In the past, when I thought of Stockholm, it was a vision of snow, ice and skis. Never, ever was it a vision of 85+ degrees, high humidity and bottles of sunscreen. It is HOT! Welcome to the tropical destination of Sweden!
Sweden is such an interesting country. I am a bit embarrassed to reveal just how little I knew about it. Did you know that the city of Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands, which are part of the Stockholm Archipelago which has between 24,000 – 30,000 islands? Too many to count? Sorry to say, I had no idea. And they are 24,000 of those most beautiful spots on earth. At least in the summer when you can get around to them.
I thought Alaska was beautiful (and it is), but Sweden really has the wow factor. And the cruise ship comes so close to some of them that we could wave gaily to children and talk to each other. Okay, we were hollering, but it was amazingly close. And it made George more than a bit nervous.
Vacation homes dot the islands, all looking like picture book homes of the rich and famous. George looked up the price of a modest little home for sale at the going quick price of $1,000,000.
Stockholm is an expensive city (more on that later) and also a city of museums. If you like museums (and I do, I do) then this is a place of wonder. We hit three museums today – each of us picked our museum of choice.
George chose the Vasa Museet (museet means museum, did I impress you with my Swedish verbal skills?). This was one of the best places I have ever been. What a story! The entire museum is built around a 17th century warship which sank in 1628 and recovered from the harbor in 1961. The ship, which housed 32 cannons was built to the specifications of the King, who just happened to be named Vasa. He should have stuck to playing war games, because he was very good at it. As a ship designer – not so much. When it was built, the poor captain could tell it wasn’t very stable. He went so far as to drag an admiral aboard and have 30 men run back and forth across the deck. The ship tilted so badly that the Admiral called a halt to the test and bailed out of the ship. He also didn’t tell the King, so the poor captain was forced to sail the ill-fated bugger. All 10,000 residents of Stockholm came down to watch it sail away. Which it did for 1,400 yards. Then a puff of wind hit the sails, not a big wind – just a small one, and the ship tipped over and sank. Thirty of the 150 passengers died, including women and children of the crew. Luckily, they were so close to shore that the residents were able to rescue most of them.
The ship has been on the bottom of the harbor for almost 400 years, and was brought to the surface, pretty much intact. It was set on shore and a huge building built around it. What an amazing site. They were even able to recover the skeletal remains (including clothes) of most of the people who died. Even more interesting, they did forensic research and crafty head recreations from the skulls. So we know what they looked like and including diet and diseases.
George was clearly the winner of Best Museum of the Day. Emma’s choice was the Nordiska Museet, which she chose because the building was so gorgeous. And if you like kitchen dishes through the ages, this is a great museum. It’s a nice museum about everyday cultural life since the 13th century. It also has the worst smoothies you could ever hope to drink in the vain hope of cooling off. Sweden is not air conditioned. Except for the Vasa Museet, which is kept at 55 degrees to preserve the ship. Most of Stockholm decided this was the perfect day to see this marvelous boat.
Ever the shallow intellectual of the trio, my museum choice was the internationally acclaimed Museum of Abba. You know, the famed Swedish musical quartet of the 1970’s? Mama Mia? My favorite movie?
George died after the Vasa Museet and took the Hop On Get Off at Cruise Ship shuttle back to ship to rest. Ellie and I sweated through the Nordiska Museet together and then headed for the world famous Abba shrine. Ellie was flagging at this point; she was coming down with a cold and the heat wasn’t helping. I used my grandmotherly guilt and she agreed to accompany me. She had never heard of Abba and never could figure out why a Swedish group sang in English. But she was incredibly sweet and patient, even if she did think her grandma was nuts.
To say it was hokey would be an exaggeration. Well, okay, it isn’t an exaggeration. And it cost way too much to go there. To be honest, I had no idea what it cost because I was too cheap to turn on my phone and pay the international phone rate to figure out how many kronor there are to the dollar. Things seemed cheap in Copenhagen, so perhaps it was the same in Stockholm! It would have been cheaper to turn on my phone. When we got back to our room in the evening I looked at the receipt for a souvenir t-shirt (a cheaply made souvenir t-shirt). It had the dollar translation on the debit card receipt. $48! Oh crap. I was buying stuff all day and had no idea how much I had spent.
As I choked, I then thought about the lovely dinner we had just eaten, and the cab rides!
After touring the museums, we took the shuttle back to the ship. George, now rested, wanted to go out to dinner in the city. We are here for two days, so let’s see the city! Rather than take the shuttle, George wanted to take a taxi. This man does love a taxi.
We trotted down to the cruise terminal where two drivers were chatting next to their cars. Taxis, of course, are lined up in order and you take the car in the front of the line. I should have realized there was going to be a problem when Taxi Driver #2 kept having to translate for Taxi Driver #1 (our guy). We asked to be taken to an area nearby with good food. Driver #2 declared we should go to Old Town, where there are lots of restaurants. Driver #1 nodded enthusiastically and motioned for us to get in the car.
George immediately started up his non-stop taxi conversation. No Star Trek “Beam Me to the Cruise Ship” comments, but straight to the heart of it all. How much new construction is going on in Stockholm? What is the rate of unemployment? Mohammed, our driver, who was also a very large man, always had the same response.
He knew about six words of English. Four of them were his favorites. “BAD TAXI” he would boom at the top of his voice whenever he spotted an unmarked cab going by, and “GOOD TAXI” when he saw a cab with an identification number on the door. He was worried we would take a BAD TAXI back from the restaurant, and wanted to make sure we understood. He seemed like a really nice man, and sincerely worried about us. Every ten seconds or so he would scream out “GOOD TAXI!” and point vigorously at a car as it whizzed by.
Ellie and I were trying to keep our faces straight as George asked about taxi driver unions and Mohammed would respond by bellowing and gesturing wildly out the window “BAD TAXI!” George eventually gave up and all three of us started nodding vigorously and shouting with Mohammed at whatever taxi he saw.
By the time we reached Old Town, we were comrades in proper taxi identification and I patted his arm affectionately and told him he was nice man. He grinned and said “Thanks!” and drove off to holler at more taxis.
There are 500 Italian restaurants in Old Town Stockholm. I had no idea the Italians had traveled so far in the 1300’s. George, who loves spaghetti, was thrilled. I insisted we have a proper Swedish meal, and we ended up perspiring buckets in a great indoor eatery. Ellie had reindeer fillets (I kid you not), George had seafood and I had fresh local fish. The food was well presented and delicious.
And I had no idea how expensive until we got home and figured it all out. Apparently, we could have furnished an entire home with new furniture for the cost of this meal.
This left finding a taxi to take us back to the ship. I found a GOOD TAXI and saw this older gent in a suit who looked nice behind the wheel. He rolled down his window, and I showed him on the map where our ship was located. This gentleman spoke at least a dozen more words of English than Mohammed. But where Mohammed was a man of gusto, this guy reminded me of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. You know the sad donkey who is resigned to the negatives in life?
Mr Taxi (I never learned his name) looked sadly at my map and said “No address?” I looked at the map, and sure enough the terminal for cruise ships did not have a street address. I mean, how hard would it be to spot a giant cruise ship at Terminal #9 in Stockholm? And I was handing him a map!
He reminded me of my very good friend Kim, who loves her GPS and uses it to go to the Safeway store down the street from her house. She plugs in addresses and goes where she needs to go. But wouldn’t you think a taxi driver should know his way around town?
He sadly shook his head like Eeyore, and said again, “No GPS? What address?” I think he could tell I was about to take my map back and move to another taxi, so he suddenly nodded his head affirmatively and said “We go.”
I turned to George and mentioned Mr Taxi didn’t speak English, so please don’t confuse him. George got in the car, started to talk and then wisely shut his mouth.
Mr. Taxi pulled out and we started in the general direction of our ship. I was closely following the map, because I really was worried we would end up in Norway. Suddenly, he goes up onto a freeway that we had not taken to get to Old Town, which I couldn’t find on my Hop On Hop Off map and the highway splits in two directions. We have to go left or right and there are highway signs that make no sense to me – neither says anything about a cruise ship. Mr Taxi looks at me and gestures for me to tell him which way to go! What! He’s asking me? I have no idea, but point a direction towards the water because I’m worried we are going to crash. He is not looking at the road, but at me in the rear view mirror.
Our ten minute taxi ride ended up taking about 45 minutes; he would drive us to a spot and look hopefully at us. Somehow, George saw the stack of our ship rising above a building and started hollering “SHIP!” All of a sudden, I thought maybe he doesn’t know what a ship is and I said “BOAT!” He started nodding as enthusiastically as only Eeyore can, and only four more U-turns later, drove us to our cruise terminal building.
Ellie and I were laughing so hard that we had to hold each other up as we walked back to the ship. Ellie wondered what the taxi ride had cost, and I didn’t even want to know. I was just so happy that we made it. Both taxi drivers were incredibly nice guys, but I sure hope we don’t run into them tomorrow!