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Swedish Pseudovisions.

I was glad that Luxembourg Airlines fly over northern Germany and Denmark on their flight to Stockholm. The reason is very simple: it’s always nerve-wracking to fly over large bodies of water in a tiny Bombardier aeroplane. I had a row to myself. Flights to Sweden from Luxembourg are rarely full in the winter and I was only too happy to see Skåne below me.

This wasn’t my first time to visit Scandinavia in the winter. Actually, I’ve only ever visited Scandinavia in the winter – but I hadn’t travelled quite this far north. The Stockholm December light confused me at first. It’s so very feeble, so delicate – it’s the lightest shade of blue, the faintest yellow. I arrived at just before 2:00 in the afternoon but the sun was already giving up the ghost. On the commuter train from Arlanda to Stockholm I was overjoyed by the sounds – the sounds of silence. Everything was so quiet, so reserved. Stockholm is so quiet, deathly still. In a city of a million people one can barely hear anyone.

I like Stockholm. It is, at least in my humble opinion, among the world’s most beautiful cities. My first night didn’t give me much hope to fully appreciate this. In order to simplify things I took a “short cut”. Instead of travelling to Stockholm Central I went one station further, to Stockholm South. I spent the next 2.5 hours utterly and helplessly lost. I had an appointment to meet an old colleague who is now living in Stockholm. I had to tell him that I was so lost that he’d have to come meet me where I was. I was simply too exhausted. The poor lad had to help me to my hotel – a converted passenger ferry built in 1929 that originally served the Bergen-Oslo route.

My room was tiny but comfortable and had a view across Lake Mälaren to Stockholm Town Hall. It was a new experience staying on the water. I enjoyed the gentle swaying and the sound of the water. Then there was the chance to see boats passing by in front of me… That was another first for me. The staff were perfectly lovely and their breakfast offering was generous. It was, of course, a regular Swedish breakfast but that’s rarely a bad thing. Meats, cheeses, breads, yoghurt, juices, coffee, tea, etc. Not “quite” Continental, but certainly closer to that than the divine English breakfast or the food of the gods, the Scottish. Oh, and fish in a metal tube. The Swedes enjoy it and I have grown accustomed to it.

Walking around Stockholm was strange. It’s beautiful and it’s clean, but there is sometimes a note of tension in the air – a hint of quiet desperation. I never felt unsafe there. On the contrary, it remains one of the West’s safer cities outside a few unpleasant neighbourhoods. Rather, there was a hint of psychological tension. Something is happening in Sweden, something is changing but I couldn’t tell exactly what it is. The best that I can manage is to posit that an era is well and truly coming to an end. Sweden is changing and the Swedish Government has affected one of history’s most rapid changes in policy and the shocks are still rippling through the country.

Stockholm Town Hall was beautiful. Fittingly for Stockholm, it’s an iconic building in an iconic city in an iconic country. The guide let slip that there is a new political force in Sweden. Standards are somehow being maintained and appearances are being kept, but there is an eerie sense that no one knows what’s coming – only that it’s something few had anticipated. Gamla Stan was also worth the visit. It’s stunningly beautiful, if somewhat touristy in places, but rich in atmosphere. Unfortunately, it was also rich in gippoes. Romania’s greatest export, it seems, is available everywhere. The grand Storkyrkan, Great Church, is among Stockholm’s older structures and houses some of its more interesting works of art. This, of course, includes a truly monstrous St George Slaying the Dragon. Or Danes. The chances are that it was a Swede slaying Danes, just allegorically.

Skansen is one of the world’s great museums, even if much of it was closed due to the season. What was open was splendid. A 1920s peasant julbord, ginger snaps baking in a wood-burning oven, 18th century farm houses from difference provinces, reindeer (they of a putrid stench), a Sami village, an old chemist’s, etc. Then there was the Vasa… The greatest ship of the 17th century. Nothing could have prepared me for it. It is simply massive. It’s ornate, inspiring, bemusing and tragic. It sank barely over half a mile into its maiden voyage. I had to buy Viking-type chum a Vasa ornament to warm his Danish heart. I couldn’t think of a more fitting monument to honour the glories and the follies of Sweden’s Golden Age.

Nordiska Museet helped to relieve the disappointment from the limited openings at Skansen. Their focus on traditions, their development and their evolution put many things into perspective. Things can change really quickly. Life can change really quickly. Within a century, all becomes unrecognisable. Within a matter of a generation, the world no longer resembles what it was. There is no effort placed into glorifying the past, nor is there an effort placed into vilifying the past – only recognition that life and all that it entails is ever-changing. That, and that Sweden borrowed quite a bit from the Huns – and some things that they borrowed were later returned to Hunland and embraced for their Swedishness.

I travelled to Copenhagen by train. First class, of course, one mustn’t endure revolting peasants unnecessarily. Before leaving Sweden I had a pleasant chat with the hotel’s owner. She was very helpful and gave me advice pertaining to reaching Stockholm Central Station quickly – it was just a quick ferry ride across the lake and maybe 5-7 minutes past that. I had to drag my luggage there as I broke a wheel on my large suitcase when I had to carry it behind me for hours a few days before. I made it in time with a few minutes to spare. The Swedish countryside is as beautiful and understated as ever. I wished that I could have stayed in Sweden longer. If anything, I am only growing fonder of the place with time and experience. Alas and alack, it was not to be – for now. I changed at Malmö Central Station. I could travel to Gentofte with no need to transfer in Denmark. Malmö is pulsating with a strange, unsettling atmosphere. I was relieved when the language of announcements changed from the musical lilt of Swedish to the guttural Danish. I was in Viking-type chum’s homeland and came bearing offerings of Grillhaxe, nougat, chocolate, sausages, an ornament and a Moomin Troll candle chime carousel.

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Categories: General
  1. December 13, 2016 at 7:11 am

    Frequently on biz in Stockholm and Uppsala, I was always struck by people’s observance of drink-drive laws and amused by their weekend imprisonment regime for malefactors. Strangely robotic. A Swedish colleague always joked he’d broken the law 10 times willy nilly. But as you say, an eerily beautiful region.

  2. December 13, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Sweden is a land with many hidden problems. It reminds me of Minnesota in that respect. So long as one doesn’t ask too many questions or try to become too involved it’s really quite pleasant. Alcoholism is one of those things.

    I actually prefer Småland because it’s more rustic and somewhat more honest. Skåne is Sweden with a Danish accent. The people, much like Danes, tend to be somewhat more straightforward than those in Svealand.

  3. christinaosborne
    December 13, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    I don’t know Scandinavia at all. From those who I have met who have escaped it always struck me that it must be full of manic depressives and alcoholics.
    I was always rather fascinated by that Wallender detective series. Horrible flat landscapes in the south of the country with ugly washed out looking vegetation. Very depressive and repressive. The people all seemed self repressed into quiet desperation. Is it really as grim as it looks?

    I found Dallas depressive, flat, uninteresting with dreary skies. couldn’t get out quick enough!
    Is it something about being flat one wonders?
    Minnesota too, flat and watery?

    But then I come from hills and much prefer vertical landscapes.

  4. December 13, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    CO: Sweden is a quiet country and they don’t like to air their failures and short-comings. They’re largely content enough and alcoholism is no worse than it is in the UK. Skåne is largely flat or with gentle hills. It is, however, beautiful. In the spring and summer it is fully of flowers. It’s a far better place than that wretched hovel south of Canada. Far less antagonistic and crime-ridden. I don’t understand how anyone could willingly live in that shit-hole. As for Minnesota, it is largely flat and has over 10,000 lakes.

    I like rolling hills but little more than that. Northern Sweden can be quite mountainous, Norway is a world onto itself.

  5. December 14, 2016 at 7:22 am

    CO – I could read your travelogues any day; you really have a way with words and I am damn sure you could be a travel writer. (Your second paragraph is a picture.) Talking about the December light, I jumped a line and mis-read it for “the lightest shade of ghost” ha ha.

    In my late 30’s (some 30 years ago) I took a four week holiday throughout December, to Finland, staying in both Helsinki and Kuopio. God, was it cold, but I was kitted out in a goose-down jacket looking like the advert tyre man from Michelin X, plus thermal underwear etc. Your post very much reminds me of that time in Finland, snowbound, quiet, and pretty with Christmas Fayres and markets. I was lucky enough to stay with friends in Helsinki on Christmas Eve, and two days later they took me to a Jazz Club in Helsinki. Great times and great friendships formed. I am very much a Winter person!

  6. December 14, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Sorry Christopher – I know you are not CO. But do you have a short name or code?

  7. December 14, 2016 at 11:13 am

    PG: CT would do.

    You’re not far off. Stockholm has its share of ghosts. I suspect that Gamla Stan can be quite eerie at night.
    I appreciate the quietude of the Nordic countries. Sweden is notoriously quiet, as is Norway. Even Denmark outside of Copenhagen is relatively still. Copenhagen is still largely an orderly, efficient city and its population are hardly obnoxious.

    Finland is the coldest of the Nordic countries. Outside of Helsinki and a few southern coastal provinces it is Subarctic. Well, there’s also a corner of north-west Lapland that’s tundra… Finns are a strange people. They’re a shy, reticent, even but once you get through to them they’re a great deal of fun and incredibly warm.

  8. December 14, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    How about ChrisT?

  9. December 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Janus: I get exceedingly irked by “Chris”.

  10. December 14, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Yes, I do recall, but the T gives you immortality. 🤓

  11. December 14, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    It would also make it sound like “Christie” which really wouldn’t do, eh, Juno?

  12. December 15, 2016 at 9:51 am

    OK, but pls don’t call me late for dinner….. 🍴

  13. December 15, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Janus: Te he he. Anyway, this is my last night in Scandinavia until next month. I will leave Oslo for California in the morning. Oh, just wait until I sink my fangs into Denmark and Norway.

  14. December 15, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Be gentle, won’t you? It’s dark winter now and the locals are depressed, not to say resigned to their fate.

  15. December 15, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Janus: I will write about Scandinavia, a place dear to me and always close to my heart. If you want toxic and savage just ask me to write about the USA, Spain or any combination of those two festering carbuncles!

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