The Helsinki Worldcon was many years in the making, so it feels a bit surreal that it finally came and went and is now just a memory.
Loncon 3 had been my first Worldcon outside of the US and now Worldcon 75 was to be my first one outside of the anglosphere. Having never been to northern Europe I was delighted when Bryan and Mette invited us to join in their plans to fly into Stockholm and then take the (in)famous ferry to Helsinki.
Altogether there were eight of us in our little group; Mette and Bryan, our intrepid local guides, Kevin and Andy, SMOF powerhouses girding their loins for the last Worldcon before chairing San Jose next year, along with Kevin’s sister Kelly and of course Warren from Vancouver.
John and I flew in Saturday morning, a few days after the rest of the group had arrived and made our way to the hotel, the Haymarket Scandic, an Art Deco palace which started out as a trendy department store where Greta Garbo worked in the 1920s and launched her career by modelling hats.
The flight from London was uneventful and transit into the city delightfully clean and efficient. We found the gang, dropped our suitcases off, and went to find our first Swedish meal! In this case an expensive (the whole place is expensive) but delicious repast of sandwich cake and an open-faced shrimp mayo kind of thing. Afterwards there was just enough time to freshen up before heading downstairs to get a beer and watch the Stockholm Pride Parade go right past the hotel windows. We had a prime location on the lounge level and it was a fantastic way to start the trip.
When the parade ended we wandered into the crowds and ended up at the Mosebacketerrassen at Södra Teatern, a terrace bar high on a hill overlooking the city. The view was spectacular, and although we got rained on a bit we did also get to see some vintage biplanes fly by, close to our own height.
We were driven back down to sea level by hunger but found most places packed with Pride revellers, and eventually descended further to a basement tapas bar. It was warm and had available tables so we settled in, but unfortunately the food was just okay and the service slow. The wait did allow us to marvel at the oddest bachelorette party entertainment I have ever seen, a magician/MC/stand-up maybe? There were haphazard costume changes and it was all closer performance art but trying to puzzle it out passed the time nicely. By the end of the meal we were falling asleep in our seats and I was feeling a bit unwell, so took the train back to the hotel, I crashed hard and slept until morning.
On Sunday morning after a lovely breakfast buffet we all went to Djurgården, which is basically an island full of museums.
First stop was Skansen, an open-air living history sort of place with buildings from different eras in Swedish history. A row of workshops at the start house at work, while further on the residences have guides in period costume who will explain the history and customs. We got to see a glass blower making cunning little turtles, an 18th century blueprint printer (think of the fanzines you could print off that!), and learn a bit about linen processing and Sami culture. We also got to see reindeer with their calves, a pair of moose, and some trained seals in the indigenous animal enclosures. At midday we split the group, most opting for lunch while John and I walked over the to the Vasamuseet which the rest had already seen.
The Vasa is a 17th Century warship that sank on its maiden voyage barely out of port which was rediscovered and raised whole in the 1960s. Even realizing it was a flawed vessel, it’s a breathtaking sight; a massive oak ship, covered in ornamentation and bristling with cannons. The museum covers every part of its history starting with the context of its construction all the way to its preservation today, including an interesting look into the salvage operation. If you see one thing in Stockholm I doubt you can do better than the Vasa. We grabbed a little snack at their outdoor café to tide us over till dinner and watched the nearly tame, fat little sparrows that clearly live primarily on tourist snacks.
We rendezvoused with the group and took the ferry back to Gamla Stan, the crossing is short but fun and gives a better perspective of the archipelago that is Stockholm. We arrived just in time for our reservation at Aifur, a Viking restaurant!
Aifur is also a basement restaurant, with arched ceilings, decorated to evoke a Viking longhouse. We ordered a pitcher of mead for the table and for myself I got a lovely perch in a hazelnut sauce. John ordered boar meatballs, also delicious. The ingredients and recipes were period appropriate, the mead was great, and soon we were all happily tipsy.
And if one Viking experience is good well then two must surely be even better. We poured ourselves out of the restaurant and headed directly to Sjätte Tunnan (The Sixth Barrel) an bar attached to the Here we had lots more mead including some that resembled beer and a delicious blackberry one, and enjoyed listening to the revelry in the restaurant below where they loudly announce incoming parties in the manner of a medieval court.
By the end we were feeling very happy indeed, we had a little wander through the night streets and saw Stortoget plaza, scene of the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520. On the walk back to our hotel we passed a group staging a sit-in to highlight refugee issues and joined them, though all too briefly, when we passed the next day they were still there fighting the good fight.
Our ferry was on Monday afternoon, so we had the morning to explore daytime Gamla Stan. We visited their excellent SF Bookstore, purchased Cuban cigars, tried some softserve ice cream with outstanding chocolate sprinkles, bought some honeycomb candles, and generally wandered about being touristy until it was time to make our way to the ferry terminal.