After our weekend in Amsterdam, our travels continued further north into Scandinavia - to the cool waters of Stockholm. After a rather bumpy flight (our first since arriving in Europe for our big trip) we settled in to our apartment and found ourselves rather fatigued. The months of travelling was beginning to take its toll and we decided to slow things down a little in Stockholm.
Our first day was spent casually strolling the streets of Galma stan the Old Town of Stockholm and the birth place of the original city. Although an effort has been made to preserve the Old Town's medieval appearance and feel it has not been achieved with the same level of success as places such as Brugge and San Sebastian. Nevertheless, there was plenty for us to enjoy in these hidden cobblestone laneways including a nifty little comic store with Swedish back issues of The Phantom dating all the way back to he mid-70s.
A little Phantom history for those who came in late… The Phantom was the brainchild of American Lee Falk but has enjoyed its greatest success in Australia and Sweden, of all places. The Australian edition of The Phantom is the world's longest running comic book (almost 1700 issues published since 1948) and I have been collecting every issue since Jesus was playing Centre Half Back for the Jerusalem Under 18s (I even have a mate back home who's buying them for me while I'm on this trip). Most of our Australian editions are actually translations of the Swedish edition. So coming across the Swedish issues is a Phantom tragic's Holy Grail!! As you could well imagine, Jess was thrilled for me. But, being the ever reliable and supportive girlfriend she is, she managed to contain her excitement and play it cool while I stole countless hours from our trip of a lifetime to sift through dusty old comics.
Day two was spent roaming around Skansen - an open air museum on the island of Djurgarden. Designed by Arthur Hazelius in 1890, the museum aims to recreate the way of life in various parts of Sweden before and during the early stages of the industrial era in Sweden - roughly the years 1840-1930. If you've ever been to Swan Hill's Pioneer Settlement you'll know what I'm talking about. But Skansen was a thousand times bigger and better.
Skansen proved to be the highlight of the Stockholm visit for both Jess and I, but for very different reasons. For Jess. it was the zoo featuring Scandinavian animals (basically a moose, some type of seal, a few bears and some different looking birds). Every second footstep towards the exit was interrupted by an "awwwww" as Jess cooed over every single fluffy animal she saw (even the damn squirrels running around. They weren't even in an enclosure. They were just pests running around the park).
For me, it was the Tobacco and Matchstick Museum (can you ever imagine something similar being built in Nanny State Australia?). As well as learning that the matchstick was invented by a Swede, I was able to view the world's largest cigar and discover a little more about the cigar making process. And I even got my hands on a few of the museums cigars - made by hand and using the museum own tobacco plants. I still haven't found the right moment to fire these bad boys up. But with our Scotland leg of the trip fast approaching, I'm sure I'll find a nice whisky to go with them.
Our final day was spent touring the Royal Palace. The Palace is living proof of the age old proverb that you can't judge a book by its cover. A rather bland exterior hides one of the grandest and most elegant royal palaces we've seen. And we've seen a few in the past month let me tell you! What made it even more interesting was that, unlike previous palaces we had visited, the Royal Family continue to use this palace on a regular basis for work and ceremonial purposes. So along with the elaborately decorated rooms, we had elaborately decorated guards complete with fluffy hats, stiff poses and guns that say "please put the camera away before something bad happens". It was also the first palace that allowed access to the treasury, which contained crowns, sceptres and royal regalia from Swedish Kings and Queens dating back to the 1600s. It was heaps more impressive than my Hong Kong and Bali knockoff watch collection I promise you.
Next stop: Copenhagen, Denmark.