A letter about some of Stockholm's museums and galleries and the cafes inside.
Letter from Sweden by Gary (not Alistair) Cook
Letter dated 11 June 2021
When we told people we were in Stockholm, a few of them insisted that we really had to visit the Vasa Museum. I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of it. The ship or the museum. Given my love of and research into most things maritime, this was clearly a major failing on my part. It had to be rectified ASAP.
Last October, on the day before we decided to first travel into the city, the major museums in and around Stockholm closed because of the pandemic. This included the Vasa. Though we did see the outside of it on our first trip to Djurgarden.
It was on that first trip that we discovered the Liljevalchs art gallery. It had an exhibition of works by Hilding Linnqvist. That day, I realised how culture starved I was. Generally, I visit exhibitions quite often but given 2020, I hadn’t seen anything for ages. Fortunately Hilding Linnqvist was perfect fodder.
The same day we visited the fantastic Viking Museum and discovered Shield Maidens, which stood us in very good stead when it came to watching Vikings, the TV show. By the way, the museum is excellent. And not just for the Shield Maidens. There’s also the amazing electric buggy journey into the Viking world of Ragnfrid and her husband Harold’s saga.
Since that first weekend, we have regularly journeyed into Stockholm and visited galleries and museums, and a stately home, whenever we can find a dog minder.
For a start there’s Sven Harry’s, a modern exhibition space which features, as the top floor, his wooden house, transported there, complete with his collection of paintings. It was at Sven Harry’s that we first heard Yoiking, traditional Sami singing.
Just down the road from Sven Harry’s there’s Bonniers. It was here that we discovered the importance of the spruce tree in Sweden. We saw hundreds of tiny pictures of spruce trees. It was nothing but pictures of spruce trees. I never need to see another spruce tree.
Gradually, as the months have slipped by and the weather has changed from bleak to bright, more and more museums are re-opening. In fact, a few weeks ago we visited Skansen, a huge open air museum.
Skansen was started back in 1891 when Artur Hazelius saw that Sweden’s poor were not leaving anything behind them. As the Industrial Revolution swept across the country, sawmills and factories were, in their turn, sweeping away the rural world. Cities grew and the architectural history of the countryside was in danger of vanishing.
Artur decided to collect houses, churches, mills, all sorts, took them apart piece by piece then, had them reassembled on a hill on the island of Djurgården.
For anyone listening in England, it’s like the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex except in the middle of a capital city rather than the countryside. And, for anyone listening in Australia, it’s like The Australiana Pioneer Village, in Wilberforce, NSW.
Of course, everyone knows that the mark of an excellent museum is often indicated by their café. When we visited the Moderna Museet on Shepsholmen to see an exhibition of the works of Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, we thoroughly enjoyed the cafe. We sat outside, overlooking a wonderful cherry tree, full of blossom. The day was warm and sunny, the café crowded with excited chatter. There was also a second exhibition on at the same time as the Giacometti. It featured a deconstructed wind turbine blade, the bits of which had been scattered along the floor of the gallery. It was oddly considered artistic.
But the best café of all is on the top floor of the Photographic Museum, near Slussen, is definitely worth a visit. Obviously, so is the museum. But the café, has a number of excellent things going for it. Firstly the view across the water taking in some of the 14 islands of Stockholm. It’s stunning.
The first time we went, the day was a bit grey and the sky leaden but the view was still fantastic. Then, the next time, it was all blue sky and sunshine. Perfect.
Secondly, and possibly more important, the café at the top of the Photographic Museum serves the best fika selection. There’s a special fika trolley from which you choose as many cakes and pastries as you want (for a fixed price) to have with endless cups of coffee. Genius.
Then, just last week, the news we’d been waiting for. The Vasa Museum was re-opening! So, we went. And, I have to say, the museum slipped easily into my list of the top five museums I’ve ever visited.
The Vasa sank on her maiden voyage then sat on the seabed for 330 years. It took an incredible 1,000 oak trees to build her and two puffs of wind to send her to her watery grave. Then, finally, she was raised and put into a specially built museum. Now, like some ghost ship, she sits perpetually above water for everyone to admire and gasp at.
It was seriously worth the wait. A must see museum if ever I saw one. And the café’s not bad either.