Stockholm, Sweden = best city ever


I am finding it very hard to keep up with my blog daily because we’re so busy! So keep in mind that I’m a few days behind. I’ll start with today, though, and move backwards. I’m in Stockholm Sweden and I’m in love with the city! It is such a beautiful port. As the Explorer was entering the city, we had two options. We could either enter aboard the ship as it sailed through the harbor, or we could enter via Zodiac (at 6:30 am) and take an alternate route through a narrow manmade canal that passed by a scenic park and along the most expensive (and beautiful) streets in Stockholm. I chose the Zodiac, of course. I started out in a guest boat, and about ten minutes into the ride we came across another Zodiac manned by the hotel staff (hotel manger, head chef, pastry chef, etc…) who were handing out cups of hot chocolate, tea, coffee and slices of homemade cinnamon cake. They kidnapped me and took me on a longer, more indirect tour of the boat-lined harbor. It started to sprinkle a bit, so they hoisted up a huge umbrella so we wouldn’t get wet. We passed under bridges and along tree-lined streets. All of the old buildings here are gorgeous – made out of stone and very well preserved.

After I was returned to the ship and had breakfast, we loaded the busses that would take us to the Vasa Museum. Like I said before, I’m not usually into museums, but all the ones we have gone to have been great. The story behind the Vasa is a short and amusing one. It was a huge, beautifully decorated and painted warship with numerous intricately carved figures built for the King in 1628. After completion it sailed, with over three hundred men and thousands of tons of heavy canons, 1,500 meters (or just under a mile) before it capsized and sank. Apparently it didn’t have enough ballast – extra weight – in the hull, but if they had added more, water would have come in through the gun holes. There was a lot of finger pointing regarding its fate, but ultimately the blame came down to the King and of course they couldn’t criticize the King. So, the Vasa was deemed lost and soon forgot about. That is until 1961 when a shipwreck specialist successfully located its position and initiated a recovery. The ship, which had been sitting in brackish water for 300 years was slowly lifted up to the surface and over the next 40 years, it was preserved and restored. Today it sits in its own museum with its history written across the walls. There were approximately 50 deaths that occurred when the ship sank and the bones of several of the sailors lay beneath glass in one of the exhibits. Artists have even reconstructed the facial features of a few so that they look like living, vibrant people.

After the museum we got back on the busses and went for a short tour through the city. Somewhere along the way I think I fell a little bit more in love with its layout. It’s so beautiful! After lunch we had a special guest speaker come aboard. Lech Walesa, former President of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1983, entertained us with his humorous wit and jovial charm. Like Gorbachev, Lech Walesa insisted that we are in dire need of change throughout the world and since the US has been a superpower for many years, many countries are looking to us to lead that change.

The afternoon was ours to enjoy. Long ago I decided that the best way to see a city is by bike, but since I didn’t have access to two wheels, the next best thing is to go for a run and get (a little) lost. So that’s what I did (I also went for a run in Finland, but I haven’t written about that yet). With a map and my iPhone (for music) in hand, I started out on the cobblestone streets. I had a rough idea of where I was going, but I inherited my parents genes and nothing seems to work out as planned. I ended half running, half walking around an island that was bigger than I thought it was. It was a beautiful park, though, and I saw some nice views of the city. It just took me 2 1/2 hours to get around (I ran probably half of it). Needless to say, I was tired when I got back, but I still wanted to see the Old City of Gamla Stan, located just a short distance from the ship. I walked around the narrow cobblestone streets lined with cafes and shops for a bit, then headed back to the ship for dinner. Once again, however, I got kidnapped by the crew and brought up to a skyscraper restaurant and bar that looked out over the city for some food and drinks. They wanted me to go out with them after, but I declined and went to bed instead.

Now going back to yesterday. We were in Finland on a small group of islets called the Aland Islands (pronounced Owland). Just after breakfast we disembarked onto a barren piece of rock with a solitary lighthouse that was used many years ago to help ships navigate the perilous waters. The lighthouse had an enormous horn that they sounded off for us as we explored the island. Also in the light house were various rooms, including several bedrooms, a kitchen, the attic where the horn was, a lookout tower, and the machinery room down below where they (somehow) sounded off the horn. It didn’t take long to circle the island, and after an hour or so we returned to the ship.

After lunch we docked in the small port (and biggest town of the Alands), called Mariehamn. The main attraction was the tall sailing ship called the Pommern, which once sailed around Cape Horn from Europe to Australia multiple times, carrying cargo and goods. Today it has been converted into a museum where we could see what it was like to live aboard a tall sailing ship in the early 1900s. We made our way down three levels and through the captains quarters, crew bunks, the galley, storeroom, and vast cargo space. Although the sails weren’t flying, up on deck we could see the complicated rigging and ladders that led up to the tall masts. It was very cool!

As I mentioned before, I decided to explore Mariehamn and its surrounding area by going for a jog. I managed to find a nice gravel trail that led me up to a lookout where I could look down on the Pommern and Explorer. It was nice to get outside and get some exercise.

And I think that gets me all caught up! We still have many more days, though, and five more countries, so check back for more posts!

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