Tuesday, August 26, 2008
My first and last destination in Scandinavia was the beautiful city of Stockholm. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. From the greenery, to the cleanliness of the streets, to my favorite part of the city, Gamla Stan (a.k.a. Old Town) with it's history and beauty well preserved including its narrow cobblestone roads, colorful buildings, and numerous waterways. I admit that in my travels that Oslo did prove some good competition as far as "most beautiful city" with its historic buildings, parks, and flowers; but Stockholm does beat it with its beautiful old town, just barely. I had to withhold from expressing my true envy towards the Scandinavians about how beautiful their country is, with their green landscapes, enormous blue skies, rivers, and lakes. I just wanted to shout, "Do you realize how beautiful your country is??" As I continued through my journey and pondered more about it, I did gain a greater appreciation for the composers and artists that had the ability to capture it their patriotism and spiritual connection to their surroundings through brush strokes and musical notes and communicate the feelings that words can't describe. More on that in later posts.
Just a few other things I noticed when I arrived in Sweden:
* I learned that since I know a second language, I automatically go into Spanish mode when I hear a non-English language being spoken. From the time I got off of the plane, all I wanted to speak was Spanish. I even caught some Spanish slipping out. As I progressed through my trip, I wasn't sure if I should speak Norwegian or English and sometimes I felt the ability to verbally communicate in either language abandon me in my moment of need, reducing me to a mute (sometimes mumbling), pointing customer.
*I couldn't help smiling when I saw some pre-teen boys get on the train, sporting some interesting hairstyles. Yes, I thought, I am definately in Europe now.
*Scandinavia is a lot more diverse than I imagined. There is a huge immigrant population, especially from the Middle East and Africa. I had more pita kebabs than Swedish meatballs.
*I found it kinda funny how the airport terminal seating reminded me of Ikea furniture. Same fabric, in "airport-standard" black, yet with a touch of European style and comfort. If I had to take a nap in any airport in the world, Arlanda International would be my top choice.
On my last day in Stockholm, my "big" Stockholm day, I made it to a couple popular tourist sites. The first one was the Vasa Museum. In the 1600's a huge warship with 2 decks of cannons was built. It was set to sail to Poland, where the kings of both countries had some conflicting issues with each other. On its maiden voyage, supposedly to Poland, some gusts of wind toppled the top-heavy ship and it eventually sunk, no more than a mile or two away from the harbor, where it laid underwater for 333 years. Remarkably, due to the amazing Baltic Sea's mix of salt and fresh water in the harbor, the ship was preserved quite well and 95% of the original ship is displayed to the public. It was quite an amazing site! I'm also very glad to not have been a sailor in the 1600's.
After the Vasa museum, I hopped back on the ferry and journeyed to Skansen park, one of the most popular tourist destinations. It's a large park that preserves its Swedish culture and traditions with re-creations of Swedish buildings, shops, farms, windmills, and a small zoo. After eating a waffle with Swedish cloubberry jam and cream, I watched a couple of the craft demonstrations including pottery and glass-blowing. It was cool! As I was leaving Skansen, it began to sprinkle. The sprinkle soon turned into a downpour. The green beauty of Scandinavia does have its cost. I attempted to seek refuge at the National Gallery but I found out that it was closed on Mondays. Despite my little travel umbrella, my feet and legs began to get a bit soaked, and I sought temporary shelter in the tourist center (where I noticed a large collection of Abba CDs for sale, props to the Swedes for their loyalty to their pop culture) and a nearby mall. I made one last stop in Gamla Stan with the hope of a short break in the rain and maybe I could take more pictures. The rain never stopped until I got on the plane the next morning. By evening time I was pretty soaked and decided to stop by the grocery store for dinner and head back to the hostel. I wasn't the only one looking for a warm, dry place. The place was really hopping!! Some of the hostels I had been to were pretty busy, and most people kept to themselves, but this time dozens of people were sitting around and just talking, eating, drinking, and having a good time. I met some of the jovial French and Australian people I was sharing a room with, and talked with a concert pianist from London who was performing in Scandinavia. I met a guy from Zambia who was studying in Stockholm for a few months before he goes on to continue his studies in Spain. Nearby a young men's choir from Germany was singing (and I love it when guys sing) in impressive harmony of songs ranging from the 1950's pop to modern songs. As they started a card game and the beer came out, the singing turned into lots of laughter. It was a fun evening, and a great people watching/meeting experience. Probably for the first time in the trip, I felt like I was one of the first ones to retire early to bed at 12:30 in order to get up at 6:00 for my flight the next morning.
This is just a brief post on Stockholm. I definately want to go there again. Stay tuned for Copenhagen, Denmark next.