Stockholm: Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Sorry for late post!!! We agreed when we traveled to Stockholm that I would be the one writing the blog for it. But then, as you know, I had to go back to Québec for familial reasons, and things were a bit crazy when I first got back, so I didn’t have time to write it, and then as time passed it got harder to do it because I still wish I was out there!
A new meaning to the words “travel day”
On a Friday morning more than a month ago, back in October, we left our host’s place in Hamburg very early to catch our train. We first spent 5 hours on a train from Hamburg to Copenhagen. As you know from our trip back to Denmark, at some point the train to Copenhagen boards a ferryboat. I really liked that, for once to travel without being stuck in a seat for hours on end. And the sea was just so pretty, I wanted it to last much longer than it did. In Copenhagen, we had to take another half-hour train ride in order to cross the Oresund to Malmö, Sweden. But our connection was very late, so of course we missed our train from Malmö to Stockholm. We were panicking, because this train was reservation-only, but the nice agent at the ticket office got us tickets on the next one… and since there only were seats left in first class… First class is so AWESOME!!!!!! The seats were really large, there was ample space for my feet, free coffee, etc. It was nice because we were in for another 5-hour ride.
Cold night in
By the time we arrived, it was after 9PM and we had to make our reservations for the next train. We then had to walk to our hostel. Of course, we got lost on the way! We were pretty tired, and Laura was in the worst of her cold, and it was really chilly outside, so it was a relief when we finally saw the red boat!!! Hell yeah, we were staying on a boat!!! The place was very cosy, with the main room looking like the scene of a pirate movie. Our room was really small, though, but we were too tired to complain!
On Saturday morning, after gorging ourselves on the breakfast buffet (and even stealing some of it to prepare our lunches), we set out in the crisp morning air. I was very happy to have bought a winter hat, scarf and gloves a couple of weeks before in Germany. We left the boat and walked along the waterside. (Sidenote: Stockholm is constituted of a group of islands sitting in a lake, just before it opens into the sea. Our boatel was on the shore of Södermalm, which is a big island on the south side of town.) Even though it was cold, it was really sunny, and the view was great. We could see big houses on the top of a cliff (only the shoreside is at water-level), and rows of differently-coloured houses on the opposite shore, leading to the magnificent City Hall, which we will explore more later. We eventually got to a bridge that crossed over to Langholmen, a small island that, except for a few residences, is mostly a big leafy park. The fall colours were stunning. We climbed atop the island, where we could enjoy a great view of the main islands.
When we were done with that island, we took another bridge to cross to the major island of Kungsholmen, which, while not the bigger or trendier island, is the seat of local government and of the police. We took our time to stroll through the streets and get a feel of the city. Well, I did. Laura was mostly cold. While she thought the architecture was not impressive, average even, I was charmed by everything. I had had a soft spot for Sweden for a while and really felt at home. I was excited to see the university, which was deserted on a Saturday, but felt really peaceful. Surprising though was the sculpture of what we decided was… a tongue. I recognised some words, including the name of a newspaper I knew from some novels. I was also excited to see the police station, as police novels set in Sweden always referred to Kungsholmen the same way British novels refer to Scotland Yard. Our tour of Kungsholmen ended at the magnificent City Hall.
City Hall on the Outside: Pretty, but why do they have to be naked?
On that day, we only visited the exterior of City Hall. It is a huge building done in red bricks (at least I think that’s what it is…), with a huge interior court. The back opens onto a park on the lakeshore. The view was great and though we were embarrassed to have stepped into wedding pictures again, we could understand why there were doing it there. The only thing that bothered me was that there were a lot of sculptures of naked adults with naked children, looking at them adoringly from under… It was a bit weird, and we later realized these kind of sculptures were pretty numerous in Stockholm…
Riddarholmen and Gamla Stan: Old old old Stockholm
After eating lunch in the park, we again crossed to another island, this time to Riddarholmen, a tiny island adjacent to the most touristy island, Gamla Stan. There wasn’t a lot to see on Riddarholmen except for beautiful old buildings, including the most ancient building in the city, a church that we unfortunately couldn’t visit. It could have warmed us up a bit! We then crossed to Gamla Stan, which is the medieval part of Stockholm. I remember that pretty much everything was stunning there. This island is host to the Swedish parliament, but also the castle that is the winter residence of the royal family. We had fun taking pictures of the Guard, and we even witnessed the changing of the guards. By the way, there were all blond, and we decided they were all named Sven. The houses were all tall, differently-coloured and reminded me a bit of the houses in Strasbourg and in Germany. After buying some cheap souvenirs (the shop included a lot of deer items), we huddled in an Irish pub, though I was so cold I actually skipped the Guinness and settled for the Irish Coffee.
Inside City Hall: Nobel Prizes and Golden Walls
On Sunday morning, Laura felt so sick that she decided she would stay in for the day, and try to get better. I was tired too so I rested up and read for a while, but at the beginning of the afternoon I set out to cross over to Kungsholmen for a guided tour of City Hall. (I was motivated to go out but it was still freezing so I settled on indoor activities only.) The visit was totally worth it. Highlights include the Blue Hall, which is done in the same red bricks as the outside. It is named the Blue Hall because it was supposed to be all in blue, but the architect changed his mind. It is the hall that is used every year for the big banquets for the winners of the Nobel Prizes. There is this huge marble staircase that the winners walk down, and there is a huge organ IN THE CEILING!!!! The city council room was also impressive, with a wooded ceiling that included some blue wood, and this huge canopy over the president of the council, who totally doesn’t have delusions of grandeur. We saw a small room where every Saturday couples can get married in. The long version of the wedding ceremony is 3 minutes long, the short version is less than a minute long. There was a hallway that was particularly pretty. On one side it was all windows, and on the other it was this huge fresco that took the entire wall and took three or four years to paint (this time includes the time it took to redo it because of a little mistake) by a prince of Sweden. The final highlight of the tour was a huge hall that is used for banquets and that is all done up in gold. All the walls are covered in huge mosaics made of up of tiny little pieces of gold. The mosaics represent major symbols of Sweden and of Scandinavia.
The museum of musical instruments
When I got out of City Hall, I crossed over to the largest island, which contains the neighbourhoods of Norrmalm and Ostermalm. I mostly walked through Norrmalm, enjoying seeing the many Sunday shoppers walking the streets. I got to a small museum I had read about, for it contains over 2000 different kinds of musical instruments. I had WAY more fun in there than I ever could have imagined. The museum reached the inner child in me, and so I tried out every single one of the instruments you could touch. I also had fun dancing to Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia! in the ABBA section of the museum (you knew ABBA were Swedish, right?) and singing loudly in the mike in a section were you could pretend to be a rock star. Yes, I realize I am lame… 😀
Museum of Modern Art
Later, I walked across another bridge to Skeppsholmen, a small island that mostly contained trees, leaves, museums and houseboats tied up on the waterside. I reached the Modern Art Museum and was stunned by what I hoped was some sort of exhibit going on outside. There were huge sculptures in what looked like some kind of papier-mâché, in bright colours. The shapes were all absurd and vaguely sexual. Inside the museum, I couldn’t really take pictures, so I don’t remember a lot, except that there were some Warhol and Dali and lots of weird sculptures, once again. Art…
I got out of the museum just in time for it to close. The sun was setting and I enjoyed the magnificent view of the other islands from the waterside. I walked alongside it until I reached the southernmost tip of the island, where a bridge led to an even smaller island, totally isolated in the middle of the lake, called Kastellholmen. It was named for a castle that sits at the top. I walked up to it, but was puzzled to find it completely dark. I was trying to go around the island but everything was dark and I ended up using for the first time the flashlight I carried in my backpack the whole time, because I was afraid I would fall down the rocks into the water. It felt really strange and eerie to feel so scared, because it was dark and I was completely alone, while it was like 6:30 PM and the city was alive with people. Anyway, I walked out of there, crossed over to Skeppsholmen again and over to Normalm. From there, I returned to Södermalm, but I didn’t feel like going back to the boatel already, because I knew it was my last day in Sweden and I wanted to take advantage of every minute. Except for the waterside, we hadn’t seen a lot of Södermalm, so I walked the streets that led up the cliff. Up there, I finally recognized the Stockholm I had read about in the Millennium trilogy. I also felt really at home, as it really reminded of me of the Old Town, in Québec City. It was very hilly, with lots of stairs in and between streets. I walked for maybe an hour, and didn’t get lost even though I didn’t have a map of the area. I slowly made my way back to the boatel just as I started getting both cold and sore in the legs. I joined up with Laura who had enjoyed her day of rest and was starting to wonder where I had been. And that is the story of our stay in Sweden. The rest is not as fun, as it was on that night that I was brought to the decision of going home for my family, even though just a couple of hours earlier, as I was reflecting on our trip while standing on a wide bridge looking over the sun setting on the water, I felt really at peace with being away from everyone for another two months… Again, sorry for the delay. If you are trying to keep track of when this was, put this blogpost after the one in Hamburg but before Denmark. Bye bye folks!!!