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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Week 3: The capitals of the Swedes

I have recently been trying to follow Gwyn Jones's very complicated arguments about the Swedes as the tribe that emerged from Uppsala as the dominant people in what we would now call Sweden. I'm sure it has since fallen out of some favour, but I think what I am getting out of it is that the 'capital' of Sweden, if we can impose that anachronistic idea on history, has moved from Uppsala, to Sigtuna (which makes the claim that it is the first capital), to Stockholm. In week three I visited all three places.

Friday the Uppsala International Summer Session organized a trip to Stockholm. They charted a bus from city to city, and scheduled some group activities. First we went to the Royal Palace and had a tour. After the tour we had some free time so I purchased a spinach and feta pie (which means quiche here, bit they just call it 'paj'). Some of us went down to the Royal Treasury to see the crown jewels and royal regalia. That is worth it if you are doing it as part of the whole experience, but is actually quite small if you are paying for that separately, which we did since we had got into the apartments on a group rate. We came back up for the changing of the guard.

Then we took the bus to the Stadshus, which was in some ways more spectacular than the Royal Palaces. I had seen the outside when I waited for the boat to Birka, but the inside is well worth seeing. After the tour we had free time, so a few of us decided that before it closed we would sneak in what is arguably Stockholm's most spectacular museum, The Vasa.

We took one of the hop-on hop-offs, but I would actually recommend the ferry as more direct and frankly more useful. The Vasa Museum seems huge on the inside, as it is built to accommodate this 17th century warship which was sailed out into the harbour in Stockholm before it simply rolled over and sank. Perhaps most spectacular is the conservation which has been done on the vessel.

We took the ferry back to Gamla Stan after we had had a French hot dog and wandered past Grona Lund, the local amusement park. This left a little time for exploring the old city, which is beautiful, before we had to make our way back to the Royal Palace to catch the bus.

Saturday I went back to Stockholm myself by train. I walked from Central Station to the Historiska Museum, or the Museum of National Antiquities, which is a central location for Sweden's pre-history, including their Viking history. In addition to the numerous artefacts, hoards and rune stones on display, they had museum workers in the courtyard dressed as Vikings and educating children interactively.

Having spent several hours there I then walked back to Djurgarden, the island which also houses the Vasa Museum, so that I could go to Skansen, the worlds purportedly first Open Air museum. They host a collection of mostly 18th and 19th century buildings gathered from all over Sweden, as well as a Scandinavian animal zoo. I felt a little like the creepy adult who comes without their children, but it was fairly spectacular, and it is complemented by many pavilions of kids rides and exotic animals, which add a theme park atmosphere to the grounds.

By this point I am a little exhausted from walking, but I did find my way back to Gamla Stan and ate at one of the cafes. But I topped off the evening with a visit to Medeltidskrogen Sjatte Tunnan - a bar built in the tunnels that run underneath Gamla Stan that has a medieval theme. They sell their drinks in ceramics instead of glasses, and you sit around barrels on sheep skins while someone plays a medieval instrument. An entirely interesting and enjoyable tourist experience, though lets face it it is for die hards and for tourists only.

Sunday, fairly exhausted, I took the train and a bus to get to Sigtuna, which claims to be the first capital, though now it boasts Sweden's smallest City Hall. Founded in 980, the city retains some of the medieval planning. The importance of the city around the years 1000-1200 can be seen in the multiple church ruins around the city, and the many rune stones. I walked along the main street, then one street behind to see the ruins, and then walked down by the water. After getting some food I went to the museum where I saw this very famous artefact, which I recently saw again as the first page in Gwyn Jones's book, The History of the Vikings. The museum is located in the same place as the first mint and the first King's residence was. 

All in all, capital weekend (sorry)!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Week 2: Uppsala, Birka and Viking tourism

My activities during my second week in Sweden were largely dictated by the fact that the Unesco World Heritage Site Birka, which I was determined to see,  between July 9-15 was hosting a Viking Market on site, so the place would be just teeming with Viking Age re-enactors. So this was the Viking weekend, where everyday I did at least a little bit of Viking Age tourism. But I also found out a lot more about religious history in Sweden, Carl Linnaeus and Gustav Vasa.

I started touring around Uppsala on Wednesday after class, when I went over to the Upplands museum, which had a very interesting display on the Upplands prehistory, which included their Viking Age material.

Friday I decided to look around Uppsala. First I went and looked properly around the Domkyrkan (Cathedral). The Cathedral is one of the finest in Sweden since Uppsala has been an important religious site here since Adam of Bremen wrote about the country in the second half of the eleventh century, and probably earlier as the remains at Gamla Uppsala would suggest. At around 10:00 am Friday morning I decided to wander around the cathedral and then paid the admittance fee to go up and see the treasury, which was well worth it.

After treating myself to lunch at Max (basically the Swedish fast food restaurant) I took the #2 bus from outside of the City Hall to Gamla Uppsala, which I was very excited to see. When I got off the bus two British tourists asked me where the entrance to the museum was, and I said it looked like it was off to the left somewhere. They told me that they were not expecting my accent. I spent several hours exploring the Gamla Uppsala museum. In fact I wandered around, took the tour and had to be kicked out when it was closing because I was stopping to read everything. I then went to the Odinsborg restaurant, a restaurant that local s say has been associating the mounds with the Viking Age for them for as long as they can remember, though the mounds are in fact from earlier in the Iron Age. It is also Adam of Bremen and successive nationalistic writers that have continued to make that association. I then went to St. Erik's church on site and explored all over the top of the mounds. The whole of the site drips in a past national romanticism, which the heritage people are quick to point out is one major part of the history of the site.

Instead of taking the bus back I walked along the St. Erik's trail (Eriksleden), the path of the procession of the relics of St. Erik on St. Erik's day, May 18th. The relics would be moved from the old religious centre at Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) to the new one in Uppsala on that day, and this is the path that they would take.

Saturday I woke up really early and took the train to Stockholm. The Stromma boat for Birka leaves from the Stadshusbron (bridge), right by the City Hall (Stadshus). I was able to explore the City Hall outer area a little before catching my boat to Birka. It is a long and windy boat ride, but the guide points out a few places along the way that are interesting for people going to see a Viking Age site. The Archipelago is also lovely. When I got there I wandered around the market and the reconstructions, and I walked up to St. Ansgar's cross (erected in the 19th century). I took the guided tour (really worth it), went to the museum, ate Viking Stew at the restaurant and then had to take the boat back. It was worth it to go at the time of the Viking Market. It was very lively and always something to see.

Sunday I went to see more things around Uppsala. First I went to the Botanical Gardens and wandered around. Carl Linnaeus, scientific giant, was based at Uppsala University so flowers are very important to the history and culture of the city.

From there I went to the Uppsala Slott (castle) for the art and the guided tour. Gustav Vasa built the original castle when he was trying to convert the country to Protestantism. Since this was perhaps the most important religious site the castle is here so that there can be a permanent presence felt by the powerful church.

Next I went to the Carolina Redvivia, the library for Uppsala University. The collections that they have on display are some of the very best treasures I have ever seen, including a 15th/16th century map of Mexico which shows spaniards whipping along their indigenous slaves, one of Mozart's notebooks and, of course, the Silver Bible, which is the best example of the Gothic language and lettering anywhere in the world. It is spectacular. But I was also interested in the 13th century manuscript that they have of Snorri Sturluson's Younger Edda.

Finally I made my way over to the Carl Linnaeus and University's garden. I took the audio guided tour around the house until they kicked me out, and then I wandered around the gardens until I was so exhausted that it was time to go home.