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!    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!


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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