Last day after two weeks of intense travel and sight seeing. Now awaits the journals and the research papers on a variety of topics. Tomorrow morning we say goodbye to our hostel-ship af Chapman and Stockholm as we take the Arlanda Express to the airport and catch our various flights back to the US and elsewhere. I am fairly certain that these students have never before experienced such an intense program of museums and guided tours exposing them first-hand to many dimensions of past and contemporary culture. It is up to them to make something of it.
The VASA Ship Museum is Sweden’s #1 tourist attraction. The ship in indeed a marvel: full size, 98% original. With two canon decks for 72 canons it would have been the most fearsome weapon on the planet in 1628 when it on the 10th of August left its Old Town Stockholm dock for its first sail downstream towards the Baltic. It was to join the war theater by Poland fulfilling the king of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus’ ambitions of world dominance. Except, fortunately for the Poles and for the state account balances of contemporary Sweden, it went down with mice and men and their families on board celebrating the impending reich, as a gentle breeze on the hot summer day caught the sails and exposed its bad design. Too narrow, too tall, too many canons. It leaned 7%, enough to let the water enter through the open canon ports not yet closed following the imperial 64 canon-salute to the hurras of everybody on shore (a tight budget had left them 8 canons short).
1st stop Friday morning was Stockholm City Hall. Maria took us through the elaborate preparations for the Nobel banquet, the Hall’s finest annual event. The great entrance hall is where all 1500 guests are seated and each is carefully allotted 50 cm (19.68″), otherwise they will not all fit. The prize-recipients and the Swedish royal family get 55 cm (21.65″). The royal family must loathe this evening. Yes, Nobel-prize winners and all but still, there must be limits to equality. Just so you know: if you are awarded a Nobel prize you get 14 tickets to invite friends and family; dancing is in the upstairs ballroom; save some energy for the royal dinner at the palace the following evening. Some tickets are available in a raffle ($300 for a raffle ticket; might be something for the Honors College to consider…)
The train rides and the ferry ride are part of the journey. Integral to the course experience. A completely different concept of travel than taking an airplane or driving a car. In a train you can close your eyes, read a book, have a conversation, go to the bistro car. On the ferry you can feel the elements on your face as you ponder the purpose of an ocean. You do not go through the hectic security of air travel, humiliating as you know you are innocent but still is subjected to the impersonal scan by machine and unknowns whose metier is suspicion, without shoes, belts or anything in your pockets. Then the humiliating wait to board the plane most likely overbooked as regular threats of being forced to abandon your carry-on free of charge resonate through crackling speakers. Then the boarding circus. Then the hours in the tube’s constant barrage of static noise. Toddlers screaming, parents negotiating with the confused child, passengers coughing up the air you will soon breathe in.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We started out the day with the latter at the National Museum of Denmark, no less. I don’t mind ripping them this evening writing this blog because it is fundamentally such a lack of professionalism. We are a group of Americans coming for a booked, guided tour of the Viking section but the day before, en route, I receive an email that the museum “hasn’t been able to find someone who can do that,” so, instead, we are offered an exciting guided tour in English called “Survival!” taking us through pre-history, from the earliest Stone Age through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age all under the guiding light of the amazing human ability to survive. Amazing, indeed.
Continuing the royal theme from yesterday, today took us to Roskilde Cathedral, the burial sight of a good 40 Danish kings and queens (most are authenticated, some are said to be buried there although no evidence has been found in floors, walls, or in sarcophagi). It has been a scorching hot day. Plenty of water around the Danish isles, so, muggy to boot. A hostel room facing south is like a sauna in the afternoon. Not a wind moves and there are a few things Danes have never heard about: decaf coffee or tea, potable water fountains, and air conditioning. Denmark normally is highly air-conditioned but on a day like this…
Copenhagen harbor was busy this morning, so, we arrived 15 minutes late, at 10 a.m. The DFDS ferry-cruise from Oslo to Copenhagen with PEARL SEAWAYS is a classic in Scandinavia. The weather was brilliant, the vessel sturdy, you’d not know you were sailing if you didn’t glance out the sea-view of your cabin or stayed away from the top deck seating with the wind ripping in your sails and the sun baking you into a crispy Danish. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, like a sparkling pilsner on a day like this: the flags whip, the gulls screech their melancholy songs hoping someone will throw a hotdog overboard.
So, there we were, 10 to 9, first in line. Still a busy city hall (a constant flow of weddings going on this Saturday morning) Oslo City Hall only offered “15-minute-guided-tours,” that is, the guide stationary in the great hall pointing right and left explaining for 15 minutes and then out we go. Now, it was a very good 15 minutes by a professional guide of Oslo City Hall but so sad to have to miss all the great rooms above. We didn’t go out, though. We found out that we might get a real guided tour in English later that afternoon but that didn’t suit our plans for the day. Then, sink me!, chatting with the guide in Danish, he in Norwegian, I told him I have done these tours before with students, he suddenly said: “Well, why don’t you just take your students there yourself and go through the rooms?” I was floored. They let me go though the halls and the city parliament of Oslo City Hall with 18 students, unobserved, uncontrolled, Norway’s culturally holiest of holy (next to the Viking ships at Bygdøy), the pride of the nation, its magnificent fresco paintings detailing Norwegian nature and history (see link above) and not least the young nation’s heroics during WWII, the City Hall opened in 1950 heralding new and better times!!?! I couldn’t believe it. Well, it was the kind of thing we didn’t need to hear twice and up we went before someone superior would decide it was a mistake. I did my best from memory interpreting the rooms emphasizing the historical and cultural importance of this magnificent city hall. The Munch Room was closed to the public as happy couples were exchanging their vows in front of his “Life.” We spent 50 minutes from one hall to the next talking WWII, immigration, and Scandinavian welfare states in the heart of themselves. What a morning!
Being ready to improvise is always a good idea. Unannounced Oslo City Hall was closed for the day due to an official event – it is after all a fully functioning city hall – so, we’ll be back at 9 a.m. tomorrow Saturday. For an impression of Norwegian history and national pride, in particular following WWII, Oslo City Hall is second to none.