Friday, 22 June 2012

Stockholm, Sweden

The Captain of our ship told us that we if got up early around 6 am we could experience sailing into Stockholm. From the open sea it took us 2 hours at a speed of 16 knots to reach the port of the City.
All along the way I thought it all looked a lot like the Muskokas in Ontario. Rocky islands, pine trees, inlets here and there, very scenic.  There are hundreds of islands as you make your way to the city port.

The one problem we encountered here was the ATM machines at various banks, they do not appear to work with the CIRRUS system, we checked with the banks and our bank but there was no problem with our cards. We did notice that in general people do not appear to use much cash here, debit and credit cards are use for all purchases small and large. So in the end it worked out fine. Funny thing, you get a receipt for everything in Sweden, it does not matter what you purchase, even for the smallest items.
dining room aboard the little steam ship where we had lunch on our way to Drottningholm
steamship MS Carl Philip built in 1901.

I also did not find Stockholm all that expensive, many items are the same price as Ottawa. We bought a bouquet of flowers and for the quantity and quality of the flowers it was somewhat cheaper than Ottawa. Coffee, sandwiches, desserts, all the same price. Taxi rides about the same for the distance, no surprises there. Hotels are definitely more expensive by about 50% but again we are here at the height of a major 4 day holiday and all hotels are booked solid in town. Lunch and dinner in restaurants about the same as Ottawa. So all in all, I cannot say it is more expensive, it may just appear that way. I checked hotel room prices for off season and it runs around 140$ CDN for a couple with breakfast, compared to Canada its very good value.  Our hotel Kung Carl is very central in a fashionable sector of Stockholm, we walked everywhere. The Hotel breakfast was generous and good, the coffee was excellent. 
City Hall of Stockholm with the monument to the founder of the City Birger Jarl.

We did walk a lot and Stockholm is a city for walkers and bikers, excellent public transport, very clean civilized city. Almost everyone speaks English, you are not expected to speak Swedish. I also heard German and French. The people we encountered are pleasant, lots of smiles and easy going. But this was also true in Finland, Denmark and Holland.
You can also take boats to all the islands forming the city, there are about 20 in all. You have the Hop on and Hop off bus and also the boat. There are lots of old steamers which offer a nice ride into lake Maleren with a beautiful lunch on board, linen, porcelain and all.
The Summer Palace of the Royal Family of Sweden at Drottningholm.

 The Court theatre of 1764 on the Palace grounds.

We took one steamer to go to Drottningholm Palace about one hour away from the city centre, it was a beautiful ride up the lake and we had a very good lunch on board. Will finally got to see the famous Court Theatre built in 1764 it remains the only authentic 18th century theatre in Europe with all the original machinery, never modernized. What happened was that in 1809 the theatre was closed after the assassination of King Gustav III and then forgotten, since it was on the grounds of a Royal Palace no one had access and like sleeping beauty it just slept. In 1926 by accident someone came to visit the little theatre while doing research work on a famous painting which was supposedly hanging in the theatre. It was at this moment that this researcher found all the machinery and scenery, decor stored away as it was in 1809, preserved in time. It is truly a gem, visiting this theatre is stepping back in time, everything is exactly as it was. It is a marvel to look at, you cannot believe your eyes. All the original wallpaper is hanging on the walls still, hand painted and as was then the fashion nailed to the walls. The original furniture, even musical instruments are there. The masterpiece is the machinery to operate the changes in decor which still works perfectly today and the painted scenery which can be changed in a matter of seconds thanks to the machines all operated by hand. You need 46 persons to make it all work. Our guide told us that the workers lived, slept and ate in the theatre with their wifes and kids, everyone was housed in a communal fashion. The kids often worked as stage hands, and the King provided lunch as part of your salary. The great stars lived on stage, not only they performed on stage but also slept and had their change rooms etc all on stage. Not much privacy but again it was a different time and concepts such as privacy and space were not what they are today. Beds were folded and a privacy screen was your wall to separate you from others.

The auditorium is small and nothing is as it appears. The walls are wood covered with plaster and painted to look like marble, the boxes are made of papier mache. There are two boxes for single men who are at the front of the auditorium so they could be seen by the audience and maybe find a party. Two royal boxes in the middle and two privacy box for people who wanted to attend a show but not be seen. The lighting is all candle with a metal reflector to amplify the light. The public sat on plain wood benches and tables were provided so that you could have something to eat and drink during performances. Going to the theatre back then was part socializing and part looking at the show. Ladies used their fans to send signals to the available men or to flirt and it was not unheard of that maybe they would have a meeting in a dark corner or in a box.

If the King attended, he and his wife were provided with special chairs to indicate rank. The theatre is still used today in the summer, capacity is about 134 persons. The acoustics are great and modern artists have to moderate their voices otherwise they will sound to loud. This summer they are presenting Handel's, Orlando and Cavalli's, Jason and Medea.

The great thing about this visit was the Will got to see the theatre and operate the wind machine backstage, a privilege really granted by our guide who was impressed that he had waited 60 years to see the Court Theatre. Will was so happy, it made his day and I was happy for him that finally he had realized this dream and I could be with him on that day.

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