Upon arriving in Sweden, I grab my backpack and make my way to the airport shuttle. Built in 1999, the Arlanda Express transports passengers from Sweden’s rural cow country to the bustling city center of Stockholm. This train ride is both quiet and smooth and arrives at our destination in only 20 minutes. This is a far cry from the kinds of airport shuttle services found at most American airports. Boston’s airport bus shuttle, which I take on a regular basis, is too often overcrowded and driven by disgruntled transit employees. There is nothing more unwelcoming after an eight hour flight than to have a bus driver yell at you for some mysterious reason. After settling into my hotel room, I purchase a three day ticket to the city’s “hop on hop off” bus. I first used one of these bus services during a recent trip to San Francisco and found it ideal for visiting the most popular tourist sites in the city.
After getting a solid night’s sleep, I spend my first full day in Stockholm checking out its city hall and Nobel Prize Museum. Famous for hosting the Nobel Prize festivities every year, Stockholm City Hall encompasses several magnificent rooms. The most famous of these is the Blue Hall where the Nobel Prize banquet is held each year. Built in the architectural style of an Italian courtyard, its delicate design and sheer size make it ideal for large gatherings. Although it is empty and quiet right now, knowing that some of the world’s most gifted and accomplished people have dined here adds a real mystique to this venue. As we leave the Blue Hall behind and head upstairs, my expectations are not particularly high. What could possibly outdo the site where the likes of Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Ernest Hemingway have dined? Much to my pleasant surprise, I am greeted with one of the most beautiful public spaces I have ever laid eyes on. Known as the Golden Hall, this stunning space contains mosaic murals made up of 18 million tiles depicting the most important moments in Swedish history. One could easily spend the whole day here viewing these intricate images.
Located in Stockholm’s old town on the island of Gamla Stan sits the Nobel Prize Museum. I initially have some trouble finding the museum and even contemplate giving up my pursuit. Part of the trouble I am having stems from the fact that I am standing in the oldest section of Stockholm. This results in the streets being narrow, poorly marked, and flooded with tourists. Upon finally locating the museum, with the assistance of a friendly ice cream vendor, I am quite impressed with its volume of facts and figures and its historical artifacts displayed behind glass. Another unique aspect of this venue are the poster-sized photos of every Nobel Prize winner hanging above our heads. Like drying laundry in the mid-day sun, this quirky feature lets visitors know that this museum has a sense of humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I conclude my visit here with a group tour led by one of the museum curators. During the tour the curator openly discusses both the history of the Nobel Prize as well as the many controversies surrounding it over the past 100 years. I am quite impressed by the openness of our tour guide and his ability to address contentious aspects of Alfred Nobel’s life and the prize he created. I think this ability to confront controversial issues about yourself is a sign of confidence and maturity. Hopefully one day most nations will be able to evolve to this level of confidence and maturity which appears to come so naturally to the Swedish people.