Chilperic (chilperic) wrote,

Conversation from an Open Prison, 1

fjm and I landed at Skavsta airport, courtesy of Ryanair, about 11.30 on Wednesday morning, and caught the coach into Stockholm. Since it was Ryanair, it was about 100 kilometers out of town, but the trip only took just over an hour. We were met by Thomas, an sf fan who had kindly taken time off from being professor of bio-medical science at the Karolinska to pick us up. And he took us to prison.

The prison in question is on Långholmen, a small island which is just to the north of Södermalm which is just south of Gamla Stan (to those who know Stockholm this will be obvious; to those who don’t, all that you need to know is that Stockholm is built on a dozen of islands). Once upon a time it was a real prison; now it is a hotel. But they really play up the prison aspect. We are in Cell 210. (It has three barrel-vaulted ceilings, two for the room and one for the bathroom, so I suspect it was really three cells.) At reception you can buy convict-striped T-shirts; and by the reception desk are clocks which tell you the current time in Alcatraz, Sing Sing, Robben Island and Port Arthur in Tasmania (which last, by a process of deduction, I assume to be a prison too….) But it all seems very comfortable. And, unlike most hotels, the walls are very thick…

The weather was wonderfully warm when we arrived; and the island of Långholmen obviously attracts the leisure-seekers. There were numerous sunbathers, and swimmers on the little beach just by the hotel; and there was a jazz band playing in the bar just a hundred metres away over the other side of a creek. (It was still playing, but this time to dancers, when we got back in the evening.)

After a short rest, we decided to do our duty as tourists. Disregarding information about where to find the underground trains, we walked into the centre of town: it was just a question of crossing the bridge from Långholmen and walking for 2.5 kms along the waterfront, passing boats of all kinds, including one which was a hotel and a couple which were bars and/or restaurants. We walked around Gamla Stan, ‘the old town’, looking into various art shops and tourist traps, and wandered across onto the mainland the other side, and wandered back again. We managed to find some gluten-free foodstuffs for fjm’s breakfast, if the hotel did not provide. (Eventually we found a large Co-op, but most of the other places with foodstuffs seems to be 7-11s.) And we managed to find a replica Viking ship, too, which was unexpected.

When evening came along we decided to go for one of the Gamla Stan restaurants that looked really interesting (lots of herring). But our Doom is always to find the ideal restaurant closed; that happened in Brussels last year, and it happened here. So we went to one which was almost next door: called Fem Små Hus (which I would have thought ought to be “Five Small Houses”, but which might mean “Five Small Rooms” which is what it was.) We were quite lucky to get a table without reservation. And it proved to be ideal. We shared a starter: a large platter containing two types of salmon, two types of herring, some liver paté, some eels, some fish-roe, some prawns… I can’t remember what else. And when we told the waitress that fjm didn’t want any bread, the waitress asked her “Would you like gluten-free bread?” That had only ever happened twice before: once in a restaurant in Reading and once (which did not really count) in the restaurant of a hotel in the Lake District that had advertised itself on a “Gluten-Free” website. So these two warm bread baps arrived, that she was actually able to eat! She was really moved. And then, there were reindeer steaks and veal steaks, which were both wonderful. A coffee sitting out in a little square, as the sun set; a read of our books—The Science of Discworld because fjm has to write a piece on “story” for a Pratchett encyclopedia, and a re-read of Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World because I am on a panel in a couple of days’ time to discuss the Hugo short-list; a taxi, and then home. The evening sky by the beach at Långholmen was wonderful.

Our first contact with people from Conversation (apart from Thomas) will be this evening (Thursday), when we go to Carolina’s flat for a party.

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