Day 5

Stockholm, 2007-07-17

We got up early and Jer made breakfast (fried eggs, toast with mushroom cream cheese and tea). Despite being a bit slow-moving, we made it out of the house by 9:30 am. After stopping by the grocery store for pastries (a croissant and a cinnamon bun), we took the subway to T-Centralen and walked towards Ridderholmskyrkan, the royal memorial church. On the way, we found an even more expensive battery charger at a fancy camera shop. Jer declined to speculate as to how much they wanted for the meter long telephoto lens.

We slipped into Ridderholmskyrkan for a quick visit. Kings, queens and nobles were buried there from the 13th c. to the 20th c., so there were many styles of tomb on display. Jess was particularly taken with the ornate royal caskets cast from pewter, though the ones for children were rather sad. The church also houses the retired heraldic crests of deceased Knights of the Seraphim, one of Sweden's honorary knighthoods. (Jess was amused to see those of François Mitterand and other foreign dignitaries - no Americans were visible.)

Just across the river from the church is the Riddarhuset, Sweden's original parliament (which still houses the gathering of nobles every three years). The interior of the chamber is covered with the coats-of-arms of its past members, and the benches for the parliamentarians were pretty comfortable. The chairman's chair was beautifully carved and had once belonged to the Crown.

Mindful of the time, we hustled to the food hall in the basement of the NK department store. After marveling at our choices for a bit, we selected a fresh French goat cheese, a Swiss-like Swedish cheese, some fresh bread, sliced reindeer lunch meat, baby carrots, tomatoes, a banana, a pineapple-grapefruit Fanta and a raspberry mousse cake.

Thus provisioned, we hustled to the ferry, getting our tickets and climbing aboard with only moments to spare. The 50-minute ride into Lake Malaren to Drottningholm Palace went quickly, as we were busily eating our picnic. The fresh goat cheese was particularly wonderful and went very well with the reindeer, and Jess noticed other passengers eying our lunch enviously.

Drottningholm Palace is especially lovely when viewed from the water. Surprisingly, it is yellow plaster (unlike the Royal Palace in Stockholm, which is grey stone), which makes it seem homier, despite being quite large. We opted to skip the guided tour, even though the rooms didn't have explanatory signage. The paintings, tapestries and ornate carved furniture were impressive nonetheless. We were quite taken with the main staircase's trompe-l'oeil panels, which really looked like carved marble. The painted ceilings were also very cool.

After a quick walk through the State Apartments, we headed out, through an ornate gilded gate, into the gardens. The Baroque Garden was very formal, with manicured lawns bordered by short hedges, obelisk-shaped topiaries and a baroque fountain. We preferred the English Garden, with high hedges hiding Greek-inspired statuary, as well as a walk shaded by lime trees.

Eventually we came upon the Guard's Tent, a building built to resemble a Roman or Ottoman tent. It was very well done - from a distance, it really looked as if it were made out of cloth! A bit further on was the Chinese Pavilion, a two-story fantasy built by a Swedish king for his wife. Although it was decorated with imported wallpapers and fabrics, as well as Chinese porcelain and inlay, it wasn't otherwise very authentic. (Apparently it was a Swedish interpretation of Chinese architecture.) Although we didn't take a guided tour, we happened to be in the Queen's closet when the English-language tour came through, so we saw her "night chair" (aka upholstered chair/chamberpot combo - it gave a whole new meaning to the calling the toilet a "throne").

We sped back to the dock in time to catch the 4 pm ferry. Jer got us a brochure describing the sights between Drottningholm Palace and Stockholm, but we were only able to spot about half. The most interesting was an island formerly owned by the founder of Absolut vodka, who made his fortune by ferrying Stockholmers there to buy directly from the distillery, thereby avoiding city taxation and regulation. (Eventually the city bought the island, to close the loophole in its liquor monopoly.)

Arriving back in Stockholm, we got free tickets for the next Historic Canal Tour (thanks to our Stockholm Cards). We had a half-hour to wait, so we walked to a nearby snack kiosk to get some tea. The proprietor was a charming Iranian immigrant who, upon learning our nationality, started a heartfelt, rambling speech about American foreign policy. We felt bad cutting him off, but we had to get back to our boat.

The canal tour was very random and kind of nationalistic. Among other sights, we saw old factories (now mostly converted into apartments) and an old brewery (now offices), 1930s apartment buildings built to encourage Swedes to have more children (as only those with 3+ kids were eligible to live there), tiny cottages on little land "allotments" (meant to give workers fresh air and fresh food) and a marina of floating summer homes (i.e., boats built to be moored and connected to power, water, sewage and broadband, they had sunrooms and their hulls resembled foundations). We also learned that the Swedes invented the automatic milk separator, among other things.

Next, we stopped by another big department store, Åhléns City, where we failed to buy anything, though we did admire their selection of Bodum, stainless steel flatware and coffee machines. We wandered around a bit, hoping to find a shop that would sell Jer a battery charger (as he'd left his in Warsaw), but we had no luck. We popped into a sushi- and coffee bar (!), where Jer ordered us one piece of salmon sushi. The waitress was a bit perplexed and definitely amused. The sushi was quite tasty, making Sweden second only to Japan in our taste-test of international sushi.

We caught the subway back to Kungsholmen, and after a brief stop back at the apartment for a snack, we headed to the grocery store to buy dinner fixings. After much browsing, we settled on whole-wheat Barilla pasta with tomato-sausage sauce. (Not exactly exotic, but the apartment has only a stove, no oven or microwave.)

Back at the apartment, Jer made dinner (which was much tastier than the previous night's mac 'n cheese-style pasta carbonara). He also snacked on the remains of our picnic, Swedish Greve cheese. Americans tend to get Sweden and Switzerland confused (hey, they were both neutral), and we wonder if the shopkeeper had the same problem, 'cause Greve tastes suspiciously like Emmenthaler. We finished with almond-apple tarts made by the "God Biten" bakery. They were delicious!

We climbed into bed a bit early, as we had a busy day ahead of us.