Though the eternal dark and cold of Nordic winters would prevent me from ever being able to live there, Summer is the pefect time to visit Sweden. Perfect weather, daylight until 11PM, and beautiful people everywhere (regardless of which gender you prefer), all make for a wonderful vacation. Even my sole complaint is sort of a backhanded compliment: it’s too clean. It had an almost antiseptic, sterile quality to it.
But then I also remember the days of living in San Francisco, where homeless people would evacuate their bowels and/or masturbate in front of you. Do we really need that kind of grit to enjoy ourselves? So maybe I shouldn’t complain about a city being sterile, especially when it has great museums, guys who look like Cary Elwes before the last 25 years happened to him, and gave us ABBA.
Our hotel was centrally located near Old Town, around which there is plenty to do. Most attractions are walking distance, or at most a few lightrail stops away. There are also tourist boats which stop at the biggest attractions; they are reasonably priced, but they actually take much longer than simply walking to a destination. Taxis are expensive, which we discovered on our initial ride from the cruise dock to the hotel. So I would suggest avoiding them and saving your money for
ABBA merchandise good museums and food.
The Royal Palace was our first destination. The original structure was built around the 12th Century. The North wing, built between 1692 and 1695 (seen in many of the photos), was all that survived of the 1697 fire that destroyed the rest of the original structure. The current palace (rebuilt through the 18th Century) is still used as an official residence of the King and for official state functions. The Royal Apartments and most of the structure above ground houses the sort of grand furnishings, architecture, and artwork you may expect from such a palace. The most exciting part of the complex, however, is the Tre Kronor Museum, which is the exhibit beneath the palace. This houses the ruins and artifacts that survived the fire in 1697, so the tourist can view the parts of the original fortress that are still intact.
I unknowingly broke the rules in the Tre Kronor Museum, as I was inspired and clicked a few photos (flash off, of course), before being scolded. There honestly was no sign forbidding it, but I do apologize all the same. I hope the photos give a tiny glimpse of how creepy and cool it was down there. I would definitely recommend to make this a priority for anyone visiting Stockholm.
I might as well get it out of the way: I love ABBA. Love them. I am not quite old enough to have enjoyed them during their original run, but a few things happened for me during high school and college that made me a life-long fan: 1) Erasure’s ABBA-esque album. 2) Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and 3) Muriel’s Wedding. All three strongly contributed to a 90’s ABBA revival, and I was indeed part of the problem (if you consider it to have been a problem, anyway). Some of my fondest memories from my early 20s involve sitting around with my friends drinking cocktails, playing board games, and listening to ABBA. Yeah. We were wild. So, naturally, when I heard there was a museum dedicated to the #1 group that everyone claims to hate but everyone also secretly loves (The Carpenters and Enya often tie for second), I made it a priority to go. My partner and I were not disappointed, and neither will anyone else who makes the trip out. It is definitely cheesy, but I wouldn’t expect any less from a museum dedicated to this group.
Technically, it is the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, but the ABBA portion is separated out and takes up over half of the building. And–if I’m honest–did I really care about the rest of it? It’s not like Roxette or Ace of Base are powerful enough to pull anyone to Stockholm on their own. So I would suggest to the average traveler to stick with the ABBA side. Wander through the maze that chronicles the rise of Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny, and Bjorn to stardom with genuine musical artifacts, costumes, music clips, etc. You will learn more than you likely will care to know (and definitely more than your friends will ever want to hear about). There is even a chance to get CGI’d into your own ABBA video, but I was still feeling vulnerable after having utterly butchered “Super Trouper” at karaoke on the cruise ship the night before. So I abstained. But I did have my photo taken in the helicoptor from their Arrival album!
The Vasa Museum was our next stop; if anything can compete with the majestic quality of ABBA, a sunken ship from 1628 can. This is a stop on the Stockholm tourist trail that everyone can and will enjoy. It is considerably more than a standard museum, so museum haters and small children alike will absolutely love it. The museum houses the completely intact Vasa, which was built in 1628 and then sunk on its first voyage about 1000 meters from where it set sail. It sat under water for more than 300 years until it was discovered in 1956 and then raised in 1961. And what you see in the museum is not a replica or even a reconstruction from a few random pieces. The waters where it was found preserved it, right down to the wood. What you see is the real thing. It is truly magnificent.
So go, look, take photos (it’s allowed here!), learn about the history, learn how the ship sank, and learn how it was raised. As an added bonus, check out the skeletons they have on display of those who perished when the boat capsized and sank. Morbid fun for all!
Fairly close to the Vasa Museum is the Spritmuseum (Museum of Spirits). I usually enjoy museums having to do with alcohol, especially when free samples are given (see the Heineken museum in Amsterdam or the Zwack museum in Budapest). Though this one was a quick and silly diversion, it left a lot to be desired. There is almost nothing on how wine are spirits are made, and the goal of the museum seemed primarily to be an Absolut art exhibition. Don’t get me wrong, there is some cool stuff on display (advertising art and some information on how the Absolut brand evolved), and some interactive displays, but most everything is contained in two large rooms; apparently there was once a much larger museum in a different building that got scaled down considerably when the installation was moved. That’s unfortunate, because this specific attraction is mostly uneventful. I didn’t find the humor in it to be all that engaging, and there was no “sampling” involved. Go if you’re walking past and have ten minutes to kill, otherwise don’t bother.
The Nordic Museum (or Nordiska Museet) is enjoyable, but its name is a rather large misdirect. For one (despite its name), it is Sweden specific (the original intention of it containing exhibits for all Nordic countries was scrapped, but the name remained). Also, it isn’t exactly what tourists may be expecting from a museum. Instead of a museum focusing specifically on history or art, this one is broken into exhibits on interior design, fashion, folk art, table settings, toys, dollhouses, hairstyles, etc. It is the type of museum where very few would likely need to see all the exhibits (I admit I couldn’t care less about hair and fashion, an admission that could cost me my gay card), but anyone visiting may find at least one thing that interests them. I personally found the furniture/interior design and toys/dollhouses exhibits worth the admission. There really is something for everyone, but altogether it isn’t really for anyone. If that makes sense.
My only recommendation is to forget about the audio guides here. They aren’t necessary, and they do not guide you on a logical path through the museum. Besides, everything here (as is the case in most of Stockholm) is in English anyway.
The Observatory Museum is another great choice for tourists looking for something with broad appeal. I mean, who doesn’t love astronomy (besides stupid, boring whores)? Stargazing and astronomy was my favorite thing in the world when I was a kid (before Christa McAuliffe had to go and ruin it all for me), and–even as an adult–I take a sort of weird comfort looking into the vastness of space and realizing how insignificant we all are. It’s impossible to spend too much time worrying about your problems (or believeing in a silly deity) when you realize you’re just a tiny speck on a tiny ball of dirt hurtling around a relatively insignificant star in the middle of infinity. But enough about my pretentious philosophizing–this museum was one of the high points of the trip to Stockholm (figuratively and geographically, since it is on a hill).
Built in 1753 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, this museum (no longer functional as an actual observatory given the modern day light pollution of the city) houses some great exhibits on Jacob Berzelius the Chemist, meteorology, natural science, and–of course–astronomy. Climbing up to the original cupola/observatory tower and seeing the old telescope equipment is a treat. Oh, and please don’t be alarmed by the dead baby in a jar in the natural history portion of the exhibit. It isn’t real (though there did used to be one that was). Now on to the photos. I already made a crack about Christa McAuliffe; I can’t make a dead baby joke too. I have some class.
It has been my experience that even people who typically hate art museums have the potential to really enjoy modern art. It’s eclectic, breaks a lot of the molds set by those stuffy old painters from the 19th Century, and sometimes it shows boobies. The Moderna Museet will thus not fail to disappoint most who visit it. The museum is loaded with a perfect mix of pop art (with plenty of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, etc.), exhibits of well known artists like Picasso and Matisse, and stunning displays from lesser knowns. My personal favorites were the exhibits of Niki De Saint Phalle and Tala Madani, both of which were simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. And that’s all I can say without pretending to be an art critic, which I most definitely am not. Most of the displays do not allow cameras, but part of me appreciated that. It’s nice to walk around and really soak in a museum exhibit without having to worry about taking photos for the six people who actually read this blog.
There was also an exhibit on furniture while we were there, but it wasn’t our cup of tea so we skipped it. Before asking us to turn in our gay cards, though, I must admit that we missed it because we wanted to see the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion exhibit. The layperson may know him as the guy who gave Madonna her cone bra (and many of her other outfits). Though I’m not typically interested in fashion, I must admit that this alone makes the museum worth visiting. It was a pretty extraordinary collection of one-of-a-kind clothing, and seeing some of the naughty outfits Madonna had worn while I was still living in Oklahoma and being told she was a minion of Satan was quite an experience. Definitely time well-spent.
Our last museum, The Nobel Museum (housed within the Stockholm stock exchange), was a bit of a let-down for me. Though it is informative in the sense that the tourist gets a nice overview of Alfred Nobel himself, and though the guides give a nice lesson on how the award came to be and how the recipients are chosen, there is very little in the way of exhibits on the winners of the award. I realize a museum dedicated to the recipients would be a near impossible feat (given how many awards have been handed out over the years), but–aside from the display at the front showing the current winners, an alcove containing belongings of Nobel himself, and large photos and quotes of various winners–there is little to see. The architects of the museum did find a clever way to incorporate every single winner into the museum, however; each has a large card which details their achievements, and the cards fly by visitors on an overhead conveyor belt (not unlike something you might see in a dry cleaners).
The tour only takes about an hour and entrance isn’t terribly expensive, but it would not be one of my first suggestions for things to see in the city.
That about sums up our trip to Stockholm, and because my biggest challenge as a writer is knowing how to close things out, I am going to end with some more shots from an airplane. These would have been taken after the xanax kicked in, but before we were allowed to turn on our electronic devices (I like to jam out to synthpop while flying). Oh, wait. I guess a camera is an electronic device. Fuck it.