Monday, June 06, 2005

Swede Dreams Are Made Of This

Hi everyone,

Chris and I are coming towards the end of our stay in Stockholm, which has been an absolutely wonderful stop - in fact, I think it is probably the best place that I have visited on all of my European excursions - very pretty town that is great to walk around, but also much to see while you are there.

The Swedes, too, are very friendly people - at first they can seem a little reserved, but they are always very helpful and speak excellent English (which makes me feel very embarrassed, as I hate going to countries where I can´t speak the language), and are more often than not willing to engage in detailed football discussion - for the record, many of them agree with me that Sven is far too defensive in his tactics.

As for what we saw in Stockholm, the highlight for me was probably the sculpture of St George and the Dragon in the Cathedral (not technically a cathedral, but it is where all the important royal ceremonies take place) - wonderful use of light to send out a strong message alongside the technical brilliance of the sculpture. For those of you who know, I rate it second behind a sculpture called "The Raven and the First Men" in Vancouver - if you haven´t seen it, and end up in Vancouver for any reason, you must go to see this at the museum of Anthropology. As with all the best pieces of art, it adds so much beyond the mere representation of the objects.

Anyway, apart from that digression, a wander round the streets of Gamla Stan, the Old Town, was very rewarding, as was making the effort to walk across to the former royal hunting grounds. The architecture, too, is very nice + most buildings are painted in bright colours, and some of the buildings are absolutely fantastic - in particular for me the Nordic Museum, although apparently (according to the guide on our boat trip) it isn´t particularly interesting to visit. Nearby, however, is the Vasa museum - the Vasa was, like the Mary Rose, a ship that sunk pretty soon after it set off, but it became preserved in the brackish water around Stockholm and was later resurfaced almost entirely intact. The museum itself is convincing as far as it can be within its limits - ie the artefacts found with the sunken ship itself, but there are limited exhibitions about King Gustav II Adolph (who, to be fair, did take his royal responsibilities to the lmit in actually dying in battle) and life in Sweden in 1628. I would have preferred to see a bit more about Sweden´s role in the 30 year´s War, but there was a good bit of eplanation about the symbolism of many of the artistic decorations on the boat. Also good was a computer simulator to see if you could design a boat that wouldn´t have sunk under comparative wind conditions´- if you failed, you were given the message "The King is displeased and you lose your job. But perhaps the Danish King values your skills differently".

Today we have just returned from a boat trip around the archipelago - very nice setting and well wórth the money - also very informative about the history of Stockholm, why Gamla Stan emerged as the major trading centre in the area and the way that the islands of the archipelago were used for naval defence. The guide also apologised to us about the weather, which has been quite rainy today, promising if we visit in another year the weather will be better - so if he´s wrong, you know who to sue! (His name was Henrik, if it helps...)

It´s difficult to summarise all that we´ve done in such a short space, and I know I´ve been going on forever in this email. Needless to say there have been more similar discussions regarding politics, soccer, TV and just about anything else you care to mention - always one of the more interesting aspects of travelling. Tomorrow we set off on an epic journey to make our way to Berlin, but it will be a shame to leave here, and I know I will make the effort to return.

Will keep you informed of what else we get up to,

Best wishes,