Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Royal glimpses of Stockholm

During my first visit to Sweden in 1977, I knew very little about the country or its history. The only thing I did know was that the mother of our present king Albert II, the lovely queen Astrid, was of Swedish origin, thus linking the Belgian royal family to the Swedish royals. Seventy five years ago, on August 29th 1935, she died in a car accident in Switzerland. She was only 30 years old, mother of three young children and extremely popular and loved. I guess you could say that she was the Princess Diana of the 1920-1930s.

My friend Mats’mother, being a former history teacher, turned out to be the ideal guide. One of the first places we went to see was the royal palace. Before going in, we watched the changing of the guards. It was quite impressive with a lot of music and shining arms. The soldiers were frightfully young. Most of them couldn’t have been much older than eighteen.

Inside, in the portrait gallery of the palace, Mats’ mother commented the impressive collection of life-size paintings representing the Swedish monarchs. One of them Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a former general in Napoleon’s army, became King of Sweden in 1818. Although he wasn’t of royal blood – his father was a French lawyer – he was adopted in 1810 by the Swedish king Charles XIII and queen Hedwige-Elisabeth-Charlotte who had no children. The actual King Gustav and his lovely daughters Victoria and Madeleine are descendants of Bernadotte. So was our Queen Astrid, whose father was known as the ‘blue prince’, because of the blue uniform he used to wear.

I found the tour fascinating. My private guide was a keen talker and her stories were captivating. When told her so, she smiled and said that she had rarely had such an interested and attentive audience.

The theatre of Drottningholm castle
(photo: Google)

Our next stop was Drottningholm castle, the royal family’s private residence. It’s located on an isle in Lake Mälar in a suburb of Stockholm. It was built in the 17th century under the direction of the architect Nicodemus Tessin ‘the Elder’, by commission of queen Eleonora. Since 1991, the castle, its theatre and the Chinese pavilion in the vast park are part of the UNESCO world heritage.

I have no recollection of visiting the actual château. I do remember visiting the theatre though. It was built in the 18th century. It’s pocket-size and except for the royal box the seats are simple backless wooden benches with red velvet cushions. At least, that’s what it looked like in 1977. I’m not sure about the seating conditions today. Another particularity is the fact that there is no heating. This is also the reason why there are no performances in winter.

The most fascinating part of the tour is backstage, where the original wooden mechanisms to make stage changes are still in place. In 1977 they were still operational.

I really spent an excellent day with Mats’ mother. Moreover we really enjoyed each other’s company. My only regret is that I didn’t take more photos. I therefore had to borrow one from Google to illustrate this post …



Nadege said...

It makes such a difference when you have a fabulous tour guide.
Except for their long, dark winters, Scandinavia seem to be amazing countries.

chm said...

Queen Astrid was loved in France also. And I remember people in Paris were stunned to learn of her tragic and untimely death.

ladybird said...

Nadege, The long dark winters are a problem. But when I was there in July, it only became dark around 11 p.m. and by half past two the sun was coming up again. I admit that it made sleeping very difficult, especially during the first two-three nights.

Chm, I didn't know that Astrid was popular in France too. I do know though that many French are still fond of royals in general!