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Day 2: Gamla Stan

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The second day was dedicated to Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town on the island in the centre. This is the oldest, the most beautiful and also the most “touristy” part of the city. Cruise passengers, of which there were thousands, hardly see more than this small part of the city during their short visit.

We had booked a private walking tour through Gamla Stan for the morning. Our guide took us through the narrow alleys and showed us a lot of details which we would have missed, had we gone by ourselves.

The anchor plates on the facades are such a feature. Most historical houses on Gamla Stan display such wrought-iron anchor plates. First of all these fulfil a technical purpose, concerning structural reinforcement: withstanding the tractive forces of the beams and connecting them to the wall or gable. The visible part on the facade was often designed in a decorative shape. However, even anchor plates are subject to fashion. The trick about them is that you can date the anchor, hence the facade, with the help of these shapes and patterns.

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The tour was very good, nevertheless my memory of Gamla Stan is a bit of a blur.

It is weird: If I visit a place with a guided tour only, as opposed to exploring on my own, then I feel afterwards as if I “have not really been there”. One looks more into the guide’s face than at the things s/he explains. As a photographer one is constantly on the run to snap some quick shots, tries to listen to the guide at the same time if possible, and always has an eye on the others in order not to lose the group. Tourist stress!

I remember the two characteristic colours of Gamla Stan that most historical houses are painted in: a dark warm red and a yellowish ochre.

I remember the stone with the Viking runes, and a cute shop in the house behind it that sold funny little Viking dolls.

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Tyska Kyrkan

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During the tour we visited Tyska Kyrkan, the German Church, which was of particular interest to me. The former church of St Gertrud, one of the two large churches in Gamla Stan, is the parish church of the German-speaking community. German influence was strong. In the late middle ages the Hansa controlled the trade on the Baltic Sea, German merchants and craftsmen settled in Stockholm just like in many other port cities. Even when the power of the Hansa diminished, economic and cultural contacts remained important and influential. That included the royal family - marriages with princesses (and recently, bourgeois) from Germany occurred several times. The German members of the royal family have their own separate box in the church.

The present church was erected around 1640 - in the era when Germany was devastated by the catastrophe of the Thirty Year War, the German community in Stockholm lived in peace and wealth.

Among the impressive interior and furniture, the pulpit with its elaborate carvings in wood and alabaster is the most remarkable piece. The altar and the galleries are also richly ornated. By the way, this is a Lutheran church.

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Russell wants to make sure that he will return to Stockholm one day

In a small square named Bollhustäppan next to the Finnish church we were shown the tiny but famous statue of a little boy looking up to the sky. It would be a hidden spot if it wasn't on the schedule of any guided tour. It is considered the smallest public statue in Sweden - hard to tell if this is really true, but never mind. It is certainly small, and cute...

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The little boy was created by the sculptor Liss Eriksson in 1954. The artist recalls his own childhood, when during sleepless nights he used to sit on his bed and look up at the moon.

The legend tells that if you pat the little boy's head you can be sure that you will return to Stockholm someday. That's why the head is so shiny.

I could not figure out, though, why people donate coins to him and where the money goes. However, there are rumours that stealing these coins means bad luck because the boy sees everything and will never forget...

Royal Palace

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In the townscape of Gamla Stan, the Royal Palace is a striking element. This is where our tour ended. The large flat building appears like a big brownish shoebox. It qualifies as probably the ugliest palace I have ever seen, and I have seen quite many. Why King and Queen prefer to live in the idyllic surroundings of Drottningholm and come here for work only is easily understandable.

This is still a ‘working’ palace, meaning that some parts are heavily guarded and off-bounds to visitors. Nevertheless there is quite a lot to see and visit inside the palace, like the historical rooms and halls, the treasure chamber and some museums. I did not have the time to enter and see any of them, though. The palace is on my wish list for „next visit“.

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The palace chapel is free to enter and needs no tickets. However, there is a strict „no photos“ policy so I cannot show you any pictures. It was inaugurated already in the 1750s but the interior is rather neoclassical than rococo as could be expected – seems they have worked on the furnishing for at least 20 years longer.

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The Royal Guards on duty are quick at shooing people away. In their uniforms they look as if they have escaped from some operetta. But their job cannot be much fun and they are serious about it, so keep your distance. The bayonet looks surely threatening. (However, he would appear even more impressive hadn’t they chosen a guy of hardly more than 1,65 m height with the face of a 16-year-old, LOL)

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The cannons in the front yard of the palace should not be approached too closely either. The guards there will not allow it. These are the cannons which are used for salute shooting at certain occasions.

The changing of the guards at 12.15, on Sundays at 1.15 p.m. is a tourist must-see and takes place in the front yard. I sadly have to confess that I missed it due to tired, painful legs and the need for a lunch break…

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Where to find affordable lunch in overtouristy and overpriced Gamla Stan? There is one answer: Stockholms Stadsmission. They run an eatery which is one of the rare opportunities, perhaps the only, to get food at relatively cheap prices here. Their premises are located in Stortorget, right in the heart of the old town. It is a self-service place and popular also with locals. At peak lunchtime (12.30/13.00) it can be very crowded and a free table can be hard to find. The buffet has a couple of warm dishes, soup, fish plates, salads, cake and pastry etc. Everyone selects what looks appealing to them. We were a group of nine ladies and everyone found her food very tasty. Coffee and water were included.

Storkyrkan - The Royal Cathedral

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After lunch we continued to the royal cathedral. Storkyrkan is the main church not only of Stockholm but of the Kingdom of Sweden, and tightly connected with Swedish royalty. Sweden's Lutheran church is a state church with the king as its head. Royal ceremonies take place inside this church.

Over seven centuries the brick gothic hall church has been extended and refurbished over and over again. The interior was meant to impress, and it does. The church contains lots of magnificent artworks and furniture that impresses both through artistic quality and through its sheer size. I'd like to mention in particular:

- the silver altarpiece with reliefs showing the main scenes from Christ's Passion,
in best Lutheran tradition,and statues of Moses and John Baptist,
- the baroque „Royal Chairs“, two boxes under high canopies in the shape of crowns
held by flying angels, framing the central aisle,
- the lifesize statue of St George on horseback (late 15th century)
- the late medieval bronze chandelier, total height 3.7 metres.

Opening hours: The church is open daily from 9.00 to 16.00 except during services.
Entrance fee: 40 SEK if I remember correctly. I'm always a bit grumpy when I have to pay to enter a church but the interior is worth seeing, missing it would be a pity.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 01:15 Archived in Sweden

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Comments

An enjoyable read Kathrin. Like your description of the little guard haha. And interesting story on the decorative facades. I also get what you were saying about trying to listen to a guide whilst taking photos ;) That is probably why I just enjoy to wander around myself. But then I am not into history like you and sometimes you need a guide to explain some of that so I understand your mixed feelings :)
Hugs xx

by aussirose

I totally agree about the challenges of a guided tour. I usually learn so much but also miss a lot visually - or I wander off to take some photos and then I miss out on the information! The ideal I think is to take a tour and then retrace your steps later to take the photos, but there isn't always time for the luxury of visiting an area twice in one trip!

by ToonSarah

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