Let’s make it a good one

Here we are at New Year’s Eve again. The year’s gone by so quickly and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was trying to stay cool last New Year’s Eve Down Under. Time flies doesn’t it? And speaking of fun, I’ve managed quite a bit of it over the last 12 months.

After returning from my bi-annual pilgrimage to Melbourne (and a fab top-up visit from Lil Chicky) in January, travelling-for-work was much less frequent this year but I managed to find some cash and conquer some new frontiers. Ten days in Seattle with Seattle-A heralded my first trip to Canada, I spent four fabulous days in Stockholm at the start of August and then jetted off for a week of sun, sand and a whole swag of reading in Mauritius in November.

Speaking of reading, I smashed my book-a-week target by 25% (I read 65) and 8 of them got a Gidday 5-star rating (that’s 12.5%). I discovered Henning Mankell recently and will be reading more of his Kurt Wallander series next year. And while it doesn’t count in 2015’s quota, I am in the middle of my first Philip Kerr – March Violets with protagonist PI Bernard Gunther – and if things continue as they are, the new year looks set to start with another big fat 5 star rating. Awesome.

There have been many theatre outings over the year, Death of a Salesman being one that I studied at high school yet hadn’t seen and the most recent being Hangmen which featured a cracking ‘noir’ plot and really great characterisation. I’ve also been back to Sadlers Wells to be swept away by the Rambert Dance Company and transported to Spain at the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

I’ve upped my Live Screening ante enjoying some new (well new to me) Shakespeare – Love’s Labors Lost, Othello and The Winters Tale – and several operas including my first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. Live Screening also delivered a theatre highlight – Man and Superman – and a new crush, Ralph Fiennes. When seeing his face alight with joy in taking the final bows, well I may have had a little weak-at-the-knees moment…okay maybe not so little.

I’m finishing the year with a two week staycation. Christmas was spent with friends in SE London and aside from an outing to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral with another friend yesterday, I have just enjoyed being at home. I’ve still got five days off before I go back to work so plenty of time of time to complete my Christmas jigsaw puzzle, finish March Violets and catch up with friends for a little Star Wars, drinks and dinner.

It’s almost midnight here, Bryan Adams is rockin’ it out on the telly and before long, the crackle of fireworks will be heard overhead as those locally organised start the new year with a bang. All that remains is for me to wish you the very best for 2016…

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Let’s make it a good one.

4 days in Stockholm: Changing the world

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This is the Nobel Museum, housed in the old Stock Exchange building right in the shadow of Storkyrkan‘s baroque steeple. It is right in the heart of Gamla Stan, looking out over the cobbles of Stortorget just a short walk up the dappled lanes from Vasterlangaarten. In the bright morning light of my last day in Stockholm, it stood still in the quiet of the square, understated with hardly a hint of the inspiration within.

I entered the cool dark hall, the gentle flow of past laureates above my head and glowing pillars forming a gentle arc around the atrium to honour this year’s winners. Come November they will join the parade of banners overhead to be replaced with a new batch of those deemed to have made the most significant difference over the last twelve months.

The original ideas man

Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden in 1833 and had a well-travelled life. He spoke four languages even as a child and throughout his adult life, spent his time most notably in St Petersberg, Stockholm and Paris. He was a descendant of Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck and it would appear that invention flowed down the bloodline with Nobel’s father, Immanuel being the inventor of modern plywood and an alumunus of the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology. Alfred himself had a mind that constantly sought solutions and he had 350 international patents awarded in his lifetime, the most famous of these inventions being dynamite (1867), gelignite (1875) and the predecessor to cordite, ballistite (1887).

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His legacy is twofold. He built an international business empire with interests as far-reaching as Australia, Japan and North and South America as well as closer to home in Europe and Russia and it lives on in numerous companies world-wide. (Heard of chemicals giant Akzo Nobel?) Needless to say, Alfred Nobel left a considerable estate upon his death in 1896.

The Nobel Prize was defined and instructed through Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament. His vast fortune was to be held in secure investments and used to fund five prizes each year celebrating…

“…those who, through the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit upon mankind.”

The five prizes, in areas that held the most fascination and interest for Nobel, were to be awarded by the institutions he held in the greatest esteem. The Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were to be conferred by The Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Storting.

However these organisations were unaware of Nobel’s final wishes and it took the creation of the Nobel Foundation and a further five years before the first prize was awarded in 1901. In 1969, a sixth prize was awarded – the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel – but while conferred by the Swedish Academy of Sciences at the same ceremony as the other prizes, it is funded by Sweden’s central bank and is not deemed a Nobel prize.

Nobel endeavours

I wandered from room to room, watching interviews and footage of just a small number of prize winners. Between 1901 and 2014, 567 prizes have been awarded to 889 laureates who, in leaving their particular legacy, have allowed mankind to continue to fashion its future. The soft click overhead heralds the breathy release of a prize winner’s banner on the cableway –  each glides noiselessly around the ceiling of the exhibition hall before joining the others again. It’s an ingenious way to make sure that every laureate can be honoured here yet with plenty of space for those still to come. A video installation, shrouded in diaphanous white folds, explores the future with 19 laureates – what is their hope? – and the importance of passing something on.

Exploring ideas has laid foundation after foundation for the discoveries of today and underpins our society’s progress and it is an awesome thing – that one man’s passion for ideas and his belief in human creativity more than one hundred years ago lives on in celebrating those who exemplify his credo in their work, their commitment and in the people who inspire them. My two and a half hours here left me feeling humbled and moved by people’s extraordinary-ness and I emerged from the cool semi-lit hall into the afternoon sun quiet and contemplative.

I sat in an outdoor cafe, reading the small booklet about Alfred Nobel that I’d purchased on my way out and as I finished and moved to close the back cover, I noticed the words that lay below the image of that legendary golden medal:

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The Nobel Museum – ideas changing the world

Long may it continue, I thought.

Long may it continue.

4 days in Stockholm: Photo tour

My recent city break to Stockholm has resulted in plenty of amazing photos. It is always a difficult thing, choosing the best to share without me clogging up your respective internet pipes. Many pictures evoke quite vivid memories of the moment itself which, while having special significance to me, may be lost on those who have not been.

So in creating this photo tour, my hope is for you to enjoy some breathtaking views of this beautiful city.

If it inspires anything more, that’ll be a bonus.

Symbols

Left: On the way to Djurgarden  Right: Crossing the bridge from BlasieHolmen to Skeppsholmen

Royal palaces

Top: Kungliga Slottet (The Royal Palace) in Gamla Stan Bottom: Palace of Drottningholm on Lake Malaren

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Left: Stadshuset (City Hall), Kungsholmen  Right: Riksdagshuset (Parliament Building), Gamla Stan

Bikes

Top: From Kastellholmen  Bottom: Waterfront between Blasieholmen and Djurgarden

Boats

Left: Old boat moorings, Skeppsholmen   Right: Skeppsholmen Church and moored freighter, af Chapman – built in 1888 and serving as a youth hostel since 1949

Rooftops

Top: View of Stokyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) from the rooftop deck at the Lord Nelson Hotel, Gamla Stan   Bottom: Adolf Fredik Kyrka, Norrmalm

Streets

Left: Hilly streets in Sodermalm   Right: Dappled lanes in Gamla Stan

Colour

Left: View of Riksbron from Norrbro   Right: Jacobs Kyrka, consecrated in 1643, Norrmalm

View from Sodermalm

View of Gamla Stan from Monteliusvagen, Sodermalm

4 days in Stockholm: Celebrating me

Earlier this month, I spent 4 days welcoming a new city to the Gidday repertoire, Stockholm. It was also my birthday so you could say that my Stockholm city break was essentially a big fat Happy Birthday to me.  And after my arrival and check-in in the heart of Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) and some wandering and a canal cruise to get my bearings the afternoon prior, said birthday dawned bright and sunny and the delights of Djurgarden were beckoning.

After an invigorating 40 minute stroll from Gamla Stan along the water’s edge, my first official stop was the Vasa Museum. Everyone I mentioned my upcoming trip to recommended this and so at 10am on a Saturday, I joined the unexpectedly short queue and walked into the museum to see this…

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Yes, it’s so big I could not fit it all into the camera frame. I had another go later with my phone…

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The good ship Vasa is a warship that was built in the 1600s. It was the largest ship ever built at the time, able to carry 64 cannons (over 2 decks) and 450 people, and was commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf to bolster his aggressive campaign to bring the Baltic region to Sweden’s heel. If this was not through force then the sheer awe/terror inspired by the Vasa’s size and splendor was intended to intimidate his enemies into submission. The ship set sail from Stockholm Harbour on 10th August 1628…and capsized just off the southern tip of Djurgarden, a voyage of about 1300m.

Just to put this into perspective, I swim further than that – 1600m – each ‘dip‘.

Our animated guide Stefano explained it all very clearly. While the ship had been built to be taller (and more intimidating) than any before, its width had remained the same and when combined with 2 levels of open and fully loaded gun ports, all it took was a ‘puff’ of wind to send it toppling over. This is the view of the stern looking up from the water line – yes the water line, not from the bottom of the ship – I couldn’t fit all of that in.

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So Sweden’s most glorious and expensive PR campaign of the age sat at the bottom of Stockholm Harbour for more than 330 years before its rediscovery (in 1956), salvage and conservation. The museum was opened in 1990, less than a nautical mile from the site of the disaster.

This museum is definitely one of my Stockholm highlights. There’s loads to see and do from the numerous viewing platform levels around the reconstructed Vasa itself (98% original), videos of the salvage and conservation as well as free guided tours and visits to the recreated gun deck and showcases of items retrieved during the salvage operation. It was also my first decent wi-fi access since my arrival so whilst watching the salvage film in the auditorium, my phone was inundated with a veritable deluge of lovely birthday wishes (and thanks to those of you who sent them).

After 2 and a half hours, I emerged into the warm sunshine to meander a little further along Djurgarden’s main drag in search of sustenance (including some pretty delicious Swedish apple cake)…

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…and a blast from my past: Benny, BjornFrida and Agnetha – ABBA!

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You could make The ABBA Museum quite an interactive experience if you like that sort of thing. You can record yourself belting out an ABBA tune in the sound booth or make your own music video. You can even sit in the ABBA Arrival helicopter  or perform on the ABBA stage alongside Benny, Frida, Bjorn and Agnetha.

For the record, this wasn’t what what I was up for. Instead I spent a couple of nostalgic hours here, listening to the myriad of interviews with the band themselves and to all of the songs I sang along to as a child (as well as the questionable-sounding results of a couple of young fans in the non-sound-proof sound booth). It was great fun and really fantastic to see the important part that ABBA’s Australian record label, RCA, played in building their fan base and huge success Down Under.

With a few more hours of daylight still ahead of me, I decided to venture a little further along the road to visit Skansen.

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Skansen is in open-air museum and zoo that has been in operation since 1891. It combines history – 150 buildings from different eras from all over Sweden have been re-assembled here…

Skansen Buildings montage

…with fantastic views…

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…and an opportunity to play ‘Spot the [insert relevant animal]’…

Skansen animal montage

After a few hours of wandering around Skansen’s 75 acres and a celebratory ice- cream (after all, it was my birthday) it was time to head back to the hotel and put my feet up for an hour or two before heading out again for dinner.

Bistro Pastis, a tiny French affair, is tucked away on a cobbled street running down from Stortorget in Gamla Stan and in spite of it being a busy Saturday night, I managed to nab a table outside. The food was absolutely delicious – a warm beetroot and goats cheese salad followed by a fillet of shark (my first) in a champagne sauce – and all washed down with a divine glass of bordeaux. And as the Swedish twilight stretched well into the evening, spending a relaxed dinner enjoying both the view and the gentle flirting from my lovely waiter was the perfect way to end a day designed to mark the beginning of yet another year.

Happy birthday to me and may the year ahead be filled with many more moments like this!

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Entry fees (in case you are interested!)

Vasa Museum – 130 SEK

ABBA Museum – 255 SEK

Skansen – 170 SEK

And 2 courses, wine and coffee at Bistro Pastis came to 389 SEK. This was after the 25% discount my waiter offered because ‘he was so busy and I had to keep waiting’ (And he didn’t even know it was my birthday!) This girl’s still got it….