Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Stockholm day 3

On the third day of my Scandinavian adventure, I finally made it on time to have my breakfast in the cool coffee around the corner. It was indeed pretty cool, but turned out that Wayne's Cafe is the equivalent if the UK's Costa or Nero, but never mind. Again, to the sound of Lykke Li to feel more integrated, I got myself a salmon and dill bagel. Must admit it was not as good as the one the day before, but still pretty good. One thing that I have observed to that Swedish cook with far more salt than the UK. Surrounded by people sitting having breakfast in the same manner as me, I couldn't help but taking a look at the guy in front of me. He was having a Corona with his muffin at 10:00am. Was that a cure for the hangover? What ever it was, I just remained me how I learnt about the massive alcohol ban that happened in Sweden until not long ago (Page 62).

Tummy full and adequate intake of coffee after, I decided to save one metro fare by walking back (again) to the Moderna Museet as it WAS opened on Tuesday. In walked my known well known Götgatan, to cross through Skeppsbron, ignoring once again the Old Town (and the Nobel Museum. Yes, don't judge me), back again to Strömbron and the narrow Skeppsholmbron (here is when I assume that bron means bridge), that by the way, has incredible views, both from the south island as from the big northern, and yes, straight into the open doors of the Museum.

Being used to museums in London which are free and HUGE, this one that costed 800 SEK (7,5-ish quid) this felt short and a bit empty. It is not that the Tate Modern is my ultimate favorite museum, but just for the building itself, it deserves plenty of visits per year; plus the shop, which is just amazing. Nevertheless, I managed to see the latest exhibition based on Yoko Ono's book Grapefruit, which I won't comment because my opinion is quite personal. There were two stairways to heaven to nowhere, just somewhere up I height, carpeted, which required taking the shoes off and writing upstairs in a computer a wish, which would be displayed later in the summer in a big screen. I bet somebody will filter those, as it could result a quite funny experiment. They offered me a magnifying glass by I totally forgot to use it.

There was a bit of Warhol, Lichtestain, Bacon and the highly recongisble Klein, and it's well known canvas painted in said Klein blue. As it is actually my favourite colour, I was quite excited.

As per all modern art museum, there where some pretty, let's say, disturbing displays, not sure in which way, but still:

A bath/pond of muddy water with studied bubble patterns

A batch of TVs showing different video loops at the same time. All very random, very confusing and quite loud.

Friendly blow up dolls by Sturtevant

And my favourite, tiers of lighted bulbs. I just like white light, in any shape or form. Quite moody.

As it happen also in the Tate, the views from the restaurant and the coffee shop are probably worth just the trip there. Didn't try the food though.

What? Is this Glastonbury? No, it is the Bucky Dome (the name comes from the structure originated by Richard Buckminster Fuller, apart from the Fullerenes, which also adopted his name) which is mainly a place to hold different arty activities. The fun part about this that this was originated in 1971 as an stage of the Cherry family (yes, that Cherry: Neneh, Eagle Eye and parents) to do their art bits there: music, art, design, etc. And now Moki Cherry is back again.

The injection of knowledge left me conveniently hungry at the perfect time to take a bus straight to the area of Sofia, passed down Slussen, more precisely to the area of Skånegatan, which turned out to be the hipster area. As the weather forecast predicted in the morning, I had to ditch the sunglasses and put my non existent umbrella on. See, from monday, when I realised about the real meaning of showers when it comes to the rain, and gave up on the closed shoes to be wearing sandals all the time. Actually, stepping in so many puddles here in Stockholm it is the closest I will be this summer to the beach so...

But yes, hipster area, absolutely pissing outside, so soaked in water, I headed straight down to the corner of the square to Nytorget Urban Deli, recommended by the iPad version of Wallpaper's guide to Stockholm which has proved fairly useful (still quite snobbish though). To ease my pain and give me time enough to dry my soaked clothes, I treated myself with a prawn fest with aioli. Nom!

Just by the time I was ready to keep exploring, it started pouring again, and I wished I had Rihanna's umbrella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh for a second, so I just could cross the road and hope for it to end soon while having very bitter coffee.

But it happened, it stopped, so I kept walking the quite interesting street stopping at all the shops that I could (and will admit it, to keep drying my clothes even more). Design, vintage, clothing, hairdressers, thousands of coffee shops, shoes, more restaurants and a record store. I went inside Pet Sounds store in which they were playing Oberhofer (I love them) and saw the last two issues of the NME (the red-ish cover with Bowie and the one with Mumford and Sons), so I said to my inner me: Awwwwww they are not as different.

A couple of hours more around new areas of the south led me back to Slussen, where I went back to my near coffee shop to have a quick sandwich (that's what I thought) and a coffee to prepare me for the night. Just when I was reviewing my photographs and sipping my coffee, the bloke next to me, violently put a cutout of his magazine on top my table and mumbled something in Swedish. 'Excuse me?' - I said a bit offended by the introduction. The 50 something year old guy switched to english to inform me the Encyclopaedia Britannica had stopped editing their hard copies issues due to the low volumes in sales. And here is where the debate started. iPad vs encyclopaedia. By the time I checked the time again, an hour had passed by and the guy was commenting about how he was writing about extra-corporeal experiences that he had after falling from his Swedish bicycle long time ago. I sipped my last drops of coffee, and politely run away to my hostel to get myself ready.

The unexpected phylosophical conversation left me less time than I had planned, so I had to rush to Hornstull, the west part of the southern island for a concert. Such rush did not allow me much time to make sure I knew where the venue was located, so I just hoped for the best. I arrived there and no 7Eleven was nearby to aid me with some Internet connection to my mobile so I had to improvise. The venue: the Strand and all I knew was that I was close to the water. Luckily, the first group of people that I asked for directions were a) from Aberdeen and b) going to the same gig as me, so the despair was not as bad. After a couple of bad directions, we all managed to finally find the place.

I had a long conversation with a local from Stockholm, a girl that just had finished university and was working as a croupier at the Casino. Apparently Stockholm was very boring for her, as there were not many options when it comes to pubs and clubs. She had been coming to the Strand since she was 16 apparently. I recommended her London. She likes London. Her father will give her a trip to Barcelona as a graduation gift. She spent 2 weeks in Gran Canaria but hated it. Too many tourist. Couldn't meet people. Barcelona it is.

Thee Oh Sees were amazing. The most upbeat act of all the night. I was mesmerized by the singer's transparent guitar. Unfortunately he broke a string or something by the end of the first song (The Dream), but the 7-minute long psychedelic song gave him time enought to sort out the issues.

Kurt Vile & Violators, I had no idea about them. 3 long-haired guys playing a much lower key show, that after the good vibe of the TOS, this felt a bit boring for me. Nice for a nice evening looking at the sun come down, but not at 10:30.

By the end of the night, The Brian Jonestown Massacre showed up to close up the night with all they audience singing along and having a great time.

It was very good.

I ate my banana and went home. Well, went home and ate my banana.

After all, it was just a couple of stations away. But that is another story.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Stockholm day 1 (Part 2)

I am sitting in the reception of the hostel and I have just realised that the coffee tables are from Ikea (so are the curtains from the showers). By my side there is a guy from Mid-lands, Skype-ing with a loud male voice, about future plans and possibly moving to Australia. Exactly at the same time, the equivalent (physically) of Mr Miyagi has walked downstairs into the lounge and stared at us for some long 5 minutes.


Back to when I overdosed myself with sugar from the peanut and chocolate brownie from the coffee shop that was playing some (very loud) Ricky Martin from the late 90s and was served by a Swedish that could easily be 16 years old, I headed towards Djurgärden to keep exploring. The fact that it was Sunday and Midsummer Festival left me with limited options, so as my friend A advised me, I decided to explore the Vasa Museum.

On the way to the said coffee shop, I was forced to cross the Old Town, the isle in the middle, so came across the most (but really, the less) touristy place of the city which is the Royal Palace, where very strict guards were telling tourists off when stepping on the invisible lines of the military territory.
You have to do something touristy and visit the Royal Palace (just from outside).

Excuse my ignorance, but isn't this an Illuminati sign?

The promenade was deliciously pleasant. After a non-existent spring in London, this northern sunshine was actually hurting my eyes, forcing me to wear my sunglasses after months of getting dust. Gorgeous blue skies that I thought I would never have, walking through the Strandvägen.

Djurgärden hid the Vasa Museum behind the Nordiska Museet (another impressive building, by the way) and big leafy trees. There it was, a modern building containing a very old ship. And what a ship!

While waiting in the queue for the tickets, those desired blue skies turned graphite grey and started drizzling back to London-mode. It was probably the fact that I was still slightly wet and cold from the rain, the darkness and what I was seeing itself, but really, as soon as in saw the sunken ship I had shivers, goose bumps and irremediably, I found myself 20 ago watching The Goonies for the first time, on their last scene when they finally find One-eye Willie, the boat in the cave and they fight against The Fratellis (video, yay).

Regardless that The Gonnies is one of my ultimate favourite films and that the adventure itself is every kids' dream (having an Spielberg's disfunctional family is not really necessary), I must admit that the first view of the ship, in the gloomy light, and itself of being of those enormous propoertions undoubltly impressive.

Now, without trying to frivolice, the Vasa sank in 1628. One-eye Willies ship (The Goonies) was dated from 1632. It all make sense now.

As I could hear from the English free tour, the history is as interesting as intriguing. The history itself can actually be shortened by saying that It was basically a major engineering mistake; a BAD design for which nobody could be finally blamed as nobody was directly guilty for what happened.

I would say that the history behind the Vasa is probably as shameful as the Spanish Armada half a century before, as the Vasa just managed to sail less than a nautical mile (2 km) and sank straight away. From all the tripulation, only just around a dozen perished. The fact that it was still between the islands, that there were boats surrounding it and that they could swim is what saved the rest. It was the greediness of the king of the time, who insisted on a titanical proportioned ship (well, NOT that big, and it also sank, innit?), the outrageous amounts of cannons, which added weight and an excessive 10 sails what tipped the boat even with weak wind.

Breathtaking, really.

It wasn't until 1959, when the ship was finally salvaged, resurfaced and the history revived for the decades to come. Preserved in natural wooden colour with some white marks, that according to the tour guide was spits; 'yes, spits. Please don't do it, we don't like it' asserted the guide with his Swedish accent. Apparently water reacts with PEG (polyethylene glycol) the polymer that preservers the wood, creating the weird white marks on the surface. It was probably just condensation. I forgot to spit.

A good deal of it was saved but unfortunately it had lost its colour. Thanks to painting and writings, it can be known that it was originally red, decorated in a rainbow of colours, in each of the wooden images. Every sailor's dream!

A small replica with the original colours of the Vasa

After good couple of hours, my stomach started to growl, sign that it was time to fill it up. Wondering about the Strandvägen (promenade. Yes, I'm pretending that I'm actually learning English, when what I am really doing is using Google), I found myself in the Musikmuseet, on one of the sides, a nice little courtyard with a few wooden tables and locals having a beer. So did I.

I had some meatballs
These super friendly chaps and I made some conversation as they started commenting how much they like the meatballs from that place. The even taught me how to pronounce the swedish word kötbullar (pronounced chotbullar). Meatballs with puréed potatoes, number 1 of the traditional Swedish dishes, served with creamy sauce and lingonberries. Idea never lied to us.

And I am recapping this, as I dry myself out from being soaking wet trying to reach this coffee shop. As I accostummed to do in London, I managed to find one of those arty/local magazines, which was conveniently edited in English and from which I downloaded the digital edition of Totally Stockholm. Good job guys. I discovered that there is another cool street parallel to Götgatan, called Swedenborgsgatan, which, according to this magazine, had two very interesting coffee shops one next to each other. With a bit of confusion at first, I managed to find KA's cafe, stopping first at Waynes Coffee in the corner, the other place around the corner that has been closed all this weekend. It really is a conglomerate of lots of shops in one, but that particular one is really cool shop. Lots of arty magazines, ridiculously yummy looking muffins and coffee and a transparent floor that sort of bloomed my vertigo, as I could see people getting their hair cut in the floor underneath.

But yes, I managed to get to KA's ready to have the warmest soup and treat me with my Sunday morning poached eggs.

The Swedish option though, offered a different thing to offer me. I opted for the not necessarily appealing Rye bread with ham and cheese, praying to god not to get one of those hard-rock toastie breads commonly suggested in diets. Surprisingly, I received an amazing moist rye bread, with delicious cheese and ham, soy sprouts, tomato and cucumber. The best sandwich I have had in a long time.

They are playing Lykke Li on the background. I don't want to generalise. That really will be the next story.


Stockholm day 1 (Part 1)

Stockholm. Sunday 10:00 am and the city has not woken up yet. I don't blame them. We are used to London, the city that never sleeps and we forget that in the Continent, shops do close on Sunday. And when I mean they close, I really mean it. It took me 3 islands, two bridges an around 30 photos to finally find a decent place to have a coffee and some cake for breakfast. Even McDonalds is closed until 12, as the nice trendy coffee shop around the corner of my hostel.

Nice bloke playing the guitar
You have to love those old school ads. Vegas baby! Stomatol. Swedish toothpaste advertised at Slussen since 1909. Brilliant.

View from the Old Town

There in Slussen, I arriveD at the hostel safe, thanks to 7Eleven's free WiFi around the corner. On my way, I realised about the great location of the hostel as it is right in the centre of the entertainment, surrounded by bars, restaurant and shops, without being touristy. That's the great thing about this city, it is not as touristic as the main European Capitals. I still havent found a souvenir shop (just in case, I said this the 24th of June).

And there I was, right in front of the hostel. Doors were closed, lights turned off and apparently no one inside. For a minute, I freaked out as I though: 'Great, I have been scammed. Now I need to find accommodation ASAP'. Then I realised there was a doorbell. I pressed it, and I entered th gloomy premises of the Mosebacke hostel: lugubrious as hell. And the rest is history.

But really, it is all my fault. I made a few beginner's mistakes when staying at this hostel. First of all, I did not choose a YOUTH hostel. Second of all, I did not choose a FEMALE only dorm. As a result, I slept next to the weirdest yet dodgiest 55 year old dude, that snored like hell and woke me up at 7:45 am mumbling something at was either cursing or praying. Needless to say, I couldn't sleep at all (*facepalm*: my very wise friend M strongly recommended me to take some earplugs with me. Forgot about it). Did I mention how small and window-less the dorms are? Oh, of course, it is an 'underground' hostel. Literally.

To add to the morning pain, I should add the not very pleasant trip from Skavsta airport to the city centre of Stockholm. 80 painful minutes of, must admit, lovely scenery of long and tall trees. However, after 10 minutes, my overwelmth had disappeared and I tried to force myself to sleep in the not so lovely bus. By the time I arrived to the cental station, restless, I had time to read 3 times the latest issue of the NME regarding the 100 best song songs of a lifetime (which by the way, I don't agree with quite a few of them), forced myself to listen to some Glasvegas to try to induce some sleep, retouched all my pictures on my iPad and drank two bottles of water. You can easily guess what I was looking for as soon as I set a foot on the station, and it was not precisely the tube station.

Famous Continental costumes of ask for coins to get in to their station (unisex) toilets and there I was: no local currency and the cash points didn't swallow my card for some reason. After fighting with the toilet cleaner to try to get me in, I gave up and followed his instructions to go to to the other ATM. By that time, I was seriously violent and would do anything to get 10 SEK to solve my issues. Again, card does not get swallowed by the ATM. I promise I fought against the machine. And then I realised: against all common sense and global standardisation, cards in Sweden are introduced facing the chip down and hence, magnetic band up. It worked.

Minimum quantity 500 (bloody) SEK. Still, I just wanted 10 stupid SEK! Found a snack shop and probably like ruthless gamer on a casino, I slammed the bank note against the counter and asked for change. 'WHAT DO YOU WANT' said the Nordic attendant. 'TOILET' - I said. She most probably meant what sort of change. But she understood (my face helped) and divided those 500 kr in something manageable to use in the machine.

All and all, I finally headed towards the tube station and faced what all tourists face: buying a ticket. But here was the funny part: Stockholm is a city of contrasts. They have the equivalent of the oyster card, to load with a travelcard with different options. Contactless convenient option that parallel to it, there is the analog version, which consists on an old school cardboard paper with 16 slots that should be manually stamped at the barriers and eats up two slots each way.

Now I should sip a bit of my so needed coffee to swallow the sugar rush coming from this peanut and chocolate brownie (at the same time that now, it is making sense that the portion was just 1x1 inches).

It is funny that after being living in London, all the cities that I subsequently visit, they all look empty and lonely.

Nevertheless, I think Stockholm is a lovely city and I wasn't wrong when I decided to come here. Nobody would say so after seeing the tears running through my eyes after eating a very spicy dumpling. I really mean it. And appartly there are no Starbucks.

Let's generalise a bit:

  • Blondes are very blonde and tanned, and the ones that are not, have clearly dyed their hair brunette or pitch black. The tanning is not as orange as the British, but still artificial.
  • These blond tall girls make the street look like Stockholm Street Style blog from a Retina Display. They do love fashion.
  • Arty dudes wear round thick rimmed glasses.
  • Boy, they love a mountain of shrimps with mayo and dill on toast. Looks amazing though.
  • There are more H&Ms than McDonalds and they shop in COS like us going to Poundland.
  • They drink beer, lots, but havent seen a drunk yet.
  • People smoke a lot here. Older people smoke normal cigarettes. Young people smokes/chews (whatever) Snus/Snuss (smokeless tobacco), which surprised me a lot as soon as I saw it.
  • Girls wear white Converse. Period.
  • There are a lot of design shops.
  • Swedish like terraces more than English love Mallorca. If they are cold, they just cover themselves with (Ikea) fleece blankets.
  • It is not more expensive than London. Well, not. 2 bananas for 13 SEK it is actually more expensive than London. FYI, those bananas are not from Sweden, but from Costa Rica.

Bananas aside, the day continued. But that's another story.