May 12, 2016: Stockholm, Sweden
Today was a DIY Tour day as the Zuiderdam pulled up to Stadgarden 167, our berth for the day, here in Stockholm. We all headed out just after 8:30am and right next to the ship we picked up our hop-on, hop-off boat ticket for the day. Stockholm is made up of hundreds of islands, so the boat service is a great way to avoid tons of traffic and bounce from island to island to see the sights of the day.
Once tickets were purchased (Note: Always check how many boats your selected tour company is running that day – prices are identical, but the service offerings can vary from company to company and you CANNOT ride any other boat except your own.), our 9am boat left the pier and shuttled passengers to Old Town (Gamla Stan) and the Vasa Museum, until regular service began at 10am. We took advantage of the nice weather and rode our boat for a full loop of the boat tour at the start of the day (to see the sights, enjoy the free onboard wifi, and to listen to the good english tour commentary) to end up at the Vasa Museum about an hour later, just after they opened at 10am.
Arriving at the Vasa Museum right when they open, jump to the right and use the self-service ticket machines (you must have a chip enabled card that will accept Swedish Krone) and skip the manual ticket line (we jumped ahead of a good 50-60 people). For your entrance fee of 130Kr (about $16), you have access to the entire museum, with excellent english descriptions, a 17 minute film in the good sized auditorium, and a guided tour (3 were offered today at 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm, with more times in high season summer), a wifi enabled audioguide that you can access with your smartphone or tablet, and free wifi. Overall, it’s a great value.
For those not familiar with the Vasa – it is Sweden’s version of the Titanic. In 1628, a mighty warship was constructed to show the might and military capability of Sweden to the world, when just 40 minutes into its maiden voyage, the top-heavy ship was caught by some stiff winds, tipped over, and sank, right in the middle of Stockholm harbor. It took 333 years for technology to find and provide a way to bring her back to the surface, allowing the ship and its contents to be reclaimed and turned into the incredible museum and learning experience that it is today. Over 4 stories tall, with more than 98% of the original ship and its contents restored, the 7 level museum provides incredible views of the vessel and opportunities to understand about life onboard these ships in the 17th century, its sinking, its pull from the depths, restoration efforts, and ongoing scientific work involving the ship, its contents, and the bodies recovered.
On our arrival to the museum, we spent about 20 minutes just looking around and getting acquainted before the 11am movie in English with Swedish subtitles began. (English movie runs once an hour, but if you can’t wait, all movies, regardless of language, every 20 minutes, include English subtitles). Following the 11am movie, we gathered near the front of the ship for the included guided tour. As the crowd began to grow from a handful to a small mob, we were concerned that the tour might be a lost cause, but just as hope began to fade, a confident brunette with a powerful stride and a 18 inch maglite flashlight marched up to us, introduced herself as Terese, and told us that we were not going to be able to truly understand the Vasa in the originally scheduled 30 minute tour, but she would help stir our interest in the ship, its history, and our visit here at the museum. Her booming voice, a little flair for the dramatic, and quick wit and humor mesmerized the crowd and everyone came close together for what would be nearly a 90 minute visit through the museum that blew everyone’s minds. (Note: The tour is supposed to be 25 minutes long, but each guide is given free reign to cover whatever he or she would like – we came to find out that Terese was leaving the museum two days later for a new job, so she wanted to make it her personal mission today to make our experience and visit one to remember… It was amazing! I know that not everyone will have the same experience, but wanted to document this one…)
After we covered three separate levels with Terese, it was nearly 1pm, and time for her to prepare for her next tour at 1:30pm, and we decided that we needed nothing more – we had experienced the museum, the ship, and its history through a master storyteller, and for that we were grateful.
From here, we reboarded our hop-on, hop-off boat and made our way to Gamla Stan (Old Town) for a one hour walking tour, courtesy of Mr. Rick Steves. It was simple to follow and gave us a great chance to see the Royal Palace, the Obelisk that honors the merchants of Stockholm for their support in the 1788 war against Russia, Iron Boy – the smallest public statue in Stockholm amongst 600 within the city limits, the statue of St. George slaying the dragon, Stortorget – Stockholm’s oldest public square, Nobel Museum – honoring the peace prize, Alfred Nobel, and the recipients of the award to date, the Cathedral, and the German Church.
It was a nice walk, but time to make our way back to the ship, so following a pickup of a few souvenirs, we got back on the hop-on, hop-off boat and made the loop back to our ship (Note: Always make sure you allow for 60 minutes to make it back to the ship to allow for waiting time and the clockwise nature of the travel loop. Even if the cruise ship is one stop back from where you are, you must make the complete loop to get back to your intended stop.)
Back on board, we were excited at a day at sea coming tomorrow after 5 straight days of touring. A great day in Stockholm and good introduction to Sweden, where we will have additional stops later in the cruise.