I’d been planning to visit Stockholm for a while and eventually got around to booking train tickets and accommodation. It was only afterwards that I realised that I was going to be there for the midsummer weekend.
Midsummer is a big thing in Sweden, with various traditional food, dancing round maypoles and a very strange song about small frogs (apparently they’re funny because they have no ears). The celebrations had been on the Friday evening, but there was still a holiday atmosphere.
When I was booking the train tickets I encountered one of the oddities of SJ‘s fare structure. It’s sometimes cheaper to travel first class than second class, including the days I was travelling. So on the Saturday morning I boarded the very shiny X2000 tilting train at Linköping and took my seat in the very nice first class coach. A first class ticket includes tea and coffee, fruit, newspapers and wireless internet.
The journey was pleasant, with stops at Norrköping and Södertalje. Lots of typical Swedish countryside passing by; the well-kept fields and red-painted houses look like something from a postcard, but there are plenty of them in between stretches of forest.
Arrival at Stockholm Central is a bit confusing, there’s a shortage of maps to allow you to orient yourself. I wandered around a bit and eventually found a sort of self-service tourist information desk and picked up a free map. I worked out where I was and which exit I wanted then started to make my way towards the Skeppsholmen youth hostel, stopping on the way for lunch.
Skeppsholmen is an island close to the centre of Stockholm, opposite the royal palace. It was formerly occupied by the Swedish navy but now most of the buildings have been converted into museums. The hostel is the former carpenters’ workshops and accommodation, there are also rooms available in af Chapman moored outside. Of course, this being Sweden, there are rules. I couldn’t get into my room until 3pm, so I had to carry all my stuff around until then.
Back to Kungsträdgård to the tourist information centre to buy a Stockholm Card. Another typical Swedish experience: “take a ticket and wait for your number to be called”. The manufacturers of these queueing machines must make plenty of money in Sweden.
On the way back to Skeppsholmen I walked past the Grand Hotel and almost right into Jay-Z, he was signing autographs on the pavement while several large American cars were being filled with wardrobes on wheels and hangers-on.
My first stop was the Arkitekturmuseet, in a modern building at the top of Skeppsholmen. It’s interesting, but not very interesting. A collection of models of various famous buildings and descriptions of typical building styles. Apparently the red paint with white corners on rural buildings was originally meant to look like (much more expensive) brick. It had started raining heavily while I was there, so I had an expensive espresso and waited for the rain to ease off before returning to the hostel.
My Stockholm Card included public transport, so I walked up to the ferry terminal at Nybroplan, getting fairly wet in the process. The rain stopped once I got there, so the long wait for the ferry wasn’t too bad. The ferry took me across to another island, Djurgården, which has many of Stockholm’s attractions, including the open-air museum Skansen. I spent a few hours wandering around Skansen, although most of the buildings had closed up at 5pm. Dinner was a takeaway reindeer meat, sour cream and mashed potato wrapped in flat bread thing from one of the stalls in the park.
I took the historic tram back into the city and the T-banen to Gamla Stan (the old town) but it had started raining again so I just had a quick scuttle around before returning to the hostel.
The Skeppsholmen hostel isn’t a very sociable place, lacking a comfortable lounge or communal area. Instead they have a bar/restaurant, which I’m sure is very profitable for them. I went for a walk round the island to look at the various old boats moored around it, many of them being lived in.
The next morning, after a fairly restless night due to the horrible bed, I got up for a little stroll then returned for the breakfast buffet. The buffet was pretty good, all the usual muesli, bread, ham, cheese and of course a selection of pickled herring. I get the feeling that Swedish youth hostels are lagging behind the rest of the world, still a bit of the old puritanical attitude there and nowhere near as nice as the typical New Zealand hostel.
I packed up, checked out and walked round to Vasamuséet, public transport has a bit of a slow start on a Sunday and it was a nice morning for strolling along the waterfront. The museum is excellent; the Vasa itself is very impressive and well preserved and restored. In particular they’ve made it quite clear which parts are original and which are modern replacements. A little bit more technical information about the raising would have been nice, but that’s just my engineering side. Tied up outside are a few more museum-ships, but there’s a terrible lack of information about them, apart from a little exhibit on ice breaking aboard the S:t Erik. In the museum I overheard two visitors talking about some prices quoted on one of the displays: “is that modern euros?” (no, I think they’re talking about 17th century euros).
After a quick hot dog and Coke for lunch I visited the Estonia memorial, I noticed that one of the victims was Nigerian. Then it was on to the Nordiska museet, a huge and impressive building but it seems to be short of useful exhibition space. They had some odd but interesting exhibitions, including one of table settings from various historical periods. Another exhibition was of furniture, mentioning the research of the Home Research Institute that led to the development of the Swedish kitchen standard, this was featured in a film I wanted to see a few years ago but never got round to: Kitchen Stories.
Back to the Gamla Stan, in better weather this time, for a wander around. I visited the Nobel Museum, which frankly isn’t worth it, it’s all fancy displays and little real content. Gamla Stan was heaving with tourists, mostly German, many of them with that annoying habit of stopping suddenly in the middle of the pavement to take pictures.
For the train back to Linköping I’d paid a bit extra for SJ’s “plusmeny”, a three-course meal served at your seat. It was very much like an airline meal but was pretty good. Hot smoked fish, mashed potato and vegetables in a cheese and mustard sauce and salad. The dessert part wasn’t so good: soggy cake, synthetic cream and a puddle of generic fruit goo.