Monday, February 17, 2014
Watery Stockholm rests on a cluster of fourteen islands connected by fifty-seven bridges and as our taxi drove us through the dark, lights shimmered off the waterways that snake throughout the city. He deposited us at our former-army-barracks-turned-hotel located on the small island of Skeppsholmen. After a long day on the train nourished only by the saffron buns and oranges that Anita had thoughtfully packed for us, we were hungry and tired so we settled into a table at the hotel to enjoy a feast from their Julbord otherwise known as Christmas table. The waitress walked us through the extensive buffet instructing us on the proper order to eat each course. Following her instructions, we dove into the pickled herring course. There must have been ten different varieties and we tried one of each. It was a good experience but I think I need to consume pickled herring in moderation and the boys think for them, maybe pickled herring not all. Next was the fish and egg course followed by the cold cut meats and cheese course, then the meat course and finally the dessert course. I was so excited to see a beautiful cookie my mom used to make called struva on the dessert table. It brought back lots of yummy, happy memories and I was so happy the boys had an opportunity to try them. We headed back to our room stuffed and happy.
The following morning we explored the quiet island of Skeppsholmen before crossing the bridge over to Gamla Stan or 'old town.' We spent the day wandering through the picturesque narrow streets, in and out of bakeries and little shops. We finished our day in Gamla Stan at a quaint little restaurant before we searched through the dark streets for the tiny lonely Iron Boy statue called Jarnpojke. We then walked past the Royal Palace and across multiple bridges to get back to our hotel.
The next day we hopped on a ferry for a quick jaunt across the water to visit the Vasa Museum. All I can say about this museum is wowee! The Vasa is a ship from the 1600's that sunk in Stockholm Harbor and was recovered 98% intact in the 1960's thanks to the cold, briny nature of the water. The ship was rushed through production when Sweden was at war with Poland and as a result, the poorly designed, top-heavy ship sunk on her maiden voyage after only fifteen minutes in the water. A bummer for them, but a gift to the rest of us to have such a perfectly preserved ship from that era. The level of detail was stunning to see.
The following day was the day we were most looking forward to in Stockholm. My cousin Bertil, Anita's brother and the person who put my family history book together, came to meet us. He picked us up at our hotel and, knowing that Isaac is interested in astronomy, brought us to the Observatory Museum where his son Peter works. It was so fun and interesting to meet them both and the 17th century observatory was such a cool setting to get to know them. As we talked about our visit to Östersund, I told them about our discovery of how the toe game our ancestors had played with their babies had been passed down through both generations in the US and Sweden. Peter asked what the toe game was and when I spoke it to him he looked a little stunned and told me that his grandmother had played that with his son just before she had died. It was a meaningful discovery for all of us. Peter is a historian and gave us a tour of the observatory. Along the way he filled us in on all of the details of the observatory and great scientists who had spent time there. He brought us up to the 18th century telescope dome. Surrounded by all these old, beautiful mechanical contraptions, we felt like we were in a magical puzzle game. They opened the sky viewing door, unlocked the huge cog the dome sat on and let the boys spin the wheel that rotated the whole dome around us. It was pure mechanical magic! After we all took turns looking through the telescope they opened a trap door in the ceiling and we all climbed outside to enjoy the highest and best view in Stockholm! Back in the museum store they loaded us down with gifts of books before Peter had to rush away to a meeting. He left us with Bertil in a very cool round meeting room where Bertil surprised us with a special treat his wife had made for us, a gingerbread cake. Once again we sat down to fika. What a wonderful surprise! As we ate our cake and sipped coffee we looked over the family book and I answered questions about my family in the US while snow gently fell outside.
Our next stop for the day was the natural history museum where we grabbed a quick lunch before we settled into our seats at the planetarium where we watched two astronomy movies. Upon exiting the theater Aaron caught a glimpse of the bird exhibit inside the museum. He begged to go in to take a closer look. Luckily Bertil had enough time so we bought tickets and beelined to the bird exhibit. Bertil and Aaron spent lots of time checking out the birds together. As it turns out Bertil also loves birds and has two cockatiels at home. We stayed until closing time. As he drove us back towards the hotel the snowfall was much heavier (and the traffic too) and it became clear that it would take much longer to get across the one-lane bridge to our hotel than it would take us to walk back so at a stop sign we hopped out of the car, exchanged hugs, thanks and farewells, and headed off into the dark on foot. The walk back through the falling snow was absolutely gorgeous. Back at the hotel we ordered food to eat in our room. As we gobbled down Swedish meatballs we talked over our wonderful day with Bertil and Peter. We then snuggled into bed happy and content to have met more of our Swedish family.
Our last day in Stockholm we were just plain pooped so we opted to stay in our hotel to rest and play board games together. It was really nice to just stay in one spot and let all that we had experienced on this trip soak in. Jason and I snuck out for a quick walk where we stumbled upon a choir practicing for their Jule concert and in the evening we ventured out across the bridges to Gamla Stan where we ate dinner at a very, cool old pub. After we entered the incredibly narrow and packed pub, we were showed to our reserved table down stone stairs and through narrow, winding passageways to what can only be described as a dungeon. Ordering was a bit of a challenge as I had find my way back through the passageways and push through the wall-to-wall crowd at the bar to place my order with the crabby bartender but it was all worth it. The classic pub food and beer were delicious and the medieval dungeon atmosphere really couldn't be beat. Hands down, this is now our favorite pub.
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