Stockholm, Sweden
My Random Walk Down Drottninggatan





Stockholm, seen from Slussen, Sodermalm


(Note: 4.5 Swedish Kronor = 1 Singapore Dollar; 8 Swedish Kronor = 1 US Dollar)

I arrived at Arlanda airport, took the bus to the city 'coz it is cheaper than the train, SEK89 instead of SEK160.  I am cheap.  I arrived at the City Terminalen (the main bus station next to Central Station, the main station for trains and the Tunnelbana or subway).  I couldn't tell the east from the west.  So I asked a guy for direction and I walked to the hotel on Drottninggatan.  Drottninggatan is a very charming pedestrian street.  It is the main shopping street in Stockholm city with lots of flags flying overhead, with lots of stores (H&M, PUB, Ahlen, etc.).  I had a bit of difficulty finding the hotel 'coz I haven't figured out my orientation at this point yet.  I felt quite ridiculous with this really big bag on my back (I already packed light).  Finally I found the hotel.  I walked up the 2nd floor to the reception and checked in.  Whew!  I was quite surprised to find that Eko, my colleague from NUS, has arrived in the morning and he was already out roaming about in town with the other two colleagues.  The young and the restless! 

The hotel turns out to be nicer than I thought.  It is very close to Hotorget's popular street market next to the Konserthuset (I later found out that Konserthuset is where the nobel prizes are awarded every year -- although the Nobel banquet is held in the city hall).  Very good selection of fruits.  A big box of blueberries costs you about SEK25, about S$5.  Three nectarines costs about SEK10.

I left my luggage in my room (a nice and quiet one with a view of the courtyard and the apartments across the hotel room).  I took my bag and went out to see Stockholm.  And it was raining again.  I walked south along Drottninggatan towards the old city (Gamla Stan).  I didn't know I was walking towards the old city.  I was just walking towards where the crowds were.  After about 10 minutes of walking, I crossed the bridge into the old city.  Just after I crossed the bridge into Gamla Stan, by a hotdog stand were Eko and the other two colleagues from NUS.  It's a small city.  They have been out and about for a few hours and they were now ready to go to Stockholm university for registration to the conference.  So I went with them, without seeing Gamla Stan (after all those walking).  We took the subway and went to the Universitetet station.  Found the registration desk and got our package.  Went to the reception.  Socialize for a bit and went back to hotel.  Had dinner at Kungshallen alone.  Had Indian food in fact.  Quite authentic.  Costs about SEK70.  MacDonald meals cost about SEK50 and I have no intention of having MacDonald in Stockholm.  Then just lie around and try to decipher the Swedish spoken on TV.  In fact, I think I saw the recording of Eva Cassidy at the Blue Alley.  I actually had that album.  Good one too.  Unfortunately, Eva Cassidy has already passed away.  Skin cancer.  Such is life.

Then Till came by my room.  It is good to see him again.  Last I saw him was at Berkeley one summer ago, at that time still a PhD student.  Now he is going to be a respected assistant professor at Columbia Univ.  Very sharply dressed man!  Till, always the man of style! :-)  Chatted more about the serious issues of life.

[Note: Till is unbelievable.  One week before I left for Stockholm, I got an email from him, titled "on the street again."  He still hasn't made a reservation for the hotel!!!!  So he emailed me and asked me if I have the phone number of my hotel in Stockholm.  He was going to give them a call and see if there will be a miracle for him -- a room in a hotel with good location in Stockholm in the summer one week before thousands of economists flocked in.  Tsk tsk tsk....  Ha, it turns out that miracle does happen.  He called and the hotel was able to accomodate him for his entire stay in Stockholm!  The only catch was that he had to change room almost every night.  He must have worked some of his Italian charm on the girl working at the reception of the hotel.]

The next 5 days were conferences nonstop.  But I managed to meet up with Fredrik, an ex-colleague from NUS who had gone back to the Stockholm School of Economics.  I went to his office and met up with him.  The Stockholm School is housed in an impressive building on a nice location to many restaurants and cafes.  The entrance was a big heavy looking wooden doors.  I was quite lucky.  I got in and saw a security guard.  He happened to know Fredrik, despite my terrible terrible pronunciation of his last name (Sjoholm).  He actually showed me to his office.  I dont' think I could have found it easily on my own.  We went to a Tapas place nearby with his friends and he very kindly bought us dinner.  Had a little too much Sangria.

The conference organizer provided two dinners, both at very interesting locations.  The first one is in fact given by the city of Stockholm.  It was held at the Blue Hall in the Stockholm city hall, where the annual Nobel banquet was held.  Nothing in that hall is actually blue.  The reason that it is called the Blue Hall is because the architect initially built it in the Italian style.  There were supposed to be two piazza, with open top.  In Italy, if the piazza has an open top, you would of course see the blue sky.  However, the architect has forgotten that in Stockholm, much of the year you only get to see a grey sky.  So in the end, he has to add a roof to the second piazza but the name Blue Hall remains.  It was very nice for the city of Stockholm to invite us to a dinner there.  However, they cut off the supply of food and alcohol after about one hour and we were out of the city hall in almost no time.  They also showed us the Golden Hall upstairs.  It is built with the Cathedral in St Marco square in Venice, Italy as the blueprint.  All the walls are decorated with pictures made up of tiles.  The tiles consist of one layer of gold enclosed by two layers of glass.  I wonder if I heard correctly, the guide said that altogether 14 kilos of gold were used.  It was a big hall and 14 kilos, even 40 kilos are not much at all.  But one side of the wall is particularly interesting.  The golden hall was completed after WWI.  At the time, the Swedes thought that it was going to be the last great war of mankind.  With hindsight, we know they were wrong.  In any case, the queen at that time made herself the peace queen.  Her picture was depicted in the center of that wall.  Then on the right, there are people from the east bearing gifts to the peace queen.  On the left, there are people from the west also bearing gifts to the peace queen.  I think it depicts the Swedes as peace loving people.  I love the Swedes but I thought it is also interesting for a second reason - The Swedes apparently thought of themselves as the center of the world in this mural but honestly, I have never thought of Sweden as being close to the center of the world.

The second conference dinner was at the Vasa museum, which is splendid.  Vasa is the largest and the best-preserved ship of its kind in the world.  The ship sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, after sailing for perhaps only 10 minutes.  It then laid on the seabed 30 meters below the surface for the next 333 years.  The reason that it sunk was because the kind ordered a gun deck be added to the ship, making the ship too heavy.  And so the ship toppled on her maiden voyage until her existence and location slowly passed out of knowledge - because sometime after that tragic accident, there was a fire in the old palace and many records were lost in the fire.  Before it was rediscovered in the 1950s, it was almost completely forgotten, well except by one man - amateur naval historian Anders Franzen.  This man studies the archives and searched the waters around Beckholmen in a rowing boat.  He would repeatedly send a small core sampler down to the sea's muddy bottom and then examine the sampler for evidence of the remains of a ship.  He did this for five years until one day in 1956, the sampler finally pulled up a chunk of blackened oak and it was from the Vasa.  The ship was salvaged in 1961 and reassembled.  It now rests in the Vasa museum.  The ship looks about 7 stories high.  The color of the ship is still uncertain but it was believed to be brightly painted.  It is rather amazing that the Swedes built this museum to put their failure more than 300 years ago in display.  Nevertheless, as one Swedes puts it, mistake or not, "the ship is just too beautiful to be hidden away!"

After the conference, I stayed on for two more nights to see the city.  Of course, I walked around Gamla Stan, saw the changing of the Guards at Kungliga Slottet (the royal palace), and the wonderful royal marching band.  ABBA is apparently still going strong in Sweden, 'coz sometime during the changing of the Guards, they played Mama Mia!!  It's a riot.  After the ceremony, the band matched on to the front of Storkyrkan ("the Great Church" dating from the mid 13th century and the site of past coronations and royal weddings, located right next to Kungliga Slottet), and they played YMCA, among others.  Interesting!  In any case, I have to say, they are very good.  They are the best marching band I have heard.

There is something very interesting about the royal guards at the royal palace.  They have a little hut behind them.  They stood in front of the little hut.  And there are two circles marked on the ground in front of them, one outside another.  From what I can gather, the inner circle is his absolute territory, 'coz anybody who walked inside that circle, whether intentional or not, had been pushed back by the guards.  I mean they will literally raise their hands and push you outside that circle.  They took it very very seriously.  Of course, almost all who had wandered into the circles were innocent tourists who haven't got a clue of what's going on.  Some of them must have thought, "Oh God, what had I done?  Why is he pushing me?  Is he going to arrest me and put me into prison?"  In any case, I can see a good reason for the guards for doing this.  If anybody could just walk up to him, he cannot even be of protection to himself, let alone to the royal family.  I can of course offer a psychological explanation as to why they are protecting this circle so vigorously, other than direct orders from the top.  I mean, the royal guards look really great and I am sure they are all elite of the arm forces.  But one has to admit it is also a rather ridiculous job, standing in front of the palace, strutting back and forth sometimes, with all these tourists taking pictures of them nonstop (I am one of the guilty ones).  So by taking this task of protecting the inner circle very seriously, they can feel better about doing this rather boring and at times ridiculous jobs day in and day out.  In other words, by taking this task seriously, it lessens their cognitive dissonance about having to do this rather boring job.  In any case, Andreas told me that the Danish royal guards were supposed to be the elites.  And they trained near Kongens Have (the King's Garden) and Rosenborg Slot.  I have actually seen them there, playing football and marching along.

I am not sure.  But it appears to me that most of the guards are rather young.  I am thinking that they are probably serving their compulsory national service.  There are also women.  If I am correct, women can volunteer to do national service too.  After all, Scandinavia is one of the most equal countries in the world when it comes to gender differences, among other things.

By the way, I bet you didn't know that the royal family residing in Stockholm now is not Swedish at all.  It's kind of strange.  Apparently they were the descendants from one of Napoleon's generals(?!).

I also took a ferry (from the town hall quay) to visit the Drottningholm Palace (this is where the royal family actually lives, although the number of guards is surprisingly small), west of Stockholm in the lake.  I think it is on an island, also reachable by bus, but the scenery is much nicer by boat.  The ride took one hour each other and I only had one hour on the island because I have to take the last boat back to StockholmThe last boat left surprisingly early at 5pm, considering that it's summer time.  I didn't have time to visit the palace because that closed even earlier at 4:30pm.  So I just wandered around a bit.  It has a very nice garden, very green.  There was a Chinese Pavilion near the palace also.  I thought it was pretty funny to see a Chinese style building (Chinese Pavilion -- Kina Slott) on the royal compound in Sweden. 

The day after the conference, I took the ferry to go to Vaxholm, the transport hub for archipelago tour.  My plan was to go to Vaxholm and then catch another ferry to another island called Grinda.  Unfortunately, it starting raining as the ferry was approaching Vaxholm.  I brought a towel and a swimming trunk, but no umbrella as I wasn't expecting rain.  I bought an umbrella as soon as I left the ferry.  But after wandering about aimlessly for one hour in the rain without seeing anything interesting, it didn't feel like fun at all.  I didn't want to go to Grinda because it was raining and also because the return ferry from Grinda is not very often.  I would be stuck on Grinda for the next 4 hours if I decided to go.  So I walked back to the pier, saw a bus parked at the bus stop near the pier.  It turned out that the bus would go to Stockholm and it would leave in 8 minutes.  So I decided to give up and go back to Stockholm, with the lousy weather and all.  (I didn't know that rain is very typical of the Swedish summer).  On my bus ride back to Stockholm, I was amazed how rural it felt outside Stockholm.  You can see the farm and the hay stacks on both sides of the road, all the way until you are right outside Stockholm.  I had always thought that Stockholm must be very urbanized.  Apparently not so much outside the city center.

My flight leaves at around 9pm on the last day of my trip.  So I decided to shop for some postcards in the morning and I sent one with the city hall to George.  I didn't imagine that he has much time for shopping for such trivial stuff last time he was in Stockholm. 

I was debating with myself on how to spend the rest of the day before my flight leaves at 9pm.  I could leave my baggage at the central station in Stockholm (and go to Drottningholm again since I didn't fully explore it the last time).  Or I could go to the airport, try to leave my (now exceedingly heavy) baggage and then take a bus up north to Uppsala (which I know almost nothing about) to see the birthplace of the Swedes.  In the end, I chose the latter.  The reason was simple.  If I stay in Stockholm, I would simply be replicating some previous experience and the marginal returns would be low.  So I might as well start a new experience in Uppsala.  Even if the trip turns out to be bad, I would at least have been to a new place and learnt that it was bad.  Besides, it would be a good exercise to live with my fear of the unknown.  Clearly, one of the reasons that prevented me from going to Uppsala was the fear of the unknown waiting for me there.  So I took the bus to Airport and then to Uppsala.

After about 40 minutes from the airport (the trip costs SEK160 round trip), I arrived at the central station in Uppsala.  Uppsala turns out to be really charming.  I simply love the colors.  I have no idea where I should go.  I just know that there is a university there, perhaps one of the oldest in Sweden.  I walked by two chatting girls on the side walk and I just asked them where I could find the most impressive building in Uppsala (how shallow is that?)  So they very nicely pointed me to the direction of the cathedral.  I just cannot believe how friendly people are!

It appears that every city in Sweden has a King's street and a Queen's street.  Just like in the U.S., you find a Martin Luther King (MLK) Street wherever you go.  I was surprised to report that there was an MLK street in Uppsala as well!!!!  Hmm....

Being the good Asian that I am, of course I have my Canon G3 in hands and started snapping pictures right away.  Then two excited freshmen approached me.  After some quick exchanges, I gathered that they were on an orientation thingy.  There were various tasks they were supposed to perform.  If they complete a task, they get some points.  Believe it or not, one of the tasks was - find a Japanese with a camera!!!  Too bad for them, I politely explained that I am not a Japanese.  They wouldn't give up.  They said I didn't have to say anything and could pretend to be Japanese.  If I don't think about it too much, it was actually quite hilarious.  But I hate being stereotyped as the photo snapping Asians and have no desire to reinforce that stereotype and so I politely declined their enthusiastic request.  Actually in retrospect if my feet had not hurting so bad from the sores, I might have played along and walked that 100 metres to see what happened.

Then I walked around, sat around, finally got dinner (expensive quiche that didn't taste good), and make my way to the airport by the airport bus.  At first, I was the only passenger on the bus and the bus driver and I started chatting.  He of course speaks perfect English.  He asked me where I was from and I told him that everything in Sweden is two to three times more expensive than in Singapore, but alcohol is only about half the prices in Singapore.  He was apparently amused by that and he repeated to himself at least two to three times, "half the price of Singapore, huh�"  I bet he would go home, forgetting everything about Singapore, but remembering how expensive alcohol must be in Singapore.  He very kindly dropped me off the right terminal.

I got my bag from the locker and checked in.  But before I went through the security check, I remembered that I hadn't sent the postcards.  So I stopped by the convenience store and got some stamps.  Either the Swedes are unusually friendly or I am usually chatty, the guy at the convenience store and I started chatting.  He was a student of Uppsala University and he was working in the convenience store at the airport to make some money so that he could have some pocket money to party.  I was quite surprised that he was a migrant from Iran (I hope I got this correct?).  There were apparently a large number of Iranian who migrated to Sweden around 1978 because of the war.  I then asked him a politically incorrect question, I asked him if he felt discrimination, as he is of darker complexion.  His answer was a definite yes.  I was surprised.  But I guess more subtle form of discrimination is everywhere.  He said that he blended in better when he was traveling in Portugal and Morocco, not too surprising considering that Portuguese and Moroccan have darker complexion, like the Iranian.  We chatted for a while, and it's time to go.  I dropped my postcards into the mailbox and checked through security.

The flight to Copenhagen was very empty.  We encountered some turbulence.  When the plane landed, I was a little worried 'coz I only had 45 minutes to make the transfer.  Last time I went through passport control, it took me at least 20 minutes.  And I thought I needed to go through passport control in the Copenhagen airport even though I am simply in transit.  So I asked the air steward to confirm.  He confirmed it.  So I got off the plane, scurried along to check the gate number for my connecting flight.  The same air steward whom I talked to saw me checking the screen and he very nicely pointed the way -- very friendly and very tall guy with a goatee.  I love the Danes!

So I got on my connecting flight without any problems.  I must be in a really chatty mood or that Scandinavians are exceeding friendly.  I started chatting with the guy sitting next to me.  Turned out to be a well traveled Norwegian, coming to Singapore for a 4-month internship in the Science Park.  He told me his profession is naval architect.  To be honest, I have never heard of such a thing.  In any case, I was surprised to find out that he was well traveled because he used to travel to compete in Sailing and he had been to Brazil and Australia.  Now I have great respect for anyone who has been to Brazil because Brazil kind of scares me.  My impression of Brazil comes from the movies, like the Central Station and the City of God.  Now if you have seen either movies, you would know why I am scared of Brazil.  In the movie Central Station, in one of the scenes, the police hunted a little kid who stole something from a shop in the Central Station (because he was homeless and hungry) and shot him dead like you smashed a fly.  If you have seen City of God, it is even scarier.  Also many years ago, I had a good friend who was a German Brazilian from Sao Paolo.  He used to tell me was that one of the things he would worry for his family, when he got married, was the safety of his family living in Brazil (he was at the time dating an Italian girl living in Germany, deeply in love, thinking off starting a family with her back in Brazil.  I wonder if they ended marrying each other in the end.  Life is a strange thing.  Many times, you thought this was it.  But it was never it.  In any case, I hope they did because if they didn't, I think I would completely lose faith in love).  To cut the long story short, I also learn that Norwegians are very shy people.  Now I have had good Norwegian friends before.  But the one whom I know best, Erling, is hardly a shy guy I thought 'coz he is always so cheerful, energetic, and always have good stories to tell.  But apparently typical Norwegian are kind of like farm boy, feet on the ground, skeptical of strangers, and reserved.  Apparently the best way to break the Nordic ice off the Scandinavian is to buy him alcohol.  Hmm...  Anyway, that was my whole trip!.





Gamla Stan


The Palace in Stockholm

 

Gamla Stan (old city)


A neat place near the NK shopping center



I like the mood in this picture..



I like this one also.



A man in uniform -- the royal guard.



Viking ship with the Grand Hotel as the background



A view from Slussen, Sodermalm.


 

Stockholm City Hall



The crown on one of the bridges in Stockhom


The royal marching band during the changing of the guards at around noon at the Palace in Stockholm



Sergel Torg, outside the Central Station in Stockholm
 


Hotorget, one and a half black from where I stayed



Kungshallen, where I had many dinners.  There is an international food court at the lower level.  Across from Hotorget and very close to where I stayed.



Pedestrians crossing the street in Stureplan..




The ship and the blue sky



A nice day out for lovers of the world.