Some cities are just undeniably sexy, throbbing with raw and musky sensuality, gyrating to a heady frenzied beat. Like Bangkok. Some cities feel like a deep, delicious, full-bodied kiss — the kind that takes over your soul as it takes over your mouth. Like Venice. And then there are cities that feel like a bear hug. Friendly, comforting, nurturing, steadfast.
Stockholm. Stockholm is a bear hug.
Often referred to as the capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm has none of the pretentious airs of some European cities. While Paris is a sultry lady with a husky voice and a cigarette serving you wine, Stockholm is a plump ruddy-cheeked woman in apron, heaping generous servings of cheese pie and meatballs swimming in cream on your plate.
Two tourist places that we visited are Gamla Stan and Skansen. Gamla Stan, which literally translates to “Old Town” is to Sweden what Intramuros is to the Philippines. It is a carefully preserved 16th century town with most of the architecture still intact. The cobblestoned roads and narrow walkways transport you to Old Europe, but a visit to the Parliament House (we went there for meetings, though, and not for sight-seeing) demonstrates just how possible it is to marry tradition with modernizing and reform-oriented governance.
Gamla Stan pics:
Front entrance of Parliament
along the cobblestoned paths
And then we went to Skansen, which is an open-air museum about the size of a very small town, say, Guimaras. Skansen is basically a reconstruction of Sweden during the 1800’s. Real homes and buildings from all over the country were transported to Skansen and preserved to maintain its original architecture. The houses and buildings were arranged to resemble a quaint Swedish town at the turn of the century and one can go inside them to see how people had lived back then. Real people dressed in period costumes are scattered around, some inside the houses, some inside the streets, and some performing actual tasks in the bakery, the post office, the church, the tavern and other such establishments.
Windmills were widely used in the olden days. And not only in Holland.
Signs are placed outside every house to guide visitors. This is a sign to a farm laborer’s cottage, located inside the compound of the rich landowner/miller.
The “Mean girls” clique, 18th-century Sweden style.
Santa Claus one day of the year, your friendly sapatero for the other 364.
They told us that the instrument in their hands is an actual 18th century instrument, not a replica.
While I’m sure Skansen is pretty any time of the year, its charm quotient shoots up exponentially during Christmas time. The whole place turns into one big story book. We were told by Bertil, our wonderful host, that on the first weekend of Advent, families from Stockholm and neighborhood towns really troop to Skansen to take part in a tradition that dates back to 1903 — the Skansen Christmas Market. It is the one day of the year that people pray for snow, just to add to the Skansen magic. Wooden booths selling a variety of stuff line the “town square” area, but the vendors can only sell traditional handicrafts and Swedish food like reindeer meat, sausages, cheese pies, special Swedish bread, and a wonderful Christmas drink that they call Glogg. In the middle there is a giant Christmas tree, and everyone (but usually children, or parents with children) dances around it. On one side, choirs take turns singing Christmas carols. Even the houses are decorated for Christmas, and on the dining table inside is the Christmas fare of the residents. A poor farmhand’s table would hold only bread and some milk, while his boss’ table would be groaning with ham and butter and wine. The guide told us that butter was a sign of wealth as it meant the owner of the house had many cows to provide milk. One of the world’s most egalitarian countries today, Sweden has truly come a long way from its poor beginnings.
Reindeer sausage, anyone?
The Christmas tree (sorry, rather dark)
I will never trade our Pinoy Christmas of Simbang Gabi and puto bumbong for the world, of course, but the little girl in me was roused by being in the middle of that storybook town, experiencing Christmas from the other side of the world while brushing an itinerant snowflake from my nose.
Of course, the subway ride back to the hotel also took us back (and rather quickly too) to present-day Scandinavia — where full-color cartoon posters on the subway doors remind you to bring a condom when you go to the movie house and a teenager with very obvious Nordic (read: blond) origins shocks you with her jet black hair, black eyeliner and purple fingernails.
But, oh, well, Skansen will always be around.
(my favorite picture)