Imagining a Nobel experience in Stockholm

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by Jennifer Petoff, Blue Bell, PA

As a scientist, I have always been enamored with the Nobel Prize. There is a certain magic associated with these elite awards and the pomp and circumstance that goes along with them.

Sweden’s own Alfred Nobel, a fellow chemist and a pioneer in the field of explosives, left funding for prizes in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature and peace upon his death at the end of the 19th century. Stockholm is the center of the Nobel festivities (the Peace Prize is the lone Nobel awarded in Oslo). When my husband and I visited the city for a 4-day weekend in July ’06, I had the opportunity to become a Nobel Prize winner vicariously.

Getting situated

Arriving in Stockholm in the early morning following an overnight flight from Newark, we took the convenient high-speed Arlanda Airport Express to Stockholm Central Station, a 20-minute ride. The train service was running a fare special of SEK220 ($31) for two adults.

Our accommodations at the Nordic Sea Hotel (phone +46 8 50 56 30 00, www.nordicseahotel.se) were in view of the train platform, and the rooms were clean, quiet and decorated with trademark Swedish style. The friendly, English-speaking staff was outfitted in chic nautical stripes. A full breakfast buffet was included in the room price of SEK840 ($117) per night.

Travel websites such as Travelocity or Expedia can be a great resource for identifying locations to stay. However, always check the rates at the hotel’s website before booking your accommodations. The rate offered online by our hotel directly was significantly less expensive than that quoted elsewhere, allowing us to stretch our vacation budget considerably.

We began our exploration of the city by walking from our hotel to Gamla Stan (Old Town). Stockholm’s charming quirkiness was quickly manifested when we were passed on the street by a young woman in pigtails riding a unicycle.

We quickly made our way on foot to the Nobel Museum (SEK60, about $8, per person; visit www.nobelmuseum.se). Located on a picturesque square in Gamla Stan, the museum opened just four years ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, and it features exhibits on the award-winning scientific, artistic and political accomplishments of the last century.

The most recent award winners can be seen on video monitors as you walk into the museum. I was very excited to see my scientific “grandfather” (my Ph.D. thesis advisor’s thesis advisor) smiling back at me on the screen.

Some sun and shopping

The Nobel Prize award ceremony is held annually on December 10th. Arguably, the weather is much more pleasant in July, when we visited Stockholm. The sun shown brightly while we were there, temperatures topping 80°F each day. The rays danced off the water on our ferry trip to Vaxholm, a small town on one of the 2,400 islands in the archipelago that stretches from Stockholm to the Baltic Sea.

The sun is strong in this part of the world in the summer and it felt hot — hotter than we were expecting and hotter than the temperature would suggest. Make sure to bring a good hat, sunblock and plenty of water.

In Stockholm, we didn’t have to worry about buying bottled water. The tap water is pure, refreshing and tastes exquisite.

The award ceremony takes place at the Konserthuset (Concert Hall) on the Hötorget, which is an easy stroll from Central Station. Hötorget features a colorful open-air produce and flower market.
We found Stockholm to have a wonderful array of shops with unique styles to outfit yourself from head to toe. I could have easily spent the entire trip building a new wardrobe.

Opposite the Konserthuset is PUB department store. Reminiscent of a shopping mall, PUB houses a number of specialized stores. Tired of shopping? Simply cross the street to the other side of Kungsgatan and you can dine well and inexpensively at Kungshallen, a food court which features short-order dining choices from around the globe. It’s a great spot to people-watch — we took our trays, picked out a table and watched the crowds flow by.

More Nobel-related sites

The next day we continued in our Nobel pursuits. The Nobel Prizes are presented by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf. While we did not merit an audience with the king while in Stockholm, we did get to know more about the man and get a glimpse into his life by touring the Royal Palace. Also on display are a number of Queen Silvia’s fashionable ball gowns, many of which I could imagine her wearing to the lavish Nobel Banquet.

The richness of Swedish tradition was manifested in the elaborate changing of the guard ceremony in the palace courtyard, which takes place daily at 12:15 p.m. The proceedings featured a sizable marching band that capped the festivities by playing some rousing tunes. The changing of the guard is quite popular, so getting there early to stake out a good vantage point is advisable.

We continued our exploration of the city at the Stadshuset (Town Hall). The building was completed in 1923 and is home to the Stockholm City Council. The outer courtyard features beautiful views of Stockholm’s harbor and leads out to a promenade featuring manicured lawns and stately fountains.

Within the Stadshuset, the Nobel Banquet is held in the Blue Hall, a bit of a misnomer as the interior is done in elegant orange bricks. Originally, the architect intended to paint the bricks blue, but he soon discovered that they were too pretty to cover up.

By taking the guided tour of the Stadshuset (SEK50, or $7, per person), I was able to envision what it would be like to be in a room electrified by so much talent and brainpower. I could almost hear the band playing as couples glided up the staircase (carefully designed with input from the architect’s wife to be easy to climb in a floor-length gown and high-heeled shoes).

The celebration continues upstairs in the presence of the glittering mosaics of the Golden Hall, where 1,200 invited guests dance and revel in the achievements of the Nobel Prize winners.

Dining discoveries and more

The Nobel Prize recipients spend a week in Stockholm, staying at the luxurious Grand Hôtel. Just walking into the lobby, I could imagine being greeted by my personal Nobel attaché. Dining on Swedish delicacies at the hotel’s Grand Veranda restaurant, I could visualize what it must be like to feast at the Nobel Banquet.

We sampled the authentic Swedish smörgåsbord (SEK380, or $53, per person). Make sure to ask your waiter for tips on how best to enjoy the meal. The maître’d gave us a one-page leaflet that warned not to overload our plate on each trip to the buffet. Consider the experience a 4- to 6-course meal. Start with a selection of herring, move on to salads and other cold dishes and follow with cold cuts, hot dishes and, finally, dessert.

Herring goes well with aquavit chased by Swedish beer. Our waiter recommended that we sample two contrasting aquavits. It was a wonderful (albeit bracing) experience to taste this special, herbaceous Scandinavian liqueur. Beware: aquavit (and alcohol in general) is very expensive in Sweden. We ordered 6-centiliter servings, enough for a small glass each for the two of us, and each cost SEK114 ($16)!

Keeping in a Nobel frame of mind, we made time for a few educational stops during our visit to Stockholm. We purchased a 24-hour Stockholm Card (SEK270, or $38) at the local tourism office in Central Station. The Stockholm Card offers free admission to more than 75 museums and attractions as well as free rides on public transportation.

We took the subway from Central Station to Kungsgården and transferred to the nearby trolley system to get to the island of Djurgården, in the center of Stockholm. The Stockholm Card provided free entrance to Skansen (www.skansen.se) and Vasamuseet (www.vasamuseet.se), located there.

Skansen, an open-air museum, highlights representative buildings from across Sweden from various time periods in history. One of the exhibits featured a glass-blowing demonstration. Others were enlivened by actors in period costume who were available to answer questions about the dwellings. There is also a zoo with Nordic wildlife, including elk, seals, wolves and bison.

Skansen is fairly widespread and hilly, so wear comfortable shoes. The higher vantage points in the park offer breathtaking views of the city.

The Vasamuseet features the only surviving intact 17th-century ship in the world. The Vasa tragically sank in the Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage and was discovered and raised from its resting place over 300 years later in 1961 by determined shipwreck expert Anders Franzén. The museum recreates life in 17th-century Stockholm, introducing visitors to a number of the ship’s passengers and detailing the Herculean efforts required to salvage the Vasa.

Ending in Uppsala

A trip to the venerable university town of Uppsala was a fitting end to our Swedish adventure. Uppsala boasts eight Nobel Prize winners and is 40 minutes by high-speed train from Stockholm.

Our trip was nearly derailed when we learned that the automatic ticket machines at the train station would not accept American credit cards without an associated PIN number. Our ATM card carries the Visa logo and we were ultimately able to use that card to resolve the problem and purchase our tickets.

The Uppsala town center is a 5-minute walk from the train station. Walking farther, we encountered the majestic Uppsala Cathedral (Domkyrka) that dominates the skyline. Just uphill from the cathedral is the 16th-century Uppsala Castle (Uppsala Slott), which houses the local art museum.

Relaxing with a glass of schnapps (a traditional Swedish favorite) on the SAS flight home from Stockholm, I reflected on my Nobel experience. Let’s raise a glass (Skål!) and toast the magnificence of the city and the amazing achievements that Nobel and Stockholm have memorialized in grand style for over a century.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by Jennifer Petoff, Blue Bell, PA

As a scientist, I have always been enamored with the Nobel Prize. There is a certain magic associated with these elite awards and the pomp and circumstance that goes along with them.

Sweden’s own Alfred Nobel, a fellow chemist and a pioneer in the field of explosives, left funding for prizes in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature and peace upon his death at the end of the 19th century. Stockholm is the center of the Nobel festivities (the Peace Prize is the lone Nobel awarded in Oslo). When my husband and I visited the city for a 4-day weekend in July ’06, I had the opportunity to become a Nobel Prize winner vicariously.

Getting situated

Arriving in Stockholm in the early morning following an overnight flight from Newark, we took the convenient high-speed Arlanda Airport Express to Stockholm Central Station, a 20-minute ride. The train service was running a fare special of SEK220 ($31) for two adults.

Our accommodations at the Nordic Sea Hotel (phone +46 8 50 56 30 00, www.nordicseahotel.se) were in view of the train platform, and the rooms were clean, quiet and decorated with trademark Swedish style. The friendly, English-speaking staff was outfitted in chic nautical stripes. A full breakfast buffet was included in the room price of SEK840 ($117) per night.

Travel websites such as Travelocity or Expedia can be a great resource for identifying locations to stay. However, always check the rates at the hotel’s website before booking your accommodations. The rate offered online by our hotel directly was significantly less expensive than that quoted elsewhere, allowing us to stretch our vacation budget considerably.

We began our exploration of the city by walking from our hotel to Gamla Stan (Old Town). Stockholm’s charming quirkiness was quickly manifested when we were passed on the street by a young woman in pigtails riding a unicycle.

We quickly made our way on foot to the Nobel Museum (SEK60, about $8, per person; visit www.nobelmuseum.se). Located on a picturesque square in Gamla Stan, the museum opened just four years ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, and it features exhibits on the award-winning scientific, artistic and political accomplishments of the last century.

The most recent award winners can be seen on video monitors as you walk into the museum. I was very excited to see my scientific “grandfather” (my Ph.D. thesis advisor’s thesis advisor) smiling back at me on the screen.

Some sun and shopping

The Nobel Prize award ceremony is held annually on December 10th. Arguably, the weather is much more pleasant in July, when we visited Stockholm. The sun shown brightly while we were there, temperatures topping 80°F each day. The rays danced off the water on our ferry trip to Vaxholm, a small town on one of the 2,400 islands in the archipelago that stretches from Stockholm to the Baltic Sea.

The sun is strong in this part of the world in the summer and it felt hot — hotter than we were expecting and hotter than the temperature would suggest. Make sure to bring a good hat, sunblock and plenty of water.

In Stockholm, we didn’t have to worry about buying bottled water. The tap water is pure, refreshing and tastes exquisite.

The award ceremony takes place at the Konserthuset (Concert Hall) on the Hötorget, which is an easy stroll from Central Station. Hötorget features a colorful open-air produce and flower market.
We found Stockholm to have a wonderful array of shops with unique styles to outfit yourself from head to toe. I could have easily spent the entire trip building a new wardrobe.

Opposite the Konserthuset is PUB department store. Reminiscent of a shopping mall, PUB houses a number of specialized stores. Tired of shopping? Simply cross the street to the other side of Kungsgatan and you can dine well and inexpensively at Kungshallen, a food court which features short-order dining choices from around the globe. It’s a great spot to people-watch — we took our trays, picked out a table and watched the crowds flow by.

More Nobel-related sites

The next day we continued in our Nobel pursuits. The Nobel Prizes are presented by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf. While we did not merit an audience with the king while in Stockholm, we did get to know more about the man and get a glimpse into his life by touring the Royal Palace. Also on display are a number of Queen Silvia’s fashionable ball gowns, many of which I could imagine her wearing to the lavish Nobel Banquet.

The richness of Swedish tradition was manifested in the elaborate changing of the guard ceremony in the palace courtyard, which takes place daily at 12:15 p.m. The proceedings featured a sizable marching band that capped the festivities by playing some rousing tunes. The changing of the guard is quite popular, so getting there early to stake out a good vantage point is advisable.

We continued our exploration of the city at the Stadshuset (Town Hall). The building was completed in 1923 and is home to the Stockholm City Council. The outer courtyard features beautiful views of Stockholm’s harbor and leads out to a promenade featuring manicured lawns and stately fountains.

Within the Stadshuset, the Nobel Banquet is held in the Blue Hall, a bit of a misnomer as the interior is done in elegant orange bricks. Originally, the architect intended to paint the bricks blue, but he soon discovered that they were too pretty to cover up.

By taking the guided tour of the Stadshuset (SEK50, or $7, per person), I was able to envision what it would be like to be in a room electrified by so much talent and brainpower. I could almost hear the band playing as couples glided up the staircase (carefully designed with input from the architect’s wife to be easy to climb in a floor-length gown and high-heeled shoes).

The celebration continues upstairs in the presence of the glittering mosaics of the Golden Hall, where 1,200 invited guests dance and revel in the achievements of the Nobel Prize winners.

Dining discoveries and more

The Nobel Prize recipients spend a week in Stockholm, staying at the luxurious Grand Hôtel. Just walking into the lobby, I could imagine being greeted by my personal Nobel attaché. Dining on Swedish delicacies at the hotel’s Grand Veranda restaurant, I could visualize what it must be like to feast at the Nobel Banquet.

We sampled the authentic Swedish smörgåsbord (SEK380, or $53, per person). Make sure to ask your waiter for tips on how best to enjoy the meal. The maître’d gave us a one-page leaflet that warned not to overload our plate on each trip to the buffet. Consider the experience a 4- to 6-course meal. Start with a selection of herring, move on to salads and other cold dishes and follow with cold cuts, hot dishes and, finally, dessert.

Herring goes well with aquavit chased by Swedish beer. Our waiter recommended that we sample two contrasting aquavits. It was a wonderful (albeit bracing) experience to taste this special, herbaceous Scandinavian liqueur. Beware: aquavit (and alcohol in general) is very expensive in Sweden. We ordered 6-centiliter servings, enough for a small glass each for the two of us, and each cost SEK114 ($16)!

Keeping in a Nobel frame of mind, we made time for a few educational stops during our visit to Stockholm. We purchased a 24-hour Stockholm Card (SEK270, or $38) at the local tourism office in Central Station. The Stockholm Card offers free admission to more than 75 museums and attractions as well as free rides on public transportation.

We took the subway from Central Station to Kungsgården and transferred to the nearby trolley system to get to the island of Djurgården, in the center of Stockholm. The Stockholm Card provided free entrance to Skansen (www.skansen.se) and Vasamuseet (www.vasamuseet.se), located there.

Skansen, an open-air museum, highlights representative buildings from across Sweden from various time periods in history. One of the exhibits featured a glass-blowing demonstration. Others were enlivened by actors in period costume who were available to answer questions about the dwellings. There is also a zoo with Nordic wildlife, including elk, seals, wolves and bison.

Skansen is fairly widespread and hilly, so wear comfortable shoes. The higher vantage points in the park offer breathtaking views of the city.

The Vasamuseet features the only surviving intact 17th-century ship in the world. The Vasa tragically sank in the Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage and was discovered and raised from its resting place over 300 years later in 1961 by determined shipwreck expert Anders Franzén. The museum recreates life in 17th-century Stockholm, introducing visitors to a number of the ship’s passengers and detailing the Herculean efforts required to salvage the Vasa.

Ending in Uppsala

A trip to the venerable university town of Uppsala was a fitting end to our Swedish adventure. Uppsala boasts eight Nobel Prize winners and is 40 minutes by high-speed train from Stockholm.

Our trip was nearly derailed when we learned that the automatic ticket machines at the train station would not accept American credit cards without an associated PIN number. Our ATM card carries the Visa logo and we were ultimately able to use that card to resolve the problem and purchase our tickets.

The Uppsala town center is a 5-minute walk from the train station. Walking farther, we encountered the majestic Uppsala Cathedral (Domkyrka) that dominates the skyline. Just uphill from the cathedral is the 16th-century Uppsala Castle (Uppsala Slott), which houses the local art museum.

Relaxing with a glass of schnapps (a traditional Swedish favorite) on the SAS flight home from Stockholm, I reflected on my Nobel experience. Let’s raise a glass (Skål!) and toast the magnificence of the city and the amazing achievements that Nobel and Stockholm have memorialized in grand style for over a century.