Elegant old cities: Uppsala and Stockholm, Sweden

Museum Gustavianum is oldest extant building of Uppsala University

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

Last spring, just before Don and I left for Scandinavia, Don injured his knee. Don's injury was the first of several setbacks on our trip to Sweden and Norway, the land of Vikings, ancient sites and tall blonde men and women.

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We left Juneau early on the morning of March 29 and arrived at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport on the afternoon of March 30. Our suitcases sat on the tarmac when we left Copenhagen for Arlanda.

We spent four nights at Karin's bed-and-breakfast in Uppsala, Sweden. Karin welcomed us to her row house decorated with modern white Swedish furnishings. At Karin's and in most hotels, the only bedcovers were uncomfortably warm down duvets.

Karin recommended Le Parc (The Park) for dinner. We enjoyed our tournedos. We shared a half carafe of merlot, our first encounter with the fact that wine is extremely expensive in Scandinavia. When we returned to Karin's, our luggage had arrived.

The next morning we woke to snow. We ate our Scandinavian breakfast in the kitchen. Karin shared her health tip: "A boiled egg is a good way to start your day."

After breakfast, we walked more than a mile in the snow without slipping or falling to Uppsala Cathedral, which was originally Catholic until Luther's Reformation. The medieval cathedral is quite large and impressive outside and inside. Many tapestries hang in the Dom (cathedral). The stained glass windows are gloriously colorful. Don and I spent more than an hour viewing a temporary exhibit of Martin Luther on loan from Wittenburg, Germany.

Scientist Carl Linnaeus (think high school biology), Nobel Peace Laureate Nathan Soderblom (1866-1931), and Emanuel Swedenborg are buried in the cathedral. Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961) is honored in the Chapel of Peace. We ate a reasonably priced lunch in the cathedral's café.

We walked across the cobbled square to the Museum Gustavianum, the oldest extant building of Uppsala University, founded in 1477. The museum "houses one of Europe's few preserved anatomical theaters from the 17th century." We climbed the stairs to the highest tier of the anatomical theater. My stomach dropped as I looked down.

The museum focuses on the history of science and Uppsala University. It was quite a thrill to see a number of Linnaeus' and his students' large folio books of plant classification. Linnaeus' house and Carl Linnaeus Botanical Garden are museums. Linnaeus' 300th birthday is celebrated this year.

The next morning we took a day trip by train to beautiful Stockholm. We spent several hours in the Vasa Museum. In 1628, on the day of its maiden voyage, the Vasa sank before it even got out of the harbor. Historians believe that the lack of sufficient ballast and the high, top-heavy stern and elaborate and colorful decoration caused the sinking.

Three centuries later in 1955 a scientist found the Vasa in the harbor. A cradle was built under the wreck to bring the Vasa up to the top. The preservationists spent 17 years hydrating the wood. Ninety percent of the restored ship is original and 10 percent of the new parts are in the new wood's natural color. The museum was built for the Vasa.

We walked across the street to the Nordiska Museum, which is housed in an enormous Renaissance-style castle with gilded turrets on the roof and more gold leaf inside. The walls, floors and stairs are marble. The national museum does not charge a fee.

We especially liked the exhibit of the Sami (Laplander) artist who drew in pencil and color crayons to record a year of reindeer herding. He was obviously concerned with recording the lifestyle of the people whose daily lives were reindeer based. His reindeer and his people are small compared to the vast landscape.

The next day, we returned to Stockholm with its magnificent 18th-century buildings that are at least five stories and sited along canals, rivers and harbors. We visited the National Museum, which has a collection of 300 icons. The western parts of Russia and St. Petersburg, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are part of Scandinavia.

The museum also has the classics: Monet and other Impressionists, Rubens, Goya and Renoir, as well as sculpture and Swedish artists, including August Strindberg. Noble bedrooms are also on exhibit. During the 17th and 18th centuries, guests paid to watch the king get out of bed and get dressed.

We ate lunch in a pub in the Gamla Stan, the old town. The 13th century Gamla Stan is indeed quite old and charming with its narrow alleys, cobbled streets and three to four-story houses and buildings.

After lunch, we walked to the Swedish king's castle complex. We watched the changing of the guards that is not as elaborate as the English changing of the guard. Don visited the Royal Armory. I wandered around the large castle complex and walked up to the King's Chapel. I heard music. I walked in and sat down on a chair near the church doors; the King's Chapel is church size. I enjoyed 40 minutes of the concert. I heard some great voices but I could not see the choir or the musicians.

In spite of snow and cold, and Don's injured knee, we enjoyed our first days in Sweden.

• Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.

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