Thursday, 9 November 2017

A Stockholm Microadventure

OK so staying in a hotel, even in an inexpensive one, hardly qualifies as a micro-adventure but what the heck I'm calling this short weekend trip just that.  With a dull autumn weekend forecast in Copenhagen I decided it was time to take the opportunity to travel further afield to explore Stockholm.  A cheap and short SAS flight could be had on a Friday night and the Arlanda express train (running every 15 mins or so) will transport you the 40-odd km from Stockholm Arlanda airport to the city centre in 20 minutes. found a relatively inexpensive stay at the Terminus hotel just 3 minutes' walk from the central train station. 

Arriving at 9 in the evening didn't leave a lot of time to explore on the Friday night but the centre of town is compact hence a short stroll through Gamla Stan (the original settlement at the centre of the modern city) and back to the hotel allowed me to get my bearings.  Having got my bearings I proceed to lose them a little by drinking 3 pints of local ale in the hotel bar – not realising until dealing with a Saturday morning headache that this tasty stuff was 6.5% ABV. I mention this as a warning to others.

I woke early on the Saturday as my guidebook said the Vasa museum was open from 0830.  A couple of paracetamol sorted the head whilst the hotel breakfast sorted the stomach.  My intention was to visit the Vasa Museum 1st of all so I set off at 0800 to walk to the water taxi pick up just outside the Royal Palace on Gamla Stan. Whoops it doesn't start to run until 1000 in winter months, never mind I would just walk to the Vasa Museum, OK I would miss opening time, well I thought I would, it turns out that in the winter months the museum opens at 1000 also – in fact it seems that 1000 was becoming a theme.  Never mind the walk was fine along Strandvegan with its sumptuous houses providing a fine back drop until I reached the Vasa museum – still 45 minutes too soon.  A visit to the public toilets whilst waiting cost me twice what it should whilst I waited for the museum to open as I chose not to use the 1st cubicle I had paid for given the rather awful state it was in! 

1000 and the Vasa museum opened.  A short wait in the queue was well worth the time spent as the Vasa proved even more impressive than I imagined.  The photos do not do the ship justice as it is HUGE in a way that cannot be seen though I did try to include some people in my shots to give scale.  The museum was purpose built for the ship and is 5 stories high (even though the tops of the masts were removed 300 years ago when it was still a hazard to shipping. 

The Vasa was built, ironically, of Polish Oak, by a Dutch ship builder for Sweden's war against Poland but sank just 20 minutes into its maiden voyage killing around 30 of its crew and guests (the skeletons of several of these poor souls are on display alongside their reconstructed faces).  The cause of the sinking was that the ship was top heavy (or too narrow – the effect being the same).  Within 30 years of the sinking all but 3 of the valuable bronze cannons were recovered from the ship but then the position of the ship was forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1950s and raised in 1961 – 333years after it sank.  After years of conservation it was placed into the current purpose-built hall and is 98% original – the best-preserved ship of its time by a wide margin.  The displays on show include the dioramas of the ship's construction and its recovery, a cinema where the story of the ship and its discovery is told in a 15-minute film, a reconstruction of the ship's lower gun deck and artefacts from the ship including the 3 cannons not recovered in the 1660s oh and there is a nice cafĂ©.  Alongside this there are regular free guided tours in a variety of languages although being good Scandinavians it seems all Swedes speak English.

The Vasa was truly the highlight of the whole weekend.  It is stunning though as I couldn't spend the entire day there so after lunch I took the 'Red Bus' water taxi from the short pier at the back of the Vasa Museum to tour the inner water ways (in summer more extensive tours are available).  As ever on these trips headphones are provided and interesting sights are pointed out – usually just after they are past in my experience.  For the Afternoon, I decided to buy a ticket to the Royal Palace – still a functioning government building and where the King and Queen's offices, though not residence, still is. The Royal Palace is big – bigger even then Buck House.  You are not allowed all round it but access is good.  A 3 pass ticket buys access to the Palace's public areas plus the older part of the palace not burned down in the fire of 1697 – the Tre Konor; the Treasury and the Chapel where the monarchs of Sweden have traditionally been deposited when no longer in use.

For dinner, I wanted to try something typically Swedish however this wasn't going to be as easy as I had thought.  It seems that Sweden's national dish is Pizza or pasta given the look of the majority of food outlets.  Gamla Stan seemed to be the best place to escape the Italian influence and after a couple of refusals (restaurants were booked – I didn't smell or anything) I found a table at Martin Trotzig's Restaurant where I had a great 3 course meal of Grilled Scallops on Jerusalem Artichoke Puree followed by Veal in redcurrant and with Apple Strudel (OK not strictly Swedish) as a dessert – yummy!

On Sunday I had to leave for the airport by 5pm so I still had a full day near enough to look around.  As with Denmark most places are closed until 1000 but 0900 found me at Stockholm Cathedral to have a good look around before services began.  This church, the oldest building in Stockholm was originally St Nicolas Church and became Stockholm's cathedral in 1942.  Whilst the Royal Family are buried at the chapel around the corner it is here that Royal marriages take place.

The oldest parts of the brick built church date to 1306 and reached its current extent in the 1480s.  The exterior was rebuilt in 1736. An interesting feature looking up is that parts of the roof are painted and others not – I wasn't sure if this was a result of the reformation or not but I thought it worth considering.  Whilst modern Sweden is very secular, it is officially a Lutheran country so there was some understated information in the cathedral celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther's act of vandalism to the church doors in Wittenberg. For a Lutheran church, I thought the inside was rather well decorated (or is it that my experience of the bare insides of Scottish churches have taught me to expect less).  The Silver Altar (actually ebony and silver) but to its left is an even more impressive statue of St George skewering the Dragon carved of oak and consecrated in 1489 as an altar monument.  This is in remarkable condition, and is here as a symbol of Sten Sture the elder, who had conquered the forces of King Christian of Denmark (Denmark is represented in the sculpture as the Dragon and Sten Sture as the saint).

The Parhelion painting by the cathedral exit is a 1630s copy of an earlier painting depicting the Parhelion that appeared over Stockholm on 20 April 1535.  The Parhelion was, at the time, interpreted as a divine revelation of the impending collapse of worldly power which caused a rush of people to the churches.  In fact a parhelion is a common meteorological occurrence caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere acting as lenses. 

Painting of the Parhelion

Real Parhelion

 Next stop, via water taxi, was Fotografiska for a view of some excellent photographic exhibitions.  Two were worthy of note.  The 1st showed photo journalism by a local reporter with moving and vivid coverage of trouble spots from Libya to Palestine to Kenya and beyond.  The second, entitled 'Last Night in Sweden' was a middle finger to Donald Trump's now infamous (though sadly not lonely) tweet, based on a Fox news on God knows what that Sweden was in turmoil due to Islamism.  The exhibition showed what actually was happening that night across this huge liberal and very impressive country.  Fotgrafiska also has a good restaurant so a prawn smorre brod washed down by a pint of 6% IPA whilst looking out over the water at what must be one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world was a good way to finish my trip before hopping onto the water taxi again.

With just a couple of hours left I took a walk around to the Parliament, passing some men fishing for Salmon in the water that separated Gamla Stan from Normalm – a benefit of Allemansratten which is the Scandinavian right to fish or forage (as well as walk) for one's own consumption without asking the landowner –very civilised if you ask me.   From here I looked around Kastellholmen.  Here the turreted castle, a former armoury, flies the National flag daily when the country is at peace so it has been flown for over 200 years.  Walking back towards the railway station to catch the 1700 Arlanda Express, I was ambling and took time to enjoy the walk along the shore of Ostra Brobanken looking at the old time vessels that belonged to the members of the Stockholm  old ships society (or something like that).  Most of these vessels were around a 100 years old, one had taken part in D Day and one appeared to be the Royal Yacht.

Well that was my weekend up and I must say you can see a lot in just a couple of days it just whets your appetite for more.  I must return in the summer where more opportunities exist to travel the waterways and where the long nights would give extra time for looking around.

Costs for the weekend:

Return Flight – CPH to Stockholm: £141

Hotel – 2 nights B&B: £180

Food and Drinks: £134

Transport (Arlanda Express and 24 Hours Red Bus/Water Taxi): £82

Entrances to Attractions: £35


Total: £572

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