STOCKHOLM & THE ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN
In such an organized, soft-spoken, well-mannered, and pristine country such as Sweden, it may be hard to imagine a renegade freckled redhead with super-human strength and a monkey for a best friend as the hilariously beloved role model of Swedish children. Since her 1945 debut, Pippi Longstocking has indeed sparked a liberating and lasting influence on the hearts and minds of Swedish people. Sweden boasts a non-spanking, aquavit drinking, long living society who aspires to keep their countrymen as beautiful and serene as the natural landscape surrounding it.
Nearly 24 thousand islands make up the Stockholm archipelago and no journey to Sweden would be complete without a seafaring adventure to them. Many islands are deserted and Swedish law dictates a right to spend one night wherever a Baltic Sea journeying vessel, be it a water taxi, sailboat, or kayak lands--even on private property. For those souls committed to planning ahead, a reservation at ISLAND LODGE may just be the perfect first stop of a Scandinavian adventure. Jet lagged stateside travelers will recover quickly on this tiny island as hosts Kristina and Torkild forever change the way one thinks about "camping". Spacious geo designed tents with wood fired stoves, down comforters, sounds of lapping water, and unfiltered nature views combine for the ultimate archipelago experience. An introduction to Scandinavian cooking includes salmon belly cooked on a wood fired NETHERLANDS DESIGNED GRILL, caviar and champagne, and a sliver of the traditional mint green prinsesstårta (spongy layers of cake alternating with jam, vanilla custard, and whipped cream topped with a thin layer of bright green marzipan). Follow up with an afternoon of jumping into the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea and warming up aboard a floating-at-sea wood-fired luxurious sauna in which the island hosts deliver a glass of wine to guests. Invite any other island guests for a semi-competitive Viking game of Kubb in which two teams take turns tossing batons in an attempt to knock over farmers and capture the opponent's king (try to avoid nicked shins with wild tosses). Watching the sun set and stargazing from a hot tub built into the shore helps weary travelers adapt to the long days of Swedish summer.
Sea kayaking to view the nests of sea eagles and isolated protected populations of gregarious grey seals diving for herring is an archipelago must excursion. Listen carefully to the guides detailed descriptions of the islands and their inhabitants. From Swedish summer cottages to World War I and II military installations, the shore is dotted with history--even the traditional red stain ubiquitous to the homes along the archipelago preserves a bit of Swedish heritage. Falu, a red dye abundant in the run off chemicals from the copper mines of Sweden, is cooked and mixed with linseed oil and rye flour to make a paint that is inexpensive, low maintenance, and a cherished reminder of the importance of the mining industry in Sweden.
Nestled on a chain of fourteen islands in the middle of glittering blue waters dotted with sailboats and RIB's (rigid inflatable boats), Stockholm is a feast for the senses. A mosaic of architectural styles and European aesthetics, this seaside metropolis harmoniously commingles medieval and modern buildings, bohemian and chic designer clothing, traditional Nordic cooking and Scandinavian fusion. Easy to navigate, it is best to walk through the neighborhoods using the water and steeples to find the way--after all, getting a bit lost adds to the magic of this island wonderland. A private walking guide is well worth the pennies and a good one will weave history, humor, and some places for locals only recommendations into an organized get-your-bearings tour. In three hours, it is possible to meet a guide at the uber sophisticated gourmet food hall Östermalms Saluhall Market, stop at a candy store for a striped polkagris or a handful of salted lakritsfariken--aka licorice-- (pace yourself, the selection is mind blowing), meander through the medieval cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan, peek in the Nobel Museum, visit the Riddarholm Church (tombs of dead monarchs) and Stockholm Cathedral, admire the iconic German architecture of Stortorget Square, pass by for a glimpse of the Royal Palace (hopefully during a changing of the guard), decipher an ancient Viking rune stone, and take in the breathtaking panorama of historic and modern buildings along the intersection of Lake Mälaran and the Baltic Sea. Request a quick detour to the Kungsträdgården Metro Station and see a section of environmental, women's rights, and peace inspired graffiti art in this underground subway station that looks like an archaeological excavation with 17th and 18th century remains of the old Stockholm Makalös Palace protruding from the walls.
In 980, Sigtuna was founded as Sweden's first capital. For centuries this lakeside small town bustled with Swedish dignitaries, merchants, and artisans. Swedish coins were first stamped in this village that today maintains a 1,000 year old quaint medieval charm. A half day walk that begins early in the morning with a stroll down the boardwalk, an exploration of the ruins of the 11th century St. Olaf's Church, and a quick peek inside the 17th century Mariakyrkan Church, provides plenty to do in the morning. Top off the excursion with a leisurely early lunch in the light filled modern dining room of the Sigtuna Stads Hotell with gorgeous views of the lake. The Swedish pancakes with lingonberry butter deliver a delightful taste of the classic Nordic pannkakor that may cause you to overeat. No worries! After lunch, a quick jaunt over to the Wenngarn Castle (a baroque palace historically restored) and a brisk walk through the beautifully maintained gardens offer a chance to recover from culinary hedonism.
Return to Stockholm on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with Captain Bengt Kull. Weather being often chilly even in the summer months, his provisions include drysuits to keep passengers warm and a trip through the loch that connects Lake Malaren with the Baltic Sea is a door-to-door experience that leaves sea travelers on the docks in the city's center and directly across the street from The Diplomat Hotel.