Friday, May 12, 2006

Tuesday, May 9: Stockholm to Paris

On Tuesday morning we were packed and ready to leave the hostel half an hour before check out time. Unfortunately there were no bad American shows on TV, so we decided that we might as well head off to the airport. We lugged our backpacks to the central train station without too much fuss, and after a small amount of confusion paid 200kr each (~$40) to get a train to the airport. Our careful budgeting of our remaining Swedish cash had not allowed for such a pricey fare, so Michael pulled out the credit card to pay for the train. Consequently we had an abundance of Swedish currency to spend at the airport, and a couple of hours to spend it in. A lunch of roast vege sandwiches, beer and juice were the first purchases. Since alcohol is rather expensive in Sweden, the duty-free spirits cost roughly what they would in Australia anyway. Naturally I chose to spend on chocolate instead:

The one on the left is dark chocolate with cointreau. Enough said. The other two are ordinary sweets that can be found in the supermarket, but they are unique to Sweden (and maybe the surrounds). In the centre is a pack of Daim bars: crunchy sheets of caramel coated in chocolate, with a delicious burnt sugar taste. On the right is Kex (I think it’s pronounced ‘chex’), the Swedish equivalent of the KitKat. There are KitKats in Sweden, too, but this is the Dick Smith battler brand that Swedes prefer.

A magazine, coffee and snack later, we gave our remaining krona to the Röda Korset (Red Cross) and embarked on our flight to Paris. The flight and retrieval of our baggage went without a hitch, but we spent quite some time lugging our backpacks around, looking for the linking train. After a bit of backtracking we realised that we actually had to catch a shuttle bus to the train station. We got off the bus one stop too early, but still had trail of signs with a train symbol to follow. The trail went cold when we were close to the train station, and the station itself was incredibly confusing. We tried to operate three different types of self-service machines to buy tickets before being directed to a ticket office.

Here we had our first experience of what seems to be a typical Parisian practice: cutting queues. As we politely waited for an elderly lady with a large suitcase to pass through a narrow passageway, a young guy in a suit pushed past us and the lady, waltzing on to a ticket seller and ignoring a line of about 8 people. A fairly huffy exchange in French between the suit and one of the other ticket sellers ensued, with the suit reluctantly and unrepentantly taking a spot behind us in the queue. I was pleased to see that he didn’t get away with it, but have since discovered that most people have much subtler (though still quite rude) ways of getting themselves two or three places ahead in a line.

The train took us further into the city, until we were faced with changing lines. We stood on the wrong platform for about 20 minutes before we got it right. By the time we arrived at the station closest to our accommodation, our packs were heavy on our backs and we were looking forward to a comfortable seat and a glass of water. I didn’t pay much attention to the tree-lined walk, the Seine river flowing beside us, or Napoleon’s Tomb rising up on our other side. I was just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. We found the apartment building, but were faced with a locked door with a security code and no record of the apartment number we were looking for. Twenty minutes later we were a short way down the street in a dirty driveway, looking very shifty. Michael had started up our laptop computer, logged into the unsecured wireless internet connection of a hotel across the street, and was sifting through emails, looking for some more information that might get us into the apartment. I was keeping an eye on the door of the building, and probably looking a little like I shouldn’t be there. Thankfully there was some information, provided clearly and carefully in an email 10 weeks before, that neither of us had bothered to write down. We were in, almost three hours after our plane landed.

The apartment is a comfortable but small space being rented by my dad (Ian) and his wife (Anne) for the week. They’re taking a trip around Europe on their long-service leave. I think they must be paying a lot in rent for this space and by co-ordinating with this part of their itinerary, we get a sofa bed with the view below for free!

Monday 8/5: Stockholm

Our last full day of Scandinavian fun and the theme of laziness from Sunday continued. At dinner the night before we’d formulated a plan to catch a ferry to one of the islands of the Stockholm Archipelago (apparently made up of 24,000 islands!). Alas, the 10a.m. start proved too much for us and we eventually made our way out of the hostel by lunch time. The reformulated plan was to more fully explore Djurgarden, the park in which the Vasamuseet was located. We stopped by the supermarket to pick up a picnic lunch on our way and spent a few hours tramping around. The park basically takes up an entire island, so as long as you avoid the tacky theme parks on the Western side, there’s plenty of natural beauty to be seen.

Lunch: cheese, antipasto mix, fresh bread, apples and dark chocolate.

On our way back towards the bridge to the mainland, we heard the distinctive sound of a woodpecker (not that I’ve ever heard one before, but it really does sound exactly like the cartoons) and spent twenty minutes finding and observing a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. If birdwatching always takes place on beautiful sunny days in Swedish parkland, then I can really see the appeal.

We ended the day at Restaurang Malaysia, a veg-friendly place a couple of suburbs north of the hostel. The food was amazing – beautifully presented, fresh and delicious. I had a pseudo-beef stir-fry:

Cindy opted for a fake-chicken satay:

She couldn’t resist dessert either.

"Green pancake flavoured with juice of green Pandan leaf and filled with grated coconut and palm sugar. Served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. (includes pine cernels)"

Sunday 7/5: Stockholm

After a fairly hectic few days of endless walking, Sunday inadvertently became something of a rest day. The plan involved washing our clothes, going to the modern art museum and having dinner at Herman’s (a well-known vego restaurant that we’d been saving up). The washing ended up setting us back about 4 hours – there were definitely naps involved in the delay as well. We headed out to the gallery, picking up a quick lunch on the way and eventually turned up on Skeppsholmen at about 3 o’clock. That gave us three hours until the Modern Art Museum closed – this wasn’t helped by our accidentally wandering into the wrong museum (the carved Buddhas from 1100 A.D. gave us the hint that the museum wasn’t particularly modern). The Moderna itself was very impressive and we easily filled our remaining two hours checking out the obvious parts of its collection.

We headed off to the ferry stop to catch a boat over to dinner, and waited for about 15 minutes in the park.

When a ferry finally arrived, we were told that the Slussen service had finished for the day, so it was time for a 2km walk to get us in good appetite for dinner. Herman’s is a vegetarian buffet style restaurant that was located up on the cliffs that we’d explored on Saturday. The view was fantastic and food was almost as impressive (if a little overpriced). We managed to restrain ourselves and skip out on dessert, only to be sucked in by a café close by the hostel on our walk home.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Saturday, May 6: Stockholm

Instead of eating muesli and yoghurt in the hostel kitchen for breakfast, we splurged at a nearby bakery. Toasted foccacia and salad, a buttery almond pastry, and lattes:

After breakfast we caught the tube to Slussen on the south bank. Michael had read that there it was the scene for trendy shopping: I was hoping for second hand clothes, Michael wanted indie record shops, and we were both planning on some good people watching. The vintage clothing was way out of my price range, although I did consider buying a 1950s two-piece suit for 450 kr ($80). CDs also turned out to be very expensive, with new releases typically priced at $30-40. But the people-watching didn't disappoint. In particular, Stockholm (and Copenhagen) appear to be populated by young, attractive and incredibly fit women pushing prams. It's really difficult to believe that some of those slim, designer-jean-clad hips have borne children. Maybe they're nannies?

The vegetarian cafe that Michael had planned on visiting for lunch was closed, and we were rather intimidated by the ubercool people and meaty menus at most of the cafes. Instead we shared a pretty good pizza at a low key takeaway restaurant a couple of blocks away.

After eating we slowly worked our way uphill to the cliffs that offer a view of the islands Gamla Stan, Skeppsholmen and Djurgarden.

We had a late-afternoon rest in the hostel, and then took the tube north to Odenplan for dinner at a Japanese restaurant, Kokyo. Michael ordered a faux-meat dish with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce:

I couldn't resist the tempura veges:

It really is best not to look at the colour of that absorbant paper.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friday 5/5: Stockholm

The main focus of Friday was the Vasamuseet. The Vasa was a warship built by the Swedes under the orders of King Gustavus Adolphus - the ship was to be the largest warship in the world, and a symbol of the might of the Swedish throne. Unfortunately for the King, the 64 cannon spread over two gun decks, combined with the sheer size of the ship, meant that the Vasa was practically unsailable. A few minutes into her maiden voyage, she tipped, filled with water and sank to the bottom of Stockholm Harbour. In the 1950s, the wreck of the Vasa was located and after five years of preparation, the ship was raised in 1961 and towed into dry dock where the next thirty years were spent salvaging, cataloguing and preserving the ship and everything inside it.

The preserved Vasa*

To prove to the world how powerful and prestigious his kingdom was, Gustavus (who must have been a slightly insecure king) had the boat adorned with dozens of statues and other decoration.

After analysing thirty of these statues, the archaeologists realised that the Vasa had been a ridiculously garish ship.

The museum was brilliantly stocked, with the ship (obviously) as well as a range of displays on the artefacts found on board, the skeletons (and reconstructed lives) of the twenty or so bodies found in the wreck and a computer game where you could design your own version of the Vasa. I put even more guns on mine than Gustavus, so it sank even more efficiently.

We continued on our walking tour, firstly through Djurgarden (the park containing the Vasamuseet) and then back across the bridge and through a few of the trendier streets of the city. By about 4:30pm we were faced with a dilemma: we'd located a good dinner spot, but it was still really early and we were both pretty exhausted. The solution: gorge ourselved on 'dinner' at 5pm and hope that it sustained us until the next morning. Thankfully, the dinner place in question was a fantastic all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet with 6 warm meals, a bewildering array of salads, fruit, delicious cheeses, coffee, rice-pudding, apple pie and four different flavours of ice-cream. In our bloated post-dinner states, we caught the tube back to the hostel and passed out.

*Because the Vasa has to be kept at strict levels of light and moisture, the museum wasn't well suited to our amateur photography skills, so I've stolen this one image from somebody else.