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Round, Round, Get-Around (I . . . )

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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2008


According to this site, “Stockholm is built across 14 islands and is often called the Venice of the North.” Water covers one third of the city area.


You might wonder what that has to do with the pictures at the top. And well might you, should you possess a peripatetic mind. Seeing as water and train tracks are composed of entirely different matter—liquid and solid—which often don’t easily co-exist. So what is the connection? It lies in this . . .


Navigating Stockholm’s 14 islands presents the peripatetic in Stockholm’s clutches with a conundrum that only Stockholm’s vast network of trains and subways can solve. With, of course, the aid of a strategically-placed tunnel and bridge (or . . . three or fifteen or twenty-nine).


 



  



According to the guidebook, Stockholm’s subway system, alone, spans 110 kilometers and boasts 100 stations. That is (by the reckoning of my often numerically-tormented and algebreically-corroded grey matter), like . . . one station per every 1.1 clicks—which I suppose makes a lot of the spaces in-between walkable. Good news, one imagines, for folks who prefer life on the hoof. Fortunately, for those who don’t, not to worry: the subways are not the entire round, round get-around story. Seeing as how navigation greets the sojourner all the way out at the airport, some 43 kilometers north, and is capable of delivering them to “C”, the center of the city for a mere $45 (kids, in the summer, beneath some amazingly inflated existential median, like 17 or so, get to ride free!. Yeah—I can almost hear you thinking: “man, I wish I’d had more kids and that they were traveling with me


just

so that I could cash in on this amazing deal from the airport.” [Of course, there would then be that minor problem of feeding and housing those extra many bodies in this incredibly over-priced city, but, hey: you can’t have everything in life, right?]).


 



Anyway, now you’re in the city (with or without kids), and so your round, round get-around options are: foot, bus or subway. The prices for a single trip by train or bus—close to 6 American—might make you quickly reconsider any artificial locomotive strategy. Yeah, the self-propulsive methodolgy is not looking so bad at this juncture. Only, in my case, I had already purchased a one-week card prior to arriving, so I was stuck. Not only that: being a stingy rationalist, I was determined to get my money’s worth. Above all, this meant riding as much public transportation as possible (whether I really wanted to go anywhere or not!) and hopefully end up exceeding the 8 trips (times 6 bucks a pop) that the one week pass cost. Calculating how things have gone so far, 5 days into the trip I have already come out ahead, so my grandfather would be happy (knowing his grandson hadn’t spent his money frivolously, without purpose, and garnering the appropriate maximization of return). Perhaps that was more than you needed (or wanted) to know about the moral dynamics of my family, but there you go: you received that information over and above what you are otherwise gaining from reading about Stockholm transit. 


Consider yourself . . . fortunate?


 



Now, in case you were wondering—the interior of the subways look like this:


 


With seats that look like this:


 


Inside, schematic maps of the three lines—green, red and blue—are embossed on plexiglas set at eye level, dividing the cars.


 


And people apparently possess no compunction about bringing their pets with them when they ride the trains:


 


Even if, according to my decoding of Swedish picto-graphology (rudimentary though those skills may be), it would appear that (4th diagram from the top, 2nd from the bottom) no pets are allowed:


 


But, who wants to rain on that lady’s parade, right?—is my guess why no one grabbed the leash from her, cluched the beast by the scruff of its neck, and tossed it out the doors.



The cars, themselves have individual names—like this one that I grew quite fond of, named “Sheherezade”.


 


Now, how precious is that?


I can imagine that for some Swedes being on the metro in Stockholm is kind of like American kids (well, okay, even some adults) standing in line at the submarine ride at Disneyland. You know what I mean—I’m sure you’ve had that experience, too:


“Oh no! Triton! There is



no way



I am getting on Triton! I’ll just wait until the Nautilus comes around. Or . . . even Sea Wolf. But no chance in hell am I riding Triton.”




As you probably know, having read about Ostermalmstorg, Stockholm’s subway is also an art exhibit—the world’s longest, if you buy into the city’s self-promoting hyperbole. Apparently, though, 90 of the 100 metro stations possess some form of artistic display: from sculptures to mosaics, paintings, installations, engravings and reliefs. According to my on-line guide, about 140 artists contributed to these living public productions. A sampling of that work goes something like this:


 


And, if you look at them long enough . . . even the escalators can begin to take on the appearance of works of art . . .


 


 



But there is more to the round, round get-around in Stockholm than the subway. Local lines service the outdoors on conventional rail. And this is a more rugged brand of travel—in rickety carriages, tight spaces with seats packed too close together, their cushions threadbare, armrests whittled down with years of wear.


 


These are the workaday lines, the vehicles that transport briefcase-toting salaried workers, backpack-lugging students, and baby-carriage carrying newly-minted mothers and fathers back from the city center, to their more affordable digs out in the suburbs or outlying villages. Just like anywhere else in the world: geographic location adhering to fundamental economic logic.


Consistent with that logic, (and the human reaction that follows), it is out here, in Stockholm’s hinterland, that one encounters a sparer world; a stripped down life. A lifestyle that feels more desolate, even desperate; a world less tended, more robust, unmonitored, irregularly regulated.


 


 



Well, I could go on (and on . . . and on . . . ) just like these trains (apologies to Joni); but (just like artistis like Joni), all good things have to come to an end.


So, shall this entry too.


Leaving you with these last(ing) images of Stockholm’s round, round, get-around.


 


 



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