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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Swedish Fish (Stockholm: Part Ett)

Scene One: A knight returning from the Crusades meets Death along a rocky, black and white beach and enters into a game of chess to save his life. Cut to scene two: A retired doctor walks down an abandoned street in shades of grey, noting that every clock has no hands. Scene Three: a peasant, mourning the murder of his teenaged daughter stands atop a hill and wrenches a solitary sapling from the soil.

Before last month, I knew very little about Sweden other than the existential films of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Who are the Swedes? Are they really as insular and depressed as these films would suggest? Who was Pippi Longstocking? What's a lingonberry? And what's the deal with Swedish Death Metal? I found answers to all of these questions by the time my long weekend in Stockholm was over. Answer key: a friendly and sober people; no; a fictional character created by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren; a fruit also called a cowberry, which grows above the Arctic Circle; and only the people from Gothenburg can understand.

I was intrigued by this country. I knew the Swedes didn't have as strong of a Viking heritage as their Scandinavian brethren in Denmark and Norway. I knew Sweden was once a major empire, one of the largest in Europe, before a disastrous war against Peter the Great of Russia in the early 1700s. I knew the country managed avoid major conflicts of the sort which plagued twentieth century Europe. I also knew the modern nation was a model for social systems across Europe. And I knew Stockholm was supposedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, located on a series of islands in the Baltic Sea. So, I hopped on a plane and flew from Madrid to Arlanda Airport, one of Stockholm's four major airports. Once I got off my plane, I went to exchange money. Sweden is a member of the European Union, but not the Eurozone, which means they do not have the euro as their currency. I received somewhere around two-thousand kronors in exchange for my euros. Afterwards, I found the bus I needed to take to the center of the city. It was about a thirty-minute ride into central Stockholm. The bus driver spoke in both Swedish and English as he announced each stop. His English was quite good. I soon found that nearly everyone in the city spoke perfect English and sometimes addressed other Swedish people in their second language. I took the bus to its final stop at the central train station and from there walked about three minutes to get to my hotel. The weather was slightly cold, but the sun was shining. The river I crossed to get to Kungsholmen, where my hotel was located, was still frozen over. Here's my hotel:

The couple who ran the bed and breakfast were very nice. They showed me the different denominations of the kronor and told me the best places to visit in the city. I left the hotel and headed out for the central part of the city, which is known simply as "City" and is located on the mainland part of Stockholm. On the way, I took some pictures of the street outside my hotel:

I took the tunnel (short for tunnelbana, Stockholm's underground train system) to City and was amazed at how fascinating this network looked. It resembled some underground fantasy world. (I'll post more on this later as I took a tour of various tunnel stations). Once I got off the tunnel, I walked to the Nationalmuseum, which houses many artworks by Swedish painters, such as the amazing Carl Larsson. Once I finished this brief tour, I went behind the museum and walked along the shoreline, taking in the beautiful coastal views which, thanks to the city's layout over several islands, are visible nearly everywhere:

I walked down some streets and took first notice of the ubiquitous 7-Eleven chain, which I had not seen anywhere else in Europe. Somehow, Stockholm made this place seem very classy:

I also took notice of some cool ornamentation on the buildings:

I soon ended up at Kungstädgården, a square (or "torg" in Swedish) with some interesting statues:

Sweden produced quite a few wonderful sculptors in the twentieth century. The above statue is King Karl XIII. There is also an impressive fountain sculpted by JP Molin here:

Adjacent to this square is Jacobs Kyrka ("kyrka" is Swedish for "church" and is pronounced "chewrka"). It was built between the years 1580 and 1643:

I walked down the main road, past several department stores and the headquarters of the Swedish clothing store, H&M, before arriving at the Konserthuset, the Stockholm concert hall, which has an amazing sculpture, Orpheus, by Carl Milles in front:
The city was surprisingly highly multi-ethnic. I bought a hot dog from a street vendor and was informed that it was halal. There are many side streets which lead to small open spaces for outdoor restaurants in this area. Since it was still cold, these areas were often abandoned:

The modern area of Sergels Torg is nearby. It is a square built in the early 1960s with a glass obelisk which was placed there in the 1970s:

Also nearby was Klara Kyrka, built in the 1590s:

Near the church is this statue of a man smoking a cigarette. I'm sure it's supposed to be someone specific:

The Stockholm City Hall, or Stadshuset, was near my hotel. On the way there, I came across this little house:

The Stadshuset sits on the coast and is an enormous building, part of which is used as a reception hall each year for the Nobel Prize ceremonies. It was built in 1923 and is topped by the three crowns (Tre Kronor), which are the symbol of Sweden. Here are some views of the coastline of City and the island of Gamla Stan from the Stadshuset:

Here is the Stadshuset itself:

Two statues by Carl Eldh stand outside the Stadshuset by the water:
The "tomb" of Birger Jarl (which does not really hold his remains) rests outside the building. Birger Jarl was the Jarl (or chieftan) of Sweden who helped bring the various lands together in the 1200s. Tradition states that he also founded Stockholm:
I left the Stadshuset:
and went for a walk around City as the sun set. I came across the glass obelisk in Sergels Torg again as it was lit up from within:

Stockholm was strange in that the shops all closed at five in the afternoon and there seemed to be no nightlife at all. The streets (which had very little auto traffic anyway) and sidewalks were nearly completely clear of motorists and pedestrians after sundown. I found that getting around the city was very easy. I could walk nearly everywhere without using the tunnel or even a map. Stockholm is a beautiful city for walking anyway. I went back to the hotel, where the owner had left out hot tea and gummies (of the ever-popular Swedish fish variety). This was located in the front room which served as the café during the day. At night the lights were turned off an the only illumination came from a computer screen and the streetlights which shone through the storefront window. It was a peaceful place.


  1. I was excited to see this post. That frozen river makes me shiver. Love the obelisk lit up at night.
    Love ya,

  2. Great writing, you always make it seem like we are there as well.

  3. Eric I know that wasn't a river, but I guess living in Missouri any body of water seems like a river or a lake. You're writing on this one was amazing!