Yesterday Maria and I went to Stockholm for the day. The excuse? To renew Hanna and Samuel’s Australian passports. That done, we had lunch in a favorite café called Vetekatten (”the flour cat”), whose eccentricity is only exceeded by one other café we know of in Stockholm, which is called Sturekatten (”the Sture cat”). The cheapest way to eat out in Sweden is to have lunch. Dinner in the evening can be prohibitive, but lunch is usually quite cheap, with a good meal even in Stockholm going for only about $AU15. I had elk mince pie.

After lunch we wandered the shops, including the famous NK – Nordiska Kompaniet – which is full of expensive brands and therefore great fun to browse. I even spotted RM Williams stuff there once, and NK’s music department is legendary. Real, old fashioned CDs (I remember when CDs were the latest, greatest thing, and now with instant downloads from heaven knows where the thought of walking into a store and browsing the artists there seems vaguely odd!).

We thought we would take a tram out to Waldemarsudde, the one time home of Prince Eugen, now the best located art gallery in Stockholm, with its waterfront location on a Stockholm island with the slightly odd name of Djurgården, which literally means, “the animal garden”. The trams were shut down for the winter, but we hopped on a bus, only to discover that tickets must be bought in a kiosk. We were just about to disembark when a rather grand couple standing behind us said, unexpectedly, “vi bjuder”. In other words, we’ll give you tickets, promptly handing over theirs to be stamped on our behalf. We were rather taken aback. They were clearly wealthy Stockholmers, for whom the 20 kronor fare would not have hurt much, but it is so unusual for strangers to actually speak to you on the bus here in Sweden that we were just a little stunned.

It turned out that they, with many others, were also heading out to Waldemarsudde, and we wondered what the attraction could be on a watery Thursday afternoon in late winter. It turned out to be a Carl Larsson exhibition, which of course delighted us, since he is a favorite artist of ours and we never tire of seeing his works. We saw some Larssons from private collections that we have never seen before, as well as many that were familiar. He is possibly the most beloved artist of the Swedish people. He lived at the the turn of the nineteenth century, settling, after his marriage, in the village of Sundborn, near Falun in Dalarna, where with his lovely wife Karin he raised a large and happy family. Home and family are the subject of many of his most well known paintings, and perhaps that is why he is so dearly loved. There is something comfortably familiar in so much of what he painted: laughing children, picnics by the river, celebrations at home. Despite these unassuming, homey motifs, Larsson was much sought after as a portrait painter by the wealthy and famous. He counted royalty and nobility among his friends as well as many in the Swedish artistic community, writers, painters and musicians.

Prins Eugen was a friend of Larsson, so the hanging of these paintings at Waldemarsudde is fitting. Eugen was a great patron of the arts and an accomplished artist himself. His paintings have different motifs, with more landscapes than portraits, more drama and romance, more oils than watercolours. The feeling is grander, darker, wilder. Some of his more famous paintings are hanging in the grand old residence where we wandered after the Larsson exhibition. The house is lovely, huge airy rooms, sweeping staircases, tall windows looking out across the water.

We walked back to town past some of the big diplomatic residences on Djurgården, massive rambling homes with curious towers and overgrown wings. We passed Skansen and Gröna Lund, and the National Historiska Museum. We crossed the bridge to Östermalm and made our way back to the shopping district of central Stockholm. Our bus left at 6 for Örebro, the day having slipped suddenly into night.


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