The end and the beginning

The days after our return from Lillehammer were filled with…nothing much in particular. We unpacked, nested, ate leftover pepparkakor and started planning and gathering supplies for the end.

We had two fellow country folk visiting to celebrate with us, so bits of planning slowly built up until the 31st finally arrived, accompanied by our visitors. After they got off the train there was only a brief window of sunlight in which to show them our hometown, so we gave them a quick tour via a tram and a walk, and then headed home. Then followed a little smörgåsbord, some drinking, music, chatting and relaxing, and a gradual build up to the big moment. It seemed though that others were not as patient, as crashes, bangs and flashes continued around us almost without pause.

Finally, with 15 minutes to spare, we went out to the pre-arranged location. Chinese lanterns floated beneath the clouds and lights filled the horizons, and at 12 our own supplies were lit. Within seconds 36 fireworks went off, filling the sky with colour and our ears with noise. It lasted about 10 seconds in total, and pretty much as soon as it was over I wanted more, and thanked whatever luck had ensured that fireworks were not banned in this country. Across the road another party wished us a happy new year and we returned their cheers, laughing and coughing slightly from the drifting smoke.

For another half an hour the celebrations continued all around us, some crackers in backyards, fireworks shooting horizontally up streets, an occasional fire engine and the horizon lit up on all sides. The previous year we had been in the middle of town, and though it had also been full of barrages of fireworks, the open space of our new neighbourhood gave us a better sense of the number of celebrations and the excitement felt in the community. Whether it was due to excitement at the profusion of fireworks or greeting the new year, the night was filled with happiness and a little bit of danger, which is a good sort of beginning.

Trying to photograph fireworks

Trying to photograph fireworks

The next morning we would have to get up early, so we went to bed as soon as we got home, and seemingly moments later were awakened by our alarms and were then out the door. Our destination was Stockholm, and the journey there featured measuring the speed of the train (quite fast), remarking on the tinyness of the cakes and failing to catch up on sleep. We soon arrived in the big city, and after dumping our stuff at the hotel set out to explore.

Streets of Gamla Stan

Streets of Gamla Stan

I had visited Stockholm twice before, so the size, charming old streets and lovely harbours were no surprise, though it was nice to see it through new eyes. We headed to Gamla Stan first, and spent hours wandering up and down the wide and narrow streets and alleys, checking out the shops and taking a lot of photos.

Lights at night

Lights at night

As it got dark dinner was had and as if carried by the thick, cold winds we made our way back to the hotel to while away the hours with chatting, snacking and laughing.

An old saint, getting into some slaying

An old saint, getting into some slaying

Sadly, our visitors hadn’t come alone. With them they had brought a strain of flu, and so on the second day in Stockholm one of them was struck down and unable to join us for adventures. So instead three of us set out, making our way through the cool morning air to Djurgården.

We took the long walk to the island, winding along the banks of the river past the palace, bridges, elaborately fronted apartments and even a bird feeding station, which was very popular with the locals.

Stockholmers at breakfast

Stockholmers at breakfast

Once on the island we dodged the rain to the Vasa museum, and managed to get there before the long queues. The ship was impressive, as usual, a great dark hulk that seems to take up all available space. I had tried to downplay how impressive it was to our guest so that she would be even more impressed, but I think she saw through my ruse. Possibly my excitement gave it away.

The Vasa

The Vasa

We spent a while admiring the ship, and trying to sort out an issue that had come up, and before we knew it the time had come to head back to town. This time we took the shorter route through the main streets, passing giant elk, shops, squares and a lot of busy city folk. Having already packed we then went over to the train station to eat and wait for the train. Following its arrival and many farewells, we climbed aboard and discovered to my delight that we were in a booth that had a distinct Hogwarts Express feel. The novelty never quite faded, and the pianist at the bar kept the glee going for the remainder of the ride back home, where we were pleased to discover, it had just snowed.

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