Although Stockholm is a seaport, the sail in through an archipelago dotted with islands took five hours. It is hard to count exactly how many islands are in this area, because new ones are forever popping up. Sweden was pressed down hard by thick layers of glacial ice and now that they are gone, the land is gradually springing back up 3 mm/year. We also heard about this phenomenon in Alaska. It was a beautiful sail; many of the islands have summer home sites, some quite large. For the most part these islands have no utility services, but there’s something about owning your own island that makes the inconveniences worth it.
Once the Swedes got past their Viking days and were finished with conquering Denmark, Norway, the Baltic states, parts of northern Germany and western Russia, they settled on a philosophy of peace and neutrality, which has served them well in subsequent years. They did not endure Nazi occupation as their neighbors did and the buildings constructed during their golden age in the 1700 - 1800’s still survive, more or less intact. Alfred Nobel inventor of dynamite, made so much profit he began the prizes that bear his name, which have been paying out since 1909 from the interest his investments have earned. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo since Norway was part of Sweden at that time and all the rest of the prizes are awarded in Stockholm.
The downtown is an attractive mix of historic buildings and more modern ones. There are so many people riding bikes, it reminded us of our first visit to China when no one there owned a car. Here, folks are trying to ween themselves from cars, especially in downtown Stockholm. There are racks of rental bikes which you can use for the entire summer season for $40. We did not envy our bus driver when he tried to make a right turn and countless bikes came up along side him.
We went to Sigtuna, the oldest town in Sweden founded in 808. The buildings have been lovingly maintained and some had Runic stones imbedded in the walls from Viking times. As the Protestant Reformation was sweeping Europe, the Swedish king had run up high debts for salaries owed to German soldiers he hired to supplement his local forces. He looked at all those well endowed Catholic churches and saw the solution to his financial problems. He closed all the Catholic churches, seized all their holdings, and paid his bills. We saw ruins from a few of those closed churches and old St. Mary’s, which was converted to a Lutheran church so those who wished to worship could still do so.
The highlight of our visit here was the Vasa, a military ship built in 1628 which sunk in the harbor on its maiden voyage. It was massive and beautifully decorated with wood carvings depicting the power of the king and the subjugation of his conquered people. Gustavus II wanted to take on more cannons than usual to deliver them to distant military outposts, so he insisted on having two decks with cannons hanging out the windows rather than the usual one. The hold was filled with round stones as ballast. The day it sailed it was fully staffed and wives and children of the sailors were on board for the initial sea trial. As the Vasa moved into the harbor a gust of wind caught its sails, it tipped, the ballast rolled, and water started pouring into the cannon windows. The Vasa quickly sank with considerable loss of life. It sat in the harbor muck for 400 years until an ambitious local found it and tried to bring it back up in 1956. The brackish water of the harbor with the salty Baltic mixing with fresh water from shore does not contain the sea worms that usually destroy wrecks. Divers strung cables beneath the Vasa in the muck and it was raised intact along with much of its original contents and some skeletons. Once in the fresh air the wood would have started to deteriorate so its was sprayed with a plastic coating for 17 years until every nook and cranny was filled and preserved.
When we did our first grand tour of Europe in 1978, we were forever changing money as we crossed national borders. At the end of each country we spent our remaining funds on snacks to get rid of the soon-to-be-useless currency, thus beginning the constant expansion of our waistlines which continues to this day. When we returned to these countries we had to start over, changing travelers’ checks into marks, francs, lira, etc., so we began to save left over funds for return trips. This served us well until the Euro came along. I decoupaged a box with left over bank notes.
But many of the countries we have visited on this trip retained their currencies while joining the EU. We did not expect the Soviet rubles to have much buying power, but were disappointed in Norway and Denmark when our guides looked at our old krone with shock and amazement. They’ve been a great conversation starter, but useless when we had to pay to use the toilet. We really don’t understand. I could be using American dollars issued during my father’s youth and they would be readily accepted in the US. So we were delighted when the Swedish guide said that our 50 kroner note would be good for a few more months and we should hurry up and spend it. We went to a cafe and ordered two coffees. The proprietor looked at the notes in my hand and shook his head. “When on earth did you get those?” We offered a credit card, but he took our 100 note instead, saying he would give it to his son.
The Vasa lasted 400 years; our Swedish krone less than 20. Should have bought more snacks...