Wednesday, 27 April 2005

What a beautiful morning

My hotel room has a balcony, and is directly opposite a large church. The air is distinctly cool, but has a very clean and bright feel to it, so standing on the balcony, drinking in the sunshine and taking pictures seems like a fine idea.

There are a few people in the street right now, all muffled up against the cold. Stockholm gets cold at night, even as late in spring as now.


I’m rapidly learning to like the Swedes. They have a very relaxed attitude, to the point that they could easily live around the med. The difference is that they seem calm and a little calculating, but calm all the way through: there’s no hint of the fiery temperament you find in Greece, Italy or Spain. When driving they appear polite, moving carefully and giving way without hesitation to other drivers. All this has it’s downside as well as upside: they can be so laid back that they fall over (metaphorically speaking) and things don’t get done. The hotel called a cab this morning for me – took 25 mins to arrive!
The people in the lab I’m visiting are very friendly, polite and open about how they’re working which makes the visit a pleasant affair. We discuss the approach they’ve taken and data generated before heading out to examine equipment and set up some assays.

Before we know it lunch has arrived, and I get to sample real Swedish food. I have something that (from memory) is called pippe et pyet (or something like it). It looks like corned beef hash, but is really a fry-up of leftovers. It’s savoury with lots of lean meat in small pieces mixed with potatoes, onions and subtle herbs. This is washed down with local mineral water. Quite delicious.

I’m free to see Stockholm in the afternoon. I’ve been advised to visit ‘Gamlan Stan’ which is the original centre of old Stockholm, and is on a small island. I’ve been advised it’s a long way, but having collected a tourist map from the hotel, I prefer to walk and actually get a feel for the city. My hotel is by the junction of Vastmannagatan and Odengatan directly opposite a large church. Initially I walked down Vastmannagatan before crossing a couple of blocks over to continue down the Drottninggatan. A couple of things strike me at this point: how a typical Swede is small and mousy or dark rather than tall blond and muscular (or buxom) as I had imagined, just how many parks there seem to be. The parks are all quite busy, despite being in the middle of a working day and a distinct chill being in the air too.

I came across an open air market at one point, where the main items on sale seemed to be flowers for the garden, as well as some fruit and veg. Most of the stands seem to be manned by very un-Swedish looking people – quite like markets in the UK then. Later I learn that Sweden has a lot of Italian immigrants, and it’s likely that’s where these are from.

Eventually I come to the bridges linking the Norrmalm to Gamla Stan and the river that cuts through the heart of Stockholm. It must be deep because it’s navigable by some pretty big vessels. As I cross into Gamla Stan I pass through some large stone gates and the world changes. Previously streets have been wide and clear, buildings generally straight, tall and less than 100 years old. Now the streets are narrow and building lean at different angles as though trying to shoulder for space in the crowd. I pass an infestation of ‘Antik’ shops, gothic goods shops, toy shops, ships chandlers and even a chocolate shop. There are street musicians in various places and all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies. The memory card in the camera got a serious drubbing here, I can tell you!

I turn a corner, and there between some houses I can see a large passenger vessel heading sedately out to sea. The sea was once the provider of a very large portion of Stockholm’s supplies, and is at the heart of many Swedes. Everyone that I talk to in the lab has a boat or harks back to when they canoed or rowed as a child. There are many boats visible moored over by the Kungsholmen and Langholmen. Unfortunately there’s no easy way to the water at the south end on the island, and my feet are getting sore from nearly 2 hours walking on partly cobbled streets. I therefore turn left along Skeppsbron and into Ostertangatan before reaching the academy and the Kungliga Slottet (royal palace). Opposite the palace are some mooring points, complete with reproduction Viking longboat. From here I get back on the Skeppsbron, crossing the Strombron bridge to the mainland and past the Kungstradgarden.

I should mention something about Swedes here and their out of doors-ness. Maybe it’s because of their long dark winters. Maybe part of their closeness to nature. Or maybe it’s just a body’s way of saying “get some sun – you need to make vitamin D”. Whatever the reason, there are people outside everywhere on a day when I’m not getting too warm wearing a thickly padded coat and walking round a lot. In sunny sheltered places the temp is getting into the high teens, and girls are in strappy tops and vests, men with shirts unbuttoned and chests bare, soaking up the sun. Elsewhere the air is cooler, but everyone’s still out. To my amazement there are loads of street cafes with chairs, tables and (in one case) large settees out on the pavement. In the shadier places large blankets are made available, and are in use wrapped round legs and shoulders as people just relax outside. Here at the Kungstradgarden they are courting, playing chess, promenading and posing.

I walk a couple of blocks along Hamnagatan, then turn up Norrlandsgatan, then into Rostagsgatan heading back toward the hotel. Very footsore, I turn into Odengatan before eventually returning back to the hotel.

After a rest and quick snooze I head out for dinner. Because I’m tired I don’t want to travel far, but there are no Swedish speciality restaurants nearby. Eventually I settle for an Italian, enjoying a Lasagne and a bottle of pear cider, before retiring.

An interesting insight into Swedish thought is evident through their TV stations. While they do show a fair amount of US made programming, quite a lot is home-grown, albeit somewhat derivative (interior decorating, gardening etc.). However one BIG difference that struck me compared to Germany was how relatively modest it was. In Germany from around 9.00pm every 15 min. on the movie channels they show ads for phone sex lines. Very graphic ads, too. After about 10.30 the phone sex ads take over, and the ration shifts to 10 min. film, 5 min. advert. Makes those channels effectively unusable. This was completely different, and if Sweden’s reputation for promiscuous behaviour is true the TV certainly doesn’t confirm it.

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