Sweden (June 12)
We are currently – August 10 – in London, enjoying our flat in Notting Hill, continuing our attempts to catch up on where we’ve been since leaving Alicante in early April. Then we can start catching up on what we’ve done in London!
Another first-class train ride took us to Stockholm (no hot chocolate on this one, though). I must admit I really liked the public transport in Norway, both the long-distance trains and the city trams; all very well done with plenty of information for passengers. Sweden and Denmark also have great public transport, but I expect Norway’s is newer.
|New and old: dome of Hedvig Eleonora Church, from 1737|
|An impressive building in downtown Stockholm, now a major hotel|
|Stortorget, Stockholm's oldest square.|
There is an incredible array of islands east of Stockholm, called the archipelago (which, after all, means a group of islands). Some are tiny islets; but there are many that host homes, and even towns. We took a ferry (always ready to get out on the water!) to Vaxholm, about 30 minutes away. Along the way the boat made at least half-a-dozen stops to let off and take on passengers (many with bicycles). Some of the houses we saw from the water appeared to be summer cottages, but we were told this ferry is a commuter boat, carrying people from the islands to jobs in Stockholm year-round.
|One of a half-dozen ferry stops|
|An appreciative crowd listens as the Marine Band welcomes the classic ferries to Vaxholm|
|We take our leave from Vaxholm on the ferry as the classic steamers arrive|
Our Airbnb room was in one of the more prosperous areas of the city, in an older but well-appointed building. Our room had a floor-to-ceiling Swedish stove, covered in plain white glazed tiles. While it has been replaced by more modern heating (hot water, I think), it is impressive. It spoke strongly of blowing snow and long, very cold nights. Next to our room was the dining room with a similar but more elaborate stove. The next room over was the living room, with a truly remarkable fireplace, covered with intricately worked glazed tiles.
|Well-furnished living room|
|Detail of the amazing ceramic fireplace|
|Paula in the dining room/office. Note the Swedish stove behind her!|
Both the living and dining rooms were fully furnished in period furniture, probably from the 1920s. As I said, this was an up-scale part of the city, and everything was very well done. Our host left shortly after we arrived, so we never heard any stories about who lived here or what they did, but the room looked ready to host a soiree for a dozen or so guests. It was pretty fantastic, like living in one of those cultural museums showing what life was like back when. Except, we got to sit in the chairs!
Why barns are red
In 1674 the Swedish nobility erected a building for their use, called Riddarhuset or the House of Nobility, in Stockholm. It was used for meetings and concerts. Made of red brick, it was greatly admired, and many of the noble families copied it for their country estates. But bricks were very expensive outside of the city, so the country houses were made of wood, painted red. The popularity of this style spread, and all the farmers wanted red houses as well.
|The Riddarhauset today|
It so happened that at this time copper mining was a significant industry in Sweden, and a by-product of the production was a bright red pigment that made fine paint, and, more importantly, was quite cheap (being a by-product and all). So, the countryside became dotted with bright red buildings, called Falu red after the town of Falun, where the copper mines were located. (As a side note, the copper in the paint made it a good wood preservative, but it was the low cost that made it popular). Later the nobility started painting their homes white and yellow, colors that were much more expensive. The farmers stuck with red.
|Farm house in rural Sweden. Falu red.|
Flash forward to the 19th century and a decline in infant mortality in Sweden (thanks to advances in health and science and all). Families got bigger, since more of the babies survived to become children. And heirs. Since only the oldest son inherited, there were more and more landless farmers. With improved transportation to the New World, many rural Swedes emigrated to North America. They prospered, and painted their buildings in the New World the traditional color from back home.
So barns in North America are red because Swedish nobility build a pretty building in the 17th Century.
As I’ve said before, we are not always keen on public buildings and monuments. But we did tour the Stadshus, Stockholm’s town hall. Among other functions it hosts the Nobel Prize banquet, honoring the recipients of that prestigious award. It’s a large, relatively new building finished in the early part of the 20th Century. Throughout our tour I was impressed by the commitment to equality of the people. The layout of the council chambers assures access by the public and puts all the officials on the same level. Displayed inside are numerous busts, not of famous rulers or legislators but of construction workers, the people who nailed the beams and placed the bricks. For the Swedes and Scandinavians in general, “equality” is not merely a concept, but an on-going reality.
|Heroic statue in front of Stockholm's stadshus, the Town Hall, where the Nobel Prize ceremony is held|
|Inside the Stadhaus where the Nobel Prize dinner is held, all done in gold tile (eat your heart out, Donald Trump!)|
We took another, short, train ride to Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast. Neither of us is sure why we chose this unremarkable town, although we did find the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, and we spent most of our short stop in Gothenburg at the race village. We have a previous blog about our time there.
Aside from that, Gothenburg didn’t leave much of an impression. The Volvo race, a couple of fabulous rain squalls (one with thunder and hail), and that was about it. We probably missed a lot.
|And, finally, what is this? I saw these wires coming out of downspouts in Sweden and Norway. Finally, I got it: a heat wire to keep the downspout from damning up with ice. Hard to imagine in the summer!|