long long Sweden post (2005-03-28 - 2:12 p.m.)
Home sweet home, except Edinburgh is pulling out all the stops for a miserable day. Rain rain everywhere. Still, it's a day off (work called me in Sweden, running up huge charges on my mobile, to say by the way, don't bother coming in on Monday) and the rain means I don't feel at all guilty about spending the whole day lounging at home or at the internet cafe.
I made it back safe and sound, which always feels like a minor miracle. I also had an amazing trip - I really couldn't have asked for a much better holiday. Very glad I decided to splurge and just go see something for once.
After staying at the hostel the first night I caught the train to Västerås, where Shannon was staying with her friend Natasha (another girl from PEI.) I've never actually met Natasha, despite the fact that I crashed on her floor for two nights. She was off on a trip somewhere for the weekend and caught the same train I was just getting off - we could have had a Sliding Doors moment at the station but I was in another carriage and thus didn't get to meet her at all.
However, she left Shannon and I the keys to her dorm room, so we had our free place to stay. (She's studying in Västerås.) Oddly enough, the dorm is housed in a working hospital - you have to wander past the ambulance bays and mammogram centres to get home! Sometimes when people have their curtains open you can wave at the people in hospital beds as you go past.
The man beside me is working on his personal ad profile. I wonder how well he will do with that porn-star mustache! Yowtch.
Anyway, sorry, got distracted there.
We spent Friday just poking around Västerås. It's on the shore of a lake so we went down to the harbour hoping to catch a ferry to one of the islands, but of course the lake's still more or less frozen and the ferries aren't running. I did get some really nice pictures of the lake and harbour, though. (Lots of condos - again, reminded me of Canada). Then we somehow managed to catch the correct bus (after a couple of tries) to get out to Norra Bjornö, an island that is a nature reserve. (Bjorn apparently means bear in Swedish, and the suffix ö means island. As far as I can tell, Norra means north, but that's a guess.)
Norra Bjornö was absolutely gorgeous - a nice unspoiled island full of walking trails and people having campfires and jogging. Again, a very Albertan sort of landscape - similar trees and similar feel, though much more mossy (closer to the sea so less dry, I'm guessing). Had a lovely time walking around the paths and just enjoying being outside in the fresh air. It was a gorgeous day and I was so impressed to see a non-city part of Sweden (despite the fact it's an island connected to a city).
Friday night - we collapsed. We caught a bus part way back from Norra Bjornö and walked the rest, and Shannon and I were both exhausted. We read our books and had an early night.
Saturday we had determined that we should get out of Västerås and see some of the surrounding area. It was a bit hard to pick a destination, because sadly most attractions are only open in the summer (which it definitely was not, despite the brilliant weather). In the end we picked Örebro, due to its castle ("the most photogenic in Sweden") being open all year round. It turned out to be an inspired choice. It was about a 50-minute train ride from Västerås inland and a bit South, meaning that rather than staying in Stockholm I got a decentish cross-section of the middle part of the country.
As soon as we got into the city we knew we'd made the right choice. It's a beautiful place, with lots of nice buildings and a river bordered with parks running right through the middle. Swedish houses are wooden, like Canadian ones, but theirs have lots of gables and are generally all painted sort of flat, solid colours: mustard yellow, pale green, ochre, dark red. Makes for a very distinctive look, not like anything I've ever seen before. (Though I did see a few almost Dutch- or Flemish-looking houses with the narrow false fronts).
Anyway, Örebro had this look in spades. It also had a great castle set into the middle of the river. It was huge and sort of squat-looking, not like Scottish castles. We climbed up one of the towers where they had a cool exhibit about how the townspeople built the castle. It was made of granite and limestone (in fact, one of the few stone buildings I saw in Sweden).
After the castle we tried random interesting-looking items from a local bakery (looked better than they tasted, sadly) and wandered through some really gorgeous gardens. I wish I could see them in spring, because they would be really amazing. Even in winter they were quite something. They also contained a lot of lovely sculpture, which luckily looks good no matter what time of year you see it.
We found a strange little open-air museum as well, with all sorts of little buildings that used to be in the town that now house museums or little craft workshops. Interesting but would have been better if I spoke Swedish! Unfortunately I couldn't read any of the museum cards.
We wanted to climb up Örebro's old water tower and see the city from above, but we couldn't work out which bus to take and didn't have a good enough map to find it. So we climbed back on the train and headed back to Västerås. The weather had been gorgeous and it was a really good day trip.
We were not particularly looking forward to walking back to Natasha's (which I'm told is 3 km or so away from the city centre) and when Shannon saw a bus she said would take us there, we grabbed it. It was the #19 and didn't really seem to be going in the right direction... but we figured the worst that could happen is we would end up back in the centre of town and have to walk after all.
Eventually all the other riders piled off and it was just us and the driver on an empty bus. He asked us in broken English where we wanted to go, and we told him the Central Hospital. He said, "Yes, but for that you must get off... oh, well, I will show you." We said Tack (thank you) and he drove the empty bus to the hosptial. Now, we have no way of proving this, but we got the distinct feeling that this wasn't actually part of his route, and that he was just chauffering us home! That is a new one, I have NEVER had that happen in any city. What a nice bus driver.
So we ended up at the hospital and were watching the driver reverse to go back the way he came - when we heard a sickening crunching sound. He had managed to BACK INTO A LIGHT POST while attempting the turn! The back end of the bus was all crunched, and I don't think the post fared very well either. The whole thing was absolutely unbelievable - especially after being told that Swedish bus drivers are fanatical about being on time! I felt very sorry for the poor driver and hope he didn't get in too much trouble for bus injuries sustained by helping some clueless Canucks.
Sunday our plans got pretty screwed up. The plan: get up at 8 and catch the 11 am train back to Stockholm. The reality: the clocks changed! We ended up being an hour ahead of what we thought we were (good thing one of the inhabitants of the dorm mentioned it to Shannon!) and couldn't get a train till 1:00 pm. This curtailed our time in Stockholm, which was a bit disappointing. I did managed to do everything I really wanted to, though.
We started by wandering around Gamla Stan, or the Old Town. It's on an island and part of the archipelago that forms Stockholm. It was great, all narrow winding pedistrianised streets and cobblestones. (And tacky souvenier shops, of course!)
Then we went across one of the ubiquitous bridges (towns made of islands rock, by the way) and went up the Katarinahissen, a sort of observation tower that looks out over the city. (Shannon mentioned once we were up that she doesn't like lifts!) We got some great views of the islands -the water in the harbour was sparkling in the sunlight and it was gorgeous. I think that's one of my favorite sights, so you can see why I liked Stockholm so much!
We climbed down roughly a million stairs and dodged across a highway in a very un-Sweden-like manner to get back to the water's edge. Then we took a wee ferry across to one of the other islands, Djurgården. This was the home of the highlight of the trip for me, the Vasamuseet.
The Vasa was a ship, built in 1628. It was the king's flagship, covered in brilliantly-painted carvings to scare off Sweden's enemies. It was also the first Swedish ship to be built with two levels of gundecks. The launch of the Vasa was a huge deal and the entire population of Stockholm there to see it off.
It was hauled out past the islands and set sail just past the Gamla Stan. It sailed for 20 minutes... and sank, in full view of the entire town. Attempts were made to raise it at the time (the king was not so pleased at having his prized possesion lost!) but nobody could, so it lay there for almost 300 years. Then, in 1961, it was raised by having divers tunnel underneath the ship and push metal cords underneath. The ship was eased out using these ropes and put into its very own museum.
The museum is incredible. The ship itself dominates, its wood darkened by hundreds of years under the silt. They even found sails more or less intact! It's covered with carvings and the doors to poke guns through (technical term) are open. There are also lots of interesting displays about shipbuilding at the time, how people lived etc. I wish I had had more time, but sadly the museum closed an hour after we got there. I WILL go back to Stockholm and see that museum properly, if it takes me thirty years! It's up there with the V&A as my favorite museum.
Interesting things about the Vasa: it sank because a). with two stories of gundecks, its centre of gravity was too high and the ship too narrow and b). it didn't have enough ballast. Also, the open gun windows meant that once it started listing water could pour in... the poor ship was doomed. 400 people would have lived aboard the ship had it sailed. A third would have died from disease or battle before ever coming home. Between 20 and 45 people died in the tragedy, a big proportion of the current population of Stockholm and area (around 10 000).
If you are ever in Stockholm, SEE THIS MUSEUM! You'll know you have the right one because it has ship's sails on the roof. :)
Once the Vasamuseet closed, I was pretty much done with Stockholm (as the bus left at 6:30). We had a very hurried sushi dinner by the bus station and that was that... well, then there was an 8-hour trip until I got home at 3 am in the blinding mist and rain, but then that was that.
Things about Sweden: they all seem to have really good, powerful showers, even in the hostel and the crappy hospital dorm. It was a nice change. Also, to say hello in Sweden you say "Hej hej" (pronounced "hey hey"). This had one of two effects on me: either made me feel like I was offering some sort of cheesy 70's pick-up line (Hey hey, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?) or indelibly got the Monkees theme song into my head. (Hey hey, we're the Monkees, people say we monkey around...)
All in all it was a great trip, though. I'm so glad I went, expense aside. Go see the Vasamuseet!
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