Sparkling Sweden

Now that all my western-civilization-based errands are done, I can do some sightseeing. Today was the Gamla Stan and the royal palace, and the historic park of Skansen located on the former royal hunting grounds. I took the metro to the Gamla Stan, which is the original site of the city. It’s an island of its own, and the palace, the cathedral and the old town are there. The place was pretty much deserted since it’s a holiday today and all the Swedes (including many shop-owners) are in the country with their families or at their summer homes. There were still some tourists, though not very many. That suited me just fine.

I noticed the Cathedral was still open, so I went in. It is the site of much history, and has a fantastic statue of the St. George and the Dragon. The statue symbolizes a good man choosing to fight evil when he sees it. It is often taken by locals to symbolize the Swedes driving out Danish evil and gaining independence. The statue is made from antlers and oak, and the dragon is particularly gnarly. I liked it. There are reserved pews for the royal family, and the rest of the pews have brass plaques bearing numbers (these people are organized). The floor of the cathedral is mostly gravestones. According to my guide book, over 1000 people are buried here. I tried not to think too hard about that.

After the Cathedral, I went across the way to the Palace. I saw the royal chapel which one is not allowed to photograph, and the crown jewels with the same restrictions. I saw the original swords of King Gustav Vasa, the man who led the revolt against the occupying Danes and won, dating from the early 1500s. The crowns and other regalia were well preserved and beautifully made. I made my way out of the basement (where all crown treasuries seem to be) into the light, and heard some sort of official noises coming from my left. I followed my ears to the changing of the palace guard. The day before, I had talked to my young hotel desk man and he had actually been on palace duty during his military service. He told me to stay outside the painted circle perimeter, though that rule is not posted. He also told me the guards use live ammunition and have their gun safeties off. Yikes. As if the bayonet was not deterrent enough. There was a lady guard on duty with the men – cool. After watching that, I sat down for some water and some chocolate cake at the palace café. Dessert is never hard to find in this town, I notice. I really wanted some quiche, but the portion was larger than my head and there was no way I could eat that much.

After the snack, I walked around to the old square, Stortorget, where there was a mass beheading of Swedish nobles by the Danes in 1520. They say the square ran with blood. One of those men escaped and led the revolt three years later; that was Gustav Vasa. Now, the Nobel museum fronts the square. I would have gone in, but it was closed today. Instead, I walked around to the quay and kept going until I found the boat dock for the Hop-On, Hop-Off boat tour (my Sweden card pass includes the fare). On the way, I bought a hot dog and used a hanging ketchup dispenser (an excellent invention). Feeling better, I sailed to Skansen, a place that shows the way life used to be in Sweden and helps preserve the old arts, such as glassblowing, pottery, machining, traditional furniture making, etc. Despite sore feet, I hurried to see the trades before they all closed for the day, and got some good light as a reward. I then walked to the stage area to see the Skansen Ring Dancing Children perform. They wore a variety of traditional costumes and did what I assume were traditional Swedish dances, and they were awfully cute. The older ladies sang, and a band played while the children danced, and people sat back to watch. I noticed all day that people had wreaths of leaves and flowers in their hair, and it was more in evidence at Skansen. I watched the Maypole festivities, which involved everyone dancing, spectators too. If I had been less tired, I would have joined in. Instead, I photographed, and then I made my way out to catch the last boat back at the Vasa Museum (I will go there tomorrow). From there, I found the Tunnelbana (metro), walked back, got to my room and forced myself to go out and eat before it got any later.

I had Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, boiled new potatoes, a salad, some passion fruit juice, and as much tap water as I could get them to bring me, which was not enough. I still haven’t had American food since the fries & coke with my Maharaja Mac, though I confess I have eaten Italian twice since I’ve been here. As soon as I got back to my room, I collapsed in a heap. I am going to sleep long tonight.

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