The Ship That Sank and other Stories from Stockholm
Discover and SALife. When she wasn’t on the road in SA she would pick an adventure overseas and throw herself at it, often as a solo traveller and mostly on a whim. Her quick decisions to jump on a plane at the drop of a hat gave rise to her travel blog yesnojustgo.com, where some of her stories and travel photography can be found.
Flying in low over bare forests, frozen lakes and snow-dusted fields, you could be forgiven for thinking that Stockholm airport is out in the boondocks, because it most certainly is. On my ride into the city (apparently between forty to ninety minutes travel time depending on traffic) I mentioned to my driver that I thought it was a shame that the snow wasn’t falling as, coming from Australia I rarely witness that particular gift of nature. In the rearview mirror, a slightly-raised eyebrow spoke volumes about his views on snowfall-versus blue sky but Swedes rarely buy into emotion or superfluous conversation, and this particular silver-fox was no exception. It was true though; my limited experience with cold fluffy white stuff was making my way to the bar by stumbling through drifts on a college trip to Thredbo and, two decades later, a disastrous ski trip to Canada that saw crutches come into play, Snow Bunny I am NOT but, here I was, trading a perfectly good Australian Summer for an impulsive Scandinavian sojourn.
Ticket offices and concession stands have been repurposed as club bars, sweeping art deco staircases lead to three levels of lounge areas, with velvet and silk accents adding just the right amount of plush.
The original (now restored) cinema space is even available for private functions and events. Perched on a bar stool with Chablis in hand I reflected that this colourful and stylish hotel was absolutely a perfect fit for the Mariatorget scene.
In Pelekan’s bustling and cosy (yet not overcrowded) space I devoured their signature Cod dish and, wiping the last smidge of buttery mash from my well-fed face, I happily declared that I’d never eaten a meal quite like it. Little gems like Pelekan are why Food and Travel go hand in hand. Can you really say you’ve been to a country if you haven’t explored its traditional food?.
The next day we visited Stockholm’s famous VASA museum. Only the Swedes would build an interpretative centre to recognise one of the most monumental stuff-ups in the history of their country, and I for one, am very glad that they did. The story goes that in the early 1600s Sweden’s King Gustav was having a bit of a barney with his neighbours so he decided to commission a monster ship that would (literally) blow his enemies out of the water.
Some fabulous insights about Stockholm’s history gleaned “a-la-Ben” as he led us all on his pied piper journey through the city include:
- The tale of a gym instructor who became Sweden’s Crown Prince after he took Crown Princess Victoria’s personal training regime to a whole new level.
- How Queen Christina’s dubious sexuality and bizarre upbringing created one of the most colourful monarchs any country could wish for.
- How Sweden’s powerbrokers decided one day that they would replace the country’s long-standing monarchy with a French Marshall from the Napoleonic wars: Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. They asked him if he wouldn’t mind being King, but what they failed to tell him was that once the crown was on his head he was expected to use his considerable fortune to bail the country out of debt. Being a good sport, Bernadotte did just that and his descendants have actually done a pretty good job as Sweden’s royal family ever since.
- The contentious speculation that Sweden’s current Crown Prince (the former gym employee) might perhaps boast a closer claim to being authentically “Swedish” than his house of Bernadotte bride, so really, what was all the fuss about her marrying a “commoner”?
- An insight into the famous bank hostage drama which gave rise to the term “Stockholm Syndrome.” We stood in the square where the drama unfolded back in 1973 to hear stories of psychological alliance and how being trapped in a vault with one’s abductor could actually lead to a lifelong friendship.
Our group then spent the next two days capturing Stockholm through the lens of our cameras. David Evans (our teacher and guide) thought that we might also find great inspiration at Fotografiska; Sweden’s world-class Photography exhibition space. As well as some damn fine galleries, the building houses a great cafe on the top floor where you can enjoy healthy (of course!) food while taking in sweeping views or the city. Exhibitions at Fotografiska change year-round but when we visited, we were treated to “We Have A Dream,” a tribute to 114 people who inspire the rest of us mere mortals to dream about the best for our planet and humanity.
STOCKHOLM: THINGS DISCOVERED AND POINTS PONDERED
The 5 Nobel Prizes were created because Alfred Nobel (the father of Dynamite) read his own obituary and non-posthumously decided that he really didn’t wish to be remembered throughout history as “The Merchant of Death”. When a French newspaper mistakenly reported his demise (it was, in fact, his brother who died in that fatal explosion in Cannes, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?) Alfred figured that he’d much prefer to be remembered throughout history as a champion of eminent endeavours than the man who ‘grew rich by finding ways to kill people faster than ever before’. It worked.
That Queen Christina’s mother thought it was a good idea to suspend her dead husband’s heart over the crib of the infant princess. Not to mention the curious story of why, three hundred years after her death, the good burghers of Sweden exhumed their former Queen’s body to prove once and for all that she was, indeed, a female.
Whether Stockholm’s name (literally ‘Log Island’) was derived from the legend of a log filled with gold being sent downstream to escape raiders. or simply because an island happened to some good trees on it.
That Crown Princess Victoria and her husband Crown Prince Daniel (ex-gym instructor, but now a fully qualified Prince after studying three years to become one) actually look similar.
In fact, they look a LOT alike! (or is it just me?)
Why people in Sweden buy white cars at all.
this is one of the cleaner ones
Sweden is of course home to IKEA but it’s also home to H&M, Skype, Spotify and many, MANY, meatball cafes. I always thought that meatballs were meatballs. I was wrong.
Alcohol is VERY expensive, and you can only takeaway liquor at a limited number of outlets.
Toilets are guarded very closely. You either have to pay, or you’ll need the code for the door (usually found on your purchase receipt). Plan accordingly, you have been warned!
You may be aware that IKEA names many of its product lines after Swedish locations BUT I heard from a local that IKEA floor coverings are often given the names of Danish towns. In a conspiratorial whisper, I was told “Effectively, everything else ends up on top of the Danes and the people of the world can walk all over them, Ha Ha Ha!” I’m still puzzling over that one. Could it really be the ultimate expression of tongue-in-cheek national rivalry? Swedish humour, much like our dry Australian wit, is often difficult to fathom.
Sometimes when we travel, we simply “see” but we often don’t give too much thought to the back-stories. I have been as guilty of that as anyone but, in Stockholm, I had the luxury of time and the freedom of being a solo traveller. Travelling solo can be liberating, especially when you don’t tie yourself to strict schedules. With no distractions, expectations or obligations it’s easy to make a real effort to discover food, history and enjoy the simple pleasure of watching the locals and their everyday lives.
Stockholm was meant to be a stopover on my itinerary, a place to wait out a few days before tackling a bucket-list adventure up in the Arctic Circle, but it turned out to be so much more. It’s a city that truly rewards the curious traveller at every turn in a country that is perhaps best summed by its own proverb: ”Allvar och gamman trives gärna Samman.” Seriousness and Pleasure should thrive together.