Reflections on our Swedish Adventure, as we fly home

All aboard!

We took the last train from Linköping to Årlanda Airport in Stockholm on Friday afternoon, spent the night at the Radisson SkyBlu Hotel inside the airport, and left for Chicago in the morning. As our plane made its way across the North Atlantic on June 30, bringing our adventure to a close, I took time to reflect on our whole experience. What would sum up our adventure, that had so far gone unsaid?

First, and possibly greatest, is how very relative is that thing we call distance. I often noted, while sitting at my study window, that three very different things looked the same at first glance: a jet fighter in the distance; a bird flying past the neighbor’s house; and a bug on the window.

An inside joke for us was, “It’s a very short walk.” To Swedes, maybe; they not only walk more often than we, but a whole lot faster! At first, Hemköp in Ryd Centrum seemed pretty far away: a 32-minute brisk walk for me, while listening to Irish jigs on my iPod nano…and an exhausting 45-minute slog home, with a too-heavy wheeled shopping bag, while listening to heavier tunes from Les Miserables. After we’d lived there a couple of months, I was at Hemköp  “before I knew it;” I thought nothing of hopping on my bike and dashing off to pick up a missing ingredient before supper. It was only 3 km away, while the library or the salon were more like 5-6 km, and the tennis center was 8 km. In late March when I took my first tennis lesson, I didn’t trust myself to bike there…or, more to the point, to bike back after playing tennis. But in mid-April, I found that it was relatively easy. I didn’t go quite as fast as I had before tennis, but the ride was still pleasant; and I could stop off for errands on the way home. Yes, it was mostly uphill on the way home, but it was a gentle grade.

I’m glad we decided to do things “the Swedish way.” It gave us a better appreciation for our surroundings. While it might have felt at first like we were “roughing it,” doing without some of the things we take for granted in the US, it was less frustrating in the long run…as I learned while trying to make American foods with Swedish cooking implements. Also, if we had continually tried to re-create our American lives in a Swedish setting, I believe we would have felt more like strangers in a foreign land. As it was, we  were taken by the many ways we were the same as our hosts, even as we marveled at the differences. I wonder how our experience compares with undergraduate study-abroad opportunities?

The change of pace gave me a rare opportunity to re-think the priorities in my life. In Sweden I got a full night’s sleep almost every night.

The biking way of life

I couldn’t schedule as many activities in a day, because I had to allow time to walk, ride my bike, or take the bus. I liked the lower stress level. It gave me more time to reflect, to learn something new (in this case, svenska), to think things through, and to take care of me. I would like to act on that when I get home, and simplify my life there. I dread returning to a full set of demands on my time. Unfortunately, the things that are easiest to set aside are the direct-service activities (Faith in Action, Meals on Wheels), which I value more highly than the more time-consuming ones (UK Woman’s Club president, Friends Meeting treasurer) to which I’m committed for the next several months, so I don’t know how I will act on my resolve. I do plan to ride my bike more places than before, which will require setting aside more travel time between appointments and will give me more thinking and breathing space.

Harry’s life slowed down somewhat,too, and when his family visited they commented on how well-rested and relaxed he looked. He worked 8-hour days, with a lunch break, instead of 11-1/2-hour days with no lunch. He never completely embraced that change, however. He expressed frustration at not being able to start work earlier and finish later, as he would have done in the US. The Swedes, though, talked about the American way of work in the same tones of disbelief that we use to refer to the Japanese system. They take for granted the extended parental leave, the 5 or more weeks of vacation per year, the 8-hour work day, the break times within the day. It occurs to me as I write this that even though Harry doesn’t use them, and I didn’t either when I was in the workforce, some of them are written into our labor laws. Managers and professionals, though, are “exempt” from such considerations, unlike in Sweden.

Harry commented several times on the spontaneity of the Swedes. Both his co-workers and our neighbors tended to plan events, and extend invitations,  at the last minute. Near the end of our stay, we had to decline a Friday invitation to spend Sunday afternoon with his co-workers at the river-side home of one of them: that was the day we were having our neighbors over to thank them for their Swedish hospitality. When I asked on Monday how the Sunday picnic had gone, I learned that it hadn’t happened: it was special for us, and since we couldn’t come it was canceled.  Is this spontaneity characteristic of Swedes, or was it a coincidence?

Other, smaller reflections: We packed for 3 seasons: winter, spring, and summer. One or two summer outfits would have been plenty. In fact, it never got too warm for spring clothes! The full week’s supply of summer things seemed excessive as I packed them up for the return trip. Turtlenecks, on the other hand….Now I have a slightly better appreciation for the pregnant woman’s hatred of maternity clothes.

We came to Sweden in the middle of winter. The days were short, but no shorter than ours a few weeks earlier (at our winter solstice). The temperatures were fairly close to ours in Kentucky, so our early adaptation wasn’t too shocking. Now, though, for our return trip, we’ll be going from highs around 70°F to a record-breaking heat wave in the States, with local highs between 100° and 105°. The busy-ness will pick up right away; the noise in O’Hare, annoying under normal circumstances, will probably be all the more jarring for our 5 months of relative quiet. We’re braced for it; will that be enough?

When can we go back to Sweden?

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Friends

We’ve had a busier social life as a couple in Linköping than we do in the US. We’ve done the dinner circuit with Peter & Cissi (pronounced Cee-cee) and their 2-year-old daughter Elsa; Per & Åsa and their daughters Maya (9) and Tyra (7); and traded visits with neighbors. In addition, we went together to a local band concert in March; to watch the motorcycle parade leaving Linköping on April 30; to Gamla Linköping on May 1 for an outdoor concert of the same band and (for me when I tired of standing around watching the band and watching other people watching the band) wandering through a print museum and discovering more shops, and taking Harry back to the print museum before we left that day; to the Air Show June 3; and to the neighborhood Midsommars Eve Festival June 22. All of that in addition to hosting Julie (and my going with her on the Coexistence of Cultures and Faiths cruise) in April; my bookgroup friend Megan and her daughter at the beginning of April; and Harry’s family the 2nd week in May. For a real social butterfly that might be a busy month; but we’re not even fake social butterflies!
On the 24th, we hosted an afternoon for our neighbors to thank them for all the ways they have helped and welcomed us, and to welcome the Linnérs home from England. We had 16 guests—8 children, 8 adults. Wizard demonstrated his wisdom by holing up in our bedroom. The out-of-doors at Gröndalsgatan 6 was entirely too noisy and rambunctious for his liking! We even had guests we hadn’t met before: Caroline and Raphael (What are the odds that two Raphael’s will live across the street from each other in Sweden?) and their children dropped by for 15 or 20 minutes; I still don’t know if they came to our party to introduce themselves or to talk to other neighbors, but it was nice to meet them anyway. I was busy all morning making rhubarb crisp, molasses cookies, and rhubarb sauce to serve with ice cream. I’m pleased to report that most of it was gone by the time the guests departed. That’s the perfect kind of treat! (Harry was starting to make jokes about all the ways rhubarb showed up on the menu. To keep up my reputation, the next night I served Brown Sugar Rhubarb Chicken.)
That turned out not to be the last social event, however. I was especially sorry to leave without enjoying Cissi’s company again. I had thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her, and had looked forward to seeing her again at our Swedish National Day lunch on June 6, but Elsa was sick that day and she stayed home with her. Partly to rectify that, and partly to finish up a bit more of the fish in our freezer (from the fish man’s truck 11 weeks ago), we proffered a last-minute invitation to them to join us for a fish dinner on our last night in Linköping; they accepted! It was hard to say goodbye, but they offered us a bed in their basement for a return trip, and so we parted with more of a “till next time.”
And then there are the friends I met through their line of work, esp. at the salon where I got my haircuts, manicures, and massages. I predicted optimistically at my first contact with them, back in February, that at my last contact I would be speaking Swedish. At nearly every visit, conducted almot exclusively in English, they would ask me how my Swedish was progressing. They listened to me practice, answered my questions, and generally provided encouragement in addition to being friends in the way “salon ladies” often are. It seemed like I would never speak Swedish. And then… I spoke Swedish for about 75% of my last manicure and for the majority of my last haircut! My hair stylist had threatened that if I didn’t speak Swedish at that appointment she wouldn’t let me go back to the United States. She gave me a VG (like a B) for the encounter. I was disappointed not to have merited an A, but I had to agree: about halfway through I lapsed into English and didn’t say much in Swedish after that. We parted with a promise to be pen pals—the whole salon and I. Not via e-mail…real letters! Ah, pen pals…takes me back to grade school days…
We’ll have several people to add to our Christmas Letter list. Maybe that will help ensure a “next time.”
Melissa

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Harry’s retrospective

The University and the lab is slowing down for the summer and I am wrapping up my work; I gave a summary seminar on Tuesday. Even with the inevitable delays finding materials and equipment, thanks to the occasional Care package from the University of Kentucky we managed to accomplish most of what we had set out to do. We screened a lot of compounds that had already been designed for other purposes, and found that some have promise for aiding in early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases down the road. In the spirit of ongoing research, we got some good leads about ways we can modify existing compounds to make them even more useful. In addition to discovering new things, we built the foundation for continued collaboration. There will be several joint publications as proof of academic accomplishment, but most importantly we established an expanded personal and scientific relationship for the future.

So, what are my highlights for our five months in Sweden. In the spirit of the Fulbright program I had the opportunity to experience first-hand international cooperation in science through the large-scale projects sponsored by the European Union. I attended a consortium meeting in Tübingen, Germany where I was able to establish personal relationships with a number of prominent European research leaders in my field, expanding my professional network and source of potential collaborators.

On the personal side, for the first time I met my second cousin on my mother’s side and his family, attended two Swedish professional league ice hockey games (both wins for the local Linköping team), and played in an LIU chemistry department hockey game. With the Fulbrighters I spent a day at Uppsala University touring their museums and library collections. Back in the ‘70’s I was a runner-up (not enough of a farmer) as an undergraduate exchange student to the Uppsala Royal Agriculture College from the Agriculture College at Cornell University. Melissa and I spent four days in Stockholm for a Fulbright graduation ceremony at the US Ambassador’s residence, toured the restored pride of the Swedish navy Vasa that sank in 1628 in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage, watched the changing of the guard at the royal palace Old Town, and visited a number of other Stockholm historical sites. At the Nobel museum we were happy to see one of the postdocs I had trained with in North Carolina featured as one of their recent laureates in chemistry.

Not to forget beautiful, if not always sunny, Linköping, with its well-kept bike trails, recycling, and general environmental awareness programs, convenient bus and train systems, a downtown as well as a countryside minutes away by bicycle, its own medieval castle and kyrk, and waffles by the riverside in the springtime with our Fulbright mentor. We prefer Linköping to Stockholm’s bustle and crowds.

We were fortunate in being able to rent the house (and Wizard the family cat) of an LIU faculty member on sabbatical. Our Swedish neighbors welcomed us into their homes, were patient with our English and painful Swedish, and helped us navigate the Swedish system, even if we didn’t have a personnummer. The Swedes have been described as insular, cool to strangers and standoffish – not in our experience. One could not wish for a more open-arms acceptance.

Harry

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The June 3 Saab Air Show (late entry)

As I said earlier, the much-anticipated air show was, more than anything, COLD!! Although it’s probably less than a quarter of a mile from our house as the crow (or magpie) flies, we didn’t get to access it that way. We walked out of our neighborhood and through a narrow strip of forest, emerging on the access road to the air field; headed left for a few hundred yards, then doubled back for more than that before cutting across the wide, grassy parking area of the day. Then we got to join all the people who had driven to the show, walking around–not through–the flight area. In all, this little magpie-hop was about 1-1/2 miles long.

The good news: walking helped keep us warm, at least until we reached our destination! Who would have thought that it would be in the low 40s, windy, and raining off and on, for a June 3 event? At least we had prepared for it, dressing in layers (and wearing all of them), and taking makeshift sit-upons like Julie made as a Girl Scout. Ours were just plastic shopping bags stuffed with newspapers, to give us a neutral seat on the cold, wet ground.

Is this really June 3?

“What is so rare as a day in June?” Well, warmth was certainly rare. According the the newspaper, people turned out in record numbers for the event. But since there were no tickets, getting an accurate count was a challenge. People were free to come and go at will, and might very well have taken advantage of that to warm up. We lasted from 9:30 till 11, and then came back home for a hot cup of köttsoppa (meat soup). I will say that we were surprised by the size of the crowd behind us when we stood to go, and more were arriving at 11 than were leaving. The sun came out in the afternoon, and it warmed up several degrees, but by then we had opted for a nap!

The morning portion of the air show was agonizingly slow-paced, with long gaps between demonstrations. There were a couple of “talking heads” providing background chatter… I’m guessing it was Saab’s media relations person and a local news celebrity…but we couldn’t see them, and since they had the audacity to speak Swedish (!) we couldn’t really hear them, either (although occasionally I would hear “sjuttiofem år” (75 years, pron. ‘whew-ti-fem or’). We had gotten good viewing spots, right up front by the crowd-control rope, so there wasn’t even a lot of people-watching to do, just watch the old planes

Tre kronor (3 crowns) in Swedish colors–military insignia

and wonder when they would finally take to the air.

At 10:45 we doubted if there would be any more flights before the 11 AM mid-day

Helicopter loop-the-loop

break, but just as we stood to leave there began an amazing display of helicopter aerobatics. We’d never seen, nor did we ever expect to see, a helicopter fly a loop-the-loop. Never say never. Or how about watching a helicopter fly upside down in a straight line? We saw that, too!

It’s not “sour grapes” to say that the best of the air show was the afternoon part, which we missed. We’ve been lucky enough to see fighter jets flying in close formation, up to 10 at a time, and aerobatics, and wing-walkers, out our window for weeks leading up to today. And we saw parts of the finale from our back yard. However, two members of the Saab “family” said that the whole show, even though it celebrated Saab’s 75th anniversary, was not as good as in previous years. Might the economy be impacting even the war machine? Could be…but I don’t think the defense department needs to hold a bake sale just yet.

Melissa

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Midsummer’s Eve…

…is Sweden’s biggest festival of the year, a celebration of summer, the longest day, flowers, life, friends and family. It’s a time we’ve been looking forward to from early on, glad that we’d still be here to see it. It was today! First, though, Monica and Björn-Ola and 3 of their 4 children came over to drop off most of their belongings from their 6-month sojourn in England. It was great to meet the kids and to see their excitement about being back in their own house after half a year in much closer quarters, and to visit with the grown-ups while helping them move their stuff inside and move the outdoor furniture outside.

Making floral wreaths for Midsummer’s Eve Festival

After they left, I started making the floral garlands we would wear at the festival. I’d been told after my last massage about what happens at the Midsummer’s Eve Festival. Everybody makes a floral garland that morning to wear while they dance around a maypole singing a silly song about a little frog…the lyrics translate along the lines of “Little frogs are funny…they have no ears or tails.” They told me, in detail, how to make the garlands. It involved using lots of wire, which seemed to me to be an invitation to get poked in the scalp! “Do the men wear flowers in their hair, too?” I asked. “Absolutely,” they said, “…although they might not like it.” I started by cutting long, flexible branches off a shrub I’ve been admiring for its profuse pink blooms. I braided the stems together, along with some long stems of leaves, and wove in other flowers to fill any gaps. The garlands looked pretty, in a gaudy sort of way. Kind of like a Gay 90s hat, without the hat. Or may be Kentucky Derby hat without the hat. The second was definitely better than the first, but it fell down over my face, so Harry got to wear that one.

Wearing our freshly-made floral garlands in front of Rosaura’s hedge

Unfortunately, I finished them around 12:30, and we weren’t quite sure how to make them last until the 3:00 festival! I thought of putting them in a casserole dish of water to hydrate, but Harry nixed that right away: no way was he sticking a soaking wet garland on his head to go to an outdoor party on a windy day! Point taken. So we put them on the table in the atrium, where I spritzed them with water a couple of times. All I can say is, it’s a good thing we took pictures of ourselves right away (even though in the pictures it’s hard to see where the garlands leave off and the background shrubs begin), because by the time of the festival they were looking a bit sad. Oh, well. It’s a party, not a fashion show.

3:00, time to walk down the street to the soccer field for the festivities. Harry commented that he’d seen several people heading that way, and none of them had flowers on. We wore ours anyway. Hey, if we’re the only ones there with garlands, then I guess we’ll win the prize, right? Well, we weren’t the only ones, but we were in the minority; and I’m pretty sure Harry was the only male wearing flowers. He was a good sport, though, and kept it on until we got home. (I took mine off after the dancing.) For the most part the others wearing garlands were either pre-schoolers or…young ladies of an eligible age. And ours were definitely unique! That’s a positive spin on “I made the garlands all wrong.” The others were much tamer, and quite pretty, actually. And somehow, I don’t know how, none of their flowers wilted! I do think our garlands were more in the bacchanalian spirit than the tidier ones. Maybe that goes with Swedes being shy. At any rate, the little girl in the photo on the right has a more typical garland in her hair.

Maypole

But what about the maypole? Is it, or is it not, a maypole? Harry came home from work saying it wasn’t really a maypole that they danced around, which had me calling it a pole dance (wink, wink); but that’s not exactly the right connotation, either, is it? So here’s our picture of today’s maypole. (They do call it that, whether it’s what we think of as a maypole or not!) And we did dance around it. All I can say is, it was something like the Hokey Pokey and the Funky Chicken: forget about propriety, just have a good time!

Little Frogs are Funny.
They have no ears or tails.

So we did have a good time. Jägervallen’s Midsummer’s Eve Festival was definitely the family-friendly version. No drinking, no orgies. I had thought it would last into the evening, but we were back home before 5. I’m so glad we got to be here for it, that we participated in it fully, and that we got to do it as a family with our Swedish neighbors.

Melissa

PS We’re in our final countdown to departure: one week from today we take the train to Stockholm, and we fly home on Saturday, June 30. We can’t believe it’s almost over, and as good as it will be to see our friends, to sleep in our own bed, and to have a microwave again, we’re just as sad we can’t stay here longer!

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Tourists in the Capital—Djurgarden Museums and a Family Visit

We never did figure out why, but Saturday was a big day in Stockholm. We were lucky to get seats on the bus headed out to Djurgarden, where most of the museums are. The “parking area” near the back door of the bus, designated for wheelchairs and strollers, had four strollers packed in beside each other; one dad folded up his little girl’s stroller and made her stand, much to her chagrin; and more parents with strollers opted to wait for another bus. Harry might have been the only passenger gentlemanly enough to give up his seat to an old lady, but as a result I got to sit next to a Croatian refugee who lives in Chicago; she was visiting her son and daughter-in-law, and I believe they all had come to Stockholm for a funeral of another family member.

Djurgarden is a picturesque island in the middle of the archipelago that is Stockholm. “In its day” it was the royal hunting preserve. Now it seems to be the place to go on a lovely spring day. When we were there the Swedish Navy was having an open house and passing out recruitment flyers. We passed on those ships and went straight to the Vasa Museum, which is devoted to the reconstruction and research of the naval vessel with perhaps the shortest career in history.

Scale model of Vasa

The Vasa sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage the second time a breeze blew across it. That was 1628, during the Thirty Years War, and many lay the blame at the foot of King Gustav II Adolf, who clearly was not an engineer.

Not enough ballast

In short, the ship was top-heavy: its upper deck was loaded with cannon, and all manner of historical and mythical images adorned its exterior, aiming to inspire opposing navies to be in awe of Sweden and her king. Not only was there insufficient ballast; there was insufficient space allowed for ballast. Furthermore, according to an article in the July/August 2012 issue of Archeology, the ship seems to have been structurally imbalanced.  There is evidence that both Dutch and Swedish construction crews were employed, using different methods and even different rulers (with inches of different lengths), which could have led to a serious functional asymmetry. (Thanks for sending us that article, Dad!) As researchers learn more about the paints used, etc., it becomes clear that Vasa was not only impressive in scale but vividly beautiful! That’s not something I associate with warships today.

Painted figures on the outside of Vasa

Harry could have stayed at the Vasa Museum all day, but there were two other museums we wanted to see before heading back to our hotel to get ready for dinner with his 2nd cousin Peter Wibert, his wife Elizabeth, and their 2-year-old daughter Alexandra. We agreed to allot one hour each to Nordiska Museet (the Nordic Museum) and Biologiska Museet (the Biology Museum). I could have spent all day at the first, and we both would have been happy for at least half a day at the second!

Nordiska Museet is devoted to the cataloguing and display of Nordic life of the past and present. That’s a pretty tall order! The building was several stories, and we completely skipped most of it. For a change it came in handy that the tags were in a foreign language…it made it easier to walk by things we hadn’t really come to see. Until, that is, we got to the toys. Even though the exhibit housed mostly boys’ toys, it brought back memories of our own childhoods. Remember racing around in pedal cars? Not the Little Tikes cars that today’s tots drive, but the ones that looked just like the family car!

What I had really hoped to see was Swedish embroidery, a method I learned 10 years or so ago and used on American Girl doll pinafores. It would have been great to see some really intricate work using that technique, and where better to look for it than Sweden? So I camped for most of the hour in the needlework rooms, but I didn’t find it. Not that I had time to search the whole collection! The larger room must have had over a thousand slide-out trays of specimens. I got through a hundred, maybe. Needless to say, I was not doing in-depth study! The smaller room, which only got a quick breeze-through, might have been the more fruitful and engaging of the two. The samples were less exquisite, and were organized according to some domestic-arts-education model, I think. Still, I didn’t glimpse any Swedish embroidery. I think spending so much time around needlework displays gave Harry the heebie-jeebies, but he was patient.

His patience was rewarded at the third museum, Biologiska Museet. We were the only guests in there at the time, and it looked like they didn’t have many visitors other than school groups. That’s too bad…but good for us…because it was a nature-lover’s wonderland. A three-story-high diorama in the round with benches placed on each level, it showed Scandinavian birds and mammals in their natural setting. As is the case in the wild, the longer we stayed at any spot the more we saw. We were like excited children, pointing out our discoveries to each other as we spotted them. And since they were all “stuffed,” they didn’t run away when we pointed. I wanted to include a picture of one small part of the diorama that I found in wikipedia, but I didn’t succeed in translating the weblink to a picture. Click on it, though, if you’re viewing online!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Diorama_Biologiska_museet_Stockholm.jpg    Although we could have stayed longer, we had paced our visit just right, so we were ready to leave in time to get back to the hotel and freshen up. Fortunately, the buses were less crowded on the way home.

We had a delightful evening with Peter, Elizabeth, and Alexandra. They live in a 2-year-old townhouse condo in Bromma, a borough in western Stockholm. Alexandra’s daycare is right in the neighborhood, so she knows all the kids and their parents. If Swedes are shy, she missed the memo! Her shy phase with us was practically non-existent. After dinner, we “met” Peter’s brother Magnus in a Skype video call, and chatted a bit with Peter’s father who was visiting Magnus in Malmö (at the southern tip of Sweden). Alexandra couldn’t believe her good luck when her grandpa showed up on her dad’s computer. “Farfar! Hej, Farfar!” she called out to him through her pacifier, waving and leaning into the screen. I wish I could capture the warmth on his face as he beamed back at his little granddaughter.

That evening on television was the final round of Eurovision’s annual song contest. We’d heard people mentioning it for a few weeks, but it hadn’t completely registered. Peter and Elizabeth, like most of the country, were riveted. Their last title was 11 years ago. For Harry and me it was all new. Sure enough, Sweden won; and the next day…the next week…”Euphoria” was on every radio station, and the singer, Loreen, was all the rage. The final votes came in after Peter dropped us off at the train station to return to our hotel. When he called us later and gave us the news, I asked him if people got so excited they honked their horns. “No. Swedes are quiet.”

Maybe so, but we found Stockholm too noisy, too stressful, too…too much of a city. One more day, a return visit to Gamla Stan, where unfortunately my camera battery died while I was filming the lead-up to the changing of the palace guard, and we were glad to go back to Linköping!

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Tourists in the Capital: Gamla Stan and the Nobel Prize Museum

Stockholm, on the east coast of Sweden, is located on several islands. Our difficult (or easy)-to-find hotel was perfectly situated for sightseeing, within easy walking distance of Gamla Stan (old town) on one island and a bus route to Djurgården (the royal game preserve, now the home of several museums) on another island. We had originally planned to visit both islands on the same day, but that plan didn’t last long. One of the really nice things about this trip was the lack of the schedule, which enabled us to take our time, eat an ice cream bar, window shop, buy souvenirs, people-watch, and generally just enjoy being where we were. Djurgården would have to wait.

We had packed for a cool weekend, expecting temperatures in the mid-50s, but on Friday it got up into the 70s, so our first stop was to buy T-shirts at a souvenir shop. I got a really cute black shirt which I’ve worn many times since. It features “the many faces of the Swedish Moose,” bilingually; so when I’m wearing it, I can just look down at my chest for more language practice! So far I’ve learned that förvånad means surprised, lycklig means happy, and arg means angry.

I don’t have as much of a sense of Gamla Stan’s place in Stockholm as I have of Gamla Linköping locally. It is the home of the Royal Palace, although the king and queen no longer live there. They do, however, receive official guests there, and the daily changing of the guard is an elaborate 50-minute ceremony, a great tourist attraction. Unfortunately, when we happened upon it on our last day, we didn’t realize how long the preparation phase would last, and my camera ran out of battery before the ceremony even started. The guards enter and leave on horseback, accompanied by a mounted band. Although some of the guards’ horses were spirited and occasionally unruly, we were amazed at the steady nerves of the horses for the mounted band. Harry felt particularly sorry for the horse carrying the drum set. In light of the skittishness of horses in general, I was equally amazed by their calmness amid twirling maces and drumsticks, blaring trumpets, and beating drums. The Royal Palace of houses four museums; the one we visited, a collection of statuary from an 18th-century king, was not a high point of our trip.

These days, Gamla Stan seems mostly set up for the tourist trade. It has a lovely ambience, with quaint narrow streets, and an entire tourist shopping district in addition to its museums. It was fun to go into the glass shops and find what I had bought at such deep discounts in the Kingdom of Crystal being sold at full price. We were intrigued by a new musical instrument, the hang, which was developed in Switzerland after “many years of research on the steelpan as well as the study of a diverse collection of instruments from around the world such as gongs, gamelan, ghatam, drums and bells.” (from the dustjacket to Timelessly Free, a CD we bought from the hang players.)        For more information, or to hear a sample of the music, go to http://www.hangmusic.org. What we heard was peaceful and restful, and reminded us in a quieter way of the steel drums in the Virgin Islands, and of oriental music, but with Western harmonics.

While we were sitting in the square listening to the hang, enjoying our ice cream bars, and watching the world go by, an eye-catching part of the world stopped just a few feet away. We’ve seen lots of versions of Pippi Longstocking in Sweden, but this is the first one who was a man, or had a Viking helmet!

He seemed to be part of a group that was about to perform, but we went into the Nobel Prize Museum instead of hanging around for the show…or whatever.  The Nobel Museum was one of the high points of our weekend. While we learned a lot about the history of the prize, and the selection process, we got it into our heads to look for Peter Agre, a co-worker of Harry’s from the 1970s and early 80s who surprised us all by winning the prize in Physics and Chemistry in 2003. Not only did we find him, but he was prominently featured. I’m guessing that that has more to do with his fun-loving approachability than with the magnitude of his discovery. I remember in his press conference the day his prize was announced he was asked what he did when he found out. “Well, first I took out the trash, because it’s garbage day. Then I called my mom, and she told me not to let it go to my head.” Clearly he hasn’t. watched a video of the day in 2011 when the Nobel laureates who were still alive were brought to the new museum to help create their displays. They were given crayons and easel paper and told to sketch their discovery, and then they were photographed holding their sketches. Peter really got into it, but he wasn’t sure what pose would be best. He tried several ski moves, but they settled on this one with his sneakers in front. That really captures his spirit!

The tour guide described the making of each Nobel laureate’s certificate. They’re one-of-a-kind, made by an artist to capture something of the person’s work. And whose did they have on exhibit to illustrate the point? Peter’s! What did he say, “Oh, no problem, you can keep it?” Could be…

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