Something we’ve learnt in our travels is that the amount of hours of sleep needed by one is directly proportional to the amount of nerves held by the other… So while Fergus slept like a Disney princess (I’m actually thinking about the one who pricked her finger and took a hundred years to wake up) I woke up early and full of energy and went off to explore the new world around me. Happy to see a blue sky, I ventured to the end of the island, passing by the impressive conference centre (the classic Münchenbryggeriet), some other nameless beautiful buildings and a good number of botels (yep, still using it for boat – hotel).
I didn’t expect to see many people on my travels since normal humans tend to sleep at that time on a Saturday. But that’s where I was wrong, kids: Swedes are not normal human beings. They’re tall, handsome, blonde and fit and so there they were: running on a Saturday at 6.45 am as if they were being chased by zombies. And next day was much the same, all runners blatantly ignoring the snow blizzard. I wouldn’t mention this if I’d seen 4 or 5 runners, but I’m talking 50-60 on the two days, and I swear that this time and without setting a precedent I’m not exaggerating. And it wasn’t a race either. It was just beautiful people looking after their Nordic cucumber-lover godlike bodies.
At some point I diverted from the joggers’ trail and climbed to a wee hill nearby (Monteliusvägen) where I truly found peace: enjoying amazing sights of Stockholm, the only sounds being the songs of the birds saying hello to a new dawn.
Before 9 I had already returned to the boat. With Fergus at last coverted into a person we went ‘on deck’ to have breakfast (buffet style, € 8.50), where your humble servant was ready to try everything. I remember that in Norway there was a type of squeaky flavoured cheese to spread on the bread, so I saw something like that and rushed to cover my toasted Swedish brown bread… with prawn spread. What with nutella and olive oil existing… was that really necessary? Mental note for future me: learn the names of things that disgust me in other languages and avoid them at all cost.
After a painstaking wash of my tongue and a litle detour (no Mr. Maps, we’re not going to turn to the left no matter how solid those sheets of ice appear) at ten we were ready to start the free tour of the old city. In the hands of Albena we went through the streets and the history of Gamla Stan (old city) and discovered the traditions and curiosities that gave shape to this beautiful city: dark stains on its history (the square of the 1520 bloodbath), the pragmatic character of the inhabitants (large squares called “large square” and long streets called “long street”, after all why complicate matters), their religious tolerance (churches that allow gay marriage, for example) and their ingenuity. One thing we saw that really made this ingenuity stand out was the story of a rich merchant who was promised a street with his name so they decided to give him the narrowest street in the city; or the story of the mirrors (little concave mirrors that reflect the first and last light of the day and project it through the window to get more out of the scarce rays of light, and that in pre-facebook times also let them see what their neighbours were up to) or the hooks on the walls (that if I’m not misremembering were used to lift drunk husbands?)
Such a good morning obviously provided hunger (and cold), so after the tour we went to eat at an adorable city cafe: Fergus, the typical open meatball sandwich (They’re really obsessed with meatballs in Sweden) and I, an option less typical but sufficiently warmer: mushroom soup.
We continued according to our planned route, taking a wander to one of the city piers, just at the doors of the imposing royal palace (Kungliga Slottet), that looked a little eclipsed by the views of the other side of the city and above all by the spectacle of those elite sports-players:
We had a discount from booking for one of those tourist boats, but I don’t recommend it even with the discount: there are boat-buses connecting the islands that are much cheaper and, more importantly, don’t stop running at 3:30 in the afternoon… we fell into the trap like rookies (so others could learn from our mistakes, we have such big hearts) and paid for the 24-hour tour an hour and a half before it closed. Firstly we made a complete circuit because the truth is it’s worth seeing the city from the water, especially if the planets have aligned and provided you with a day in March with completely blue skies. And one strange thing (for me): I spent my infancy asking myself where the name of the Tivoli World of Malaga came from, that sounded a little too international to me to be a little Malagan park… well it turns out that there’s one in Stockholm, so apparently it’s a chain, which explains what the devil it was doing in Malaga, which is where Europe hides all its elderly people that don’t fit in Torrevieja. (Translator’s Note: Torrevieja translates literally as ‘old tower’, so the Spanish effectively lock all of our elders in the Tower of London. Which is even more interesting since the number of elderly Brits visiting Spain seems to be increasing all the time…)
On the second lap of the boat (it made seven stops in little more than half an hour) we got down on the north east stop of the island of Djurgarden to go to the Vasa museum. Its the most popular museum in Scandinavia, has marvellous reviews up on Tripadvisor and costs a whole thirteen euros. With that information we deduced (erroneously) that the museum had to be the bee’s knees, the typical museum that makes your jaw drop (Translator’s Note: I’m starting to feel like Nieves is setting me up with specialised challenges now, she used the word ‘ojiplático’ which required not Google translate, nor better translation sites, nor even well-known forums but searching obscure corners of the internet to track down a meaning for) with ecstasy. Well look, it has to be said & : it’s a boat. A bloody boat. A very big, very old and very well conserved boat, but a boat. A warship that was intended to be the flagship of the Swedish invasion of Poland in the seventeenth century but sunk on its first voyaje a few minutes after having set sail (those careless engineers, one should do more testing), and recovered from the sea years later, but it remains what it is: a boat. If you really love boats, go, don’t think twice about it, you’ll enjoy it. If not… well I don’t know, think what you could do with thirteen euros and an hour and a half of your life apart from seeing a boat, reading about boats, listening to people talking about boasts or watch a documentary about boats. Are you already getting tired of hearing so much about boats in this paragraph? Well, that’s it. (Translator’s Note: Nieves has missed my favourite part of this story. The reason the boat sank so soon into its first voyage. Apparently they performed the testing in front of the King himself. Nobody wanted to be the one to speak up and tell him that his incredibly expensive flagship was completely unfit to sail and almost sank as they were testing it. So many of those same engineers literally allowed themselves to drown rather than have that socially awkward moment with the King…)
Due to entering and seeing that boat we missed the boat that should have taken us to rest on our boat (yes, yes, enough already, I promise I’ll stop using the word boat seventeen times per minute) and we had to use an alternative method of transport, that in my town (and maybe in yours) is known as “Saint Fernando’s Car” (or in English, Shanks’ Pony): a little travel by foot and the rest walking. Since the city is made up of islands and the bridges aren’t where you need them to be, the car arrived burnt out to the centre and the feet would have been on fire if they weren’t starting to grow icicles and they shouted to be allowed a rest. And we couldn’t bring ourselves to deny them after how well they’d behaved, less still with us having the perfect excuse: Fika.
Fika is my favourite Swedish word (of the four or five that make up my extensive vocabulary) because its a concept that has no downside: its the idea of stopping to have a coffee (and if possible a cake) with people and its so important in the country’s culture that they even have breaks at work to partake in ‘Fika’. It seems to be a sweeter and warmer version of having a beer with your colleagues, but much more organised and institutionalised because, hey, we’re talking about Sweden. I hope I’ve explained it well in-case there are Swedes in the room…
After our well-earned rest in the Schweizer cafe, we continued wander through the neighbourhood of Katarina Sofia in Södermalm until tea time. There are some interesting museums in the area but they have this crazy idea of closing early although it didn’t sit well with me that we were left without an intellectual outlet (I refuse to count the Vasa as a museum: its a boat) and we moved on to the eternal plan B: food. We ate in the Tiffanny restaurant, something like pieces of hamburger on top of… cereal? And although it was delicious I still haven’t gotten over the disappointment of not having had dinner in a place that was far too full but had the most enchanting name in the world: Omnipollos. (Loose translation: The One Chicken to Rule them All).
Speaking of overly full places, it seems that its important to reserve a spot (on the waiting list) to go to discos and clubs unless you’re ready to wait in a queue a kilometre long at -2 degrees Celsius, as we learnt in our failed attempt to go to the Södra Teatern, a theatre-restaurant-club-pub-whatever-you-want that seemed rather popular but that we didn’t manage to enter… maybe it was the universe commanding us to go to bed for a little while…