February 19, 2011 in SWEDEN | Comments (0)

Glowing still with tropical wellbeing, back in the pristine cold. Trying to write my report – after inspecting 20 hotels (overnight in 8 of them). Beaches feathery with palms, lagoons glinting turquoise under quick summer showers. Five days left to batten down the wind shelters before a cyclone that never came. Restaurants erupting with incredible creations in tropical art. Junior suites and senior suites, villas with pools, and thousands of images…

Its taking a while. I basically circled the island twice, and hopped over to Rodrigues. One suite becomes another. One beach becomes all beaches. But some do stand out … especially when you finally escape to feel the island on your own. And its people…

Meanwhile I am putting some image galleries on pages. See


January 8, 2011 in SWEDEN | Comments (0)

In the winter wonderland of the Kilsberg Hills, happy new year dawned, happily. The image is a combination of Howard on camera and Aleah on Photoshop, but we did have  a real fireworks display at midnight.  Three modest fireworks were set off  by an intrepid member of our party. The rest of us sipped bubbly on the deck. Our champagne bottles were sunk deep in the cover of snow on the table. 

No better way to chill champagne.


See the pages collecting posts on Ramshyttan, including Christmas 2010


December 5, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (6)

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Image 1 of 9

Lobby - floating bubbles of light


We tested out the new Nobis hotel in Stockholm. How cool is it, or how hot, and how luxurious? Follow the quest…

First of December was the launch of the new ”cool luxury” hotel Nobis in Stockholm. In Norrmalmstorg, a square on the fringe of designer shopping and other upmarket hotspots.

We were there its second might of operation. The sense of new and now was still in the air. In fact it felt like party night though it was a Thursday, with all the invited guests and others trying out a new hotel and its watering spots for the first time.

So where do I start?

At the bottom line: is it cool? Is it luxury? Or do I start at the moment we found the solid wooden doors in the elegant façade and walked in out of the slush of Norrmalmstorg on 2 December 2010.

Following you in, of course, is the cold air, gusting into the entrance passage. But first thing that meets you is a perfect antidote to winter savagery. Gas heaters are burning in that passage and the staff there (doormen?) look happy with life and pleased you breezed in. The overnight bag gives them a good clue – you are not just a diner, you have come to stay the night.

Pointed pleasantly into the lobby, you note the elemental input (fire) is no longer necessary. Here the heating system is almost coping with the intrusions of cold air. in a stunning chic contemporary interior, the air is full of circular lamps of different sizes like gigantic bubbles, and people relax on smooth round and cubic soft things. Very pleasant feel. Modern and simple but cozy, not aridly minimalistic.

And the front desk actually exists in both architectural and human form, with quite a row of attendants.  What is more, enthusiasm reaches you – as expressions indicate wow we have guests, how nice. After taking my surname and checking the booking in the computer, he looks up and says my first name with correct pronunciation in pleasant “nice to meet you” kind of voice. That is one of the things about egalitarian Sweden – they don’t have to say Mrs or Miss, and they don’t feel they have to treat you obsequiously or show you your place down the rank.

On the other hand, no-one offers a woman with a broken arm help with her baggage, while my beautiful lithe daughter is offered every assistance. J

Then again on the plus side. No-one asks me for a passport, ID card or even credit card imprint, though I have not yet paid. Trust is the coolest thing of all. You do need your door card to use the lift though so they are not harum scarum.

The rooms (201 in all)?

Our r0om was cute. Really cute, with the soft sheets and puffy pillows and duvets you expect, and a tall headboard that is half organic and half shiny something. Large flat screen TV on, emitting little musical sounds. All sorts of lighting including skinny metal arms holding small lights and big bubble like shades resting on the floor. Ceilings are moulded and wonderfully high. Cupboard roomy enough (hairdryer, sewing kit, shower cap – all sorts of amenities). Bathroom cute – grey Carrera marble tiles all up and down, shower, attractive designer hand basin (splashes a bit when tap runs onto the fancy basin cover, but worth it for sense of style; and you can remove the designer element).

However, some things about this room become less nice as the night goes on. We shall talk about that later.

Now we go down to eat, and we discover the big plus and the thing that will make Nobis a hotspot for sure.

This is a genuine old building that has been revamped. Imaginative use has been made of the typical  inner courtyard. Such courtyards are sometimes a seasonal garden in typical Stockholm buildings, but more often paved and functional.

This courtyard has been converted most adorably to a lounge. Way up at awesome (religious temple) height there is now an adorned ceiling, from which is suspended a glorious lamp like a burst or jet-trail  of sparkling light. It glitters mystically high above, dwarfing the happy humans enfolded in the embrace of high back chairs. Glasses of drinks and animated voices suggest party rather than relax lounge.

This interleads with a bar, a square tunnel inside copper, where more party is on the go.

Well this is cool Stockholm, nothing other than the new party town. Even though everyone looks young to me, Aleah says: how nice, all ages. To her the 30 year olds are middle of life.

Now to eat. I tried to book a week beforehand (too late) and am merely waitlisted for their fine dining Caina restaurant. My suggestion that we might eat there sounds like science fiction to them as it has such a long waitlist still. So we head for the Italian bistro, conveniently opening off the entrance hall of the hotel. Again.  All staff friendly, though apologetic. Yes we fix and trix and take out all allergy inducing ingredients out of our panini. But do you want to sit? Try coming back 45 minutes later.

That worked. Warmly greeted on return, we were given a precious table in the small bistro. Pleasant relaxed atmosphere with the odd laptop keeping people company. And the panini was really good. Only little negative was that instead of aubergine it contained courgette. Why was this we enquired? She went off to find out. Oh so sorry, we ran out. But if you really want some I will go fetch aubergine from the main restaurant…

In no time, fried aubergine delivered as side dish. Where there is a will there is a way.

Price very reasonable (less than 70 sek per delicious egg, cheese and “aubergine” sandwich).  The water cost more than the food. Sparkling water.

Now for the room experience.

This is where things started to go wrong – not in will to help, but in way. The room was really hot – it read 25 degrees on the heating controls and demanded instant divestment of clothing. We turned it down to 20. Still felt hot and stuffy.  Now the TV was switched off and the sound of the air-conditioning let out a constant hiss or rumble, hard to ignore.

We rang reception. Quick answer and a person was quickly sent up to investigate. It was suggested that the aircon was trying to cool down the room and when 20 was achieved it would switch off. It would be quieter they suggested if we turned the room back to 25.

No impossible – not with this thick duvet. A duvet designed for an Arctic hut or something. Well they could bring us a thin duvet. Now too tired to wait it out, we turned down the kind offer and used our nice fluffy five star dressing gowns as blankets.

Hard to sleep. Even while trying to reach 20 it felt hot and stuffy. The stuffier it felt, the smaller the room seemed to get. To an overheated brain. the lovely  high roof seemed to get higher and higher while the side walls seemed to get closer, and the aircon carried on regardless. Fortunately the windows do open, which reduced claustrophobia, but the noise level in the street was at that time a bit too high to use that way out.

In the morning the air was cool but the aircon/climate control was equally noisy, obviously trying to sustain the 20 degrees that it had finally reached.

Breakfast was fine –  one wall of bakery items and toppings for sandwiches, a little fruit and mueslis, plus a few hot dishes like omelette, pancakes and sausages. Nice touch was a selection of apparently home made organic jams.

So now – the bottom line – is Nobis cool luxury?

In the more idiomatic sense, definitely cool and upmarket. Good looking people, both guests and staff, relaxed feel, sense of general enjoyment and animation. Friendly, flexible and willing service. Chic and imaginative design, creating fun feeling without being corny. It gives a sense of happening. Stockholm will come to you if you stay at Nobis. You won´t even need to step out into the slush. Yet when you venture out, you find yourself right on top of designer shopping, and a short walk from the major area of fashion stores. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes stroll from art galleries. For the summer, easy walk to the hop on-hop off boats for sightseeing the main attractions, and not far from the boats to the islands.

In the final analysis, however, one cannot call it real luxury until they get on top of their climate control system and make it physically cooler, quieter and more manageable by individual (fingertip) controls. Still, this was only day two. It may well be fixed in a day or two more.

Hope so. ”Because (dear Nobis) you’re worth it…”

Souks & the lessons

November 18, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (0)

For a little summary of lessons learned see


November 7, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (56)

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Ramshyttan is a place of beauty perfectly sited for village and nature tourism. In the last four months the state forestry company Sveaskog has well-nigh demolished its surroundings in the Kilsberg hills, one of the most beautiful areas of Sweden. Riding and rambling trails are desolate after forestry activity with monster machines, casting a gloom on promising ecotourism development.

As Sweden’s biggest forest owner, is it their right to launch intensive deforestation, despite the impact on nature and the local community?

And what does this zealous state forestry offensive have to do with the demand for biofuel?

Only 20 minutes from Örebro and 2 hrs 30 minutes drive from Stockholm, blue hills rise out of the plains – an area of extraordinary natural riches. These are the Kilsberg hills – Kilsbergen. Forests and former forests roll out for miles, up hill and down dale, with predators (wolves, lynx, and fox) and plenty of elk and deer, not to mention smaller mammals.

Once the coastline of an ancient sea, this line of hills has the feeling of a world apart from the flatlands that formed the sea floor 10 000 years ago. Northern conifers mix with deciduous trees in Kilsbergen creating biodiversity.  There are strange rock formations, waterfalls, and dozens of pure lakes and streams that glitter dark like obsidian. The iron in the rock has given Bergslagen a part in Swedish history with small iron smelting communities and independent spirit – and cultural relics of ironworks and old timbered cottages add to the mystique of wandering through this terrain.

However, for four months the state forest company Sveaskog has been so active that it has devastated forests and rambling trails in this part of Bergslagen. It’s near total onslaught. Locals report that the forests in areas around Ramshyttan in the Kilsberg hills (Kilsbergen) have almost all gone – except for a nature reserve, Sveaskog’s “Ecopark” introduced 2007, and small private forests. In “efficient” modern style, with the aim of getting timber or biofuel at low cost, they have used monster machines.  They have taken not just most of the trees, but the undergrowth too (of course). So they have destroyed countless habitats for animals and plants. And not just nature has been devastated.

Riding trails and old foot paths have been ploughed up by the monster machines and areas of the famous trail Bergslagsleden denuded. The topography of large areas has basically been altered. In their impatience they haven’t waited for good weather, so the machines have sunk into the wet ground and churned up the surface. Banks on the side of former trails have been flattened. Stones on age old walks have been flung away so all you have is a mush and later dry, rutty broken useless trails.

The pretty village of Ramshyttan, once famed for its iron working, is still a haunting spot with painted wooden houses, and tree-lined banks cradling little lakes and rushing stream. See the images above and the stream that once drove the mills. Ramshyttan is one of the highlights of Bergslagsleden, and has a shelter once surrounded by forest. Now the shelter is exposed by deforestation. And in whatever direction you walk, ride or drive from the village you feel this sense of devastation, though fortunately Sveaskog’s land sale activities have rescued the village from total ruin by creating private forest.

And no doubt one should be very grateful for the much heralded Sveaskog Ecopark, a few kilometers from Ramshyttan, which has a magical view over the flats from Rusakulan  in the heights of Kilsbergen. When created in 2007, it was Sveaksog’s 18th Ecopark, and part of a very verbal philosophy on sustainable forestry, and upholding the natural environment with much reference to the fascinating geography, geology, biodiversity and culture of Bergslagen.

Now in retrospect the Kilsbergen Ecopark may have been timed as a compensation for the coming forestry operations in the area. Which may be connected with prioritizing biofuel as their little contribution to the climate crisis rather than sustaining the forests by laying off the monster machines.

Under the heading (translated from Swedish) Sustainable forestry gives more, Sveaskog’s website accessed 5 November states that they are now increasing the returns from the forest, while upholding ecological and social values.

In the period January to September 2010 volume of Sveaskog’s deliveries of forest products rose by 7% compared with the same period in 2009. Sales volumes of timber and wood for pulp went up 6% and biofuel a whole 13%.

Under perioden januari – september levererade Sveaskog 8 358 kubikmeter (m3fub) skogsråvara, en ökning med sju procent jämfört med motsvarande period föregående år. Försäljningen av timmer och massaved ökade med sex procent och biobränsle med 13 procent. Främst kraftvärmeverkens efterfrågan bidrog till ökade biobränsleleveranser. (accessed 7 November 2010)

This is the period during which they worked so actively around Ramshyttan and Kilsbergen. And this weekend the full destruction of these operations hit me.

Over dinner I asked three owners of houses in Ramshyttan: How bad is it?

“It’s terrible. There are almost no riding trails left”, said Marie. “Even the old trails which are meant to be protected have been destroyed. Behind my house was an ancient trail – very beautiful, banked with stones. It was only a mud pool when they had finished.”

Why don’t you protest?

“I have asked Sveaskog to come and pack down the earth – I am thinking first of all about the danger for my horses,” said Marie. “But I am also very sad because the trail by my house is spoilt – it was so beautiful…”

The famous hiking trail Bergslagsleden has also been hit – it wanders through denuded areas with sticks and stones and silly thin trees here and there. In some areas where there is private forest some of the charm is left. Where they have demolished banks and ploughed up the actual trail Sveaskog will try to fix it, Marie says. That is the usual form. Charge at the job like a bull, and if no one complains about damage leave it, otherwise try to fix it…

“You know that this is a state company,” she added. “The private companies would have been more careful.”

We sat in the candlelight and our meal seemed so sad too. Something that Sweden should be proud of, something that is rare in the world is diminished, maybe for the next generations. Despite gaining the Ecopark in 2007, Kilsbergen has become a lesser place.

Apart from the 200 km Bergslagsleden, hiking and riding of world class followed seemingly endless other trails through the rolling forested hills by endless lakes and rivers. Ramshyttan Hästgård (horse farm) was putting up a website for international equine ecotourism, based not just on the wholesome clean lakes of Kilsbergen, the hills and forests … but world class riding. There were 20 riding trails, at least, Marie says … having owned her little red and white cottage for some 30 years, and she and her Icelandic horses have discovered every corner.

Now there are few riding trails left to boast of. What trails remain seem so bleak.

The Kilsberg hills look as if they have mange. Some small patches of forest (thank goodness), some scraggly scrubby self regenerating old forestry destruction. And large areas with nothing left except a few thin tall trees here and there…like a few hairs left in the bare areas of skin on a mangy cat. Trees that look sad and pained and lost. And other areas with completely NOTHING.  Except sticks, weeds, mud and dried earth sometimes with the tracks of the monster machines.

“They went on for four months,” says Roland who is engaged in sustainable farming and ecotourism in Ramshyttan.

“Night and day those machines were going…I couldn’t sleep,” says Kathleen, who owns a house in the village.

But can’t you do something I asked?

“There is nothing left to save now,” says Roland. “It’s all gone except for the nature reserve and the Ecopark.  They owned the land; they can do what they like.”

Is this really true that they can do what they like? And even if they are allowed to, is it right?

If the people of the world had accepted autocracy and tyranny, what would our lives look like today?

These are my questions:


1. As a state owned forestry company, should Sveaskog not be involved in responsible forestry and community cooperation? They have shown a welcome consciousness of conservation with the Ecoparks – and sustainable forestry is a favourite buzzword for them – but their Ecopark is a drop in the ocean and their activities leave the following questions.


2. Why come to one area and one community with monster machines – and destroy almost everything in a few months? Why not spread the forestry activities more fairly over their domain from North to South of Sweden. This would be responsible forestry – responsible behavior towards the community. Sveaskog’s stated ambition to set aside 20% of Sweden’s forests for nature conservation orientation  begs the question about the other 80% – and the arrogance that deems Sveaskog can choose which communities fall in the unimportant bracket.


3. Why choose a watershed area, a catchment area – why denude the hills here when the forestry companies own vast tracts of forests on lowlands? Watershed areas are vital for the healthy ecology of much wider zones; rivers run from Kilsbergen down into a chain of lakes that feed the farmlands and towns below, providing water for growth, life and recreation. A bare hill does not catch water by itself – it is the trees that create a huge surface area for condensation. This is well known.


4. Why sabotage sustainable tourism? Why choose such a particularly beautiful area for such savage treatment – the closest mountains to Stockholm, the beautiful backyard of Örebro, and an area with great potential for ecotourism? It is already popular with German and Dutch tourists (at least before the destruction). Bergslagen is an area full of artists, inspired by its beauty. It also has the mystique of the old culture of independent iron workers, which further adds to the cultural richness that attracts sustainable tourism. With responsible forestry one would take care not to undermine the economic livelihood of the community. One would first talk to the community and find what they are aiming at.


5. Why not first research where all the riding and walking trails are and then avoid them when felling trees – leaving a swathe at least four trees deep. That would be responsible forestry. The beauty of country roads, lanes and trails touches on the identity and culture of the area, as well as on tourism.


6. Why not create many more special zones where properly sustainable forestry methods are used.  It is not enough to just declare interest in the “values” of nature in  specific areas (though of course better than nothing). Currently “sustainable” forestry seems to embrace the all-destroying machines, and is called sustainable merely because they try to leave 10% of the trees (xx trees per hectare). So they miss out the odd tree but devastate everything else. The trees once deep in the forest are long and tall and emaciated, and almost all the other plant species are gone. All shelter for animals gone.  In areas of special significance like the whole of Kilsbergen, they should go back to ancient methods with modern newly designed machinery that is nimble and can avoid total destruction. Why not be inspired by the days not so long ago, when the forests held trees of all ages and all heights, mixed conifer and deciduous.  The old trees were felled in the summer and dragged over the snow in winter – leaving younger trees and the undergrowth with all its richness so plant and animal life could continue in full biodiversity. Sweden is trying to become a leader in green technology. Why not make a thing of sustainable forestry – sustainable and responsible? Instead of the current parody of it…


7. In areas that maybe have less cultural and natural significance, where there are vast areas without villages and riding and walking trails, why not apply the 10% rule in a more nature-friendly way. Instead of leaving trees here and there with nothing between, why not leave copses – little islands of completely untouched vegetation which will act as a reservoir for plant regeneration and a hiding and breeding place for animals.


8. Why not try to save the little bits of forest that are left in Kilsbergen? Not much but it could get worse. The Ramshyttan inhabitants are worried that Sveaskog will now descend to the waterways and banks of the lakes – for example the end of Sågdammen.  At least try to do better in the rest of Berglsagen if there is anything left to save.


9. Why not look honestly at the biofuel story? The current output on the web from Sveaskog has some complicated and unfathomable arguments with a skip and a hop sideways in the logic. They give the welcome news that Sweden’s forests trap half of the CO2 that the country produces – a nice contribution to ameliorating global warming. They state that old trees do not contribute so much to trapping CO2, so basically it is better to cut them down. They don’t say what they mean by old. The trees felled around Ramshyttan were definitely not old  (Sveaskog fortunately sold some very old forests to private people recently). The implication is that they will immediately plant lots of vigorous young trees – but in 10 years I personally have not seen any trees planted where Sveaskog denuded the slopes. Further, they seamlessly jump to a conclusion that biofuel production is important for meeting the world’s shortage of fossil fuels as if that is the same thing as sustainable forestry. It may be true that it will help against global warming, but surely if you burn all those trees the CO2 so lovingly trapped is let out?


10. Finally why not have a wider vision? Why not save the whole ecosystem in special areas. Swedes go all the way to South Africa or Kenya to see wildlife, and spend Swedish money there. Why not save our own animal life, not just by saving their habitat, but by limiting hunting in nature reserves so they become GAME reserves with tourism potential and bring in animal tourism money instead of just exporting it. Game reserves that include carnivores and herbivores.J

Sweden’s hunting lobby has royal blessing and many powerful supporters so the licence to kill walks a tightrope between please them (let hunters kill as many as possible)  and leave them (leaving animals to breed so they can be killed later on). The hunting lobby has apparently managed to persuade the Swedish government that the wolves, to give one example of their “lobbying power”, are genetically degenerate and that a large number should be killed to make way for some Russian wolves to enter from the north. A sizable number of wolves were shot but genetic tests showed no degeneration (according to SvD). Wolf hunting is to continue however. No doubt the real reason for killing wolves is that hunters are concerned that wolves eat into their hunting potential. Some would say it goes deep in the male genes to kill.  But it also goes deep in human nature to protect – I dare say protection and social cohesion are our strongest survival instinct – being such physically weak animals without it. So let’s protect nature in all its glory. If they can do it in the third world – surely Sweden can do it too.

My darling idea is that in at least one area of Sweden there should be a proper game reserve …. Where game rangers only go in to kill as part of the balance of nature between plants, herbivores and carnivores when the natural balance fails. And where you have some sporting chance of seeing a carnivore. Very few people have seen the wolves of Bergslagen (though I myself have seen one, just before he was shot). Now there is even less chance after the killing spree of wolves recently. To be really far thinking the game reserve should be a large area to allow genetic variation in the animal stock, fenced to prevent wolves eating people’s sheep and so on (as they apparently occasionally do).


And as a probably unwelcome postscript: If we make Sweden more rich in its natural treasures through conservation and sustainable forestry and tourism,  perhaps a simpler existence may seem worthwhile – and we will be tempted to consume less. Consumption is surely the real problem behind fuel reserves and global warming though it is the last problem we want to honestly face…


On the web I found the following romantic text about the Kilsberg Hills (

“Nature and culture in the heart of Sweden. … Where the wilderness meets the bygone culture of the plains – smeltinghouse ruins and other relics of the past. Ramblers´trails cross the old ore routers (sic) (routes) and the rubble-stone beaches of ancient seas.”

The Kilsberg Hills (Kilsbergen) formed the coastline of a great sea only 10 000 years ago, and the chain of hills is fringed with sandy and pebbly ancient beaches. Below lie the flats of Örebro, stretching some 200 km to the Baltic, and once the floor of the sea, these days rippling in summer with wheatfields. The Kilsberg Hills lie in the wider hilly area of Bergslagen, an area known for its iron mining and iron smelting from the middle ages until the last century.

Ramshyttan is one of many small iron working communities in Bergslagen – called names like Pershyttan, Lockyttan, Garphyttan and Grythyttan since “hyttan” refers to the smelting works.  Ramshyttan’s iron working remains are mentioned in tourist literature.  The song writer Björkman lived in Ramshyttan and wrote the song Dans på Rusakula (the hill that crowns the Ecopark and looks out over the flats that once lay under the sea). Ramshyttan has attracted artists, potters, and singers to move in to its wooden houses some dating far back, others built in the early 1900s – as in other areas of Bergslagen. Ramshyttan’s other claim to fame is the shelter on the hiking trail Berslagsleden – situated exactly where Sveaskog has denuded a hillside in the last month. The only beautiful trees left around there are on private land – fortunately sold by Sveaskog before they began the last savage round of demolition.


September 18, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (0)

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Please click on the images for larger versions

13 September – daytrip from Stockholm

Trosa. One of the prettiest towns in Sweden. It came as a bright surprise one rainy day. Like being given a present between birthdays. The contrasts of that day were part of the wonder.

We were to visit an old friend, Paula and I. I took the circular tramway from Gullmarsplan (Tvärbanan) through undistinguished suburbs to Liljeholmen, which is distinguished (for its Ugly Urban Usch). It is one of those so-called “centrum” that revolve around Stockholm. Like an undigested lump – an accidental coagulation of grey apartment blocks, T-bana station, predictable McDonalds and COOP (the saddest part is someone planned it).

The best part is getting out of there on comfy TROSABUSSEN. Only 100 sek for an hour ride to Trosa (toilet on board).

It was raining, clammy, wet and grey. I took snapshots awkwardly from under my umbrella. Regardless of the input from the heavens, the little town of Trosa warmed us with its colours, food and charm.

It’s just a teeny town but has 10 restaurants, among which is picturesque Antons Krog, where we ate excellent lunch for only 85 sek. With a rainbow of brightly painted wooden houses, Trosa  spreads along two sides of a running river, which becomes a canal and then flows out into the Baltic. The banks are lined with boats of every size and shape. Each house has a boat tied up in front. Here is my friend Erry’s pride and joy – an undoubtedly picturesque rowing boat.

Trosa has a yacht marina. It is a popular excursion for Stockholm yachters and has also been well-rated by the international yachting fraternity.  Even by rowing, you are within easy reach of sheltered waters between the islands of the Trosa archipelago – the southern reaches of the multitude of offshore islands along the coast north and south of Stockholm.

Summer is when Trosa blooms to full life. With music and markets, dining in gardens, cappuccino under the apple trees. Boats coming and going. “And,” adds Erry, “busloads of German tourists.”

“You know that Germans like Sweden,” she said. But now many more are coming to Trosa in tours following in the footsteps of Inga Lindström. This popular German TV series is filmed in Sweden’s Sörmland county, many scenes in little Trosa.

Though the cast is German, the language German and the writer German (Inga Lindström is her pseudonym) – the impression is given that these are Swedes talking Swedish with dubbed sound. The Inga Lindström series creates eternal green summer, an idyll of beautiful scenery and beautiful (Swedish) people. In this setting there are fairy-tale like endings when love triumphs. “The Germans think that Sweden is a little nicer, a little cleaner and more honest, and the films owe their popularity due to a longing for better times,” she adds lightly.

The series continues – new episodes were being filmed this week (16 September 2010) in nearby Nyköping. showed a film clip.

But back to Trosa.

It is 13 September. We are walking under umbrellas. Garden cafes are wet and deserted.

It’s not cold but…Summer is almost over. It came to Sweden like a dream. Like an enchantment, and now you wake without the kiss of a prince…

The crowds have fled from Trosa. Many restaurants and B&Bs are closed.  The apple trees that so frothily fill the gardens are now dotted with red. The maple leaves are turning with a triumphant blaze. They do it in a way that says “we wanted our last fling while still young and sappy in mid-September”. Other leaves hang on green and hopeful till mid-October when they bleach, crumple and fall, giving in to barrenness. The conifers never cared for summer anyway…

Erry is resigned to autumn. Descended from fisher folk in the arctic areas of Norway, she breathes its first dews and wisps of melancholy with Scandinavia’s harmonious resignation and belonging.

We walk back from our delicious meal at Anton’s Krog, where Anton from Switzerland started a restaurant in an old fire station 30 years ago (the dish Paula ordered as an extra was best – chanterelle soup – unimaginably delicious). We walk in a circle (I believe) past the bookshop (“a real bookshop” Erry says. Past stadshotell – a hotel with a literary history (hence a real bookshop).

Along the river past the angled roofs of quaint bright houses, red, green, blue, terracotta, walls with wooden trimmings in contrasting colours. Boats all along the way – you maybe have a car at the back, but a boat in front.

“That white house used to belong to Benny of Abba,” she points out. “I don’t think he ever lived there but he has an island nearby. I like him – he comes to town like an ordinary guy … in gumboots.”

We cross an arched wooden bridge to her house. Very sweet house with the typically glassed in veranda (lots of smaller panes creating a traditional yet light area  – not floor to ceiling glass which might cause your neighbours a heart attack).

They have a platform in the garden extending to the water’s edge swirling by under the willows – too wet for coffee there. So we go in to enjoy her version of cafe latte (with heated cream) in her cosy renovated house. She has just had a kitchen made brand new in fifties style (when Sweden was still making Utopia in more solid fashion than the 60s and 70s).

The jade green “kakelugn” (tile heater) is the centrepiece of the room where we drink our cafe crème. “Interesting that you have so many small rooms – no temptation to follow modern fashion and pull down walls to make open spaces,” I say. “No – awful. I like it cosy,” Erry says.

Upstairs under the sloping eaves we meet her cat with new kittens. This kitty is a very typical Trosa cat. It catches fish in the river. Paw trails in the water, and suddenly up comes shining fish, swept against kitty mouth. This year kitty brought in fish after fish, into the kitchen – the way other kitties bring mice. She does not get tempted to eat them. A present for the house…

Trosa was given city privileges in the middle ages. It became a leading Swedish bathing resort in the late 1900s after the first steamboat came, and the scene of important meetings, balls and masquerades. Stadshotellet is known as a literary hotel, associated with The “Five Young People” group which met there from time to time in the 1930s.  Erik Asklund, Josef Kjellgren and Gustav Sandgren wrote books about Trosa; Artur Lundkvist and Harry Martinsson became members of the Swedish Academy (Nobel prize fame); and Martinsson won the very prize. Another Academy member had a cottage near Trosa and often visited the hotel, occasionally writing poems on table napkins.


September 11, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (18)


”LJUSSTRÅK” ART TRAIL (art along a ray of light)

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It’s the first week of September – and its Ljustråk, a kind of festival of art and culture in the quiet little town of Nora and surrounding villages. It is the tenth anniversary of its launch in 2001. This time there are over 90 artists exhibiting in an art trail that starts in the converted brewery and guides you to private exhibitions all over Nora and its surroundings – in homes, gardens and studios. And there are some 20 cultural events including church concerts in Nora and other villages.

Nora is a jewel in the rural art and culture belt of Sweden – and that so many artists (and art enthusiasts) live here seems quite a jump from its origins as a centre of the independent iron mining industry.

Iron mining dates back to the middle ages among the rolling forested hills of Bergslagen, with foundry mills driven by its many rushing streams and wood for burning. In the 1600s King Gustav Wasa gave the independent miners the right to sell iron ore in Nora.

Nora’s charm and beauty owes as much to the rise of the iron industry as to its fall. After two prosperous centuries Nora had many beautiful wooden buildings and a grand church. The decline of the industry at the end of the 1800s held back the rush of modern development. So Nora still has most of the centuries-old buildings, cobbled streets and picturesque town square where the iron miners have a monument.

Nestled among green hills by a silken lake, Nora’s wooden buildings are painted in a rainbow of earthy colours from terracotta and sienna to green and mustard yellow, with a typical three-colour scheme for each house. Its quiet pace and beauty is probably what attracts and inspires artists.

Picture taken earlier for my post on Lilla Hotellet

The pace rises to a pleasant excitement some 10 or so times a year, when the town holds special events including music festivals, antique market (in July), and Ljustråk, always held in the first weekend in September.

Sometimes Ljustråk days glimmer in damp misty air. Or it rains. But today is mellow golden sunshine, spread out over the town and though the day as if it never thought of abandoning us.

Our trail starts in the old brewery where each of the 90 artists has one painting displayed. There are several other exhibitions. For 4 year old Frejda the undoubted height of the exhibition was the metal works display. There stood a magnificent dragon with long greedy hands clawing for golden necklaces. In the gloom he stood quiet but several times a minute with a roar he spurted flames from his metal mouth. The artists (add to that inventors) watched with pleasure as little Frejda stared  and asked for safety sake: But he is not real is he?

Another popular section of the exhibition in the old brewery was devoted to glass objet d’art  – sculptures and vases and that seemed to magically encapsulate 3-D artwork (or art in glass). Some vases seemed to swell and swirl like bubbles (Studilglas Elna Jolom). One of the more unusual exhibits was “Skoga-stugan”. This showed clippings about Dagmar Lange alias Maria Lang the crime writer who set so many murders in Skoga (Nora), and Magdalena Persson (the guide of Nora’s sought-after murder walks in the footsteps of Maria Lang) was to be present.

With the neat little catalogue on hand one then heads off to individual exhibitions.

The oldest artist was Thérèse Stanbridge, 88, entered in the catalogue as Theresa. She was written up in the local paper since she is not only oldest artist exhibiting but has an exotic background – moving to Sweden after a life devoted to art in South Africa.  

Her exhibition was held in the corridor of her cerise-painted block of flats, opening out into a courtyard garden full of flowers and sunshine, with view of the Nora church tower. Very Nora-ish. A steady flow of art hunters walking the art trail came in to look over or even buy her paintings, and were offered tea and coffee as well as cheese straws baked by the 88-year-old artist. Some haphazard snapshots of her paintings follow.

Moving closer to my second home at Ramshyttan, we visited the exhibits of Lena Hellström, Kerstin Wagner and Caterina Mårtensson. Lena, who has a studio in Ramshyttan in the grounds of her former home, is one of the inspirations for the circles of art and culture in Bergslagen.   I was transfixed by her shimmering birches – very tempted to buy. There were several of her birch works – “a world of birches” whispering of secrets in elfin land.

To Lena art is as much to be found in paint or sculpture as in household objects or décor. She has devoted many years to studying, writing about and furthering the old art forms – and painted her home in gallantly expertly home-made egg tempura.

Here in her Provençal rural Swedish kitchen, Lena has a hat rack painted her own creation “rural red”.

The next event in the Nora calendar is half marathon around Nora lake on the 11th and the old-fashioned Christmas market in December 4-5, 2010. Järnboås culture days are 25 to 31 October.


August 20, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (42)

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Living it up in the Stockholm archipelago – cycling and dining

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14 August – Båtshaket & Utö Värdshus

My best kept secret is out: I found a rave review on Båtshaket (Boat Shed restaurant), so might as well tell all.

We discovered Båtshaket in August on the perfect combination – Utö and Ålö. A night at the inn on Utö – and a cycling jaunt over the bridge to Ålö to a rustic fish restaurant – makes a perfect weekend to savour good Swedish food and the haunting charms of the archipelago.

Båtshaket is due to close for the year on 5 September. Still, September and October are great for cycling. The Utö inn is open at weekends. And all the spirit of the archipelago reaches out to you – coming and going in boats, gleaming sea, clean wind, rippling rocks, little white beaches, ancient trees…and other typical island scenes with wooden piers, offshore islands and little red and white cottages.

Areas of limestone bring fauna and flora that you find on the island of Gotland – and some of the chalky lightness. Strands of metamorphosed volcanic ash called leptite streak the extraordinary sculpted rocky shores.

On Saturday 14 August we took the 9am boat Silverpilen to Utö from Årstabrygga, a 20 to 30 minute car ride from Stockholm (or suburban train to Västerhaninge and then bus 846).

The waters were silk, a dove grey, lilac blue shimmer. Sun shone through the vaporous clouds. The islands seemed to float, and rocky edges ripple.

It was hot when we got to Utö. First thing on landing, was to hire cycles at Gruvbryggan – to be sure we had bike baskets to fill with picnic goodies at the small supermarket. We had a café latte at the yacht harbor, and dropped our luggage at Utö Värdshus where we would spend the night, then set off to discover Ålö. It was 22 degrees C, but felt very hot in the sun as we cycled…


The road to Ålö takes you past the camping site and its little beach, through forest and along the shore with glimpses of wooden piers, yachts, little summer houses. At Spranga Brygga (another ferry stop) there was the smell of waffles cooking and I noted that a late breakfast might have been enjoyed there at 10am.  But it would have been filter coffee, not the espresso enjoyed at the yacht harbor.

Past the little church and some 7 km of undulating terrain (including surprising glimpses of beaten up battle tanks from military exercises and warning signs by the military) you come to the bridge over to Ålö.

Ålö has its own feel. It is a nature reserve but has a hay farm and little green areas. The guide book makes a lot of the varied terrain. Swedes treasure open spaces as they live with “wall-to-wall forest” (or plantation) over most of the country, so to speak.

So while other countries in Europe get excited about a patch of forest – a wood or copse – Swedes get excited about a pasture or a field of wheat. Songs are sung about open country “öppna landskap” (e.g. Ulf Lund ell).

In this context Ålö is idyllic with its mix of forest, green meadows, solitary trees and a blue channel between it and the next island. It’s the sense of island life, lazy days and pastoral Europe, with the magic of some stones placed as if for ancient rituals. The forest includes shaggy conifers, drily withdrawn from foolish extravagance, and leafy dancing trees that forget for a moment the threat of autumn and winter.

Our gravel road curved gently up and down round rocky knolls until we came to a crossroads offering us Storsand (big sands) versus the ferry stop and painted by hand a nother sign to Båtshaket.  Cannot resist a hand painted sign in a world where modern technology stares at us with determination and blank eyes, so we chose Båtshakets restaurant and relinquished the beach.

Båtshaket. It was love at first sight.

Three ways of getting to Båtshaket were evident – bikes, bikes and more bikes; small boats tied up in front; and the ferry boat that arrives a short walk away (from Nynashamn). Theoretically you can also get here by motorbike or kind taxi from Utö.

The menu was written on a lot of different black boards. Fish is the dish. In seven variations, including 4 types of herring for 125 sek, smoked salmon and homemade potato salad (125 sek), also meatballs on a stick (60 sek).

Båtshaket is an original boat house. This one perches on the rocks and opens out onto a deck with canvas tent for shade. From simple rough wooden tables you had a view that was five star. Smooth rocks, white boats, and silky water, clear enough to reveal the green underwater world with seaweed and stones. Sometimes the Baltic is not like that – it’s dark and secretive – perfect for hiding submarines…

But this was a friendly sea sharing its secrets.

And across its shimmering surface a bright white ferry boat came in from Natttarö and Nynashamn, like a visitation.

The freshly smoked salmon was just totally delicious. Our picnic lunch was quite forgotten. After some yummy local beer, we dropped our idea of cycling another 3km to the beach … and returned to Gruvbyn and Utö Värdshus to relax in our accommodation before dinner.


Up on the hill above the yacht harbor, it is housed in one of those charming buildings with angled roof common in the counties around Stockholm. This features a veranda restaurant, fine dining restaurant and breakfast room. An old-fashioned timber building painted traditional Falu-red and housing a café and shops, hung with flowers, makes up one side of a sheltered courtyard. The accommodation is in annexes built like cottages layered down the hill to the sea.

Our package was booked a month ago  Utö Värdshus is very popular – no last minute bookings likely in the summer. 2900 SEK included 2 people in a cottage for 1 night, breakfast and a nice 3 course dinner. Considering the accommodation (basic and comfortable not classy) it was not cheap – but considering the nice meals and the alternative of hostel it was worth it.

In fact compared with the campsite it was total luxury.

There were two other restaurants to dine at down at the harbor – both well liked, the lively and more casual Seglarbar where the boat set hang out, and Dannekrogen (where they no doubt also hang out). The Utö Värdshus has less excitement perhaps but more style and elegance.

Two rooms were laid out with long tables for festive groups. A wedding party, a big birthday and a crayfish party were in progress, (Crayfish parties are a traditional August event in Sweden – and the partakers in a room by themselves were more informally dressed and possibly jollier). People come from faraway country towns to Utö to enjoy special events and corporate or family togetherness. Very authentically Swedish…

The couples sit on the closed in balcony with view of a traditional villa and the sea. It was a nice atmosphere. You cannot fault the marine smartness of blue and white. White chairs, blue cloths. Chandeliers, silver and glass adding glitter and glamour to the cottagey.

Our waiter was excellent. My disappointment over being given shrimps (räkor) as my starter was smoothly dealt with. He brought me a nice balsamic vinegar salad immediately. Second course – rödtunga with mash looked and tasted good. Not gourmet frontline with an exciting difference but very nice. Dessert delish.

We wandered out into the 10 pm sunset. Down at the yacht harbor the masts of the boats in the channel sliced a fluffy pink sky, and the still waters got more and more rich with reflections of reds and purples like wine in a bottle.

It was dark when we got to our separate cottagey accommodation. comfy, cosy and very petite. We had the cottage lowest down the slope at sea level, which gave us a view of the yacht harbor and the back of Seglarbaren. I laughed and reminded Pelle that I had once asked for take-away at Seglarbaren with a faulty  translation: ”ta bort maten.” (take my food away)

Confusion. I should have used the English un-translated “takeaway”.

The noise (the expected noise) from the jolly restaurant was not disturbing, though the heat made us leave our window open.

Though the public areas of the inn might be four star – the “stugby” (cottage village) accommodation is more three star. Clean, very clean and neat. Cosy, blue and white theme, but rather petite and too much plastic. This is family accommodation with a second single bedroom and a bed sofa in the small lounge, as well as a wall cupboard that opens out into a kitchenette.

The inn does also have ordinary double rooms in villa accommodation which are slightly more expensive.

The cosy comfortable mood is extended to the breakfast. There is a waffle making machine where you can (and teenagers do) make your own waffles, and a juicer where you can (and the mothers do) squeeze your own orange juice, and toaster where you make your own toast…apart from the usual buttermilks, yoghurts, mueslis, grains, and hams and cheeses to go on bread…

Nice but a bit crowded.

15 August – lonely sea and the sky

Moist air, warm and scrubby grey sky. Water with a gleam of green churning as we turn. I am on the ferry, leaving Spränga Brygga, opposite the little church and Kyrkbrygga.

This morning we walked to Rävstavik a couple of km down the hill from the inn. Past the old mine pit now filled with water – for hundreds of years Utö had an iron mining industry – hence the windmill. Past former workers cottages. Down through a tall forest to the coast facing the Baltic.

Grey glittery scene, sweeping views with gnarled pines on the worn, smooth rippling rocks. A lonely feel (lonely sea and the sky).

We studied the sky as a rainstorm threatened. A distant growl, like an animal warning from the sky,

At breakfast we’d wondered if it was a military exercise or thunder. The waitress guessed military as it came out short almost mechanical, without the soft edges of thunder (I thought). But we dared to walk nervously (me afraid of lightning) with picnic and umbrella, ready for eventualities, sun or rain.

Maybe 15 minutes there, enjoying rich solitude, the lighthouse on an islet adding an oceanic touch. The vik (inlet) was calm though trembling with temptation of winds to open its gleaming surface to broken ripples.

Then it started. We walked back up the hill with umbrellas furled which did not prevent feet, pants, sandals, legs from dripping and squelching as the warm air gave us its gifts of hard rain,

We gave up our weekend, fetched our luggage from Utö Värdshus luggage room, and trundled down in lighter rain, but equally sopping around the feet, to the harbor.

And now we are on the ferry home…misty window, pinkish or bluish haze – ah lilac haze. Surface running with wavelets. A pale white glow on the horizon over Utö.

Maybe we should have stayed.

See my previous post on Utö…


August 15, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (26)

By guest writer Sven Haukka

In his book Foucault’s Pendulum Umberto Eco places the universe’s only firm point in a museum. I visited Borlänge recently. Borlänge dares to place our whole future in a museum.

Museum of the future

 At the heart of Sweden


Borlänge is a must if you want to get in to the heart of Sweden. The Spirit of Sky High still hangs over the city. You can sit in the cafeteria situated in the library; read or just pretend to be reading Borlänge Tidning; and you will always meet some interesting people there. You can meet dalmasar and dalkullor.

Borlänge has got beautiful surroundings, and there´s Stora Tuna church, Domnarvet, Kupolen, Ornässtugan, the Swedish Transport Administration, Romme Alpin, Dalaälven, Folkparken with a dancehall where you can meet some of the greatest “bugg” dancers in the country, Love & Peace Cafe and the annual Love & Peace festival. Liza Minelli chose the late Saga Discoteque back in 70ies worth to visit for, just for her own enjoyment. Further the saintlike Joan Baez made a pilgrimage – actually earlier this year – to the Home of the Late Great Tenor Jussi Björling and to the Jussi Björling Museum situated in a park that earlier was called by some of her fans Bakom Domus. Domus doesn´t exist anymore. The Unemployment Office and The Social Insurance Office among others have taken over the localities.

Kupolen the centre of shopping activity imbibes life

There are plenty of sales, but with very few items in the shops, only because the gigantic arena and the shopping center Kupolen devastates the markets for the business in the heart of the city. There´s one specialized form of business that seems to go well; by the Svea Torget two Bridal Shops with large collections of dresses are devoted to serve you with everything you demand for a memorable wedding, a wedding that others only may envy.

Bride's hope

Artist’s homes around Stockholm

July 28, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (0)

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24 July Millesgården Lidingö



Ate lunch at MILLESGÅRDEN in a courtyard restaurant with a heavenly border of flowers – how do you describe flowers if you are no longer able to say gay?   I sat after lunch on the sofa, just to look at them…and sat some more.


Millesgården is a place to meditate upon beauty. Built on a steep rocky hill that plunges down cliffs to the sea channel below, it was lovingly crafted by sculptor Carl Milles and his wife as an “artist’s home”, with gardens, endless stone stairs and balustrades, very Mediterranean in feel. All over are his sculptures and fountains, many created as forerunners or copies of his work displayed in public places all over the world.

Milles was in in love with art and all things beautiful … and felt it was his ‘duty’ to make his home and garden an attraction for other artists to enjoy. Apart from his sculptures, his former home is full of relocated Ionian columns and graceful and gracious classical things.

“We have no forks and no sheets – but columns – those Carl can always afford to buy”, his wife Olga is quoted as saying wryly.

It was not just columns. There is a room full of classical treasures…including marble antiquities from Greece and Rome, with picture windows out to the Mediterranean terraces. This snapshot almost makes the glass disappears so the antiquity could be in the garden.

There are at least four sweeps of granite steps down the steep rocky slopes, between tall pines, tucked away gardens and treasures, to the lowest terraces crowded with mythological figures that are raised to meet the sky. Most of the sculptures are in or around fountains. And so there are fountains everywhere. The place tinkles with water….

That is part of the magical charm. Water sounds. And the smell of water, resin and flowers.

A gigantic Poseiden looks over the end wall and sees that beyond this magic place is the “bread and butter” (hind side) Stockholm. On the other side of the sea channel Värtan you see oil bowsers, chimneys and gigantic cruise ships. He is proud anyway…

Carl Milles, 1875-1955, lived at Millesgården with his wife Olga in the early 1900s. After returning from America he stayed there in the summers and lived in Italy.
… and now to Waldemarsudde

 Waldemarsudde, Djurgården

Full of the magic still, we drove to the Stockholm “island” of Djurgården, coming in the back way past Frihamnen and Gärdet. Djurgården is almost an island, but has a small land bridge. Djurgården is where the most popular attractions are found – like Gröna Lund amusement park, and culturally interesting Skansen zoo and open air museum. It is also where the super rich live, and the embassies. It has large green areas, well liked restaurants and very special art galleries.

The first drops of rain had started, and we drove (it seemed to me) through an Englishy world of tall sappy deciduous trees. None of the tougher feel and mystery of a Swedish forest, a lighter golden mellower feel. The king’s sheep were wandering by the roadside and were herded away by Welsh border collies – a very pastoral scene.

Now one hour before closing we were at Waldermarsudde, an art gallery and the former home of Prince Eugene, with original furniture and effects, in a beautiful garden overlooking the water. Prince Eugene is the great grandson of the first Bernadotte king – Charles XIV (Karl Johan) and a relative of the present Charles (Carl XVI Gustaf).

Two connected exhibitions were on, called the Crown and the Ring and The Royal House of Bernadotte (both end 3 October 2010). We got to see the Bernadotte family tree, portraits of descendants of Jean Baptiste/Charles XIV, photographs, and beautiful jewellery and bridal crowns (on loan from all over the world).

It emerged that though Jean Baptiste was too busy doing military things to show his artistic side, he had brought artistic genes to his descendants. Prince Eugene was much praised as a painter, and his works are among the treasures of Waldermarsudde. He never accepted the praise he got – and said wryly that it was largely due to his social position. He had the good fortune to be able to purchase the work of other artists like Isaac Grunewald (a Swedish impressionist) and was a promoter of Swedish art. I have the feeling he was a very nice man.

Another exhibition was on – celebrating 200 years of the Karolinska Institute. Showing stunningly crafted medical art from the middle ages, it nevertheless struck me as unpleasantly sensationalist – and no doubt reflected truly the brutality of the first doctors as well as the vulnerability of homo sapiens.

At last, out into the beautiful garden. Prince Eugene’s former home stands on a rise, and the garden runs down to the sea channel where Viking Line boats pass, as well as the tubby boats that ply between the archipelago and the quays at Nybroviken and Grand Hotel.

It started to rain. From the shelter of a “lusthus” (pagoda), I snapped The Thinker.

Then as we drove home, the rain started in earnest:

A month of  midday temperatures between 25 and 30 has come to an end.  It had to happen. I hear the rush and splatter of rain from the sky.  That is a sound that pleases in the desert.

But in Sweden that thick sky is a blanket over our pleasure….our magical gift of heat is over…

At least the rain held back for us to enjoy two artist’s homes and gardens. Tomorrow is another day:

Sunday 25 July – luminous meeting of dark and light


Bleary mood when the sun has gone. I woke thinking how so many Swedes love grey weather. When autumn comes they relax from all the need to be so active and hectically happy – “time to sink into yourself,” a friend explained.

This set me remembering that gorgeous painting by Prince Eugene of the Stockholm Royal Palace. It was a dark vast palace in a watery world that was grey and metallic, and yet pearly and luminescent in places … delicate in touch.

Today I would go looking for a view  of the Royal Palace that resonated with Prince Eugene’s mood when he set oil to that huge canvas….a luminous meeting between dark and light.

My snapshots follow, showing the changing mood…

I wanted the grey feel, and I could almost see it…but of course there were painted tourist buses parked in front of the palace, and a concrete bridge has been built since Prince Eugene painted…

And then the sun came out vaguely through the cloud.

The bright walls of the gabled buildings along Skeppsbron, Gamla Stan were leaping out of the grey. Shouting joyfully…

Slottsbackan- palace hill

The boats from the islands were coming in and going out, adding a brightness and sense of activity and adventure. Sunday is of course a popular day for Stockholmites to travel out to the archipelago.

In this snapshot families are spreading their bags across quay 3 – probably heading out for a week or two or returning with shopping.

Most of the Waxholm boats that provide transport to the islands leave from in front of the Grand Hotel, facing the Royal Palace. One of Stockholm’s oldest and finest hotels – and by contrast, look at all those plastic bagson the quay

Those are some of the things I love about Stockholm…

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