Tuesday July 22, 2008
From the Navigator
After departure from Helsinki, the ms Rotterdam sails into the Gulf of Finland, and during the night we will cross the Baltic Sea towards Stockholm.
In the early morning we will embark the local pilot who will assist us sailing through the narrow channels until we reach our berth.
The marine approach to Stockholm passes the stunning archipelago that lines the Swedish coast. More than 24,000 islands and islets, the chain stretches for miles along the Swedish seaboard. Some of the islands are no more than craggy rocks jutting above the surface of the sea, while others are just large enough for a single cottage. I felt blessed to be up at that time of the day.
As we sailed through “the Archipelago” it was obvious as to the difficulties the ancient Mariners must have faced as they navigated the narrow sea lanes as they approached what would become the City of Stockholm.
At 6:00 PM we will cast off our lines and take the same scenic route back to the open waters of the Baltic Sea.
The Rotterdam docked at Stadsgarden Pier, Sodermalm, near the Viking Line Terminal, and 1500-yards from the beginning of Gamla Stan (old town). The Viking Line operates giant ocean going ferries to the various Baltic Port Capitals.
Today we had booked another tour with our travel agent: Alan Schiller. By 9:30 we were on our very comfortable tour bus headed for a visit to the imposing City Hall, which is known locally as Stadshuset and renowned for its architecture, murals, and as the site of the Nobel Prize banquet. Completed in 1923, this magnificent fortress-like building took 12 years to build.
The main features are the two courtyards and the numerous splendid halls, among them the Blue Hall, where the Nobel festivities unfold each year and the Golden Hall, renowned for its mosaics. It was a weather perfect day to visit this beautiful city. Clear azure blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds provided an excellent backdrop for the abundant “Kodak moments”. After maneuvering through the crowds of visitors at City Hall we met up with our bus (deftly maneuvered by a lady bus driver from France).
We then continued on to the Vasa Museum. In August 1628 the “unsinkable” Royal warship Vasa rolled over and sank on her maiden voyage before even leaving Stockholm harbor. She was the most expensive and perhaps most lavishly decorated naval vessel Sweden had ever built, King Gustavus Adolphus’ pride and joy, was to be the mightiest naval ship of the day. Unfortunately, pride and a rush to get the ship afloat seemed to have led to the disaster. Maritime and engineering knowledge were simply limited at the time.
In 1956, Anders Frazen discovered the ancient ship and initiated one of Sweden’s largest historical undertakings in marine archaeology. The Vasa was found almost completely intact on the seabed, more than three centuries after she sank. The antique is one of the world’s best preserved ships from that period. Countless exhibitions provide visitors information of the Vasa’s recovery and restoration, including a 7-meter scale model with sails set in full glory. The best way to visit this magnificent exhibit is with a group, as the lines for individual visitors can be quite lengthy.
Alan next surprised us with a visit to the waterfront Stockholm’s Slott (Royal Palace) which dominates Glama Stan. Built in baroque style, the castle has more than 600 rooms and contains several museums, but it is “only” 250 years old.
By now we were on again on “sensory overload”, and were grateful to once again be in the fresh air and sunshine. We were given about an hour free time to do some local shopping and get a bite to eat. We were warned that the cost of living in this country is high but we suffered sticker shock when we converted the prices in Swedish Krone to US $. We were going to order a pizza and beer and split the pizza, however we were warned that it would cost about $14 for the pizza and $6 to split it. Since Barbara was not hungry I just ordered a Greek Salad and a beer, for a total bill of around $27 USD. I don’t know how the Swedes do it! Of course the VAT is also in place that helps provide so many government programs.
Impressions of Sweden:
Once again a beautiful country – would only want to visit in the summer though, as the winters can be harsh and the nights can be long. Their public transportation system seems to be very modern and affordable; however the costs of operating a private vehicle can be extreme.
Tomorrow….. Finally a day at sea to rest and relax and recuperate, as we head for the German City of Warnemunde, located in what used to be East Germany.