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My European Favourites – Stockholm – Djurgården

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 If there was one city in northern Europe that I could easily live in, I think it would be Stockholm.

The Swedish capital has over two million inhabitants and over 50 bridges connecting its fourteen islands. The city often ranks highly on the global “quality of life index” and has over one hundred museums, plus a lively culinary, theatre, music and sports scene.

Gamla Stan’s Stortorget Square, narrow streets and the Royal Palace.

If you enjoy boating, sailing and watersports, Stockholm has Lake Mälaren with more than 1,000 islands to the west. To the east of the city centre, the Saltsjön (Salt Bay) has a lengthy and picturesque archipelago with over 30,000 islands leading all the way to the Baltic Sea. With so many cottages and activities on these islands, they are a perfect getaway from the city hustle and bustle.

Stockholm’s old city centre is on the island of Gamla Stan. The area is full of colorful houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and narrow cobblestoned streets with interesting shops, cafes, pubs and bars. The Royal Palace, official residence of the Swedish monarch, can be toured and the popular changing of the guard is accompanied by a military band in the summer months.

Stockholm aerial view, Stockholm’s city hall and Swedish crown on Skeppsholmsbron Bridge.

Royal Djurgården

Stockholmers enjoy a vast green space right in their city center on the island of Djurgården. The island is Scandinavia’s number one tourist attraction and a favourite for nature lovers, walkers, runners, hikers and cyclists. In addition to being loved for its green spaces, it is famous for having four royal palaces, popular museums, cafes, restaurants and a large amusement park.

The history of Royal Djurgården goes back to 1452 when King Karl Knutsson purchased the southern part of the island. It was a royal hunting ground for many years and over time was opened to the public and expanded.

In 1995, King Carl Gustaf XVI officially opened the world’s first national city park comprising the Ulriksdal, Haga, Brunnsviken and Djurgården districts. The 27 square kilometer park is eight times the size of New York’s Central Park.

On Djurgården, you can see over one hundred bird species and eight hundred varieties of flowering plants. You can easily spend a few days in Stockholm just visiting Djurgården. Here are my favourite things to do on the island.

Djurgården Visitor Center and rental shop on the left from the Djurgårdsbron bridge.

When you enter Djurgården from the west on the Djurgårdsbron bridge, you will find the Royal Djurgården Visitor Center. The center rents bikes to explore the island, and there is a ten to twelve kilometer path that goes around the island. They also have kayaks, canoes or pedal boats. If you want to paddle all the way around the island, expect it to take about two to three hours.

The Sjöcaféet café is located by the visitor’s center and has a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the water. They have a reasonably priced menu with a variety of Swedish dishes plus they make a nice pizza. If you want a quick bite you may want to try the Korv sausage stand for a hot dog or their ice cream stand.

 

The bow of the Vasa ship at the museum entrance, the ship’s starboard side and a model.

Vasa Museum

From the visitors’ center, the Vasa ship museum is easy to spot. It’s located right behind the imposing Nordiska Museum and the roof of the museum has a copper roof with ship’s masts coming through it. The masts depict the actual height of the Vasa when it was in the harbour over 300 years ago.

King Gustavus Adolphus ordered the massive warship built in 1626 during a wartime period against Poland-Lithuania. To match the kings’ prestige, power and ambitions, the ship was extravagantly decorated and armed with 64 cannons on two gundecks. The immense Vasa must have been a stunning sight with all the bronze cannons, ornate carvings, painted sculptures, large masts, sails set and flags flying. The problem, which was discovered during construction, was that she was unstable and top heavy.

Despite this knowledge, on the afternoon of August 10, 1628, the Vasa set sail from the quay in the Old Town. She sailed a few hundred meters, then a squall, or sudden gust of wind, forced the Vasa to list heavily to one side, but she returned upright. Moments later, a second squall listed the boat so heavily that water started to pour in through the gunports. As the water seeped into the ship, it was too much to recover from; the Vasa capsized and sunk. About 30 of the crew and passengers drowned in the incident. The sinking of the Vasa in Stockholm’s harbour on her maiden voyage must have been quite shocking for the thousands of spectators who lined the sea front for a glimpse of the new ship.

A cross section of the Vasa interior, a bronze cannon and colorful figures from the stern.

Shortly after it sunk, efforts were made to retrieve the valuable bronze cannons, and over 50 were recovered. As the years passed, a few unsuccessful salvage attempts were made but eventually the exact location of the wreck was lost. Amateur archaeologist Andres Franzen, after many years of searching, found it again in 1956. Plans were made and the Vasa was finally raised to the surface in 1961 after laying in the “Salt Sea” for 333 years.

For over 20 years, the ship was housed in a temporary structure while it underwent examination and treatment to preserve it. In the early 1980’s, the Swedish government decided to build a permanent museum and numerous architects submitted designs. A final design was chosen, and the Vasa Museum opened in 1990, displaying the almost intact 17th century warship. It is the most visited museum in Scandinavia with around 1.5 million visitors per year.

When you walk in to the museum, the sight of the ship is overwhelming. The ship can be seen from six different levels and there are exhibits, maps and models explaining how the ship was built, it’s sailing route and eventual sinking. The museum explains the situation in Sweden during the 17th century that required the Vasa ship to be built, and has a movie theatre with a film on the ship recovery.

The Vasa museum is an absolute must if you are in Stockholm for any length of time.

The Renaissance Nordiska Museum, the central hall and the statue of King Gustav Vasa.

Nordiska Museum

As you emerge from the Vasa Museum, you will face the back of an impressive stone building, the Nordiska Museum. It stands on an area called Lejonslätten, the lions plain, because Queen Kristina, daughter of King Gustavus who had the Vasa ship built, placed lions here during her reign in the 17th century. The Renaissance style building which was partially built for Stockholm’s World´s Expo in 1897 is the home of Sweden’s largest cultural and historical museum.

Elaborate furniture, a 13th century baptismal font, toy cars and a warrior’s iron breastplate.

The Nordiska museum was founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius, who also founded the nearby Skansen open air museum. When you enter the museum, you will see a large oak statue of King Gustav Vasa placed in the centre of an over 100 meter long open central hall with a ceiling that rises 24 meters. As you look up, you will see multiple stories surrounding the central hall.

The museum has over a million objects depicting the Nordic lifestyle and traditions from the 16th century to today. The collections of art, furniture, jewelry, fashion, glass, porcelain and interiors are interesting. The museum also has an area dedicated to the Sami, the only indigenous people in Sweden.

Wax figures of ABBA, caricature dolls of the iconic group and a display of records and CDs.

ABBA Museum

If you follow the main road in front of the Nordiska Museum, the Djurgårdsvågen, for about 300 meters, you will reach the entrance to the ABBA Museum. The Swedish pop group is known the world over, and their band’s name is an acronym taken from the first letters in the band members first names, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They rose to fame in 1974 after winning the annual Eurovision Song Contest with the hit song ‘Waterloo.”

ABBA sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide during the 1970s and 1980s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1999, the musical “Mama Mia!,” which adapted ABBA’s music, became a smash hit along with subsequent related films.

The ABBA Museum opened in 2013 and at the entrance you will get an audio tour device that is easy to use on the self guided tour. As you go through the museum, you just tap the audio pad, and the audio begins. Much of the audio is actually the band members telling stories of their lives before ABBA, how they met, how they wrote songs, how they became the iconic super group and some of the experiences they had along the way. There are interactive areas where you can sing their music or dance with them on stage.

The exhibits are well done including a recreation of the Polar Studio, where they recorded some of their music. There is a helicopter similar to the one used in the album cover ABBA ARRIVAL that you can sit in to recreate the photo. In the museum you will see gold records, archival film footage, interesting stage costumes and the caricature style ABBA dolls that were used in a music video called “The Last Video.”

Before you leave, you enter the giftshop where you can get everything ABBA from souvenirs to posters, apparel and CDs. We all have listened or danced to ABBA songs over the years, and although I’m not a huge fan, the museum was very enjoyable.

Grona Lund from the water, the carousel, the Eclipse swings and the roller coasters. 

Grona Lund

When you leave the ABBA Museum, you can’t miss the sounds of the nearby Amusement Park.

In the late 1880s, on the south shore of Djurgården, nine acres were approved for the building of an amusement park. The park’s design had to incorporate the existing houses and commercial buildings that were already on the property. Even though the park has a small footprint on the island, it has 30 different attractions including roller coasters, free fall rides, and the “Eclipse,” one of the world’s tallest swing rides. The “Insane” roller coaster lives up to its name as the cars flip and spin and you travel along. In addition to the rides for the thrill seekers, there are rides for young children, and carnival games where you can win prizes like huge chocolate bars.

Grona Lund often hosts rock and pop music concerts, including on the main stage in the middle of the park. Bob Marley performed at Grona Lund three times, including in 1980 when he drew 30,000 fans.

If you want a quick bite, there are about fifteen food stands offering a wide selection of items including candy, burgers, pizza, poke bowls, kebabs, gyros, churros, waffles, crepes and ice cream. If you prefer to sit and relax, there are over ten options including Mexican, BBQ and Asian restaurants and a Biergarten. Needless to say, you won’t go hungry here.

The park is open from spring to late September and may be open during other dates including Halloween and the Swedish Autumn break. You can buy your tickets online in advance and get a pass that includes unlimited rides.

We have taken many youth hockey and ringette teams to Stockholm, and Grona Lund is always a hit with the kids and parents.

A traditional house in Skansen, a glass blowing shop, farm buildings and a school room.

Skansen

If you are not into amusement parks, across the street from the Grona Lund is the slower paced Skansen open-air museum. In the late 1890s, the park was created to preserve traditions, customs and structures from different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial age. The park is much larger that Grona Lund, with over 75 acres, and it attracts over a million visitors per year.

Over 150 buildings were relocated to Skansen from throughout Sweden, and they range from simple farm structures to worskhops, school rooms and manor houses. As you walk through the small village that they have created, people in traditional dress are doing every day chores. If you enter the trade shops, you will see skilled craftsmen demonstrating their skills including bakers, tanners, silversmiths, shoemakers and glass blowers. In today’s world, we take many essential products for granted that used to be made by hand in these small community work shops. To experience 19th century transportation, a 200 meter long funicular railway has been transporting people 35 meters up the north side of the Skansen hill since 1897.

Skansen’s traditional Christmas market, festivals and folklore shows are very popular.

Skansen’s relocated farms include domesticated animals like goats, pigs and horses. The park zoo contains over 75 species of the Nordic animals including bison, bears, seals, otters and moose. In addition to these Scandinavian natives, the zoo also features non-traditional animals like monkeys, peacocks, elephants and more.

Like Grona Lund, there are numerous options for fast food, cafes and restaurants. Taking time for a “fika” is an important Swedish custom. A fika is an opportunity to take time to share a coffee, and a little bite or a pastry, usually a cinnamon bun, with friends, colleagues or family.

A walk around the Skansen open-air museum on a nice sunny day is a great family activity.

Traditional farm houses, the funicular railway, the Bredablick tower and a moose.

More things to see and do in Djurgården

There are so many things to do in Djurgården. I listed some of my favourites, but you may enjoy visiting some of these options depending on your interests.

The Viking Museum opened in 2017 and it includes the interesting Ragnfrid’s Saga Viking ride.

The Liljevalchs Konsthall is an art gallery and exhibition space opened in 1916.

The Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde art museum is situated on a beautiful waterfront estate with a castle like mansion.

The Spritmuseum & The Absolut Art Collection is devoted to alcohol including Scandinavian Aquavit. After touring the museum, you can order a tasting tray of traditional spirits, Absolut vodkas or ciders.

Featuring 20th century Scandinavian and French art, the Thiel Gallery was established in 1905.

Junibacken is a children’s centre inspired by the stories by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren.

Cirkus is a 1,650 person arena built in 1892 that used to hold the circus, but now it is mainly used for shows, concerts, performances, trade shows, meetings, parties and gala dinners.

On the north east of the island, you will find the Djurgården canal. The area across from the canal is Djurgårdsbrunn. Here you will find the Museum of Technology, the Police Museum, the Maritime Museum and more park space.

With so many activities and green space, you can see why Stockholmers love Djurgården. On you next trip to Sweden, be sure to set aside some time on your schedule to explore and enjoy it.

Traditional farm houses, the funicular railway, the Bredablick tower and a moose. 

Explore Europe With Us

Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing Tours have taken thousands to Europe on their custom group tours since 1994. Visit azorcan.net to see all our custom tour possibilities for your group of 26 or more. Individuals can join our “open” signature sport, sightseeing and sport fan tours including our popular Canada hockey fan tours to the World Juniors. At azorcan.net/media you can read our newsletters and listen to our podcasts.

Images compliments of Paul Almeida and Azorcan Tours.

Read more of Paul’s travel series – click here. 

 

I have been in sports management and the sports tour business since 1994 when I created my company, Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing tours. Please visit our website at azorcan.net for more information on our company, our tours and our destinations. We are European group tour experts specializing in custom sightseeing tours, sport tours (hockey, soccer, ringette, school academies) and fan tours (World Juniors). Check out our newsletters, and listen to our podcasts at azorcan.net/media.

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Alberta

Hemp having a moment as farmers try to grow niche crop into $1-billion industry

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CALGARY — Not that long ago, Rod Lanier could count on an annual spring visit from the police. 

The southern Alberta farmer has been growing hemp for 12 years, and in the early days, the distinctive odour that wafts from his fields when the crop is in flower would invariably catch the attention of area residents.

“For years each spring, the police would have to come out to ask, ‘Mr. Lanier, is that hemp or is that marijuana?’ ” Lanier recalls. “And I would answer, ‘if it was marijuana, would I grow a mile by a mile field of it, right beside the highway?” ” 

Today, Lanier is far less likely to get a knock on his door just because the wind is blowing a certain way. Once considered a bit of an oddity, Lanier is now one of about a dozen farmers in the Lethbridge area growing industrial hemp — and the sight and smell of the distinctive, jagged-leafed plant are far less likely to attract unwelcome attention.

In fact, hemp, which is part of the cannabis family but contains no THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana), is enjoying a bit of a moment. Across the Prairie provinces, new businesses are popping up to process and market different parts of the plant. 

Hemp farming is still a fledgling industry, but some proponents believe it has the potential to move from a niche crop to a staple of Canadian agriculture. 

“How do we turn hemp into the next canola? How do we turn hemp into a 500,000 acre crop in the next 10 years?” says Andrew Potter, chief executive and president of Blue Sky Hemp Ventures. 

“I believe it’s very, very doable.”

According to Health Canada, which licenses and regulates the industrial hemp industry in this country, there were about 22,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of hemp seeded in Canada in 2020, up from just 2,400 hectares (5,900 acres) in 1998. Alberta leads the way in hemp production, followed by Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The growth in acreage is due to multiple factors, including growing interest in hemp seed as a nutritional “superfood” as well as the legalization of cannabis in 2018. That opened up a new source of revenue for farmers, as hemp growers can now harvest flowers for CBD, the non-intoxicating cannabinoid that was once illegal without a medical prescription.

Blue Sky, which was founded in 2017, believes the key to expanding the hemp industry is “whole plant utilization.” The company already has a CBD extraction facility near Saskatoon and another facility in central Saskatchewan is capable of processing 5,500 tonnes of hemp seed annually into food products like protein powder and hemp seed oil.

Blue Sky is also on the verge of announcing its plans for a large-scale “decortication” facility, which Potter says will process the hemp plant’s tough stems and stalks into fibre products. Hemp fibre can be used to make everything from building products and insulation to textiles.

Dan Madlung, president and chief executive of BioComposites Group, which runs a hemp fibre processing plant near Drayton Valley in central Alberta, says developing this third plank of the hemp industry is crucial. In the past, most Canadian farmers growing hemp for seed have had no buyer for the stems and stalks, and have had to let that part of the plant go to waste.

Building out decortication capacity across the Prairies would give farmers a third revenue stream and a much greater incentive to grow hemp, Madlung says. He adds BioComposites Group already has plans for a new, larger second facility to be built in a yet-to-be-announced Alberta location.

“We have what it takes right now to develop a new industry,” Madlung said. “But there’s tons of interest across North America . . . others may beat us to the punch.”

There are still many challenges that must be overcome before hemp farming becomes truly mainstream. While farmers no longer have to undergo a criminal records check to grow industrial hemp (it was required before cannabis was legalized), they still face other regulatory requirements such as Health Canada licensing. 

The industry also needs to invest in market development and commercialization, says Manny Deol, executive director of the non-profit Alberta Hemp Alliance. Many consumers don’t know quite what to do with hemp hearts or hempseed oil, so there’s room for the development of more customer-friendly products.

Farmers also need to be encouraged to grow a crop that may be brand-new to them, Deol says. Because the hemp plant is also good at sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil — better than many other crops — the industry is lobbying for the creation of a carbon credit for farmers who grow it. That would provide additional incentive for producers looking to branch out.

Canadian hemp exports exceeded $110-million in 2019, and Deol says he believes this country could have a $1-billion industry by 2030, if it does everything right. He says investors appear to think so too, given the number of new processing facilities recently constructed or proposed.

“There is a buzz about hemp right now,” Deol says. “I think farmers and other business people are looking for any diversification opportunities, so they’re watching this crop.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Hockey player coming out as gay must lead to meaningful change in game: advocates

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EDMONTON — Advocates say a young hockey player’s decision to come out as gay this past week, just as he is on the cusp of a possible National Hockey League career, needs to be a catalyst for meaningful cultural change in the game beyond Pride nights and rainbow tape.

“It is a phenomenal thing, but it’s not because the (hockey) culture made it safe,” said Brock McGillis, a former goalie who played professionally in North America and Europe.

“For every Luke Prokop there are a thousand (LGBTQ) kids quitting hockey.”

McGillis, who came out five years ago after his career ended, spoke extensively to Prokop before the 19-year-old made his announcement. Based in Toronto, McGillis has become a voice for LGBTQ issues in hockey with the aim of creating safe spaces in the insular world of dressing rooms and rinks.

He has worked on inclusion with individual teams at high levels, but said he has been stymied in bringing in leaguewide changes.

A patchwork approach won’t work, he said.

“You can do all the PR stuff you want … but what are you doing to make that dressing room more of a safe space instead of a space that is filled with homophobic language and where people don’t feel comfortable? How are you humanizing these issues and how are you shifting your culture?”

Prokop, from Edmonton, has been playing junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. A defenceman, he was picked 73rd overall by the NHL’s Nashville Predators last year, will go to camp this fall and could become the first openly gay player in the NHL. 

“We pledge to do everything possible to ensure that Luke’s experience is a welcoming and affirmative one,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib came out last month as the first openly gay player in the National Football League.

Kristopher Wells, an advocate and researcher, says it’s critical to have LGBTQ role models in sport.

“People listen to their heroes,” said Wells, an associate professor and research chair for public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

“When young people see their role models stand up, they want to emulate that behaviour and be a part of those new social norms that are forming.”

Wells said true change starts with a supportive group in the locker room or a captain telling a teammate that homophobic slurs won’t be tolerated.

That way, he said, those who decide to come out won’t have to swap one set of anxieties for another.

“Why Luke’s decision is seen as being so courageous is not just because he’s the first, but (because) all LGBTQ people know the moment you become visible (when) you come out, you’re more likely to be victimized. You become a target. And that’s not easy to deal with.”

Cheryl MacDonald is a sports sociologist who has researched and written extensively on homophobia in hockey. She said Prokop’s high skill levels will serve to insulate him somewhat, but he’ll still have to navigate the bias of some decision-makers who laud inclusivity in public, but act differently in private.

“Luke’s story is evidence that it is becoming safer to be an openly gay man in men’s competitive professional hockey, but since he’s the only one right now, that shows we have work to do,” said MacDonald with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

“My research has shown that if you can perform on the ice, what you do in your spare time matters less. (But) at very top levels of the game, it is difficult to be different.”

And that doesn’t just apply to being gay, she added.

“If you are concussed or injured, if you are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction problems, if you have mental-health problems, if you don’t fit in somehow, chances are there is someone that has your skill set and less perceived baggage that will take your job. It’s easier just to stay quiet.

“Until we change this idea that you can’t just be yourself and be taken where you’re at, it’s going to be practically impossible to be a gay man in this game.”

McGillis said the potential is there.

“I think hockey people are really good people. I just don’t think they realize there’s a problem,” he said.

“(They) will rally. We just need to show them this is something to rally around.”

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 25, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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