Ever since the organizers announced that Sweden was the location of UEGW 2011, the fall conference I attend for work, I've been really excited. First, I am a quarter Swedish (my great-grandmother immigrated to Minnesota when she was 16 and married a Swedish man here), and second, because the Nordic countries are notoriously expensive, I didn't know when, if ever, I would make the trip on my own. I had been pushing Chris without luck for months to go on the trip, and it wasn't until he passed the Bar that he finally booked his flight. He found the cheapest ticket through Helsinki, so I took a couple days off work beforehand, and we spent a night in Helsinki, Finland, and an extra night in Stockholm.
We really only had a partial day in Helsinki before routing to Stockholm. We left our suitcases in a locker at the airport, packed a change of clothes in our backpacks and grabbed a bus downtown. Maybe we were exhausted from the overnight flight and too consumed by needing a shower (couldn't check into our hotel until 4:00 pm), but Helsinki as a city and the people in it came across as very stoic and dour. Finland as a country went back and forth between Sweden and Russia before establishing its independence in the early 1900's, and the architecture reflected a Soviet influence. In fact, we heard that during the Cold War, filmakers would use Helsinki as a stand-in for Russian cities due to the similarities.
We walked all around the city and saw the harbor, its two big churches (Orthodox and Lutheran) and miscellaneous monuments. My rave reviews don't go to any of the sights (except maybe the beautiful white-washed Lutheran church on a huge square) but rather to the smoked fish - incredible. Chris and I ate probably the best smoked salmon of our lives at a grocery store downtown.
Cases of smoked fish
The below picture is from Helsinki, but we saw this same line-up in Stockholm and actually asked a woman there to explain why little children are always matched up boy-girl to hold hands when walking in groups. The woman explained that it's a way to emphasize equality from an early age and to avoid grouping/stereotyping by gender. Boys can be ballerines and girls can be businesswomen.
We flew to Stockholm early the next morning and stayed the night in a hostel in Gamla Stan, the oldest portion of the city. Stockholm is built on several islands connected by bridges, so Chris and I walked a ton on this trip. We didn't get to view the monestary containing Gustav Adolphus' sarcophagus because it was being renovated, but we saw many of the other sites. The old town is laid out on a bit of a hill, and several beautiful churches and lots of little shops and restaurants hang off the cobblestone streets.
The cross-walks in Stockholm have pictures of fathers and daughters crossing the street, which Chris and I thought was a funny commentary on how many fathers here are stay-at-home dads.
One of the biggest attractions in Sweden is the Vasa
Museum. The Vasa
was a Swedish warship built in the early 1600's that sank close to the city shoreline shortly after setting sail on its maiden voyage. Because the the ship sank in Baltic waters, where sea and fresh water mix, the ship was not prone to deteriation, and the hull was able to be raised and much of the rest of the wood salvaged in the 1960's. The ship was pieced back together and is now on display in a specially built museum. Chris and I were really impressed by the museum, which not only displays the incredible ship, but also goes into the history of the period, the inquest surrounding the ship's sinking and even displayed the skeletal remains and facial reconstructions of the people who died aboard the ship. If you want to read more about the ship, here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasa_(ship
On Saturday, we met up with some of my co-workers and toured the Parliament building and ate a traditional meal of meatballs, mashed potatoes and lignonberries.
View of city hall from the top of Parliament.
While I was attending meetings during the week, Chris was able to use a Stockholm city pass and visit many of the museums. He saw the National Museum, the Nobel Museum, the Palace and Armory, the Nordic Museum and City Hall.
City Hall and the interior gold room where the Nobel Laureate dinners are hosted every year.
Chris' favorite museum was the National Museum, which had a huge exhibit on Russian art, including the below picture.
One night after the conference, Chris and I visited the modern art museum because our guidebook raved about it. Supposedly, we could see Picassos and Warhols among other artists, but unfortunately, the museum was undergoing a massive re-hanging effort and had very few works of art from the permanent collected exhitibed. Temporarily replacing the Picassos were photographic displays of things such as a pregnant woman injecting herself with heroin.
One night, we also went to the Ice Bar with several of my co-workers. To get in, you have to suit up in a parka and gloves. The seating and walls are constructed of ice, and even the sugary drinks are served in blocks of ice.
Here are a few more pictures of the city, taken when we were either walking around or on a ferry tour circumnavigating a few of the islands.
St. George and the Dragon
Looking down at the water between Parliament and the Palace
Overall, I thought Stockholm was very beautiful, and it felt a bit like being home in Minnesota surrounded by tall blondes and storefronts with names like Nelsons or Lundquists. I'll leave you with a picture of the smoked fish which was also wonderful in Sweden, but not quite as good as in Finland.