As I noted before, I’ve been quite lucky to be sent to interesting places for work this Summer. I went to Stockholm in the middle of August for a couple of days to attend the Logic Colloquium (good poster, no?). Unlike my trip to Iceland I didn’t really make a proper holiday of it—Stockholm isn’t as expensive as Iceland, but it’s still a Nordic and my meagre bank balance won’t stretch to two of those in one year. But I did stay an extra night and day after the conference to do just a couple tourist things.
Vasa is a 17th century Swedish warship that sank in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage (lesson: the King might not be the best qualified person to specify the ship design). At some point in the following centuries the location of the wreck was forgotten, and it was only rediscovered, and dredged up in surprisingly good condition, in 1961. Now it sits complete in a large open museum in central Stockholm. There are five storeys of galleries surrounding the ship from which you can get a good look at the whole vessel from every angle. (It’s about 70m long and 53m tall, so there’s a lot to look at.)
There are also several exhibitions of artifacts found on board and these are used for explanations of what naval life was like at the time (and also naval warfare, there were some really cool cannonball variations that didn’t look real). There’s also a display of the skeletons found with the wreck and some really interesting work has been done reconstructing what these people would have looked like. The technical term for recovering details of a life from bones is osteoarchaeology: this fine work is how I learned that—shorter than the average modern man though I am (even in Britain, especially in Sweden)—I am quite a bit taller than the average 17th century Swedish seaman. Take that 17th century Swedish seamen! Maybe your ship wouldn’t have sank if you had a big strong man like me on board.
Anyway, it’s a really interesting museum, a must-see if you visit Stockholm. The only thing I didn’t like was being in a dark room for 3 hours surrounded by people taking quite irritating flash photographs that were very obviously going to turn out shit. I still have no idea why anybody takes a camera to a museum and expects memorable pictures.
Just up the road, on the same island as the Vasa museum, is the open-air museum and zoo Skansen. The museum part is a recreation of a pre-industrial Sweden, all ironmongers, apothecarys, windmills and grain storage. I was a bit too museumed-out from the Vasa to go inside many buildings or pay a lot of attention to the notices, but being a fine day it was pleasant just to wander around with an ice cream and look at this make-believe town. 18th/19th century Sweden being very Lutheran, the architecture had an extremely Quaker Oats/Camberwick Green/Radiohead Burn the Witch video vibe. I like that aesthetic a lot, although as usual I can’t explain why.
The zoo part of Skansen is pretty interesting in that it only features animals native to Sweden. Luckily there are some pretty good native animals: reindeer, elk, wolverines, lynxes, brown bears, and lots of great birds. But in the middle of the afternoon most of those animals were sleeping, giving me lots of time to feel guilty about visiting wild animlas in captivity. I did eventually get a good look at the lynxes though, and they’re undeniably cool (I had to clarify on Mastodon: still not a furry). There’s also a petting zoo of farm animals for children which I felt less ethically compromised by. There I saw the platonic cock doing a platonic cock-a-doodle-do.
Okay, eating food isn’t really a tourist thing (unless you’re seeking it out), but the food was very good. My fancy work-funded hotel came with probably the best breakfast selection I’ve ever had. I learned that soured milk beats out both regular milk and yoghurt as a musli accompaniment. Sweden seems to have mastered the art of making the healthy stuff so appetising that you don’t even want the unhealthy stuff, at least not in large amounts. I guess it helps if you like fish and rye bread, and I really like those things. The coffee everywhere is great too.
Stockholm is a beautiful city. It’s got a nice old town and lots of bridges, and there are plenty of parks and nice places to swim. (Although be careful: I swam across some open water between two of the islands and only avoided a clobbering by a speedboat by about 5 minutes: the bays aren’t roped off just to keep children in shallow water!) The weather seemed just right for me, it was bright and sunny, but no more than a comfortable 22°C, with a fresh sea breeze as well. It seems like a really livable city: cool, modern, liberal and international. The population is youthful1 and very friendly. There’s a fair amount of tourism, but unlike Reykjavík it doesn’t dominate the city. I’m really looking forward to coming back for longer when I get a chance.
It’s a cliche that Swedish people are attractive, but still I wasn’t ready for it. I know that attractiveness isn’t objective—it’s decided by culture, history and prejudice. But I am a member of society and no more immune to culture than anybody else. Even being intellectually aware that attractiveness is an arbitrary construct, it was still disconcerting to be constantly surrounded by people who would be considered model-level beautiful in the UK. Consequently I spent three days wandering around feeling like a little goblin. ↩︎