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My stay in Stockholm – 2 September 22, 2014

Posted by Jenny in art, Life experience, travel.
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Stockholm is a city of islands and bridges.

After enjoying the Lunchkonsert, I walked over to Gamla Stan—the Old City. I crossed on the Strombon bridge.

Looking toward Gamla Stan.

Looking toward the Royal Palace.

Looking west from the bridge.

Looking west from the bridge.

Rijksdaghuset (Parliament Building).

Rijksdaghuset (Parliament Building).

Streets of Gamla Stan .

Streets of Gamla Stan.

You notice that people are wearing clothing for hot weather. Stockholm was experiencing a heat wave—the temperature was in the upper 20s Celsius (mid 80s Fahrenheit), far higher than the summer average high of around 22  C (71 F).  The sky shone like a burnished piece of blue metal, utterly cloudless; the low humidity made the sun seem very bright and unrelenting. Everyone sought out patches of shade. I was glad to have a hat to shade my eyes.

Gamla Stan is the location of the Royal Palace, an enormous complex which has been divided into ten different attractions for public viewing, ranging from the Royal Apartments to the Hall of State, the Royal Chapel, and the Treasury. I decided not to tackle it this day. I was not in the mood for crowds and standing in line.  Even the streets of Gamla Stan seemed crowded and touristy to me, its store windows packed with souvenirs.

I recognized that I needed to retreat to my hotel for a short nap. I made my way back along busy streets. Once back there, I noticed something for the first time: although the common areas of the hotel were air-conditioned, the rooms were not. But I lay down and did get a bit of sleep.

I went back  out and walked around. I passed the modern  sculpture at Sergels Torg.

Sergels Torg.

Sergels Torg.

I found myself gravitating back to the grassy surfaces and refreshing pools of the Kungstradgarden. I picked out a restaurant at the northern end of the garden for dinner and sat outside under a canvas awning.  After eating I wandered into the garden and saw that once again free music was on offer—this time at a pavilion  in the park. A couple of musicians were playing what sounded like traditional Swedish folk tunes.

Musicians in the park.

Musicians in the park.

But for me the real attraction was not the music but the dancers. I could see that people came here to dance as a regular routine, and most of them were quite skilled. A couple of young girls  romped around, and the rest—of all ages—moved in a circular pattern, twirling and spinning each other expertly.

Dancers of all ages.

Dancers of all ages.

I found the sight strangely moving and stayed watching quite a while. The couples seemed so happy; they were clearly enjoying both the dancing itself and the bond that it created. I saw how some of the more athletic dancers put in extra little spins and variations.

Happy couple. How lucky they are!

Happy couple. How lucky they are!

I went back to my hotel and explored the TV channels a bit before going to sleep. The Swedish channels featured nature programs and documentaries. I watched BBC—a lot of news about the WWI centenary.

In the morning I decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art. I thought about the Royal Palace, but modern art appealed to me more than a lot of ornate chambers crammed with rococo or baroque knickknacks. I walked to the museum, which is on an island called Skeppsholmen.

Boats everywhere!

Boats everywhere!

I believe this is the boat that serves as a youth  hostel.

I believe this is the boat that serves as a youth hostel.

I knew I was close to the art museum when I spotted these curious sculptures.

A whimsical sculpture garden.

A whimsical sculpture garden.

When I reached the museum, I found that the current special exhibit featured a painter named Nils Dardel, with whom I was not familiar. I was in for a treat! He is as impossible to categorize as Paul Klee. His paintings feature bizarre dreamlike scenes, but they don’t resemble the polished canvases of Surrealists like Dali, Magritte, or di Chirico. His style is both naive and humorous.

Nils Dardel (1888-1943).

Nils Dardel (1888-1943).

His most famous painting is titled “Death of a Dandy.”

"Death of a Dandy," 1918.

“Death of a Dandy,” 1918.

Such a strange combination of feelings here! The dandy looks quite satisfied to have died!

"Dreams," 1922.

“Dreams,” 1922.

"Cocktail Party," 1930.

“Cocktail Party,” 1930.

I saw the museum’s permanent collection as well, then repaired to the restaurant for lunch. I had a lovely table with views of the waterfront. Then I visited the other museum at the site, the Architecture Museum, and wandered over to the little island next to Skeppsholmen, called Kastellholmen. I had views of the amusement park.

Amusement park.

I walked along the edge of the islands, admiring the many pleasure boats moored there.

By now it was getting time to think about catching my train to Lapland, known as the Arctic Circle train. Departure time was supposed to be 6:17 p.m, but train service across much of Sweden was nearly paralyzed by an electrical problem, and the train departed quite late. I have told this story in my post “Sarek National Park: Day One.”

Those of you  who have read my series about Sarek also know that on Day Seven of the nine-day expedition, I discovered that my backup camera battery didn’t work. Therefore I took no pictures when I returned to Stockholm. I arrived sleep-deprived after not having caught more than a few winks on the overnight train ride. I felt tired anyway from the long backpack, I had strained my knee toward the end of the trip, and I had gotten a pretty bad sunburn on the next-to-last day. So I was not in the best shape that day. I decided, more out of a sense of duty than anything else, that I would “do” the Royal Palace.  The unusually warm weather had continued, and many rooms of the palace were absolutely stifling—except for the few areas that were below ground, such as the Treasury.

I toughed it out until afternoon, had lunch at a Thai buffet, and went to my hotel (the same one I’d stayed at before). I slept for three hours before venturing out for dinner. The next morning I got up very early to catch the airport bus.

So my stay in Sweden ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but I was buoyed up by my memories of Lapland, an incredible experience that will always stay with me.

The skies---the  snow---the peaks---the rivers---a place I will never forget.

The skies—the snow—the peaks—the rivers—a place I will never forget.

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My stay in Stockholm – 1 September 17, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Life experience, music, travel.
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9 comments
Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

I had thought I would cover my Stockholm visit in one blog post. But as I went along in my long-winded way, I realized I needed to split it up. There will be one or two more pieces.

I spent a day and a half in Stockholm before my trip to Lapland and one more day when I came back. Here is Stockholm in a nutshell, for purposes of tourism: beautiful, walkable, sophisticated, cultured, expensive.

Everything seemed 1.5 to 2.0 times more costly than what I would have expected at home. But then again, everything seemed so clean, nicely presented, picturesque. On such a short visit, of course, I stayed within the major tourist areas. But as I walked around, one thing seemed odd: I would have expected to see a least a few beggars, a few homeless people. I saw only a handful of gypsies, and they were not begging. The usual line is that they don’t beg, they steal, working in pairs and using diversionary tactics. This is a controversial subject, and I am not in a position to judge.

In conversations with people on the Lapland trip, I learned that Sweden has a big income gap between rich and poor. Stockholm’s poor include many immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe, and they live in the outlying neighborhoods—not where the tourists go, of course.

A high percentage of Stockholm residents work in service industries. There is no heavy industry there—which is why it is rated as one of the cleanest European cities. I felt relieved in some strange way when we passed through the steel mill town of Lulea in northern Sweden, on the way to Lapland. Actually, I already knew about Svenskt Stal AB, from days when I was working for the Financial Times and used to talk with SSAB’s coal buyer about the prices, sources, and tonnages of his supply. As we neared the Arctic Circle, our passenger train passed a freight train with car after car of iron ore pellets, to me an impressive sight.

And you just wanted to hear about nice places in Stockholm! Don’t worry, we’ll soon come to that. I am not promoting any political message here. I’m only expressing something about myself as a contrarian: that when everything looks so pretty and nice—and all the people look so healthy and smartly dressed—I can’t help wondering about the other parts of the picture.

So I got into Arlanda Airport around 7 :30 in the morning. As on many other international journeys, I found the airport completely lacking any local identity until I used the ladies room. Ah, European plumbing! Now things looked different—the door handles, the toilets.

I easily figured out the airport bus and soon arrived downtown at the central bus terminal, near the train station and also near the hotel I’d selected on Vasagatan, the appropriately named Central Hotel. They were kind enough to let me check in five or six hours ahead of time. The place was small and stylish. My room featured a large photographic mural over the bed.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

There was also, interestingly enough, a set of free weights to keep my arm muscles in trim during my stay.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Soon I set out and somewhat randomly headed east. Along the way I passed a large map store. Perfect! I had planned to look for a map of Sarek National Park better than the one I’d printed out from a website. I got a lovely detailed topographic map which I featured in my recent series on Sarek. The reverse side had all sorts of helpful information—all in Swedish. However, I could somewhat catch the drift. One photo featured a very determined person using a pole to help him cross a swift-moving stream; another showed a woman happily aligning a compass with a map; and a third showed a party of glacier climbers peering anxiously into a crevasse. Now I was ready for Lapland.

I continued east and eventually found myself in Kungstradgarden, the King’s Garden. It was full of fountains, statues, and flowers.

A rectangular pool in the King's Garden.

A rectangular pool in the King’s Garden.

Fountain with statues of swans.

Fountain with statues of swans dribbling water from their beaks.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

St. Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

I walked past the church and noticed a sign board that told of free concerts in the church on Thursdays at 12 noon. Well, it was 10:30 on a Thursday. I would go! To fill the time until the concert, I found an outdoor cafe and had juice and a pastry. I was a bit jet-lagged, and it was good to sit in the shade.

The Lunchkonsert turned out just lovely. A pianist-composer named Joakim Andersson played three pieces. One was a lively work of his own composition called “Feux de follets.” Next came “Valse triste opus 44” by Sibelius, and the concluding work was by Selim Palmgren, sometimes called the “Finnish Chopin.” The work was his “Piano Sonata in D Minor.” It didn’t sound anything like Chopin, so I think that label for him is just one of those simple-minded epithets—he wrote compositions for the piano, as Chopin did, and he was Finnish. This piece was full of interesting textures, and I think he deserves to be better known.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

As  I listened to the music, I basked in the atmosphere of the church. Like many of the best churches in Europe, it was built over a very long period of time, thus featuring a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, all blended harmoniously.

Next: Gamla Stan, happy folk dancers, more boats, and the Modern Art Museum.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

Sarek National Park—Conclusion September 8, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
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13 comments
This is the last picture I took on the trip.

This is the last picture I took on the trip.

Now I have bad news to share: my backup camera battery didn’t work.

Same brand, same size as my other battery. Fit into the camera fine… it was fully charged… but my camera gave me a message: “Battery cannot be used.”  I finally figured it out when I studied the fine print. My old battery was 3.6V 940mAh 3.4Wh. The one I purchased three years later was 3.6V 1100mAh 4.0Wh.

It was the morning of Day Seven. We stopped for a rest beside the Bierikjavvre lake. As we snacked and had some water, a group of 20 or so reindeer wandered over and paused to graze just a few yards away. This was the best viewing of reindeer we’d had on the whole trip! And of course that’s when my battery died. No problem! Insert backup…

Very sad.

 Bierikjavvre Lake.

Bierikjavvre Lake.

Friendly reindeer.

Friendly reindeer.

Days seven and eight featured travel over the longest distances of the trip. We proceeded northeast along a chain of lakes and crossed the boundary out of Sarek at a bridge, entering Stora Sjöfallets National Park. In the map below, you see a green boundary line and a place where we had to detour from our general heading to make use of a bridge.

The blue X's mark our route.

The blue X’s mark our route.  We went the length of the Pietsaure lake in boats.

It was as we approached the bridge that Christian gave us our test in navigation. The bridge was off in the distance, beyond big patches of marshy ground and several good-sized streams. In fact, I could not even see the bridge—I ‘d had my vision tested shortly before the trip and was due for a new pair of glasses. They’d been ordered but not arrived at the time I departed. So I was forced to just follow the others.

It was not a test in compass work but a test in judging the terrain and picking the best route. As it turned out, I think I could have found a good route even without seeing the bridge. It was a matter of picking up faint paths that led in that direction, and I am very experienced in spotting traces of human footprints.

We waded across wide, gravelly streams—these weren’t as difficult as some of the others—and crossed the churning Guhkesvagge River on the bridge. A water fowl was perched on a rock just below the bridge, waiting for a tasty fish to swim past. We walked another hour and reached our campsite for the night. I made a silly mistake when it came time to fetch some water for cooking, walking in the wrong direction for what seemed like a very long time until I came to a stream. There was another stream right on the other side of our campsite!

The next morning we had to cross a lot of boggy ground that was thick with scrubby willows. I was wearing shorts that day, and I began to realize long pants would given me better protection as we pushed through the scratchy     willows. The mucky ground was another problem. It  nearly sucked the boots off our feet! But pleasant conversation helped to take our minds off the conditions. That was the day that I had a long discussion about the Beatles with Ulf, who is very knowledgeable about music. At lunch I got into another fun conversation about “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad, ” both of which are quite well known in Sweden.

We had a sharp deadline to meet that day. We needed to connect at 6:00 with Sami people who would take us in boats to their village, at the eastern end of the lake.  After lunch we crossed another stream, this one featuring a relaxed, slow current and a deep swimming hole. Several of the group took advantage of the swimming hole, diving into the refreshing water. It was sunniest, hottest day of the whole trip.

We crossed a high pass beside a distinctive conical mountain called Slugga and worked our way down to the lake, staying to the highest ground to avoid extensive bogs. It was here that friendly Bjorn presented me with an especially nice reindeer antler and insisted that I carry it on top of my pack.

The antler is proudly displayed in my living room.

The antler is proudly displayed in my living room.

We met the boatmen and had a chilly ride down the lake. By the time we  reached the far end, I was damp with the spray that came over the sides. But we had a warm supper waiting for us: a traditional Sami meal of smoked fish and potatoes. The fish was Arctic char, served whole. I noticed my tentmate Jarl, a lover of seafood, expertly dealing with the bones.

After dinner we had more walking to do, up over a pass. We stopped to camp in a meadow, where a gusty wind picked up as we were pitching our tents. But at any rate we all had excellent tent-pitching skills by now.

In the morning we had just a short walk down to the Saltaluoka mountain hostel operated by STF, the Swedish outdoor group. We took advantage of the showers and sauna and enjoyed a buffet lunch. Back in civilization!

We took a boat across the lake to Kebnats, where we caught the bus back to Gallivare. How different everything seemed now. When I’d taken the bus coming in, as I’ve described, I was consumed by worry over being two hours late, not realizing that other people on the bus were part of my group. Now I had made fifteen new friends. Gradually we parted company. Inge, who lives in Ritsem, said goodbye when we got on our bus. Others went different ways at Gallivare. Still, a good number of us rode the same overnight train toward Stockholm. We shared a table in the dining car and enjoyed more conversation.

Once again, endless forests glided past the windows, and I listened to the peculiar sound made by the cables of the electric train. The journey of 16 hours seemed interminable at times, but I had a good book—Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, which I had read every evening in the tent for a short while until sleep overcame me. But I could not sleep in the train—I never sleep well unless I can stretch out, and the problem was compounded because the woman sitting next to me had unfortunately doused herself in strong perfume. Nevertheless, we finally arrived in Stockholm, and the last glimpse I had of any of my companions was of Jonas, running down the stairs at Stockholm Central.

I will describe Stockholm in my next post.

I will describe Stockholm in my next post.