Finding family and history in Copenhagen

The last two weeks or so have been busy, with a side of gangbusters. It started off innocently enough, recovering from a cold and preparing to return to work, plus a bit of socialising and a party that included at least 10 violinists (more on that in another post). It culminated in a house warming party, the sort of party we’ve wanted to hold since we moved to Sweden.

Homemade chocolates

Homemade chocolates

There were wonderful friends, the kitchen was too warm because of all the bodies, candles, baking bread and talking, drinks flowed non-stop, snacks were snacked upon and for once I actually got to talk to most of the guests. Much later, after the last guests had left, we kept the music going and danced and chatted for a few hours longer, drawing out the party buzz and fuzz of wine.

Rather than tidy and then ease back into a normal week with leftovers and finishing off opened wine bottles, two days after the party I was off to Copenhagen to meet someone I hadn’t seen for many months. I took a train via Malmö, crossing the sea and wondering what lay under the grey waves, and how often ships must have careened back and forth many years ago, carrying warriors and loot. I eventually arrived at the central station and stumbled around, seat-sore and tired. I spotted my mum and hugs followed, and we headed out into the city, switching between Swedish, English and Norwegian and chatting non-stop. After dropping my bags off at the hotel, we hit the town.

A queen on a cloudy day

A queen on a cloudy day

I have visited Copenhagen before, a weekend trip and a taste more than anything else. This time we wandered randomly, up the main streets and past landmarks. We saw the Amalienborg palace, the Mermaid, gardens, Nyhavn, children dressed as knights and peasants, shops and streets filled with locals and tourists.

Children or mighty warriors?

Children or mighty warriors?

We ended up at a glass-walled market, filled with fish, meat, vegetable, chocolate and tea stalls, smells mingling around us (though fortunately not that of the surströmning). We settled on a shared pizza and wine, and toasted to a week on Copenhagen, before making our slow and chatty way back to the hotel.

The next day, the first full day, my mum went off for a tour of a castle that I wasn’t able to attend, and so I had the day and the city to myself. I started by sorting out some business, and then walking around at my own pace. I passed a memorial to the Charlie Hebdo staff at the French Consulate, palaces, theatres and Tivoli, and ended up at the National Museum.

Flowers for Charlie

Flowers for Charlie

Last time there had been some confusion about museums and I had missed seeing it, which was a shame as it is very good. Plus, it was free.

There were exhibits about the history of Denmark, from the neolithic to the modern era, cultures from around the world and a lot of school children. As I tried to stay one room ahead of the mob, I saw the skeleton of an auroch, and understood why they were considered to be so dangerous and featured so often on ancient paintings. They were so unearthly large and impressive, that it seemed almost a surprise that the last ones only disappeared in 1627.

An auroch

An auroch

Further on were rooms and rooms of artifacts from early hunters, then farmers and traders, giant horns, helmets, swords and coffins. There were even plaits of hair, left in bogs for 2000 years, almost all a uniform auburn. There was a text describing how the sacrifice of hair was at the same time easy and difficult, as it is so commonly found but takes so long to grow. It made me wonder about what happened that caused those people to cut their hair and throw it away into a muddy bog, thinking it would never be seen again.

Ancient sacrificed braids

Ancient sacrificed braids

There were cauldrons made by the Etruscans, Roman coins and glasses and a long ship. One of the most wonderful things was the Gundestrup cauldron.

A face on the cauldron

A face on the cauldron

Aside from it’s size and the brightness of the silver, the artistry on it was amazing, and there were many figures I recognised, especially one antlered fellow with crossed legs holding a snake and a torque.

A familiar antlered man

A familiar antlered man

There were also a few rooms with Roman, Greek and Etruscan artifacts, including the painted faces of Alexandrian mummies, a flying penis statue and interesting comparisons between Greek myths and Disney.

The Romans did like penis figurines

The Romans did like penis figurines

I then wandered through the renaissance exhibition, past ancient microscopes and carved ivory sculptures, ball rooms and a series of exhibits about cultures around the world. Eventually I found myself in the main hall again, and left for the next part of the day’s adventure; the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Renaissance room

Renaissance room

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to the Glyptotek, which was probably just as well. After depositing my bag and jacket in a locker in the basement, which resembled a cheerful crypt, I followed a set of stairs into a room full of Impressionist sculptures of horses, people and unknown figures. Scattered among them were people sketching, drawing impressions from the art that I couldn’t see.

A goddess in the garden

A goddess in the garden

I then went into the main hall, in which a garden of palms, fountains, jungle flowers and statues sit under a huge glass dome. There was no other place like it in Copenhagen, or anywhere else I have seen. From there I found the ancient Roman galleries, full of unknown faces in marble, painted jars and countless other artifacts.

An unknown man

An unknown man

I also found a theatre that had been designed as a Greek temple, with columns statues of gods and ancient celebrities sheltering a colonnade. Yet again, I had never seen anything like it.

The theatre

The theatre

On other floors I found more modern styled art, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh and Gaugin and enumerable others that I’d never heard of.

Sadly by this point I was approaching the artistic overload point, and so headed out into the snow and slush .

That evening I met up with my mum, who was full of stories about the castle tour, and after a wander and dinner, we slept. The next few days would be not quite as full of history, but instead ideas about the future, and we would need all of the  energy we could gather just to keep up.

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A journey up the river

Recently I had an entire day to myself, during a week free of classes and work, and so I escaped the city for a little while. I had an urging to visit a museum, and spend the cloudy coldness absorbed in artifacts and old stories.
Which is how I found myself at a train station, surrounded by fields and chirping birds, in a valley that had once been the centre of Västra Götaland.

Those who have peeped at the history of Göteborg may know that it was officially founded in 1621. Ok, but what about before that time, you may ask, at such a significant point between Denmark and Norway there must have been some sort of settlement, you may point out? There were, seemingly shifted down the river Älv with time as boundaries shifted and kings had great new ideas. The first of these towns on record was Lödöse, located about 40kms up the river from Göteborg. It was here that I went on that day, or to be specific, it was to the museum of Lödöse.

Lödöse as it was

Lödöse as it was

Lödöse has faded somewhat over the years, now boasting a population of around 1300 according to Wikipedia, but in the museum at least you can get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a thriving trading city.

Ancient Lödösians thriving Medievally

Ancient Lödösians thriving Medievally

The museum is full of pot and glass shards from all over Europe, the fragments of a Venetian glass hinting at the wealth that must have been here, as well as signs from everyday life. There were replicas of houses, clothes and a case with rune carvings, and mysterious fragments left from churches and the various inhabitants. I spent a while wandering among these, before climbing up to the second story, where the theme seemed to cover history in a much more general sense.

The head of a saint

The head of a saint

There were artifacts again, but rather than a plaque stating the archaeological equivalent of ‘I donno’, there were cartoons depicting suggestions in a style that didn’t ask to be taken too seriously.

Necklace or tankard ring?

Necklace or tankard ring?

There was a section about evolution, religion and race biology, which certainly didn’t pull any punches in terms of Sweden’s own history of eugenics and the clash between science and religion. Facing it was a slowly rotating globe on which stood figures from the evolution of humans, caught with a fish, a spear or empty handed, leaping from the lands they’d been discovered in.

Humanity

Humanity

There was a cartoon showing previous generations, a queue of women in gradually modernising clothes, at the end of which was a woman with a phone. It made me very much want my own history sketched out, so I can see the faces of the ladies who preceded me.

A generational queue

A generational queue

After a final poke around the rest of the museum, the library and a snack, I headed out to wait for a bus, taking in the suburban modernity that has mostly buried the old town.

Modern Lödöse

Modern Lödöse

Soon the bus arrived and took me on the next leg of the journey: Åmål.

I kid, I got of the bus before it got there. Because Åmål.

After about an hour on the rather comfortable bus, I got off at Vänersborg, and miraculously the weather began to clear. As the name suggests Vänersborg lies next to lake Vänern, near to the starting point of the river Älv. Lake Vänern is the largest lake in Sweden, and the third largest in Europe, so it is no exaggeration to say that it is really very big. I’d seen it once before and marveled at the complete lack of anything within vision on the other side.

The lake in autumn

The lake in autumn

The lake was the main reason I wanted to visit Vänersborg, so after hopping off the bus I headed along the canal to the edge of the lake. As I went past an apparently normal block of flats and cafes I was hit full in the face by a very familiar smell. People who haven’t been to Australia may have been reminded of a brewery or a yeast factory. If you have been to Australia you would have instantly recognised the heady smell of vegemite. As there was no Kraft factory or back-packers in sight, I have to assume that it was from something beer or yeast related. At least until I next get to investigate.

The lake edge was reached through a park, complete with statues, bowing willows, shimmering birches and a fountain. The lake at this point was narrow, but in between the distant hills was empty water. It’s a strange feeling to be inland and feel as though you’re staring out at the sea, imagining continents in the distance.

The endless lake

The endless lake

After turning away from the lake, I headed into town and found freshly cooked pancakes swimming in jam and cream, which I gave a thorough eating. It was then time for the train home, so with a last look around the the town I climbed onto the train and began the journey back into town. It followed the path of the river Älv, including the wide valley where an old trading town had once ruled the region, before the town was pulled as I was to the coast and the future.

The island city

My mother was born in Sweden (she is a Norwegian citizen however, which is another story) and grew up in Farsta, a suburb of Stockholm. As I grew up way over in Australia, I heard about days spent in the forest, picking berries and how delicious they tasted, playing games and exploring. The forest I imagined was like those in fairy tales, with tall pines, soft undergrowth, moss and streams. Not like the gravel earth, grey and green trees, clusters of bright flowers and spiky undergrowth of the forests I’d grown up in. I grew up with an idea of where my mother had come from, and a curiosity to know more about it. This may be part of the reason for wanting to live in Europe (in addition to my possible Anglophilia; see previous post for further details), and as soon as it was confirmed that I’d be living in the country where she grew up, I knew that I had to visit her home.

This is the long way of saying that since I moved to Göteborg I’ve been hoping to visit Stockholm, and last Tuesday I did. My partner had arranged a flight for me last week, an early one that would allow a full day of wandering and a not too late return, so before dawn I was up and out of the apartment, walking through empty streets to the nearby tram station. Through pre-planned jumping from one transport to another, I arrived in Stockholm nice and early, with my breath steaming in the chilly air and decided that breakfast must be the first stop. I’d read a review of a cafe in Stortorget that sounded perfect so I headed there by foot to soak in the city better. My walk took me through the Swedish Parliament building, past the Palace and into Gamla Stan. As it was early, the stores were all closed, but I made a mental note of the less-touristy places to try later, as my secondary mission was finding a birthday gift for my brother. I eventually found Stortorget and the cafe, and was then told that it opened in an hour, so went somewhere else instead.

Parliament building

That done, I looked at the next item I’d starred on Google maps, the city museum. I could unwind and relax there, looking at the old things in cabinets before setting off for something more strenuous. It was closed till 11. The trip to Farsta then climbed to the top of my list.

Public transport in Sweden, that I have experienced thus far, has been really good. As such I was able to get to Farsta easily, and after getting a bit lost I found the cul de sac where my mother’s old house was, and then the house itself. It was small and as she’d described it to me. There was a cement fishpond out of the front, that her father had built, and I could see the forest right behind it. Having found it I took photos and looked at it a bit more, and then headed back to Stockholm. I imagine that had my mother been there I could have seen it through her eyes, though visiting it brought a bit of her with me.

By the time I’d returned to Stockholm the city museum was open so I made my way there for some exploring. After a look around I agreed with the ticket fellow – it was ok but the Medieval Museum may be better. He was right as it turns out, but more on that later. Hunger pangs making themselves known, I headed to Gamla Stan for something to eat and then the gift mission. As I wandered through Gamla Stan, peering at shop fronts and dodging crowds, I realised that I wasn’t the only tourist in Stockholm. I would have been surprised if anywhere else on earth had any tourists remaining to be honest.

A rune stone and cannon in Gamla Stan

The next mission was that of immersing myself in history and interesting trivia, so on the recommendation of the ticket fellow I headed for the Medieval Museum. I was however waylaid, as the royal family decided to make a trip to the Parliament building, requiring a police blockade, mounted police, guards with big feathers in their hats and mounted guards. Plus two carriages, one gilt and containing the royals themselves. I stayed for a few photos and to watch the pageantry along with the rest of the crowd, and though I didn’t know it then, turned and strode away from the entrance to the Medieval Museum. I did work this out though and came back and had a great time. It’s a wonderfully set up and fascinating museum, despite being a bit small, and I would happily have stayed there much longer. The next item was the Vasa museum, as I had time for one more museum and it had been recommended by everyone who’d seen it. They were right, it was amazing. Massive and incredibly well preserved, it loomed over me as I entered the huge room, all dark timbers and intricately carved faces. I again immersed myself in the history and before long it was closing time. All that remained was the wander the streets and take in the city, till it was time to head to the airport.

Royal carriage, sans royals

Now I’m back in Göteborg I think the best explanation for the comparison between the two cities required knowing something about Australia. Stockholm I can see as a Sydney sort of town, with suits and bustle and the Important Government and Business Institutions. Göteborg is more like a combination of Fremantle, Melbourne and Hobart, a charming and neat port town with culture and a relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed visiting Stockholm, but I much prefer to live here.

The Vasa

As the time ticks on the the first month anniversary of our arrival, I suspect the rush to travel may abate a bit in the weeks to come. Once winter arrives there will be plans for the North, where the snow will be thicker and there’s a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, but until then we’ll see. Tonight at least will hopefully involve a visit to Liseberg, though whether I will dare the roller-coasters and other rides that send the daily screaming to our apartment, I can’t say yet.

The statue at Strömparterre, calling up a storm