My sister arrived in Sweden on Dec. 28. It was the first time she'd ever been on an airplane by herself, and it was to cross the Atlantic. I was really proud of her, and Mia and I waited anxiously for her to come out of baggage claim and into Stockholm Airport. She was like the last person out because she'd been standing at the wrong baggage claim...apparently it never registered that Morocco isn't where she was flying in from. So her bags were the last two on the carousel, but she made it. Kate must have slept better than I did on the flight, because she didn't seem jet-lagged at all, and we even went into town for most of the afternoon to walk around. It's strange, because after having been in Uppsala not even a month, I've stupidly learned to take things for granted. But walking around the city the first day with Kate was such a cool experience, for her and for me. She'd never seen an historical city like this, and was like a little kid looking up at all the buildings and the cathedral. And it made me realize how cool it really is here, and has given me a newfound enthusiasm for my new city.
Our journey into the future began on Dec. 30, though it wasn't in a Delorean. After packing a few things into two small backpacks, we hopped a bus into town, where we hopped another bus that would take us to Stockholm, about a 45 minute ride, through farmland and countryside. That morning was the first sunny morning we'd had in Uppsala. But about 20 minutes into the ride, ominous black clouds appeared on the horizon, and by the time we reached Stockholm and the coast, it was raining and foggy and generally depressing. Still enthusiastic, we then descended into the underground, where the train took us to the other side of town, in search of our hostel, in Zinkensdamm. We found it.
By the time we'd walked through the adjacent park and onto the path that would take us back to Old City ("Gammla Stan"), the rain had abated, and the clouds lifted enough to grant us a magnificent view over the entirety of Stockholm from a large outcropping of ancient granite from within the park. The city is strangely not-surprisingly low - again, it looked like I'd pictured it for some reason. From our vantage point we could see Old City, which sits on an island in the middle of a network of canals and waterways, crisscrossing each district. Church spires older than the Renaissance reach skyward from each city district, the most distinguishing feature of town from our view. The rest of the cityscape was colored in subtle red and yellow hues of the beautiful buildings that line the narrow streets. The subway came gliding aboveground for about 500m to cross a canal, before diving back beneath the streets.
We descended down the far side of our lookout, through a maze of granite staircases lined with moss. Once we reached the water, we turned right, and made our way towards Gammla Stan. Old workboats lined the wharves along nearly all of the waterways, many of which had been converted into restaurants and hotels. Gammla Stan is immediately recognizable when the buildings suddenly converge inward, kind of like that scene in Star Wars where Luke is trapped in that garbage compactor. It's amazing how close everything is, but it's also beautiful and exceedingly cosy. The apartments in the upper floors of the 5-6 story buildings could literally share a beer between them, simply by opening the window. Down at the street-level, there isn't much room for anything but walking, so cars are thankfully absent. Trendy cafes and expensive restaurants, the kind with white tablecloths, make up most of Gammla Stan's economy, accompanied here and there by goofy tourist shops where you can buy things that have mooses on them.
Since the sun sets at 3pm at 59 degrees North, we had little time for sightseeing beyond what the street lights illuminated. So we stayed in Old City, because there the streetlights are a soothing soft yellow, and cast a magical glow on the cobbled streets and the ancient buildings. The way the lighting was made you feel as if it almost wasn't real, it was a strange feeling. At the far end of Old City is Stockholm Castle. I can't describe it, but it had a moat. It was exceptionally beautiful, mystical, eerie and ancient, complete with motionless men standing guard at each and every castle entrance. Kate even remarked how she now has a completely new respect and fascination for history and historical places, after having assumed she'd find them boring. I was equally impressed.
Oddly enough we enjoyed dinner at a Spanish tapas bar on the edge of Old City, then took the subway back to the hostel. The walk from the last station is maybe 10 minutes, but it took us 30. We stumbled upon an outdoor ice rink (which interestingly was ice on top of an outdoor track facility, pretty clever). People were playing "bandy", which is like broomball on ice skates. Half the rink was open, and since we didn't have skates, we just walked onto the ice and acted like idiots.