Monday 16th May from Stockholm
Today we moved from two free days in a guest house in Stockholm called Stureparken to the care of the 11 Rotary Clubs in the Kungsängen, Upplands Bro and Jarfella communities.
We were met with the areas GSE coordinator Bengt Erlandsson at the guest house and made the 20 minute walk to the Swedish Defence Department at Lidingovagen 22 where we were introduced to Leif Olmeborg who apart from being a Rotarian is Lieutanant Colonel and Regional Commanding Officer for Stockholm Calvary whose responsibilities includes the Royal Life Guards who have guarded the Royal Castle since 1523.
Sweden is not a member of NATO but they support NATO and UN Security Council’s no flight protection over Lybia and have some peace keeping forces in Afghanistan. Why? Its explained later. The Swedish Armed Forces were their largest in the early 70’s toward the end of the cold war when Russia was a threat and Sweden had the 3rd largest air force in the world. Much of their military weaponry was supported and built with their own technology. Today, while the technology still exists it is owned by overseas companies and the size of the defence forces has scaled down significantly and will continue to reduce from 69,000 today to 49,000. Sweden has had a long history of conscripting its forces for 1 year. For males 18 years it was mandatory and for females 18 years optional. On the 1st July 2010 it was changed and is now optional for all.
We were introduced to Colonel Thomas Karlsson who had just flown in from Afghanistan and among other things is responsible for the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre. It is a training and development centre for national and international intelligence and security services within the Swedish Armed Forces and has incorporated over 1000 attendees from other nations. The Swedish Army’s philosoph is to support multinational and integrated peace keeping forces and is why they are currently supporting operations in Lybia and Afghanistan without being a member of NATO.
It is was interesting to hear that the Bering region to the north of Scandinavia is becoming a bigger military issue than previously since global warming has freed up the manoeuvrability of the seaways in this Arctic Region.
After this informed briefing we visited the Royal stables in the same complex and watched the staff prepare the horses for the thye guards journey to the Royal Castle for the changing of the guards. We lunched at the Officer’s dining room before being taxied to the guard house at the Royal Castle to watch the parade of guards arrive. The 32 guards and 22 band all on horseback left the complex at 11:35am travelling the streets at Stockholm to arrive at the castle at 12:15pm.
We were treated to an exclusive first floor view of the courtyard lined with hundreds of people wanting to view the arrival of the guards. Watching the Changing of the Royal Guard in Stockholm is a renowned great experience and happens only about 50 times a year. Watching this free 40-minute event in front of the King of Sweden’s residence is very spectacular but even more so for those GSE team members priveleged to watch it from the private quarters of the Commander of the Guards.
Following the conclusion of this age old tradition we had the choice of visiting rooms in the Royal Castle or the Royal Museum. We chose the castle. Rotarian Lars Wahlstrom was our guide.
With 608 rooms, the Stockholm Royal Castle is the biggest castle in the world still used by a head of state – King Carl XVI Gustav.
We accessed some of these historic and opulent rooms but others were off limits since they are still used for official duties even though the royals live elsewhere.
Following this Lars took us by train to a glass mill called Bro Glasbruk close to where we would by hosted for the night and about 40km northwest of Stockholm. Team members had a turn glass blowing (blowing up) then given a demonstration of glass blowing by someone more qualified. They are not a huge commercial operation but a cottage industry where some specialised commercial orders are filled but also an opportunity for people to experience a day out from Stockholm enjoying coffee cake and glass blowing.