Stockholm: Skansen

Built in 1891, Skansen is apparently not only the first open air museum in Sweden, it is “the world’s oldest open air museum” (I assume they mean the oldest one still in operation, because it was based on an earlier open air museum in Denmark). It is located on what I’m calling “Museum Island” and we initially weren’t sure if we wanted to visit it, having passed it on the search for a supermarket earlier in the day and seen the queues of people waiting to get in. But, when we returned at mid-afternoon, the crowds had mostly dispersed, so after a fortifying ice cream from one of the stands out front (with rainbow sprinkles, or “strossel” as they’re called in Swedish (which is fun to say)), we decided to take the plunge and check it out.

   

Admission was 180 SEK (nearly 17 pounds), which was another reason for our initial hesitation, but the park is huge. Too big, actually, at least for us at the end of a long day of museuming, because it is built on the side of a hill, and walking around got really tiring really fast. The sun had also decided to make an appearance, and it felt much stronger in Sweden than it is in England, so we had to stop and slather on sunscreen pretty sharpish after entering.

  

Anyway, Skansen was originally built because Artur Hazelius, Swedish folklorist and founder of the nearby Nordic Museum (which we sadly didn’t have time to visit), was concerned that the old way of life was dying out due to industrialisation, and he wanted to preserve some of the traditional trades and buildings while he could. This includes the snus industry, which has a small museum dedicated to it inside the park. In case you don’t know what snus is (are?), because I sure didn’t, it is a kind of moist tobacco that you stick under your upper lip (but is apparently different than dip), and was extremely popular in Sweden until relatively recently, despite the high rates of mouth cancer that occurred as a result. Even though I’m pretty sure the tobacco is flavoured (like something other than tobacco), it still sounds absolutely disgusting to me (and I used to smoke the occasional cigarette, so I’m not completely immune to tobacco’s lure).

   

The museum was not very big, but it had some interesting objects in it (and some excellent mannequins, as you may have noticed). I really liked the collection of “snus dog” boxes, and the surprisingly graphic “erotic” boxes (and I’m not exaggerating the graphicness…definitely don’t enlarge the picture below if you’re at work or something), which were kind of hidden in a case off to the side. I was also interested to learn that snus were a big industry in Chicago, due to the large Swedish population there, and there was even a mock-up of a snus shop in Chicago in the basement.

  

I didn’t notice any snus for sale in the actual museum shop though, which was probably a good thing, though they do still grow tobacco on the premises, and you can even take home a tobacco plant of your very own. All too soon for my liking though, we had to leave the pleasing darkness of the museum, and venture out into the rest of the park (especially bad because I thought I lost my sunglasses at the ABBA Museum, and there was nowhere to buy a new pair on Museum Island, so I had to wait until we got back to “Shopping Island” to get a cheap pair. And of course, about an hour after buying them, I found my old sunglasses buried in the bottom of my bag, so now I have two pairs. But my point is that the sun was really bright, and my eyes were killing me by the end of the day because I thought I didn’t have sunglasses).

  

Fortunately, there was an escalator to take us up into the part of Skansen where all the historic buildings were, so we didn’t actually have to hike up the steepest part of the hill ourselves. I spotted a bakery almost immediately, and I am not one to resist cinnamon buns, old timey or otherwise, so I ended up buying one and also a sugar-coated roll shaped like a pretzel (yeah, I know I had just eaten an ice cream, but we skipped breakfast that day so I was hungry (and hangry)!). Not as good as the oat crunchies at Blists Hill, but still pretty alright. (They had more food stalls in the middle of the park, but they were mainly selling carnival type food, like popcorn, cotton candy, and the ubiquitous Scandinavian hot dogs (ick) and nothing of any real nutritional value (not that cinnamon buns are nutritious, but they are fairly filling).)

  

Unfortunately, the rest of the historical village was just weird, quite frankly. In all my experience of living history museums (which includes the awful summer I did an internship at one), the whole point seems to be, you know, “living” history, in that there are actual people there in costumes to show you how candle dippin’ and wool spinnin’ and things were done. Aside from the bakery, the church, and one of the farm buildings, almost none of the buildings were open, so not only could you not see the interiors, you weren’t “living” anything, because there was no one there to tell you about anything.

  

We seriously wandered around for about an hour, with me pointing out buildings that looked cool, only to find that every single door was padlocked when we got close to them. If the buildings aren’t open at the height of tourist season, then when exactly are they open?

  

Happily, there were a few animal enclosures, because although I’m not crazy about the idea of wild animals being kept in zoos, I do admittedly like looking at them, and they were the high point of the whole experience. We saw lynx, bears, eagle owls, and moose (and looked for the buffalo in vain, but they were being penned up somewhere whilst their enclosure was being cleaned), but my favourites were definitely the reindeer, because there were so many of them, and the babies were pretty damn cute (not so much the adults, who appeared to be molting).

  

After seeing the animals, I was ready to leave, but we still had to wander through more of the park just to get out, and yep, those buildings were all closed too!  We did miss a few sections, because I was so tired of walking around that I couldn’t be bothered anymore, but I highly doubt they were any more interesting than the stuff we did see. From the sheer size of it (and had we gone first thing in the morning, when we had more energy) and all the neat looking buildings there, Skansen had the potential to be really cool, but due to virtually everything being shut, it was actually incredibly boring. I like historical buildings as much as (actually, probably more than) the next person, but most of the fun is in getting to go inside and see how people actually lived in them, instead of just staring at a bunch of exteriors. I enjoyed seeing the reindeer (and eating a cinnamon bun), and the snus museum was OK, but everything else was pretty lame (and their bathrooms were super gross, as you can probably tell from my face. Actually, that face sums up my feelings on Skansen generally), and 17 quid is a lot to spend to essentially just look at a few animals (they did have a few activities available, like carriage rides and a funicular, but you had to pay extra for those, and we’d already wasted enough money). 2/5.

  

 

11 comments

  1. I think that the Plague came through the village and that’s why no one was there. Everything was locked up and everyone left in a hurry, explaining why some things looked like someone was still living there. They should put a couple manequins in period costume on the floor like they got sick and didn’t make it.
    I mean, make it creepy and make visitors wonder if they should really be there or not. Then again, you were probably already thinking that wandering through, so maybe I’m on the wrong track!
    The bathrooms remind me of a story a friend of mine related to me. He and a guy he worked with took a quick one-day job on the South Side of Chicago. Now, the South Side isn’t the best place in the city, so you expect a certain amount of dinginess. But they weren’t expecting the bathroom. It was so bad that they actually took a picture of it!
    It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the 1920’s, and probably smelled accordingly. So when you talk about the bathrooms in Sweden, that’s what I think of. If I ever get over there, I think I’ll just go in the bushes!

    1. That would make it a much better experience! Kind of like that awesome Demolition World place I went to in New Zealand, which was full of creepy old mannequins and abandoned shack buildings. I think there were too many other visitors at Skansen for it to have felt as creepy as Demolition World though. And the jolly cotton candy vendors didn’t help cultivate a creepy vibe either.
      They actually did have what was meant to be a plague victim mannequin at the Medieval Museum in Stockholm though, but I wasn’t convinced by her. No signs of buboes whatsoever, only a bloody handkerchief in her hand to show that she was ill. Which is more likely to be from tuberculosis than pneumonic plague really, if there’s no buboes to go with it.
      To be fair, I don’t think the bathrooms at Skansen, or anywhere in Stockholm, were as gross as the one you’re describing. It was more that I expected them to be immaculately clean, when in fact most of them were dirtier than the average pub toilet, but they weren’t so gross that they were unusable. I still have nightmares about the grossest bathroom I’ve ever seen; it was on a small island in Thailand, on a beach, and there was no toilet paper or sinks, filthy toilets, and about a foot of brown water on the floor that I had to walk through in flip flops (though some people had bare feet!). Oh man, it was a bad time.

      1. I have to admit, the toilet in Thailand – that’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. I lack the words. Just…wow.
        Do you think that if we ask Madame Tussaud’s really nice, they’d make a historically accurate plague display? I think it would fit right in with the Chamber of Horrors.

  2. You’re not kidding, £17 is very steep for what just sounds like a mish-mash of stuff. The snus made me look up Skoal Bandits tobacco pouches to see if they were the same thing, but I don’t think they are. There was a factory making them in the town I worked in in the late 80s until it was banned on health grounds. I drive past it every day and had never given it a thought since! I have never smoked and think it’s gross but that sounds even worse.

    1. I think skoal is similar to snus in that you just kind of stick it in your mouth for a while, but they’re not the same thing. I think the difference is that you stick snus under your upper lip, and it doesn’t make you have to spit all the time, whereas dip goes in your lower lip, and you have to constantly produce a disgusting stream of brown saliva. Neither sounds appealing, but I think snus is slightly less gross simply because of the lack of spitting. All the redneck kids in my high school would do dip in the parking lot during lunch, whilst leaning on their Confederate flag adorned pick-up trucks (bearing in mind we lived in NE Ohio, which is why recent events in America appall me, but don’t surprise me), and that was enough to put me off it for life, even if it hadn’t been intrinsically gross.

      1. Really, confederate flags in high school?! Shocking. We were also shocked to read tonight that most of the contentious statues are 20th century, I assumed they were put up at the end of the Civil War. That makes it even worse.

      2. Oh yeah, most of them aren’t that old. I think after the war, while the veterans were still alive, though there were obviously issues surrounding Reconstruction, there was also a spirit of reconciliation. I think a lot of the monuments started to go up in the early 20th century with the eugenics movement and revival of the Klan, and then also around the time of desegregation, in the ’50s and ’60s, when white Southerners suddenly felt a need to “reclaim” their “heritage.” Tony Horwitz wrote a really interesting book about the role of the Civil War in the modern South called Confederates in the Attic…it was published in the mid-1990s, and I originally read it back in middle school, but have re-read it quite a few times over the years (even though I think Horwitz is a little bit too sympathetic to some of the Southerners he meets) because it’s sadly just as (perhaps even more) relevant today.

  3. Oh boy, strossel! I just read somewhere that it’s common to put them on toast – which I’d probably pass on, though it does appeal to the sugar-crazed kid in me. But I’d definitely give that sugar-roll-pretzel a try.
    Ha, I totally disregarded your warning and clicked on that photo. Even having been warned, that was pretty startling. If you’ll excuse the pun, they weren’t fooling around, were they? Right to the graphic stuff. Maybe it was meant to cut down on someone’s snus usage by distracting them.
    It certainly looks like a beautiful spot and I love the buildings – too bad most of them were shuttered. Oh, and I love your disappointed-with-the-bathroom photo. It’s perfect.

    1. I didn’t see strossel toast there, but they do have fairy bread in Australia, which is just buttered bread with sprinkles I think. I’m totally down with sprinkles on toast, it’d be the butter that would put me off (I like butter to cook and bake with, but I cannot eat it just spread on something. I find something about the fatty texture very off-putting). I’ve had chocolate sprinkles on toast in the Netherlands, and that’s pretty good, but it’s more just like shaved chocolate than actual sprinkles.
      My favourite part of that snus box is the woman peering in through the window, looking all dismayed. Maybe she’s supposed to be the guy’s wife? I still can’t believe how, um, vividly rendered they were though. I mean, there were a few children in that museum when I was there, but I think Scandinavians are much less uptight about that sort of thing generally.

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