“Oh, there is so much to see here, I want you to see everything but I don’t know how to show you the directions”
With a silvery overcast sky, the cold wind crept to our legs, finding ways to slide inside the leather boots or under the wool of the neck scarf, having already turned ears to apples. No, it wasn’t winter here in Stockholm, but the onset of summer. So, one could not blame the winds but our bodies accustomed to the comparatively mild winters of Delhi. Amid this cold raining on us, we were warmed by the very path we were walking on. The Vasabron bridge in Normalmm was an entry gate to a picturesque art. On both sides of it lay historical buildings in architectural brilliance, but with a touch of vintage, classic and not the old per se. They had a beauty that only time could bestow on them. Beneath the bridge, the Lake Malaren flowed like an old crone walking, but as you go near it you realize it has the ferocity and power of time itself.
As your feet get numb in the cold, walking fast is the only way to keep them warm. But the canvas ahead doesn’t allow you to do that. It calls attention, tells you to stop and admire the beauty around. Though, we had but only a short eye contact because our hunger for more was far from being satiated.
As one high rising marvel was sitting next to another, we matched our feet to it. Since we began walking, without a route or a map in hand, we had offered ourselves to the lost streets.
Entering the crocodile’s mouth:old town
Without having any idea about the place, and eager to enter into a time machine, we booked a ride into the past. The streets opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, getting narrower as you move inside. At one point you feel you have reached the endpoint, but where the mouth ended the stomach began. It was a quagmire of lanes, definitely imperceptible to a first-time visitor. But it was a place where one could get lost for a lifetime. Somewhat like Harry potter’s Diagon alley. You do expect to find Hagrid buying you a white owl and a wand to do your magic.
The lanes of Gamla Stan or old town, were full of small, cozy cafes inhabited in tall three to four-storied colorful buildings. It was like entering a garden of architecture with flowers for buildings. Sometimes here and there you come across dwarf cafes, it’s as if they lie in a cave. You soon reach a small tunnel smeared with the color of terracotta. You would want to stay inside it and pretend it’s raining outside.
The scent of the stalker
We had been walking for long and it was getting cold as the sun had closed its curtains to the clouds. There was no silver shine, but a grey shroud.
In every nook and corner, we were being followed. An ending aroma of coffee never seemed to get tired of the chase. It charmed us to savor a cup, and when it became unbearable to wait any longer, we went for it headlong. As we narrowed down our options, we soon found one where from tall glass windows you could see people huddled together with dim yellow lamps, seated on leather couches with what seemed to be a replica of elf skin. Needless to say, we entered the Espresso House and ordered cups of coffee with a Swedish Fika.
I don’t know whether it was the coffee itself, its companion, or our intoxicated senses that the coffee tasted like melted beans, with an aroma so strong, a wine couldn’t have stood against it. Nothing, simply nothing could have satiated us, like a fragrant cup in a warm café full of happy-looking faces calling for conversations. But we were like children full of curiosity and so we ventured out from our warm nest.
POSTCARD BUILDINGS: POINT O
Stumbling your way across the lanes, we reached what is called point O, officially called Stortorget. On all four sides, you see postcard buildings of yellow, orange, green, cream, grey colors with a small area in the center. It was actually the site for the Stockholm bloodbath in the 1500s. But now, it was like a peace summit, no matter the Nobel Peace Prize Museum lies in this very square. In the center of the square stood a triple-layered cylindrical stone edifice with 4 devil’s mouths on all sides from which water trickled down. Besides this, stood a musician who with his saxophone tried to make the wind reverberate with symphonies that hitherto were cold and harsh. As we were failing to locate the best angle for a perfect shot in the square, a familiar tune reached our ears. Of all the songs in the world, the saxophone sang- “Kal ho na ho”. It was like God speaking to you, telling you to live and store this very moment inside your heart because this might be the happiest, most beautiful memory of a foreign land. We had reached the brim of delight.
After which every emotion just overflowed.
In between the cafes, a large portion of the lanes was filled with souvenir shops. Moose horns, moose horn cups, Vikings helmets with horns (again made of moose), woolen caps with moose embroidered on them, all symbolizing their national animal called Elk/moose. You can’t suppress your childish whim to enter and experience it all.
JAZZ AMONGST VIKINGS: cafe sTAMPEN
Our feet were begging us to get back to the hotel but our hearts wanted to sleep right on the very street, not wanting to enter the 21st century again. This was good, this was warm, the lanes were actually a barrier to the numbing winds.
When God placed your head, much higher than your heart then you tend to be more realistic, especially in a foreign land (though it had started feeling like a newfound home like you had dug up your ancestry and found you have Scandinavian roots).
So, we were headed back to the hotel. While walking on our way back, we heard loud music leaking out a vintage-looking bar. Well, our head might be driven by us, but as for the heart, God drives that one, so, amen.
As we entered it looked like a tavern, for one sec you expect men with long crimson beards, ragged clothes, dancing away their fatigue. Until 1880, a premise of the church, the bar had a cellar that dated back to the 17th century. Stuffed animals and antiques hung from its ceiling with permanent dust of antiquity on them. There was no room to look down at the floor, people occupied every bit of it. It wasn’t crowded but plump like a juicy grape. Somewhere between these hung small lamps, with enough light to see your companion next to you. Built-in a narrow longish space, on one side, was a bar with a handsome Swedish man you can mistake for a Viking. He had tattoos all over, with his hair braided in a ponytail, his beard reached the most part of his neck and his blue eyes were other-worldly. Only when he spoke, we realized we weren’t dreaming. He wasn’t the Ragnar, Bjorn, or Ivar from the Vikings series of Netflix, but a 21st century Swede bartender. As we placed our order, he informed us to quickly grab a space because the performance was soon to start.
Jazz, I might have overheard the term often, without giving it any specific attention. So, when the band started performing, I didn’t hold any expectations. I didn’t even know what type of music it must be. The all-boys band had the most energetic one for the singer. As he began moving, the wine inside us felt more intoxicating. With every foot he tapped, our weary feet followed. The air inside was dancing. A maddening ecstasy, of dancing to new rhythms in a dark, warm old space was my entry into the world of Jazz. Even after his performance ended, the music wouldn’t leave our ears and our feet wouldn’t stop moving. In a blurred vision as we re-read the name of the bar, it was called Stampen. And, all the way from that bar to our hotel, all we did was to stamp.
THE REAL VIKING HIDEAWAY: aIFUR
We stayed in Stockholm for 7 days, for which for at least 4 days we went back to the time machine and hopped for a ride to old-world charm. Every time, we experienced something we didn’t before. There were hidden treasures all over.
One of our most valuable finds was a Viking Café. It was hidden from the main street. You need to climb down several steep steps of stairs to find a wooden door with Aifur, the Vikings café written in a unique Viking font called Floki.
As you enter, your jackets are no longer necessary. There is a rush of voices filled with the overpowering scents of candles and coffee. Yes, candles were the only source of lightning in the dark dome-shaped café which could easily have been a subway for anti-social dwellers. Withstanding its name, the café had left no stone unturned to take their customers into a Vikings tavern. Wooden stools casually aligned the walls, wherever there was a space, leaving little room for people to pass by. There was no room for interior designing, but rustic, antique space with vintage as its only design.
People in small groups occupied the upper berths, while down below several feet long wooden tables had large groups chatting and eating. The chairs had moose skins over rugged wood. Though for you to see that close, your eyes will have to strain a little. The roof was made of brick like the rest of the space, with small wooden Vikings ships hanging all over. Wooden mugs and what seemed like Elkhorn mugs were there. If you are someone you just entered you will feel it’s a full house, but somehow you would still want to wait no matter how long, for no matter how small or cram-ish the table to fit in. You ought to taste the Viking here. Coming to Sweden without the Viking experience? It’s like a wine without grapes.
So, while our tea emanated an aroma of spices filled with wooden notes (probably from the cup), our coffee was bare black. As we ordered milk with it, we got a cold cup and we were told that’s the way it is here. With no scope for a further bargain, we added the cold milk to the hot espresso.
I need not tell you what was the taste, you know it already! Yup, melted beans, strong and smooth, the cold milk couldn’t hinder the experience, it rather made it novel. Who could have imagined having something like this, and still get a similar experience? But again, was it coffee beans really?
Have I missed any of the hidden jewels in Gamla Stan? Do let me know in the comments below!