Published: June 12th 2012June 13th 2012
The cruise into Stockholm was stunning and made the morning walk around the deck somewhat more enjoyable. It also drew a conclusion to quite a lengthy trip down from Copenhagen, which saw us at sea for nearly 36 hours. It is amazing how everyone seems to find things to do and once again the ship seemed empty when we walked about. We have heard some people complain about the days at sea as if they were not made aware of them; perhaps they are the same kind of people that buy a house next to the airport and then complain about the plane noise? I have enjoyed the sea days and feel they give you a chance to take stock and also enjoy what the Arcadia has to offer.
The approach to the city is actually through a string of 14 islands with green trees and houses dotting the slopes. The houses are of all shapes and sizes and most have their own jetty to allow access by water. With most of the gardens going all the way to the water they are very picturesque and have an expensive look to them. We were told that one of the islands
was either owned or occupied by an ABBA member.
Once we were ashore we kept up our record of walking into the city centres rather than getting the shuttle buses. We did have a moment of anxiety when after leaving the port area we asked a local how far it was to walk and he laughed and said “get a bus” as it would be at least an hour and a half walking. Thankfully for us we did not take any notice of him as we were standing outside the Vasa Museum about 30 minutes later, which is exactly where we wanted to be. The Vasa had been recommended to us. After seeing it for ourselves we can only recommend it to others as it is quite unique. In 1628 the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in Stockholm Harbour; not a good record for a ship builder to have on a résumé. It lay under the sea for 333 years until it was salvaged in 1961 and for the next 30 years it was preserved to such a state that it now sits within its own museum for all to see. The remarkable statistic is that 95% of
the ship is its original form and has been pieced back together like a massive jigsaw puzzle. The man hours involved cover years rather than days. The entire story is mapped out from the moment it was launched to the day they brought it to the museum for display and they have used modern forensic means to bring the crews skeletons back to life. We now know what the captain and many of the crew looked like and in fact they have displayed each of the skeletons in a tasteful way along one side of the ship with a story about each one.
Who was to blame for such a catastrophe on the maiden voyage? Well much debate has raged since it sank but by salvaging the ship they were able to dispel one myth. Many witnesses claimed that the large cannons had not been lashed to the deck and all moved once the ship set sail but all of the cannons were discovered to be tethered and in place. It is far more likely that the design of the ship was not countered by the ballast allowed for in the hull. Hence the high sides and flat bottom
made it susceptible to rolling over – and it did. It may have been doomed to fail at the design phase. It is a wonderful insight into Swedish life at that time and many of the artefacts are displayed, but it is the sight of the ship and the restoration work that will remain with me. It is astounding what they were able to do and is a valuable resource for future generations. They are just hopeful that they have been able to stop the degradation to such an extent that it may last another 100 years.
For the rest of the day we wandered the streets of the city. We began in the new city and watched the city come to life over the lunch hour when immaculately dressed Swedes exited office buildings and went to lunch in the bars and cafés. I was suitably impressed with the style and fashion of the women of Stockholm and when I told Narelle she replied that she was suitably impressed with the men – so that was a “win win” situation for both of us. Just as we basked in this moment of glamour our ideal was shot down by
a young man wearing jeans half down his butt and we saw more of his pimply derriere than we should have – it was not a pretty sight but thankfully he was not in the majority and he has not clouded my judgement of the Stockholm people. I did start having slight palpitations as it was the last day of school and to celebrate that fact the classes were driven around in large trucks – the kind you usually see delivering aggregate to building sites. These were full of dancing teenagers who had taken on board a lot of booze – some of which was being drunk. They seemed to be drenched in it and it was pouring out the back of the tail gates. The smell of beer was unreal. It was a great afternoon for it as the sun was out and about ten trucks must have done laps of the city for a few hours – it certainly allowed some of them to get really hot, wet and into bikinis….photo attached.
Anyway, I have distracted myself. We had lunch on a boat moored near the old town in what was a perfect setting and the beer
was cold – it was a local brew called a Falcon. I have never had it before and I am unlikely to find it again. We ate a platter of regional meats, cheeses and vegetables – stunning. And those trucks kept on going past! It was hard not to miss them as each one had a sound system and all the students had whistles and were singing/shouting to the music. The old town is simply beautiful and is made up of a maze of medieval alleys and lanes lined by the ancient buildings of the Royal Palace. We both felt that the city had a real Italian feel to it both in its architecture and with the canals and waterways that dominate the city. From what I can remember of my visits to Venice and Rome many of the alleys and lanes in Stockholm have a very similar look; the old residences looking out onto the roads with the washing above the street only strengthen this idea.
Much of the literature I have read on the city says that Stockholm is a gracious city. After visiting I can only agree. It is clean, seemingly orderly; the people are smiling
and living the lifestyle. It was Friday mid-afternoon as we began our walk back to the boat. My attention was grabbed by four guys high up on their boat, opening a few beers and seemingly about to settle in for a few drinks. They were in suits, had the shades on, knew everyone was watching them and you could tell they loved their little bit of the world. I could not disagree with them.
We had our own ‘sail away’ up on the Aft deck. The shorts were out and the cocktails were poured aplenty. There was also plenty of skin on show – some good and a lot not so good. I guess with the news filtering through that the English summer may not be that long the Brits on board are going gangbusters to top up the tan. Parts of Wales have had a month’s rain in 24 hours and the flooding is incredible. We may have been very lucky with the 10 day period we had in May – I just hope that it is all back to normal once the Olympics roll round; and by that stage I will be in the Loire! Narelle made
her stage debut for the cruise tonight. There was a show called “Deal or No Deal’ loosely based on the TV show and she let me know early that she wanted to play so we found ourselves in The Globe theatre at 10.30pm waiting for the magic number to be drawn out. Sadly, she missed playing for the big money and her only input was opening box #18. The guy who did play for the money won £49 off his room account – he played fairly conservatively and was sadly guided by a complete dweeb in the audience who said “I’ve worked out the averages and you should take the money”. So, no real chance for a bit of fun then? There was still eight boxes to open!
We awoke in Tallinn, a lovely medieval city in Estonia. People say that it competes with Prague as one of Europe’s most magical cities. As I have only ever seen Prague from a champagne bar at the airport I cannot add to the debate. However, later in the year we will be able to judge – thankfully this time Narelle will not need a visa. I can speak for Tallinn after
enjoying a day there. Now that Estonia has independence they have thrown open their doors to the cruise ship industry and it is now a well-worn path for many of the cruise lines in Europe. The city is dominated by spires, turrets and towers and from the aft of the Arcadia it made for a near chocolate box vista. However, it is one of those photos you have to get right as get it wrong and you may have to crop a lot as all around the actual ship is drab 90s architecture with a distinctly Eastern European style. Close your eyes on the walk in and everything is fine. Once through the city walls you wander little cobbled streets and if you are really clever you pass an Irish pub with a big sign outside telling you that Ireland versus the All Blacks will be televised live on the big screen. Oh what to do. Do I head to the old cathedral, cobbled streets, a medieval market place, alley ways and cafes? Or a Guinness and a game? So at 10.35am Tallinn time I was safely in said pub with the game on – it was brilliant. I could
look out over the magnificent medieval square while soaking up a little bit of home. I watched it with Narelle who was realistically the only other person there who knew what was going on – there were a couple of Irish boys but they went fairly quiet early on and stayed behind the bar! Tallinn had 10/10 and I had yet to do the sites.
The sights and sounds of Tallinn outside of the Irish bar were pretty good too. We walked the steps to the St. Alexander Cathedral in the upper town. WOW! This was our first real taste of a Russian Orthodox Church and the mosaics, icons and gold leaf was stunning. A small service was being held near the front of the church with much praying going on – and a few Confessions by the look of it. It always astounds me how small medieval towns had these churches at their centre; English parish churches are the same and you can sense how much the church was the focal point of daily life. The villages around Suffolk are exceptional for church sightseeing.
By the time we left Tallinn the weather had turned cold and windy
and not many joined me on the aft deck for a beer. The fact I was wearing a coat, sweater, merino top, and a woollen hat may have put some off. They missed a treat though as the almost theatrical tableau of Tallinn was in view for quite some time. As my pint disappeared so too did the gabled roofs, fairy-tale turrets and soaring spires of the city. It has set us up well for our two day visit to the ‘Jewel in the Baltic Crown’ St. Petersburg. We are on a two day tour that follows the fall of the Romanov dynasty and we are reading up in anticipation. I am foreseeing what I have previously called a Philip Wood WOW moment and I cannot wait to experience what Russia has to offer. I have wanted to visit the country for many years (read 1990 PAW) and tomorrow I will. Our landing cards, tour tickets and passports have been delivered to our rooms and it appears nothing will stop our arrival at the port.
It is moments like these that I feel very lucky to be doing what I am doing.
There are more photos below