Stockholm: Part Two

As I've already taken you on the thrillride that is my blind adoration of Sweden in the first of my Stockholm posts, and there's quite a lot to cover in this one, let's just jump right on in. I don't remember the first hour or so of our second day there because I was flat out exhausted, but I still managed to get up, dressed and ready whilst a decent amount of daylight still remained, so I'd classify that as a win in my book.

My memory kicks in roughly twenty minutes after leaving our hotel, once we had arrived at the Central Station en route to the day's main event, More Museums. But not any old museums, oh no. No no, my friends, there is a treat a-comin'. First, however, back to the station. Being the caffeine addicted little darlings we are, our first port of call was to a cute af (of course it was, it was in Sweden) (I will try and cut back on the propaganda) (no promises) coffee shop, where we purchased Life Fuel and a couple of pastries for the road. These pastries turned out to be saffron buns, which I believe are a big thing in that neck of the woods, and although Fiona was not a huge fan of hers I managed to train myself to like it by thinking about the fact that Kenza Zouiten has probably had one at some point. We polished off this cultural breakfast on the bus to Östermalm, where we had planned to disembark and make haste to the first museum of the day, but whilst bus-bound I was looking out the window because I'm an adventurous soul like that and thought it looked quite pretty so we hopped off early to explore.

Full disclosure one of the reasons we got off early was because we saw these light-up reindeer/meese/are these Yule Goats? We will never know. Except for the fact they definitely look like reindeer. Innywho, we saw these and Fiona was entranced, so she took very little convincing when I was characteristically brainwashed by the presence of a body of water and requested a detour.  The thing that strikes me most looking back on these photos (particularly the specifically-not-included selfies I took near this spot) is the fact that you can literally see how completely exhausted I was by this point in December. Simply genetically speaking, I don’t get bags under my eyes, but every so often I will become so chronically worn out that my eyes recede into my face, and ohhh buddy is that what happened here. She is beauty, she is grace.

As soon as we got off the bus we were hit by the borderline aggressively crisp winter air, but tbph with u that was more of a help than a hindrance because 1. Fiona and I both thrive on any situation that reminds us of the existence of snow and 2. I think that is when I actually woke up. The walk back along the water was prime time for some instagram #content, but it was also enjoyable in and of itself because it was such a different sort of area than what we'd seen the previous day in Gamla Stan, and it felt like I was getting a bit more of an idea of what the city was actually like. Also I am a freak for any and all bodies of water, so I was luvin lyf. Eventually we did hop onto a tram and complete our journey to the museum district (the sheer existence of which on its own is a dream come true), and just as we were arriving at our first intentional destination of the day there was a tiny, fleeting flurry of snow, as if the heavens were to say 'stay tuned, bitches. It may be snowing in London, but we are not going to allow everyone to rub your face in that, no, no. There are plans in store for you yet.'

Let me introduce to you this old, old wooden ship. Not Diversity, but the Vasa. To really cram a wealth of information into a precariously credible little package, the Vasa is a warship that sank on its maiden voyage less than 2km off the Swedish coast in 1628. There 'twould remain, just chillin on the seabed, for 333 years. As someone who would request regular visits to the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle as a child, I consider myself quite the maritime expert, so I can professionally confirm that 333 years is a damn long time for a wooden ship to remain underwater and still be salvageable. Not just salvageable, but almost entirely intact. For comparison, all that remains in a museum of my personal fav 17th century wreck, The Batavia (which was a trading ship but coincidentally sank the year after the Vasa - not a great time for European shipbuilders), is a section of its stern. This is a whole ass dang ship. Over 95% original parts. I believe the correct scientific terminology for that is Nuts.

It may not be quite as vibrant as it was intended (I did not know that peacocking was a viking war tactic but there u go the more u know), but it's more my aesthetic like this anyway so no complaints. Furthermore, when they salvaged the wreckage they also found the remains of the few people who had died on board (most escaped since they were literally still within sight of the shore), and inside one of the skulls there was still a brain. Let that sink in for a hot sec. Actual surviving brain tissue from the early 1600s. WHERE DO YOU EVER FIND ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE TO THAT. NOWHERE. AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY DID? BURIED THE BODY. WITH THE BRAIN. SO THE TISSUE DETERIORATED. WITHOUT THEM EVEN DOING ANY SCIENCE AT ALL. I am SO MAD about this STILL. I am not a scientist (surprise yall) but I swear there has to be something to be said for comparing brain matter from two samples 350 years apart. Developmentally. Please. Why wouldn't you DABBLE.

Moving on before I work myself up far too much to ever come down, Fiona and I also spent way too long in one corner of the topmost level of the Vasa Museum, because there was some weird old astrology chart that we assumed was meant to tell you whether you were a bat, turtle, lion or goat. Basically if you put us near anything that is in any way related to astrology or telling us what category of something we are, you're in the money, so we stayed until we reached a conclusion. FYI turns out I am a melancholic bat and Fiona is the blood goat. I love culture.

Once we had exhausted the many fruits that the Vasa Museum had to offer, we decided that since there was still a little bit of daylight remaining we would go for a short stroll around the area. Similar to how I felt about the morning's waterfront wandering, even though we hadn't come particularly far since then this area felt different again. I feel like that was clumsily phrased, but basically I'm just marvelling at how not all of Stockholm looks the same. V original input, adding lots of value to the rhetoric. Innywho, we walked AWAY from our next destination like absolute MAD MEN in order to observe the sunset from a picturesque bridge, and the whole thing was very serene. And confusing on a circadian level considering it was probably around 3.15pm at this point. And stressful for Fiona because I was making her take photos of me facing away from the sun which we ALL know is a NIGHTMARE of a time when it comes to lighting but we DID it in the end.

Whenever I look at the photos from this particular point in the trip it makes me so excited to go back, because I just think of all the different places and things I didn't see this time around. I also know it'll be a completely different experience if I manage to swing a visit during the lighter months, but regardless of season I'm amped to see things like the Haga Park and Vasastan, and just get more into the actual city parts. Also buy stationery and home decor and eat more salads good god now I'm sad about the salad again.

Having only consumed a coffee and a saffron bun, we walked right past our next destination and recalibrated our senses in search of sustenance. In a twist perhaps not foreseen by either of us but not entirely unwelcome, the only place we could find within range (we probably should have eaten while we were closer to that bridge but hindsight is 20/20 and I don't think we realised how hungry we were due to sheer excitement for what would come next) was an Irish pub. A very Bostonian Irish pub. Like so Irish/Bostonian that it was fully themed and had sports playing and it actually reminded me of my authentic if fleeting Bostonian youth and all we could order was bar food but it was warm and we were starving and I love fries more than anything else in the world so it was fine. We ate very quickly and then hightailed it right on over to the Main Event.

I expected many things from my time in Stockholm, but one thing I certainly did not see coming - perhaps foolishly, in retrospect - was the near all-consuming, to this day enduring, deep and genuine love I now feel in the forgotten caverns of my heart. For ABBA.

I walked into the ABBA Museum thinking I was about to have a grand old time bopping along to the light-hearted melodies of my childhood, and left with a new life’s purpose. I have now watched several documentaries (of varying quality) and every significant interview given by any member of ABBA over the last three decades in aid of my quest to unpack the under-explored gritty underbelly of Sweden’s favourite swingers. Our tour began in the Eurovision exhibit, which I'm not even going to go into because I don't have time to write an entire thesis on my love for and the overall cultural importance of that particular musical smorgasbord, so it's safe to say a tone of slightly manic excitement was established from the get go. As we traveled through the interactive timeline we were introduced not only to ABBA, but to Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Frida, and it was in imagining these individuals as complex human beings that I made my greatest mistake. 

You see, when you think of the story of ABBA as something that actually happened to real people, it gets a BIT FUCKED UP. I'm not going to go into my full feature-length rant here, but suffice to say I would not personally enjoy having to go on tour with my ex-husband and his new girlfriend and publicly sing songs he wrote for me about how sad and broken I am after our marriage breakdown. The Winner Takes It All? More like Bjorn Writes Words Agnetha Has To Sing And Includes Lyrics Such As "I apologise if it makes you feel bad, seeing me so tense, no self confidence" And "Does she kiss like I used to kiss you ... Somewhere deep inside you must know I miss you" BITCH. That is SO HEAVY. No wonder she went into hiding and lived in the woods by herself for like two decades after they broke up. There was one video where Agnetha said she felt The Winner Takes It All was the greatest art they ever made, and there was one point where she talked about Bjorn and it was the happiest she'd looked the whole interview and I was GAWN. I have, in the time since my awakening, crosschecked a timeline of each of their personal events and the music they released as a group, and it was like a dagger through my soul. Jolly fun romp though! Highly recommend!

ABBAsolutely high on life, if a bit heavier in the soul department from delving way too deep into the various highs and lows of the personal lives and artistic output of a late 1900s Swedish supergroup, we decided we didn't quite fancy walking the whole way back to the buses and trams. How did we get back, you may ask? BY BOAT, BITCHES. A NIGHT TIME FERRY RIDE PAST THE SPARKLING CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, BACK TO GAMLA STAN. If you thought the night couldn't get more magical than that, you're a damn fool, because we went home and watched Mamma Mia, followed by a feature length ABBA documentary. Ibiza who? Turns out the real party is in an underground hotel in Södermalm. Really though, within a week of my return to London I had been separately banned by multiple different people from talking about ABBA. It did not work.

The next morning I woke up late. Surprise surprise. Fiona, like a normal person when spending three days in a new country, had arisen considerably earlier than I did and headed out to explore Södermalm. We'd agreed that I would pack up and check us out of the hotel, and then go meet her to look around some shops. As soon as she left I got a text, and my heart lept through my face and out into the atmosphere: Snow. It had snowed overnight. Not enough to be particularly impressive, but enough to stick, and certainly enough for me to be excited about. After I completed my duties I set off, savouring each step through the veritable winter wonderland you see above. Bit of a stretch if you want to talk about the reality of the snowfall, but an absolute understatement when it comes to the radiating joy in my heart.

Taking optimistically ambient photos of the light frosting around me, I was loosely following a map to the general area Fiona said she was in when I saw this church that was super my aesthetic at the top of a hill and went to check it out. Not only was it my aesthetic, but it was surrounded by more snow than anywhere else I'd passed on the way, so I probably should have guessed that this would also have been Fiona's exact thought process and been a bit less surprised when I rechecked the map and realised I'd ended up exactly where I was supposed to.

Now, at this point it becomes necessary for me to fill you in on a bit of background info. First of all, Fiona and I are both obsessed with snow, which I think you could have gathered by this point. However, at no point during our two years living in England had there been more than a mild flurry. Until that weekend. The weekend we were in Sweden a full on snowstorm hit the UK, and even the most central parts of London transformed into frickin Narnia overnight. Instagram was a nightmare. We were in a state of indignant distress. There was no snow forecast in Stockholm, but still we had faith. Having taken a few months off from our regularly scheduled planetary worship and dedicated observance of the Law of Attraction, something in Sweden had brought the occult out in us and we had belief, against all odds, that Odin would bring us snow.

The moment I reached the top of the steps and found Fiona in front of Sofia Kyrka, it started to snow.

Like really snow.

There are no words in my vocabulary that can express the particular brand of pure, unadulterated, childlike wonder and joy I felt as I was being pelted in the face by those thicc, heavy snowflakes. There's probably a very long and specific word for it in German, but I haven't used Duolingo since April so that's not much use to me. We completely abandoned our plans for the rest of the morning and just walked around the parkland near the church, taking photos and quietly losing our shit. I was aware that my fro was slowly emerging from exposure to the precipitation, but I didn't even care. It was our last few hours in Stockholm and the Gods had delivered just what we had asked for. And then some. These pictures (especially the ones below because they were taken before it started really snowing) don't do justice to the actual mini blizzard that took place, so if you need a more solid indicator of the ambiance just know that how I felt over the course of those short hours set off an Anastasia obsession within me that has yet to die down. I feel a deep personal connection to the animated version. I listen to the musical 24/7 to the point where even Will knows the words to My Petersburg. Speaking of St Petersburg, I need to go there. ASAP. So yes, if you were wondering what level of wintery immersion we reached this day, think memory-deficient orphan girl making her way through a bright white post-revolutionary Russian forest.

Slightly sodden and with a chill slowly setting in through the cracks of our jubilation, we headed back into civilisation and found a cafe to thaw off and recharge for a while before we went to pick up our bags at the hotel. I fulfilled a trip-long dream by ordering Appelpaj, along with a cappuccino and I think some sort of panini, and Fiona managed to somehow order herself some horrible spicy Devil's Brew by accident, thinking it was (I think) a turmeric latte. This gaffe quickly rectified by the accommodating Swedish barista, we sat for a while watching the lighter snowfall outside and reflecting on how pleased we were that the universe had delivered. And then it was time to go.

Arriving early at the train station to catch our coach to the airport we simultaneously realised that we'd been so busy having transformative experiences and summoning various seasonal elements from the Great Beyond that we'd forgotten something vital: souvenirs. Fiona and I both like getting An Art from each place we go, whether it's a little painting or just a particularly pleasant postcard, and we had somehow managed not to buy a single thing for ourselves the entire trip. What selfless angels. Upon realising this we commenced a mad dash around the station, which was so god damn Scandinavian and high-quality that we couldn't even find a single tacky tourist shop. Eventually we happened upon a normal but relatively visibly Swedish store and settled on some small winter-themed candles. I'm refusing to burn mine until Will and I move into our apartment and I have a specific office space set up that's worthy of it because I'm logical and well-adjusted. 

By a further stroke of luck/act of Odin, as we were paying for the candles we saw the only vaguely touristy Stockholm-themed prints in the store and snapped those up RIGHT QUICK. Success. We could leave the country in peace. All boxes successfully ticked, we made it to the bus port in time to get a good spot in line, and collapsed into our seats ready to fly home to bed. Sitting on the bus to the airport I was absolutely high on life. We were flying past snow-covered field after snow-covered field, and I had the Anastasia: The Musical cast recording on loop.

Remember how we manifested an unpredicted blizzard right before we were due to leave the country? Well it turns out we had also unwittingly put one other request out into the universe, during a discussion the day before when we had both - never having discussed the matter with each other before - expressed our disappointment at having not managed to see Hamilton before moving back to Australia. It would have been such a good note to end on, we had said, but oh well. It had only just opened on the West End and as anyone who has ever tried to get their hands on Hamilton tickets knows, those babies are not easy to come by. And if you do come by them, they are not cheap. As we sat at the airport, editing photos and contemplating buying a croissant, Fiona opened Facebook and the first thing she saw was a status posted 'Just Now' by our friend Erin. Saying she had two spare tickets for Hamilton. On one of the only nights we were both free between then and the move. Even after replying (lightning bloody fast) saying we were interested, we decided we couldn't afford to go over a £90 limit. The tickets were £89.50.
And that is how we ended up sitting in the fourth row of Hamilton with Erin and Harris eight days later.

I know that I keep mentioning how I want to go back to Sweden in summer, which I do, but I would also be very happy to repeat what everyone said would be a terrible mistake and make Christmas season in Stockholm a recurring thing. I'm genuinely trying to work out how Will and I can fit in a 6 month stint living there in the next few years. And I also considered having a Midsommar-themed party around my birthday considering the summer solstice in Australia is only two weeks beforehand, but then I realised 1. the summer solstice is my friend Sara's actual birthday and 2. no one in this hemisphere celebrates Midsommar and I don't really need the pressure of hosting an event AND convincing a bunch of Australians to prance around a flowery pole so that's a no go. The thought legitimately just entered my mind that I should have a Midsommar themed wedding, so I'm going to take that as a cue to cut myself off from this Scandinavian immersion for a lil bit and bid you adjö. Writing this has filled me with festive joy which, it currently being June, is somewhat inconvenient, but I am going to pop some pine tree essential oils in my humidifier, embrace the Melbourne chill and allow myself to sink into delusions of a much more Scandinavian evening. If only I had paj.

Please cast me as Anastasia.