What We Saw in Stockholm

We spent seven days in Stockholm.

  • Vasa Museet: This is a museum designed around a ship called Vasa, built in Stockholm in the early 1600s. It was to be a crusading vessel that frightened its enemies with its glory – and its cannons. The king who commissioned her presided over the ceremony of her departure, and she set out to sea, with 350 men on board. However, the ship builders had a similar level of experience with engineering as I do, and they built it to be too top-heavy. Vasa ShipThe ship sank before it even left the harbor. I like to think that they forgot to calculate the weight of the lion and angry cherub iron ornamentation (of scare-mongering fame), though B says I’m being silly. Technology being what it wasn’t, it sat undisturbed at the bottom of the Stockholm harbor for 333 years before it was raised and salvaged. The preservation work of the 1960s was fairly impressive, and they say the ship is 98% original – though B and I debated whether that was by weight, by surface area, or by piece count. This museum is a must-see on each Stockholm list I read, and it was a pretty cool place, though perhaps not the earth-shattering experience they prepared me for. Aside from staring at the ship and its ornamental statues, you can also see artifacts from the time, and even a simulated cannon bay. I particularly enjoyed the exhibit on maritime methods of punishment, including an especially classy one in which a sailor was tied up and passed beneath the ship three times. It turned out that every time a ship came into port, each town tried to deposit its miscreants on board, explaining the need for ‘strict discipline,’ as they called it. Forcible swimming with the fishies was a popular method.
  • Fotografiska Museet: This contemporary photography museum is one in which the exhibits on offer while you’re there can make a big difference. It’s certainly a commentary on my lack of artistic vision that at least three of the featured photographers did nothing for me. One was a famous Swedish photographer who dresses up in a 1950s nurse costume to visit various locales, as a means of juxtaposing that character with the setting. The idea of this nurse in an abandoned German sanitorium, symbolizing that help came too late, might have beeen interesting; the execution, however, lost me. Why did she need to be in the same exact pose in ten different rooms of said building, which had no identifying marks to help tell its story? Turns out she had done a similar photo series in New York City, where the photos show a whole host of New Yorkers completely ignoring her. Ah, 1990s New York city where a 1950s nurse would be one of the more normal things you had encountered. I will avoid commenting on the other two exhibits which befuddled me, lest I continue to show my aesthetic ignorance. However, there was also an extensive exhibit in which a South American photographer traveled to the more remote parts of the world for eight years, capturing what he saw. In my opinion, his black-and-white photos of small tribes in Africa, glaciers and mountains in the Americas, and lesser-known animals were well-composed, well-lit and interestingly-described. I could keep describing the other exhibits, but I think I’ve likely already lost everyone but my cousin.
  • Old City (Gamla Stan) Walking Tour: This was a free walking tour, led by a pregnant guide in her early 30s. This island is home to a royal palace, though this one is primarily used for work and state functions rather than as a residence to the Swedish royal family. We learned that the last royal bachelor is now engaged, so time is running out for someone’s princess story to come true. We we were surprised to learn that Vikings actually had a strict code of honor that rejected the idea of theft; turns out, you could only take someone else’s things once you had killed him. We learned about a royal ghost in the tower, a round of beheadings in the main square, and a tradition of cinnamon buns. (We sampled the famous ones, and were sadly not at all impressed. Danish ones were better.) And our guide even told us the way to combat the exorbitantly-high Swedish prices: go to Norway, and come back! Stockholm costs will suddenly seem like a downright steal, she said. I’ll take her word on that one.
  • Hotorgshallen (Market): This market Stockholm Marketwas more indoors than the Copenhagen one and seemed to have slightly more prepared foods. We found a counter that looked good and went nuts, getting elk stew, BBQ chicken, Swedish meatballs, pickled carrot salad, roasted beets – and, because I asked what it was, lingonberry sauce. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I drank the remnants of said sauce.
  • Subway Art Tour (the unofficial version): Stockholm Subway ArtEach Stockholm subway station seems to have a different piece of art, and online guides suggest that this is a hidden gem of the city. However, those guides have good photographers, and the photographs beat the real thing, so just look at the photos online. As a lover of mosaics and street art of most kinds, I was not impressed by this, unfortunately.
  • Djurgården: This is an island consisting of the former royal hunting grounds, a giant zoo/history re-enactment, several museums (including the Vasa, Nordic, and Biology ones), a big amusement park (sister of the Copenhagen one), and a number of restaurants – one of which has a Michelin star. It was a decent walk around, but the much-vaunted Rosendals Trädgård left us confused. Perhaps it’s because we didn’t eat there that we didn’t appreciate its glory? I didpartake of their lingonberry ice cream; B got something too, but my ice cream is completely obscuring my memory on what it was. The hot dog vendor at the entrance to the island and his garlic sauce were B’s favorite, I think.
  • Langholmen: Another day, another island: this one was almost exclusively a park. Just like on Djurgården, a small portion was private land owned by wealthy people. Turns out that wealthy Swedes don’t mind sharing their islands. There were people laying all about, sun bathing, drinking beer, eating, and looking out over the water. What there was not was any semblance of a beach: all of this sitting was on rocky cliff-like faces and in-set grass.
  • Kungsholmen: We then walked over the bridge to this quiet, residential island, known for its parks. The biggest reminded us of Dolores Park in San Francisco, except with more space. And just like at Dolores, someone was playing Miley Cyrus – though here, it wasn’t intended to be ironic. Stockholm ParkI did appreciate that there were lots of different people here, all doing their own thing. There was a college-aged kid in a pack of peers (and beers) who was dressed in a full-body teenage mutant ninja turtle costume. There was a teen girl rolling out a blanket decorated with the old USSR flag. Kids were playing on a ride that’s fairly common on playgrounds here, using a tire to swing in a zipline-like fashion. No one was playing basketball, sadly for B, but he did watch some skate boarders practice their craft. There was even a bar for people to play boules at – and they were, in clothing I would wear to a nice dinner out. And at the front of the park, where there would be an ice cream stand in the US, there was an entire stand dedicated to selling… licorice. I didn’t realize there were so many kinds of the stuff?
  • Mosquito Open Street: As described elsewhere, this was fun to witness.
  • Katarinahissen: This used to be a fun, tall elevator to take up for good city views. Now, it’s under construction, so maybe it could be cooler, but we weren’t so impressed.

What We Skipped:

  • Rooftop Tour: Seemed *very* cool, but sold out. We were sad about this, so one of you should go and tell us all about it.
  • Nobel Museum: Seemed decent, but it was small, and it was closed when were on the island.
  • Nordiska Museum: Too many museums.
  • Ice bar: Too touristy and expensive. I can make my own drinks out of ice.

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5 thoughts on “What We Saw in Stockholm

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