Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stockholm Rocks!

We went from August 14th-19th, 2016 to Stockholm, our very first trip to the Scandinavian area.

I must say we were pleasantly surprised by the Swedish capital.  A VERY clean city with an EXCELLENT public transportation system (metro, buses, trains and trams).  The people?  Very friendly actually.  I personally was amazed to see both young and old people who spoke very good English, almost better than yours truly (who’s mother tongue).  A far cry from the average Italian (it also helps, as in the case of the Greeks and Portuguese, that Sweden’s foreign movies on tv are original with Swedish sub-titles, the complete opposite of what happens in Italy).

We went on a short day-trip to nearby Uppsala (it's just an hour by train), famous for its university as well as the birth place of a fromer U.N. Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold who died in a “mysterious” airplane crash (he had also been a Nobel Peace Prize winner).  A cute and also clean town.

And speaking of Nobel Prizes, the Alfred Nobel museum was one of the four we visited.  The others were the ABBA museum (had a LOT of fun there, some 400 million records sold by that great band from 1974-2009, a great museum that takes you down memory lane, especially after you've seen "Mamma Mia" with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan!), the photography museum (a treat to have seen my fellow Canadian compatriot Bryan Adams’s photo exhibit there. We both lived in Kingston, Ontario) and the national museum which is also Sweden’s largest.

(The fun ABBA Museum)

 (The same console which was used for a Led Zep and Genesis album)

(The Nobel Museum)

Another treat was Stockholm’s week-long summer festival in one of their main squares located in front of the royal palace.  Quite the show for the French “Gratte Ciel” dance-acrobatic group.   They had two very large cranes on the square with long cables that were connected to the nearby buildings.  The height must have been about 200 feet, more or less.  The show took place at nite after a few free concerts (one pretty good show was by the French swing band group, “Caravan Palace”).   Their dancers hung, even upside down, from the high cables and went back and forth throwing down white goose feathers.  Lots of them.  So many of them that at one point it was “snowing” feathers upon our heads!  It was hard to find that evening anyone who DIDN’T have a good time.  The square was simply awash with the stuff!  We actually got to see the show twice as the following evening we took in a Colombian salsa band, La-33.

(The Caravan Palace band in concert in Stockholm's main square)

The city’s port is also nice.  They’ve called it the “Venice of the north”.  Seeing that we live in the country which has the original Venice, we didn’t go for a bus tour of their archipelago as it sort of resembles what we have in Venice (that trip will be for a future visit to Sweden).

The food? Not bad, we stayed away though from the usual Italian restaurants.  We had some pretty good fish soup at their new fish market.  It was so good that we went their twice.

We also managed to find the spot where in 1986 Sweden’s former Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was gunned down by an assassin as he walked home with his wife after a movie.  Still to this day no one knows exactly who was behind that assassination (Palme had been chosen by the U.N. as a mediator between Iraq-Iran during their devastating 8-year long war).   And not too far away from our hotel (very conveniently located in front of a small park with several stores and metro stops nearby and also not far away from the city center) was a church with a small cemetery.  There lies Palme’s tomb, about 200 meters from where he was gunned down.  He had been a good friend of Canada’s former Prime Minister, that other great “socialist” leader, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Justin’s father.

The only odd thing about the town was that many shops, museums, etc. take credit cards as payment with some that ONLY accept credit cards.  This can be a small pain in the you-know-what: at the photography museum I only wanted to buy two small bottles of water that would have cost me 40 cents (or whatever that is in Swedish currency as Sweden's part of the EU but is NOT part of the Euro).  No way, I had to pay with a credit card (which I didn't)!  And what a coincidence as the Finance and Economics section of the August 13th, 2016 edition of The Economist spoke just about that: the way Sweden is going "money-less" and in favor of credit card payment (the article also talks about Italy as 83% of payments are still in cash).  Some Swedes told me that it's a way of protecting the environment (less paper wasted) and it's also for hygenic purposes as some customers don't want to have store owners handling cash when selling foor products.  Makes sense, I guess... 

(Pics below of Uppsala and Stockholm's wonderful and highly efficient metro!)

All-in-all, the impression I got coming away from Stockholm/Sweden was very positive.  I was simply in awe, compared to Rome, on just how clean the city and its metro really is, with some metro stops that are small museums (one stop even contains an old ship!).  The streets appeared to be soooo clean that you could sit down and eat dinner on them!  I was told by a Swede that they have a zero-tollerance policy within the city limits when it comes to graffiti being sprayed on buildings and what-not: the folks call a number and someone then comes to clean up the mess.  Would that perhaps explain why they have high taxes?  Would the same concept work in Rome where many buildings and metro trains are simply awash with graffiti?  Yeah, right…

(The large cranes used for the "Gratte Ciel" aerial show)

(The pics here below are of nearby Uppsala and its cathedral)

(The monument dedicated to the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who managed to save the lives of some 120,000 Jews during WWII.  He apparently "vanished" in a Soviet gulag, so they say...)

(The Alfred Nobel museum in the old part of Stockholm.  About 900 people so far have taken home the Nobel Prize)

(The national museum of Stockholm, the country's largest)

(Ships and modern art outside of Stockholm's museum of modern art)

(The cool photography museum with a few exhibits, including one on Greta Garbo who was born near the museum and one by former Canadian rocker, Bryan Adams--we both lived in the same city in Canada, Kingston--who's become a rather good photographer. I saw him in concert three times, both in Canada and in Rome)

(The Colombian salsa band, La33, in concert for free in Stockholm's main square)