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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)!

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