Wednesday, September 14th, 2005
Finally, landfall! Though to reach land, it took another boat. For whatever reason, the ship was docked offshore at the port town of Nynashamm, about an hour outside of Stockholm, and we had to take the ship’s liferafts (called “tenders”) to get ashore. Naturally, the weather was dismal with wind and rain and pretty choppy waters. We made it without incident though, and it was on the bus for a drive through the Swedish countryside into the capital. Not counting my brief sojourn between airport and ship in Copenhagen, this was my first ever time in a truly foreign country. America is weird, but not really foreign, so I don’t count it.
The tour package for the day was called “Stockholm on Your Own”, which as the name implied, meant they dropped us off in Gamla Stan (“Old Town”) and said they’d pick us up in four-and-a-half hours. Otherwise it was every man for himself, which suited me fine. I started out just wandering the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan, which were wonderfully chaotic in size, shape, slope and direction. The tall 16th and 17th century buildings lining the streets were mainly shops and restaurants, but rarely excessively tourist-y or gaudy. It all still looked very authentic. I just happened to make it to the Kungliga slottet (Royal Palace) around noon when the changing of the guard was underway – I just passed by so I don’t really know how much I saw or how long it was going on, but there were many many soldiers in both ceremonial and combat uniforms lining the streets, practicing glaring at people. The palace was impressive, but also somewhat subdued as far as royal palaces go. That was actually my impression of Stockholm overall – charming and modest, content to be what it was. I liked it.
More wandering took me over to the Riksdagshuset, an island just off Gamla Stan where the Swedish parliament sits. Or so I was told, it looked like a big street party to me. Maybe that was just the outside. After peeking around a bit, I backtracked onto Gamla Stan and around the perimeter to check out the harbour district and then down to the ferry docks to punt across the harbour to Djurgarden. I’m under the impression that Djurgarden is a little like Coney Island off season, not that I’ve ever been to Coney Island. It had a theme park which was closed for the year, and was generally empty. There’s little sadder than an empty, chained-up amusement park. There were definitely signs that this was a place that was usually more hopping with people, but as it was, it was kind of barren.
The main reason for heading over to the island was to check out the Vasa Museum, which was one of those tourist must-see attractions. It houses an enormous 17th century Swedish warship that was to be the flagship of the navy… if it hadn’t sunk on its maiden voyage. Apparently this is still something the Swedes are proud of, because it was finally raised almost completely intact in 1956 and placed on display. It is pretty massive and impressive – they also salvaged a lot of the decorations and detailing of the ship, as well skeletons of some of the crew who died on it, and all are on display. That was about all to see on Djurgarden, I didn’t have the time or energy to check out Skansen, an outdoor Nordic museum and zoo. Apparently if I’d gone in, I could have pet a moose.
I killed the rest of the afternoon again wandering Gamla Stan, checking out the souvenir shops and listening to some impressive buskers. By this point the sun had actually broken through the clouds for a bit, so it was nice to see the city with some colour instead of the grey, overcast-ness that had defined most of the day.
Oh yeah, it’s true – almost everyone in Sweden seems unnaturally attractive. Even their unattractive people are good-looking. I found it quite unsettling, to be honest. But otherwise, I rather enjoyed Stockholm. It was smaller and more modest a city than I’d been expecting, but I’m probably too accustomed to sprawling North American metropolises. There is something to be said for small, but with loads of character. If you want to learn more about Stockholm and Sweden, visit your local library! No, don’t Google it, go read a goddamn book. What’s wrong with you?
Tomorrow – Helsinki!