The Vasa

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Stockholm loves a museum. Walking around the central suburbs of the city, it seems like you can’t go more than a block without passing a stately building housing a museet of some kind. There is even a free tourist map detailing Stockholm’s museums that lists no less than 84 options such as the Postal Museum, the Toy Museum, Museum of Spirits, The Tobacco and Match Museum and something called Tom Tits Experiment (I kid you not!).

While we both appreciate a good museum we are not huge museum-goers, and after visiting a number of them in Helsinki, Tallinn and Oslo we had little desire at the end of this part of our journey to see another one. Just like temple fatigue can set in while travelling around Asia, museum mortis is certainly a risk in Europe (and don’t get me started about churches). However several people recommended the Vasa Museum as a Stockholm highlight and it sounded very interesting, so we checked it out today. I can testify that it’s well worth the hype, and now ranks as one of the best museum experiences I’ve ever had.

The dry facts of the Vasa are impressive enough, but when you first walk into the cavernous museum space and see the ship towering above you it’s quite breathtaking. Commissioned in 1625 as one of four new warships for the Swedish fleet – then at war with Poland and others – it was launched in 1628. But its maiden voyage lasted for just 20 minutes before the ship tipped over in a breeze and started taking water through its gun ports, which caused it to sink into the mud of Stockholm’s harbour. There it lay for 333 years until it was finally raised again and revealed to be in a remarkable state of preservation.

The Vasa Museum was purpose-built on the garden island of Djurgarden just a short stroll from the city centre, and its modern and sometimes interactive displays give a real sense of what life must have been like on board. We arrived just in time for one of the three daily English-language guided tours which in a rather entertaining way told the story of the ship, and also placed it in its historical context. We thought we would only be there for a fairly short time, but before we knew it three hours had passed and it was time to leave.

Taking 400 people about 2.5 years to build, the Vasa is 69 metres long and bloody tall when viewed from the keel – it’s simply enormous to behold. The level of detail is astonishing, even more so as it was built in a rush to have it added to the Swedish fleet as soon as possible so it could fight in the war against Poland. As someone with a passing interest in technology, the scale of this ship is magnificent when you consider it was designed and built almost four centuries ago. It’s state of preservation is phenomenal which allows a real appreciation of the craftsmanship involved. The Vasa’s sinking was due to a design flaw in that it was too narrow for its height, which meant the centre of gravity was too high for good stability. Its sister ship, Apple, was very similar but just one metre wider which made all the difference; it was in service for more than 30 years and became the most successful warship in the Swedish Navy of the time.

From a sea of museum choices, giving the Vasa a shot was one of the best things we could have done on our last full day in Stockholm. We’re ready to move on in our journey now, and Malaysia beckons loudly, but this was a highlight well worth remembering.

Categories: Scandinavia, Stockholm, Sweden, travel | Leave a comment

Millennium city

I just got off the phone to my Mum and Dad and Mum said she was disappointed that we haven’t posted for a while so I have stopped slothing around watching very bad music videos on MTV to make a post.

We had a great last night in Oslo. After finishing our bottle of Shiraz we were keen for some company so we strolled across the park from where we were staying to the Park Theatre Bar. It was a funky little establishment and we were lucky to score a table. Even luckier as it turned out that we had two spare seats opposite us which ended up a real bonus as throughout the night we met a series of really interesting peeps who asked if they could sit with us. The first two were a Norwegian guy and German girl who had met in Thailand on a holiday and were meeting up again for the first time in Oslo. We really hit it off. They invited us to join them at a house party they were going to and we felt quite disappointed that we had to say no, ’cause we thought it would be prudent not to get involved in late night drinking when we had to leave for Sweden the next day. There was a brief interlude of three other Norwegian guys but as they were one seat down, they eventually moved on. The end of our night was then spent with an Aussie expat who has been living and working in Norway for ten years and his German colleague. They were geologists from Statoil and we thoroughly enjoyed their entertaining and intelligent conversation.

We arrived in Stockholm via train from Oslo and stayed at the Sheraton for the night as it was right near the station and we weren’t in the mood for traipsing around town like pack horses to find a bed to crash in. I think old Hermes might have had a hand in that decision, as it just so happened that the Sheraton is where Harriet Vanger stayed when she came to Stockholm. For those not familiar with Harriet, she is a character in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

It also just so happens that the Sheraton has a booklet that provides a walking guide (mostly through Sodermalm) of all the key places that are mentioned in the books. Damien and I are fans of Larsson and so this appealed immensely. Damien has just finished reading, ‘Stieg and Me’ by Eva Gabrielsson, that my parents gave us for Christmas. I am in the final stages of the last book in the trilogy. I think it is a testament to how great his books are that I have had to share this third one with both my Mum and Damien as we all have wanted to read it at the same time! I handed it over to Mum when she went on a cruise around NZ but retrieved it so I could finish it in Scandanavia. She has since got her hands on another copy so she can finish it, but now I am having to share it with Damien as he has started reading it again when I have put it down! Anyway, I will finish it today for sure 🙂

We started our walking trip with a tasty feed of sushi at Jappi Sushi & Wok. I was very pleased with this outcome as I have been eyeing off Sushi joints in Norway but they were too expensive there, so it was great to indulge in Sweden! Jappi is on Drottingatan which is the Pitt Street mall of Stockholm…though much prettier in my opinion. We then walked through the Old Town, Gamla Stan which I am looking forward to exploring in greater detail today.

The Millenium walk kicked off in Slussen and then we strolled past the building where Milton Security was located in the book. Next stop was Lisbeth Salander’s very expensive apartment on Fiskargatan 9. Apparently the apartment is 350 square meters and has 21 rooms! I took a picture of ‘her’ view of Stockholm from the front of the apartments. We went past a number of other locations from the books and finished up outside Bellmansgatan 1 which is the home address of Mikael Blomvist in the book. It was late afternoon then so my picture is not the best, but at least you can get a feel for what it looks like. We completed our Millenium tour with a coffee at Kaffebar on Hornsgatan, which is frequented by Blomvist and Berger in the books. Apparently this was in reality Stieg Larsson’s favourite coffee shop.

We did consider Stieg-ing it right up and going out to see the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that night but it was on really late and we didn’t relish a 15-20 min walk home after midnight in -4 degrees so we took the soft option and stayed indoors!

Damien is currently reading the last book as I type and he just had to stop me to read a paragraph that details where Blomvist drove through a section of Soder and parked his car outside the Bishop Arms near Bellmansgatan 1…he was stoked as he could picture it! Yes indeed!

Categories: food, Norway, Oslo, Scandinavia, Sodermalm, Stieg Larsson, Stockholm, Sweden, travel | Tags: | 6 Comments

Nice Norwegians

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We left Tromso behind this morning but received a suitable send-off in the form of a beautiful sunrise over the mountain peaks from the comfort of our plane seats. We landed in Oslo and headed to the home of Elin and Malin in Grunerlokka, which is a hip and happening part of town that has a similar vibe to Surry Hills in Sydney. We were once again singing the praises of Globalfreeloaders for exposing us to such a cool place in Norway, which we quite possibly would not have visited otherwise.

Malin had made her way home to let us in and made us feel welcome straight away. We spent half an hour chatting and enjoyed listening to Malin’s stories of her nine months in Australia. There is a lovely picture of her feeding two King Parrots when she was living in Orange and other memorabilia of her time in our country around their home. Malin had to go out so she gave us a key to the place explained that she would be out for most of the night as would her Mum, Elin, but we should make ourselves at home. It’s kind of a shame that we have to leave so early tomorrow morning, as I would have liked to have got to know Malin and Elin. Their home faces into a communal courtyard. Inside it has an eclectic mix of quirky photography, posters, art books leaning against window sills and shaggy animal furs adorning seats. We were told to make ourselves at home and quite frankly, right now as we sit at the wooden kitchen table under lamp light drinking a cheapish Australian shiraz we found across the road, I feel at home! I once again have felt the warmth and trust of the lovely Norwegian people we have come to meet on this trip, and I hope truely to be able to return the favour in kind when we find ourselves a new home upon our return.

Today was not a big tourist extravaganza for us. We spoilt ourselves by eating out at lunch and enjoyed an amazing couple of Croque Madames. At the recommendation of Malin we walked through the streets to our first stop, the Opera House, which Elin suggested we go to in an email exchange. Both were good advice and offered interesting city sights. Then we headed to the National Gallery which we both walked away from impressed with. Not least because in the first room of the Gallery the very first statue we stood in front of was a carved bust of none other than Hermes. Hermes is one of two Gods we pay homage to. Hermes is a Greek deity of antiquity who is the God of travellers and we oft find reason to thank him during our travels. The usual way being a simple “Hail Hermes!’ He is also the God of less auspicious things such as thieves and weights and measures. But he also looks after a few of our other interests such as literature, orators and poets.

Our other God is Bacchus. Three weeks after we met we went on a road trip around regional Australia together. The purpose of the trip was to eat and drink our way around a fine selection of the one and two hat restaurants in the countryside. It was a completely gluttonous and delightful experience and we soon decided that we needed to thank Bacchus, the Roman God of wine (and good times!) for the adventure. We’ve remained faithful servants to Bacchus since. And the two Gods combined are a formidable force in ensuring we have great times together! So, it was no surprise then that we should see a painting of a Baccanalian gathering as we exited the room we started with Hermes.

On a serious note though, we saw some amazing art in the gallery such as the The Thinker (which I had no idea was in Oslo) and Munch’s Scream. This is probably not the thing to say, but I liked some of Munch’s other works more. Not that it wasn’t wonderful to see such an iconic piece of modern art with my own eyes.

I’m a bit sorry this is all the time we have for Oslo, but I’m sure we will return.

Categories: Art, food, Norway, Oslo, Scandinavia, travel, Tromso | 2 Comments

Ten things I’ve noticed about Tromso

We’ve had a great time in Tromso but budgetary constraints have dictated that we kept our daytime activities to a minimum whilst here. Also, three nights in a row of bus expeditions that last about eight to nine hours from wo to go has also made us take it a bit easy the rest of the time.

However, I have really rated this place that stakes a claim for the most northerly town in the world for a whole range of things….the uni and the brewery are a couple that spring to mind. Tromso has a great feel about it and it’s a place where people live in some of the most extreme conditions in the world – a place that’s well above the Arctic Circle where there are months of complete darkness and then months of endless daylight. But Tromso is charming, exotic and somehow alluring for all of it’s extreme qualities. In short though I would love to return here when Norway is the focal destination of our holiday and not part of a year of travel. With a pocket full of cash (not a lean budget like ours) you could find endless options for entertainment all year round. A reindeer or dog sled ride out into the wild to view the Aurora, now that’s something to keep in mind for another time!

So I don’t claim to have got all the ins and outs of this town sorted but here are ten quick things I’ve noted about Tromso:

1. Everyone leaves all their curtains open at night (all night) with lights on for the world to see in. They usually have lamps sitting in each window and the outside lights on too.

2. People use cross country skis and one person sleds as modes of transport.

3. There is roughly 30 km of underground road networks that are complex enough to have roundabouts.

4. There are seat belts on buses.

5. Beds are made with two separate doonas folded in half for each person (this seems to be the European way in general).

6. There is a seriously disproportionate amount of stunningly beautiful women.

7. A beer in a pub costs at least $10 Australian.

8. They eat whale, seal and reindeer.

9. Everyone seems to knock off work at 3.30 pm.

10. They love Goyte’s, ‘Somebody that I used to know’….as does the rest of Europe it seems. We’ve heard it played in every country we’ve been in…a nice reminder of Australia 🙂

Categories: Norway, Scandinavia, travel, Tromso | 2 Comments


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The whole purpose of us starting our year of travel in Europe in winter has been because we hoped to catch the Aurora Borealis in Norway.

When I started researching the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights I stumbled across an article in the Daily Mail on line which sealed the deal in our minds. It stated that NASA was predicting that 2012 would be the brightest Northern Lights display for 50 years. How could we resist the temptation to try our luck at catching this ethereal splendour? I for one have been fascinated by images of the Lights since I was a kid and have always viewed it as one of those must do things in my life.

So we made the trek to Tromso – a sea side Arctic town that basks in the majesty of the surrounding snow covered mountains.

The afternoon we arrived the snow was falling heavily and we were both quite tired, so we opted to hit the hay and try our luck the following night. We joined the Arctic Guide Service for a bus ride to chase the Nordlys (as the locals refer to them – thanks Lillian!) and were regaled with tales of the lights the night before; our guide informing us they were the best he had seen in his life. I saw a few of his pictures and yep, they looked pretty damn fine. Apparently the solar activity was also very strong on the our night too so I was getting a wee bit excited.

We came to a clearing in a forest and waited for the show to start. We saw the beginnings of the lights (which I later referred to in disparaging terms as the Northern Smudges) but alas, the clouds came over and there endeth the show. We all piled back onto the bus and did a dash to the Finnish border to an area which is the driest in Norway. However the snow had set in there too and I found myself devouring four chocolate chip cookies in quick succession as compensation! May as well get something out of this bus ride to the arse end of nowhere I thought!

Needless to say gutted would be an understatement. The knowledge of the ‘best in life Light’ we opted out of on our first night loomed in the forefront of my thoughts. Bad decision, very bad decision. A morning of breakfast buffet abuse at the Scandic Hotel raised our spirits somewhat and we resolved that damn the expense, we would go out again that night. Although it is possible to view the Nordlys in Tromso, the light pollution of the city makes it less likely.

So chase number two took us to the island of Sommaroya which is about 60 kms from Tromso. We took stints of going out into the elements from the bus – the 72 km/hr wind and hail elements. But we were rewarded in the breaks in the cloud cover with views of the lights. They started off faintly – like the Smudges of the first trip but got progressively better. At about 11.30 at night Damien came bounding back onto the bus and yelled in a frantic tone that I should come now. I could hear by the sense of urgency in his voice that something really good was happening. I donned my thousand layers of clothing in lightening speed and launched myself through the bus doors and there it was! A massive line of green light stretching across the night sky above!

Damien and I ran like excited children up the hill. All the while my eyes were glued to what was going on in the sky above me which turned out to be unwise when I promptly face planted in the snow. Undeterred by my stack I leapt up, now giggling like a school girl and chased after Damien, nay, jostled to get past him on the track, to which Damien exclaimed, ‘Are you right??’ (good humouredly of course!). Where upon whence I found a less used side track and launched past to ascend to the top of the hill, post haste!

There’s probably no surprises that I really don’t have words to describe what it was like but suffice to say I had a serious case of perma-grin and more than one tear in my eye. It was like all the stars aligned at that moment in the evening. The brutal winds abated, the clouds evaporated and the lights came out to dance in the sky.

Our mission is complete!

Categories: Northern Lights, Norway, Scandinavia, travel, Tromso | 5 Comments

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