for the wintertime though.
There are around 80 museums to visit in the Swedish capital city. Fotografiska, now featuring a huge exhibition by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, is highly recommendable. Vasa Museet is a must. But my prize has to go to Etnografiska Museet. It owns an extraordinary collection of objects from all over the world and it had to be three of the most interesting and fun hours we spent in the city. Featured were an overview of the native North American cultures, then and now, and a review of the devastating effects of the Carlisle School (the documentary Schooling the World – the White Man’s Last Burden provides a sound outlook on this subject) and an exhibition about Swedish missionaries in Sub-Saharan Africa, through whom many objects came to be at the museum today. Outside the museum sat this small, beautiful Japanese Tea House, surrounded by a proper Japanese garden. It only opens for booked groups and special occasions, but the garden is there to be enjoyed by all visitors.
When night-time came, and as recommended by a friend, we went in search for Stampen (the Pawn Shop), a jazz club right in the middle of central Gamla Stan. We sat at the bar, drinking Swedish beer and munching chips, as a band got ready for their act. The Dixieland tunes that they played were a pleasant surprise. As the night went on, the band had a small break, and some of the members caught a glimpse of the sketch. For a few hours, all of us were the bestest of friends!
Every city that has waterfronts should treasure them like Stockholm does. It was one of my favourite things to sit by the waterfront, watching the boats pass by while drinking coffee. Water bodies like these are indeed gigantic unwalkable public squares. Inside a city, your eyes rarely focus beyond a certain close distance, except in large squares, canals or the sea. In such places you feel less compressed, less constrained, and you have the opportunity to appreciate the city at a distance, grasping the general picture or browsing for details you don’t notice while walking the streets. The waterfront by Fotografiska offers a swell view of the eastern side of Gamla Stan and the narrow streets that lead from the harbour to its core.
Södermalm is the hip part of town. The park at Nytorget gave us the chance of observing the transition from working hours to dining hours in Stockholm. People start to swarm the area late in the afternoon. Youngsters picnic in the park, complete with plates, forks and knives and glasses filled often with the popular rosé wine. Woollen caps, long beards and vintage strollers reign supreme here! In the streets around the park, restaurant terraces are legion, occupied mostly by older or more well-off people. The key concept here is to hang out. To take advantage of the summer long evenings.
It took us two years living in Sweden to visit its capital city. A few stolen days from the travels around the Iberian Peninsula finally gave us the chance to do that! It is a gorgeous city, with a lot of different areas, depending on what are you up to. It’s widespread and controlled in height, although easily navigable, sensibly planned, and has a stupidly efficient transportation system – as you would expect from a Scandinavian capital. The first day usually absorbs the shock of us wanting to visit a little bit of every part of the town. That let us to a walk around in tourist-riddled Gamla Stan (Old Town), the hip Södermalm district and the western area of the Djurgården (the King’s Game Park) island, where quite a few museums are based.
One such museum is the Vasa – a 17th century ship placed within a building. This ship was built at the peak of the Stormakstiden (the Era of Great Power – or the peak of the Swedish Empire) to serve as a royal flagship. The project was a fiasco, however. The ship had to high a gravity center and foundered right after setting sail from the harbour. Centuries later, in the 50s, it was recovered and turned into the most profitable tourist attraction in the country. Talk about a late break-even!
Four years ago, in my architecture office in Lisboa, we started to work on a restoration project of a historical building in the northern section of the city. The Bensaúde manor was built during the final years of the 19th century, surrounded by an estate in Paço do Lumiar, an old hamlet that was absorbed by the growth of the city. The manor has had a series of eminent proprietors and was designed and altered by some of the most notorious Portuguese architects of the 20th century.
It is presumed to have been designed initially by Ventura Terra, one of the most renown architects of the turn of the century. Then, in the twenties, Raul Lino intervened, expanding the house and laying out plans for great decorations on several rooms of the manor. Mural painings, painted ceilings, boiseries (panelling), azulejos (tile works), decorated fireplaces and wrought iron designs were added all over the manor. In the sixties, França Ribeiro designed the expansion of a façade, to make room for an extra compartment and a terrace.
In the more recent years, the manor has been under the guise of public institutions, presently IAPMEI, who mobilized efforts to see this built heritage renewed and used again. A great part of the preservation work is to keep a building occupied. The vigilance gained from having people daily interacting with a historical building is what can save it from deterioration.
The preservation of Raul Lino’s paintings and tiling was a complex task of the project, and was assigned to a specialist crew who had to delicately redo some of the paintings, based on the ones that were intact, clean and refit the wall tiles, preserve the wrought iron works and repaint and polish the fireplaces.
Taberna do Vilarinho is a restaurant at the base of the castle hill in Lisboa. The menu is traditional portuguese cuisine with a focus on special delicacies. This means for starters, you’ll be recommended some juicy cabeça de xára (slices of slow-cooked pig’s head), somewhat similar to galantine. If you’re in for a safe choice, the bacalhau à brás (cod-fish with scrambled egg and straw-cut fries) much enjoyed in Spain, or the borrego com batata doce (roasted lamb sided with sweet potato). But if you keep on with the staff’s recommendation, you’ll go for the samos de bacalhau com grão (cod-fish swim bladder stew with chickpeas), an organ used by many fish to control depth. It’s kinda spongy and squishy and all the fluids add to the thickness of the sauce, but you can really taste the cod-fish flavours there. Would eat again!
The manager was a friend of ours, so we got to hang out in the small cosy restaurant after the doors were shut. Bottles of wine were popped open and leftover deserts were served. That’s when we got the chance to taste pêra bêbeda (drunken pear – a pear dipped in port wine), the delicious and sugary tarte de ameixa (plum pie) and the surprisingly refreshing ananás de coentrada (pineapple with coriander).
More people arrived, friends, and friends of friends. All of a sudden, there was a party! The cell phone connected to spotify went around as everyone added a song to the playlist in some sort of “who plays the coolest song” competition. The accuracy of the sketching quickly waned as it was getting in the way of more dancing and drinking. As the evening drew to a close and everyone started to get the munchies, the chef, who also doubles as a jazz drummer, discreetly slid to the kitchen and brought back plates with heavily spiced raw tuna slices. Not quite sashimi, actually much better!
Here’s a place to definitely come back to.