Swedish guards old and new
06/16/2008 - 06/19/2008 0 °F
On my last night in Landskrona, Per was feeling better. I went over and showed him my pictures from the day and he was busy making more HO scale paper flowers. He seems to be very happy when working on his miniatures, and his hands, although shaky, were functioning fairly well. It was great to see him in good spirits again. When I left I snapped one last picture of him on his balcony, and wondered when or if I will ever see him again. Good friends are hard to find, and are even harder to leave. Goodbye Per! I hope to be back some day soon.
The next morning was my birthday, and I was headed to Stockholm. The train that morning was running late, which worried me because I had to make a connection in Lund for the X2000 "fast train." I saw a guy on the platform listening to his headphones, and started a conversation. He said that his name is Daniel and that he is out of school for the summer. He was on his way to visit his girlfriend that morning. Daniel said that he would like to become an electrician when he is finished with school. His favorite band is Metallica. When I showed him my Ipod, he quickly scanned through it and picked something he liked - the actor Jack Black's band Tenacious D! Here is a picture of Daniel.
I also met Sofie, a student from Landskrona who was on her way to Stockholm on the train after mine. She was going to work there for 4 days, helping to set up and run a seminar that teaches public speaking. Sophie has one more year in school before graduating and going to university. Her English is excellent, and she was very helpful. I told her that she would make an excellent profesional tour guide!
The train was running late - so late in fact that I missed my connection. Sophie calmly read the electronic message boards and kept up with the constantly changing announcements emitting from the loudspeakers. She guided us down to the correct platform in the Lund station, where we boarded the next train to Stockholm, leaving an hour after my original departure. We finally boarded the train to my great relief, but that relief proved to be short lived.
The train pulled out and then the conductor came through to check tickets. I explained to him that the train from Landskrona had been late and I had to take the next X2000 train. I showed him my ticket, and asked him if that would be alright. He looked at the ticket, his eyes widened and he stood up straight. "No! That is not alright!" he proclaimed, quickly removing his glasses. My heart nearly stopped! Did they think that I was a stowaway? Would I be condemned to a life of servitude to pay off my debt to society? I gulped, wondering about the possible quality of food in Swedish train prison.
The conductor explained that the ticket I had was for another company, which ran the exact same train the exact same route on the exact same track! How was I supposed to know? If I wanted to stay on the train, I would have to buy another ticket! I grudgingly handed over my Visa card and paid. The conductor said that I could go to the train office once we got to Stockholm and request a refund for the first ticket. Traveller's rule #1 - always remain flexible. So, new ticket in hand, I settled in to the roomy, comfortable seat. The train was very nice, and even had internet! Absolutely amazing.
I sat working on the blog while watching the beautiful Swedish countryside roll past at 200 kilometers an hour.
The X2000 train is a high speed train that runs on normal tracks. When it comes to a curve the entire train tilts one way or the other to compensate for the lateral G forces. The sensation is strange. You sit, feeling that the train is perfectly level, while the passing scenery outside the windows tilts crazily back and forth like a ride at Disney World! I was OK, but the ride made Sofie a bit queasy, a sensation that many passengers feel. Because of this, each seat is equipped with plastic bags that can be used in case of motion sickness. Urp! Instead of the trip lasting 6 or 8 hours like a regular train, we made it to Stockholm in a little over 4.
Stockholm station was a confusing hive of activity.
Sofie, now feeling better, introduced me to her friends who were picking her up, and then very kindly walked me over to the train company's offices (which I am certain I would never have found by myself) so that I could fill out the necessary paperwork to get my money back for my first, unused ticket. I turned everything in to the train company, along with written explanations and photocopies of all tickets and reciepts, but I'm not holding my breath waiting to hear from them. Anyway, I got to Stockholm safe and sound after a long and harrowing journey, and now breathed that long-delayed sigh of relief. I never would have made it without Sofie guiding the way. Thanks Sofie, and the best of luck!
I checked into my hotel for the first night, The Colonial, which is a mid-range place within walking distance of Gamla Stan, the old town. This was the view from my window. I felt like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins!
After settling in, I set out walking the city alone. This is a street guitarist I saw. He reminded me of Glen Hansard's character in the terrific film "Once."
A beautiful plaza.
Stockholm is a city laid out on a number of islands, so there is a lot of water everywhere.
The Royal Palace, said to be the largest in the world still in use. It has over 600 rooms!
Entering Gamla Stan, the old town.
All of Stockholm was contained in Gamla Stan at one point. It is a maze of shops and restaurants, with twisting streets and alleyways shooting out in all directions. It was fun just wandering around getting lost, and then unexpectedly emerging out into a light-filled city square.
Some cool signs in Gamla Stan.
This tunnel, about the height of my shoulders, led to yet another alley containing a cool Swedish restaurant.
Another place featured reindeer steak. I hope that Santa, Rudolph and the gang aren't too offended by my posting this....
This is a cool statue looking up at the buildings. Notice the flowers at his feet.
One of the neat things about Gamla Stan is that every once in awhile you look up to see a completely unexpected spire towering over the narrow street you happen to be on.
The next morning I woke up and opened the window, where I was surprised to come face to face with one of the locals....
This morning I was on a mission. My brother-in law Brandon is a huge Greta Garbo fan, and he told me that she is buried in Stockholm. I wanted to find her grave and photograph it for him. So I put on my only black shirt out of respect and set out. The subway is supposed to go all the way down to the cemetery, which is is the southern part of the city. Work was being done on the line, however, and it only went part of the way. I took a city bus from the end station, which let me off near the cemetery. I saw this building along the route. I think it is supposed to be a stadium, but it really looks like a giant golf ball.
Asking around, people were very helpful in pointing out the way to the cemetery, but were very vague as to where Greta Garbo's grave actually was. I was surprised to learn that Skogskyrkogarden cemetery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 for the "exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural site which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity."
Everyone I asked in the cemetery invariably pointed the direction vaguely and shrugged. Famous for wanting to preserve her privacy, right before her death the former film superstar requested that she be buried in her native Swedish soil.
So many people had the same vague reactions to my questions that something gradually dawned on me. It was as if they were protecting her, one of their own finally come home to rest. They didn't want the grave to become the circus that Jim Morrison's became in Paris, so to find Garbo, you really have to want it and work at it. Finally I met up with Wieslaw, a local, and Ela and Andrei, on holiday from Poland, who were on the same mission. We joined forces and, working together, finally found the spot. The pink marble headstone bore only her signature, in gold. First class, to the very end. May she rest in peace.
I found this statue at the cemetery to be interesting, depicting death and rebirth.
So then is was back on the bus and the subway back into town.
Wandering in and around Kungstragarden, Stockholm's bustling central square. These people look like they are life-sized pieces on a giant Klingon chess board.
Obviously yoga is big in Sweden....
As if I needed another excuse to return to Stockholm next summer!
I saw three guys riding unicycles together through the city streets. One fell, but was well-padded and soon was up and off on his way.
A cool mural near the tourist information office.
Next came the Vasa museum, one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. The Vasa was a galleon built by Sweden and commissioned in 1628 in its ongoing war with Poland. It was a beautifully decorated warship adorned with over 500 brightly painted carvings. It also had a second gun deck. Its towering height, narrow beam, and round ballast stones which shifted while at sea all conspired against it, and it capsized in Stockholm harbor 20 minutes after it was launched.
After sailing approximately one nautical mile, a gust of wind hit the Vasa's sails and water began gushing through its gunports, which were still open after firing a salute to the king. The ship sank like a stone, dunking both the crew and their families, who were invited on board for the Vasa's maiden journey. It lay under water for 333 years until rediscovered by an amateur wreck hunter in 1956. The Vasa was finally returned to the surface in 1961.
The entire ship was dismantled piece by piece and the wood was treated with spray baths of water every 20 minutes for several years and then treated with ethelyene glycol to stabilize the material. The ship was then put back together, like the world's largest jigsaw puzzle. It is 95% original, the best preserved ship of its age anywhere in the world. Walking around the ship I had to keep pinching myself - here I was in the presence of a real galleon, raised from the dead!
The Vasa is huge, at just over 200 feet and weighing 1,200 metric tons.
When the gun ports were opened, opposing ships could see gold painted lion's heads above the cannons. Talk about intimidation!
Decorated external walking galleries on the sides of the ship.
The magnificent stern, as viewed from below. It stands 60 feet high, and looks like an intricately carved piece of furniture.
The 500 symbolic figures decorating the vessel were all brightly painted, as shown on these recreations.
A full model of the Vasa, painted to look like it did on the day of its first (and last) sail.
Gold lion head gun ports on the model. What an awesome sight.
External walking galleries from the stern, above.
This is the stern from above and up close. The museum has benches built into the gallery here so you can just sit for a while, looking and imagining long gone sailors scampering around the decks and rigging, preparing for battle.
This is one of the sails of the Vasa, probably the world's oldest.
Next door at the Nordic Museum is a great statue of Gustav Vasa himself, regarded as the founder of modern Sweden. Long live King Gustov! Now where did that chicken leg get to....
For more information on the warship Vasa, click here.
For more information on Gustav Vasa, click here.
The Nordic Museum was good, with many depictions of Swedish life through the centuries. They also had a terrific dollhouse collection. The ornate and very valuable dollhouses began as custom made curio cabinets for very wealthy families to display, and did not become toys for children until many years later.
I then walked down the street to Skansen, Stockholm's beloved outdoor museum.
I took the inclined railway to the top and strolled around in the warm afternoon sun. Skansen contains actual homes and buildings from around Scandinavia, transported piece by piece and reconstructed on site. It was very special to walk into the actual home of a fisherman from northern Sweden from the early 1800's and see how he lived. Walking around Skansen I realized that we are used to many recreations of things in the U.S. - Williamsburg, etc., but here in Sweden I was seeing the real deal. People really lived in, gave birth in, and died in these actual houses hundreds of years ago. It was hard to get my mind around the concept. Two hundred years from now, how would my house hold up to people walking around it seeing how I lived? Will the cat's litter box and my underwear drawer be on display for all to see?
Here are a couple of buildings in Skansen.
An actual windmill from a farm, which was used to grind grain. The sails were adjustable to adapt to various wind patterns.
This is an actual belfrey from a church that burned down. The belfrey was the only thing remaining from the fire.
Walking through the shady lanes in Skansen, I came upon two girls admiring one of the resident squirrels. They were talking to the squirrel when it suddenly came right up and grabbed one of their lollipops, stealing it right from under their noses! I later took a picture of Matilda, Ellinor, Aekie and Elisabeth, who were together enjoying Skansen on holiday.
Walking home I saw a great accordian player near the Central Train Station.
One of the most difficult things about extended travel is doing laundry. Some places have washing machines, but most don't. And the ones that do have facilities have European machines, with strange knobs and dials all over the place which make you feel more like you are trying to jump start the space shuttle. So tonight it was time to wash out some socks and underwear in the sink. I usually have a hard time getting this wet, dripping mess dry by morning, but the Colonial hotel had an ultra-cool heated towel rack in the bathroom, fashioned with a take-off from the hot water line in the shower. How ingenious! Why don't we have more of these in the states?
My second night in Stockholm I had to move around the block to the Hotel Bema, where I was up until 3am working on pictures and the blog. I also took calls from home, going in and out of the small hotel's locked front doors several times in the middle of the night. Each time I did a bell would ring, and Plamen, the night manager would spring up from resting to see who it was. He was a terrific sport and was extremely nice to the crazy "American writer in room 11!" Here is a picture of Plamen!
The next morning I got up early, checked out, and was able to leave my bags at the hotel for an afternoon departure on the Helsinki ferry. I saved some time by taking a taxi and went down to the Royal Palace, where they keep the Royal Armory, supposed to house one of the best collections of armor in Europe.
The Armory was extremely interesting. The museums over here offer an "autoguide," which is worth every penny. You get headphones and a very small hand held unit. When you point the unit at each exhibit, a dramatic commentary is fed wirelessly into your headphones. For a tech nerd like me, it is a very cool setup, and I haven't seen them in the U.S. anywhere.
Anyway, this is a picture of the shirt Gustav III was wearing at the masked ball at the opera when he was assassinated in March 1792. The assassin dressed identically to the king at the ball in a dark cloak, hat, and mask. He shot the king in the back, and the king died 13 days later of blood poisioning. You can still see the bullet hole in the shirt as well as the remaining dried blood!
Armor by Dr. Seuss!!
Go ahead - make my day....
I thought the ladies might appreciate this amazing royal cloak, just right for those chilly nights around the castle....
For some reason, I don't think this helmet was built for midnight nacho runs down to the 7-11....
As an added bonus, the royal coaches were displayed in the basement. This is an antique coach, but Royal coaches are an "ongoing concern," meaning that preservation efforts continue to this day with the current fleet of royal automobiles.
I then went up into the outer courtyard for the changing of the guard. At exactly 12:15pm, a military band played its way up the street and into the courtyard. Then the festivities began. The soldiers looked like a bunch of wind up toy soldiers marching around in various formations. What a show! It all looked very official until the troops halted. An order was given, and then all the soldiers looked over to their right and shuffled their feet "scooch scooch scooch" until the lines were straight again. This happened several times throughout the ceremony. Order, move, "scooch scooch scooch." Order, move, "scooch scooch scooch." Could this be the latest craze in country line dancing?
I found it very charming that the guards prided themselves on their military precision...
and yet still retained a very human element....
At the end of the changing of the guards, the old forces trotted off, almost hopping, while the new ones hustled in to take their posts!
As I stood on the deck of the Viking Ferry line's Gabriella that afternoon, I thought about Sweden's beautiful people, wonderful traditions, and very real commitment to keeping its history alive and vibrant. I would love to return some day and revisit my dear friends there, both old and new.
With rigging taut and sails raised, I set out with the midnight sun bound for Helsinki.