Travels with myself: Taking Stock-holm

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So what springs to mind when Stockholm is mentioned? Abba? Socialist utopia? Large tax bills? Neutrality? Nobel Prizes? Herring? I suppose all of these.

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The first impression however is  of water. It is everywhere. And how visual the city is. Lots of quirky views, a mixture of buildings and styles. What Stockholm has managed well is to redevelop itself gradually, keeping a lot of the old and interspersing it with bits of new. Sure, you’ll never please everyone but it opens to a visitor without an excess of anything. Of course if you don’t get bombed you don’t have to rebuild in a generation. So far as ensuring a nicely balanced set of municipal architecture is concerned, remaining neutral during a major world war has a lot to recommend it.

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In summer 2009, we stayed in the heart of the old city on Gamla Stan – an island that houses the Royal Palace – in a quirky hotel carved out of an old warehouse. The First Hotel promised a view of the water from every room, only in our case that was via one of those mirrors you use at the end of your drive to see round a blind corner. I didn’t take to it, in all honesty. Which perhaps explains this rather bitter commentary in my journal on the behaviour of another guest:

There’s something universal about certain actions. Namely, you do not steal another man’s toast. You’re in a hotel, at the buffet and the toaster pops up. Do you (a) assume another guest planted said toast and will return; or (b) the hotel mysteriously knew you were coming and set the toast to cook, just in time for your arrival? So when my toast has been half-inched (I know who you are you Scandinavian Medusa) I am rightly pissed off.

As you’ll see this sort of incident rather coloured my view of Stockholm.

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It is easy to walk Stockholm though we orientated, as the guide book recommends, via a boat trip. I’ve done this in cities the world over: Paris, Berlin, even New York, you name it and, increasingly, I find them boring. I tend to sleep. Which I did here so I don’t really know if this one was any good. All part of my antipathy to being on water I suppose.

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We did end up at the Town Hall, which I described thus:

– a huge, turn of the 20th Century red brick edifice – a cross between a Gilbert George Scott Power Station and a Venetian Palace which was more impressive inside.

We were most taken with the Gold Room – where the Nobel Prizes  were formerly dolled out – utterly O.T.T. And a mosaic frieze that was done in 10 months, the rush leading to a few errors, as I recorded here:

Mind you, the artist made some mistakes – a rider loses his head in the ceiling. Possibly St Eric, patron saint of Stockholm – not a recognised saint, but revered by the Swedes. Recent research suggests he was killed in a drunken brawl – the first binge saint perhaps.

We had to visit The Nobel Museum, a homage to conscience. Alfred Nobel invents dynamite, realises he’s done more for safe-breaking and general mayhem than any man before or, until the A bomb, since and leaves his money for a load of prizes esp the Peace Prize. Now the Peace Prize is fascinating, reflecting the studious care with which the Swedish panel asserts its world view. It is, necessarily, highly political and is a very good test of one’s prejudices – if you think the prize worthily given, chances are you think the recipient is potentially a freedom fighter; if not then they are a terrorist. But it  has done good and for that it is to be applauded. I could have spent a lot longer here.

We stopped for an unpronounceable Swedish cake – I thought it smelt of Chanel perfume, the guide book said cardamom. It tasted rank. But then Eccles cakes probably represent something repellent if you don’t know them.

I liked the Cathedral though in a rather half hearted way apparently 

The Cathedral is, externally, unimpressive and inside its plaster walls having been removed reveal original preserved brickwork – it looks recent not 350 years old. It’s plain, in a  Lutheran way, with some fabulous adornments. George and the Dragon feature highly – the dragon being Denmark – also a neat little painting of a freak light effect in the April Sky on 1530 being much more accessible than the enormous ‘Last Judgement’ opposite. 

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a model, sadly but this is how it would have looked..

The best though we saved for our first full day – the Vasa Exhibition. This extraordinary piece of nautical ego set sail as the Leader of the Fleet in the 1630s and sank within a mile of its maiden voyage – something about not taking account of the weight of cannon when designing the lower port holes so in rushed the water. This fine vessel was lost in 30 metres of water, presumed rotted away but in the 1950s, with diving techniques much improved the sea bed was checked and some of it was found just beneath the surface. A major operation was undertaken to expose what was left and, amazingly a huge amount was revealed. It took 7 years and the Swedes had to invent many new techniques, but they brought it to the surface.

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And now…

That though was where the real difficulties started because, freed of its preservative silt and water it began to fall apart. Since the early sixties a waxy water had been run over the remains and gradually it has stabilised and is increasingly on display. What an amazing labour of love. Stockholm is worth a visit just for that.

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Amazing craftmanship

We took in some other sites (and here’s what I wrote)

Skansen: An open air museum with buildings from all over Sweden …. housing areas where brown bears, wolves and elks live and breed. There are European bison breeding as well – they look well. The lynx, however, pace to and fro in that familiar, if tragic, damaged way animals have when upset by captivity.

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Norsike Musseet: …houses a range of displays across interior design, folk art, the Sami people, tableware and how Swedes celebrates various festivals. A liquorish all-sorts 

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Modern Art Museum: A shame this, with a random mix of works with little if any coherence and an audio guide utterly convinced of everything’s sexual context. His explanation of one surrealist work – two high heeled shoes trussed together like a chicken being roasted – was extraordinary as well as gynaecologically impossible and, after a time dull. 

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Stockholm has many beautiful places to sit, drink coffee and think or people watch or read. You aren’t hassled or hurried and you can be at your ease. You can eat well too if expensively.

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nomnomnom

The Oestermarket is now a rather posh Harrods food hall of a place but for both a glutton and a gourmand (such as me) heaven. But for all that, I wasn’t really in love with the place.

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coffee and a bit of a read… of my work emails…

We caught the ferry, overnight, to Helsinki. I should have expected to feel rather flat, facing a trip on water. That’s why I described the terminal as

… a tacky, sticky place which doesn’t aim to compete with the airport – the pound shop mentality at work…. Too much neon, too many own brand, no deli pretensions. Heavens I am a snob [ha, some self awareness].

There’s a lot to like in Stockholm. But for me Copenhagen and Helsinki outscored it on so may levels. This rather moribund feeling is reflected in this poem, written n the ferry

Stockholm

 

Stockholm wears its neutrality

Like a heavy top coat.

Many kings tried

To join in, and

Be a part of mad manic Europe.

Grandiose plans

Across several centuries.

They made Vikings heroes

So they’d have someone.

 

But today?

It knows,

It just knows,

It can’t,

And it can’t be bothered.

 

It’s settled for the life of a watcher,

A looker on;

While the rest of us

Smash each other to bits;

They smile on us

Like parents.

Bless, you have to let them go, don’t you?

And when we try and patch things up;

They present us

With peace prizes and their socialist altruism

To admire, envy even,

Knowing it’s as unavailable

As all those adult pastimes.

There’s this calm acceptance; a rising above.

I bet it’s cold on their moral high ground,

Looking down the map at the rest of Europe.

Smug b******s.


 

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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31 Responses to Travels with myself: Taking Stock-holm

  1. Mick Canning says:

    I think you’ve convinced me not to go to Stockholm, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. … and the Swedish royal family are so ordinary … I think I too would allow a toast thief to colour my view of a city.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Allie P. says:

    I love the picture of the waterway. Interesting artwork too, though not what I’d put on display in my home.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sacha Black says:

    lol, I rather like the sculptures though!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. willowdot21 says:

    It is the man in the blue shorts that terrifies me!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jan says:

    You always call as you find it! Good for you. I prefer Helsinki to Stockholm so it will be interesting to read your views!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I know there are bigger issues here and even bigger sculptures but you’re making me hungry for a piece of toast. Someone else’s, of course. It always tastes better.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rachel says:

    Wow, this sounds like a great place to explore! The poem was lovely as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. pagedogs says:

    I haven’t been there in many years, but I loved Stockholm and all its wateriness (but I love boats). You are right about the Vasa museum–it’s extraordinary.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lisa Reiter says:

    Ready made guided tour. Super post will share with the other half. It’s on a list of maybes and this might tip it one way!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Charli Mills says:

    An interesting trek, yet I think the best glimpse of this place comes from your poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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