Saturday, July 14, 2001

Stockholm 2 (Museuming)

Friends: I've just finished off my 24-hour pass to the museums of Stockholm and I'm exhausted. I didn't get to all 70, but I saw lots, including some totally unexpected sites that were so remarkable they almost had me staggering in disbelief. One was a mammoth Viking ship three-fourths the length of a football field that sank upon its Stockholm launch in 1628. It remained buried in the cold preserving muck of the harbor for 333 years until it was hauled up in 1961 and was meticulously restored to its original state. It looked sparkling new and ready to sail. It was adorned with countless brightly varnished carvings and had several layers of cannons all round. Viewing it was like being transported back in time. I was struck numb by its magnificence and before I knew it 90 minutes had passed, much more time than I had allotted for it. It was one of those museums I only meant to just stick my head in for a quick look-see. I had no idea what awaited me. I could have spent all day there. That ship was easily one of the most boggling things I have ever seen.

I knew nothing else I might see in the slew of museums ahead could compare, but I still saw much that also came close to sweeping my feet out from under me. The Maritime Museum with its astounding array of hundreds of model ships from all eras was one of those. So too was the Armaments Museum. A panel from Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" was in the entryway and just past were several primates reenacting the opening to Kubrick's "2001." Abba, Sweden's most famous pop group, was featured in two museums. The Music Museum has a permanent exhibit devoted to the four-some, while the sprawling Nordica Museum had a special exhibit, which included a 45-minute documentary. Abba was also mentioned on the two island cruises I took. We passed their recording studio on one and on the other we passed the mansion of one of its members.

I hiked up the 106-meter tower at City Hall, the highest point in downtown Stockholm. The Nobel banquet is held in its magnificent hall, worthy of a royal palace and large enough to seat 1,300 people. I took the free tour. It was mind-blowing to hear anecdotes of the countless luminaries who had been honored there. This year is the 100th anniversary of the prize. The banquet is held on Dec. 10 every year, the anniversary of Nobel's death. The tallest building in all of Scandinavia, a 155-meter TV Tower, lies on the outskirts of the city. My museum pass entitled me to the elevator ride to its summit. It gave an excellent perspective on the 14 islands that comprise Stockholm and all its waterways. One could gaze out towards the Baltic. All told there are 24,000 islands in the archipelago.

The city is one-third water, one-third greenery and one-third urbanity. From up high it didn't seem so dauntingly huge. There are about 1.6 million people in the surrounding area. I can still get lost a bit in my meanderings, but I can generally find a landmark and get unlost within a couple of minutes. I've still got a day-and-a half of exploring to do. My 24-hour pass didn't start until noon yesterday, as the first few museums neglected to stamp it. When they passed it through a scanner I thought that registered its initial use, but that wasn't the case. So I got a couple extra hours out of it on the front end, and a few extra on the back end, as I saved my entry into one of the vaster areas until five minutes before the card was to expire.

I'd still like to see the Strindberg Museum and the recently opened Nobel Museum, which weren't included on the card. Plus I'd like to see the Changing of the Guard again. It went on for 45-minutes and included a full-fledged marching band that put on a show as good as any half-time show at an American football game--Superbowl or otherwise. They marched around with pronounced steps and head movements and twirling of instruments and precision movements. The throngs watching gave them boisterous applause at the end of each number. Some even clapped along with the music.

When I return to the hostel at the end of each day, the first thing I do is to check that my bike box is still under my bed. It had gone missing once. One of the managers didn't realize what it was and had put it out with the garbage. Fortunately I was there in time to rescue it. I'd be sunk without it. My departure is at eight a.m. Monday. If it turns up missing Sunday, when no bike shops are open, I'll be quite perturbed. It would be quite a challenge to convince Air Poland to take my bike unboxed or to scrounge around the airport early Monday morning hoping to find an abandoned box or an airline that provides them that would let me have one of theirs. I also have the concern of sleeping through my four a.m. alarm. I have to bike a mile-and-a-half, dragging the box, to the bus terminal, where the day's first bus to the airport departs at 6 a.m. I'll pack up the bike at the bus terminal. I shouldn't be too worried, as everything has worked out just fine so far. It has been another sensational trip.

Later, George

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