I experienced a severely condensed version of it when I flew to Bejing from Philadelphia by way of Stockholm (!), where I spent 6 hours of my 9-hour lay-over visiting with an old friend, Anders Diamant, and his wife Ingrid, a book editor, and got to see a bit of central Stockholm in an unexpected way.
Anders had spent a year in Philadelphia during the mid-80s through the student exchange program YFU (Youth For Understanding) while between high school and college. We became friends then as my then-wife and I acted as both a host family for another student as well as volunteers for the program itself. He has now been a reporter and news producer for Swedish Public Radio for over a decade.
You can imagine my surprise when he said that we would be riding bikes (!)… I was game, of course, but, as you can also see, not quite dressed for riding. Especially as my body-clock thought it was 3 a.m. when we met up.
We eventually rode a total of around 15 kilometers (10 miles) around central Stockholm, stopping at his apartment for lunch with Ingrid, and then continuing to their small cabin in the park, followed by a visit to the Vasa Museum before heading back to the train station.
Stockholm is on both shores of a river, with at least one island in between, and also the place where the ocean meets fresh water. It’s a compact city, from what I could tell, very human-scale. Anders commutes by bicycle to his job, a pleasant ride (when not Winter!) of some 20 minutes, if memory serves. The terrain is pretty flat, which is a blessing given that most bikes used are not racers with multiple gears.
The Swedish government, during the early 20th century, deeded private plots in a park along the river for people to plant vegetable gardens. The plots usually have a small – 10 x 10, 8 x 12 or so – cabin, which was used to hold tools but also for sleepovers. Anders and Ingrid bought one from an elderly lady a few years ago and go there often, sometimes staying over with their two young daughters, 8 and 11. The video is a pan showing the cabin and surroundings. (There is a miniature golf-course right across the road on the other side of the park path!)
(Photos below.) On our way to the cabin, we passed a street market that was established by an Englishman (!) and is now a thriving block-long gauntlet of craft booths and a restaurant. I saw everything from African art to 1950s lamps there, along with the obligatory hand-made jewelry/pottery one can find in like venues all over the world. There was even a mirrored mosaic on a wall, which reminded me of Isaah Zagar’s work all over Philadelphia. (It’s a one-trick pony, but still better than a no-trick pony…especially if one can ride it all the way to the bank!)
When I was growing up in Brazil (ages 4 to 14) without TV reception, my life-line to the world beyond my little hometown deep in the interior were magazines, specifically The Reader’s Digest and National Geographic. Between them, my curiosity about the world was both piqued and satisfied. Like boys everywhere, I was drawn to stories about treasure hunts, wars, and tales of exploration and discovery.
It’s from those magazines, especially National Geographic, that I learned about Macchu Picchu, Troy and Schliemann, The Spanish Armada, the derring-dos during the Age of Sail, Homer and the Odyssey….and the Vasa. “The Vasa??”
Yes, the Vasa, the pride of the Swedish navy, sunk right in Stockholm harbor during its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628. (It was top-heavy in design and had insufficient ballast: it rolled over in a light breeze.) It was rediscovered during the late 1950s and then brought back to the surface in the early 1960s – when I read about it in National Geographic. I was fascinated by the story, the photo spreads showing the artifacts brought up, etc. and filed it away as one of those things that I hoped to see someday, like Macchu Picchu (which is still on the list). Bringing it up was a major engineering feat, as was finding a way to preserve its timbers intact on dry-land after being immersed for 333 years.
Forget “Pirates of the Caribeean” and its prop ships: this is the REAL thing.
Inside a huge hangar of a space, there now sits an almost-intact, 230 foot long (and 172 ft. high to top of the masts) 17th century 64-gun two-decker warship! It is an amazing sight, to which no description of mine can do justice, truly one of those “picture is worth a 1000 words” experiences. I felt goose-bumps, as much for the object itself, as for having one of my personal “see-before-I-die” items unexpectedly fulfilled. (I’ve included a link to the website for the museum: it’s visited by 7 million people a year.)
The wood has the softened, weathered look appropriate to having been underwater for centuries, yet its density and darkness still project danger, as befitting a warship. Unfortunately, it’s kept pretty dark inside to protect the ship, so the photos are necessarily dim, but I hope you get the idea.
Even just standing in front of it, I could feel the menace in the hulk behind. Ships from the Age of Sail have always impressed me as marvels of engineering, their complexity having the single – and simple – goal of catching more wind and going a little bit faster.