May 8, 2001
Stockholm is a direct flight from Bangkok. In two days we’d be off again to St Petersburg, but since we’ve never been here, it seemed like a good spot to explore for a couple of day.
The first problem was how to get through customs. We’ve been to some long and thorough custom stops; Frankfurt and London are two of the worst, but Stockholm? Come on, this is a forward liberal thinking country. This is Sweden. How could it take over an hour to get through the customs line?
The Swedes say “Hey” for hello and “hey do” for goodbye. My mother always scolded me whenever I said “hey”. It’s good to be in a country where it’s the proper greeting. We say “hey” to everyone we see. We’re darkly tanned and everyone else is just coming out of winter hibernation. We look exotic.
The origins of this city date back to the 13th century but the glory days din’t really come to play till the 17th century. Stockholm became the capital city of Sweden in 1634. We’re staying near the Stortorget (The Big Square) which is actually a small public square in the Gamla Stan, the old town.
It’s very clean and very well preserved; almost too preserved and too charming. There is a big Christmas market here in December, which sounds very appropriate. We take a walk around the city, up to the Royal Castle and watch an international petunque competition outside the castle walls.
After a brief tour of the castle we hiked over to the Historical museum and to the Viking treasures in the gold room. Not much treasure is left.
We stopped in a few local shops and try to figure out what we’re looking at. Everyting is in swedish. At one delicatessan we asked the counter woman what was in the tray behind the counter. She lifted her arms up in winged fashion and said “cluuck cluuck cluuck”. It was all we needed to know. The international language of barnyard sounds, although we would have said “bahck bahck bahck”. Our chicken accent is different.
And then we walk over to see the Vasa Museum; dedicated to world only surviving 17th century war ship. It sank on it’s maiden voyage in 1628 and was pulled out of it’s grave 333 years later in 1961. What a sight it must have been to see the ship in all it’s glory coming into the harbor, make that fatal turn and then go down.
Sweden was at war with Poland at the time and they needed to get as many ships as possible built and off to the battle. There a lot of complications with the construction of the ship. The size changed constantly of the whim of King Gustavus Adolphus. What was originally planned to be 108 ft long became 135 feet. Some say the problems were caused by too many engineers and a frustrated King. But mostly, the ship couldn’t support the weight of the 64 very heavy guns.
Normally the heavy guns were put on the lower deck for stability. In the case of the Vasa, they were put on both the lower and the upper decks. Before the maiden voyage, the stability of the ship was inspected. Thirty sailors ran from side to side to see if the boat would rock. Not only did the big galleon rock, it almost tipped over. However, when the report was submitted to the ship builders, it was ignored. The King would have been really pissed off if there were any further delays. On 10 August 1628, the ship was towed from the boatyard to the harbor for the grand unveling. All of Stockholm came out to watch. At the mouth of the harbor, the three sails were set and almost immediately a gust of wind forced the ship onto her port side and water started flowing in through her open gun ports. The Vasa sank quickly to a depth of 32 meters. Despite the short distance to the land (less than 120 meters), 30 people trapped in the ship died.
Some of the valuables were recoved after the sinking but for the most part it sat under the harbor until in 1956, a Swedish marine technician and an amateur archaeologist named Anders Franzén located and salvaged the ship. Because the water was so cold there was an absense of “shipworms” that would have normally eaten away a the wooden hull. To their surprise (and our), it was in great shape. After the Vasa was pulled out, the hull was covered wih polyethylene glycol and it kind of has the appearance of a fiberglas vacuform. The museum not only houses the ship but also all of the valuables that were with her when she went down; over 2,600 pieces including the original sails, canons, sculptures from ship construction, china serving dishes and oo many other things to remember.
May 9, 2001
Awoke after 11 hours of sleep on a down bed with a down comforter and down pillows. Get down with your tired self..I like the Lady Hamilton Hotel.
Lady Emma Hamilton was the charming and incredibly beautiful mistress of the British Admiral Lord Nelson. She spent most of her life as a high class hooker of British society, bouncing from one aristocratic lord to another until finally settling down with Admiral Nelson, if one could ever really settle down with sea Admiral. To our knowledge she never lived in Stockhlom. I don’t even know if she ever even visited Stockholm, but none the less, her portraits grace the walls of this charming traditional hotel. She’s been immortalized by many 19th century painters in classical poses, most notedly by the 18th century English portrait painter, George Romney.
The building has been around since 1470, although it’s actually only been a hotel since 1975. In the basement is a 15th century well once used by the old town residents. It’s still in operation. By the way, the management also owns the Lord Nelson Hotel a few blocks away. I doubt if Lord Nelson ever stayed there either.
On to another long walk to the Modern art Museum and a show about Edvard Munch, a very troubled life. No wonder his art was so neurotic. Lots of unusual pieces including the 1908 “Omega suite”. After his split with his girlfriend in 1898, he kind of went mad and created his fable of Alpha and Omega, his bizarre version of the Adam and Eve story. In Munch’s fable, Alpha and Omega were happy until Omega leaves and sleeps with the animals (see the image of Omega with the pig to the right). Then she decides to go back to Alpha. But Alpha is stil pissed off so he kills her. But her animal offsprings take revenge and kill Alpha. I have no idea if this helped Munch get over his breakup or not.
On our final night here walked around the old town trying to find a swedish dinner (whatever that might be) but ended up at an Italian restaurant. The waiter gave us large plastic menu cars, the kind usually associated with Denny’s. They also put romantic candles on the table. Unfortunately as I was looking a the menu, the bottom corner got too close to the candle. It was an Inspecter Clouseau moment.