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Magical city of the north Stockholm
2003 / JULY

Looking down from the sky, the white sailing boats on the blue northern waters resembled butterflies beating their wings against the summer breeze. As we approached, small islands became more numerous, scattered to either side like the beads of a necklace. On some we could see red-roofed houses. We would soon be landing at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. We drove into the city through virtually uninterrupted forests of plane, beech and pine, occasionally passing signs warning drivers to watch out for deer. In every direction were green trees, tiny lakes, and black rocks. The lakes and bridges were so numerous that from time to time we wondered if these were actually inlets of the Baltic Sea. The Swedes only discovered exactly how many lakes they had when a survey was carried out a few years ago and found the number to be an astonishing 90,000. Splendid steel bridges carry roads across these lakes of all shapes and sizes mirroring the sky.

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Magical city of the north Stockholm
2003 / JULY

Set on the shore of the Baltic Sea, Stockholm is surrounded by lakes linked to the sea by channels, and stands on 14 islands, not counting those with just a few houses. These tiny islands are delightful places to find tranquillity without leaving the city. Hot air balloons gliding over the slender church spires and buildings like small palaces with green copper roofs and domes in the centre of Stockholm reminded me of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days. Probably there is no other city where you can see so many balloons at once. A three-hour tour over the city in one of these balloons costs around 1300 krone, which is expensive but worth it for an experience you will never forget. From the hills south of the city we watched the balloons drift away over the green beech forest and gradually disappear in the distance. These hills, which have inspired Sweden's most famous writers, command a splendid view of the city below.

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Magical city of the north Stockholm
2003 / JULY
Nobel prize winner August Strindberg, Per Fogelström author of dozens of works about Stockholm, and representatives of the next generation of writers, Ingrid Arvidsson and Evert Taube, were all able to understand and write about the city from here. We sipped our drinks In Mosebacke, the district popular with writers and artists. Although it was 10.30 in the evening it was still light. For six months of the year night never falls, the sky only turning a dark purplish blue. After this brief twilight lasting about two hours, bright daylight returns once more. The old city of Gamla Stan lies on a tiny island where the inland lakes flow into the Baltic. Linked to the other islands around it by several bridges, it is one of the most perfectly preserved historic towns in existence. Many of the buildings go back to medieval times. Here you can see the royal winter palace and the three and four-storey houses that belonged to statesmen and medieval merchants. With its narrow streets and alleyways, lanterns hanging at street corners,
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Magical city of the north Stockholm
2003 / JULY
inns (today transformed into hotels) that for five centuries or so offered hospitality to sailors, historic taverns, canals and tiny bridges, Gamla Stan carries you back in imagination to the Middle Ages. Stockholm is a city of museums, nearly fifty of them. Undoubtedly the most interesting are the Medieval Museum, the National Art Museum on Skepsholmen Island, and Skansen, which is an open-air museum extending for several kilometres. After visiting the museums you can take a restful break by the Djurgarden Canal, shaded by ancient beech, plane and linden trees. Here you can stretch out on the grass, fish in the canal or have a picnic. When you have recovered your energy sufficiently to walk on, look out for deer and rabbits that inhabit the woods here. One of the most enjoyable sights is Milesgarden, house of the famous sculptor Carl Miles, a student of the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Gigantic statues carved from black marble representing figures from Scandinavian mythology stand in the garden of his house.
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Magical city of the north Stockholm
2003 / JULY

The huge statue in front of the Concert Hall in Hötorget is also his work. Another sight not to be missed is the Nobel House built at the turn of the 20th century, with its roof in the form of a Viking ship and an architectural style resembling Italian Renaissance palaces. Stockholm is a lively city with lots to see and do. Throughout the summer boats and ships take visitors on tours around the hundreds of islands of this blue paradise. Fish restaurants on the islands serve delicious freshly caught fish and seafood, including the local speciality laks fish, at very reasonable prices. Stockholm is a port city set on a coast of spectacular wild scenery. Here history and modernity are combined in a setting of unforgettable beauty. It has often been described as the Venice of the North, and aptly so. Perhaps it will be the countless bridges of all shapes, sizes and ages that you cross during your visit to Stockholm that will always come first to mind when you recall the city afterwards.

* Ali Konyali is a photographer and cultural researcher

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