We flew to Stockholm from Vilnius not without an adventure. Apparently, Air Baltic, the worst airline on the planet, charges 60 euros for bringing musical instruments on board. That’s in addition to all the nickel and diming they do for the bags and the non-online check-in and every breath you take. The worst part, they didn’t tell us that at the check-in, so as we were about to board the plane, the awful lady at the counter told us that we have to pay. OK, we would have been happy to pay, but we had to go back through the security all the way to the ticket office, and I doubt that we would have made the flight, as the boarding was already delayed and they tried to squeeze everyone on board as fast as possible. So we just left the violin at the gate. Not without shaming the lady for taking a violin from a kid. Hope she is real happy with herself.
It wasn’t a big deal, the violin was used and we bought it at the bottom price, but the whole experience was very unpleasant. So no violin lessons for Bunny… He didn’t seem upset about it at all.
In Stockholm we rented an apartment in Soldermalm. This is where the cool Stockholmers live, we were told. Soldermalm is located south of the Gamla Stan, the old town and it’s 2 stops by metro. It has a very nice vibe – modern, stylish and easy-going, with lots of restaurants and cafes, cute little shops and, most importantly, no tourists. Well, at least the loud and obnoxious ones in giant tour groups, snapping pictures on every corner, oblivious to everything.
The apartment we rented was very sweet. The family lived there for many years and had recently sold it to move to the countryside to be closer to nature. We spent a good amount of time chatting with the owner and getting a good feel for Swedish lifestyle. She had her son with her, who was about 9 or 10, and for some reason our kids immediately fell in love with him and they all were running around, acting like crazy animals. The apartment building had a secure courtyard with a giant parking lot full of bicycles and a nice playground for the kids. The passageway to the apartment was outdoors, through an open terrace, where every apartment had a little area by the door, with tables and chairs set up, which created a lively neighborly vibe.
The next morning we ventured out to the Gamla Stan to see the Royal Palace and the Old Town. As we were riding the metro, one of the passengers started talking to the kids and Tiny proudly announced: “We are going to see the king!!!” She seemed very surprised and I realized that I know nothing about Swedish Royal Family. Is it a king? Or a queen? Or both? Or none?
As we got to the Royal Palace, there was a lot of people lining up for the change of guard ceremony, which was not scheduled to start for another 45 minutes. We thought it was a little excessive, so we spent some time walking around the grounds before we got back, only to discover that all the good spots are already taken. So we got the worst seats in the house – behind the information board, on the wrong side on the plaza. Nice.
The changing of the guards was a big 45 minute ordeal together with the marching bands, commanders screaming things out and lots of marching going on. The weather changed 3 times, from fog to rain to shining sun and that’s even before we left. Kids were getting antsy and we left a little earlier to see the palace. The king, unfortunately, wasn’t there. He was vacationing somewhere south of Sweden. Oh, well.
The palace was … well a palace. All lavishly decorated with gold, marble and tapestries. One interesting thing I like was a collection of royal clocks they had, ‘In Course of Time – 400 years of royal clocks,’ with some pieces few centuries old. The royal family does not live there, only work, but guest occasionally come and stay there.
Then we had lunch in one of the restaurants in Gamla Stan, called Kaffegillet. It was mainly underground and had a look and feel of a dungeon. Wooden tables, rustic metal, rough stone floor, everything looked very authentic and old. We thought it was pretty cool. I ordered 3 types of herring, which ended up being exactly as advertised, 3 types of herring, marinated in different sauces, with some boiled potatoes. Very simple and rustic and super delicious. And of course, we couldn’t NOT order sweedish meatballs!
After lunch we did a quick stop at the Storkyrkan, the oldest church in Stockholm, to say hello to St George slaying a dragon, and to admire its cool gothic architecture and the beautifully carved pulpit and the Silver Altar.
After that we headed to the Djurgården island, because we really wanted to see the Vasa museum. It is an ironic and iconic museum that houses the Vasa ship, that sunk right off the coast on it’s first trip. Little did we know, the museum is one of the most popular attractions in, probably, the whole Sweden, and the line was about 10 miles long. So we decided to go kill some time in Junibacken, which was right nearby. Junibacken is a children’s museum, devoted to Swedish children’s literature, especially Astrid Lindgren, my favorite childhood author. The museum was surprisingly small, or maybe we are too spoiled visiting all the behemoth children’s museums all over the world, but it is very charming. It has several rooms devoted to different characters, like Karlson, Emil and of course Villa Vilekula and Pippi Longstocking, plus theater, restaurant and a good sized children’s bookshop. There is also a Story Train that rides through different scenes from different fairytales and books, combined together and narrated as one beautiful story.
When we got out of the Junibacken, the line to Vasa museum was shorter, but not by too much. We had nothing else planned for the day, so we decided to tough it out. Surprisingly it moved pretty fast and we were in after about 15 minutes of wait. But yeah, Vasa is definitely worth 15 minutes of wait. It’s pretty incredible. The ship took 2 years to build and after it was finished in 1628 it sailed off into its maiden voyage. But because it was too narrow and top-heavy, Vasa capsized and sank 1400 yards from the coast. After spending 333 years under water it was pulled out, cleaned up and preserved for all of us to enjoy. In many ways its sinking is a blessing, because it was underground, it was never changed or rebuilt or destroyed during the war, so everything was preserved exactly as it was 400 years ago. The Stockholm harbor was a perfect place for preservation also: the polluted water was protecting from the ultraviolet light and the “shipworm” – a wood eating parasite, and the cold temperature slowed down chemical processes. The preservation work in itself, was quite a feat, with thousands of gallons of polyethylene glycol being poured on it to prevent the wood from shrinking as the water was drying out.
Vasa is truly glorious, if a little sad and ironic. The ship is inside the building 7 stories tall and it’s barely enough to fit the masts. It’s fully enclosed to keep constant humidity, temperature and protect from light exposure to prevent further degradation. It is gorgeously carved and beautifully put together. The exhibits around are fascinating and provide a good look into the life on such ship 400 years ago. We really enjoyed it.