Buses and Boats and Bjorn and Benny

Buses and Boats and Bjorn and Benny
Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden

Good morning Stockholm, its lovely to be here. I think we were up and about before half (or maybe all) of Stockholm… and we weren’t exactly early. At about 9:30 we wandered out, since the hop-on hop-off bus started at 10. As an aside – I can thoroughly recommended all of the hop on’s we’ve taken throughout the holiday – do it on day one, get a good overview of where you’re visiting, so you know which bits look interesting and warrant a further visit.

The plan was to buy a bus ticket from the tourist information centre just a few doors down from our apartment. But at 9:30, it still hadn’t opened. Not to worry, there was another one down the long shopping street we visited last night. The bus tour was great – the first bus of the day was packed but we squeezed in, and saw some interesting sights. Less interesting was the rain that started to hit us on the open-top bus… but next minute, we learnt this bus was a convertible … a retractable roof winched itself into place and that was the end of that problem. We learnt a bit, too. The part of town we’re staying in is ‘Gamla Stan’ – the ‘old city’ in Stockholm. Hence, the palace, the monumental buildings, etc. The full loop ended up taking about 2 hours, a bit longer than anticipated, but we made it back to original stop. The timing ended up being perfect as there’s also a hop-on hop-off boat, which we hopped on to, and it took off about one minute later.

Cruising the Baltic Sea (kinda) for a few minutes, we disembarked at a very important stop in our travel plans – the ABBA museum. Or rather, “ABBA – The Museum”. I mean, who doesn’t love ABBA? (And if you don’t love ABBA, are we still friends?). Back in 2010, we had the good fortune to visit the “ABBA World” exhibition when it was at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The museum was basically that same exhibition, but expanded upon with more information about the pre-ABBA days, and a little information about the post-ABBA days as well. But despite having seen most of it before it was still cool – seeing original costumes and that guitar from the Eurovision days. Two great features were the ABBA phone. Allegedly, if someone does Ring Ring the phone, it would deb worth answering as there are only four particular people who know the phone number… who knows if that’s actually true, but it didn’t ring the 30 seconds or so we hovered around it. The other thing I really loved the idea of, was one of the pianos in the recreation of Polar Studios (where they recorded many of the albums). It was linked over the interwebs to a piano in Benny’s house. So if he ever started playing at home, you’d hear him playing in the museum. Again, that didn’t happen in the 30 seconds we were loitering around that area, but still, a cool idea. One roo they didn’t have in Sydney was the incredible (and lengthy) wall of gold records that ABBA had been awarded over the years… amazing to see just how much they have achieved over the years. It was also cool to see the scoring part of the 1974 Eurovision. Every ABBA fan has seen them perform Waterloo at Eurovision plenty of times, but it was fun to see the scoring as all the votes just kept on rolling in for Sweden.

(Yes, I know, it takes a special kind of person to say that watching Eurovision voting is fun…)

The ABBA gift shop was of course in full swing, but we were very restrained, ever conscious of the fact that every singly thing we buy still has be lugged down that spiral staircase and then onward to Sydney. But of course it wouldn’t have been right to leave empty-handed.

The next step in our journey (and it wasn’t much more than a few steps) caused us to skip from modern history into not-so-modern history – the Vasa museum. The Vasa was a Swedish warship, built in 1628. Built as a flagship for the navy, it had over 700 wooden sculptures adorning it. It also had a relatively new invention of two levels of canon decks – making it one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. It’s ‘rear castle’ (the back end) rose up more than 14 metres out of the water, which at the time must have made it an impressive and imposing sight. Unfortunately, it also had a top-heavy design, not enough ballast, and an almost complete inability to stay upright. After two years of construction, including the aforementioned 700 ornate wooden sculptures, it has time for the maiden voyage. This maiden voyage lasted barely 1000 metres before a puff of wind, not much stronger than a breeze, caused the whole ship to capsize and sink in Stockholm harbour. All that work gone in an instant – along with the lives of 31 of the crew, in full view of thousands of spectators.
I probably had the wrong reaction to this – my first thought wasn’t for the 31 lives lost, 31 distressed families who knew there was someone they’d never be able to speak to again. No, my firs thought was actually ‘the poor sculptors!’. Imagine seeing 700 pieces of your work, of which you were undoubtedly proud, suddenly sink just a few minutes after their unveiling. Anyway, it must have been a pretty devastating thing for a good many people. After that it was mostly forgotten. Most of the cannon were retrieved not too long after, but the rest of the ship was left and forgotten about, until 1951 when it was again found. Fast forward another fifty-something years, and here it is, right in front of us, an amazing, impressive sight.

The people who recovered the ship itself have also recovered a good many artefacts from it as well. There were a few things working in the ships favour – the cold, brackish water of the Baltic Sea meant it wasn’t a good natural home to many of the underwater creatures such as woodworm that would normally have destroyed it. As a bonus (of a sort) Stockholm harbour was a heavily polluted place for quite some time, and that too kept most of the marine life at bay. Many of the sculptures also had a good time of it – the iron bolts and nails holding them on rusted through quite quickly, whereupon they dropped straight into the harbour mud, which kept them very well preserved. One of things that amazed me, is that 98% of the boat was saw was the original material from 1628. The other 2% has been reconstructed, in much lighter wood so it’s easy to see where the few reconstructed parts are.

Some further things that really brought it home and made it feel quite real, were some tiny details. For instance, they were able to retrieve sails that were in storage on one of the decks, they could tell from the seams and the threads hanging off them that these sails were brand new, and never had the chance to be put into use before the boat sank. There was also the contents of a chest belonging to one of the crew – which had remained unopened from 1628 until the 1960s. He had a hat, some coins, a lump of wax, some tools and spare leather for repairing his shoes… it was incredible how well preserved some of these things were – there was a jacket that looked like it could still be worn. I guess the purpose of many modern museums is to answer the question “What was it like?” This museum very much delivered on that – it wasn’t just a big ship, it was a (rather temporary) home to real people, and the museum could really connect you with the ship on a very human level. Perhaps too much – 16 of the skeletons are on display, a resting place that I’m sure the dead would never have dreamed of when they were still living.
But that is probably more than enough raving about it. Read more bout it on Wikipedia, it’s a fascinating story – seemingly borne of the age-old issue of not daring to say “umm, I don’t think that’s going to work”. However, had the ship not failed as soon as it failed, then those of here in the 21st century wouldn’t know of it at all, except perhaps as some footnote in the history of the Swedish navy, along with hundreds of other ships. It was a silver lining for the future, from a terrible cloud in the past.

Perhaps we could have stayed even longer, but Stockholm’s somewhat curious practice of stopping the tours quite early means we already missed the last boat, and was about the miss the last bus not long after 5pm. We made it to the bus, but the bus didn’t make it as far as our stop. Not to worry, it was only about a 10 minute walk, but we took a few detours, checking out a long (and modern) shopping street that we’d seen from the bus earlier in the day.

Now if you can, take a moment to turn on the kitchen tap, see that water just flowing down the drain? Then turn the tap on a bit harder – and watch it all go with hardly even a chance to see it before it’s gone. Congratulations – you now know what it’s like to pay for things in Stockholm! We’d been warned it wasn’t a cheap place by any means – and those warning’s were spot on. It’s sometimes a little hard to tell since $1 AUD buys you about 6 Kroner… I’m not the sharpest when it comes to mental arithmetic. But to set a few examples – the average steak in a restaurant is about $40. Even a burger can be $30. At the ABBA museum we had a coffee, a coke, two cinnamon buns and a slice of a sweet pie – that came to $32.50. So yes, the money disappears surprisingly quickly – but the citizens do live with some extraordinary benefits. Parents get 480 days paid maternity leave, to be shared between them as they wish. Children’s education is from ages 7 to 17 (plus more after that if you like), and includes hot cooked lunch every day, all free of charge. So, to live hear can be expensive, but also such good value. Dinner tonight was around $80 – for two kebabs, a shared pizza, a bottle of water and a coke. So about average – but man, it was all delicious!

That was enough adventuring for today – tomorrow is already our last full day in Stockholm, so a visit the IKEA is a must!