Saturday 9 May 2020

1995 Stockholm

20.10.95  Stockholm

Kulturhuset, in the second floor café – just 28 Kr (about £2.60) for two coffees.  The view down onto the sunken plaza is very Pompidou.  Outrageously blue sky overhead, sun as bright as a knife; wind keen too.  And the winner of the city most likely to...look like Sweden's capital: yes, Ljubljana.  Water glorious here, especially in this weather.  Despite best efforts of the world to stop us getting here, we booked on Wednesday, left 8.30am Thursday.  To Hotel Reisen, in Gamla Stan.  Roadworks outside, but actually we have fallen on our feet.  And by my favourite magic, I find myself instantly transported to that very place.  Our room is unusual, (#402) in that it lies along the building; this implies we have four windows, and the room is very light.  It has various pieces of oldish furniture – and marvel of marvels – its own sauna (non-functioning when we arrived).

We arrived yesterday, flying in with BA.  Stockholm airport like Amsterdam in feel (but much smaller).  The journey in (in a huge Dodge vehicle) a symphony of light greens.  The buildings everywhere modular and clean.   Hitting Stockholm, ditto (the cleanliness at least).  And then we see the water, driving alongside it, the sun hitting the choppy waves.  The architecture familiar from Finland, Amsterdam, Prague even – northern Baroque.  The colours slightly Scottish – greys, pinks, browns.  All neat, tidy, clean to the nth degree.

Fine sweeping view across to the Gamla Stan where our hotel is (and so with rather finer views than the Grand, where we tried to stay, and only found out late that we could not).  Had to wait at the hotel, found they had no non-smoking room, but oddly enough it all worked out.  We tried to order from room service (failed, and received the food free), and then went for a quick walk around "our" island.

Gamla Stan is certainly touristic, but retains atmosphere through its largely unspoilt architecture – tall and gaunt, and authentic everywhere here.  We walked along the main Västerlånggatan, bought some provisions (including still mineral water – which barely anyone seems to use or know about), and then returned to the hotel.  We use the sauna – roaring hot – probably overdo it, and end up knackered.  For dinner, we eat cheese and bread.  With some rather fine and characteristic crisps – thick, dipped in cream cheese and dill – several different brands were on sale in the supermarket (we had also imbibed a goodly quantity of gin and tonic bought on the plane).

Yet another thing in our caravanserai was the Gateway Handbook, DX2/50, with PCMCIA 14.4K modem and newly-acquired Swedish adaptor telephone plug.  Amazingly, it all works – even logging into CompuServe here in Stockholm, and then telnetting to CIX (although Zmodem was pathetic – must be the windows clashing).  In the end, I just go straight to Blighty and get 2400 cps – not bad – my new and vexed Sportster 28.8 modem manages about 5800 cps on a good line – makes me terribly wasteful in downloading huge files.  To make a point, I emailed my fax number here for the Getting Wired page in Computer Weekly – sadly likely to end soon.  So we are gradually evolving a complete mobile Moody household.

We sleep well – fairly quiet here.  Down to breakfast.  Huge spread – cereals, fruit salad, yoghurts, smoked meats, cakes, waffles, cooked food etc.  Glorious views over the lake (the sun rising to the east, bright and young).  Because of the prices of food we stuff ourselves for the day.

Then out for a long, slow walk north (hi, Bashō).  8.30am – everything shut, everything quiet except the wind that is strong and whipping around us.  A very clean, ordered city whose buildings and style and overall plan remind me very much of New York – even down to the "diners" offering breakfast near raised roadways (a strange double tower framing one). 

We are on a quest: the music of Martin Kraus, Sweden's greatest unknown adopted composer.  We had past the concert hall – a typically stern, Nordic pile.  Nearby, a record shop that sells scores – but no Kraus.  We continue south, towards the Kulturhuset.  Impressive array of shops in the underground precinct in front of it.  But first we enter and go to the library there.  Poor selection of books – but it has an Internet connection.  And helpful staff who make various suggestions for finding the music (and using the Swedish Royal Academy).  We have some addresses to follow up.

Then over to the Mega CD Store.  Where I lose control and spend £100 on obscure Swedish music (Roman, Drottningholm stuff – since the castle and theatre are closed until May now), first volume of Baltic collection (whose second volume I bought in London).  From there, we return on foot, the sun still glorious, warm even.  We wander around Gamla Stan, and find the Queen Cristina – surprisingly good (and good-value) food.  Seafood soup plus baked potato stuffed with lobster.  £7.50 the lot, with salads and excellent bread.

We rest in the hotel, faced by Stockholm's biggest problem: opening hours. Everything opens late – 10am for shops, 11am for museums – and closes early – 4pm.  This makes the windows of opportunity narrow.  Luckily, just being here is the main thing.  We go out at 4pm, as dusk is falling.   A lovely hour here, especially with the stunning sunset we had tonight (I foolishly try to capture it on film).  The lights on the other side of the water, and the last rays of the sun there (very Venetian) fine.

Back to the hotel, the lights on the ships and buildings particularly beautiful.  We take a sauna, rest, and prepare to eat in the restaurant here (pricey, but it has to be done).  Now we dress to the nines to prove we are not proles…

21.10.95 Stockholm

Well, yesterday's rather expensive menu (£60) was good, if excessively rich: I had Swedish cold delicacies (gravadlax, salmon, roe, very intense bread), then for main course grilled pike (better pressed, I think). Today, if anything, the weather is even better – totally blue sky, hard light.  After breakfast, out to the Gallerien – huge complex, very successful example of its kind.  Out again to Museum of Mediterranean Civilisation, hoping to eat in the café.  But there we find just a few cakes.  Then around the museum.  The Egyptian thinnish, but the Cypriot collection (the best outside Cyprus) stunning.  The proud warriors with their self-important beards… The great group looking menacing like some crowded Ensor canvas.  The museum as a whole reminded me of Bologna's archaeological museum – to the latter's advantage.

Then out around the shops again, ending up in Åhléns (pronounced "orleans" to me by one of the staff here).  Across the westernmost bridge to the Gamla Stan, through canyons of heavy architecture (men fishing with huge circular nets in the waters).  To a café, where we have a fine apple cake.

The Swedes variably courteous: in the shops, surly, in the museums helpful.  Very noticeable how many brunettes there are – unlike in Norway, which seems stocked only with stunning, leggy blondes.  Also noticeable the number of immigrants here – I heard Arabic spoken by two families today.  I find I can read a surprising amount of Swedish – and intend to buy a book or two in the language.  Kraus still amazingly elusive – do we know more about him than the Swedes?  The weather really too good to be true – cold, with a piercing wind, but wonderful sun and sky.

22.10.95 Stockholm

In the National Gallery – nice café.  Fine stairway leading to second floor ('orrible Rubens after it).  Strange de Witte – bird market in Amsterdam.  Very fine series of Rembrandts – self-portrait, old man, old woman, Simeon, and the very surreal "Batavian Conspiracy" (also known as "The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis") – seems like Ensor (again). Transcendent St Anastasius – the priest seems to hover in light.  Beautiful Nattier of Duchesse of Orleans, doe-like eyes in the over-heated face.  Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718-1793, died in Paris), Hugo Simberg, "The Wounded Angel".  Wonderful series in Iceland by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson – moody, pregnant landscapes.

23.10.95 Stockholm

A very pleasant day, yesterday.  After a long stroll around the two islands Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen (in bitterly cold winds, but very bracing – reminding us of Pest, Venice and a few other places), we go back to the National Gallery.  Eating in the café, where there was a lively buzz (the place to be on a Sunday lunchtime), we then went around the galleries.

For us, the discovery was of Roslin, but alas there was no book on him.  However, I did find a rather fine book on Swedish music, 1720-1810, which includes Roman and Kraus; a snip at £45…  Amazingly, I can read a fair amount of it.  Beautifully produced, and it radiates a sense of discovery, of new things (the Novel…).  Now we are off to see the ship – at Vasamuseet.  Just missing the ferry at 10am, we catch that of 10.20am.  Fast skim across the water past the cruise ships that seem frighteningly top-heavy (the centre of gravity looks about 30 metres above the water).  A short walk to the Vasa Museum (past the worryingly small submarine – you wouldn't get me down one of them).  

Lovely ramshackle building – all odd angles, with three masts peeking out inside.  Inside, dark, damp, with a wet, woody smell.  Here to see the ship - that is all there is to see.  But it is an impressive sight – the sheer impact of this bloody great lump of wood (not something you see these days when lumps tend to be stone at best, or concrete and steel).  Nice the idea that this great expense sank a few hundred metres out from the dry dock (near the museum, too), through poor design, over-ambitious scale, and a bit of wind.  How their hearts must have sunk, too…  Beautiful (really) the café – elegant, light, stylish, expensive…  Fine view over the harbours and the U-boot.

24.10.95  Stockholm

In the airport, waiting.  Weakly, I have bought another Svensk book – part of a national history currently being written (this one about Sweden as a major power).  The most notable thing here is the little scooters used by staff to propel themselves around the large airport.  Very drole.

More destinations:

Moody's Black Notebook Travels

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