Stockholm’s subway art

July 5, 2018

Stockholm’s subways are considered a type of art gallery by many. It’s hard to explain without photos, so here’s some I captured during my time riding around in Stockholm.

 
Stockholm
 

When I came and left Stockholm from the airport I took the commuter rail to and from Central Station on SL’s commuter rail. This station is enormous — it’s technically two separate stations connected together — and is at least eight levels deep. The commuter rail platform I took features tiles painted to look like trees with birds here and there.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The Metro (or T-bana) part of the station I found myself in features blue-on-white floral patterns and silhouettes of workers. This was a challenging part of the station to take photos as passengers were rushing through and I tried my best to remain out of their way.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

If you’re familiar with Stockholm’s subway art, the station that probably jumps to mind is Solna Centrum with its red and green color scheme. This station’s unlikely to be visited by most tourists due to its location. Still it’s worth a detour for those interested.

Now that said most photos make this station look dark and dramatic, but it’s actually well lit and contains funny murals and dioramas. So it may not be exactly what you expect.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The design of the Stadion station invokes a sky motif with a sky blue color and a big rainbow in the middle. It’s a a strange choice for an underground room.

You’ll also find a poster for the 1912 Olympic games here as the station is near the Olympic stadium (hence the name of the station.)

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The art at Tekniska Högskolan station reflects it’s proximity to Stockholm’s technical university. There’s a map of the solar system (not to scale) built into the wall. A giant apple precariously dangling from the ceiling represents Newton’s theories, which are also written on the wall in Swedish.

The strangest art is a sculpture in the middle of the station: a dodecahedron with clear sides, with a black rod in the middle and some curly pasta looking things surrounding the rod. What’s going on here? According to the subway art tour I attended, this is a representation of a Stephen Hawking quote about what you’d see if you were sucked into a black hole just before you died. You can view this as it’s intended by standing directly under it and looking straight up. Apparently Hawking himself visited this station and approved of the sculpture. I’d imagine not many subway stations can make such a claim.

 
Stockholm
 

Kungsträdgården station is just below the King’s Garden, as the name suggests. If you listen carefully you can hear water trickling in the station, which isn’t really ideal — a mildly toxic fungus has to be cleaned out of the station regularly. The art includes strangely shaped light displays, ivy growing over broken white sculptures, a petrified tree stump, etc. It has a sort of otherworldly sensibility down there.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

Bonus: This one’s not a subway station though it is on the Stockholm Metro. Thorildsplan station is in fact above ground, but the art is fun and I couldn’t leave it out. Tiles are used as form of pixel art to make the station an homage to early video games, in particular Pac Man and Super Mario Bros.

You may have no practical reason to visit Thorildsplan — I certainly didn’t — but it’s worth checking out if you want to see the only metro station in the world designed to look like old video games.

Stockholm expeditions

July 4, 2018

During my six sunny days in Stockholm I tried to squeeze in as many expeditions around town as possible without exhausting myself too much. It’s a big city with a lot going on — you could probably spend a couple weeks in Stockholm and still leave with that nagging feeling you missed something.

Here’s how I spent my time:

Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

 
Free walking tours
Note: These are all free, but you’re expected to tip the guide if you enjoyed the tour.

  • City Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. This tour’s kind of a grab bag, but wanders around mostly in the new-ish parts of Stockholm to the east of the old town. Much of it focuses on the era around the beginnings of the era of the constitutional monarchy.
  • Old Town (Gamla Stan) Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. When I first set foot in Gamla Stan I couldn’t help but to roll my eyes — yet another beautiful relic of a medieval European city turned into a tourist trap. Sigh. But this tour helped breathe some life, or in some cases death, into the stories from the old days. Can’t say Gamla Stan is my favorite place, but by the end of the tour I appreciated it the history enough to not hate its current incarnation.
  • Subway Art Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. If you’ve seen the amazing photos of the subway stations in Stockholm this tour needs no introduction, and if you haven’t go Google it right now! My only complaint about this tour is it didn’t take me to enough stations. I’ll follow up with another blog post about Stockholm’s subway art in the near future, there’s too much to say here.
  • Söder Tour from Free Tour Stockholm. I was staying in the Söder neighborhood/island so most of the ground we covered was already familiar, but the history of the neighborhood was new to me. Somehow this part of town went from a battlefield to the poor part of town and eventually became a the hip part of town.
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      Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

       
      Other tours

      • Stockholm Ghost Walk. This somewhat theatrical tour covers both the historical stories from the old town (Gamla Stan) as well as the more… shall we say, legendary tales. A crypt is included, though the bodies were moved long ago.
      • Guided tour of the Riksdag (Parliament). This tour shows you around the building where Sweden’s government operates. The building’s a mishmash of old and new, modified over time to fit the needs of the day. It’s completely free, just show up at the designated time and prepare to go through an airport-style security check.
      • The Nordic Food Walk. This one’s pricey but worth it since it includes samples of many different Swedish cuisines you won’t find elsewhere. They’ll try to cater to your dietary needs, and as a pescetarian there was only one dish I didn’t get to try — a meatball. The tour ended in the basement of a restaurant for a “fika,” or Swedish coffee break.

       

      Odds and ends

      Aside from the tours here are some other places I stumbled on during my time in Stockholm.

      Stockholm
       

      During my first day in Stockholm my Airbnb host suggested visiting Monteliusvägen, a lookout point near where I was staying. There’s a panoramic view of the city from there and it’s not much of a climb. The place was pretty crowded, but there’s a long trail along the cliff with a few lookout points where you can take in the view and snap some photos.

      Stockholm
       

      A few rooms of the Royal Palace were open to visitors for free. The photo above is the chapel built into the palace but there are several other rooms you can visit without taking the tour. The courtyard is also open to the public.

      Stockholm
       

      The Stockholm Public Library is like a temple for reading. The circular main room has three levels of narrow hallways with books on one side. There’s a small section of English books, though like many visitors I was just there to admire the architecture of the building. According to a sign outside the building this was the first open stack public library in Sweden.

      Stockholm
       

      The idea of an espresso tonic never appealed to me until I was in Stockholm during a heat wave and happened to walk into Johan & Nystrom. Normally at a fancy espresso bar I’d order an espresso, but it was such a hot day I almost gagged at the though of drinking a hot beverage.

      Noticing an espresso tonic featured on their summer menu I went ahead and ordered it. The barista made an espresso, which he poured over iced tonic water. I liked it so much I came back for two more during the trip.

      Stockholm
       

      Everyone who visits Stockholm seems to agree there’s one museum you have to visit: the Vasa Museum. They’re right. This is one impressive museum.

      Back in the 1620′s, the king of Sweden wanted a modern warship with two gun decks in order to intimidate his neighbors. This proved to be a little too cutting edge for the time as the ship sank on its maiden voyage. The wreckage was mostly forgotten until the 1950s when it was discovered again.

      The museum tells both the story of the ship and its historical context as well as the monumental effort that went into getting the ship to where it is today. But the initial “wow” factor for me was walking in past the ticket counter right up to a massive wooden ship that nearly fills a five story building. You don’t see that every day.

Stockholm

June 29, 2018

Stockholm
Stockholm Stockholm
 

I visisted Stockholm on a whim to be totally honest — I knew I’d be in Greece for a wedding, and wanted to fly nonstop to a city in Europe I’d never been to before and spend a few days there. Flights to Stockholm were cheap, so why not give it a shot?

Little did I know I’d be visiting Stockholm during “midsummer,” a time in which there’s no escape from the sun because it never sets. If you’re like me you’d heard about this phenomenon, but if you’ve never experienced it firsthand it’s incredibly jarring.

For midsummer many stores and restaurants adjust their hours to a later, more Mediterranean schedule. From around 8 PM to sometime early in the morning, the city takes on an eerie glow. I knew I’d have some jet lag flying in but it’s much worse when the sun doesn’t have the decency to disappear at night.

Stockholm
 

First things first: the language barrier. This wasn’t an issue; almost everyone spoke English, though some were more reluctant to practice than others. Not all written information is available in English but this never seemed to matter much.

Second, make sure you bring a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. Cash isn’t accepted in many places in Stockholm, and you can pay for almost anything with credit cards — even things like pay toilets and vending machines take plastic. Some stores require you to present an ID with your credit card if it doesn’t have a PIN associated with it.

Stockholm
 

From the Stockholm Arlanda airport I picked up an SL Access public transit card and loaded a seven day pass on it. This card lets you on the local buses, the T-bana (subway), the commuter rail, and the ferries. Getting around is pretty straightforward with Google Maps but unfortunately Google hasn’t yet added ferry routes to its transit directions. FYI: It takes a little “travel hacking” but you can get out of paying airport surcharges on the commuter rail if you ask how at the airport information desk.

I found Swedes tend to be friendly but usually pretty quiet. This has its advantages, mainly that you can ride the subway without being forced to overhear loud conversations. Come to think of it I guess their demeanor is kind of like their furniture — pleasant but not trying to stand out.

Stockholm
 

Stockholm itself is a city of contradictions. Food is everywhere, but there’s not much Swedish food to be found (with the exception of cinnamon rolls.) There’s an enormous royal palace, but it’s barely used and the royal family isn’t well liked. Most businesses don’t take cash, yet the country declined to switch to the Euro. Alcohol is only sold at government stores, but drunks roam the streets at all hours. Swedes might seem reserved, but I’m told going to nude saunas with your friends and family is a big part of their lives.

Every culture has its quirks of course, but I didn’t expect to find so many in just a week. What makes these cultural elements stand out like a sore thumb is I’m writing this blog post from a hotel overlooking Monastiraki Square in Athens. People are eating junk food and drinking beer while loud music plays from every direction in almost unbearably hot weather; I’m trying to write about Sweden from a place that had might as well be the anti-Sweden.

In the next post I’ll go into detail on some of the places I went, tours I attended, etc. in Stockholm.

Doctor Who sidewalk graffiti in Hayes Valley

June 17, 2018

Bad Wolf
 

At the corner of Rose and Octavia, someone painted “Bad Wolf…” underneath the street imprint in the sidewalk. I thought that was pretty funny and snapped the above photo.

Spoilers for old Doctor Who episodes follow.

“Bad Wolf” was a storyline from the first season of the rebooted Doctor Who back in 2005. Throughout the season the ninth Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler keep seeing references to Bad Wolf, but are unable to identify the significance of the phrase. Toward the end of the season, Rose Tyler looks into the heart of the Doctor’s TARDIS and becomes temporarily inhabited by it or something. Look, this is all pretty convoluted even by Doctor Who standards so just roll with it.

The important thing is, Rose Tyler with the TARDIS’ time traveling power becomes a new entity known as Bad Wolf. Together as one, they defeat a small army of Daleks and bring “Captain” Jack Harness back to life via time manipulation.

A thirteen year old story from a BBC show isn’t what one would normally expect to see on the streets of San Francisco. Kudos to those keeping our streets humorous and geeky.

First impressions of the new Muni Metro trains

June 14, 2018

New Muni Metro train in service
New Muni Metro train in service New Muni Metro train in service
 

This evening I’d planned to take Muni Metro home from work as I often do, but there was an unexpected twist: as I got to the platform level, one of the new trains was pulling in. Finally I’d get to ride one! Unfortunately for me it was going in the opposite direction I was headed, so I only took it one stop just for fun.

Some background: The new trains cars are Siemens S200 light rail vehicles (LRVs) which are slowly replacing the 90′s era Breda LRVs. The Breda’s weren’t always the most reliable, especially their door mechanisms. With the new subway line opening (maybe) next year Muni thought it would be a good idea to start ordering new train cars sooner rather than later, and to have narrowly-defined reliability requirements in the contract. So that’s how we wound up with these new Siemens S200 train cars. Muni calls this new fleet “LRV 4″ for some reason they haven’t explained as far as I know.

In my brief ride today, here’s a few things that immediately stood out:

  • The exterior is a little boxier looking than the current Breda LRVs but otherwise looks pretty similar. The color scheme is nearly identical.
  • These are very quiet trains, which has been par for the course in major European cities for a while but is new to SF.
  • The seating arrangement is more like a typical subway with benches along the walls rather than two-across bus-style seating. This should leave more standing room during rush hour.
  • Onboard audio cues sound different and may take some getting used to.
  • The Clipper card readers have a new design.

But the biggest difference? This one’s impossible to ignore:

New Muni Metro train in service
 

In the middle of the train is a live display with the destination, the next couple of stops, and the transfer points for the next stop. Hopefully they keep this up to date as bus routes change. There’s also an argument to be made that “Cable Car” should be more specific since there are multiple lines. But that’s all nitpicking, overall the new display is a massive improvement.

That’s all I have for now. In the future I may have some deeper impressions to share, particularly on street level stops when the stairs come down.

If you’d like to try the new Muni Metro trains SF Transit Riders has a live map of their locations here.

Review: Wonderland from Epic Immersive

June 5, 2018


 

This is the final month for an immersive theater show in San Francisco titled Wonderland. It’s a story based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As the audience is sworn to secrecy and forbidden (wisely, I think) from taking photos, this will be a tight-lipped review. I’m not going to discuss details about the story or expose the secret location.

Let me start by stating that I’ve only been to one previous production that would qualify as “immersive theater,” so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But the basic rules on the ticketing website and the safety presentation before the show seemed pretty clear. Arrive sober, don’t attack the actors, and if you’re unclear or uncomfortable just say so — simple enough.

The audience went through in small groups, with the actors either drawing out or speeding up scenes to give everyone time to find their way through the dark “rabbit holes” of the space. This seemed to affect pacing in unexpected ways. My companion in our group later confessed she felt rushed at times and would have liked more time to explore.

I should point out here that this production is fairly linear. Unlike some immersive theater productions where you can stay in one spot the whole time if you wish, in Wonderland you’re ushered from one scene to the next.

The interactions between the actors and audience varied between scenes, as did the seriousness of the actors themselves. Some seemed content to chew scenery while others played their roles with more subtle humor. The only character played completely straight is Alice, which is sensible considering her story arch.

Aside from one unclear plot point near the end I found the story easy to follow and enjoyable. Perhaps the real standout star of the show is the venue itself. That said I’m biased as this particular place is one of my favorites in San Francisco — perhaps it will become one of yours as well.

Wonderland extends through the end of June 2018, you can purchase tickets here. If you go with someone else try to get tickets in the same “wave” so you won’t be split up.
 

My recommendation: If you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, I’d give it a qualified yes — as long as you meet the mobility requirements (some crawling is involved), have an interest in immersive theater, and can afford the ticket price it’s a fun and unique show. See it while you still have the chance!

Carnaval Parade: Stoic Cop

May 29, 2018


 

Yesterday at San Francisco’s 2018 Carnaval Parade a number of dancers for whatever reason decided to target a particular SFPD officer with their dance moves, crowding him and grinding against him. He barely reacted — a truly stoic cop if there ever was one.

As you can see in the video I was hardly the only one in the crowd to notice this happening, let alone take photos or videos. I overheard one man in the crowd suggest the cop would make a good Buckingham Palace guard.

This police officer is the same one who can be seen in the thumbnail image in the video I posted yesterday, something I planned meticulously of a weird coincidence since I filmed from various points along the parade route.

Carnaval San Francisco 2018 parade

May 28, 2018

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For a bunch more photos check out my Carnaval 2018 album here.
 

Today was the grand parade of Carnaval San Francisco, the Mission District’s biggest parade and cultural event. It was billed as the 40th Anniversary, which isn’t exactly true… but forget it. Sometimes you just have to put down your calculator, pick up a Modelo tallboy in a paper bag, and enjoy Carnaval.

Unlike the 2016 parade I didn’t see Elvis this time, but overall the parade seemed longer? Around three hours. All the staples you’d expect like BART, Shriners, low riders, Recology and many different dance groups. Muni seems to have taken upon themselves to hand out bead necklaces, including throwing them at people watching from apartment windows and fire escapes.

Check out the video below for some highlights.

One man’s trash is another man’s toilet

May 27, 2018

One man's trash is another man's toilet
 

While on my way to run an errand after the Carnaval Parade wrapped up — more on that later — I spotted a humorously placed toilet seat on a public garbage can at 16th Street and Guerrero. The juxtaposition is so perfect, I’d come up with the title of this blog post before I even finished taking the photo.

Well played, anonymous person with an ugly blue toilet seat.

Salesforce Tower light show allegedly launched

May 23, 2018

Salesforce Tower, opening day
 

Today was the grand opening of Salesforce Tower, and with it the alleged launch of a massive 11,000 LED light show on the top of the building.

As you can see in my photo above taken from Dolores Park, it was so foggy I’m not even sure which building is which. None of them seem to be capped with a light show. The downtown skyline almost looks like a mirage somewhere in the distance, as it always does when it’s covered in a thick layer of fog.

So did the lights even get turned on? Was it too foggy to find the switch? Neither would surprise me. Here’s a video from earlier in the evening from the much closer vantage point of Second and Howard. Even from there the top of the building was obscured by the fog.

Salesforce Tower, opening day