We arrived safely in Stockholm yesterday afternoon (Monday, May 31) after a relatively easy two-stage flight that included a short stop in Iceland, just long enough to stretch our legs and clear the customs/immigration process for the entire European Union. With so many nations now participating in this economic collective travel throughout most of Europe is a snap, with porous borders and no need to show passports or papers.
While we had anticipated rather dreary weather, our raincoats packed for quick access, we were very pleasantly surprised to find Stockholm enjoying a mild, sunny day, with only a slight breeze to remind us that it's still spring this far north. This not only made getting to our hostel an easy task, but provided extra encouragement to get out and explore, once we were successfully checked in, and explore we did, beginning with the section of the city known as "Gammel Stan" (Old Town). Stockholm lies on a series of islands, and Gammel Stan represents the least changed since the 17th century, with its labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings housing antique shops, clothing boutiques and countless little businesses selling nearly everything imaginable. Of course, this is also one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, so it's often jammed with people. We're here just early enough, however, to have found the district easily navigable.
The first order of business, however, was food, and after a small amount of deliberation, the group determined to give "Swedish" pizza a try. While this differs from its American and Italian counterparts in several significant ways, perhaps most startling is the rather odd combinations of toppings available. A pizza with sliced bananas, pineapple, ham and curry, anyone? Our own Chris thought this was just the ticket, and powered through it in no time, saying several times how surprised he was that no one else in the group had ordered it, too.
Once properly refueled, we began or study of the district properly, wending our way up and down the streets, occasionally encountering lovely open squares with cafes arrayed along the perimeter. Most of these were offering outdoor serving, complete with blankets to stay warm as the temperature hovered in the low 60s. If this seems a bit extreme, keep in mind that sunshine is a precious commodity in this part of the world, where winters are not only long and cold, but dark as well. We're currently on approximately the same latitude as Anchorage, just to give you a reference point.
Today, after treating ourselves to a proper Swedish breakfast (large), we headed to the Vasa Museum, which houses a remarkably well-preserved 17th century warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. It remained on the bottom of the Stockholm harbor for more than three centuries before an enterprising Swedish maritime engineer located it and figured out a way to raise it successfully to the surface again. Thanks to the cold, brackish waters, most of the ship was intact, and today it certainly qualifies as the only one of its kind. One enters the museum not quite sure what to expect, only to be presented with an enormous wooden ship (65 meters long), seemingly suspended in space in a very large, dimly lighted room, ringed with different viewing mezzanines and platforms. I have no idea how many times I've visited this museum over the years--certainly enough to know what to anticipate--and it still takes my breath away every time I walk in and see the Vasa hovering as though freshly resurrected from its untimely passing.
Since this museum presents a very difficult act to follow, and given yet another fine, sunny day, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon simply exploring more of Stockholm on foot, strolling through residential and commercial districts, enjoying the sights and sounds of a foreign city. I won't presume to list the highlights from a student perspective, but I think it's safe to say that no one was disappointed.
We leave Stockholm tomorrow on a route that will take us north on a rather circuitous route, as we head for the Arctic Circle and Jokkmokk, the town that will be our home base for two weeks of study and exploration.