Saturday, July 26, 2014

Impressions of Sweden: Museums, Part 1

There are A LOT of museums in Stockholm.

During our time there, we managed to visit several of them.

Our trip to Sweden had three parts to it. Not including travel days, we spent two days in Stockholm, two days in Växjö, and then about two-and-a-half more days in Stockholm.

The first stay in Stockholm, we were kind of getting a sense of the city and how to navigate around in it. Stockholm has an excellent, well-integrated public transit system of trains, subways, trams, and buses. In Stockholm, the center of this activity is the Central Station. We bought an Access card to use on the subway, or T-bana (short for Tunnelbana).

The first museum we visited was the Vasa Museum, devoted to everything archeologists had learned from the excavation of this ship called the Vasa that had sunk on its maiden voyage ion 1628, after sailing only 1300 meters. Its location at the bottom of Stockholm harbor was unknown for about 300 years. In 1956, it was rediscovered and salvage efforts began. A major reason it was so well preserved is because there are no shipworms in the brackish water where it sank.

There were two things I noticed about the Vasa Museum, two features it had in common with other museums we visited: (1) the Swedes like their skeletons, and (2) Swedish museums are thorough and inclusive. In the course of excavating the Vasa, the remains of many of the people who died when the ship sank were recovered, and several of these skeletons were duly exhibited with what information could be gleaned about their lives and places in society.

It was hard to take pictures inside the museum, because it was so dark. I'm not sure what their policy on flash photography was — it seems like I did see some flash, mostly from smartphones — but I tried not to use flash on my camera. I did manage to get a couple of decent pictures, though.

In addition to all the interesting stuff to be seen inside, the building itself is really cool, and very distinctive, as you can see in this picture from Wikipedia.

Our second day in Stockholm, we visited the History Museum and toured Parliament.

Like the Vasa Museum, the History Museum also had a fair number of skeletons on display, with explanatory text, and also included *a lot* of things to look at in their exhibits. Their main exhibit during our visit was about the Vikings. What I found most interesting was how the exhibit examined how the popular concept of "the Viking" has changed, depending on the cultural and political climate of the time.

(A side note: pretty much all the museums included English translations of the exhibit text.)

The tour of the Riksdag (Parliament building) was interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, we had toured the provincial Parliament building in Victoria, B.C., a few years ago, and also, we had recently finished watching all three seasons of a Danish show called "Borgen," that revolved around Danish politics, sort of like a Danish version of "The West Wing."

(You can take a virtual tour here.)

Sweden used to have a bicameral legislature, but in 1971 changed it to a unicameral body. The tour guide (a young woman who spoke very good English) described the various political parties, discussed proportional representation, and outlined the process by which bills get passed.

Tim asked her if the Swedish king was allowed to come to Parliament whenever he wanted. When we were in Victoria, they made a big thing about how the English king isn't allowed to visit Parliament without an invitation, because of the shenanigans of Charles I which resulted in the English Civil War.

Also of particular note was where she told us about how the chamber for the unicameral body was built over the Bank Hall and how the structural beams were left exposed to illustrate how the new was build on top of the old.

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