Above: The stern of the Vasa, stored in its gigantic warehouse museum. Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart.
Sea cruise 2015 continued: Then, finally, the sun came out – just in time for us to emerge from our cruse-ship cabins and see … Stockholm.
And this much was clear: Even two full days, which is all the time we were given for St. Petersburg, wouldn’t be near enough to explore everything the Swedish capital has to offer.
This time we opted for a Hop-on/Hop-off boat service. Showing just how ignorant I am about Baltic geography, I discovered that Stockholm is known as a “city of islands.” In fact, this is how Rick Steves describes it: “One-third water, one-third city, surrounded by woods, bubbling with energy and history, Sweden’s capital is green, clean, and underrated.”
I couldn’t agree more. And the same holds true with Steves’ other sentiment. “If I had to call one European city home, it might be Stockholm.”
I’m ready to move there tomorrow.
As to the city’s being “one-third water,” that, if anything, is an understatement. And it’s a fact that was hidden from us as we arrived at the cruise-ship piers in the dark of night.
So it just made sense: We would take the boat around the city center and stop off whenever the mood struck us.
This allowed us to see much of the Old Town, if hardly anything of the outlying area. We did see the City Hall, the Royal Palace, the National Museum and so on. But before getting off and walking around Old Town, and having lunch, we had to check out the Vasa.
Never heard of it? Well, the Swedish navy wishes it had never heard of it either. It was in 1628 that the brand-new but top-heavy warship, Vasa, capsized and sank just 40 minutes into its maiden voyage – settling in the mud of Stockholm’s harbor. And despite a bit of Swedish hand-wringing, and an inquiry that held no one accountable, there the Vasa sat for some three-plus centuries.
Then in 1956, the wreck was discovered and – through a complicated, careful process – was raised. Now it sits in its own museum, a vast warehouse that includes multi-media displays (including a documentary film) and the preserved ship in some, though hardly all, its former glory.
I’m certain that Stockholm has things that will appeal more to those into art, music, archaeology, natural science, history, etc. But the Vasa Museum is bound to appeal to anyone whose tastes run to maritime history, if not disasters – if not all our inner little boys.
I liked it even better than the place where we eventually had lunch, Barrels Burgers & Beer, which served one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten – though this being Sweden, the price was enough to make me wonder whether I was being ask to fund the country’s health-care system all by myself.
Then, after a short walk through the city center on this suddenly hot and sun-baked day, we experienced another treat, one that might serve as a high point for this entire cruise: Sailing out of Stockholm, for more than four hours we passed through a series of islands – known as the Stockholm Archipelago – before emerging back into the Baltic Sea.
As we progressed through them, the islands gradually grew smaller and more barren until we passed a final outcropping of land, marked by a lighthouse.
I remember feeling like the Vasa. I didn’t want to leave Stockholm either.