History of democracy in eight windows

I wonder what the odds are of going into a restaurant on Gamla Stan and, on talking to the owner, discovering that he not only knows Farnham well but grew up in Haslemere and Alton? Of finding out that he knows Chawton very well and went rabbit shooting with his father at Hankley when he was but a lad? Because that’s what happened to us today.

The girls having finished their seasons, we asked if The Perfect Swedish Family could take them today, so we could head into Stockholm. Sara and Tommy were more than happy to take them, so we planned to spend the day on Gamla Stan.

I’d been looking for a tapas restaurant where we could possibly have linner but then discovered the amazing Hairy Pig. We decided this was the place for us. But that was a long way off.

We set off on the first of our four buses today, changing from the 840 to the 801 at Hellasgården, which then dropped us at Slussen. Naturally, feeling like a local, Mirinda complained about the state of Slussen as we headed for the bridge that led to the much more preferable old town.

Of course, our first stop was a wonderful café where the pistachio cannolis were amazing. Obviously I had to have one. They didn’t serve Swedish buns but had quite a few cannoli. And I’m a sucker for cannoli.

The café was excellent but had a rather odd toilet arrangement. The woman behind the counter seemed to control the door of the toilet with some sort of remote locking device. This meant that anyone wanting to use the loo had to ask her to unlock it first. This was awkward enough but was made much more so by her frequent disappearances.

This meant that people were visiting the toilet then holding the door open for their companions. I watched the toilet door ballet from my seat and made sure I was ready at the door when my turn came around.

Another odd thing about the café was that everyone was speaking English. All with different accents but English just the same. We assumed it was because the café was the first place we found when entering Gamla Stan from Slussen so figured we were surrounded by tourists who had done the same thing.

The square just outside the café was where we saw the greatest concentration of masks. Outside. I guess the virus prefers the outside because people were taking them off when they went inside. Well, apart from the big guy who I almost ran into coming out of the toilet. He stood there in a big black mask holding onto the door. I thought he was going to rob me but, in fact, he just thought I was diseased.

When he returned to his seat, he took the mask off because the virus doesn’t attack people sitting down.

Refreshed and fortified, we headed into Gamla Stan, along the high street, lined either side with non-tacky souvenir shops, pizzerias and the most amazing science fiction/fantasy bookshop on the planet.

Alex told us later that there’s another branch in Gothenburg and a third in Malmö. She and Tommy raved about it, and rightly so. Fortunately, I was wearing my Walking Dead t-shirt today so was instantly accepted into the shopping community. Their website is here.

We also popped into a wonderful little shop full of carvings and small figurines which captured Mirinda’s attention. The shop also sold tea towels with patterns based on the wallpaper of a Swedish UNESCO site.

Something else that captured Mirinda’s attention was an antiques shop which had quite a few miniatures for her to inspect, dissect and enquire about before buying one. She told me the story of the miniature selection later and how the one she instantly felt attracted to was the most expensive but the one she bought, because it had a more attractive history was among the cheapest. This is quite a rare occurence.

Finally, we entered Stockholm cathedral or Storkyrkan, one of the oldest buildings in the city and one of the few things open at the moment.

The cathedral is an amazing place. Big, bright, open and not oppressive at all unlike so many others we’ve visited. The altar, for a start, rather than being garishly golden is in silver and ebony and a joy to stand before. In fact, the whole place felt warm and welcoming. Even the vicar/priest/minister (I don’t know what they’re called in the Church of Sweden) smiled and said hej, hej when I walked by, ignoring the big sign that demanded SILENCE.

The cathedral (it was just a church before 1942) was, it is thought, ordered by the founder of Stockholm, Birger Jarl. It was built on the highest point of what was then called Stadsholmen. The first written mention of it dates from 1279 and the oldest bricks still extant are from around 1300. The exterior of the church was rebuilt in the 18th century to match the pure ugliness of the Baroque palace next door. Not that you can see a lot of the exterior because it’s covered in scaffold at the moment.

The interior, however, is far from ugly. It is filled with beauty and warmth.

Apart from the amazing statue of St George and the Dragon, the ridiculously ornate royal pews and the somewhat OTT grave of Jesper Mattson Cruus of Edeby and his family, there was also the delightful story of Lasse Skytte.

His effigy has no nose. His wife, lying next to him does have a nose. The story goes something like this:

He started off taking over a mayorship from his father (I’m amazed that you were able to inherit civil appointments in the 16th century) before coming to Stockholm and becoming a lawyer then helping the king with some policy documents. For this he was knighted and became extremely wealthy and influential.

Fast forward to his death and the reading of his will.

Lasse was a generous philanthropist when it came to the poor of Stockholm. He left everything to them, leaving his rather disappointed relatives, bugger all. They tried to have the will overturned but old Lasse hadn’t been knighted for nothing; he was one hell of a lawyer. The will was ironclad and unbreakable.

The final retaliation was for the annoyed family members to take the nose off his effigy. The reason for this rather odd act was because they believed that the soul left the body through the nose, and they felt that this symbolic act would keep his soul on earth rather than in heaven. I guess it’s a good job the soul doesn’t leave the body through the anus. Not that Lasse would smell anything.

The cathedral was amazing, and I’m not just saying that because it was the only open site. To be fair, it would be difficult to compare things. Mind you, the display of the history of Swedish democracy in the windows of the Riksdag was pretty amazing. Reading it in the drizzly rain wasn’t as much fun as it could have been but, still, it was all most informative.

Having wandered around a lot, we decided to head down to The Hairy Pig and our chance meeting with Joseph, the man who shared our English roots. And what a brilliant chance meeting it was. The Hairy Pig is a fantastic restaurant. Unless you’re a vegan. There’s no way a vegan would enjoy the place.

Having told us he didn’t speak Swedish and introducing us to the boars he’d killed (their heads are on the walls, looking at each other) he delivered us the best meal we’ve had in Sweden so far. As one would expect, there was plenty of wild pig, venison and that sort of thing. There was also white chocolate soup for dessert which, Joseph told us, women almost always ordered. Mirinda was no exception to this. She said it was lush. I can’t say because she refused to give me any.

On leaving, Joseph gave us his phone number and the last bag of wild boar chipolatas from the freezer. We will definitely be returning to The Hairy Pig.

Full of pig and gripping our sausages, we wandered slowly back to Slussen and our two buses home.

The girls had had a great time with The Perfect Swedish Family which included going for three walks. Is it any wonder their tails start vigorously wagging whenever we pull up outside the house.

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