STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN; LONDON & HELSINKI 1994
I flew to Stockholm on May 12, 1994. I bought Swedish crowns at JFK in New York, one dollar buying 8 crowns. I flew over Iceland to arrive at Arlanda airport the following morning. The time difference was 6 hours. I noticed that Sweden is shaped like California.
I rode a city bus from Arlanda to the heart of town. Late in the day, I found a room in a private home. My address was: c/o Alice Macksey, Sibyllegatan 7, 11451 Stockholm, Sweden. Gatan means street.
I had $5000, $4000 of which were in travelers checks. There was an American Express close to King's Theater, where Hamngatan began.
I went light: travelers checks, plane tickets and passport in my coat pockets. Everything else was in my shoulder bag. Necessities could be gotten here. Stockholm is expensive! It was important to watch my money, getting the best deals.
The main thing was to enjoy the trip. Coming in with a plan helped. I needed an idea of why I was here and what I meant to do. When you think of going to Europe, you want to feel like you have a purpose. You do not want to be swallowed up by history. ABBA was my reason for being here! My original plan was to wait for Benny & Bjorn's Kristina musical, but I decided to go on.
Stockholm is difficult, split up into islands. Streets twist and turn! Maps and signs are useless unless you speak Swedish. On the streets, the hair of the Swedes is more golden than blonde. It shines! I realized that humans are shaped by latitude. Svenska flickor are bicyclers, sturdy and robust! The archipelago reaches 40 miles into the Baltic Sea. White boats decorate the harbor.
The Swedes are friendly and met me halfway. I mingled, talked about ABBA and picked up the language. I ate Swedish food: sill herring. The smorgasbord is traditionally around Christmas. McDonald's are common!
My first morning, the sun was rising at 3am. The long daylight is soft, but darkness is as precious in summer as daylight is in winter. Days and nights become stretched out.
I met a girl named Marie Halldin in the Old Town (Gamla Stan). The following week, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. I was 48; she was 24. She would have gone with me again, but I did not want to get hung up on a Swedish girl despite my fantasies.
The Old Town is block after block of sidewalks and narrow streets. The buildings go back to the 1200s. The Royal Palace sits on the edge of Gamla Stan, a square, brownish building with many windows.
Next door is the Stockholm Cathedral, where kings and queens are crowned.
The Royal Family consists of Carl Gustav, Silvia and their children. They live at Drottningholm Palace, and I went there on a boat from City Hall. The water had a steely, metallic quality.
City Hall is where Nobel Prizes are presented. The brick building with its distinctive tower sits by the water. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo.
One Saturday around noon, the changing of the guard began at the Army Museum below my window. I marched beside two columns to the sounds of brass and drums. We paraded down Hamngatan and past the Parliament Building (Sverige Riksdag). The ceremony took place in the palace courtyard.
Scandinavia dominated Europe in the Middle Ages, and much of Sweden's history centers around the Viking period. I laid off museums and art galleries. Stockholm itself is a museum.
I did wander through Skansen, an open-air museum. It was free because the king and queen were there. There were buildings from The Emigrants period.
I searched record shops and book stores for ABBA material. Even with the revival, the John Tobler book was the only thing available. I talked to Swedish author Carl Magnus Palm by phone. He interviewed Benny and Bjorn, Frida and Michael Tretow for his book, an overview of the recording sessions.
During the ABBA years, Polar Music was at Hamngatan 11. Benny now has a company called Mono Music. Its address is: Mono Music, Sodrabrobanken 41-A, Skeppsholmen 111-49.
I went to Mono Music and met Gorel Hanser, the lady who handles ABBA's business. It was pouring rain, and I was fighting my umbrella while trying to get inside the building. I met Gorel head on coming through the door. She was in a hurry! I asked for five minutes. She said she did not have five minutes, so I started talking. I told her I had come from the United States and had written a book about ABBA. That got her interest! We went inside and sat down. We talked about ABBA. She was on her way to work on the box set. I showed her my song "Save The Planet," inspired by Frida. Gorel was the most angelic, ethereal person I ever met. She was a spirit! She said Kristina would open in Malmo in October, 1995.
The old ship Af Chapman was docked off the island of Skeppsholmen. It was a hostel. I walked to the prow and stood where Agnetha's producer (Mike Chapman) stood at the start of The Heat Is On documentary.
Agnetha lives in Ekero and values her privacy. I let her be. Ekero is an area consisting of a number of islands. It is not in the archipelago, but in Lake Malaren west of the city.
Jonkoping is Agnetha's hometown. It is in the province of Smaland, where the Swedish emigrants came from. The stereotypical Swedes are found there.
There was a show on Hamngatan, and Tommy Korberg performed. He played the Russian in Chess and lived in the building where I stayed.
Stockholm newspapers are Dagens Nyheter and Afton Bladet. NK is the big department store.
It is very Nordic. On May 22, sunlight could be seen 21 hours, 2am to 11pm. I felt like it was always daytime. Kiruna inside the Arctic Circle is the best place to see the Midnight Sun.
I owed my success in Stockholm to Alice Macksey, her two sons and her friend Jan. Alice told me where to go and what to do. She translated for me. Without her, I would have been lost.
Alice, Jan and I ate on the Patricia, a boat once owned by Alice's late husband. We danced in a discotheque to ABBA's "Dancing Queen."
My last night, I attended Alice's birthday party on the roof. I noticed the sky stayed light all night.
I was amazed at how well the Swedes speak English! They watch American movies with Swedish subtitles. They know American music and politics.
I returned June 29, by the same route. 47 days later! It took 8 1/2 hours to travel 4000 miles, Stockholm to New York. JFK Airport is on Long Island in Queens.
I did what I went to do. I had an experience with the Swedes!
While in Sweden, I made two trips out of the country. The first was to London. I went with Swedes and returned with Swedes, three days and nights with a travel agency. The airport in London was Stanstead. I got British pounds at the foreign exchange (Forex).
Driving to our hotel on the left side of the road, we passed St. Paul's Cathedral. Our hotel was near two centers of activity: Piccadilly Circus (circle) and Trafalgar Square.
I began with Trafalgar Square, four crouching lions surrounded Nelson's column. It was people and pigeons, black cabs and red double-decker buses! I stayed away from Britain's center of government, but saw Big Ben in the distance.
The National Gallery was behind Trafalgar Square. Art embodied history! Renoir! The French were painters.
I knew what to see in the British Museum: antiquities! Elgin marbles from the Greek Parthenon, fragments reproduced in Nashville, and the Rosetta Stone, that slab of basalt used by Frenchman Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics.
I went to the Tower of London and walked around its perimeter. The Tower was built by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans or Norsemen or Northmen were descended from Vikings.
The best view was from the Tower Bridge above the Thames. I crossed the bridge on foot. "Shakespeare stood on this river," I mused.
I rode a bus back to Piccadilly Circus.
My second trip was to Helsinki, Finland.
I sailed through the Swedish Archipelago and across the Baltic Sea. The cruise was short, two days and nights. The ship Mariella was like a floating hotel: decks for floors, cabins for rooms. I stood on top as we left Stockholm.
I was the last person to come down from the top of the ship. We were in the archipelago, and our speed was up. It was windy! Alice had warned me about passengers falling off the ship and drowning. Suddenly, I was confused and disoriented. I could not find the stairs leading to the deck below. Out of nowhere, I heard Agnetha's voice. She was singing "The Day Before You Came." It was not my imagination. The sound was coming from the ship's speakers. Hearing Agnetha composed me. I located the stairs and got safely below. My guardian angel had come to my rescue!
The Swedish Archipelago is composed of 24,000 islands, and they come in all sizes. Some are tiny. Some are covered with woods. Some have houses.
That night, I talked to a guy from Atlanta and his Canadian girl friend. They were going to Russia. When I went to my cabin, someone was in my bed. The hostess rousted him out.
In Helsinki, I walked down Mannerheim Street and Alexandersgatan. I sensed a Russian influence! I entered the Lutheran Cathedral and saw a statue of Martin Luther.
The Finnish Mark is the currency. No passport is needed to travel around Scandinavia.
Back at the terminal, I thought of what I had seen, three world capitals: Stockholm, London and Helsinki.