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Day 9: Sunny Stockholm

May 17th, 2014 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, tourism, Travel, UAE


It seems as if humans are never quite satisfied with their portion of sun. At this moment, in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, the consensus certainly is that entirely too much of ol’ Sol is irradiating the parched landscape. While in Stockholm, which is closer to the North Pole than it is to Abu Dhabi, 12 hours of sun turned May 17, 2014, into a very fine holiday, indeed.

In the Baltic, sun is never assumed and always welcome. It transforms the gray and soggy landscapes of Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and, we can add, Stockholm into green and glorious paradises.

As is the case with nearly the whole of Europe north of the Alps, the arrival of the sun in means something of an impromptu holiday. Babies go into strollers, the bikes are pulled out of the garage, everyone floods the streets, winter coats put away, for a moment and short pants pulled out of the back of the drawers.

Even while we were in the boat at the far end of the harbor we could see thousands of figures on Gamla Stan, the island where the city was founded, some 800 years ago and, soon, on Strandvagen, one of the main streets of the city.

It was a Saturday, and the arrival of the sun after what was, we were told, six consecutive days of rain, seemed to empty the buildings of their occupants to partake in this eruption of heat and light.

When we landed, on the dock just outside the Vasa museum (where the lines daunted us and sent us on our way without seeing the historic warship), we blundered into a long parade we had seen on shore earlier, a parade led by a marching band of about 25 men in green, many of them quite old.

After only a week in the Baltic, a parade celebrating the heat, which was safely over 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a cloudless day, would not have seemed out of the ordinary.
But in this case, some questioning of English-fluent people carrying red-and-blue flags revealed that this is the day that Stockholm’s ethnic Norwegians celebrate their Norwegian-ness. (Not unlike Cinco de Mayo in the U.S.?) Many were wearing outfits that appeared to be from the 1800s. An anniversary of their constitution was also in the works. Everyone seemed to be smiling.

We walked along with the parade for half a mile, waiting for the band to play and not recognizing the song, when we broke away to visit Abba The Museum. A place dedicated to all things pertaining to the madly popular Swedish pop group circa the 1970s and 1980s.

We bought a couple of tickets, sat around until our noon entrance time came around, and followed dozens of people down two flights of stairs into the museum proper. (Easier to keep warm, under ground? Seemed odd for Abba The Museum to be subterranean event.)

The mostly female crowd clustered around the displays of Abba history and memorabilia (platform shoes!, bangles! glitter!), room after dark room of it.

The crowd thickened even more around the interactive displays, which included a chance to enter booths with microphones and attempt to “try out” as the fifth member of Abba by singing along, karaoke-style, to one of four Abba hits. In this case, Waterloo. Our score (presumably measuring pitch and volume) was better than the woman who preceded us, and that was victory enough. Apparently, our effort was recorded and available via the web, but going back to it might not be flattering.

We emerged from there into the light, and a city of more than a million people sprawled on open areas and eating lunch al fresco.  The mood was close to “giddy”.

We caught up with a bus of the local hop-on-hop-off system — which is really the only way to see places when you are in town for no more than a few hours. Seven, in this case.
The bus took us a bit inland, where we saw enormous parks, and more water. Sea or lake, we were not sure. We saw people inside clear plastic balls, aside from their heads and legs, attempting to play soccer. We saw another tidy Baltic city, clean and clearly well-run, and heard another rendition of the benefits of the welfare state.

We got off the bus as it entered the back side of Gamla Stan, the Old Town, and wandered through narrow streets, most of which seemed to be selling T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, moose paraphernalia (the moose is Stockholm’s symbol) and ice cream.

We found ourselves in a crowded square where another marching band had led a crowd, and three women were practicing some traditional form of calling, or singing. Separated by hundreds of people, they reached high into the register for notes that were not quite a song, each of them ending on a shift even higher on the scale.

They got a rousing round of applause when they were done. And, about then, we noticed we were outside the building were Nobel prizes are awarded each year, and somehow that seemed significant.

We took a street heading downhill, figuring it would take us to the water, and it did, but could not see our ship and we were about to set off in the wrong way entirely until a bus driver, standing in the sun, sent us in the other direction, and just as we were settling in for what would have been a walk of a couple of miles … a bus pulled up, heading for the Celebrity Constellation berth, on the edge of the population center.

The next several hours we spent on the open spaces of the 10th and 11th decks, as the ship made ready to sail. A “sailing party” was held as we pushed off, at 4 p.m., with champagne and snacks, including cheese and a chocolate fountain.

We moved to the bow, and watched as the pilot maneuvered through what is called the Stockhold archipelago of hundreds of islands, many of them barely a few acres above the sea, but many of them seemingly inhabited, nonetheless. Driving ferries must be a very big business.

The sun continued to stream, and we kept pushing east, looking to move away from the rejoicing heart of sun-drenched Stockholm. Not because we wanted to, but because we needed to get back to sea, and our next-to-last stop.


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