Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Norse saga. Part II - Stockholm Syndrome

Wednesday 07 August

Church, after the rain.
We pretty much blew the entire day on rail travel. After a leisurely breakfast and post-breakfast siesta, we packed and got ourselves to the station in time for the InterCity High-Speed train departing Copenhagen at 1229. The Øresund bridge crossing into Sweden is spectacular. I think the rail runs below the road deck. The train got to Malmö on time, and then stood in the underground station for an hour and a half.

Subsequent delays, including protracted unexplained waits in rural Sweden and on one occasion actually travelling backwards for several miles, meant that the five hour journey ended up taking almost nine hours. At least, when we eventually rolled into Stockholm, the hotel was close to the station and easy to find.

We crawled into our room and then set off in search of food, eschewing Pizza Hut in favour a local steakhouse chain. The first ATM we tried didn’t want to talk to my card, and as the buttons didn’t respond, I concluded that the machine was FUBAR. Another machine in the railway station was much more sensible: it dispensed cash.

Thursday 08 August

First job after a splendid continental breakfast that included bacon, pork sausages, paté, plus the usual cold cuts, fruit, bread and coffee, was to head to the railway station. Having secured our booking for next Wednesday’s trip to Oslo and paid the booking fee, we headed to the bus station (of all places) to confirm our ferry to and from Helsinki, plus shuttle buses to and from the ferry port.

The bus to Skansen, a kind of outdoor theme park of old buildings, living history, and petting zoo, was parked up outside the bus terminal. Beloved Wife made her Fast Talk when conversing with the bus driver, and we were delivered for free outside Skansen about twenty minutes later.

After admission, we checked out the Tobacco and Matches museum that, curiously, made no mention of the negative health effects of tobacco. There was a video on a loop telling the salutory tale of one Ivar Kreuger who basically created a world monopoly of match manufacturing by buying out all his competitors with other people’s money. It all went wrong with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but to this day almost all of the world’s matches are from Sweden.

Cigarette-making machines.
Guess one of my favourite brands.
 There were some extremely rare goats at the petting zoo. They looked to me like shaggy Toggenburgs, but are a once common but now an endangered breed, apparently. The adults had proper horns and beards, which was splendid.

Lovely beard you have there, ma'aaam!

Sheltering from the rain. Clearly this goat has more sense than the photographer.

Nineteenth-century Swedish farm cottage.

Nineteenth-century schoolhouse and bell tower.
 The weather deteriorated, and we were glad to be able to hide in various buildings and avail ourselves of Living History and shelter. As the woman spinning wool into yarn confirmed, Sleeping Beauty couldn’t have pricked her finger on a spinning wheel: there’s nothing sharp on the device. In Swedish, ‘spinning’ on a wheel and ‘spinning’ using a drop-spindle have different words and the illustrations in books of fairy tales and cartoons by Walt Disney of the spinning wheel are all wrong. It’s a drop-spindle that has a pointy bit that can put you to sleep for a hundred years. Beloved Wife informs me that a ‘Great Wheel’ spinning wheel does have a finger-pricking spindle, but this looks nothing like the now traditional machine.

No sharp things in evidence.
Wooden church - interior.
All the Living History stuff shut down at 1700, just as the heavens opened. It had been trying to rain on and off all day, but was now persisting down. We took a tram back to town. To my surprise, the conductor simply stood near one of the doors, but made no effort to collect any fares from the heaving multitude packed in like sardines.

Hurling down in stair-rods.
When the tram stopped, we headed into a shopping mall for excellent pizza, and then dodged the rain (which had failed to stop) by hiding under shop canopies all the way back to the hotel. Beneath one of the larger canopies, we encountered “Hoola Schoola UK,” which was representing all things British at a local Arts fair.

A small excerpt from the Hoola Schoola.
An early night, then, and plans for an early breakfast and some more sightseeing before the ferry trip. What we actually did was going to depend on the weather.

Friday 09 August

First task after two Breakfasts of Podium Finish was to check out of our room and drop our bags off at reception. Then we headed out in the general direction of the old town. I spotted a shop selling athletics goods and – long story short – managed to find some Vibram® FiveFinger® hobbit feet that fitted me, an exercise that has proved impossible in Dubai. When I wear them it looks like I’ve got toes and not hooves. An interesting feature of the shop was a treadmill with a video camera, so that the customer could capture his walking or running gait and have a suitable shoe recommended.

We dropped my purchase with the rest of our luggage back at the hotel, all of two doors away, and found our way to the originally medieval church where the Swedish royal family is interred. 

Riddarholmen church. A cast-iron spire replaced the wooden one that was struck by lightning in 1835 and burned.

Dress it up with as much gold as you like; an infant's sarcophagus represents something desperately sad.
And then we ran into the Changing of the Guard. The latter took over an hour, and involved a lot of horses and shiny pickelhelms. The Lifeguards include one of the few mounted military bands, apparently.

Someone's been polishing his helmet.

Enter the mounted Lifeguards' military band.

Everything was going so well, then the horse on our far right unexpectedly spooked, and the entire formation collapsed like a card table during an enthusiastic game of Snap.

Having removed the equine mess, order was quickly restored.

The timpanist has to control his mount without using his hands. And the horse has to be very used to loud drumming just behind its ears.
There was now insufficient time to visit a museum, so we satisfied ourselves with the old town streets. I discovered an ingenious book: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ as it might have been written by William Shakespeare.

Then it was beer o’clock, and just time to catch the fun bus from the terminal to the ferry port.

Having got on board the ferry, we discovered a disturbing absence of aircraft-style seats: we were going to have to pay extra for a cabin. At least the tiny, windowless cabin in the orlop was private, and was somewhere to drop off our luggage. I tried to book a cabin for the return trip, but was told this wasn’t possible and I’d have to deal with it at the Helsinki terminal.

The first few hours of the voyage took us past numerous tiny islands comprising part of the Stockholm archipelago. The ferry went disturbingly close to a lot of them. Presumably the navigation channel was originally glacial: vertical sided and deep. The approach to Helsinki was geographically very similar.

View of Skansen from the ferry.

Pendulous, stormy clouds over the Stockholm archipelago.

Waterside residence.
The ferry was crowded, in particular by excessive numbers of boisterous and girlsterous brats. We booked places for the buffet on the third and latest sitting, but still ended up right next to a horde of screaming rugrats. However, the food was plentiful and generally excellent, and beverages including beer and wine were included in the price, so that was a bonus.

We spent the weekend in Helsinki, and caught the overnight ferry back to Stockholm on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday 13 August

The ferry docked on time at around 10am in Stockholm. The fun bus transported us back to the terminal, and we located and checked into our hotel. Then we were off for some Culture.

Palace guard.

No idea who this is, loitering just outside the No Pictures zone.
The Royal Palace admission allows access to four separate exhibitions. Just don’t show up at noon, because that’s when they’ll be Changing the Guard and access to the Palaces will be blocked by horses.

The Treasury is in a dungeon, and contains the Swedish crown jewels. The Royal Apartments are where the Royals used to live, and where they now have banquets and accommodate other Royals who may be visiting. I was completely Baroqued out at the end of that part of the tour, and so it was immediately on to the Three Crowns museum, a tour around the fifteenth-century cellars, two floors below present ground level. This part of the exhibition showed how the royal palace developed from about 1100AD until it burned down in 1697 and was rebuilt to the current layout. The old vaulted arches remain below the new stuff. There are alarming cracks in some of the brickwork.

A final exhibition, King Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, houses Roman statues, nicked from Italy in about 1750. This is, apparently, one of the oldest museums in Europe that is open to the public: quite a revolutionary idea when it was introduced in the eighteenth century.

One huge disappointment with the Royal Palace was that photography – not just tripods or flash – was forbidden.

Le déluge
Dodging the heavy rain showers, we made our way back into town. It was well past beer o’clock by the time I spotted The Bishop’s Arms. This is a fake English pub, replete with fake exposed beams and plastered with too many horse brasses, but contained a choice of real English ale on handpull as well as the normal enormous choice of lager, and a massive choice of whiskies. So we stayed for food too. Three 500ml ‘pints’ of Charles Wells Bombardier. Ahhh! And not very much more expensive than a bar in Dubai. I was later assured by a friend on Facebook that I could have done a lot better than Bombardier, had I only looked. Oh well; too late.

Après le déluge

Beer o'clock.

No comments:


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.