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Last Christmas, I gave Stockholm my heart

Phorum Dalal Dec 23 2017, 23:40 IST

I remember spending Christmas in Stockholm last December. A squeaky white cloak of fresh snow blanketed the capital of Sweden. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and coffee wafted in the crisp air that easily turned into fog breath. It was my first sight of the snow, too.

But most clearly, I remember the moose installations decorated with lights. They were everywhere.

My encounter remains a special one. You'll know as we move ahead in the narration.

The story begins with a scrumptious Christmas dinner at Villa Gotham with my host Lotta Anderson, where we relished a smorgasbord of 17 different varieties of herring, warm meatballs made of potatoes and anchovies, salmon, elk sausage, a favourite of the oldest king, Gustav. We washed this down with a special Christmas beer made of dark stout and Julmust, a local version of Coca Cola.

We leave the venue in a festive mood, refusing to let the night end and taking a cab to Fotografiska, which we never reached, again the details will be revealed, all in good time.
I lean on my seat and look out of the window. The sight of four moose installations come into a distant view, looking magical in the backdrop of the snow. We stop the car to take a picture and I walk to it in a happy gait, which turned into a fall on ice-skate slippery ground in the city centre that leads to a broken wrist.

The true spirit of Christmas comes alive at the hospital where a doctor and two nurses put me at ease. It is the first time in a crisis away from home, but the company of many other patients with snowfall injuries gives me strength. "The Swede doctors are great bonesetters, for snowfall injuries are very common here," Lotta tells me, making me smile in my trauma.

A couple of hours at the hospital and a plaster later, the spirit of the festival is not doused.

Next morning, with a cast on my right hand and a high dose of painkillers, my guide Elisabeth Daude and I trudge across the snow-covered city to make the most of my time in the Nordic country.

Fika culture

Our first stop fell in line with the Swedish culture of Fika, which means to have coffee with a pastry, most often a cinnamon bun. It is more about socialising than sipping coffee. Locals don't like to translate the word because it's more of a social phenomenon. When in Sweden, do what the Swedes do.

First subway

The train subway stations, apart from commuting, are a sight to visit. The T-Centralen station, where we take our train to The King's Garden, is a cave spray-painted in blue and white. Art takes centre stage down below, to put commuters at ease and avoid claustrophobia.

The history of subways in Stockholm has an interesting story. After World War II, officials realised that the city was only going to get larger and it faced the geographical obstacle of rock.

Cars needed bridges and they made it difficult to pass. The first subway opened in 1950. It was decorated with tiles so that people didn't feel the dampness and that they were down under. These first lines of subways came to be called 'bathroom stations'. The 60s saw them change to ceramic tiles and art. When we alight at our station, the theme is green to depict the garden above.

Garden of snow

From the station, we take a tram to Kungsgården. I have never seen so many shades of white. A sign reads: 'This is a corner of a larger field. The story of the garden dates back to 170 years ago... a Swedish queen Yosifina saw the miserable life workers who came to town led. They had to leave their farmstead. She offered them an access to the land where they could put their green thumbs to work. They started growing flowers and vegetables, and today, there exists a restaurant. This garden dies every winter. That is what nature does to this part of the country, but people still walk in the cold, allowing the air to nourish.

Museum visits

Enough of outdoor in this sub-zero temperature. Elisabeth adds a fun element to the day by taking me to the ABBA Museum where I even get to play the fifth band member and croon the classic hits from 'Chiquitita' to 'Dancing Queen'.

'Lucia'

By evening, it's time to find a spot in the amphitheatre at Skansen to witness Lucia, a Catholic Christian tradition since the 18th century. Lucia is a Swedish figure who brings light in the darkest hour. Young boys and girls take a procession through Old Town and gather at the Skansen where the lead singer, Lucia, along with the group, sings carols and songs.

After attending the Lucia, we walk to the exit, passing the depiction of old Sweden homes. We meet Karen Hammar, a third-generation owner of NAME OF SHOP, a glass-blowing shop that started in 1936. We get to watch the process, as workers use the syrupy-consistency glass mixture of sand, soda and lime stock. It is fired in a furnace that has a temperature of 1001 C.

The mixture is blown in glass-blowing pipes, rolled, and the hot mixture is mixed in colour that melts into the glass, which can be moulded into shape while it is still hot. There are red and green Christmas ornaments, angels and decorations that then go into a cooling-down system.

Vasa the warship

Next day, to save ourselves from a snowy day, we begin with a visit to Vasa Museum where the largest preserved warship from the 17th century is on display. The massive structure has intricate carvings and the dark wood wears a mysterious air around it. It sunk 20 minutes into its maiden voyage and was brought to land 333 years after it sunk.

Old Town

We continue the history tour of City Hall followed by a visit to the old town known as Gamla Stan, which transports me to a medieval city-centre. We buy a cup of warm glögg (mulled wine) and some heart-shaped gingerbread cookies. As a tradition, one must knock the cookie. If it breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true. With so much culture to soak in, I have almost forgotten the pain in my right hand.

On the night before my departure, Elisabeth asks me to close my eyes and put my hand forward. She places a tomte or a little gnome on my palm. A tapering red cap, and a white beard and chubby nose, he is a mythological creature from a Nordic folklore who protects your home. "He needs to be fed porridge," Elisabeth tells me, hugging me before leaving me with memories of a lifetime.

Stockholm, a cold region to visit in the winter, has the warmest people, and I can't wait to be back. Probably during summer.

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