A Swedish pigeon’s perspective

Slussen as seen on rooftop tour in Stockholm

Slussen from the rooftops

I gaze down on Stockholm from a giddy height. I’m feeling uneasy having been abruptly struck with vertigo, so I’m not feeling too good although I’m securely clipped to a safety wire.

Along with a five other people I’m standing on a narrow steel walkway encircling the roof of Stockholm’s criminal court and the adjacent old parliament building on the island of Riddarholmen. I have a unique pigeon’s eye view of Sweden’s capital city although my sudden nausea threatens to swamp the serendipity of the moment.

Roottop tour guide Elias Drakenberg chats with tour participantI steady myself with some deep breaths, relax my grip on the handrail and focus on the ancient shingles of a nearby rooftop. Our guide EliasElias Drakenberg is telling us about an ever-shifting Stockholm.

Much like Venice, this fascinating city is built on many islands – 14 in total – and is forever, subtly, on the move in tectonic terms. That’s why the precinct called Slussen that we see below us must undergo extensive reconstruction.

Slussen is a complex concrete network of roads and railway bridges linking the city centre the neighbouring island of Sodermalm. Roads and rail tracks are built over a lock that links the Baltic Sea with Lake Malaren.

Elias points to a whirlpool swirling in the water beneath the railway bridge. “See where the water disappears beneath the city,” he says. The whole of Slussen needs to be re-engineered, a project that’s causing considerable civic consternation. 

Gamla Stan as seen on Stockholm roof top tour

Gamla Stan seen from the rooftops

I take another deep breath and we continue our tour, which lasts about 45 minutes. In our safety helmets and full-body harness we are clipped to a steel wire throughout the entire experience.

Halfway through the experience we clamber off a roof into a tower and inside find a cosy room with views of Lake Malaren and Slussen. Elias tells us this room is a welcome hot chocolate pit stop when it’s snowing. The rooftop tour runs year-round, rain or shine, only ever cancelled when it’s too cold for comfort.

Riddarholmen ChurchOur aerial adventure takes us beside the lofty spires of adjacent Riddarholmen Church. Elias points out the towers in which Swedish royalty are buried. We have fabulous views and frequently pause to hear more about city history and landmark buildings we can see in adjacent Gamla Stan (Old Town).

The final stretch sees us traverse the topmost ridge of the court building with no handholds. “You’ll feel heroic afterwards,” says Elias encouragingly.

The rooftop tour is the only chance for such a unique perspective on Stockholm. Although I’ve flunked the bravado test my short time spent “aloft” like a Swedish pigeon is, if you will pardon the pun, the high point of my city visit.

All the info about the Stockholm Rooftop Tour 

A fine Swedish habit

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Fika time in Uppsala

One thing is certain in Sweden. You don’t explore the streets for very long before you are hankering for a fika. This urge comes on strong largely because in the generally chilly weather the act of fika swiftly becomes an imperative. It’s no struggle whatsoever to succumb to this delightful local practice.

Invert the two syllables of the word and you’ll immediately understand. Fika (ka-fi) is an institution in this friendly, convivial country. In Uppsala, in particular, we are never far from a cosy, warm, comfortable cafe in which to indulge our instantly-acquired Scandanavian habit.

But fika is so much more than simply having a quick cup of coffee. Fika almost always involves sharing lively conversation while, at the same time, nibbling on delightful small pastries called bulle – Swedish for “boulders”. The prime specimens are flavoured with cinnamon or cardomum.

The finest examples of kanelbulle and kardemummabulle that we tasted were at Rosendal, a greenhouse-style cafe set amid a community agricultural project on the island of Djurgarden in Stockholm. But that particular outdoors excursion is the basis of another Scandinavian yarn.

Meanwhile, on this cold and wet Uppsala day, having paid a visit to the splendid cathedral and marvelled at its extraordinary collection of Medieval vestments, our first fika stop is at Ofvandals (Sysslomangaten 5), which has been a legend ever since opening in 1878.

The cafe is popular with all ages but is a particular favourite among Uppsala University students who generally impart a sparkling vibrancy to the streets of this lovely old Swedish town.

IMG_0173Later in the day we stop for a second fika, this time at Caffe Linne Hornan (Svatsbackgaten 22). It’s on a corner across from the city gardens made famous by association with Sweden’s most famous professor, Carl Linneaus.

Having no fixed agenda we spend more time than the usual fika break lounging in comfy armchairs enjoying the convivial atmosphere and simple, elegant creature comforts that are a natural feature of Swedish cafes. Bravely, we resist overindulging on the chocolate cakes, lemon slices and other rich pastries and confections displayed before our eyes in glass cabinets.

Another fabulous choice for fika in Uppsala is Guntherska Hovkonditoriet (Ostra Agatan 31) where everything is made in-house. On our second day in town we sip our coffee beneath chandeliers while watching artisans make chocolates and other mouth-watering seductions.

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Guntherska Hovkonditoriet

Guntherska is also the perfect place to try one of those huge, fresh North Sea shrimp sandwiches that are a staple of the Swedish diet. But this is only possible if you have learnt the golden rule of fika: go lightly on all those tempting, tasty boulders!

Some fika trivia:  

The city of Kalmar was the first to set a Swedish fika record when on 6 June, 2007, 2,620 people sat down together for a fika. In 2009, a Swedish coffee company organized a fika tour in ten different cities to break the record: Östersund was crowned the new Swedish fika champions for having 3,563 people at fika on 30 May that year. 

– courtesy Wikipedia

A truly really cool hotel

_MG_5175After my last post about wanting fresh air in hotels, I thought it apt to write about the ‘freshest’ hotel I’ve ever slept in – a hotel made totally of ice! It’s also ranks as the ‘coolest’ hotel I’ve experienced.

First built in 1990 some 200 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle, the IceHotel in Sweden’s Lapland is the real deal. It’s the original, the one that’s since been copied in various other chilly countries in a variety of imitations. Making the Swedish hotel even more remarkable is the fact that it is completely rebuilt every year.

The IceHotel materializes in late October-early November in the Swedish village of Jukkasjarvi near the Arctic mining town of Kiruna. The entire building is made of massive ice blocks carved from the nearby frozen River Torne. These hewn blocks are augmented with snice – snow produced by a snow-making machine. The hotel owner says the unrivalled purity of the Torne’s waters render the Jukkasjarvi hotel the finest, purest, IceHotel of them all.

_MG_5172Each season the Icehotel gets bigger, opening in sections, each filled with guests while the rest of the hotel is still being built. At the end of the season the entire structure simply melts away, flowing back into the Torne.

Within the hotel’s frozen walls one’s sense of reality is challenged by a eerie, silent, yet fascinating world of white, blue and green – rather similar to being underwater.

Hotel rooms are set off low corridors of packed white snow. The Jukkasjarvi IceHotel is famous for its unique Art Suites, each one designed by a different international artist chosen annually from a list of more than 200 applications. The end results are so extraordinary they attract day tourists to Jukkasjarvi as well as creating an international buzz. These wondrously carved suites complement the hotel’s standard rooms.

_MG_5180Guests socialize  at the Absolut Ice Bar, where lurid vodka-based cocktails are served in chunky ice glasses. Each glass lasts long enough for two or three drinks before starting to melt in the heat of your gloved hand.

The temperature inside the hotel is kept between -5ºC and -8ºC. Guests are given Arctic sleeping bags and prepare for bed in an adjacent, warm, changing room where they leave bags and clothing in a locker before retiring to bed in thermal underwear. You keep your shoes, nip smartly across an open courtyard and into the hotel, then speed down one of its lengthy, domed white corridors to your room built entirely of packed snow with a dome roof.

_MG_5168Beds are wooden pallets supporting a foam mattress covered in reindeer skins. Tucked up in my sleeping bag I was as warm as toast. Note that there no ensuite rooms in the Icehotel so any pressing urgency during the night means another speedy excursion to the change rooms.

Most guests combine a night in the IceHotel with one or more in one of the hotel’s heated wooden chalets. Whatever your choice make sure you add this remarkable chunk of Jukkasjarvi ice onto your bucket list.

To find out more or book a room visit www.icehotel.com

A pigeon’s perspective

Elias Drakenberg is telling us how the world keeps shifting but as I gaze down on Stockholm from a giddy height it is the shifting tides within myself that I battle. I’m struck with vertigo, so not feeling too good despite being securely clipped to a narrow steel walkway encircling the roofs of the criminal courts (Svea Hovrätt) and the old parliament building on the island of Riddarholmen.

I feel I might fall, which is great pity as I have a unique pigeon’s eye view of the Swedish capital even though nausea threatens to swamp the serendipity of the moment. I steady myself with some deep breathing, relax my stranglehold on the handrail and focus intensely on the ancient shingles of a nearby rooftop. All this time Elias talksImage further about ever-shifting Stockholm.

Much like Venice, this marvellous city is built on many islands, 14 in total, and tectonically speaking is forever, subtly, on the move. Which is why, far below us, the precinct called Slussen must soon undergo extensive reconstruction.

Slussen is a complex concrete spiral network of roads and railway bridges that connect the city centre to the neighbouring island of Sodermalm. The roads and rail tracks are built over a lock that links the Baltic Sea with Lake Malaren. Elias points to a whirlpool swirling in the water beneath the railway bridge. “See where the water disappears beneath the city,” he says.

Re-engineering Slussen is a hot topic. So much so that Abba star Benny Andersson, a passionate opponent to the proposed scheme, recently insisted on the removal of the giant Abba “welcome to our hometown” poster at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, saying he didn’t want to be an advertisement “for a city that can’t see reason.”

I take another deep breath and we continue our tour, which sees us spend about 45 minutes on the rooftops of the city court and adjacent buildings. All participants wear a helmet and full-body harness and are clipped onto a steel wire throughout the walk.

Halfway through our walk we clamber from a roof into a tower, inside which we find a cosy room with marvellous views of Lake Malaren and Slussen. Elias says the room is a welcome break, with hot chocolate provided, when it’s snowing outside. The rooftop tour runs year-round, rain or shine, only ever being cancelled when it’s simply far too cold for comfort.

The second part of our aerial adventure sees us on a roof beside the lofty spires of adjacent Riddarholmen Church. Elias points out the towers in which Swedish royalty are buried. There are fabulous views in all directions and frequently we pause as Elias explains city history and points out landmark buildings that we can see in adjacent Gamla Stan (Old Town).

The final part of the walk involves traversing the topmost ridge of the courts building with no handholds. “You’re going to feel heroic at the end,” Elias says encouragingly. In truth, provided vertigo doesn’t win, this rooftop tour is the only chance of getting such a unique perspective on the city. I flunked the bravado test but time spent above the city is (forgive the pun) a high point of my Stockholm visit.

The Stockholm Rooftop Tour costs SEK525 per person