We’ve all been there, I’m sure. You work your pan off to get everything done in time. You count down the days until you can break out of the madhouse of pre-Christmas London. Then you’re brought down by the dreaded lurgy.
I was all for cancelling our travel plans and spending Christmas under the duvet. But the Swedish Engineer was having none of it: she’d been promised Christmas in her homeland and it was a promise I was going to keep, even if I had to be med-evaced there.
I don’t really remember arriving in Stockholm. Too much Lemsip, Jameson’s and nasal spray can cloud the memory. But our fellow passengers, all pictures of Swedish health when we boarded at Heathrow, were now engaged in a mass cough-and-splutter at the carousel. I slunk off, trying not to look guilty.
I feared I might be turned away from our hotel as a health risk. Instead, we were admitted to heaven. The Stockholm Grand is the grande dame of Swedish hotels — an elegant pile in the heart of town overlooking the Palace, the Old Parliament and the waterfront.
This, dear reader, is the place to be if you’re under the weather. Efficient room service from the same friendly young eastern Europeans who’ve transformed London hospitality. Warmth and silence from the double-glazing that is de rigueur in even the humblest Swedish establishment, made even cosier by the leaden sky and chill wind outside.
I saw no reason ever to leave the room. The Swedish Engineer had other ideas. On the second night she invited some university friends for drinks and supper. This being Stockholm, they were all female: the menfolk were left at home to look after the children.
We ate and drank in the Cadier cocktail bar, probably the finest hotel bar in the world. Its long solid-wood bar, soft furnishings and thick carpets make this a warm, welcoming watering hole, without faux exclusivity. This became my bolthole when the Swedish Engineer resisted my efforts to be a room hermit.
There’s also an expensive French restaurant, but we ‘made do’ with the Cadier and the more informal Veranda, which has a massive buffet (is there really that much herring in the world?) and a smorgasbord straight from Swedish central casting.
A lift just outside our room took us to the wondrous basement spa — a granite cave with a warm-water pool, hot tubs and, naturally, a sauna. I’m told there’s also a gym, but I excused myself on health grounds.
When we did eventually venture outside, there was more good news. Christmas Stockholm is tranquil, civilised, relaxing. There is almost nothing to do. It was wonderful.
A walk through Kungsträdgården and its Christmas market. Glögg and gingerbread while watching the ice skaters. Lunch with London friends at the Sturehof, Stockholm’s answer to Scott’s (without the celebrity strangling). The inevitable stroll through the empty cobbled streets of the old town.
That was more than enough to fill our six hours of daylight. When we checked out four days later I was a new man. Shares in Lemsip were already crashing. We then flew to the Swedish Engineer’s hometown of Umeå, the Inverness of Sweden, except colder, darker, remoter. There’s even less to do in Umeå at Christmas than there is in Stockholm. It was pure bliss.
Updated December 15, 2016