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 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…


About harrynmelissa

We are enjoying a Swedish Adventure--5 months in Linköping, Sweden, where Harry is conducting research under a Fulbright Scholarship. He and a collaborator are trying to create a compound which can be used for radiologic imaging to diagnose neuro-degenerative diseases earlier, when they are more treatable. We arrived on January 26 (halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox) and will be here until June 30 (a week past the Summer Solstice), and are writing about our experience of Swedish life "up close and personal."
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