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Hello, or as the Swedish say, Hej!

Update: I apologize for any spelling/grammar errors in my writing. This post was written quite fast due to time constraints. However, I am told by biased people that it is an interesting read.

It has been a while since I’ve posted. One might attribute it to writer’s block, or writer’s laziness, or general laziness, or any number of my character flaws that begin with the letter “L”, but regardless I cannot delay anymore. This blog was originally developed as a travel blog; therefore, it should be updated after every adventure. In summary, my mother is making me do it, but I’m doing it because I want to.

So, without further delay, let me tell you about Sweden.

Day One

I visited Sweden a few weeks ago (almost a month in fact) for a brief vacation, where I was graciously hosted by my relatives. My exploration began in the city of Uppsala, which is home to both the largest cathedral in Scandinavia, and the oldest university, Uppsala University. Not surprisingly, the two are co-located. We began with a tour of Gamla (“old”) Uppsala , the center of the old pagan religion of Scandinavia. Here one can find the site of an old pagan temple, which was later ‘converted’ to a large cathedral. Only a small church now remains, as the cathedral itself burned down in 1240 (thanks Wikipedia!), with most of the surviving sections moved to the new cathedral near Uppsala University. Near the church is a set of three large barrows. It is not known who was buried in these mounds but it has been speculated that these could be three kings of the Ynglings, or alternatively these are the gods Thor, Odin, and Freyr. Other than these sights, the area is largely plains and farmland. It is open, grassy, and peaceful … an older world.

The day continued with a visit to Uppsala University and entry into the cathedral and the Vasa Chapel , where King Gustav Vasa is buried, considered the founder of modern Sweden. Other members of his family, and several important Swedes are buried here as well. After viewing the cathedral we went to the Gustavianum, which was once the main university building but now serves as the university museum. Here I saw the Augsburg Art Cabinet dating back to the 17th century. The cabinet once housed an assortment of interesting artifacts from around the world; they are now openly displayed in the same room. I observed instruments used by famous Swedish scientists including Celsius, Ansgstrom, Berzelius. I saw the anatomical theater of Rudbeck where public dissections of corpses were once performed.

That same evening we arrived in Stockholm and went directly to the Royal Opera House for a symphonic concert. The building is gorgeous, and we sat in the main room with the painted ceiling, the chandeliers, and the red velvet seats. I saw the box reserved for the royals, left empty in their absence. During intermission the building was evacuated for an additional twenty minutes due to a fire drill. Fortunately, it seems to have been a false alarm, and I was able to hear the rest of the concert uninterrupted – Beethoven’s Symphony Eroica.

Day Two

We once again traveled to Stockholm and started with the Astrid Lindgren museum . Astrid Lindgren authored many children’s book including some from my childhood, like Pippi Longstocking and Karlsson on the Roof. The museum is primarily for children, but I was happy as a kid sitting on the Story Train, an amusement ride that takes you on a 3D panoramic adventure through Astrid’s stories.

We next visited the Vasa museum , the only ship from the 17th century ever salvaged almost completely intact. The ship, named after the aforementioned king, was the largest ever built at the time, with two gun decks and 64 cannons. The first word that came to my mind when I looked at it was “HUGE.” It sank a few miles from its launching point due to faulty design. The lesson here is that you cannot scale up a ship and add lots of heavy firepower without considering how this will affect the center of mass.

Plans to recover the ship had been made back in the 17th century, but the technology was not advanced enough to carry them out. It was not until the mid 20th century that the ship was lifted out of the water, in part because technology had advanced enough to do so but also because Sweden had the financial resources to do so as one of the wealthier nations in the years following the end of WWII. Interestingly, the cannons were so valuable that even back in the 17th century divers recovered many of them using nothing more than a diving bell to travel a depth of 32m under water … it’s crazy to think about it.

After the Vasa we went to the changing of the royal guards at the Royal Palace in Stochholm’s old town (Gamla stan). This was quite a treat. I had expected a quick ceremony, but instead spent forty minutes watching guardsmen march, switch places, furl and unfurl the flag, all with a marching band playing. At one point the marching band itself walked in front of the crowd and played three songs for us. It seems the changing of the guards also includes a free concert.

Following this ceremony we went inside the Royal Palace. Well, first we walked nearby to grab lunch, and I had a very traditional meal of Swedish meatballs, lingonberries and pickles. I am a big fan of this dish. The castle consists of the grand reception rooms, the royal throne, and the different decorations for the orders of chivalry. There are also several different museums inside. The treasury features royal decorations, jewelry and crowns. Apparently, there is such a thing as a funeral crown? The Museum Tre Kronor contains original walls and artifacts of Tre Kronor Castle which survived the fire that burned down the rest of the castle in 1697. Sadly, I was unable to see the Museum of Antiquities because of a right-wing EU demonstration that closed this museum for the day due to concerns for the works inside.

To end the day, we went to the Riddarholm church, resting place of many Swedish kings and royal knights including those of the modern day. Other important royals are also interred here. Every floor stone has an inscription, and on the walls are numerous statues and coats of arms.

Busy day, right?

Day Three

Monday arrived, and my solo adventure began, though largely influenced by recommendations from my relatives. The day involved a lot of walking, mostly because the distances were not too long and I enjoy walking when I can, but in part due to my laziness in figuring out which bus to take. I started the day in Stockholm City Hall where I climbed up 106m to the top of City Hall Tower to get a gorgeous 360 view of the city. I found myself able to see both the places I had been the day before and those I was to see later that day. Inside the tower are a collection of sculptures, mosaics, and other decorations. In particular there is an enormous statue of what looks to be a knight or maybe a saint, which really caught my eye. The climb itself is quite interesting with narrow passageways opening up onto large spaces with great views.

Next I walked by foot some unmeasured, but probably not too small number of miles/kilometers to the Nordic Museum which features exhibits exploring Nordic culture from its early history to present day. There are many varied exhibits here and it has been a few weeks, so it’s hard to describe in a scant few sentences, and my memory is starting to filling with gaps. But, in brief, I saw traditions for weddings, Easter celebrations, Christmas, etc. I saw some fashion and jewelry. I saw some dollhouses. I saw some furniture. I saw an exhibit on the culture of the Sami people. I saw a giant statue of Gustav Vasa ... there are many in Sweden.

After the museum I had another traditional dish for lunch, which consisted of roast beef, vegetables, and lots of mayonnaise. I then walked through a park of unknown name and found a pond with a statue of a boy with a fish in the middle. I then entered Skansen, the world’s oldest open-air museum.

Skansen is an interesting place. It doesn’t feel like a museum, but rather like a small village with a zoo attached to it. In one part you can find wolves, wolverines, moose, and seals. In another part you can find 16th century farmhouses and schoolhouses, a church, a windmill, a chicken coup, some horses, some sheep and goats and cows. The farmhouses have one or two people inside to tell you about how people lived hundreds of years ago. On some of the roofs I saw people putting up thatch, and not just pretending to do it. On the main street, or perhaps a main street -- I never quite figured out how to navigate the place and walked a lot of paths twice -- you can find waffles and ice cream and sausages and other sorts of food. Also, there was a gift shop, probably several. The walk in the fresh air and sunshine in the little village-zoo was very peaceful and relaxing, and reminded me of a Renaissance fair. I wish I had dressed in something more fitting, like a pair of breeches and a tunic, or whatever would qualify as appropriate 17th century Nordic attire. Alas, I stuck out like a 21st century American tourist. There was just no avoiding it.

Day Four

Day four marked the end of my Swedish adventure, but it was no less exciting. In the morning I decided to take it easy with a repeat visit to the Gamla Stan the Old Town of Stockholm. During my walk about town I went by a very fancy looking building with a statue of Gustav Vasa and a big lawn in front. The gates were all open which seemed like an invite, but the building was shut tight. This building turned out to be the House of Nobility, which was open to the public for only one hour each day. With a little time to kill before the aforementioned public viewing I took in the sunshine, had a coffee and a pastry in a café, visited a few random gift shops and one science fiction book store where I bought a book on writing by Ursula Le Guin, then I returned to the big building with the lawn and the gate.

And so, I found myself in Riddarhuset . The area open to the public was actually quite small, but we were able to see the Great Hall, which was once used for the assembly of Parliament and is currently where the Assembly of Nobles takes place. There is a beautiful painting on the ceiling which I am not sure how to describe except in a thousand words, and on the walls are the coat of arms of every noble family, shown in order by year of induction. Von Linné (Carl Linneaus) has his coat of arms here, but sadly I did not see it because I did not visit his garden and orangerium in Uppsala until later that day, and therefore did not know which number on the walls belonged to him. It didn’t occur to me to look for it even. I also went downstairs into the secret meeting room of the Swedish Riksdag where there are portraits of Lord-marshals.

After the house of nobility I went for lunch at a recommended restaurant that serves traditional Swedish cuisine, called Tradition. And I had what was called the “traditional meal.” The first part of the menu consisted of Black roe toast, Skagen and anchovies and egg on crackers. Part two was the Rydberg, which is basically steak and fried potatoes. Finally, I had an apple crumble with vanilla for dessert. It was all absolutely delicious, and I have to say I did not expect to enjoy the seafood appetizer as much as I did.

Full of fish, roe, and steak I walked over to the Nobel museum , which was hosting a special exhibit on Martin Luther King Jr, who won the Peace Prize in 1964. This exhibit discussed MLK’s history and his contribution to equality. It featured videos of his powerful speeches. It was also strange but pleasant for me to see this in Sweden, especially because I had been to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, only in April (sorry, I never wrote a post about my visit to Memphis). The rest of the museum consisted of the history of the nobel prize, a video montage, and items of significance provided by Nobel prize winners, ranging from hats, to equipment, and even some results from early experiments.

After the Nobel museum I hurried over to take the train back to Uppsala for the final leg of my Swedish journey at the Linnémuseet) . The museum of Carl von Linné consists of the house where he lived as resident professor, his garden where he planted the seeds of numerous plants, and his orangerium highlighting his and his proteges’ work classifying plants and animals. I learned about his early years, his family life, his work as a taxonomist, his knighthood, and his mentorship of students who traveled the world coming back with samples. But I am not going to give a history lesson as this post has already become very long. Although the season was not quite right to see much in the garden, my arrival late in the day gave the entire experience a surreal feel, as I was virtually alone in such an historic place.

And there you have it! My time in Sweden, as detailed as I could remember it despite the busy weeks since. I hope it was an enjoyable read.

Photos from Sweden

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