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Finding Stockholm's arty underground

AAP logoAAP 18/08/2016 By James Lane

A walk after dinner followed by a nightcap at a city bar.

It sounds like a relaxing Sunday night, but in Stockholm such an itinerary has a few twists in a very Nordic kind of way.

On a cool autumn evening I join a walking tour that takes our group across the city's central Norrmalm district and down an escalator, deep into one the city's oldest train stations - Kungstradgarden ("The King's Garden").

What greets us are red, green and white tiles for a somewhat garish colour scheme that was devised by Swedish artist Ulrik Samuelson in 1977.

Samuelson used the colours to symbolise Kungstradgarden's location as a park, with the green representing the king's Baroque garden, the red its pathways and the white the marble statues that once stood in the grounds above the metro station's current location.

As we look around at what resembles scenes from a Roman bacchanal or possibly a Game of Thrones episode, our guide Birgitta tells us that many of the artefacts such the statues and 17th-century marble columns are drawn from the Makalos Palace, which was located above where we're standing. The palace was demolished in 1825 after a fire.

I'm stunned by such an out of the ordinary art experience in a public space. There's a satyr here, a bust of a Roman emperor there as well as mosaics, installations and stone sculptures. There's also an intriguing grotto featuring an old gas lamp lit by blue neon, which is wedged between the marble columns and statues.

This mix of archaeology, mosaics and vibrant colours seems almost hallucinogenic - I can't imagine what it must be like for commuters to be confronted by this daily.

Yet this was exactly what Samuelson had in mind.

"Public art is available to a whole lot of people who have never even approached a gallery before," he previously said of his Kungstradgarden artworks.

Perhaps just as interesting is that Samuelson's "art cave" is some 30 metres below sea level, making Kungstradgarden the deepest metro station in Stockholm.

After taking in the city's arty underground, I'm keen for that nightcap and so we head to a bar close to Central Station.

But instead of warming up, my nightcap involves donning a fleecy cape and warm gloves ready for temperatures of -5C inside Icebar.

An offshoot of Sweden's Ice Hotel in the Arctic town of Jukkasjarvi, which was constructed in 1990, Icebar offers a kind of city igloo built around blocks of ice from Lapland's Torne River.

I opt for the bar's signature tipple of vodka and lingonberry, which comes served in a solid ice "glass" and is gently slid across the bar.

It's a weird sight to look around a bar that glimmers blue while people lumber around in padded ponchos clutching thick, ice cube-shaped glasses.

I sheepishly ask the bartender whether anyone asks for a vodka "on the rocks". He looks at me bemused and just shakes his head. I guess that's the ultimate chilly reception.

IF YOU GO:

GETTING THERE: Emirates operates 14 flights per day from Australia to Dubai with daily connections to Stockholm. For further details visit: emirates.com/au

PLAYING THERE: Stockholm's metro system is 110km long and houses a unique collection of sculptures, artworks and exhibitions. More than 90 of the 100 stations are beautifully decorated by artists. Details: sl.se/en/eng-info/contact/art-walks

Icebar By Icehotel is located in the Stockholm Nordic Sea Hotel, Vasaplan 4. Details: icebarstockholm.com

STAYING THERE: The Clarion Hotel Sign is one of Stockholm's largest hotels and is centrally located right next to Central Station. For details on room prices visit: clarionsign.com

* The writer travelled as a guest of Stockholm Visitors Board and Emirates.

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