This morning we packed up all our stuff in preparation for catching the ferry later this evening. Then, we headed into the center of Stockholm. I was thrilled to be on my bike instead of on the train and especially instead of walking. Even better, I was glad to have Ben with me. The morning air was cool on my face as we rolled through empty Saturday morning neighborhoods.
Even once we rolled into the center of town, the streets were all but empty. (Ben’s note: So empty and so quiet that it had an almost eerie feel to it) We pedaled through the main tourist districts over jarringly uneven cobblestones, window shopping and snapping photos in the stillness. It really was a beautiful morning.
Still, I could tell Ben wasn’t exactly feeling thrilled. Despite Stockholm’s grandeur, we’re not big city people, easily put off by the fast pulse of life and the general apathy of city dwellers. Worse, Stockholm is a huge tourist hot-spot, making it considerably more crowded and expensive than even Oslo.
Since I’d already toured the old city, Ben was setting our pace for the day and he lasted less than an hour wandering the maze of alleyways and plazas before he was ready to move on. We rolled out and around town on the impressive network of bike paths, stopping more than once for snacks.
Last night, while we sat near reception at our campground, we listened to an animated American backpacker repeatedly call his friends and family at home, enthusiastically explaining that he’d seen “the most amazing thing he’s ever seen in his entire life!” to anyone who would listen. He was talking about his visit to the Vasa Museum containing the only surviving 17th century ship in the world. “It looks like a pirate ship!” he exclaimed over and over again. We were dying of laughter as we listened. We’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things, but I don’t know that we’ve ever sounded that excited about anything. Still, his enthusiasm did pique our curiosity, and so it was that we decided to give the museum a visit.
The Vasa was built as one of the most heavily armed boats of its time, built on behalf of the Swedish king who wanted a really impressive looking boat for the war he was waging against Poland. The construction project was rushed and measurements weren’t done correctly and as such the boat was built with far too much weight on top. On the day of its maiden voyage, all of Stockholm turned up to see the giant, colorfully painted ship depart. The boat sailed for roughly twenty minutes before the wind tipped the unstable craft slightly too far to one side. Water rushed in through the open gun ports and sank the ship before it even made it out of the harbor.
The boat sat at the bottom of the harbor for three hundred years before it was rediscovered in the 1950’s and recovered in 1960’s. They brought up almost the entire boat in one piece, beautifully preserved in the freezing waters of the Baltic Sea. Because the sea is so brackish, many of the sea creatures that quickly decompose most ocean wrecks are not present which is why the boat was in such amazing shape.
It took another seventeen years to preserve the boat, piecing it back together and coating it frequently with glycol to replace the water in the wood. In all, the exhibit that you can visit today is 95% original.
Though I had fairly low expectations of the exhibit, it really was pretty cool. Just the sheer size of the boat was impressive. The surrounding exhibits were interesting too and I cringed as I read about sailors of the time dying of typhus, spread by lice on their “damp woolen clothes.” Considering that most of our clothing is made out of merino wool, and that half of it sat outside in our bags still soaking wet from all recent rain smelling positively rank, I tried to at least be grateful we hadn’t contracted lice.
Once we were finished, we headed outside, glad that all our belongings were still strapped to our bikes, just as we’d left them. We usually pull our valuables off and take them inside with us, but the rest of our stuff had to be left outside with the bikes. So far, we’ve never had any problems, but it still makes me a little bit nervous. We made a quick stop outside the ABBA museum nearby, and snapped the following ridiculous picture on behalf of Ben’s sister Emily. I still laugh every time I look at it.
Finally, we headed inland sourcing some food for our boat ride and whiling away the afternoon on a park bench, watching locals and tourists alike cruising on bikes, eating ice cream, and soaking up the summer day.