Stockholm - more winter action

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Sweden  , Stockholm,
Monday, January 23, 2006

Stockholm is one of those cities that really needs further investigation. It's quite decentralised meaning there is a lot of interesting stuff in various quarters around town. And despite the country itself being reasonably small in terms of land area and population (about 9 mil. residents in total), it has an incredibly rich history and has influenced western civilisation in many ways throughout the past thousand years. As an example, most people don't realise that the Normans - those guys from the province of a similar name in France that ended up conquering Britain, Western Europe and large parts of Italy in the 11th and 12th centuries AD - were originally largely Swedish in origin. Hence the large bodily frames, blue eyes and blonde/red hair found in these regions in more modern times.

Nowadays Sweden is very politically experimental and progressive, invariably seen as a 'neutral' country and who often act as mediators in various intractable disputes that have plagued humankind over the last century years. As the capital of this urbane nation, even recalcitrant countries like Syria have an embassy in Stockholm (certainly handy for visa applications) so out of all western cities it seems to be one that maintains a perfect mixture of quaint medieval fort, high tech national hub and global forum that should draw techno travellers from every continent. In this round about way I say count me in for more browsing.

Once again I started in Gamla Stan - Old Town centre discussed in greater detail in the 15 January entry. I concentrated on the immediate area of the Nobel Academia square and as usual with these types of places there is so many things to see that you notice an entirely different town the second time around. AlI can say is come here and just look - the shops, the facades, lanes and squares - you won't be disappointed.

I had lunch with Dr Hanna, a veteran of the Perhentian Islands campaign last September. It was great to see her again in between heavy 18 hour shifts at the Sodermalm hospital so thanks for the effort mate. Somehow towards the end of lunch she signed me up for a spot on Channel 4's "Dancing with the Stars" program. The camera rolled so I ended up saying names, holding up a paddle with a score out of ten, and generally looking goofy for Friday night prime time TV. Cheers for that Hanna :-p

Back to the point - the main reason I was here for though was to see a couple of museums that Ains and I didn't get to see last week because of some crazy not-open-on-Mondays policy every museum here has. To make up for this they also have a free-entry-during-January policy and as I promised to go see and get some photos, here they now are.

The Medeltidmuseum came into existence because some bright spark wanted to build a car park underneath the Parliament building on the teeny central island of Helgeandsholemen, which is so close to Gamla Stan you could pee on it from across the canal. Due to the quality and variety of medieval artefacts found during the excavations, Stockholm got a new museum instead of a bunch of parking spaces for spoilt MPs. Seems there's a first and only time for everything...

Out the front is a statue of some naked guy looking like he's just popped out of a sauna and going to go for a snow roll. I took a shot from the back side so no-one gets offended, but if you're trying to find the underground museum look for him and you're almost there. Inside the first thing you see is a reproduction of a very cute old painting showing the first image of Stockholm painted back in the 16th century. The rings around the stars above were considered high wizardry so it is a wonder the painting actually survived

The big stuff is impressive - actual sections of wall used to protect the original city of Stockholm, frames of large boats used to ply the surrounding waters, collections of defensive weaponry and exhibits about certain aspects of life such as 'Gallows Hill' - darkly mood lit, explained in graphic detail and accompanied by spooky sound effects that would freak most young children for a night or two to come.

Probably more interesting however are the little details - the wall of shoes dating from the 14th to 17th centuries, a range of tools used by the local smiths, the exhibits showing traditional living quarters (no bigger than a large shoebox) and the hut which looked for all intents and purposes like a model of Stockholm's first sauna (top right). I doubt it was but the caption was in Swedish only so I can't tell you what it it actually is. The museum does well to paint a picture of real life in a medieval town, unlike any other I have been to as yet, so what seems a little religious initially ends up being an interesting hour spent below water level, certainly worth a look whilst you're doing palatial sites in the vicinity.

Speaking of palaces, not much in the central Royal Palace was open, but the Royal Armoury was around the back so I popped in for a free look. There are no crown jewels on display here but the collection of regal weaponry, armour, dress and transport is also unlike anything I've seen elsewhere in Europe and definitely worth a peek once you find the place. Many exhibits have audio commentary attached which helps you zone out from the crowds that seem to swarm around no matter what the season. The only downside I found was the dank lighting, but I suppose I'm getting used to it with exhibitions in this part of the world. Oh well.

A final highlight of my Stockholm frolics was a trip to Globen's big dome to see an Ice Hockey match. Coo-ol! Hockey is a national past-time and the main sporting interest across the length and breadth of Sweden. And I must say for what's seen as an American invention it's actually quite exciting, holding all the elements of a true blokes blood sport.

Play was fast and furious, slap shots resounded off the backboards and protective perspex on a regular basis, there was a scuffle or two and the away team (not from the Stockholm area) had a penalty shot a couple of minutes before the final bell, while the scores were even at 1-1. Stockholm's goal keeper saved the shot and the game went into an extra time, sudden death playoff. In the end the Stockholm team slotted a set play shot to win, sending the local fans into rapturous jubilation. Nice work indeed although I doubt every game is quite that exciting. Great to see though.

Which wraps up Stockholm for another visit. I have a few more interesting and partially crazy things to do in the surrounding countryside so read on.

Next entry -> Ice antics in Munso and surrounds

Great Brands of the World

This is possibly the best business in the world -bar none. From what I've seen, Swedish people are some of the biggest drinkers in the world and this is the company that supplies a large proportion of the liquor they consume.

Introducing System Bolaget (pron. System Bolarget). It's a government owned (or at least controlled) organisation that has the monopoly on bulk alcohol sales from one end of Sweden to the other, comprising of hundreds of franchises across the country. There are no independent suppliers selling bulk liquor at the retail level.

The brand itself is pretty shit but when you consider the ramifications of this particular monopoly, who cares? It's a licence to print money and every drinker from the age of 18 is your customer, no matter if they want to be or not. Brilliant. My only question is where can I buy some shares?
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