Thursday, July 12, 2007

Stockholm, Sweden

IMG_1186.JPG Stockholm bookended our trip, with a weekend at the beginning and a camp-recovery evening at the end. Unfortunately, we got there on a gray, drizzly midsummers-holiday weekend, which pretty much turns Stockholm into a ghost town. So I think we got rather an unfair impression of it. I love the archipelaginess of it, though, and getting to cross different bits of water to get to different islands.

The hostel, prison era The Af Chapman is a ship that was converted into a hostel, so that seemed like a fun place to stay. Unfortunately, it's closed for renovations, so we stayed in the Långholmens Hostel, instead, which is a converted prison. Not so bad as it sounds, though. It has a small, interesting museum that lets you compare what it was like in the prison days with the way it is now, and it's also on a lovely little island with very nice wooded paths to stroll around. And some of the rooms have interesting decorations. Like the guillotine on the mirror, and the old newspaper prints on the underside of the upper bunks. It was a bit away from the city center (in "Stockholm's Brooklyn") but not too bad.

Friday we mostly took it easy, dealing with jet lag, but did walk around the old town island of Gamla Stan for a while. Saw some nice churches, and a statue of St. George and the Dragon which I quite liked. The dragon is made out of lots of elk antlers, which gives it a wonderful look.

On Saturday we went to the Vasa Museum, built around the Vasa warship, which was the Titanic of the Scandinavian 17th century. Someone built a huge, impressive ship, then miscalculated how many rocks they needed as ballast. It got top heavy, tipped over, and sank when it was barely out of the harbor on its maiden voyage. It was found, pulled up from the ocean floor, and restored several decades ago. You can see it in the museum, along with tons of other fascinating exhibits about it and about seafaring life generally in the time period. The video about the recovery is very interesting, and well worth the half hour. I also enjoyed the wax reconstructions of some of the people whose skeletons were found on board. The display about how that was done says that while they obviously can't determine hair color or anything, they can get good enough reconstructions to be recognizable by someone who knew the person. Amazing. In the "Completely Random" department, there was a photo of our governator as Conan the Barbarian. No explanation whatsoever on why that was in a 17th century Swedish warship museum.

A ways down the street from the museum (having missed the entrance to Skansen, which we'll come back to later) we found a small Italian restaurant. This had the best pizza ever. Maybe it was something about the crust, or the sauce, or just some magic pixie dust they sprinkled on it, but it was incredible.

We continued wandering around the parks on Djurgården and found a nice rose garden, mostly notable for a lemon-scented rose. We also came across a small playground with one of these things that are so much fun. (Anybody know what they're called?) Being a damp day, the slugs were out in force. Swedish slugs are large ugly things, like banana slugs, if you let the bananas get old and black. They appeared to be cannibalistic as well.

The Nordic Museum We eventually made it back to Skansen in the evening. This is a large "open air museum," basically a park with a lot of things like reconstructions of old villages and whatnot in it. There's also a small zoo that provided some great views of bears and moose and other critters. We were rather cold and wet by this point, but wanted to stick around for the folk dancing that happens on one of the little stages in the park. At 8pm some musicians set up and started playing lovely Scandinavian tunes under a gazebo, while a couple brave dancers hambo'd and schottisched through the rain. I was starved at this point and eating a sandwich from a nearby shop. I gobbled it up as fast as I could, then we dashed over to join the dancing. Literally as soon as we set foot on the stage, the musicians wrapped up their current tune and started putting their instruments away. Ouch. I guess they decided 15 minutes was enough in that kind of weather. Really disappointing, though. It would have been fun to surprise folks with some American kids that knew the hambo.

Blogger at Millesgården Things brightened up on Sunday when, appropriately enough, the sun came out. We went out to Millesgården, former home of sculptor Carl Milles, and now a wonderful museum and park full of his work. He was influenced a lot by Rodin, but took everything in a much more mythological, fantastical direction. Some of it I like more than others, but it's all fascinating.

Conveniently, Millesgården is over on the side of Stockholm near the Värtan harbor, from which we'd be sailing to Helsinki. So having earlier stashed our larger bags in lockers at a train station, we were all set to go board the cruise ship Sunday afternoon. More on that next post.

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