Previous Diary Next Diary

Home Diaries Best Pictures Road Trip

Stockholm, At Least a Bit

October 24, 2001

Dear Family and Friends,

First, let me apologize to all fans of Stockholm. We did not do justice to this obviously wonderful city. Maybe the weather wasn't right, maybe the season wasn't right, maybe we were tiring of Scandinavia or maybe my Norwegian ancestors were casting a spell against the hated Swedes, but we did not spend much time here.

For starters, we discovered the hotel problem Stockholm has with its shortage of acceptable hotels in our budget. To make matters worse, the busiest times for hotel rooms are weekdays - especially Tuesdays and Wednesdays - during September and October. We, of course, arrived on a Tuesday but did manage to find a suburban hotel, very near a train station, for only 50% above our budget. It was a good compromise, but I think it set the stage for a less-than-thrilling stay.

After checking into our miniscule room, we hopped on the train and went downtown, or, as they say over here, to the "Centrum". At the train station, we were reminded that Stockholm is a much bigger city than either Oslo or Helsinki. The station had the feel of New York or Boston. However, after a short walk, we were in Gamla Stan, the old part of the city and a delight to wander through. It's filled with restaurants, shops, museums, the Royal Palace, and a dozen or so picture-perfect narrow streets. Cars are allowed but definitely not recommended.

Lunch in Stockholm, as elsewhere in Scandinavia, is the secret to reasonable dining costs. For well under ten dollars, every restaurant offers lunch specials that have served us well as the main meal of the day. Dinners, on the other hand, can require new home mortgages - just like back in San Francisco.

Full from late lunch, we wandered through Gamla Stan and planned the next day's museum excursions. All the walking we were doing this day and the next was going to do us some good after a routine more focussed on driving and eating.

(We have no pictures of this piece of wandering, nor have we shown any since sometime in Oslo, because at precisely this moment, the computer trolls chose to "glitch" the chip that stores all the pictures in the camera and all the most recent pictures disappeared. Don't let anyone tell you this is a mature technology yet, but that's why we also carry and use two good film cameras.)

We walked and walked and at sunset found ourselves on a bluff looking down on the city. I'm not sure the pictures do justice to the real colors but views of the old city and even of traffic became magical. It was worth the bruising our feet had gotten on all the cobblestone streets and walkways.

Our final walk was back to the train station. Now it was rush hour and the place seemed much more like a big city. We tried to read the signs, they are in Swedish after all, and waited on Track 13 for 15 or 20 minutes before we checked and learned that our train would be over on Track 16. Most Americans just aren't used to this type of transportation in a city the size of Stockholm but, in the end, we made it OK and returned to our small but "serviceable" room in the suburbs.

The next day was our museum day. I know, Stockholm has enough museums for a week, not just a day, but we only had one museum-day left in us. Following up on the Oslo theme, we started with a ship museum. In this case, it's the fascinating Vasa Museum, where Sweden has turned a 17th Century disaster into the top tourist attraction of the city. The Vasa was built in 1628.

The story is that, during construction, the king expressed an interest (= ordered) a second deck of guns added to the ship. Ignoring the time-honored engineering caution against last-minute design changes, the ship designer agreed and squeezed in some space for a deck filled with heavy guns but lost space in the bottom of the hull for stone ballast. He then had the foresight to die before his creation set sail for, within an hour or two of launching, a wind caught the Vasa, leaned it on its side and caused water to pour into the added gun ports. This pride of Swedish shipbuilding sank "with flags waving" within sight of the boatyard.

After limited salvage work later in the 17th Century, the location of the Vasa was lost until the 1950's. It was buried in the muck of Stockholm harbor but still remarkably intact. In fact, it was so sound that, after being raised by cables passed under the hull, it was sealed, pumped out and towed away, floating "on it's own keel". This remarkable artifact eventually found its place in a building constructed to house the ship and to tell the story of life in Stockholm in the 17th Century.

Walking through the museum, it's difficult to take pictures that do justice to the ship. A picture of the bow does not convey the size of the vessel. A picture of a ship model shows the general shape, but the miniaturization removes the in-person impression. The ship itself seems covered with ornate woodcarvings. A pair of these has been painted like they might have appeared in 1628. T he garish colors shock the mind into imagining the visual impact of the whole ship so decorated. Even more, imagine the public shock of the freshly painted and launched Vasa sinking in full view of all of Stockholm!

After the Vasa, we moved on to the Royal Palace. Pictures are forbidden but you can take our word for it that it was a royal palace. Nice but not our style I'm afraid. The Swedish royal family reportedly lives here from time to time but like their British cousins, they have a number of residences to choose from.

A highlight of the Palace was a descent into the dungeon holding The Royal Treasury. In this vault are the bejeweled crowns, scepters, globes and gowns of the royal family. Most impressive and we enjoyed our off-season bonus of almost empty viewing galleries. Now, when we see the Swedish banner with three crowns, we'll be able to say we've seen the originals.

Our last bit of museum touring was done almost by accident. We had read of unique oriental rugs on display in a home called the Hallwyl Collection. It was on our way to an evening appointment so, at the last minute, we squeezed in our last "museum". Wilhelmina von Hallwyl and her husband had been wealthy aristocrats at the turn of the 20th Century and they had a passion for collecting "things". To settle estate and other back taxes, they gave their Stockholm mansion and it's contents to the Swedish government.

The Collection is viewable with guided tours only but we were lucky enough to wander in just as one was starting. That was the good news. The bad news was that the tour would be in Swedish. But, even without narration, the four-story mansion was a delight to tour. It did have some wonderful old rugs, many in the Turkish (Anatolian) styles we prefer but obviously many times more valuable because these were all unique originals from as early as the 16th Century. But the furniture, decorations, artwork and overall architectural details made us think that the Hallwyls lived even better than their contemporaries did across the bridge at the Royal Palace.

We had one last stop for Stockholm. One of Marianne's former Kyiv students, Alma, had moved back home to Stockholm when her father retired from the Swedish foreign service. We had a wonderful visit with Alma and her mother and we learned a bit about living in Stockholm from them. It was a nice way to end our short visit. We'll be back.

For now, take care and stay in touch - even if we can only answer from time to time.

John and Marianne












Previous Diary Next Diary

Home Diaries Best Pictures Road Trip

Created October 28, 2001

This page created on a Macintosh using PhotoPage by John A. Vink.