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The Church Bell and the Sun
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The Church Bell and the Sun
  Stockholm Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

The Great Church bell plays its melody then peals five times -- a deep resounding sound that bounces about the cobblestone alleys of Gamla Stan -- Stockholm's "Old Town." The unseen sun gently lights the grand performance as it has every morning for more than seven hundred years. Soon the tremendous doors of the living cathedral will open to allow both the worshipers and the curious to contemplate eternity. At the same time, visitors to the palatial passages of the neighboring Royal Palace will be awed by the crown jewels, the gilded coaches, the art work and other equally astonishing treasures decorating the six hundred and forty rooms.

The sun, rising, creeps down one side of the stone walls in the narrow lanes of Gamla Stan, not able to alight on the cobblestones just yet. A lone street sweeper picks up bits of almost nonexistent debris in the virtually spotless city. He raises his head toward the sun; however, it will be sometime, before it touches his cap.

A fisherman, drooped over an ancient bridge, squints at the sky. He pulls rhythmically at his makeshift line and proceeds across the bridge to the opposite side where the sun shines in blazing glory.

The bell tolls six . . . seven . . .

On the outer perimeters of Gamla Stan the sound of horns and engines breaks the stillness of the dawn. ( Cars are not allowed in the narrow sections of Old Town. ) It has been a long and cold winter; the motorists welcome the heat of the penetrating sun.

Tomorrow is Sunday, they ponder. Perhaps a tour of Skansen with the family. Granted, the historical park has been around since 1891 and they have been there often, nevertheless, they haven't seen it all; and it is a lesson in history, is it not? (That Stockholmers are truly proud of their history is quickly evident.) It is a trip back in time -- several times, really. Over one hundred and fifty authentic buildings from all over Sweden have been moved to this open air museum.

Or, what about a trip to the Wasa Museum? The Wasa Warship is completely restored. A remarkable feat considering the 200-foot Man-of-War sailing ship lay on the bottom of the harbor for over three hundred years. She was raised in 1961 before an admiring mesmerized audience.

Or, maybe a visit to Drottningholm, the 17th century summer palace of the Royal Family. The palace is open to the public but it is the gardens and the Court Theater that hold the magic. Drottningholm Court Theater is the oldest theater in the world -- two hundred and twenty-three-years old. Incredibly, current productions still use original backdrops and stage machinery.

Then there's inviting Fjaderholmarna Island. Perhaps they will ferry there and have a picnic on the rocks. It is only mid-May. The tourist crowds won't be bad.

The bell chimes eight . . .

The sun keeps rising and slivers of gold flicker in the streets, spotlighting the mannequins in the windows of the shopping district. They stand poised in their glass cages, ready for the eyes that will stare at them throughout the day.

By the time nine bells are heard, inside comfortable and intimate hotels with intriguing names such as Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, breakfast is well under way. A true smorgasbord feast surrounded by nautical antiques. Cheeses, cold cuts, boiled eggs and caviar, cereals, yogurt and Danish pastries are lavishly presented in an atmosphere of seafaring life of long ago. (Undoubtedly, the menu back then was different.)

Outdoors, the bell strikes ten . . . eleven . . . twelve . . .

It is high noon. The sun is in full bloom on the people perusing the crooked corridors and courtyards of Gamla Stan. It warms those stunned by the solid architect of the ancient city and mellows those standing alongside canals and inlets waiting to board the fleet of white steamers that ferry to one or another of the twenty-five thousand islands scattered in the Baltic Sea.

The bell rings again. ... once . . . twice . . . as the sun begins its downward journey.

The continuing expedition draws the people of Stockholm out from behind their Gothic walls. They fall on lawns where wild tulips grow; they gather on steps such as those of the Royal Dramatic Theater to watch the extravaganza of the busy waterway unfold. Stockholmers relish the sun.

Outdoor sausage and ice-cream trolleys do a brisk business. Stockholmers relish their Swedish treats.

Meanwhile, children with strings and poles and patience join the adult fishermen. Many of the fifty-five bridges crisscrossing Stockholm's fourteen islands have two or three bodies bent over the rails. All's not in vain: They will hook a trout or two in the cleanest harbor in the world.

The bell sounds three . . . four . . .

The sun's still high on the horizon, however, shadows are beginning to appear. Especially in the narrow corridors of Gamla Stan's shopping district. It has been a good day. Fashions from all over Europe have been snapped up by tourists and locals alike: Shoes from Italy; sweaters from France; suits from Germany; and linen and lace from Sweden. Ornamental gifts, too, have sold: brass and china and the famous Swedish crystal.

The bell resonates five times . . . then six . . .

Before long, it will be time for dinner with family and friends. For the more affluent it could be grilled fillet of hake with ratatouille and balsamic vinegar sauce eaten elegantly in the cellar of Leijontornet -- an extra special restaurant because of the 14th century tower discovered beneath its floor. The restaurant, which earned the coveted Michelin star is adjacent the Victory Hotel, a luxurious romantic inn smack in the middle of Gamla Stan.

Or, it could be dinner at Berns, a first-class hotel where one can compose a personal menu after consultation with the chef. This historic hotel-conference center-theater-restaurant, has been around since 1863 and entertained such notables as Edith Piaf. It has been recently refurbished and today, it is a perfect blend of yesterday and tomorrow.

For other diners, dinner could be a shot of aquavit followed by simply delicious fried herring and mounds of mashed potatoes chased with a tumbler of Swedish beer. Traditionally, Skol! will be shared by all.

The sun hangs low -- visible in open places only, as the bell gongs seven times. Come June, July and August, the midnight hour will harness the falling sun. But this is May and dusk is eminent.

The Great Church bell plays its melody and peals eight times. A deep resounding sound that bounces about the cobblestone alleys of Gamla Stan. The unseen sun casts a silver-gray glow on the evening performance as it has every night for seven hundred years.

For information on Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson and Victory House Hotels call Romantik Inns collect at 206-486-9394 from Canada and 1-800-826-0015 in the USA. For information on Berns Hotel, Fax Number 08-611-51-75 in Stockholm, Sweden.

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