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I flew to Stockholm, May 12, 1994. I got Swedish crowns at JFK in New York, one dollar buying between 7 and 8 crowns. We flew over Iceland and Norway to arrive at Arlanda airport the following morning. The time difference was 6 hours. I noticed on the map how Sweden is shaped like California.

A city bus took me from Arlanda to the heart of town. Late in the day, I found a room in a private home for 120 crowns a night. My address was: c/o Alice Macksey, Sibyllegatan 7, 11451 Stockholm, Sweden. Gatan means street. I was lucky to find this place.

I brought $5000, $4000 of which were in traveller's checks. There was an American Express Travel Service on the other side of King's Theater where Hamngatan began.

I came light: passport, traveller's checks and plane tickets in my coat pocket. Everything else was in one shoulder bag. Necessities could be gotten there. But Stockholm is expensive. It was important to control my money, getting the best deals.

The main thing was to enjoy the trip. Coming in with a sketch helped. I needed an idea of why I was there and what I meant to do. When you think of going to Europe, you want to feel like you have some purpose and are in control. You don't want to be swallowed up by history and culture. ABBA was my reason for being there. The original plan was to wait for Benny & Bjorn's Kristina! musical, but I decided to go on.

Stockholm is difficult, being broken up into islands. Streets twist and turn. Maps and street signs are of no use if you do not speak Swedish. You feel your way along. The archipelago reaches 40 miles into the Baltic Sea. The white sightseeing boats can be seen at the harbor. Out on the streets, the blonde hair of the Swedes is more golden than blonde. It shines. You realize humanity itself is shaped by environment. Svenska flickor are sturdy and robust, bicyclers. The Swedes are friendly and will meet you halfway.

I mingled, picked up Swedish and talked about ABBA. I ate Swedish food. Sill herring. The smorgasbord is traditionally around Christmas. Food is expensive, and MacDonalds 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 get stretched out.

In the Old Town (Gamla Stan), I met a girl named Marie Halldin. The following week, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. She was 24. I was 48. She would have gone with me again. I let it slide. I did not need to get hung up on a Swedish girl despite my fantasies.

Gamla Stan is block after block of narrow street and sidewalks. The buildings go back to the 1200s. The Royal Palace sits on the edge of Gamla Stan. It is a square, brown building with many windows.

On Saturday around noon, the changing of the guard began at the Army Museum below my window. I marched beside two columns in their dark berets to the sounds of brass and drums. We paraded down Hamngatan and past the Sverige Riksdag (Parliament Building). The ceremony took place in the palace courtyard.

Next door to the Royal Palace is the Stockholm Cathedral where kings and queens are crowned.

The Royal Family consists of Carl Gustav, Silvia and their three children. They actually live at Drottningholm Palace, and I went there on a boat from City Hall. The water, I noticed, had a steely, metallic quality.

City Hall is where te Nobel Prizes are given out. This brick building with its distinctive tower sits peacefully beside the water. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo.

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 meander 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 ABBA revival, the John Tobler book was the only thing in print. I talked to Swedish author Carl Magnus Palm by phone. He interviewed Benny and Bjorn, Frida and Michael Tretow for his book. It is a chronological overview of the recording sessions.

In the old days, Polar Music was at Hamngatan 11. Benny and Bjorn now have their own company called Mono Music. The 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 wierd. It was pouring down rain. I was fighting my umbrella and trying to get in 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 5 minutes. I started talking. I told her I had come from the United States and had written a book called "ABBA and Their Music." I got her interest. We went inside and sat down. We talked about ABBA. Gorel was on her way to work on the box set which was due out. I showed her my song, "Save The Planet," inspired by Frida. Gorel was the most angelic, ethereal person I ever talked to. She was a spirit. She said the Kristina! musical would open in Malmo in October, 1995.

Docked off the island of Skeppholmen is the old ship, Af Chapman. It is a youth hostel. I walked to the prow and stood where Mike Chapman (Agnetha's producer) stood at the start of Agnetha's "The Heat is On" video.

Agnetha lives on Ekero. She values her privacy, and I let her be. Ekero is actually not in the archapelago. It is in Lake Malaren west of the city. It is a large area consisting of a number of islands.

I contemplated a train ride to Jonkoping but called it off. Jonkoping is Agnetha's hometown. It is in the province of Smaland where the Swedish emigrants originated. I was told that the stereotypical Swedes are found there.

There was a free show at Norrmalmstorg on Hamngatan. Tommy Korberg performed and sang "Anthem." Korberg was the Russian in the Chess musical. He lived in my building.

Stockholm newspapers are Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Afton Bladet. The big department store is NK.

It is very Nordic. On May 22, sunshine could be seen for 21 hours, from 2AM to 11PM. It felt like it was always daylight. You get used to it. Kiruna inside the Arctic Circle is the best place to see the Midnight Sun.

Whatever success I had in Stockholm I owed to Alice Macksey, her sons Dennis and Paul, and her friend Jan. Alice told me where to go and what to do. She translated for me. We watched TV together. Without her, I would have been lost.

Alice, Jan and I ate on The Patricia, a boat once owned by Alice's ex-husband. We danced to ABBA's Dancing Queen at a disco.

My last night, I attended Alice's birthday party on the roof. From the roof, I could see that 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 set out to do. I had an experience with the Swedes.


While in Stockholm, I made two trips out of the country. The first was to London. I went with Swedes and returned with Swedes, 3 days and nights through Spies travel agency. Our airline was Premair. The airport in London was Stanstead. A bus took us to the hotel. I got British currency at the foreign exchange (Forex). British pounds are written "L," an L with a line through it.

Driving to the hotel on the left (wrong) side of the road, we passed St. Paul's Cathedral. The hotel was virtually on top of the two centers of activity, Piccadilly Circus (circle) and Trafalgar Square.

I began with Trafalgar Square. Nelson's column juts high into the air, surrounded by 4 crouching lions. Red double-decker buses and black cabs. People and pidgeons. Big Ben could be seen in the distance, but I decided to avoid Britian's center of government.

Behind Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery. History unfolded. Titian and Tintoretto. Renoir. The French are your painters.

I knew what to see in the British Museum, antiquities. The Elgin marbles from the Greek Parthenon! These are the fragments reproduced in Nashville. The Rosetta Stone! The Rosetta Stone is that chunk of basalt used by the Frenchman Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics.

I sought exhibits dealing with the Viking era, 750-1050.

The only thing left was the Tower of London. I got there before it opened and walked around the perimeter. The best view was from the Tower Bridge over the Thames. "Shakespeare stood by this river," I mused.

The Tower was built by William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans or Norsemen or Northmen were descended from Vikings.

I rode a double-decker bus back to Piccadilly Circus.


My second trip was to Helsinki, Finland. Jan alerted me to the economy of this trip.

I sailed on the Viking Line. We sailed through the Swedish Archipelago and crossed the Baltic Sea to Helsinki. The trip was short, one day and two nights.

The ship Mariella was like a floating hotel, decks for floors, cabins for rooms. I stood on top as we left Stockhom.

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 decks below. Out of nowhere, I heard Agnetha's voice. It was ABBA 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 found the stairs and got to safety below. I felt my guardian angel had come to me in my moment of need.

The Archipelago is strange, 24,000 islands reaching 40 miles into the Baltic. They come in all sizes. Some are tiny. Some have houses on them. Others are covered with woods.

In Helsinki, I went inside the Lutheran Cathedral. There is a statue of Martin Luther there. I walked down Alexandersgatan and Mannerheim Street. One senses a Russian influence.

The currency is the Finnish Mark. No passport is needed to travel in Scandinavia.

Back at the terminal, I thought of what I had seen. Three world capitals: Stockholm, London and Helsinki.

Posted: January 14, 2006 ,   Modified: February 2, 2006

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