Stylish, storybook city by the sea
07.05.2019 - 10.05.2019 10 °C
Stepping back three weeks in time ..................After a two hour flight from Amsterdam, here we are in Stockholm, the watery capital of Sweden and the launching place for our tour of the Baltic.
I have long been interested in visiting the Scandinavian countries but It struck me while reading the Lonely Planet Scandinavia just how special the region is. It talks about how the region has a high liveability rating due to the combination of stylish cities set in watery surrounds and with landscapes endowed with an abundance of beautiful forests, lakes, fjiords and spectacular coastal and mountain scenery. Add to this that the cities have a rich history with beautiful buildings to match and it is also becomes a very appealing area for visiting.
So, we were looking forward to doing just that and also to taking our first cruise.
We arrived in a chilly 6 degree Stockholm at 9.30pm and caught a taxi to the hotel. An interesting ride as the driver drove most of the way at 140kph in the 100 zone but thankfully slowed down to 120 in the 80 zone. However, we made it safely to our hotel The Esplanade (after Keith asked him to slow down), which was a lovely throwback to times gone by. The hotel dates back to 1910 and retains much of the ambience and character of that era with wood panelling and welcoming lounges. With only 34 rooms, friendly staff, well located on the Esplanade and great breakfasts it was a great place to stay.
On Wednesday morning we walked along the picturesque waterfront to the Vasa Museum.
The Vasa is the sailing ship built for the Swedish King in 1628 which sank 20 minutes into her maiden voyage and laid in the mud in Stockholm harbour for 333 years before being salvaged in 1961. Because of the water conditions and being covered in mud and clay the ship was remarkably well preserved and 98. % of the reconstructed vessel is original with most of the elaborately carved woodwork being retained. The ship sank because it was top heavy and to narrow in the beam to carry sufficient ballast. Despite misgivings about its stability the King needed his new flagship to support his war with Poland and the Admiral did not have the courage to say No Sir. So after launching and making the customary gun salute to the Royal Castle, the ship was hit by a gust of wind and rolled at such an angle that water poured in through the gun portals that were still open after the Royal salute. The ship could not recover and sank within 20 minutes of setting sail. Of the 150 crew about 59 died with some remains being recovered with the ship.
Another museum located on the island of Djurgården near the Vasa Museum
Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, making it a very walkable and scenic city. It’s natural assets are supplemted by lots of storybook buildings, especially in its Old Town, Gamla Stan, founded in the 13th century as a sea port for Viking trading. This small island is dominated by the Royal Palace, big but not of very interesting design, at least from the outside. Various parts are open to the public but we wanted to explore the Old Town.
View of Gamla Stan and Royal Palace from island opposite
While rich in character with beautiful old buildings, narrow, cobblestoned streets and lots of colour, the area had lost much of its charm due to being exploited for tourism. Every second shop was a tourist shop full of cheap souvenirs. There were still some nice quieter areas in the back streets but once again what were obviously once beautiful local areas have been subsumed by the tourist avalanche.
Quintessential Stockholm with lovely vistas wherever you wander of a beautiful harbour lined with grand buildings and boats of all sorts
And the most important ship in the Harbour, for us at least, the Viking Sea, the large white boat centre back
The cold weather has continued (we went from Netherlands cold to Stockholm colder), with an overnight low of 4 and forecast top of 10 with not much improvement for the next week.
At 2pm on Thursday 9th May, we boarded the Viking Sea. We were greeted by friendly champagne bearing crew and sat in the Atrium lounge to enjoy the atmosphere before heading off to find our stateroom and explore the ship. Very impressive with its many restaurants, lounge areas and other amenities. There was real air of excitement on board as others did the same. Lots of American accents, some Aussies and Brits detected so far with a very multicultural, very friendly crew.
We will lay our heads here for the next 15 nights
We spent the first night on board in Stockholm and the next day did a bus tour of the city. Although we had already wandered around the inner city, the tour took us a bit further afield, across more bridges to outer city islands and also gave us more of an insight into the social liveability of Sweden. Our tour guide told us that although Sweden has a population of just 10 million, they pay very high taxes and for that have free education at every level including university, very low cost health care, a very generous maternity leave of 420 days for each child and thereafter generous child endowment payments plus 35 days annual leave! A lot of people don’t own houses but their rents include water and heating. There is no homelessness, no beggars, low unemployment and generally a good standard of living.
After our morning tour, we set sail at 2.30pm for Helsinki, sitting on the aft Deck 7 lounge area to watch Stockholm disappear from sight as we sailed out through the Stockholm Archipelego of some 24,000 islands.