Sunday, November 16, 2003

King without royal trappings
Trilochan Singh Trewn

FEELING privileged for having had a direct dialogue with the bicycle-riding monarch of Sweden I am tempted to repeat it, before writing about Stockholm.

It was late in afternoon when I contacted the librarian Ms Ivanson of the Bibliotek library close to the royal palace. I had heard a lot about the qualities of His Majesty, the king of Sweden, who often visited this library for his research. She informed me that the king was expected to visit the Bibliotek the next day. The next morning, with due excitement, I seated myself in the glass window of the foyer overlooking the main entrance so that I could see the royal cavalcade as and when it arrived. Except for the normal hustle and bustle of visitors, I did not notice any signs of the royal presence. Exasperated, at about 10.30 I rose and stood before Ms Ivanson to enquire about any change of programme. She smiled and politely murmured that his majesty was already in the history section.

Touring the city by boat is an unforgettable experience

As I entered the history section, I observed a middle-aged person alone in a T-shirt and jeans sitting in front of a large reference book, taking notes. I was curious as well as sceptical in my adventure and hesitatingly asked the seated dignitary, "Sir, I understand his majesty the king is somewhere here, how can I locate him?" He listened, removed his rimless glasses, turned towards me and gradually spoke, "Gentleman, I am glad to meet you. I am the king." This was unbelievable. His stunning humility bewildered me. Promptly I noticed that a three-crested Swedish royal insignia was embossed on his writing pencil as well as the writing pad. There were no security guards around. Two powerful internal cameras were monitoring the movements of every one in the Bibliotek. He sported a pair of Adidas canvas shoes but there was no wrist watch on his bare hands.

The royal family of Sweden

Stockholm can be visited any time of the year but September and October are the best months. I say this because those large number of visitors and dignitaries who arrive in Stockholm during December every year for the Nobel Prize Award ceremony enjoy as much of sight-seeing and serenity of the Swedish countryside as others.

The Swedish capital is built on several islands, each with its own distinctive sights and sounds. Stockholm is a city of lakes with clear and potable fresh water. Rudderholman is one of the 14 islands on which Stockholm is built. The island of Kungsholmen, across the water front, symbolises the royalty with its three golden crowns in the glowering sky. The island of Sodermalin is the largest in Stockholm and there one can see the splendour of the great City Hall. The hall of fame rises straight from the blue water beneath. During severe winters, when skates glide across the frozen bay, the shoppers throng for Christmas shopping. In Sweden, even prisoners are allowed Christmas shopping at government expense and I saw some of them buying presents for their families. During summer, one can take sunset photographs when it is midnight. It is during summer that tourists watch the midnight sun in the northern city of Kiruna.

When they ventured into the Norway border nearby, they were surprised to note that the guards at the border posts entertained them with reindeer milk and cheese instead of checking their visas!

Apartments in Strandagen
Apartments in Strandagen, Stockholm

Stockholm is more than 750 years old. Gabled and gargoyled palaces curve around glistering waterways. Gothic church spires provide ephemeral quality and a sense of mystery to the winding alleyways of Gamlastan, the old town. Although I had witnessed the Nobel Prize Award ceremony some years ago, it was for the first time that I entered the home of the new Nobel Museum in the picturesque old square called Stortorget. 

It has been dedicated in honour of the centenary of the Nobel Prize in 2001. The centennial exhibition celebrates ingenuity and achievement by means of panels of fibre optic lights forming quotations depicting diverse objects belonging to Nobel laureates. These also show films presenting different views on creative life. A conveyor belt can be seen on the ceiling with banners displaying the names and fields of all the Nobel prize winners. I also noticed that it was for the first time that I could have access to the golden room within the City Hall where 18 million mosaic pieces made of glass and gold are seen. The most prominent of these is the famous mosaic of queen of lake Malaren.

Gamlastan is full of charming restaurants as the crowds here testify. The Swedish-made ‘orrefors’ crystal is a world-class crystal. Strangely, a Swede is proud of its crystal-clear glass rather than a cut-glass crystal of east European origin. In the centre of artsy Stockholm is Gotgatan where we come across the fascinating jewellery designs of smyckegalleriet and goldfild, numerous Scandinavian boutiques, natural soap creations of London based lush as well as the famous ceramic creations of Kaolin. From here we entered verdant adjur garden — the golden island where amongst acres of parkland we find diverse museums, including the ‘Vasa’ museum which houses the world’s oldest restored warship. From there, we move on to the side of the baroque styled Drottniningholm palace where the royal family resides since 1981.