Gotland Island, Sweden


September 13th

Due to a high wind forecast in the Swedish archipelago, our plans for the day changed slightly and instead of visiting the Swedish islands, we remained in Stockholm for an extra day. I can’t say I was too disappointed!

The previous afternoon, as I was walking around, to my delight I came across a vegan bakery and cafe. But unfortunately, it was closed. So the next morning I disembarked the ship early, before breakfast, and retraced my steps to the little cafe. My plan was to spend a few hours writing and catching up on emails as I enjoyed a vegan breakfast and coffee. From the case I chose an egg-free quiche and carrot cake, but since the shopowners had run out of coffee beans (?!), I had to find my coffee (and WiFi) elsewhere.

For the remainder of the morning and afternoon, I wound my way through the Old City and streets of Stockholm. I visited a Birkenstock store, an indoor specialty food market, many small handmade craft stores, and numerous other little shops. As I said before, Stockholm (and probably all of Sweden) is very expensive, so I didn’t buy much! But I enjoyed meandering along the narrow cobblestone streets and taking picture after picture of brightly colored buildings, beautiful churches, and quaint houses.

That night, after returning to the ship, the NG Explorer sailed away from Stockholm, toward the Baltic Island of Gotland, where we would spend the next day exploring Viking ruins.

September 14

Once again, the weather dictated what we could (or could not) do this morning. The winds were still very high, preventing us from docking in the small port town of Visby on Gotland island. So instead, the morning was spent cruising north along the west coast of Gotland until we reached a calm place where the Explorer could anchor safely. After lunch we took Zodiacs to shore and boarded buses (that were arranged in a matter of hours) and drove 45 minutes to the historic town of Visby. A wealth of archaeological finds on the island, such as ship burials from the Bronze Age and silver treasure of the Viking era, suggest that the islands’ strategic position in the Baltic Sea made it a huge trading area as far back as the Viking times. The Hanseatic League, “a medieval league of towns of northern Germany and adjacent countries for the promotion and protection of commerce” was once centered in Visby, the capital of Gotland.

Today, the medieval old town of Visby has been beautifully restored and I went for a long walk around the imposing outer wall that was built in the 13th century as a defense against attackers. Almost two miles long, it was originally 18 feet high and surrounded by a deep moat. At regular intervals there are stone towers and ramparts that we could climb to get a better view of the inner city as well as the encompassing sea.

The old town itself is very similar to the other villages we’ve visited – cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, bright houses with shuttered windows, and cafes lining every corner. I still find every one charming and delightful, however.

There was a museum containing relics of the Viking era, but I have been slightly museum-ed out, so I opted to continue walking around town. Later in the afternoon there was a small folk band of local musicians who performed for us in the courtyard of the museum. They played traditional songs on violin as well as the strange-looking nickel harp.

Then it was back to the buses for the ride north to where the NG Explorer was anchored. Having not slept well the previous night from all the rocking and the walk around the outer wall, I was exhausted! On the ride, though, I sat next to a woman who I have actually traveled with before. She’s a film maker and she’s working on a documentary about what makes people happy. What is it in life that makes it worth living? She is convinced that even though our visible lives – our homes, living rooms, cars, etc… – have all greatly ‘improved’ throughout the last few decades, the quality of our lives, specifically our happiness and contentment, has taken a nosedive. So what is it really, that we have lost? A very interesting questions that I think very few people can answer. Our society seems to be so caught up in what we don’t have, we forget to stop and enjoy what we actually do have. And that’s where we lose our happiness. She’s not sure when the documentary will be finished, but I think it will definitely be worth watching!

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