Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stockholm's 700-year-old Storkyrkan Cathedral

Stockholm’s Medieval Cathedral, built in 1279, houses unique objects such as the St George and the Dragon sculpture (1489),

and the legendary Vädersoltavlan (1636)... which I couldn't stop looking at:

(photo from Wikipedia)

Vädersolstavlan (Swedish for "The Sun Dog Painting") is an oil-on-panel painting depicting a halo display, an atmospheric optical phenomenon, observed over Stockholm on April 20, 1535. It is named after the sun dogs (Swedish: Vädersol, "Weather sun") appearing on the upper right part of the painting. While chiefly noted for being the oldest depiction of Stockholm, it is arguably also the oldest Swedish landscape painting and the oldest depiction of sun dogs.

(my photo taken at the Cathedral)

Since 1527, the Cathedral has been a Lutheran church. A wide range of religious services and concerts are held. The wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Mr. Daniel Westling took place on Saturday, June 19, 2010 in Stockholm Cathedral.

We bought photo mugs at the Royal Palace gift shop commemorating the event.

Kalmar Castle, Kalmar Sweden

The history of this legendary castle stretches back over 800 years. During the 12th century a defense tower was erected to protect against pirates and other sea-faring enemies. A harbour was constructed and in the course of time a castle grew around the original tower. Kalmar Castle soon became “The Key to the Kingdom”, a significant defensive fortification on the Danish border with an essential part in international, political life.

The Castle acquired its present appearance in the 16th century, when the Vasa kings Erik XIV and Johan III rebuilt it in the style of a Renaissance palace and furnished it in a continental manner. The last king who lived in the Castle and issued governmental documents was Charles XI. He was on the throne from 1673 to 1692.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ode to a Swedish Sandwich

Scandinavians are a frugal people.

Swedes make Norwegians look like crazy shoppers.

Driving through the countryside from Copenhagen up North to Stockholm, we were struck by the complete absence of any roadside inns, restaurants, hot dog stands, convenience stores, or anywhere you could actually buy food. We have come to the conclusion that everyone in Sweden makes their own sandwiches at home before going anywhere in the car and then drives straight through until they arrive at their destination or they run out of sandwiches and die.

The hotels actually cater to this and provide breakfast and, in many cases, dinner, so that the Swedes can feel at home when they travel and never have to go out anywhere.

This is the world of the "smörgåsbord". Of course, having grown up in the United States, we are used to expressions like "he has a real smorgasbord of choices". I used to think that meant there was a lot to choose from.

The Swedish "smörgåsbord" is comprised of the following:

1. The bread table, which includes the flat bread or hårt, as the Swedes aptly call it.

2. Yogurt.

3. Ham and cheese.

I have found out that the word "smörgåsbord" does not actually mean "a wide medley of choices", but comes from two separate words, "smörgås", which means sandwich, and "bord" which means board. So, basically, when someone in Sweden says "Vell, Sven he has dere a real smörgåsbord of choices!" What he is actually saying is, "Want a ham sandwich?"

The sandwich bread is comprised of a couple of loaves of "normal bread" (as in edible), a couple of loaves of "really really dark and heavy bread" (as in marginally edible), and baskets and baskets of "flat bread" (which is inedible). They actually have a huge collection of flat breads in Sweden. The one thing they have in common is that they are very, very hårt, which is Swedish for hard. They have baskets and baskets of them. As far as I can tell, none of the Swedes actually eat them.

We have been taking samples of the various types of flat bread.

They are disturbingly similar.

We even have an example of flat bread from a medieval castle.

My personal theory is that all the flat bread in Sweden was made back in the Middle Ages and has been handed down, from generation to generation, in little baskets that are put out for visiting foreigners as a Swedish joke. After having a couple of tries at the "hårt", most of us give up and the remaining massive cache of "hårt" lives on for future generations.

Just a theory, but I'm sticking with it.

Hop On, Fuck Off

We are in beautiful Stockholm!

This place is stuffed with historic buildings and you can’t throw a rock without hitting something owned by the Royal Family. I am not sure whether it is still King Oscar of Sardine fame, or someone else, but everywhere you look, they have another palace, suite of offices, restaurant or hot dog stand.

Stockholm is actually a large collection of islands, or as my lovely wife says, “An archipann, no, an archipegg, no, an archipatio?”

It really is quite gorgeous. We took a dinner boat tour last night around the “Large Group of Islands”. We had a lovely evening tour, saw hot air balloons and sailed about looking at the Royal Family’s possessions.

I was complaining earlier about the Swedish disposition in general, but Karen has pointed out that we are up to 4, possibly 5, people who have been “pretty good, for Swedes”.

Today, we slept in, relaxing in our lovely hotel room at the Clarion Stockholm. I’m not sure what it is about the Clarion hotel chain in Scandinavia, but they really have very nice accommodations and stellar breakfast packages. They aren’t bad places in the States, but it’s not like we search them out. It’s one of those mysteries, like finding out that Jerry Lewis is really big in France.

In any event, we had our “typical Swedish smorgasbord” (more on that in another post) and then headed off to see some Stockholm stuff today.

So, we went for one of the “Hop On, Hop Off” boat packages, which are these delightful little ferry boats that run about the Stockholm archipann, no, archipegg, no, archipatio. You buy a day pass and, as they say in their promotional literature: “Sightseeing by Stockholm’s oldest sightseeing boats is a fun, beautiful and comfortable way to experience the city. Hop-on and hop-off to your heart’s content; the ticket is valid for 24 hours. You can hop-on and hop-off at the various stops as often as you like, or stay onboard and enjoy the ride. The ticket is valid for 24 hours.”

I am sure that the ticket is valid for 24 hours, but the boats only run until 4 p.m. So, you can keep your valid ticket in your pocket and walk about, comfortable that it has not slipped into invalidity, but you need to find a taxi to actually get yourself home.

The next thing that they don’t tell you is that there are a wide variety of “Hop On, Hop Off” companies and you can buy your valid ticket (which, by the way, is valid for 24 hours), but it will not be honored by companies other than the company that sold you the valid ticket (for 24 hours).

We found this out by taking one of the “Hop On, Hop Off” boats to the Vasa Museum.

First, a word about the Vasa Museum. This is a large and beautiful museum dedicated to a complete failure of boat construction. The Vasa was a “Fearsome war machine. With 64 guns and 300 soldiers should she scare and defeat the Polish enemy.”

I think it might have succeeded had the Poles been watching, as they would have been laughing themselves to death. The boat left the harbor, sailed about 1,200 yards and sank like a stone. Maybe this is when the Swedes started being so cranky.

Well, we hiked about the museum, the Vasa is incredibly preserved, having barely been used, “This little beauty was owned by a little old lady who only took it out on Sundays and holidays.”

When it was time to go, we hiked back to the dock of the “Hop On, Hop Off” boats and waited for a boat to arrive. A boat came up and we all marched to the gangplank, our “Hop On, Hop Off” tickets in hand. The Steward (if that’s what you call him) stood at the boat, saying no to each of us as we presented our ticket, no explanation, just no. The last couple was from Australia and after the Steward said no, they tried to ask how much it would cost to get on board, but the boat was already pulling away. It was like the boat had just been stopping as a joke, they didn’t pick up anybody. I turned to the couple and said “Do you know what “hej da” means in Swedish [the Swedes claim it means “goodbye]? Fuck off..”

We had another boat arrive with the “Hop On, Hop Off” Logo on its side, but our ticket wasn’t good for that one either. Finally, a boat arrived that accepted our ticket.

Well, we made it back to our hotel (with an extra taxi ride) and are comfortably settled in our hotel room with our Absolut on ice. There is at least one thing the Swedes have done right.

Dinner Cruise through Stockholm's archipelagos...