Saturday, August 2, 2014

Country #95: Swedish memories

I'm not even going to lie. I got way behind on this blog and was considering abandoning it altogether. A night out talking travel with a friend's sister reignited my creative juices and got me to jump back in. Since then I have been using the magic of time travel (aka the blogger "schedule" function) to go back and fill in the many blanks. I am happy to report that once these posts on the land of H&M and Ikea are done, I will be fully caught up.

That's the good news. The bad news is that it has been almost a year since I paid a three day visit to my 95th country so the details are not as clear as they could be.  There is also the issue of what happens when you give a FOMO sufferer an all access museum pass.  I was pretty much non-stop for 72 hours.  I was checking off parks and museums like it was a competition and Alexander Skarsgard was the prize.
First day, first stop:  The Stockholm City Hall.  I would like to say that my planning and research led me here, to the site of the Nobel Prize banquet dinners and one of the most famous buildings in the city,  In reality, after dropping my bags off at the hostel, I was pointed towards the main shopping street, where the stores hadn't opened yet.  I stumbled across this landmark and using the luck of the idiot, managed to score tickets for the next tour of the building.

I had to wait for 30 minutes or so,  during which I sat by the water and soaked up sun like a greedy iguana- keep in mind, I had been chilling, literally, in Amsterdam for a while at this point.  Blame it on a trick of memory if you want, but I recall thinking that the quality of the light was amazing.  It was crisp and clear and other adjectives that probably should not be used to describe light.

Our tour began in the blue hall, which was not at all blue.  It is the room where the Nobel banquet takes place.  The original plan called for blue glazed tiles to adorn the walls but the architect was so pleased with how the exterior, with its eight million bricks, was looking that he decided to continue the color scheme in his main room and probably figured he would someday get around to renaming it.

The next salon was more aptly named.  It was the Golden Hall.  This is where the Nobel Laureates and their guests retire to after dinner to get their dance on, while learning of Sweden's history via Byzantine mosaics.

A cross-eyed king and a swastika, that's a double whammy there.

Measure twice, decapitate once.  The designer of the mosaic failed to take into account that there would be baseboard taking up the first few inches of his canvas. In fact, it did not dawn on him until he got to the ceiling and found that St. Erik had been unceremoniously decapitated.

This dainty young lady is the Queen of Lake Malaren, an allegory for Stockholm, who is being honored with gifts from both the east and the west,  but alas, no one thought to bring her a single bottle of conditioner.
Once the tour was done, I opted to climb the 365 steps to the top of the City Hall tower for an excellent view of Gamla Stan.

Gamla stan is the old town portion of the city and where I spent most of my time.  Everything about it is charming and funky and fun.   I don't think it is humanly possible to be in a bad mood in Gamla Stan.

But a person with a museum card can not simply sit in a cafe, drinking beer and observing life. There is an island chock full of museums to visit.  Luckily the ferries were well sign-posted because if I would have had to ask for the boat to Djurg√•rden, I fear to think where I would have ended up.  To be on the safe side, I did ask "is this the ferry to the museum island?" and got the appropriate response, so for the remainder of my stay, I continued to refer to it as the museum island.

They try to throw you off by having the first thing you see be an amusement park, but have no doubt, this is the museum island.

There is the Spritmuseum, which is a collection dedicated to all things sex and booze.  There is a collection of art commissioned by Absolut Vodka .

Then there was a pretty extensive exhibit addressing the fact that Swedes are seen as blonde and happy sex fiends by the rest of the world.  I was not aware that this was their reputation, nor had I seen any of the many, many, many Swedish porns that were part of the exhibition, so it all seemed a bit like bragging to me.

Hell, even their woodland creatures were a bunch of freaky freaks. (NSFW- particularly if you work for Frogs and Snails, Inc)

Next door was what was probably my favorite, the Vasa Musuem.  You would not think that an entire museum dedicated to one epic maritime fail would be that interesting but you would be wrong. Wrong like the Dutch ship maker who designed the top heavy ship with a too tiny hull.  Or maybe wrong like the captain who was not content to just show off the upper level cannons on their inaugural sailing. No, he wanted the lower gunports open, as well.

As the story goes, on August 10, 1628, what was to be the most majestic Swedish warship was setting sail for the first time.  The entire city had come out for the event.  The ship had barely made it out of the port when it began to keel heavily towards one side.  In doing so, it began to take on water through the open gun ports.  Pomp and pageantry quickly turned to chaos and every man for himself as the crew jumped overboard and the new ship came to sit at the bottom of the harbour.

There she remained until she was discovered in 1956.  Engineers made tunnels underneath the ship and ran cables through, using them to eventually lift her, in one piece, out of the water in 1961.

The exhibition goes into great detail about the building process, the salvage efforts and the lives of the people who worked aboard the ship (albeit very temporarily) but the coolest part, hands down is seeing this mammoth relic before you, in all her glory.

I had given myself an hour to see this museum but ended up returning the next day and devoting a couple more to awe at the artistry that went into this weapon of war.

Once the museums had closed for the day, I chose to walk back towards Gamla Stan. It was 7pm and was as bright as it had been at noon.

Yes, that is a dude dressed like Jesus and hovering above the water- water that he never turned into wine, so I was not very impressed.  Keep trying, Jesus.
Since the sun was still shining bright, I was able to whip out my museum card once more that day, for a scenic boat tour around museum island and its surroundings.

Day two: more museums.

First off the Modern Museum of Art.

Next, the return to the Vasa Museum.

Ready for the next nautical mishap.

The Abba Museum?  It was not included with the card so this dancing queen did not take a chance of them in order to save lots of money, money, money.

Instead, I headed over to the Sky View, to climb atop the world's largest dome, aka as the Ericsson indoor arena.  Stockholm is a relatively flat city so it was a couple of minutes of "oh, that's a nice view" followed by 10 more minutes of "how long am I going to be stuck in this hamster ball with a bunch of strangers?"

Day 3 was the catch up day.  Even though I had been pretty much non-stop, there were a bunch of things I had not had a chance to do.

There was a historic walking tour past the many of the royal buildings.

Ollie, the city's smallest statue, gazing up at the moon.

A visit to one of the royal castles.

A mad dash back to museum island to visit the Skansen open air museum and zoo.  The museum part consisted of buildings that had been relocated from around the country and people in old timey costumes.

And finally, what kind of tourist would I be if I did not catch the changing of the guard.

By this time, my museum card was worn out. My flight back to Amsterdam was awaiting and this blog post had been promptly posted... more of less.

"Thank you, Stockholm.  You've been a great crowd."

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