Scandinavia's heartland, Sweden is far bigger than Denmark and far flatter then Norway. It is home to Ikea, Volvo, WikiLeaks, and ABBA. Once the capital of blond, Sweden is now home to a growing immigrant population. Sweden is committed to its peoples' safety and security, and proud of its success in creating a society with one of the lowest poverty rates in the world. Yet Sweden has thrown in its lot with the European Union, and locals debate whether to open their economy even further.
Sweden is almost 80 percent wilderness. In summer, Swedes take advantage of the long days and warm evenings for festivals such as Midsummer in late June and for crayfish parties in August. Many Swedes have a summer cottage where they spend countless hours swimming, soaking up the sun, and devouring boxes of juicy strawberries.
While Denmark and Norway look westward to Britain and the Atlantic, Sweden has always faced east, across the Baltic Sea. As Vikings, Norwegians went west to Iceland, Greenland, and America; Danes headed south to England, France, and the Mediterranean; and Swedes went east into Russia. In the early Middle Ages, Swedes founded the Russian cities of Nizhny, Novgorod and Kiev, and even served as royal guards in Constantinople. During the later Middle Ages, German settlers and traders strongly influenced Sweden's culture and language. By the 17th century, Sweden was a major European power, with one of the largest naval fleets in Europe and an empire extending around the Baltic, including Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and parts of Poland, Russia, and Germany. But by the early 19th century, Sweden's war-weary empire had shrunk. The country's current borders date from 1809.
During the massive wave of emigration from the 1860's to World War II, about a quarter of Sweden's people left for the Promised Land - America. Many emigrants were farmers from the southern region of Smaland.
The 20th century was good to Sweden. While other European countries were embroiled in the two World Wars, neutral Sweden grew stronger, finding a balance between the extremes of communism and the free market. After a recession hit in the early 1990s, and the collapse of Soviet communism reshaped the European political scene, some started to criticize Sweden's "middle way" as extreme and unworkable. But during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sweden's economy improved, buoyed by a strong lineup of successful multinational companies - Volvo, Scania (trucks and machinery), Ikea, and Ericsson ( the telecommunications giant).
Stockholm is a city built on a string of islands connected by bridges. It is one-third water, one-third parks, one-third city on the sea surrounded by woods. It's population is two million people and is Sweden's largest city.
After we flew into Stockholm from Helsinki this morning, we took a bus around for a city tour. The photos will show you what we saw.