We decided that Sunday would be Museum Day, because we like museums. Well, most of us do. Lauren has kind of fallen out of the museum habit of late because she isn’t interested in going places just to look at things – she’d rather be doing things. This is why the Tom Tits Experiment passed muster with her while the Hallwylska Museet and the Historiska Museet didn’t.
So we split up.
Lauren stayed home with Sara, Helena, and David, and they had a day on their own. Kim, Mats, Tabitha, Maria, and I headed into Stockholm for a day at the museum or two. We took the subway in rather than drive, which meant heading toward the light rail station in Huddinge and then navigating all of the various levels of rail and subway lines once we’d arrived.
It’s actually something of a trick to figure out where you’re going and what level of platform you are on. They do try to color code them – there’s blue and there’s red and there’s green and it’s sort of cheerful in a subterranean way, really – but you need to have a good sense of spatial awareness in order to emerge into the light of day again. Fortunately they provide 3D maps for you to get your bearings, and – as with the airports – they route you through a fairly extensive shopping area on your way out so if all else fails you can always stop for a snack or something. I think Europeans shop while traveling more than Americans do, but then they also have better transportation systems than we do so perhaps it’s just that they can.
It was a cool, vaguely rainy sort of day – the kind that makes you think bringing a jacket is worthwhile but that putting it on is still optional – and we made our way through Stockholm toward our goals.
The Hallwylska Museet is one of those places that you really need to be in the mood for, because otherwise it’s just overwhelming. It is a massive house, built in the 1890s for the Count and Countess von Hallwyl, who were wealthy and acquisitive during a time when good taste and riotous excess were essentially synonymous. The place is full of Art and artifacts and pretty much, well, everything. Minimalism really wasn’t their goal.
I knew even before setting foot in the place that it would not be for me, so my plan was simply to accompany the group there and then start wandering semi-randomly around Stockholm. I like cities. I like walking around in them and just seeing the things that are there. I’m more than happy to wander aimlessly through the streets without much more of a plan than that, and I spent a happy two days in New Orleans doing just that, back in March when Kim was at her conference. Mats said he’d wander with me, so when we got to the Hallwylska Museet Kim, Maria, and Tabitha headed up for the guided tour and Mats and I did not.
There is a part of the Hallwylska Museet that you can tour for free, however, and Mats wanted to go through it.
It’s clearly the sort of place where money was no object. We went through maybe half a dozen rooms, each of them full to the brim with baroque and rococo trimmings, things, and decor. There wasn’t half an inch of space that wasn’t occupied with something – luxurious paneling, expensive artifacts, intricate hangings, fine paintings, musical instruments (including a grand piano made entirely of inlaid wood and consumer envy), antique weaponry, on and on. It was eye-wateringly over the top, and I’m actually pretty glad that we stopped at that point and went back outside. Kim, Maria, and Tabitha had a good time exploring the place further, but it would have just made my head hurt.
We spent the next couple of hours wandering around central Stockholm.
At one point we went through a small park that had a giant orb dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat whose desperate efforts to stymie the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Hungary saved thousands of lives but who was captured by the Soviets at the end of the war and disappeared. It’s good to remember people like Wallenberg these days, particularly when there are so many echoes of Fascism being heard in Europe and the United States now. Heroes know that there is no such thing as a good Nazi. Nazis are not fine people and should never be treated as anything other than the human waste products that they are. Anyone who says otherwise should not be trusted with political power.
We also walked around the harbor, from Gamla Stan on past the National Museum, which we waved at as we walked by. The harbor is a lovely place in the grey and wet.
The ship in the background there, behind the winged statue, is apparently some kind of youth hostel, or it may be a restaurant. Might be both. I don’t remember anymore, but it was interesting to walk by on our way around the harbor.
We crossed a small bridge to the islands of Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen and continued wandering about. Sometimes it would rain and sometimes the sun would come out, but either way it was a pretty walk. Hilly, but pretty.
At one point we ended up on a high sort of rock looking out across the waterway at Grona Lund (you’ll just have to imagine the umlaut over the o in Grona, since I don’t have a Swedish keyboard on my computer and my desk has no room to put one – those things are about a half meter long and contain three entirely different sets of characters depending on which shift button you press. I also don’t feel like finding the magic key combination that will produce an umlaut on my keyboard, since experience has shown me that it will just make the Blogger platform lose its little electronic mind and start printing gibberish). Mats said that his company will sometimes rent out the place for a company-wide event, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s no way over there from Kastellholmen other than a ferry ride, though, so we sat there for a while and then moved on.
There’s an entire museum devoted to ABBA not far from Grona Lund too, because of course there is. ABBA is Sweden’s most famous export. You know all of their songs, whether you want to or not, and without quite recalling how you learned them – you just know them, because they come pre-loaded into your consciousness. They’re all fiendishly catchy. There’s a law that says whenever “Waterloo” comes on the radio you’re required to mime the piano part, even if you’re driving. The Abba revival of the last few decades has been the source of more traffic accidents than texting. ABBA also has some kind of memory blocker because you think they’re just a bubble-gum pop group with a set list of cheerful little songs until you listen to the lyrics and are surprised to discover, once again, just how melancholy they all are. There’s a reason they’ve managed to squeeze two entire movies out of their back-catalogue, after all. I didn’t know about the ABBA Museum at the time and I don’t know if I would have gone there this trip even if I had, but it’s nice to know that it’s there. There really ought to be an entire museum devoted to ABBA. That’s just proper.
Once you get to the end of Kastellholmen there’s nothing for it but to retrace your steps back across Skeppsholmen and onto the mainland of the city, but rather than go back to Gamla Stan we headed north into the Ostermalm (umlaut over the o again) section. Our ultimate goal was the Historiska Museet – the History Museum – where we’d meet the Hallwylska crew, but we took our time and saw what there was to see.
It’s an attractive part of the city, a bit off the tourist paths though with a few things in it that might have been open had this not been Sunday. The red brick building there in the second photo is the Royal Stables. Sweden still has a monarchy, and people seem to enjoy having them there. The first time we took the girls to Sweden, back in 2004, they were captivated by the idea that there were Actual Princesses floating around, and when we got back Lauren wrote a letter to one of them. She got a very nice reply from the Royal Secretary, along with a couple of post cards. It was nice of them to write back.
By this point it was getting on lunchtime, and the problem with exploring outside of the tourist area on a Sunday is that not many things are open. It took me and Mats a while to find something that looked inviting and was open but eventually we found a brightly colored burger stand in Karlaplan park. The cheerful man behind the window made us a very tasty lunch for a surprisingly affordable price and we sat there outside in the little seating area, and it was good.
While all this was going on, Sara, Lauren, David and Helena were enjoying their own day. Lauren’s original plan was to try to get her hair cut – the allure of saying she had a Swedish haircut was strong – but haircuts, like most things in Sweden, are expensive and that plan eventually fell through. Instead they started out their day playing games in the kitchen.
After which they went out to lunch.
And after that they found the World’s Biggest Candy Store and looted it. They came home with bags of the stuff, and that evening when we sat around the table playing “paper telephone” again we made short work of most of it. You can’t beat that, really. No, you can’t.
After our own lunch, Mats and I headed over to the Historiska Museet, which is devoted to Swedish history. It’s a big place. They have a lot of history over there.
While we waited for the Hallwyska crew to arrive we went through the Gold Room. It’s pretty much what it says it is, only more so. Almost every archeological find in Sweden that has yielded gold or silver has been deposited in this room, which you get to by going down into a vault and passing through an entry with a forbiddingly sturdy door and along a corridor that no doubt has a wide assortment of Indiana Jones type booby traps to protect it from ne’er-do-wells (and, quite literally parenthetically, I think more people should use the phrase “ne’er-do-well” in conversation – c’mon, people, make an effort). There must be a hundred pounds of gold and silver in there, some of it exquisitely worked and some of it kind of lumpy but all of it Very Impressive Indeed.
When we all met up, though, we went outside to the Viking history area.
There’s a lot of Viking history too, and that day was some kind of living history event where there were tents set up in the courtyard of the museum and you could try on chain mail, shoot arrows at a target, or just take it all in while others did so.
From there you went inside where an immersive exhibit walked you through several hundred years of Viking history, with runestones, grave goods, and other artifacts of Viking society all neatly arranged and explained. I liked the model of Birka, a Viking town whose remains we actually visited back in 2012.
There’s also a long exhibit about the history of Sweden where you walk along a guided path and every step takes you a year or two forward. It starts in the Neolithic and gradually winds you up toward the present, and along the way there are things to do, such as pretend you are 18th-century royalty – a task that seems to involve a great deal of cotton wool.
Toward the end there’s a powerful exhibit about the 1361 Gotland Massacre, where the king of Denmark basically slaughtered a force of farmers on the island of Gotland. The bodies were then dumped – armor and all – into mass graves and preserved, and the museum has a few of them there on display (with their chain mail and everything – it’s kind of creepy if very compelling) as well as a fairly interactive history of the whole thing. You should go.
They even had an exhibit about old pipe organs, with some working examples that you could make noise with. Noise is good.
Eventually it was time to go, and we headed back to the subway and the light rail and Huddinge station. We feasted on meatballs and salad and vegetables, threw in some laundry for the next stage of the trip, and gathered around the table for games and conversation with friends and family.
Sometimes the world is a very good place, and it’s good to remember that.