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Published: July 31st 2018
Stockholm is lovely. An archipelago of fourteen islands, it is a gorgeous city full of wonderful things to do. We had only one day to explore Sweden's capital city, our last day of this trip. Yesterday afternoon as soon as we arrived at our outlier hotel, Bill and I along with two of our adventurous friends spent time at the front desk figuring out the best way to get into the city. The four of us had wanted to take one of the free walking tours of the Old Town part of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, the original city center, and this tour met at 5:30PM so we hoped we could get there in time. From our hotel it was not a clear run into the city; we had to walk several minutes, then take a bus to its end stop, then enter the metro and ride several stops to reach Stockholm's city center. It was a short walk from there, but the four of us made it and joined the group. Years ago I learned about Sandemann's free walking tours in major cities; if Sandemann's doesn't offer one, then some other company probably does, so I always check these out online before even leaving home. Sometimes registration is needed, but frequently people can just show up and join in. Our guides, so far always college kids or young, beginning professionals, have been knowledgeable and entertaining, offering all sorts of information, history and stories as we traipse through a city. They get paid by the tips offered at the end of each tour, so the better their presentation is, the more money each can make. We are usually quite generous, as these young people work hard researching their information, taking newcomers around their cities, giving directions, answering questions. We have taken these orientation walking tours in many countries; it's a great way to be introduced and welcomed to a new city. One of our favorite guides ever was Salka in Copenhagen. Her energy is infectious, and after an impressive and entertaining two hour walk through the city we felt we knew Copenhagen fairly well.
So on this last day, in the morning the group had a tour of City Hall, and then we were released to follow our own city whims. Bill and I walked quickly back to Old Town to see the cathedral. On our way we passed a little shop that advertised vegan chocolate truffles, so, being in the candy-addicted country of Sweden, we stopped in to buy a few. It was not quite a fika experience. While deciding where to go next I heard band music playing, so we raced to see what was happening. Serendipitously we were in the right place at the right time to hear the Royal Sweden Navy Band's weekday noontime concert and to watch their marching maneuvers near the Royal Palace where one can also see the changing of the guard. What lucky timing! It was a very hot day, and the band was dressed in their full white uniforms, discretely sweating while playing under the baking sun. After an hour's concert I am certain they all were relieved to climb back onto their air conditioned bus and drink gallons of cold water. What an unexpected treat this was for all of us who happened - or knew - to be there!
I had hoped that we'd have time enough to ride a few ferries connecting Stockholm's islands; the waterways were so inviting especially on this gorgeous day, but after the surprise concert we still had a list of things we wanted to do before heading back for our tour group's farewell dinner. Prioritizing activities, we both wanted to see the Medieval Museum, and then, at 3PM, to take the day's last tour of Parliament. The Medieval Museum grabbed our interest so much so that we had to tear ourselves away to run over to Parliament at the last moment, but we crammed both in, even returning to the museum after the Parliament tour. Stockholm's Medieval Museum, built to enclose an ancient city wall that was found back in the 1970s when excavations were being done in order to build a parking lot for Parliament, is exceptional. One can see and touch the original part of the city wall; when the digging exposed this wall the parking lot idea was cancelled and a museum built on site, over and enclosing this ancient wall. There are many exhibits to capture any history buff's imagination, plus we took advantage of one of their half hour docent talks to learn more about exhibits in this little gem of a museum. He stopped at one painting that had caught my eye earlier. Its bottom half shows the earliest landscape representation of Stockholm dating from April 20, 1535, and the top half of this painting is otherworldly, depicting large circular orbs in the sky. Parhelion, sometimes called sundogs, usually seen in pairs, are optical phenomena, resulting from sunlight being refracted by ice crystals in the atmosphere. They are a portent of bad weather, but in the 1500s seeing them was also taken as an ominous sign of God's revenge on King Gustav Vasa (1496 - 1560) for changing Sweden's religion from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism, plus for breaking away from the Kalmar Union, in place since 1397. In 1523 King Gustav rebelled, and Sweden became independent from the former three Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden's operating as one country under a single monarch. Criticism followed these major changes even in the form of art.
Continuing on our tour in the Medieval Museum middens were discussed. On top of one a skeleton rests. These bones are the remains of a real person; we heard they were blessed by a priest, and thereby allowed to remain unburied. I found it distasteful to think of someone's bones lying there exposed to the public for all these decades, on view for everyone to see, to photograph. They should be placed to rest. I mentally blessed them myself, and wished the soul of that poor person peace.
There was no time for ferry rides on this trip, but I would truly love to return to Copenhagen, Odense, Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm, and other parts of these three countries for further explorations. As I typically feel when I travel, I'd like to have more time in each place, more time, more time. That's my travel mantra, as well as a plea. No matter how well we live or fill the days we have, we still want more time, more time. Will we ever feel that we've had enough?
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