Cities / Towns Visited: 45
Countries Visited: 14
Steps Taken Today: 26,347
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,608,801
Another alarm and we were up and out the door, heading to the dock, before we knew it. We had a boat to catch, and we weren’t planning in missing it. Our rather full vessel was taking us across the water and to the private residence of the royal family of Sweden; Drottningholm Palace. As we pulled away from the dock, and drifted out onto the fjord the cool morning air awoke us from our morning daze, and we admired the beauty of the forest covered mountains and the calm waters as we made our hour long journey.
Eventually we neared the waterside palace, standing amoungst the lush green landscape, its golden yellow walls and blue green roof alluding to the colours on the national flag waving proudly from the flagpole. Alighting the boat, we meandered slowly on our way, allowing the hoard of other camera wielding visitors and tour groups to stampede their way ahead. Everyone always seems to want to be at the front to get the best photos, but few people seem to remember that there is just as few people behind the group as there is ahead, plus from the back you don’t have the pressure to take a haphazard photo and scurry on as a hundred other people press forward and endeavour to capture the very same shot.
After the crowds had thinned a little we ventured inside. You see, although the royals currently reside at the palace, they only live in a portion of the large old building, with the rest being open to visitors, like us, who wish to gawk and marvel at the beauty and pomp of this 16th century residence. Wandering through the ornate old interior, it is easy to see that before this became a permanent residence it was most often used as a summer palace. A plethora of windows allow light to flood in, and indoor plants brighten up the grand staircase. The interiors ooze luxury with almost every ceiling playing host to some magnificent fresco of the old gods and the new, almost every room could not escape whoever’s painstaking job it was to carry out the gilding, and throughout the palace hang literally scores of paintings. Stuccoed walls are skilfully coloured to appear as marble, and the furnishings are just as elegant as the rooms they reside in. It is more than clear that this country had been ruled by a monarchy for time immemorial.
With the inner beauty thoroughly explored, we ventured out into the hectares of stunning gardens and parkland which splay our from the rear. Once you pass the royal guard protecting the private grounds of the Royal couple; you pass the manicured garden, and raked pebble paths which surround the fountain. This area is roped off, obviously to provide an iota of privacy to the King and Queen, who I’m sure have no desire to have countless tourists craning their necks to spy a glimpse of their home. We spent a good amount of time sauntering down the avenues of trees, around the pockets of hedges hiding stunning statues, through the wild flower speckles parkland, and past the river, until we found ourselves at another beautiful addition to the residence; the Chinese pavilion. This oriental inspired collection of buildings includes the main house, which exhibits a wide array of the royal’s oriental art and porcelain collection. There is also a small building that is know as The Confidence, a private dining room with the fascinating addition of a table which could be loaded with food in the basement kitchen and then hoisted up to the diners, meaning that the king and his guests could have a private meal without the servants eavesdropping on their confidential discussions. Alongside this stands three other small buildings, one which used to be a billiards room, and one which used to be where one of the former king’s plied his passion for woodworking and wood turning.
Eventually our time at the Drottingham had come to a close and it was time for us to make our way back to the city, thus we hopped on the old steamboat, which shares it name with the palace, and chuffed our way back. Our day was not over though, and on our arrival we scurried off to our other attraction for the day; the Spirit Museum. Now, we are talking spirits of the alcohol persuasion, not the supernatural; although if they could make a hybrid of the two I think that could be a winner. The museum, which is shamelessly brought to you by the famous Swedish vodka company Absolut, has three parts to it. The first is a small art exhibit including a number of paintings and sculptures, of course, including the brand and its signature shaped bottle. Some of them were a little to abstract for me, but there were a few which made enough sense that I enjoyed them.
The second, and largest part, houses an extensive exhibit on alcohol and drinking culture, especially within Sweden. From a collection of displays talking about the founding and progression of the Absolut brand; to displays about Nordic drinking traditions, and how drinking culture has changed over the years, including how drinking spurred the creation of the smorgasbord; to an interactive display which allows you to smell the scents of different spirits and try to identify them. There was also some rather amusing additions to the museum, like a caravan in which you can go and sit and listen to drinking songs from around the world; a room where you can lie down and watch a film from a first person perspective of the stages of getting drunk; and a room which is meant to represent the symptoms of a hangover, from general disorientation and sensitivity to light and sound.
The final room houses is their temporary exhibitions, which at the moment is focused on champagne. The information panels run through the production of the famed drink, as well as the history of the product, from accidental invention to its rise to being associated with wealth and success. There is also a number of displays showing its depiction in media, music, and film over time.
After completing our adventure through the museum we thought it only natural to try some spirits, and thus selected to try their tasting flight of traditional Swedish liquors. Three of the four were quite nice, those being: aquavit, a clear herbal spirit; bitter orange snaps, which is exactly what you imagine it to be; and arrack punsch, a sweet citrus flavoured liqueur. The fourth addition to the flight might possibly be the most foul thing I’ve ever tasted; Bäsk, an intensely bitter woodwork based spirit. Now when I say bitter I’m talking more bitter than I am; retchingly bitter; so bitter it sticks to your throat and it’s all you can taste for at least an hour. If you are ever offered a taste and take up the offer, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Leaving, literally with a bitter taste in our mouths, but having enjoyed the museum aside from that, we wandered off in search of better flavours. Today was our last day in Sweden and we had one last order of business; to find Swedish meatballs of course. After a little research we made our way to a small restaurant south of the Royal palace and happily dug into a plate of meatballs featuring four different meats (rooster, beef/pork, boar, and moose), along with the traditional sides of creamy mashed potato, gravy, and lingonberry. Washing it down with a couple of ciders our mouths had almost forgiven us for their earlier assault. In one last quick stop we grabbed some cinnamon buns, by way of a taste bud apology and headed back to our hostel to get some rest; we had an early morning the next day to make our flight.
As I lay in bed and thought about the spirit museum, I couldn’t help consider my experiences with alcohol in my life. I have seen the best and the worst that it can do. I’ve been with an alcoholic and I watched it tear our relationship apart, but I have also seen alcohol bring together my family and friends in the best and the worst times. I have used it as a comfort, and a social lubricant in situations where my anxiety would have otherwise sent me running or into a panic attack. I have watched it harm, and watched it heal. It can bring to the surface joy or sadness, love or violence. It can be a poison or a cure, depending on how you use it. It can be a tool or a weapon. Much like a hammer you can use it both to build or to destroy. So what is my point? Know your limits, and if that limit is none then that’s okay. One of the strongest things you can do is admit that you have an addiction and accept that abstinence is your only option. Support those who are struggling with their demons by searching for answers at the bottom of the bottle. And most of all, next time you’re considering getting hammered, think carefully about whether you can handle that hammer, because it can ruin or end lives in an instant.