Skulking About in Stockholm

As the train neared Stockholm early Saturday morning, I looked out the window to find an unfamiliar yet exceedingly welcome sight: the sunrise!  I don't know how the folks in the Arctic circle do it - just a week of living without the sun had had an appreciable effect on me.

We pulled into Stockholm shortly before 9:00 a.m. and as soon as I'd disembarked I was off and running on a list of logistical tasks that were required to get me and my luggage to several different destinations around town in the next 32 hours.  After stowing my bags in the luggage lockers at the train station so I'd have the freedom to wander around the city unencumbered during the day, I headed directly to the Biologiska Museet.

The Biologiska was built in 1893 in the style of a medieval Norwegian stave church  and very little has been done in the interim to modernize it, which is one of the main reasons I was eager to visit. I've snatched the above image of the exterior from Wikipedia (thank you, Arild VĂ¥gen, whoever you are) because I didn't manage to take my own image and I really think it's important in establishing a sense of how arcane and charming the place is.

The exterior is covered with dark, heavily carved wood and trimmed with elegant Arts and Crafts style hardware - a real joy to behold.  It feels so vividly like stepping back in time as you walk up the front steps and enter the dimly lit lobby.  The original steam punk turnstiles are still in place - something I've never seen the like of - beautiful propellers of brass.

You may know that I am an unabashed and enthusiastic fan of the well executed diorama and the Biologiska took top honors in my book.  The museum is actually one massive diorama, circular in shape and so tall it can be viewed from two levels.  A lovely wooden spiral staircase rises through the center of the space, allowing visitors to pore over every nook and cranny with natural and effortless ease.

Scandinavian mammals and birds frolic in their native habitats in front of a beautifully painted backdrop that renders the scene surprisingly life like  In fact, the rounded perspective of the diorama unites the foreground and the background in a way that cleverly blurs the line between reality and artifice.

Rarer still in an institution of this magnitude, the Biogoliska does not deign to take itself too seriously.  The giant ant on the landing of the staircase certainly sent that message, but it was a creature in the glass display case near the front door that truly transmitted the mirthful spirit of the place.  There among woodland shrubbery crouched the rare Swedish cousin of the jackalope, an animal called a skvader.

The skvader has the forequarters and hind legs of a hare, and the back, wings and tail of a female wood grouse.  It originated from a whimsical hunting yarn told in the early 1900s and materialized in the form of a piece of creative taxidermy produced by a fan of the legend in 1916.  The skvander above has resided at the Biologiska since 1918 earning a place of honor and instilling feelings of great fondness even today.

When I informed the attendant that I was from Texas, he proudly mentioned that he had heard of jackalopes and I gleefully told him that I in fact possessed my very own specimen.  He smiled broadly and it felt like one of those moments of cultural crossover that reminds me so vividly of how much we all have in common.  Hooray for this truly charming antiquated museum and its refusal to adapt to the iphone age!

Upon departing the Biologiska, I meandered through a fascinating old graveyard toward my next stop, the Vasa Museet.  On display in the Vasa Museum is an enormous ship (226 feet long, 172 feet tall) that was to be the flagship of the Swedish navy in 1628, commissioned by the king and lavishly outfitted with carvings and armaments. But it traveled less than 1 nautical mile after being launched, capsized by an errant gust of wind. It sank to the bottom of the Stockholm harbor in a matter of minutes and lay there undisturbed for 333 years.
Several early salvage efforts were attempted to recover the large number of cannons and other weapons and goods on board, but all attempts failed and the location of the ship was lost to time until an intrepid diver in the 50s located the vessel and began a salvage effort that finally brought the ship to the surface in 1961.
The Vasa has been meticulously restored and is on display along with a treasure trove of artifacts discovered in the wreckage.  The museum has not only taken on the mission of sharing this marvelous vessel with the public but also displaying a wide range of items used in everyday life in the 1600s.  Quotidian items like shoes, plates, awls and buckets make the drawings and discussions from the pages of history come alive in a new way.

When I had finished taking in the Vasa, I rode a tram over to a famous and well loved area of the city called Gamla Stan (Old Town).  This part of the city dates back to the 13th century and is gridded with medieval alleyways, cobbled streets and centuries old architecture.  It's very picturesque and lined with shops and restaurants for the throngs of visitors.  This area is also home to both the parliament building and the royal residence.

I had only a short while to meander as I had booked a slot at a special holiday themed smorgasbord (called a Julbord) at the Grand Hotel Stockholm.  I had reasoned beforehand that this would be an excellent opportunity to sample a variety of Swedish dishes, many of which I hadn't had the temerity to order for just myself.

I'm sure it will not surprise you to hear that there were well over 30 different fish dishes in evidence.  I threw caution to the wind and finally tried pickled herring.  It wasn't as bad as I had feared after all - in fact I'd go so far as to say it was somewhat tasty, but dang that texture is a problem!  I did thoroughly enjoy several other smoked and cured fishes from the display, many of which I'd never heard of.
I next filled my plate with a variety of meats - pork shoulder and ribs, pale pink ham and paper thin slices from a haunch of deeply smoked venison that reminded me of the finest prosciutto.  I ladled a spoon full of delicious looking potatoes labelled as "Johann's Revenge" onto my plate and found that it did indeed have an element of surprise attached: the creamy sauce and crispy topping concealed - you guessed it - bits of fish.

My third and final trip to the buffet was to the dessert table, very different from the holiday dessert buffet we're accustomed to in the states, inhabited mostly by various candies (Rocky Road fudge?!? - okay maybe a little American). Here's a rundown on my dessert plate for your edification starting with the shot glass at the top (containing the most delicious thing I put in my mouth the entire meal - lignonberry mousse) and continuing clockwise:

Dark chocolate petite four topped with caramelized and gold dusted pineapple
Marzipan bread in the shape of a cigar
White mint fondant with a dark chocolate dot
Lignonberry marshmallow (they love marshmallows in this neck of the woods)
Candied almonds
Cruller with clotted cream and cloudberry jam
Burnt sugar caramels
Assorted chocolates
Gingerbread square dusted with gold glittery powder

After my exceedingly expensive and largely unremarkable meal, I was more than ready to do the last bit of moving about required for the evening, which consisted of collecting my luggage at the train station and riding the train and bus to my lodgings near the airport, a place humorously referred to as the Jumbo Stay.

The Jumbo Stay is a 727 Jumbo Jet that has been parked on a swath concrete not too far from the terminals and renovated into a delightful hostel.  A wildly tongue in cheek sense of humor runs rampant through the place and the furnishings are tasteful and wryly hip.

I'll leave you with these night time images and then fill in the details further in tomorrow's entry:

And an exhausted good night to you all.

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