To start with things went well, too well in fact, she was nice, calm and understanding, I thought, this couldn't last, but it did. I ventured to her that I did not want to discuss the previous evening until I was in a position to understand the true gravity of my situation, so we made our way to Heathrow in some silence. Expecting the worst, after all it was Heathrow and the last bank holiday weekend of the year, we allowed 3 hours before the flight to check in. The expected delays did not appear and we were courteously told by the check-in clerk, after queuing in the 'fast bag drop' queue for 30 minutes (how fast is it? not very!) that they could not help as we were too early!
By 4pm we were checked in and through to the departure lounge and I was starting to show the first signs of life that day. After eating something I felt the pressing need to know if I really was required to feel as ashamed as I was possibly feeling, so I enquired about my conduct on the previous evening.......
Apparently, the fifth horse person of the apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence, Death... and Tash) sitting opposite me, took no umbrage to my previous actions simply citing her wedding day evening as an example of a worse occasion (go on, you ask her to tell you what we ended up doing on our wedding night!) and then I enquired as to why I saw her scrubbing the cushions that morning. I will never again be so relieved, and to be honest I hope that I never have to be, to hear the phrase 'somehow you had managed to be sick on it (the cushion)' - She laughed when I explained my reasoning, citing the wet underwear. I sweat a lot, particularly when I have been drinking, so this, in reflection seemed the likely cause - some might say though that the 8 hours that I spent fearing the worse should be viewed as a form of punishment for my indulgences, on this occasion I would agree.
Stockholm in summer, days like this are rare apparently, and yes the fence is there to keep her away from the shops
The flight out to Stockholm was uneventful, converting ourselves to the currency was a little more challenging; divide by 100 and times by three, or guess. Finding the hotel even more so, I thought that we were going to be in the red light district for a moment there. This was a budget trip and so we were consciously not 'lording it up' and Tash had chosen a more basic hotel, we started to suspect this basic-ness as I had to carry both bags up 4 flights of stairs as there was no lift. Then on entering the room we spotted that it had twin beds, a first for us, but as I commented, we are getting older, it had to happen some time.
The purpose of the trip was to make way for the plumber/handy man to come into the flat and fix the bathroom, this guy, never one to leave a good job completed, hadn't done things right last Christmas when he came in to sort out the plumbing and so at Tash's insistence was back again, hence the trip away as we only have one bathroom. Tash's American/Academic/Italophile/Europhile/travelling minstrel friend Ben, is currently living just outside Stockholm with his Swedish partner, Johanna. Having been inadvertently part of their courtship (London being a convenient stopover between New York and Sweden, thus allowing Ben to probably great her with the line 'Oh I was in the neighbourhood and thought that I would just pop over to see you' - rather then 'Hello I have just flown over from America non-stop, lets have a snog shall we'), but having never met Johanna and now Felix, their son, we thought it about time, especially as they are all off to Bolivia for a couple of years, probably about the time you are reading this.
They were in the middle of packing their entire lives up, Felix was doing the sort of thing that you would expect from a one year old, namely suffering from his first fever and scaring both his parents, so it is right to suggest that this was not the best time for us to appear. Both of them were graceful in their hospitality, despite the stress caused by the little guy and we spent the first part of the evening around their dinner table. This was the last we were to see of Johanna and Felix as for the rest of our stay as he veered between normal and moderate fever, however we managed a meal together, Tash and I sampling our first Indonesian take-away anywhere in the world, but this being Sweden, we were also treated to the sight of Ben attempting to break one of Sweden's anti alcohol laws (for they have many) by attempting to secure some off premises lager for us all to consume back at the house. This, the small oriental lady by the cash machine informed him, was not going to be happening.
The evening got more colourful as the three of us slipped out for a beer. Alcohol sales are government controlled in Sweden and you cannot buy alcohol over the weekend from shops (because they are government run and are invariably closed), the only option is to go to a bar. Ben and Johanna live in Uppsala, 60 minutes outside of Stockholm, it is the academic heart of the nation housing the oldest and most prestigious university in the country, so it was an odd experience to find ourselves stuck with only two real drinking options, the first a jazz bar that on this Saturday night had a Bluegrass band playing and the second which we frequented afterwards was..... a ..... well ..... Rock bar! When I had hair, it was long and I am no stranger to the Power cord or guitar solo, but can't help but feel that a rock bar is just another theme pub, ours, just to make it more odd, was called Fellini's - an odd choice of name Ben and I both commented. Still I knew several of the songs that caused my ears to bleed during my stay so I thought that at least showed some credibility on my part. I pointed out to Ben that he perhaps should not have chosen to wear his 'history professor beige corduroy jacket' out that night, even though he is in fact a history professor.
On Sunday we spent the day again with Ben, in keeping with our other occasions with him it was a cultured affair taking in the cathedral (the seat of religion in Sweden) and other vastly important landmarks, the trip culminated just up from the University on the city's hillside at the 'was once a then defensive castle, now is painted pink and looking rather like it has been converted in to executive apartments' Castle, it seems to stand as a monument to both the country's liberal attitude and Viking machismo - it's a pink castle and we don't care.
Ben was particularly impressed by a visiting German family who's two sons risked (in the words of feature film trailers these days) 'mild peril' to stand one on the other's shoulders to ring Uppsala's small but very important, only rung twice a day (for hundreds of years probably), ceremonial bell, a third time, 'Dicks' he uttered, head in hand.
On Monday we hung out again in the same hotel with the twin beds in Stockholm, though this time they decided to give us the best room in the house, with a personal sauna and lounge. Unfortunately this best room was situated on the corner of the 1st floor over looking both the park and the street, so what we gained in space and features we lost in privacy, particularly in our keenness to use the sauna, it was great, afterwards not so good on the knees as we had to crawl around the room closing all the curtains.
We also found time to go to see the Vasa warship ,very much in the manner of the famous Mary Rose that was recovered from the English channel in the 1980's, this is an interesting concept and a good example of selling only the positive aspects of an item. I'll explain; as you can see from the pictures it is quiet a thing, unlike the Mary Rose it looks to be completely intact, recovered, so we were told, from the silt bed of Stockholm harbour, that being the first clue.
The much revered King Gustav II only seems to have made one mistake in an otherwise perfect King-ship, he designed this - the first to be built in Sweden, a floating double decker cannon factory and 15th Century equivalent of buying a Ferrari, on the back of a cigarette packet; it sunk in Stockholm harbour on it's maiden voyage, my guess is that they launched it, it listed, then sunk like a stone. This is not the desired action for any boat.
The museum understandably ignores the small but ultimately important fact that we are looking at a dud. The exhibition shows us what life may have been like on board in the unlikely event that this floating stone had made it out of the harbour. The tours take time to point out that if the ship had been built a mere 1 metre, 50cm on either side wider, (they are very precise, just in case you forgot that it failed to meet it's singually most important task), that it would have not become a submarine. In a world where convention states that museums glorify the memory of the victor, this made a refreshing change.