Stockholm weekend

Way back when I was in Italy for a month somehow I ended up booking flights to Stockholm for the weekend just past – as Bea was going to exhibit at a trade-show & invited me along. At twenty pounds each way, it wasn’t too much of a big deal if I couldn’t or decided not to go. This time last week I was still undecided, but ended up booking accommodation & therefore I was going. Flying from Stansted also provided a good opportunity to continue the bike-touring farewells to extended family – this time with not quite as much riding.

I set off across London aiming further west than necessary so as to connect to National Cycle Route 1 alongside the Lea. Within long I was under the Thames & riding along the Greenway – a very straight raised cycleway/footpath. I was pleased to discover I was riding on top of Victorian industrial history – the North Outfall Sewer from the 1860s. After visiting Crossness a few years ago I recognised Abbey Mills Pumping Station pretty easily – also an impressive building considering its designed use.

It was a perfect winter’s day for cycling – still & crisp.

Eventually I had to leave the river & cut back east to Carol & Barry’s. First I found this little village:

And then I found the Matching church a couple of miles away, the possibility of bad puns is obvious.

I made it before dark and was warmly welcomed and plied with vast amounts of food – a sure way to make a cyclist happy after fifty-odd miles. Conveniently, the airport is only a short-hop on a local bus away; I had plenty of time to get stuck into War & Peace again. This weekend has been my only experience of the much-maligned Ryan Air – but when a return trip to Stockholm for about the same price I’ve paid for a eighty-minute off-peak train journey in southern England, one really shouldn’t complain too much.

By the time I was on the coach into Stockholm, the sun was already starting to set – this was going to take a little getting used to. After meeting Bea & her friends, then meeting my airbnb host & settling into the vast rooms I’d somehow got for a very reasonable price (in a lovely period apartment block) I was back out again. To my surprise we (me & the Italians) ended up taking the metro some distance out of the centre and before I knew it I was in an extensive indoor-climbing gym watching a Swedish bouldering competition with a couple of hundred Swedish climbing enthusiasts; I am still unsure how that happened.

Saturday was the first day of the trade-show, so I excused myself from providing Italian-English translation of dubious quality and went to have a proper look around the city. Walking across town the morning was absolutely miserable as cars clattered past with spiked tyres on roads free of ice & snow – dense cloud all around, cold and just plain bleak. I was beginning to regret the decision to go on one last Euro weekend trip before my return to summer next week. Thankfully, I went to the Vasa Museum, was thoroughly impressed and my enthusiasm for seeing new places returned.

The Vasa story is similar to the Mary Rose in that it was a warship launched to much fanfare (in this case, in 1628) and then promptly sunk on its maiden voyage while crowds watched, before being salvaged in more modern times. The Vasa sunk in little more than a breeze (it was too narrow for its height & its high centre of gravity) less than a mile into its first outing in Stockholm harbour before it was brought up 333 years later in 1961. Due to the brackish water & subsequent absence of shipworm to hasten its decay, it’s in remarkable shape at over ninety-five percent intact. At almost seventy metres long and twelve metres across it is a very impressive sight – & looks strangely familiar as the Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series was heavily influenced by it. I easily spent close to three hours in the museum, it was fantastic & the highlight of what I saw in Stockholm, before considering braving the cold again.

Many of the carvings were still discernible – lions on the underside of the gun hatches to intimidate the passersby/enemy.

In a better mood, I found things I thought it was worth taking photos of.

The apartment block that was home for the weekend.

With the trade-show finishing around eight, I popped in & managed not to sample too much wine & grappa before we headed out for dinner with yet more Italians. I expected to hear a bit of Swedish, naturally, over the weekend – but I think I heard mostly Italian spoken; which is a bit of fun trying to work out what is being said, but my vocabulary is still too limited so mostly I had no idea!

Sunday was, to my delight, a bit warmer & a lot brighter. It was a pretty easy day with a late brunch followed by a visit to Skansen – a large historic village with old buildings from all over Sweden that aims to give a sense of how people lived this far north over centuries past. It was nice being outside leisurely wandering around learning a bit; there was also a small wildlife park which provided some entertainment – but I’ve been spoilt by East Africa too many times to be captivated by such displays.

The sun even came out, except we weren’t really standing in its light.

Walking back past the Vasa museum, these replica masts show how tall the ship was.

Once the sun had set the rest of the day was spent among excellent company and conversation (some of which I could understand) in various bars. So that was pretty much my last little Euro trip for who-knows-how-long – it didn’t start fantastically, but I came around and really enjoyed it. I’d very much like to see Stockholm during long summer days – it must be quite something.

Apparently I missed a Sunday of horrendous rain back in England – but Monday’s sunset was worth seeing.

Now that I’m back home, I just have to pack my life up into a few boxes and bags, clean my bike thoroughly for the NZ border and say last farewells. Should be manageable.

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