Thursday, July 3, 2014

Kul i Sverige

You guys, I think I’m in love.

No, I haven’t met some sexy hockey player named Sven who enjoys swimsuit modelling and drinking inordinate amounts of coffee. It’s Stockholm. All of it. I’ve been here two days, and I want to stay forever. Sweden has been a dream for many years now. I’ve been getting teary all over the place – on the ship when I caught my first glimpse of the archipelago, walking along the road and seeing the beautiful fairyland of Gamla Stan appear before me, in the ABBA museum. I think I’m the only person who’s ever gotten emotional in the ABBA museum. The rest of the time, I’ve been walking around with the stupidest grin on my face. I think the locals assume I’m drunk.

First, let’s recap. I spent my last day in Helsinki eating falafel and going on one last beach walk, then got on the boat for an overnight cruise to Stockholm. And it was, indeed, a cruise – this was not some kind of tiny ferryboat. It held a nightclub, a sauna, an enormous duty-free, about five restaurants of various types, you name it. I cheaped out and got one of the tiny cabins with no windows at the bottom of the ship, but it was comfortable enough. One of the three Finnish women I was sharing with complained about how tiny it was, and I had to giggle. Someone has never been on a Russian sleeper train. The nightclub featured karaoke, so of course I had to check it out, and finally felt brave enough to choose “Rasputin”. Let me tell you, an energetic rendition of that particular song will get you a lot of free drinks.

We arrived in Stockholm the next morning, and my God, it was glorious. It was a beautiful sunny day, though that didn’t last – Nordic weather can be charitably described as “psychotic”, and the rain was soon heavy enough to practically destroy my umbrella. While it was still sunny, though, I managed to get to the hostel, drop my things and head over to Djurgarden island, where the ABBA museum awaited.

I’m not a huge ABBA fan, but their music always puts me in mind of my beloved Scandinavia, so I had to pay homage. They’re also a favourite group of my mom’s, and I don’t want to get killed when I come home. It’s pretty awesome, all decked out in psychedelic colours and filled with interactive exhibits, like recording your own demo track and playing with a mixing board. You even get to dance as the fifth member of ABBA with these terrifying Uncanny Valley “ABBAtars”. Best of all, though, is an audioguide read by ABBA themselves. They tell all kinds of cool stories about their life as a band, and it’s honestly quite touching at times. They seemed to have a lot of fun doing it – and clearly, had a lot of input into the museum. It’s attached to the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, which isn’t big (it’s only been in existence a few months) but has some nice exhibits on Swedish musical history, starting with the 1910s. My only complaint is that the museum seems a tad overpriced even for Sweden, at 250 SEK, but it was still a lot of fun.

After a quick ferry back to Gamla Stan, I spent most of the afternoon and evening wandering the neighbourhood. Galm Stan is the neatest area. The oldest part of Stockholm, many of the buildings are still preserved, but it’s given way to all kinds of shops – you get your usual pubs and chain stores and tacky souvenir places, but also little hole-in-the-wall record stores and comic shops. Every turn brings you something new. I’ve haunted the place for the past two days and now know pretty much every corner. It’s honestly difficult to stay in the hostel because I want to get out and explore more, and anything over ten minutes is pretty much torture. Damn you, charging phone.

However, there’s much more of Stockholm to explore, so this afternoon I spent hours wandering Sodermalm. It’s kind of become the trendy neighbourhood of Stockholm, and is now Yuppie Central, with insanely expensive shops everywhere! (Lisbeth Salander also lives there in The Millennium Trilogy, though in her childhood home, which was part of Soder’s seedier days.) It’s pretty fun to wander around, though to be honest I felt a little let down. I thought it would be...I don’t know, cooler and less mainstream. Still, I’m going back on the Millennium Tour on Friday, so maybe I’ll find something new.

As a little side trip, I travelled down to Skogskyrkogarden, which is an extraordinarily beautiful and serene cemetery. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. With huge open fields and rolling hills, it looks like an absolutely gorgeous place to remain for eternity. People visit it like a park (only taking care to avoid ongoing funerals). It’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the reason I visited was not to take in the pretty designs, but to pay tribute to one of the most legendary Swedes ever. You all know I’m a tad – obsessed with Classic Hollywood. There’s a great Swedish actress who chose this as her final resting place. Can you guess who it is?

NO, NOT INGRID BERGMAN, YOU DOPES. It’s Garbo, of course. Ethereal and magical, she lit up the screens for only fifteen years or so before fading into life as a recluse. While she was there, though, she left a unique impact that no other Hollywood actress could even try to replicate, not even my idol Kate Hepburn. I wish we’d had more time with her work – another thirty or forty years of movies would have been great – but maybe it was an essential part of her mystique. Whatever. I knew I had to pay homage to her. And when I get home, I think I’ll need to have a Garbo marathon. Just to remember.

In the morning, though, long before Sodermalm and Garbo, I went to the Nobel Prize Museum, which was extremely interesting, if a little on the small side. (Though it covers the Peace Prize, there’s also a bigger Peace Prize museum in Oslo, where it is awarded.) There are items from the various laureates, screening rooms featuring interviews with winners, and huge displays. I was happy to see a lot of information about Alice Munro, who was pretty prominent as the most recent Literature winner. The guided tour was a bit iffy, though – it was quite short and I found the guide difficult to understand. Most impressive were the exhibits for kids, which explained the history of the Prize in a very child-friendly way and offered all kinds of games and activities. I kind of wished I was seven years old. The children there seemed to be having a blast, including two American kids whose dad looked so very proud when his toddler son started asking about Sully Prudhomme. Future economists, chemists and writers, perhaps?

My hostel is wonderful – a little pricey, but located so perfectly that I don’t care. It’s right in Gamla Stan near Slussen and I can walk absolutely everywhere. It’s also not a party place, which suits me just fine. I wanted a bit more of a social scene in Helsinki, and got it, but Stockholm is my personal journey and much of the time I just want to be alone with my thoughts. In fact, it’s almost empty, which is strange for July – I’ve been the only one in my room of six beds for two nights running. My guess is it’s not well-advertised, and also suffers from not being part of HI. However, it’s clean and safe and the location could not be better, so I’m recommending it here – Hostel Archipelago Old Town. It’s one of the top hostels I’ve ever stayed in, and certainly the best on this trip so far. I’m enjoying the city’s vibe, laid-back and friendly, though I am a little stunned by Swedish sticker shock. I guess that’s the downside of visiting a thriving country. I couldn’t be having a better time, really. It’s all I’ve dreamed of and more.  

And of course, in two days comes the infamous Millennium Tour, which I’ve been looking forward to for years. I’m already going crazy whenever I see anything that reminds me of the books, which is all the time. I even bought Billy's Pan Pizza from a 7/11 and ate it and felt really Salanderesque. A whole afternoon of it is going to be a total overload, so the next post will probably be an incoherent mess. Until next time, readers. 

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