Saturday, July 01, 2006

Backing Up to Catch Up

Ryan deigned to allow me another post on his sacred blog. It is "Holy Embers of Dreams," after all!

There are a couple of days in Sweden that we simply didn't have the opportunity to share while in Sweden and before arriving in and writing about Helsinki. So, here we are backing up a bit so everyone is caught up with just how awesome our trip really is. In case you were doubting.

I'll pick up with the two museums that we saw on Tuesday--that seems like a long time ago now--and then finish up our Swedish trip before Ryan comes in with a new post about recent adventures in Finland.

Tuesday was rainy, a perfect day for museums. After another wonderful breakfast, armed with a borrowed umbrella, we wandered out of Gamla Stan, through Norrmalm, and over to Ostermalm in search of the Historical Museum. The icon for this museum was quite fitting for our trip: Odin All-Father, on his eight-legged steed Sleippnir. We entered the museum to discover that it was free for summer visitors--another great freebie for us. our guidebooks had recommended the Stockholm Card to save money on museum entry fees. I'm glad that we followed our instict to not get one, as museums were largely free because of Sweden's interest in boosting both domestic and international tourism.

Anyway, aside from the many economic benefits, the museum had a wonderful exhibit on the Viking age as well as a prehistory exhibit that gave the history from the earliest migratory communities up to the Viking age. Both were really fascinating. The only down side is that most of the information was available in Swedish only--such as the specific labels to the artifacts--but the major writing was available in two or three languages including English.

One of the biggest things that we drew from looking at all of these amazing artifacts were the underlying impulses in design and functionality that inform todays Scandinavian designs. It was quite powerful, for example, to see a number of glass flasks used for drinking wine, that had to be held up in iron or some form of holder because they had no bottom. You can find similar shapes in your Ikea or Pottery Barn catelogues, now being sold as vases to hang on the wall. In Pär and Anne's shop, there were cognac glasses that didn't have stems or vases, but were shaped so that they could be full, and yet set on a table. They were quite beautiful and evocative of that Viking era--whether the artist or the shopkeeper recognized it. It really is amazing how sophisticated and beautiful their objects were.

And, I can't forget my favorite part of the Viking museum, learning about the women of the age. gender roles were pretty divided, but women were given an equal say in the society as a whole. Women who wore keys identified themselves to others as women who owned and ran the farm or region. So, although she would be expected to maintain most of the domestic role, unlike other societies where only men could own or run farms, women had an equal right and were equally respected in doing so. They also had a voice in councel meetings and related. And, extremely nice jewelry.

I also learned about the Völlur, Staff-bearer. She was the wise woman, the high priestess. She had a short staff--more like a scepter at 80 cm long, made of iron with bronze tips on both ends. The upper end had a decorated tip, but i can't find words to describe it. Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures of the artifacts. The collection of her objects included bronze bowls for various ritual purposes, a profusion of jewlery with sacred imagery, and a great deal of indications of her power, wealth, and knowledge of herbs, the natural and spirit worlds. It was quite impressive.

After the Viking exhibit, we went to the prehistory one--because even Vikings had a history. It was fascinating, but mostly in Swedish so we didn't catch much of it. My overall feeling was "Peter Jackson did a really good job with The Lord of the Rings." The Rohirrim really evoke this pre-Viking era in the design that was used to depict their society and culture. Many of the shapes in the weaponry, the armor, even the buildings and designs within can be seen in these pre-Viking (around 600 CE) artifacts.

Following this museum visit, we headed back toward the canal for lunch at the swanky Strandbrygge restaurant, which was literally on the water on floating platforms. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was great as well. We were under an awning, as it was raining, and they had little heaters running. One of the neatest things about cafes and restaurants in Stockholm was the presence of blankets. In this swanky place, there was a blanket for each chair in a lovely sky blue, the shock of color against their otherwise dark-brown and beige furnishings (from comfy sofas to trendy tables and high-backed wicker chairs).

After a satisfying lunch, we went to the Nordic museum where we looked at Scandinavian folk art and furnishings and design throughout the years starting in the 18th century and ending in the present. It was really interesting, and one can definately see the past influences on the present designs in both response and reaction, as well as honoring the tradition.

After this museum, we hoofed it back to Gamla Stan for dinner, an evening at a cafe, and then back home to prep for our next excursion--Birka.

We got up bright and early and headed into Norrmalm to catch the ferry to Birka on wednesday morning. Birka is the site of the oldest Swedish Viking settlement. We had expected a sort of reinactment sight, but we actually got something more like a battle field site in the US: open fields with a general sense, due to the rises, of where the original wall of the community would have been. The brochures boast of learning various Viking skills--black smithing, ship building and sailing, archery, etc--but we didn't see any places around that offered these experiences. As it turns out, from midsummer until July, everyone is pretty much on holiday, so only a few tours of the site are run and the vistor's center museum is open. There was a lot of great information in the museum, including a replica of a Vössur's staff, so that was a cool.

It was rainy that day, but it held off for the first part of our walk toward the site, where we got a little lost, wandered a bit, and as it started to rain, took refuge in a small chapel--Ansgar's chapel. Unfortunately, no restrooms, but a bit of forest nearby so my problem was easily solved. Ryan decided to journey while in the chapel, I kept watch. When he was finished, the rain had stopped and we headed back toward the visitor's center--prepping for the ferry which would leave at 3. There was only one ferry out, so we wanted to make sure that we were on it! On the way back to the ferry, we got a bit turned around, found our way back to the chapel, cut across a few wheat fields and then finally found our way back with time to spare. So, I had dessert--raspberry pie with vanilla sauce (like vanilla pudding)--while Ryan tried mead. I tried mead and it was horrid.

Our trip back was nice, a bit uneventful, and we were tired! Back to Gamla Stan for dinner, and then we were in bed relatively early.

Our last day in Stockholm was really nice, with a trip through Skansen after a morning of shopping. And as Ryan said, we spent most of the afternoon-evening with Pär, Anne, and Sophie--and a few minutes with Gustav (he and ryan had quite a conversation about beer, cars, and other 'guy stuff') while Sophie, Anne, and I did some yoga. I was wearing a dress at the time--as everything else was in the laundry--so it was kinda tough for me!

And so, this brings us to the late night and early morning, bringing us to Helsinki.

Labels: , , ,


Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Viking women got to own a farm AND have cool jewelry. Equality? I think not!

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mead can be either pretty good, or pretty horrid. My teacher insisted that store bought mead usually tasted like old cardboard, but the homemade stuff was divine. Personally I'll never know, but homemade usually beats storebought for this sort of thing. Alcohol doesn't sit very well in some forms.

The mueseums sound hella-cool, too bad you didn't get any pics.

Andrew AKA GreenJello, The Nightrider

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas, the woman have always had the better end of the stick, don't let any of them tell you differently..... :-)


11:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home