It’s Sunday night at about six o’clock, and to be honest I had no idea what time it was until I switched my computer on. The long days are very confusing.
I woke early this morning – at about four o’clock – with every intention of seeing the sunrise. My body clock got the better of me and I went back to sleep until about seven. By that time it was well and truly daylight.
Breakfast at Adlon Hotel was excellent, and was included in the price of the accommodation. I had cereal, some bread rolls, cold meats, fruit, yoghurt and coffee, and thus well and truly filled up for the day. This seems to be the way in Sweden, and it suits me fine, because I haven’t felt hungry all day. Or at least until just a while ago, when I thought about preparing dinner, but that’s another story.
Although I had a chance to walk around the city when I arrived last night, it was nothing compared my experience earlier this morning. I walked around Gamla Stan, past the Swedish Parliament, and up and down some of the back streets. It was then I thought what an incredibly liveable place this must be (in summer at least). It was quiet, it was calm, and incredibly beautiful.
Later this morning, I caught up with ABBA fan, Marco, visiting from the Netherlands, who agreed. “I could so live in Stockholm”, he told me over a coffee in Gamla Stan.
He was lucky enough to be at the opening night of “Mamma Mia” on Friday, and showed me some of the many photographs he took. He also told me about catching up with some other fans who were in Stockholm for the premiere, and about the experiences of a lucky couple of fans who went to the after-show party. Agnetha, it seems, was in very fine form, and there was an especially warm moment when Frida put her hand around Agnetha’s arm, as if, perhaps, to give her some reassurance about the crowds which she, famously has avoided in recent years.
Marco reminded me in so many ways of a former colleague, Phil, both in the way he looked and the way he spoke. It was very odd in that regard, but I really enjoyed a couple of hours with him chatting about stuff (although to be honest, mostly ABBA).
The afternoon was spent on a couple of tours, which were included in the price of the Stockholm Card. The first, a boat tour around the canals was excellent. There was possibly too much of an emphasis on the bridges and roads for my liking, but there were some wonderful sights to be seen. And, in an ABBA-related moment, we were shown where the famous Polar Music studios used to be located and listened briefly to “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”.
For me, the most interesting thing, however, was to be shown some very intimate moments of Swedish people at play, enjoying the summer and enjoying the water. There was a terrific scene, for example, of three young blokes sunbaking on a jetty. There were also some close-up scenes of people washing their boats. And along the way, many of those on boats waved to us. We were also told that, for a country of about 9 million people, there are 750,00 registered pleasure craft. The viking ancestors, surely?
And then later, I went on a tour of the Stockholm Town Hall which was fascinating. The architect or designer, it seems, was one to change his mind regularly, which explains why the construction cost blew out so much, and why there are some apparent design flaws. The most fascinating room, I thought, was the gold hall which is exactly as the name implies. Except, they’ve achieved the effect at a significant saving, by putting thin slices of gold and fusing them between glass.
The walls also feature a mosaic which, apparently was very modern, and thus, very controversial. Although I’m not entirely convinced about some of the artistic merit of the work, I really enjoyed hearing the story about how the artist had shocked Stockholm with many of his inclusions. Eventually, they got used to the work, and it’s now much loved, apparently.
My favourite story, though, concerns the reason why St Erik has no head. Apparently, they began creating the mosaic from the ground floor up, completely forgetting about the base which, subsequently, took about two feet off the top of the mosaic, including Erik’s head. And rather than start all over again, they left it as it was, and explained it away, saying that he had been beheaded by the Danish anyway.
And from there I made my way towards STF Fridhemsplan (where I’m now staying) and along the way, mastered another aspect of the public transport system. Well maybe not mastered, as there was a false start. Having been given some directions by an attendant I walked down an escalator and then re-emerged minutes later coming up the other one. I hadn’t QUITE understood the directions he gave me in Swedish.
And for those who’ve asked, yes, I have been using my Swedish. My German has also had a good working. There are German’s EVERYWHERE. Generally speaking I’ve found the people I’ve spoken to in Swedish have been really appreciative that I’ve made the effort, even though they mostly speak perfect English. They’ve smiled and responded slowly and simply, and they’ve also responded kindly when I’ve asked “Hur sager man pa Svenska”? (How does one say that in Swedish). I’m also starting to get to the stage where the signs and directions are starting to mean something instantly, without the need for internal-translation in my head.
Speaking of directions and road rules, I was nearly killed twice again today. Having mastered an understanding of when and how to expect cars (which are, in my view, on the wrong side of the road) I’ve now discovered a problem with people on bikes. They’re everywhere! And they mean business… In fact, I got an angry “bell ring” from one bloke this afternoon when I inadvertently walked onto a cycle-lane.
So anyway, I’ve booked into the youth hostel. The room is fine with just a few beds, though there’s a bit of a “man smell” about the place, if you know what I mean. But I’ll cope, I’m sure.
However, the one thing I’ve learned quickly is that I’m not a “cook my own food in a hostel kind of guy”. I had every intention on this trip of having a good breakfast, then the lunchtime special or maybe a sandwich, followed by cooking a meal in the hostel at night. I don’t think so…
As I walked in the kitchen late this afternoon it was full of people eating noodles with plain, uninteresting (and therefore probably cheap) meat balls. There wasn’t a souce in sight. Ugh. Sorry, I just can’t do that. It reminds me too much of being at university, and two much of two-minute noodles. I think it’s bigger breakfasts and lunches for me.
My trip to the supermarket this afternoon, though, wasn’t entirely disappointing. I know some people were looking strangely at me as I walked around the supermarket working out what all of the different foods were called, and how they’re bought. It’s the same as at home mostly, with a few differences here and there, and…
I discovered my two favourite fruit/vegetables – tomatoes and cucumbers – are dirt cheap. I’ve also discovered my other favourite food – seafood (including mussels) are also dirt cheap.
They say that Stockholm is an expensive place to live, and it might turn out to be that way, but I don’t think it has to be. I could live quite happily on tomatoes, cucumbers and mussles for the rest of my life, to be honest.
I’ve been checking out some of the restaurant menus as I’ve walked around town. Asian cuisine is incredibly over-priced compared to Sydney, and from what I’ve seen on the plates themselves, is more like what you’ll find on the menu of a Chinese restaurant in country Australia, than what I enjoy so cheaply in Sydney. Lebanese food is also very expensive, compared to what I have on my doorstep at home.
I’m thinking of heading over to Sodermalm tonight to check out some of “those bars”, and then tomorrow, it’s another day of sight-seeing around town. I’ve only been here twenty-four hours but I’ve managed to fit in a lot so far.