Friday, September 11, 2015

Stockholm - Day 1

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Beautiful Baltic!  Ed and I are embarking on a 2 week trip to countries on the Baltic with Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line. We will visit 8 countries in 10 days, beginning with Sweden, then Estonia, Russia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Denmark. Here is a rough diagram of our route.
We arrived in Stockholm at 8 am, met our group, and took the 45 minute ride to the city.  Along the way, I was struck by the landscape -- lots of tall evergreen trees, sprinkled with oaks and other deciduous trees rising from a relatively flat, rocky terrain.  It reminded me of northern Maine, which is not too surprising since the regions were both carved by retreating glaciers from the last ice age.
We were fortunate to check into our hotel, the Scandic Grand, and hit the ground running.  From the map and our guidebook, we learned that Stockholm is situated on 14 islands, although it is part of an archipelagos of more than 24,000 islands. We caught a cab (Taxi Stockholm only) to the Vasa Museum on Djurgarden Island.  This houses the warship Vasa which sank in 1628 in Stockholm's harbor within 40 minutes of her maiden voyage. It stayed there for 333 years until it was salvaged in 1961. It then spent another nearly 30 years in a shipyard being treated and reinforced to withstand life above the sea so we can all enjoy this "living" piece of history.
Today the boat is 98 percent original -- mostly oak felled in nearby forests. This enclosed permanent home was opened in 1990 and contains not only the boat but over 12,000 artifacts salvaged from the depths. It had over 700 carved statues and about 500 have been recovered.
When they were on the boat, they were brightly painted and 30 of them have been newly painted to demonstrate.
A scale model of the boat gives a better image of how it was adorned.
So what's the Vasa's story?  In 1625 King Gustav Adopf II commissioned a warship to strike fear into the hearts of the Swedes' arch enemy, the Danes. Employing 300 men, it was completed in about 2 years, per the King's specifications. But those directives led to its downfall -- it was too high -- 172 ft tall or about 17 stories. It was also too long -- 230 ft. and too skinny.  It had too many canons on board -- a total of 72 on two decks.  But strange as all that is, it really keeled over on August 10, 1628, because it did not have enough ballast (mostly rocks) in the bottom to stabilize it. 
We were fascinated by this vessel. It dwarfs everything around it. The main entrance floor is at the level where the boat would be situated in the water.
You can walk all around the perimeter and down a level to see the bottom of the boat, but you can't go inside.  However, lights were on inside and people are still working on the restoration and preservation.
We had a quick lunch at the museum and then caught a cab to the Opera House to catch our bus/boat tour. Bus came first and it drove us around various landmarks like City Hall.  
Built in 1923, it is still in use today and is the location of the Nobel awards dinner every year. But the best part of the bus were the various views of the city. It took us to the island of Sodermalm, which is mostly residential, but afforded us great views looking back on the city.
It also took us back to the Island of Djurgarden where we saw Grona Lund, an amusement park, and Skansen, an open air museum depicting life from different regions in earlier times.
After an hour, we boarded a boat and cruised between some of the islands
It was lovely to see the homes and large apartment buildings along the water.
And boats everywhere. The guide told us that 7% of the population owns a boat. We also went down a canal lined with walking paths where we saw people jogging and riding horses.
Our tour ended at 5:30 and we walked back to our hotel. Along the way, we noticed several pedestrian streets without cars or even bikes. Nice for walking.
After another brief respite, we had dinner at Theatre Brasseriet in our hotel and it was excellent. Ed had Swedish meatballs and I had reindeer steak.  It was delicious and it reminded me a little of buffalo. But the sauce was amazing and beyond description. 
Then the highlight of the evening. Around the corner from us was The Icebar in The Nordic Sea Hotel.
Everything in the bar is made of ice -- even the bar, the benches and the drinking glasses.  
The ice is shipped down from Sweden's far north. I had bought the tickets in advance for $23/each.  That entitles you to one vodka based drink and a 45-minute stay (if you can last that long). They keep the temperature at a frosty 23 degrees farenheit. They outfitted us with heavy ponchos and thick gloves. I thought it was to keep us warm but it is actually to protect the ice from human body heat.  
It was a delightful experience and my drink was delicious. (Malmo - cranberry and watermelon with vodka).  Loved sipping it over the ice. 
Then we stopped by a cafe to warm ourselves up with cappuccino and off to bed.

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