Thursday, December 24, 2015

Exploring Stockholm

View of Gamla Stan (Old Town) from Södermalm.  Please note that this was taken near mid-day.
Stockholm is a beautiful city. In spite of the fact that the winters are dark and (typically) cold, people have been living here a long time - since at least the 6th Century BC. Wikipedia claims that the name first appeared in print about 1252. Today, Stockholm is a large city (about 2.2 million in the metro area), the largest in the Nordic region.

So far we've explored parts of Gamla Stan and Södermalm. The cobbled streets and the sedate architecture of Gamla Stan is delightful. The photo above is taken from Södermalm. The water you see is a portion of the Baltic Sea. Off to the left is a complicated bridge connecting the two islands and a  dam or dike that separates the Baltic Sea and lake Mälaren. The ship/hotel where we spent the first two nights is permanently moored on the Södermalm shore of the lake. I'll have more on this in another post.

Grafitti on the support structure for the complicated bridge that connects Gamla Stan and Södermalm. Every place has graffiti but this is the first that I've seen that includes a crown.
Getting to Stockholm was an adventure. The flight connects through Copenhagen, about an hour away. On paper, this seems like an aggravation after a seven hour flight. In our case it was a relief. We had seats strategically placed for the stereo enjoyment of crying/screaming children. The right channel of our sound system was merely annoying. This toddler cried. The child on the left screamed. For seven hours. She may have set a new record for time between breaths. It was really awful for everyone, especially her parents. They didn't get to leave the plan and have it all end.

A pharmacy in Södermalm.
So we waited about an hour in Copenhagen, boarded a quieter flight and arrived in Stockholm. The train into the city was similar to the Heathrow Express but took a bit longer. By the time we got our luggage, took the train to town, bought metro tickets to the nearest station, and walked the final stretch - stopping for lunch along the way - it was a little past 1:00 when we checked in the hotel...a long travel day.

A street scene in Södermalm.
In a later post I've describe the hotel with it's tiny rooms and portholes.

Stockholm is an interesting city for several reasons. First, since Sweden was able to maintain it's neutrality during WWII, the city was not bombed, thus preserving the many buildings from the 16th Century or earlier. This makes for a nice walk nearly everywhere, but especially in Gamla Stan where there are only old buildings. After a a bit, however, you notice that a cosmopolitan city is imbedded in this historic location. Because of the season, there is Christmas music in the stores. It is all American music: Frank Sinatra, Bing, Crosby, Andy Williams, Jingle Bells, Little Drummer Boy, etc. The signs on the stores are mostly in Swedish, but there is a constant mix of English. We walked past the Swedish Standards Institute on Södermalm and sign read exactly that: "Swedish Standards Institute" English. Imagine NIST or the Underwriters Laboratory or whatever this is similar to having a sign out front in the US written in another language!?

Soap in a store.
Many people speak very fluent English. The only storekeeper I've met that spoke no English was the clerk at the 7-Eleven. Yes, they are everywhere here. Fortunately, a kind customer in line front of me translated for me to purchase our travel cards for the metro/bus system. Store names will have a mixture of Swedish and English quite often. Sometimes the name is just English.

A bowl full of small birds (imitation). Perhaps these are decorations for the tree.
People here are very friendly. The food is good and prices are not as high as I imagined.

For reasons I do not understand (Christmas decorations?), this store has a bowl of tiny sweaters and small sled.
Of course, the big adjustment is to the reduced sunlight. The sun rises at a quarter 'till 9:00 and sets at 2:45. Neither the sun nor the moon (almost full last night) ever get far above the horizon. As you see in the first photo above, there are parts of the city in permanent shadow this time of year.

Stockholm is a delightful place. I'll have more soon.