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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stockholm: city of islands

Stockholm, City of Islands

We arrived at the Bromma airport in Stockholm, on time at about 1:15. There was a power outage at the airport which held up the baggage carrousel and after much complaining by fellow passengers and a bit of frustration on our part as well, we finally retrieved our two suitcases. Thank goodness for “wheelies,” today’s wonderful suitcases with wheels. We had a long trek out of the airport, up a ramp to the bus stop only to learn that the bus into the city had left and a new one wouldn’t be there for another hour. We were feeling a bit anxious as we were to meet my friend, Lynn (old highschool chum, married to a Swede for the past 45 years) at 4 p.m. at afChapman, the hostel where we had booked our reservation. Luckily, the driver of another bus took pity on us and told us and other delayed passengers to jump aboard. All turned out well and we arrived at our destination on time. Lynn was there waiting for us and we were delighted to reunite. We have seen each other on many occasions over the years, with her trips to the U.S. but it had been 4 years since out last get together. She and her husband live very far north in Luleo, Sweden, so she was gracious to come down to Stockholm to meet us. She is the one who had suggested we stay at the hostel which is on an old schooner sitting in a beautiful inlet of the Baltic sea on the island of Skeppsholmen, a perfect location for seeing all the key sights of Stockholm. Our room was a small 6’x 8’ ships cabin with a port hole, sink, small desk and chair and a top and bottom bunk. The bathroom was just down the hall a short way. We had all that for a mere 80 SEK (Swedish Kroners), about $100 a night---imagine what a hotel room would have been. Not only are they much more expensive but it was nearly impossible to find one as there was a major international medical convention going on in Stockholm that week. We were delighted with our lodgings and also with the hearty Swedish breakfast we got each morning for about another $6, especially since we were able to pilfer extra rolls, cheese, tomatoes and ham for sandwiches for our picnic lunches. Gary was delighted to find they had Glutin free bread for toast and even offered him nice chewy rolls which were GF.

Lynn took us on a tour of the old town section of Stockholm, Gamla Stan . To get there we crossed a bridge and marveled at the many boats, beautiful old wood ones as well as sleek modern yachts lined up along the quais. Stockholm is a city of islands, 14 in all, on the Baltic Sea and on the biggest lake in Sweden, Melaren.. Walking past the royal Palace and the Swedish Parliament building to the the narrow cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, was like going back four hundred years in time. The quaint iron signs illustrating the shops’ specialty, the small alleyways and the turreted buildings surrounding us were all enticing reminders that we were in the old world though at the same time, in a very modern and progressive city. We began to call it the “land of beautiful people” for everywhere we looked the people seemed slim, fit and beautiful, walking briskly along the streets (that’s the key---like all Europeans they walk a lot, using public transportation, it sometimes seems, more than private cars---the bus system is easy to use as well as the tram and the underground.) Gary’s head was spinning admiring the tall and beautiful blue eyed blonds everywhere, and I didn’t find the men much less attractive!

We found a charming and small restaurant where we were glad to finally sit down and have dinner after our long day of walking and exploring. The meal was simple, fish and boiled potatoes but the final bill was shocking at more than $20 each. We realized we would have to watch our pocketbook and take advantage of picnic lunches. We walked back to our ship, afChapman and snuggled down in our bunks, feeling the soft listing of the boat as we drifted off into a deep sleep.

Our second day in Stockholm we met Lynn at the nearby museum where she had bought tickets for us to visit the Terra Cotta Soldiers of China, an exhibit we had seen years ago in Portland shortly after the unearthing of this ancient treasure trove. Seeing it now was twice as good, for two reasons: one, they have since unearthed and put on exhibit worldwide, many additional finds, and two, the exhibition was held in one of the many underground caves of Stockholm. The old medieval buildings often had a stone understory. Going underground to see the Chinese treasures created a great feeling of being there at the time when they were first discovered by archeologists in the 80’s . The most recent finds in the display were in the early 2000’s.

After viewing the exhibit we took a long, long walk to another park like island called Djurgarden where we visited Skansen, one of two must see sights recommended by my cousin, Torkel. Lynn agreed. Skansen is a model village of the past which occupies a huge area of the island. One can visit old craftsmen’s shops where the workers wear the clothing of the past and work with old tools to make furniture, saddles, iron works, glass, etc. Streets wind in and out and one sees houses and buildings, many of them originals moved here from other parts of Sweden. The four hours we spent there flew by and we stopped only for a fifteen minute picnic break on a park bench. By the time we left it was 6:00 and we headed back to Gamla Stan for dinner and then back to our schooner, tired but satisfied after a long day getting to know the beautiful city of Stockholm. The only negative thing was that for the first two days, the weather was overcast and very chilly, with a drizzle here and there, much like Portland weather in the fall. By our last day, the sun came out full force and we enjoyed seeing more sights, especially the Vasa Museum where we viewed a famous ship built in the1620’s, commissioned by King Gustave II Adolf for his royal fleet he was sending to fight the Poles over a land battle. Though Sweden has not been at war since the mid-1800’s her past is not one of the peaceful nation she is today. The Vasa is a fascinating icon of Swedish history, as after two years of being built to represent all the power and prowess of the Swedish empire with beautiful carvings and ornate decoration, this 60 meter long wooden sailing ship came to a fateful end. On 10 August 1648, Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage and sank in the Stockholm harbor. The wreck ws salvaged in 1961 after 333 years under the sea. The reconstructed vessel, 95 percent original, is magnificent to behold in the beautiful museum designed just to house her and looking like a huge metal vessel itself. It offers a unique insight into early 17th century Sweden.

Our last day in Stockholm, Lynn, Gary and I took a boat tour around the city under all it’s many bridges and crossing over from Baltic Sea to freshwater through a series of locks. Afterwards, we met my cousin’s 24 year old daughter, Sofia, who had not been able to join us for the party in Blekinge. She is a beautiful and smart young woman who works as an auditor of a big insurance firm in Stockholm. She was warm and vivacious and we enjoyed getting an opportunity to meet and talk with her. That night Michael, Lynn’s son who is an architect and designer in Stockholm, met us for dinner back at our hostel on the ship. We found the small cafĂ© there to have the best meals we had tasted and enjoyed eating their “grilled char” a type of freshwater trout well prepared with boiled potatoes and vegetables. It was great to see Michael again. He had visited us in Portland 20 years ago when he was a young man of 2l. Now the father of an eight year old little girl, he is happily looking forward to his upcoming wedding. He and the mother of his daughter divorced a few years ago. We enjoyed hearing about his work, and his inventions. He is an ambitious inventor and has a strong creative streak. We also discussed Swedish politics, and the feelings of Swedes about their “socialist” system which means high taxes but brings many excellent benefits like outstanding health care, no homeless on the streets, and free higher education. Sweden is having an election in the next 2 weeks and most Swedes we talked to were hoping to reinstate the coalition government they have had for the past four years. They have fared well in spite of the economic bust of 2008 and have held unemployment at a low, compared to the US and other EU nations, of 6 %.

We ended our Stockholm visits with wine, beer and Swedish toasts, “Skol” and lots of hugs from Lynn and Michael. Our last night in our ship’s cabin was a restless one as we were excited about the next leg of our journey, Paris

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