Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Break, Part 3: Stockholm

The jar of pickled herring lept out me when I joined the dinner table on Saturday night. Our Stockholm couchsurfing hosts Ulrika and Håkan had prepared a typical Swedish appetizer of herring, boiled potatoes, sour cream, and chives for us to try. If you know me, you know I'm not big on fish, and really not a fan of anything pickled, but out of politeness I could not refuse to try this pickled fish. Backie retrieved a chunk of out of the jar and put it on my plate with an ill-concealed smirk, knowing exactly what I was thinking. So I loaded up a fork with potato, chive, lots of sour cream, and teeny bit of herring... and I liked it. I really did! I was expecting a disgusting rotten-fishy chewy taste, but it actually didn't taste fishy at all, the pickle flavor was not pronounced, and it went really well with the potato! To the astonishment of a certain person, whose smirk was now gone, I ate four more pieces including the last one in the jar. Hah.

We tried the plain one, on the left, but as you can see other kinds (mustard, tomato) are available too. I forgot to take a picture before we ate so this is a photo I found online of the same brand.

Backtracking a little bit - after meeting Ulrika and Håkan that morning and getting settled in at their place, we headed out around lunchtime to explore Stockholm. The city is built on 15 islands and is called "the Venice of the North" for that reason. We started at Gamla Stan, a small island home to the Old Town and most touristy part of the city. Gamla Stan is a maze of cobblestoned streets, narrow alleys, cafés, souvenir shops, and ice cream parlors (the Swedes sure do love their ice cream!). At a cafe, we tried one of the typical lunch specials we saw everywhere. These were a great deal - around 85 crowns (€8 or $10) for salad, bread, hot dish of your choice, and a drink or coffee. Mine below is "lax pudding", a gratin of sliced potatoes and salmon. Yum!

From Gamla Stan we spent a good chunk of the afternoon walking up Drottningsgatan (Queen's Street), the biggest shopping area in the city, and enjoying the sunshine. As the afternoon wound down and we started to think about going home (to the pickled herring), we made a final stop at the Katarinahissen (Katarina's Elevator), one of the best places to get a view over Stockholm.

At the top is also a well-known restaurant, Erik's Gondolen, where we treated ourselves to fancy cocktails from their huge bar menu. Expensive, but worth it for the beautiful view and the experience. As you can see, Stockholm is a gorgeous city.

We celebrated Easter Sunday at Immanuel Church, where an international english-speaking congregation meets. The beautiful sancutary was decorated by a Swedish painter, who took inspiration from nature and painted the organ like the sky, the pews and pulpit like foliage, and many other items in a unique way. Sunlight streamed in, and the joyful music and message all added up to a wonderful service!

That afternoon, we continued our exploration of the city, walking through the popular Kungsträdgården (King's Park) and along the waterfront towards the island of Djurgården. As you can see, the absolutely gorgeous weather (and temperatures!) meant the streets, cafés, and parks were packed with people.

On Djurgården we found one of the coolest museums either of us had ever been to - the Vasa Museum. I'll quote from the brochure: "On August 10th, 1628, the Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage and sank in Stockholm harbor after only 30 minutes afloat. The wreck was salvaged in 1961 after 333 years underwater. The reconstructed vessel, 95 percent original, is splendidly adorned with hundreds of carved sculptures." The centerpiece of the museum is of course the enormous wooden warship, which left us open-mouthed in astonishment as soon as we walked into the huge hall. Exhibits include a full-scale model of the upper gun deck that you can walk around in, skeletons that were found during the salvaging, the techniques of marine archaeology that made the recovery possible, artistic analysis of the sculptures, scale models of the ship in its full glory, and many more interesting displays across a wealth of related topics.. It was absolutely fascinating and an essential part of any visit to Stockholm. You can read more about the Vasa and why she sank here.

Note the scale - those are people in the bottom right corner!

A model of how the brand new ship looked against the backdrop of the real thing.

Some images of the beautifully carved stern.

Forensic facial reconstructions were done on some of the skulls found in the wreck.

You couldn't actually walk on the ship, but balconies at every level provided a really good view.

Some of the other exhibits on display, all built around the centerpiece of the ship.

After a quick dinner in the Södermalm district, we spent the evening with Håkan, Ulrika, and their adorable and very smiley year-old daughter Aurora (daughter #2 is on the way!) watching Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. I really enjoyed this movie about a foul-mouthed, grumpy, racist Korean war veteran (Eastwood) who gradually develops a friendship with the Hmong family who lives next door. If you have a chance to see it, do so – and bring tissues. The end is quite a shocker.

Monday, our last day in Stockholm, we took it a bit easier, visiting the Royal Palace and watching the changing of the guard, peeking into the cathedral where Crown Princess Victoria will be married next year, and then reading (and eating pastries!) in Stockholm's oldest café for a couple hours. In the evening we made our hosts dinner - risotto, of course. :)

The next day we got up early and took a train to the town of Uppsala, north of Stockholm. Again, we were so fortunate with the weather and were able to explore the famous cathedral and university library while enjoying the sunshine. Mid-afternoon, we caught the train to the airport for flight back to Zurich - the end of our Nordic trip but not the end of Spring Break yet!


Mel said...

cool, the warship is huge!! it reminds me of a ship that my physics lecturer was telling us about in class. It was about a king who insisted (against the advise of his physicists) that another layer of cannons be added to his ship to create the biggest warship of their time. It also sunk within an hour of leaving port. Is this the same ship?

Romy said...

Hey Mel

Yup, this is the ship. You can see in the pictures that there are two levels of gun ports instead of just one, which is why the ship was so top-heavy that it tipped over in the wind and sank. Cool that you heard about it in class!

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