On a slightly extremely bumpy descent into Sweden, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen presented itself to me. Two hours is not such a long flight after all, so I was not too uncomfortable, but with foul cloudy weather the whole way I was unprepared to be greeted by a sudden streaming past of clouds and the appearance of a pine forest saturated with snow laid out as far as I could see. In the twilight which in wintery Scandinavia sets in at around 3 o'clock it was quite something to behold. The Christmas atmosphere did not recede from that moment for four days further.
It was a trip perfectly in the balance of busy and relaxed. Coffee shops were reclined in, time was taken over eating and cooking meals, almost an hour was spent riding and admiring the Stockholm underground. We also went everywhere we could, both touristy and less-so, mapping out the day ahead the night before.
If ever you find yourself in Stockholm you must visit Gamla Stan, the Old Town, containing Storkyrkan, Stockholm's first Cathedral; the Nobel Museum, and though we didn't manage to get inside, the Royal Palace. I'm almost glad we missed off the latter; I can only imagine straying into its vast depths would have led to aimless wandering around a gilded labryinth, albeit one with high ceilings and elaborate chandeliers.
The Nobel Museum was perhaps the most interesting for me. A place we might have missed but for time to spare before leaving for the airport, and the one which made me glad of a companion to take me to things they were interested in. I know a brief but interesting history of Alfred Nobel and know the only thing I have to do to set up the Harris Prize for Colourful is to become extremely wealthy. I understand the categories of prize themselves, and how many of each have been awarded. I learnt of a few surprising recipients - Churchill is in possession of the Literature Prize, for example - and how few were women. When I consider it, it's exactly my sort of museum; understanding how and why certain individuals are selected to be rewarded for their efforts and successes in improving and moving along the development of humanity? Yes, please.
Please venture to several islands in total. Here:
Map of Stockholm
Outside of Gamla Stan we found Skansen, the world's largest open-air museum and home to several Nordic beasts, ever wanted to see wolves, lynx, reindeer? Filmstaden, where the Swedish film-stars such as Greta Garbo once stayed, worked and ate, and the Vasa, a huge and ornate warship from the 17th century. Commissioned as it was by the King, no one dared point out that the calculations were incorrect, and the Vasa could not sail. Thus on her maiden voyage she sank before completing a nautical mile. Ouch. Although it does mean today we have gorgeous, intact insights into life in Sweden in the 1600s, in far-reaching categories including craftsmanship, disease, and fashion.
At every turn was the influence of Christmas. Christmas markets made up of stalls where I could have happily bought one of everything, spiced wine, or Glogg, and gingerbread, tinsel or wreaths or bells in every restaurant and shop, and the snow, of course. All this bathed in the muted glow of street-lamps, mostly old and wrought-iron, who are used to being on from mid-afternoon until morning at this time of year. It created an atmosphere of expectation, and instead of being scary, the night was normal in this place. For us outsiders the difference was full of mystery and expectation.
Would I go back? Of course. Next time I'd try another season. The wet feet and biting snowflakes are quickly accepted, and the discomfort could not seem a smaller price next to the rewards. But I'd like to see Spring or Summer; what's in bloom, how the inhabitants act differently, seeing the same places from a whole new perspective.
In this, the first of my true blogged-about adventures, I have discovered a great deal. A new nation and it's language, food, and sensibilities. The way it feels to travel, alone and for the sake of it. How easy it is to take a break from the rush and the noise and the tasks to be completed when you're just too far away to do anything about them. That I like to run, this occasional separation from the 'real world', and that I know who I want to run with me.