Earlier this month, I spent 4 days welcoming a new city to the Gidday repertoire, Stockholm. It was also my birthday so you could say that my Stockholm city break was essentially a big fat Happy Birthday to me. And after my arrival and check-in in the heart of Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) and some wandering and a canal cruise to get my bearings the afternoon prior, said birthday dawned bright and sunny and the delights of Djurgarden were beckoning.
After an invigorating 40 minute stroll from Gamla Stan along the water’s edge, my first official stop was the Vasa Museum. Everyone I mentioned my upcoming trip to recommended this and so at 10am on a Saturday, I joined the unexpectedly short queue and walked into the museum to see this…
Yes, it’s so big I could not fit it all into the camera frame. I had another go later with my phone…
The good ship Vasa is a warship that was built in the 1600s. It was the largest ship ever built at the time, able to carry 64 cannons (over 2 decks) and 450 people, and was commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf to bolster his aggressive campaign to bring the Baltic region to Sweden’s heel. If this was not through force then the sheer awe/terror inspired by the Vasa’s size and splendor was intended to intimidate his enemies into submission. The ship set sail from Stockholm Harbour on 10th August 1628…and capsized just off the southern tip of Djurgarden, a voyage of about 1300m.
Just to put this into perspective, I swim further than that – 1600m – each ‘dip‘.
Our animated guide Stefano explained it all very clearly. While the ship had been built to be taller (and more intimidating) than any before, its width had remained the same and when combined with 2 levels of open and fully loaded gun ports, all it took was a ‘puff’ of wind to send it toppling over. This is the view of the stern looking up from the water line – yes the water line, not from the bottom of the ship – I couldn’t fit all of that in.
So Sweden’s most glorious and expensive PR campaign of the age sat at the bottom of Stockholm Harbour for more than 330 years before its rediscovery (in 1956), salvage and conservation. The museum was opened in 1990, less than a nautical mile from the site of the disaster.
This museum is definitely one of my Stockholm highlights. There’s loads to see and do from the numerous viewing platform levels around the reconstructed Vasa itself (98% original), videos of the salvage and conservation as well as free guided tours and visits to the recreated gun deck and showcases of items retrieved during the salvage operation. It was also my first decent wi-fi access since my arrival so whilst watching the salvage film in the auditorium, my phone was inundated with a veritable deluge of lovely birthday wishes (and thanks to those of you who sent them).
After 2 and a half hours, I emerged into the warm sunshine to meander a little further along Djurgarden’s main drag in search of sustenance (including some pretty delicious Swedish apple cake)…
…and a blast from my past: Benny, Bjorn, Frida and Agnetha – ABBA!
You could make The ABBA Museum quite an interactive experience if you like that sort of thing. You can record yourself belting out an ABBA tune in the sound booth or make your own music video. You can even sit in the ABBA Arrival helicopter or perform on the ABBA stage alongside Benny, Frida, Bjorn and Agnetha.
For the record, this wasn’t what what I was up for. Instead I spent a couple of nostalgic hours here, listening to the myriad of interviews with the band themselves and to all of the songs I sang along to as a child (as well as the questionable-sounding results of a couple of young fans in the non-sound-proof sound booth). It was great fun and really fantastic to see the important part that ABBA’s Australian record label, RCA, played in building their fan base and huge success Down Under.
With a few more hours of daylight still ahead of me, I decided to venture a little further along the road to visit Skansen.
Skansen is in open-air museum and zoo that has been in operation since 1891. It combines history – 150 buildings from different eras from all over Sweden have been re-assembled here…
…with fantastic views…
…and an opportunity to play ‘Spot the [insert relevant animal]’…
After a few hours of wandering around Skansen’s 75 acres and a celebratory ice- cream (after all, it was my birthday) it was time to head back to the hotel and put my feet up for an hour or two before heading out again for dinner.
Bistro Pastis, a tiny French affair, is tucked away on a cobbled street running down from Stortorget in Gamla Stan and in spite of it being a busy Saturday night, I managed to nab a table outside. The food was absolutely delicious – a warm beetroot and goats cheese salad followed by a fillet of shark (my first) in a champagne sauce – and all washed down with a divine glass of bordeaux. And as the Swedish twilight stretched well into the evening, spending a relaxed dinner enjoying both the view and the gentle flirting from my lovely waiter was the perfect way to end a day designed to mark the beginning of yet another year.
Happy birthday to me and may the year ahead be filled with many more moments like this!
Entry fees (in case you are interested!)
Vasa Museum – 130 SEK
ABBA Museum – 255 SEK
Skansen – 170 SEK
And 2 courses, wine and coffee at Bistro Pastis came to 389 SEK. This was after the 25% discount my waiter offered because ‘he was so busy and I had to keep waiting’ (And he didn’t even know it was my birthday!) This girl’s still got it….