Stockholm by Night

It’s two weeks today since I left Sydney and it’s been a day of meeting Australians. I met a lovely couple from Melbourne on a tour today and we had a good old chin wag. And now I am sharing a room with a nice bloke from Sydney. I also met a bloke from Finland whose son lives in Sydney.

The couple from Melbourne were retired, and told me they’ve had the travel bug ever since. This time around, they’ve been to the United States, Canada and the UK, and now they’re in Stockholm for just one night before heading off to Finland. I gave them some advice about Stockholm and Helsinki, and they gave me some advice about some cheap accommodation in the centre of London. “You know the other secret we’ve discovered?”, the old bloke said. “Couriers. We’ve become couriers. We have to travel on planes separately, but we take things on planes as couriers”. “Oh my God”, I thought to myself, “I’ve met a couple of geriatric drug traffickers”. They assured me it was mostly fabric samples and such, and they’d seen the ad for couriers in “The Age”, but I still couldn’t help but wonder. “It’s so nice to hear an Australian voice”, the older woman said. “We’re on a tour with all of these Americans and English people. And they’re so loud and boring. And rude, you wouldn’t believe how rude they can be”.

They were a lovely couple and it was great to have a good old chin-wag with them. We met in the courtyard of the Hallywlska Museet, located right in the centre of Stockholm. The Von Hallwyl’s were a very rich couple, we were told, who had a dream (well, she more than he) of creating a museum from scratch. She was the daughter of a rich industrialist couple, he the son of Swiss aristrocracy, but without much fortune. She was an avid art collector, and inspired by Skansen and the Nordisk Museet, loved the idea of taking things from every day lives and preserving them for the future. Well, as “everyday” as you might imagine that to mean for a very rich and influential couple. I also got the impression there was something a little bit odd about the couple. They had separate beds, and he went to bed each night wearing a hair net and with a moustache crimper. He was apparently much better dressed than she was. Make of that what you will. She employed a companion called Miss Ede or something like that who looked after her day to day needs. There’s a wonderful photograph of the two women in their private gymnasium together. When I saw the photograph of these two very austere looking women doing exercises I just laughed, much to the amusement of our tour guide. The tour guide, by the way, was also quite interesting. She spoke English with a slight Eurovision touch, though I get the feeling she may have also lived in the United States for a while. She was very dressed in a very glamorous manner, and wore lots of jewelery. Put simply, I thought she was “fabulous”. She was very knowledgeable about the house, and you just got the impression she did the tours for personal interest sake, more than anything.

I went for a late-afternoon tour thanks to the Swedish public transport system again. Today, I ended up on the island of Lidingo, which I’d say was Stockholm’s equivalent to the “leafy North Shore” quite by accident. I thought I was heading back to Stockholm, but wasn’t. You get that I guess.

I moved into my new hostel tonight, Skanstull Vandrehem which is very nice. I especially like the free wifi.

I took a walk around the area and had a hamburger for dinner at an outdoor dinery. A bloke from Finland asked if I minded if he shared my table, and so of course I said, no, not a problem. We spoke about travelling, about how he had a son in Sydney and a daughter in New Zealand, and I mentioned to him that I’d been to Helsinki. He told me his son said Australia was a very beautiful place, but there was “something about the place that was not quite right”. He couldn’t exactly put his finger on what his son meant by this, though.

And now, of course, I’m sharing a room with a bloke from Sydney. He’s been travelling for about two months now, and has two more months ahead of him. “I got a bit tired at about the six week period”, he told me, emphasizing the importance of having a couple of days rest here and there, and balancing out the cheapness of hostels compared with the comfort of hotels.

We went out for a beer tonight. Well, four actually. A mate of his had recommended Cafe Opera as “the hip place” to go in Stockholm, though when we arrived at about 9.30, there was hardly anyone there. We wandered around for a while, decided it was pointless, and went instead to the tourist haven of Gamla Stan. After a couple of beers, we decided to give Cafe Opera another go. This time the place was a little busier, though not too much more so, and not exactly the hip and happening place to be on a Friday night. The crowd looked a bit ordinary. The clincher for us was the cover charge of 180kr (about $30). We looked the crowd up and down, decided there was little chance Madonna was inside, and so went looking for somewhere else to have a drink. We looked at two further bars, both of which had a cover charge in the price range of 150-200kr ($30-40), but neither of which looked exciting enough to justify money which could otherwise be spent on drinking. The coup de grace was the Irish pub which was charging 100kr (about $20) on the door. To my eyes it looked like any other Irish bar anywhere in the world, possibly full of Australian expats and backpackers. “They should be paying us to enter an Irish pub”, we both agreed. In Sydney, nowhere would dare charge such a high cover charge unless there was a special occasion or some entertainment was included. In Sydney, of course, the staff know that you just need to let an Australian into a bar and they’ll drink more than several cover charges in a flash. Finally, we found a resonably nice looking bar, Cafe Jarl which didn’t have a cover charge. The bouncer looked us up and down briefly, and ushered us in. We even managed to find a table, and the staff were very nice. The bar service, though, was extremely slow. It took AGES to get a drink. And when I finally did manage to get close enough for a drink a young Swedish woman jumped in front of me in the queue. She looked at me and smiled, in that, “I’m just a girl” kinda way, which of course meant absolutely nothing. I had, by this time, caught the eye of the barman who recognised what had occured, and asked me for my order at the same time. Then when the Swedish woman offered to show her drivers license as evidence she was of drinking age, I leant over and whispered in her ear, “You’re dreamin’ love”.

Of course the great thing about being a native English speaker in a country where it’s the second language is that you can say things you wouldn’t otherwise. She thought I was charming, when in fact I was totally sarcastic. And so long as you smile, all is okay.

If you had to classify the crowd, I’d instantly say “older yuppie”. Earlier in the night it would have been a restaurant, but by this time of the night (close to eleven o’clock) loud music was playing and there were many pickups to be had. But if you had to be honest about the makeup of the crowd, and what we all had in common, you’d have to say “non cover charge payers”. I’m still not sure about the make-up of the group at the table next to us, though. At first I thought it was three middle-aged (or older) gay guys out with a female friend. And then I noticed one of the blokes had a wedding ring on, and kept putting his arm around the woman. They also seemed to know quite a few people entering the bar, leading to the conclusion, “it’s a very Stockholm crowd”. Later in the night, the group sitting next to us got a little snap-happy with a disposable camera. In the midst of their snap-happiness, they took a photograph of me for which I duly smiled. So there you have it, long after I’ve left Stockholm, I’ll still be here, as “anonymous guy” in someone’s photo album.

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