Stockholm (Part I) - Aug 18-20
Aug 20, 2010
|August 18, 2010
We actually had something to get up for this morning but thankfully it wasn’t anything too strenuous. After getting up, getting showered and packing our stuff up we started to head out for the walk to the bus station. It hadn’t rained a drop all morning or even looked like it but as we started to go out the heavens opened. I looked out on the balcony and the skies looked blue overhead so I reckoned the rain would blow over in 10 minutes or so and so we waited it out. It did indeed stop pretty soon and we were grateful we weren’t going to get soaked walking to the station as this would’ve meant sitting on a bus wet for seven hours, too!
At the bus station we picked up a couple of things to accompany the cheese sandwiches we’d made and the massive bar of chocolate Goy had bought for us! Rather healthily, we had a hot dog and Coca-Cola for breakfast and bought a couple of cakes for later on. I’m not sure we’d normally have hot dogs for breakfast anywhere else in the world but they were on a special offer here were you got that and a bottle of coke for a bargain 28 Swedish Krone ($4)!
The bus was spot on time and we found a couple of seats and settled in. The bus was reasonably comfortable and we were both able to sleep for a while on it as. It stopped a couple of times before Stockholm and despite some traffic we got to Stockholm just on time.
We had a 15 minute walk to the hostel we were staying at and when we got there they had already closed reception. This was really annoying as I had emailed ahead of time to check opening hours and they had said 7.15pm (the first email said 6pm but the website said 8pm hence the clarification). There was someone there when we got there but he was quite short with us for not using the door code we’d been given and just gave us our sheets and told us we’d have to check in properly in the morning now as reception did indeed close at 6pm. In Swedish hostels we have also found out that bed linen is not included in your room rate and you can either use your own or pay for the privilege of using the linen provided by the hostel. Who the hell carries their own bed linen when they go on holiday? Needless to say, we hired the hostel’s linen.
I had a quick shower as I felt sweaty and scummy and then we went out for some dinner and to get our Stockholm museum cards. We had found a hotel near us which sold them but when we got there they had sold out so we will have to get them early tomorrow morning now. For dinner we had Thai food – I think having spent three nights with Claus and Goy talking about Thailand had made both of us think about it and we were lucky to find somewhere close by and serving pretty good green curries! After a quick stop at the grocery store for breakfast and lunch stuff for tomorrow we headed back to the hostel to get a good night of sleep before going museum crazy for the next three days, assuming we can get our museum passes early on!
Our dorm room is one of the smallest we’ve stayed in and 10 beds in here is just a couple too many. There is no room for bags to be stored and of course everyone has a bag of some kind. There is hardly any room to walk through the room either when all the bags are laid out. On top of this, the hostel is based in the basement which means the rooms are stuffy and hot and there is no natural light. I bet this is where vampires stay when they come to Stockholm.
August 19, 2010
When the alarm went off this morning it was almost hard to believe it was time to get up. The guy opposite me was snoring until around 2am which meant I didn’t get much sleep and the pitch darkness in the room made me wonder if it was really 8am or still the middle of the night. It seemed once again though that Elizabeth had gotten bitten during the night and given that I haven’t got any we wondered if it was bedbugs. This was really annoying as it meant that she was uncomfortable all day long as she was scratching and it really made nonsense of the warnings around the hostel ensuring everyone uses proper and clean sheets on their beds.
After getting our early start to ensure we could check in at the hostel straight away, we headed into the city to find the main tourist information centre and get our Stockholm cards. We were able to get 72 hour ones although we found out when we where there that there were 120 hour ones available, too. Unfortunately we’d booked a trip to Birka on Sunday which wasn’t included with the cards so a 5 day pass wouldn’t have been as good for us.
Our first stop on our pass was Skansen, an open air museum full of houses reconstructed from times past from around Sweden. Many of the buildings were not actually open yet and so we just spent our time wandering around them and being completely under-whelmed by the entire place! Whilst wandering around we saw a number of snails amongst the wet grass and I took the opportunity to get down close in and get some pictures. The different ones we saw and the different shell patterns were really amazing even if the creatures themselves are a bit slimy! We were soon amongst the “Scandinavian animals” section, however, and this was quite a bit more interesting as we got to see such rare creatures as pigs and cows. It was at this point that I said that Scandinavian animals really suck and Elizabeth found this funny as not only did she laugh she also snorted! I think she blamed one of the pigs. In fairness, there were also reindeer, elk, eagle owls and brown bears which were a bit more impressive and there were even some elk which were just a few months old. You’d never have guessed how young they were based on their size though. After passing some old farm buildings, a couple of windmills, a manor house and a church we stopped for lunch. This was, of course, home-made sandwiches with, of course, cheese and salami!
Inside Skansen they have their own aquarium and this is a separate admission fee. It was included within our Stockholm pass so we decided it couldn’t be any less interesting than Skansen itself (I do jest a little; it wasn’t that bad!). The aquarium wasn’t very much of an aquarium really and hardly contained any fish at all, in fact. It did have a wide variety of other things which were really cool though. The first few exhibits were different monkeys and they had some pygmy marmosets which Elizabeth found really cute. They had a walk-through area full of lemurs where they were free to roam around and jump all over you. One took the opportunity to tell me I was too close and jumped right into my leg before bounding away. A “guard” stood watch with a water spray to ensure nothing untoward happened but it was so funny watching the lemurs bounding around, sitting around and just generally getting in the way. From there we also saw a large group of meerkats, including some which were very young. They popped their heads out of the nest area and gradually worked up the courage to come out. They followed the adult lead and tried to mimic them, too, by standing on their hind legs to get a better view. As they weren’t so strong and developed, it was amusing watching them slide around and fall over, not quite making the bigger jumps the adults were. Amongst the other things in the aquarium were a couple of crocodiles, a few tanks of tropical fish (we found Nemo, as always!) and then a wide range of tortoises, ground squirrels (chipmunks), snakes, lizards, poisonous frogs and spiders. Some of the tarantulas were absolutely massive and I must say it really is one of the things I am scared of. I’m not so scared that I can’t face them and I did have the girl in Cambodia put two large tarantulas on my shirt but I’m not so sure I’d be too happy having to handle them. I did touch one at the end though which I thought was awfully brave of me! I shouldn’t be worried really as growing up my mother was terrified of spiders and with my father working away from home during the week it invariably fell on me to dispose of something eight-legged when my mother screamed. Still, those spiders we get in the house in England (apart from one instance I clearly remember) are nowhere near as big and hairy as these buggers!
The next stop after Skansen was one that we hadn’t originally intended to visit. We had expected Skansen to take most of the day but it was barely lunchtime when we’d finished! Very close to Skansen is the Vasamuseet. Inside the museum is a reconstruction of a royal warship called Vasa which was intended to be a major part of the Swedish Navy but which sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628. In fact, she didn’t even make it out of Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage. It lay in about 30 metres of water in the harbour until it was salvaged in 1961 and bought back to dry land. Due to the tides, or lack of to be precise, in the harbour the boat was well preserved and was able to be easily preserved. The museum covers around 7 floors and you enter on the fourth one which brings you in immediately at eye-level with the amazing ship. It is truly huge and looks like something straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with ornate and elaborate wooden carved sculptures along the sides and at the back and a significant number of holes along the sides of the upper decks for the cannons to poke out of. Even going up to the seventh floor you were not at the top but only level with the main deck. Above here rose the masts. It was so great to be up close to this amazing “wreck” and see first-hand what a ship such as this really looked like. As a diver, it made me a little sad that it wasn’t still under 30 metres of water where it could be explored in the state it had been in for about 300 years but given it is the only ship of its kind left in such a complete state (95% of the vessel is original) it seems fair that more people should get to experience it.
Despite the immense size of Vasa, we did not take too long to go around and so decided to try and fit some more stuff in. Taking advantage of our Stockholm cards, we hopped aboard the Hop-On Hop-Off Boat which took us around some of the harbour including the spot where the Vasa had met her watery demise and to the edge of the water by the Royal Palace. We’d taken the water route of transportation as we wanted to go to Fotografiska, one of the world’s largest photography museums. The building housing Fotografiska is an old industrial warehouse from the early 20th century and that itself is pretty impressive. Inside the gallery they have a number of rotating temporary exhibits and at the current time there were five that we were able to see. The first of these exhibits was called A Child is Born by Lennart Nilsson. In 1965 Nilsson became the first person to successfully photograph the foetus inside the womb and as a result of his experimentation with cameras and microscopes he was able to produce high-resolution and amazingly high quality pictures of the development of human life. The photographs were not only considered art but they were also a huge breakthrough in medicine, too. The pictures were originally published in LIFE magazine and they claim their production run of 8 million copies sold out in just a few days, making it one of their most important editions alongside the assassination of JFK and the moon landing. The photos themselves were truly amazing and showed maybe more detail than some would care to see including eggs moving along the fallopian tubes, sperm “swimming” along, sperm entering the egg and the egg fusing with the womb. More stunning, however, were the pictures of the foetus as it grew, showing the growth of the spine and skull and quite clearly visible were the veins inside the unborn child. The pictures went right up to 36 weeks where the baby was so cramped inside the womb it was surely ready to come out. Actually, there was one of childbirth itself so I guess there was one beyond 36 weeks! I know I keep saying it but these pictures were amazing and probably one of the best exhibits of photography I’ve ever seen.
The second and third exhibits were by Vee Speers and Anders Petersen, respectively. Speers’ collection was entitled The Birthday Party and featured a number of children dressed in fancy dress for a party. She sought to costume the children quite theatrically and many of the children look like mini adults, such as the way children were often dressed in the past for family portraits. She also saw them reflecting roles that adults play (mother, father, nurse, soldier). The photos were interesting, most notably the nurse who held a broken doll, and made you think of how children take in their surroundings and how every day things can influence them. Petersen is one of Sweden’s most famous photographers and his series of pictures called From Back Home is supposed to be his reminiscence of his teenage years, living in a sparsely populated region with a whole variety of characters. Many of the things remind you of things you see yourself and maybe even don’t consider to be of much importance but for Petersen they took him back to his youth. He didn’t just use strangers in his pictures but also family and friends which certainly added a personal touch to it. The most amusing photo however was a man sat in a car staring out into the rain. This picture wouldn’t normally raise much interest although in this case the man is wearing some strange mask almost like The Joker!
The fourth exhibit was the main one and was by Annie Leibovitz, one of the world’s best known photographers. In 2005 she started compiling some of her pictures to document the previous 15 years of her life and these pictures were not only those she had taken for her regular work but also included many personal ones, including ones of her family and her best friend. The mixture of pictures was really amazing and really touching, too, as on display were such pictures as the Demi Moore Vanity Fair pregnancy photos mixed in with pictures she took of her friend and father who both tragically died within weeks of one another within the period and onto the birth of her own children. It was such a unique mix of the personal and private and working life of a famous artist and with the aid of the personal photos you were really able to get a better idea of some of her thoughts behind the portraits and images she took of those more famous. Compared to the photography exhibits we saw a couple of weeks back which just included pictures from magazines, this exhibit was meaningful, touching and very, very personal.
The final exhibit was by Joel-Peter Witkin and was entitled Bodies. In an attempt at being controversial, the pictures seem to push the boundaries of what we perceive as sexual and physical beauty… or so the introduction made us believe. His pictures featured people who are supposedly on the “margins of society such as the prostitute” and “people whose bodies challenge the physical norm such as handicapped individuals and dwarfs”. Witkin, again according to the introduction, feels like he is like his models and subjects and considers himself one of them. I guess the idea is that the viewer would have the same feeling by provoking some kind of feeling from within. Along with these pictures of fetishists, dwarfs, handicapped people and “sideshow freaks”, he also showcased a number of controversial photographs featuring human remains. He began experimenting with dead bodies when he was given permission to photograph a head which had been donated for scientific research and he has continued along a similar track with other body parts. In all honesty, I think the pictures were created for shock value and I think the artist did want to make people consider themselves in some of the roles or to provoke thought amongst the audience but I don’t think this occurred here. Part of me wonders if this is a product of society nowadays in that there is very little of shock value any longer. Even the video we saw in Copenhagen of the girl peeing in a cup wasn’t shocking – it was just disgusting. Witkin, in my mind, didn’t even achieve that as photos of body parts aren’t shocking or disgusting and neither are pictures of the “margins of society”.
Overall, I thought the gallery and the exhibits shown were excellent and I was so glad we came here. We weren’t planning on coming here originally but I can easily say this is one of the best museums or galleries we’ve visited in quite a while.
From there we decided that enough was enough for one day and we hopped back on the boat and followed it around until the last stop. It had just started to rain a little so we got the underground train the last couple of stops back to the hostel where we were glad to put our feet up for a few minutes before heading for dinner. We decided we wanted pizza and had seen a nice Italian place near the Thai restaurant we’d eaten at the other night. It had looked pricey though so we decided to check the one opposite the hostel first and given the pizzas were half the price we went for the cheap option. I had a kebab pizza which was massive and covered in all the wonderful delights you’d usually find in pita bread with the shaved meat, salad, chilli sauce, garlic sauce… mmm! Yummy! Elizabeth went for the Mexican option which looked equally good and we both shamelessly finished every last scrap and waddled back over the road to pick up some drinks before falling into our dorm rooms.
August 20, 2010
Elizabeth woke this morning and was covered in more bites and was in a lot of discomfort. Some of her previous bites had swelled up and were really itchy so we decided to complain to reception. The girl at the hostel was really unhelpful and said we’d have to wait and see the manager. Given we didn’t have much time to use our Stockholm cards we told her we couldn’t wait around all day and she would have to pass the message on and we would speak to the manager another time later in the week.
We left the hotel after breakfast and walked down to the riverside to the City Hall to get a boat to Drottningholm. The boat wasn’t free but we did get 50% off with our cards and we worked out we must’ve already saved more than the card originally cost, meaning we’d got excellent value already and we hadn’t even paid our entry to the palace and buildings actually at Drottningholm yet!
Once at Drottningholm we had a sit down for a while and Elizabeth was really upset. She wasn’t comfortable at all with her bites and going between hot and cold places made them particularly irritable. It is all well and good asking for a refund for the nights you are affected but how do you properly compensate or be compensated for the time you feel you lose during the day due to the discomfort?
We got to the palace just in time for the guided tour so we decided to join that and see what it showed us and told us before deciding whether to walk around on our own. Of the 200+ rooms in the palace at Drottningholm only 25 are open to the public as the current Swedish Royal family actually live here. It had previously been built as a summer palace by one of the royal queens and at the beginning was only used during the warmer months. The original palace burnt down and the current palace was built not long after, taking some 40 years to be completed. Various kings and queens have owned the property and used it for different means but it wasn’t long before the royal family could no longer afford to repay the government for the money they borrowed to build it and it was taken into ownership by the state but the royal family are still allowed to use it under an agreement made. The tour around the palace told of the various rooms used by the queen to entertain guests and showed a number of the family portraits around the various rooms. One large room had a number of portraits of other ruling monarchs from one particular period, including Queen Victoria. These had been commissioned by the king at the time and he had sent out details to an artist in each country of the exact dimensions and specifications of the picture he wanted. Given Sweden’s royal family was not seen as being amongst the higher echelons of royals in those periods, it seems funny that the Swedish king would want pictures of all these powerful monarchs surrounding him.
The tour of the palace had been just under an hour and the guide was really good and told us a lot of stuff about it so we didn’t feel the need to go back through any other rooms. Besides, none of the rooms had any explanations in them in any language, let alone English, so we didn’t think we’d get anything from them. After the tour, we ate our lunch and then tried to go into the theatre but this was only allowed by guided tour and we had just missed one. We got a ticket for the next one and instead decided to go to the Chinese Pavilion. The complex here at Drottningholm is another site which is world heritage listed and the three main buildings (palace, theatre, Chinese pavilion) make up the majority of this. The brochure explained that the listing as a world heritage site was more due to the pavilion and theatre than the main palace. We thought that made sense as the palace certainly wasn’t anything much different to lots of other similar things we’ve seen. However, it didn’t make much sense when we reached the Chinese Pavilion as the building was tiny and typical of Euro-Chinese decorations. The decorations were nothing like they would’ve been in China and were very gaudy and over the top. It wasn’t very big either and there was nothing here to explain or demonstrate why it would be so highly regarded by UNESCO.
We walked back through the gardens and got some lovely views of the back of the palace and the fountains around the manicured lawns. You got some nice views of the palace from the front but here you had no people in the way as a large part of the lawns were cordoned off from the public. Back at the Drottningholm Theatre we were just in time for our guided tour and we went inside. The guide told of the history of the theatre and that is was the idea of one of the queens. She had originated from Germany and when she arrived in Sweden she wrote home that “the dancers were handicapped, the actors were blind and the singers deaf”! She decided to try to educate and promote the arts in Sweden and so decided to build this theatre. She commissioned an architect and forced him to pay for around half of the costs. As a result, one of the first rooms was the room where he slept and lived and the room next door was where his maid lived! The entire structure is wooden but most of it is painted to look like it was stone or in some cases even expensive marble! Inside the theatre itself the room seemed really dark and this was because the modern lighting had been chosen to reflect how it would’ve been. The theatre was “taken over” by Gustav III when he became king and he constantly had productions and shows at the theatre. He even acted in some himself until he was told by a foreign dignitary that it was not the role of a head of state to be on stage. Ironically, Gustav III was assassinated whilst watching a theatre production in Stockholm and after that date the theatre at Drottningholm was rarely used. In the early 1900s it was being used as a storage room until one man discovered the hidden theatre and requested to the current royal family and government if he could restore it. It was restored exactly as it was when it was built and even all the sets which were discovered were restored and to this date only 12 different sets are used by the theatre. They are copies of the original but there are still just the 12 of them ranging from forest to mountain to city landscapes. One of the main reasons the site was granted world heritage status is due to the old winches and pulleys which are used to move the sets around, lower items from the ceiling and to activate the trapdoors in the floor. Unfortunately, the theatre has deemed these too fragile to be viewed constantly so we didn’t get to see them. The theatre was exactly symmetrical to ensure the sound carried evenly and this even extended to false doors being built into the walls to replicate the real ones opposite.
It was really cool to see the theatre and the palace, too, but it is difficult to see why they are listed as a world heritage site, especially without having seen the old wooden pulleys in the theatre. There was definitely nothing of note in the Chinese Pavilion that justified the listing. I could probably count on my fingers the number of world heritage sites we’ve visited which are worthy of the title but if and when we are close to them we always try and visit them as you never know of you might uncover a gem.
We got the boat back to the city and went back to hostel to check on our complaint about the beds but the manager was not around again. The guy at reception was a lot more helpful and sympathetic than the girl this morning and he phoned the manager and said that she would be around first thing tomorrow to see us. They had changed Elizabeth’s sheets though and it looked like she had a new pillow and blanket, too.
As we were back earlier than expected we decided to try and squeeze something else in and so we went to a viewing tower in the south of the city called the Globe. When we got there it didn’t look very impressive as most of the surrounding buildings seemed higher than the top level and so we weren’t too disappointed when we found out the tickets were sold out for the day and that we couldn’t buy them in advance for tomorrow! Oh well, never mind! It was annoying though that it had taken us 45 minutes to get out here for nothing but at least that meant we’d wasted some time and were both hungry so back into the centre we headed. We went to a restaurant called Hansen’s for dinner and although it was quite expensive we had picked up a 2 for 1 voucher. It was a vegetarian place and did a buffet which included a whole load of different grilled vegetables. It was really tasty and a nice change to some of the other things we’ve had recently. As we were finishing up a band came on and were playing some excellent jazz/blues music and the place seemed like quite a locals hang out with everyone knowing everyone else. I guess this was the place to be on a Friday night! The restaurant had a great setting as well as a great range of dishes. It was directly above the Fotografiska gallery we had been to yesterday and gave some lovely views over the harbour.
On our way back to the underground station we stopped briefly at Katarina’s lift which takes you to a small viewing platform above the river and harbour areas and we got some views over the harbour as the sun went down. Stockholm is a very pretty city and would be much nicer if the weather could make its mind up!
Back at the hostel we both got stuck into our travel journals, realizing we’d had a couple of really full days we needed to write about. We had a few new people in our room too and the snorer from last night had gone and been magically replaced by another. I guess the chance of a snorer in a ten bed dorm room is pretty high!