a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘stockholm’

the grand hotel doesn’t seem so expensive…

a little blast from the past 😉  As will become obvious, I mostly wrote this in the moment, my final night in Stockholm… the memories still resonate fondly 🙂

For those of you who haven’t been researching a trip to Stockholm, the Grand Hotel is the city’s grande dame.  This is where you get to stay if you have won a Nobel prize 🙂

I just walked through four different Stockholm neighborhoods and it is my last night so I am rewarding myself with a drink at the bar as the Nordic light fades and the twinkling artificial lights appear on the harbour.  This is a stunning city and the view is worth the price of the drink.

The crazy part is that the city is so expensive, the drink in the Grand Hotel costs about the same as less grand places.  When you see someone use a VISA card to pay for a Sprite, you know you are in another world 🙂

Tomorrow I leave for a final day in London and then onward to my real home.  Stockholm is the perfect place to not feel homesick.

It does seem colder here.  And I have had to channel my prairie roots and just huddle into my lightweight fleece because I am way too cheap to buy a new jacket 😉  As I agreed with the girls at reception on the first day, you don’t survive long in the north if you aren’t tough.  As a teenager on the prairie, you are always trying to not get frostbite when you are underdressed and it’s 40 below because it’s just not cool to dress properly.  So a Swedish autumn is a piece of cake… 😉

I did buy a pashmina shawl in London at a good price – and I brought gloves along after freezing in Berlin in April but I haven’t had the good sense to bring either along with me on this afternoon’s excursion.  Today there was a big clock announcing it was 11 degrees.  I wish I was wearing more but I’m not getting frostbite so it’s not really cold 😉

Stockholm does have moody weather, lots of water and clean streets.  The architecture really puts Vancouver to shame but there are more similarities than differences.

It is a little too “white” for me.  Seeing too many white people in a city always feels a bit strange – especially after multicultural London.  But the good news is that there are some non-white people here and they seem very integrated into the fabric of the country.  Now that I know some Swedish history, I know that immigration is a fairly new concept here.  It’s only been in the last fifty or sixty years people weren’t trying to get the hell OUT of Sweden.

So it is mostly full of Viking offspring.  But – contrary to popular belief – the blond, blue-eyed Swede is not very common.  It’s too cold for Latinos so most people have a similar look but it’s a much broader palette than one might expect.  The main thing the Swedes share – and I inherited – are the non-brown eyes.

I had an interesting conversation with some Swedish guys about “the Swedish look.”  They both looked different – but obviously northern Europe.  Two sets of green eyes.  One set of blue.  As we noted, a recessive gene.  I’ve already expressed my thoughts on the virtues of a mocha world.  It would be great for racism.  But the world is so full of interesting facial features.  I hope a few pale coloured eyes will survive.  Maybe they will have to be accompanied by pale skin.  But it’s the attitude that matters.

And Sweden has a lot to teach us about asking questions and playing a role in creating a society you want to live in.  An inclusive place where pretty blue eyes, pretty brown eyes or even obscure green eyes, male or female, you are considered an equal and interesting member of society.  That’s the kind of world I aspire to live in… this blog will continue to promote it until it is actually reality 😉

p.s. I ended my visit with an amazing cake and hot chocolate at the Sundbergs Konditori in Gamla Stan.  It’s been in business since 1785 but obviously still going strong…

finding my inner viking

We are soon to depart from my ancestral homeland so the final posts will be a little introspective…

As noted, these are my people.  And I also have Icelandic, Scottish and Irish genes… so the Vikings loom large in my genetic composition.  What that means is hard to determine.  The Vikings aren’t quite as mysterious as the lost city of Atlantis but they were some of the first people to try and conquer others (and explore the world), long before foursquare.  If only they had taken photos during a marauding venture on their iphones and posted them to their facebook friends we might know what had been going on…

I have now had two ventures into Scandinavia and the take on being a Viking is interesting.  The rest of us don’t know much – and generally I would say the rep doesn’t seem that appealing.  But apparently Vikings had some cool, modern traits as well – and, like any culture, came with attributes.  They were not just vicious plunderers.

I will need to learn more – and it will take time.  The Historiska Museet gave me a starting point.  And some interesting facts.  And some intriguing stuff to see.

The most spectacular part is the Guldrummet (Gold Room), which displays more than 3,000 artefacts in gold and silver, from the Bronze to the Middle Ages.  It was a wild time in history so hording metal seemed to be a common hobby.  Definitely makes for some great exhibits for us modern visitors.

There are also some exceptional rune stones and excellent exhibits on Viking history.  It’s the same as the other Swedish museums with lots of questions posed to make visitors think, not just read and accept.

As I’ve already noted in a previous post, there was a special exhibit trying to provide a Wikipedia entry version of 1,000 years of Swedish history.  It started with clans, who are not the best way to build an inclusive society.  They were replaced by kings, also not a great model for universal anything.

The power of the kings was gradually replaced by the nobility and the church, often working in conjunction with each other to oppress and suppress most of the population.  The exhibit also explored the role of chivalry and the aristocracy in shaping society (not so positive…).

What was most fascinating is that the 21st century Sweden with its strong sense of identity is a new entity, barely 100 years old.  What is most impressive is how they took an old-fashioned, not so great nation state model, and used logic and planning to create a nation state that is an enviable place.  The US thinks that is their mojo – but they missed the part about engaging your brain to develop a nation state model that will benefit the majority of its citizens, not just the rich guys.  Nation states benefiting the rich guys are a dime a dozen.  Africa does THAT – in spades!  But a nation state that really seems to be working on behalf of the entire population.  That really gives one food for thought…

The museum definitely gave me an interesting sense of what it might mean to be a Swede.  Or even a Viking 🙂

The Swedes do seem to be part of Europe, while also maintaining some distance where they feel it might be wise.  They are shrewd.

And smart I think.

After all, they have declined to participate in the crazy Euro experiment.  The EU leaders must have got bored in Brussels and popped over to Amsterdam.  After enough pot brownies, the Euro likely seemed like a great idea 😉 Like a David Lynch film, it only makes sense if you’re high 🙂

The French dude who wrote Delicacy seemed to be dissing the Swedes.  They weren’t interesting enough.  Not enough of the adolescent drama queen ridiculousness that the Latin parts of Europe hold so dear.

They dismiss the Nordic elements as boring and lacking in imagination… but when they have run up the gambling debts that come with such irresponsible behavior they don’t take it on the chin and face the loan sharks… they hide under the skirts of their responsible neighbors.

It is a lot of fun hanging out in southern Europe.  But the Norse are my people… and someone has to bail you out of jail… Greece, Italy, Spain, France – you might want to keep that in mind 😉

apparently misery DOES love company

This all started when I was browsing in the shops seeing if Swedish fashion would entice me to part with some more kroner.  But the palette made me feel kind of depressed.  It seemed to resemble the weather outside.  I wondered what came first…  and if, between the challenging weather patterns and all this black and grey clothing, the Swedes were depressed.

But I just thought it was more of my silly black humour.  I didn’t buy anything though.  It was all too shapeless and dark.  I guess Swedish women are so gorgeous they can wear a potato sack and look good.  Most of the clothing seemed to be working on that model.  Along with an awful lot of parkas!  If you need a black parka, this is your paradise 😉

I tried to like Acne – but it just looked mostly weird and I didn’t think it would look terribly flattering on me.  I am more a Dolce and Gabbana kind of girl.  I like it when French guys young enough to be my son come up to me and shyly tell me in broken English that they like my dress.  I didn’t think Acne was gonna get me that kind of attention…  I realize I don’t look very hip.  But it seems that looking sexy means I meet a lot more strangers – and my travel stories are better 😉

After my Swedish shopping experience I was reading a novel on the plane home called Delicacy by David Foenkinos.  It’s definitely worth reading.  But he’s French and I thought he was really picking on the Swedes with the Markus character.  And there was this big emphasis on the Swedes being suicidal.

I am a woman who enjoy facts more than chocolate so I had to get some info before I wrote about the depressing clothing in my blog.  Apparently, the Swedes ARE famous for being suicidal.  But the average Swede… pretty happy.  It would appear that really cool happy places make the unhappy people more unhappy.  Not enough other people around to commiserate with apparently.

So it would appear Sweden is a kind of Disneyland.  So, if you are more a Sartre Nothingness kind of person, you should likely hole up somewhere like the Democratic Republic  of Congo.  Lots of miserable people there to make you feel better about your lot.

Or you might just try not caring so much what other people think…

Personally I would be really happy in Sweden 🙂  But then I am pretty happy everywhere.  You make your own happiness – and a lot of your luck.

I was definitely happy when I was observing – or learning about – Swedish design.  They may dress like shapeless goths – but they like their interiors full of colour, shape and function.

I won’t bore you with all the details of everything I learned about Swedish design.  One of the coolest things I saw was the dollhouses at the Nordiska Museet.  What was especially fascinating is that they weren’t all for kids… and normally children were not allowed to play with them, just to observe.  But some of the early ones were to show people how to apply interior design in their homes.  An early version of the Home and Garden cable channel 😉

Another highlight for me was tacking on the Architecture Museum to my Moderna Museet tour.  Not only an entire history of Swedish architecture but some of the key architectural wonders happening all over the world at the same time.

One of the most interesting things I learned about was the One Million Dwellings Programme, an ambitious housing project implemented in Sweden between 1965 and 1974 by the governing Swedish Social Democratic Party to make sure everyone could have a home at a reasonable price. The aim was to build a million new dwellings in a 10-year period.  At the same time, a large proportion of the older housing stock was demolished.

In the end, about 1,006,000 new dwellings were built, which accounts for 25% of Sweden’s housing. There was criticism that the new apartments were ugly but they were modern and well-designed and generally the people who got to live in them were thrilled.  Yet another example of rational thought by the Swedes as to how to make the general society a better place.

The other interesting fact that I learned – both in Stockholm and in London – was the impact of the first World’s Fair at the Crystal Palace (London) in 1851.  I’ve been to the Crystal Palace – and to the shells of a few other World’s Fairs over my travels.  There were some interesting aspects to most visits but the importance of the concept was lost in the abandoned look of the sites.

But this is why it’s good to keep travelling… and learning stuff.  In Sweden, design is life it seems and the very first World’s Fair had a huge impact on Swedish society.  And the world in general.  Back in those days when google wasn’t a verb and the internet had not yet been invented – by either Al Gore or Tim Berners-Lee – information didn’t travel very far so the World’s Fair was a revelation… and all those interior designers selling themselves on reality TV should be eternally grateful to the Brits for kick-starting their careers generations before they were even born 🙂

In 1930, Sweden hosted the Stockholm Exhibition and introduced the world to Swedish functionalism.  Ingvar Kamprad was only 4 so I doubt he attended but the rest of the world who didn’t attend would learn about Swedish functionalism via the little company he started in 1943.  He called it IKEA…

So… it would appear the Swedes are mostly really happy, they like to dress in dark colours and they have a sense of style that is world-famous.  All the Swedes I met seemed pretty sunny… and the sun does pop out from time to time and – thanks to that Nordic light – when it does, it’s spectacular.

from the power of horses to the horsepower of the internet

The magnificent 20th century… OK, so there were a couple of world wars, we built an atomic bomb, communism in practice was a lot less successful then communism in theory, terrorism went global – but I am a glass half full kind of girl and the 20th century also improved the lives of a lot of people.

I guess it started with the millennium.  It’s not too often in your lifetime you can celebrate an event like that.  But the first 900 years compared to the last 100.  Now that’s a hockey stick in biz speak.  Human development in the 20th century looked like the sales charts for iphones at apple 🙂

I am fascinated by the twentieth century.  Part of it stems from the fact that both of my grandmothers were born within the first decade of it and lived just shy of their 100th birthdays so their lives spanned the entire 20th century.

Of course, those were the people who grew up in the era where personal information was horded like a stack of dollar bills in an airtight safe.  And both my parents were the youngest in their families so there were several generation gaps between us and I didn’t have the vision as a teenager to ask them, “what was it like?”

Because it must have been a wild ride!  To be born into a world where electric power was new and the automobile a fairy story, the airplane an impossibility.  And then to die in a world connected by bytes of magic that meant you no longer needed to get on a plane to have a face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the globe.  Oh, electricity, thou art a goddess at whose feet we should all worship 😉

As I’ve already mentioned, I was really impressed by the intellectual content of Swedish museums.  So, intrigued by an exhibit entitled, “Picasso vs. Duchamp” at the Moderna Museet.  Apparently the Moderna Museet has a very large Duchamp collection.  And Picasso painted enough stuff every major museum in the world has some Picasso.

Apparently they were great rivals.  And very important figures in the history in modern art.  This may well be blasphemy but neither has ever done much for me.  So I had underestimated their importance.  But the museum’s exhibition was clever enough to get its point across… really modern painting or more or less the creation of the idea of conceptual art.  Paint all the time and promote yourself as some kind of art whore who might be better at being famous… or produce so little art infrequently that you might come across as a bit above the whole idea of art as a business…

Personally I was far more intrigued with the WHEEL!  Picasso and Duchamp met for the first time in 1912.  They are definitely two of the most influential forces in modern art in the 20th century.  The museum suggests that the 20th century saw more major changes in both historical events and art history quiz items than any century before.  To help support the point, a giant wheel was created with each year of the last 100 labeled and one art event and one historical event for that year cited.  Visitors are encouraged to carefully turn the wheel to follow the history of art and of mankind in action…  For history geeks like me, wow!  Better than either of the artists’ stuff 😉


Apparently when the Moderna Museet opened in 1958 it was one of the world’s most groundbreaking contemporary art venues.  It introduced Swedes to all kinds of crazy art that at the time was being questioned as to whether it was really art or not?  Now it’s modern art collection seems a bit more like a museum piece but the building is great and the collection is well organized and worth checking out.  Probably better though not to go to the Tate Modern first 🙂

And, even if the permanent collection seems a bit tiny compared to the Tate or MOMA, the special exhibition was definitely worth seeing… if only for the wheel of history.  So much more interesting than the Wheel of Fortune.  Spin this one and you might just learn something…  😉

the modern Swedish metrosexual…

During my mini tour of my Swedish roots and a few centuries of Viking history, I learned that the Sweden of my grandfather and the Sweden of the 21st century are very different places.  He was one of the many who emigrated at that time.  Sweden was poor and ruled by a class structure that favoured the nobility over the peasants so lots of Swedes emigrated to the new world for what they hoped would be a better life.

Somehow my grandfather ended up in small town Manitoba.  How he got there is not very clear.  That he was an adventurer and a maverick is part of the family folklore.  I’m not sure what the Swedish men of the poor late nineteenth century would have to say to the Swedish men of the prosperous early twenty first.

One of the cool new tourist attractions in Stockholm is the Fotografiska.  I am a big fan of photography but have only recently started going to photography museums when I head to cities.  The Fotografiska is popular with both locals and tourists and got me to Södermalm and a more “real” part of Stockholm.  Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore the neighborhood but the museum is definitely worth a visit.


There doesn’t seem to be a permanent collection, just a series of rotating exhibitions.  All were worth viewing – and made me feel bad about my tourist shots 🙂  But the one that intrigued me the most was Maria Friberg.

Apparently in 1995 she had met with a businessman in conjunction with selling some of her art work and they got into a philosophical conversation about the role of men in modern Swedish society.  She grew up on a collective in rural Sweden that was a matriarchal haven where the women worked and the men tended to domestic duties.  So the businessman was a novelty to her 🙂

There were two series of paintings – Almost There and The Painting Series.  There was also a video showing how she shot the photos for The Painting Series.  The commentary noted how her photography had been influenced by the working styles of Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein (my Alexander McQueen pumps in Yves Klein blue are one of my most prized possessions 🙂

Both the process used to create the photographs and their conceptual content really impressed me.

per the info at the museum….

Maria Friberg’s oeuvre is an investigation of male identity in today’s period of gender transition, as visualized in her signature series Almost There from 2000 and The Painting Series from 2011. In Almost There, we see a group of men, white men in suits, floating in a pool. Their homogeneous appearance is suggestive of the Western patriarchy. A patriarchy is formed when men are at the top of a societal structure. Clustered together, the pack of men appears to be in their mid-thirties, at the peak of their careers. They do not interact, but gaze instead into the distance. The image implies that they are rivals thereby reflecting the competitive nature of business. This is also suggested by the title, Almost There. Yet Friberg manages to disclose their vulnerability, by depicting the men straining to hold their heads above water. Accordingly, theseries coincided with the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000 – 2001. The male dominated IT industry sustained devastating losses after its stocks were grossly overvalued. In its aftermath countless men were stripped of their financial status. They found themselves in a vulnerable position, much like the men depicted in Almost There.

In both series the figures float within a pool; however, in The Painting Seriesthe liquid is comprised of water mixed with various colored inks. In fact, the method for creating The Painting Series is based on a performance that can be likened to “action painting.” 

A short while later I stopped in a tourist shop and bought some gorgeous glass by Mats Jonasson.  The work was beautiful and as creative as Maria’s photography so it seemed the perfect souvenir for my trip.  And the shop owner told me the story of the glass factory and how Mats had saved it in the 1980’s and kept alive the glass traditions in the town, which had begun when my grandfather was still living in Sweden.  The past and the present perfectly conjoined.


We also had a conversation about Maria’s work and role of Swedish men in 21st century Sweden.  I didn’t talk to enough Swedish men in four days to draw any definitive conclusions but my non-scientific sample suggested that Swedish men are very articulate and very cool.  I don’t know much about my grandfather but my father apparently inherited a lot of his genes and my father possessed those same qualities.  So, the clothes and hairstyles may have changed, but the charming Swedish metrosexual seems to have been with us long before the word was coined to describe him 😉

memories of IKEA instructions ;)

I am discovering I DO create the travel stories – but actually getting them on-line while I am travelling – a lot more complicated…  when I retire… for now… you will just have to be patient… lots of posts partly written or in my head, photos on my camera… so the stories will appear over the next week or two… tonight it is my last night in Stockholm but we are exploring the first…

I have arrived in one of my ancestral homelands.  It’s just a few days in Stockholm so not sure how much I will learn about my roots but there is a different sensibility arriving in the country from which your surname originated.

The Stockholm experience begins at the airport.  It is well organized, ultra clean and full of minimalist Scandinavian design.  It’s the airport of the Jetsons…

Until I tried to get some kronor.  The Swedes are a bit suspicious of the continent so the EU is OK but the jury is still out on the euro.  My personal life and the euro have followed an intimate and bizarre trajectory but for this post, suffice to say, I think the Swedes are right 😉

Even though it’s a hassle for tourists.  But I’ve used bank machines all over the world.  How hard can it be?

Well, this bank machine had obviously been designed by the dude who writes the IKEA instructions.  First I had to insert my card in a totally abnormal way.  When I finally figured out how to get my card in the machine, I’d missed the nanosecond when you could punch an obscure key to get the instructions in English.  I suppose I should have guessed it was asking for my pin number in Swedish but seeing a bunch of stuff in an incomprehensible foreign language throws you.  I finally secured my measly 2,000 kronors – which will buy nothing I am discovering… and I have built a LOT of IKEA furniture in my iterant life so the haunting memories exploded into my brain…

But then I looked at the perfect sky – full of Nordic light and marshmallow clouds – as my wildly expensive taxi traversed the motorways toward my hotel.

<no question Stockholm requires a fat bankroll – but is full of small treasures… I am in the Berns bar where the cute bartender knows my room number typing this… and some woman who sounds like Adele has just starting singing… so my overpriced Chenin Blanc is tasting better ;)>

And speaking of the Berns Hotel… I am a fan!  Check-in was fantastic.  It would appear Swedish women could turn anyone into a lesbian 😉  They had my name wrong on the reservation – a common mistake.  But she really appreciated the significance of a letter.  It’s a totally DIFFERENT name!  I think her name is Danielle.  She is gorgeous – but that seems to be the norm around here.  What was unique about Danielle is that she just sparkled.  Her personality.  Her smile.  Her attitude.  You could fall in love with her in under five minutes 🙂

She was an example of the person we could all be.  Why not be friendly?  Why not be great at your job?  Why not be engaging?  Why not twinkle?  I know it will improve your life because strangers will enjoy interacting with you.  And people that you actually know?  They will fall in love with you – hard 😉

But as I write this (originally, in my notebook) I have decamped to the Gold Bar at the Nobis Hotel… because I wasn’t sure if I should stay there instead of the Berns.  (Now, with all my experience, I think it depends on your purpose in Stockholm.  For aspiring party animals, the Berns is perfection ;).



Back at the Gold Bar I ordered an Orchid Royalty.  Apparently it won some accolades at a cocktail contest in London.  Aged Guatemalan rum, sweet vermouth, Pedro Ximinez and gold dust!  It was sublime.  Bartenders in Stockholm are good at their jobs and friendly enough but a bit stiff by world standards.  No one is going to blow you kisses if you leave them a tip like the charming dudes in Amsterdam 😉

Dutch guys and Sweden women… that might be quite the combo!  I’ve had fun with both.  I never managed to confirm Danielle’s name but we chatted over the past few days – and she lit up every time I said “hi”.  I won’t forget her.  I like to think I light up around other people.  Being on the receiving end of it has convinced me it’s really worth paying attention to – and working on.  It’s common knowledge I love glitter and sequins…  let’s see if I can mirror that in my personality as well…

p.s.  I have been snapping Stockholm… in the various weathers… so pictures will be forthcoming!  Stay tuned!

p.p.s. subsequent to writing this I had a chat with the cute bartender who has been my favourite during my stay at Berns.  His name is Daniel.  He confirmed Danielle is the correct name for the girl at the front desk.  I told him he was really great at his job.  Watching him in action is very impressive.  You can only chat on Sunday.  On the weekend you just have to watch in amazement as he participates in the show that is Berns 🙂


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