Trip Journal - Stockholm

Index button

Previous button

Next button

Stockholm - 04 June 1998

Photo of Daniel and Eva's house
After getting really lost, and realizing that we had already walked past the road where Daniel and Eva live, we finally arrived at their doorstep. (For those of you who don't know, Eva is Karin's sister, who was a foreign exchange student with Johnna's family.) A woman was there at the door and let us in. "Eva Holmberg?" I asked, hoping that the woman would know Eva, and tell me which apartment she lives in. The woman turned out to be Daniel's mother and she replied in perfect English, "Yes, Eva lives here. I am waiting for her too. She is late." More people kept arriving, all waiting for Eva, including a dog named Mr. Edison. All of them appeared to be related in some way to Daniel, and all the women were going to run a 5K race together that evening. It was a women-only race at the Stockholm University, and some 27,000 women ran it. Pretty impressive, although Paul and I opted not to go see it. All we desired was to rest a little, preferably horizontally and without packs on. So we stayed behind with the husband of one of the women, and his son, Henrik, and watched Sweden make the winning (and only) goal in the last minute in a friendly soccer match against Italy. Swedes are very passionate about their sports. They like to play them and they like to watch them. They can recite all the scores for all sports for the last 100 years, not just of their own teams, but everyone else's. Eva offered to let me run the race with her, because they had an extra ticket, but I begged off, saying that I couldn't run in hiking boots. (Heh, I didn't mention that actually I'm a slug and never run.)

After the race, everyone came back for dinner, and we all sat around the table in Eva and Daniel's living room. It was very crowded, happy and boisterous. I couldn't believe Paul and I were still awake, but we actually had a great time. Everyone talked about half the time in English and half the time in Swedish, and everyone was very nice. We must have looked a little comatose, though, because everyone left right after coffee and cake, at about 10:00. Paul and I finally were able to sleep, which we did until 1:00 the next afternoon!

We slowly got moving, feeling like we were moving underwater from jetlag, and went into Gamla Stan, which is the oldest part of Stockholm. Stockholm is a city situated on 14 islands, which makes for a very beautiful presentation. There is water and green everywhere. Right now, the lilacs and cherry trees are blooming. There are huge pansies everywhere. Gamla Stan (Old City) is the island right in the middle of Stockholm. King Carl Gustav's palace is there, the one where he receives important visitors, as well as the Parliament building. Interestingly, up until about 15 years ago, there was a male line of succession for the royal family. Then, when the eldest child, Victoria, was about three or four, and her little brother, who fully expected to be King one day, was a couple of years old, the Parliament changed the rule to the heir to the throne being the firstborn child, regardless of gender. So Victoria will be the next ruler instead of Philip. Poor Philip, but hooray for Victoria and equal rights!

Photo of Paul in the Old Town
After having walked around for a while looking at all the old buildings, and ancient wells in the town square, we started getting hungry and sought out a good place to eat. Paul found a little cafe in the cellar of an old building that was very quaint. The walls were all stone, and it felt like a cave. Even Paul and I had to duck under the arched ceilings. Near our table, there was a little fake fire. When we looked a little closer, we realized that the fire had been placed in a tiny, round stairwell, that must have once been the servants' stairs of the house. The door was about half-size, and either they made servants very small back then, or the life of a servant involved a lot of bending over. Paul and I ordered in Swedish, and were very proud that no one laughed at our bad pronunciation. Actually, everyone very charmingly ignores how badly we speak. I will say, "Hej, prater du Engelska?" (hi, do you speak English?) and nearly everyone will answer with something like, "Yes, but why ask, since you speak such good Swedish?" I totally eat it up. It's such a nice switch from Poland, where I was laughed at every time I opened my mouth. I love the Swedes.

Photo of Daniel and Eva
We took the subway back to Eva and Daniel's at about 6:00 because we had planned to go out with them that evening. But Daniel had to work late (he just started a new job in charge of the finances at his company. Unfortunately, the man who did his job before him was incompetent, and now Daniel is spending all his time trying to staighten out the books to the satisfaction of the British parent company.) So we stayed home, and Eva made us fresh pasta. She works for a company that owns a lot of restaurants and conference centers. She works in Personnel, recruiting people from all over Sweden, doing training, and negotiating with the unions, which are very strong in Sweden. A woman she works with is always getting free food samples that companies want their restaurants to buy. Hence the fresh pasta. Eva picked Daniel up from work at about 9:00 and we all hung out and had a couple of beers and popcorn. Daniel showed us the brochure for the house they want to buy. It's really a seller's market in Sweden. In most cases, a house is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The owner sets a suggested price, they have a showing, then they solicit bids. Eva and Daniel are afraid they won't be able to bid high enough to get the house. There were about a hundred people at the showing.

Photo of Stockholm from Mäster Michaels Gatan
The next day, we were up before Eva and Daniel, who get up and out the door in under 15 minutes. It's very impressive. We were gone by 9:30 and went to find out when our train to Malmö would leave the next day. When we left the train station, it was raining. As seems to have been my habit since we left the States, I was improperly dressed, in shorts and a t-shirt and no jacket. But what are you going to do? Miss seeing Stockholm? Our only concession to the rain was that we decided not to take the boat to Drottningholm (Queen's Palace), which is in the Archipeligo, since we'd have had a terrible time and view in the rain. But we'll try to do it again when we are back in Stockholm at the end of the month.

We ate breakfast in a little cafe, and have come to the conclusion that if we eat in a cafe, it'll cost us $10.00, no matter what we order. That's just what it costs for two of anything. After breakfast, we walked in the rain along Strandvägen, which is the most exclusive, residential street in Stockholm. There is a wonderful promenade between the two sides of the street, with a double row of Linden trees on either side of the walkway. The street is right on the harbor, and there are lots of ships and a nice view of the rest of Stockholm across the water.

All of a sudden, we saw the Swedish Royal Guard riding around the corner. It was a procession of three separate groups of about 25 men on horses, looking very regal in blue uniforms with silver tassels and helmets. All the horses were brown and the whole thing was accompanied by marching music. It was quite impressive. We found out later that the procession occurs each day when they have the changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace. We tried to take pictures, but they didn't come out. Sorry... Strandvägen goes right to DjurGården, the island that originally was the Royal Game Park. There is still an animal park there (which is what DjurGården means) but there is also an open air museum devoted to the old Swedish ways (Skansen), the Nordic museum, and the coolest of all, the Vasa Museum.

The Vasa was a warship that was commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf in 1625 to be used in the war against Prussia. On a sunny, windless day in 1628, with the King waiting in Prussia, the ship made its maiden voyage. It was supposed to meet the King in Prussia, but unfortunately, a wind came up and it foundered and sank just 20 minutes and 1300 m into the voyage. (D'oh!) When you walk into the museum, you walk through an airlock, and enter into a warm, moist, dark and very controlled environment. The ship was raised nearly (96%) whole from the sea, and is placed in its entirety in the museum. From where you first walk in, all you can see is a massive ship, covered with very intricate carvings. The ship is 53 meters tall from keel to mast-top. It's an incredibly impressive sight.

When she sank, the Vasa went straight down, keel first into the sea around the Archipeligo. It's not known how many people were on board when she sank, because the families of the sailors and soldiers on board had been permitted to ride along until the outer islands of the Archipeligo. Then they were to be offloaded, and 130 soldiers would have boarded. Twenty-five humans skeletons and one feline skeleton were found on board when the ship was raised, but it is believed that about 50 people died when the Vasa sank.

The top rails and masts were still visible after she sank, and they were cut off, so as not to remind people of the terrible tragedy, and also, so that ships would be able to get through. After a while, no one could remember where the ship was. In 1956, after years of searching, Anders Franzen found the Vasa. In 1961, she was raised. She had been in the water for 333 years.

It was fortunate for future generations that the Vasa sank when she did because there is brackish water in the Archipeligo off of Stockholm. The Teredo Navalis, or the ship worm, which eats the wood of sunken ships, can't live in brackish water. Also, the ship settled in 30 meters of water, which was low enough below the ice to keep the ship in one piece. So the Vasa looks almost exactly like she did when she sank. Even some of the sails have been preserved. Only the ropes disintegrated.

Because there were no blueprints used at the time the Vasa was built, it was considered vitally important to find and raise the Vasa, so that future generations would know how ships were built back then. That should give you a small clue as to why the Vasa sank. There were no plans.

Ships were built by Guild members who each had their own set of secret, very general calculations. These tables of calculations were passed down from father to son, but no one else. So men working on the same ship might not have the same sets of calculations. Then, the originally conceived design was changed because the King learned that the Danish King had two gun decks on his ship, so another gun deck was added. This made the ship impossibly top-heavy. Twenty percent of the ship was below the water and 80% above. The tests in the harbor for seaworthiness had to be stopped because if they had continued them, the ship would have sunk right in the harbor, and they couldn't have that, because the ship had cost four percent of that year's harvest, and the King had already left for Prussia and was expecting the ship to meet him there.

An investigation was performed after the ship sank, and it was found that no one was drunk, since the ship set sail on a Sunday, and it was still a sin to drink on Sunday, and the ballast (stones in the hull for weight and balance) was fine. So it was considered a no-fault crime. The Vasa was just built wrong. The light gun decks were also built incorrectly. There would have been no way that the soldiers could have reloaded their guns, because the space was too small. When the ship was raised, chamber pots were found in the light gun decks, so presumably, the sailors and soldiers found an alternative use for the space.

For all that, the Vasa is really impressive to see, and it's incredible for Americans to imagine that the ship they are seeing in front of them is over 300 years old. The ship was so well preserved that they found butter still in its wooden box when they raised the ship. Of course it wasn't edible anymore...

After the Vasa, we headed outside. Our next stop was the high cliffs of Stockholm, which in olden times was where all the poor people were forced to live, since no one who could afford to live elsewhere would deign to climb the many steps to the top of the cliffs. The city finally put in a wood and steel elevator, but it still cost too much for the poor people to use, and so the only real result was that it became a more fashionable area for the middle class, but the poor people still continued to have to walk up. At one time, all the houses were wooden, but there was a huge fire in the 1700s, when almost all of the houses in the poor district were burnt down. Later, a law was promulgated that made it illegal to build and new wooden houses. There are still a few old wooden houses in the poor district, and they were what we intended to see. Of course, now there is a road that leads up to the top of the cliffs, but Paul and I walked up the stairs. It's quite a hike.

Photo of Paul in Mäster Michaels Gatan

The street where all the houses are is right on the edge of the cliffs. The people who live there must have a great view of the other islands from their diminutive and now very crooked houses. They are built so close together though, that I don't think they have any privacy. The street is called Mäster Michaels Gatan. Mr. Michael was an executioner while he lived. Maybe the poor people named the street after him in the hopes that he would give the people lighter sentences?

We thought we'd check out the Medeltid Museet (Medieval Museum), which is located under one of the bridges into Gamla Stan, but when they got there, we were informed that they would close at 4:00, which was in 10 minutes. We figured we could come back the next day, before our train to Malmö at 11:30, but they told us they didn't open until 11:00! So we decided to eat lunch instead, and chose a little cafe in the middle of a little square with an old water pump in the middle. There is also a statue of a funny man who is wearing a three piece suit and an overcoat over his shoulders. He has on glasses or sunglasses and is holding them by the arm while he looks up at some unspecified thing. We watched as Danes, Germans, Americans and Asians all took turns posing with the statue. One man took great pains to dress up exactly as the statue and was quite theatrical with his pose. You will notice that there is not picture of Paul or Johnna posing with this statue...

The next stop is Malmö. Stay tuned for the next installment!