21.11.2014 - 25.11.2014 0 °C
More trains, about a dozen of them, for a journey of about 8,000 km exclusively by rail. I am counting a short ferry ride, because the train will be on the ferry with me although I understand we will be released from the train. The one out of Oslo left so early that I had to forego my delicious free breakfast. The train was in an older style, quite high and rectangular, although modern inside. The one thing that marked it as a Scandinavian train was the use of blond hardwoods for trays and finishings - otherwise it was grey and bland. As was much of the journey - no sign of sun anywhere.
As I arrived at the edge of Stockholm, I worked out what I had expected and not found in Oslo: a sense of grandeur. I am not sure which suburb the train entered through, but it went past a sequence of tall, gracious buildings - all with golden-yellow walls and orange tiled roofs. While in Stockholm I learnt about the reason for the yellow walls, and it has nothing to do with its evocation of gold. Back in the day, noblemen had their houses painted (they'd NEVER paint them themselves) a deep red colour. Aspirants and no-hopers copied them, wanting to show off a bit and because the paint, being made from a by-product of copper smelting, was cheap, relatively speaking. So the noblemen, not wanting to be associated with the riff-raff, found the most expensive paint on the market - a golden-yellow coloured one. If you walk around the oldest part of Stockholm, you'll see this is the colour of most of the buildings. Even my hostel was painted that colour, although it was far from grand, and far from the oldest part of the city - it is at the western end of Södermalm, which is (I think) the most southern of thr 14 islands that are in Stockholm city. It is an old fashioned looking building, not close to anything, and I was initially dubious but came to enjoy it greatly. Apart from one night when I shared a room with a fellow off to tramp around in the Himalayas for the 14th time, I had the room to myself, there was plenty of space and a nice bar I'd have a closing beer in at the end of the day.
Södermalm has one modern claim to fame: it is where the Girl With a Dragon Tattoo is set: the buildings used in the movies for the Millenium offices, Milton Security and the houses in which Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist lived are all here. On my first day in Stockholm, I actually did a Dragon Tattoo tour with a fairly batty lady from the library and got to see these places and learn a bit about Södermalm, an island/suburb I actually enjoyed. Some clever spark has gone about and created little wasps in the rocks near Blomkvist's house. I actually came here because of the movies, particularly the cool bars: never found any of them, but did get to visit a couple of the coffee shops. While I was waiting for the tour, I had to keep out of the way of the filming of some soapy TV programme
At the same time, I loved walking across the causeway - I had the choice of going past Parliament, which had an island all to itself, which I thought was a bit at odds with its policy of being open to the people, although it does have a very busy pedestrian thoroughfare going past the front door, which connects with a very long (3 km or so) pedestrianised shopping street.
The alternative was to duck to the right after the causeway and walk though the old town, which is what I did every day, once I worked things out. It is a maze of little streets.
That last little alley is Mårten Trotzigs Grand, the steepest and narrowest of them all. It leads up to a rather pleasant square, the iron square, called this because this is where the city's official iron scales were, to control all trade through the city. Now you'll see the first ever central bank. The wee man standing outside is not a banker, but a famous local troubadour, Evert Taube. Walking further up, you'll notice some odd things on the walls - when a building was insured, a shield would be put above the door, so the fire brigade would know they would be paid for their efforts. The floors came through the walls, and had a pin inserted to make them secure - the style varied according to the builder and the era. There is also the one surviving Viking rune.
In another square, there was a Christmas market, quite colourful but it never seemed very popular. I was going to try some of their Christmas drink, glogg, until I was told that the version sold in the streets has no booze in it. What's the point. The market surrounded one of the scariest fountains I've seen!
Up at the top end is the Royal Palace - which does not look very glam, but is enormous! I was on a tour when I first saw it - there are stories about the Swedish Royalty straight out of Game of Thrones, or perhaps which inspired some Game of Thrones stories. There was the mother of the King, Catherine. She had used her influence to install him as King, thinking they would share power, or she'd control him. He proved to quite like being King and was not amenable to his mother's wishes. So she spread rumours among the noblemen that he was illegitimate (as Joffrey actually is) and he quickly fell out of favour. I should really have taken notes, because the other stories are mere flutters in my memory.
The architect who designed the Palace was permitted to build his own house right next door, which created something of a challenge, as he couldn't just build himself a skodie little cottage. The house he did build, Riddarhuset, is "the most beautiful house in Stockholm" - I'm afraid I can't see it. Apparently it is nice inside, and being occupied now by the Mayor as his official residence, it is opened to the public twice a year.