As luck would have it, when reading the Stockholm chapter of our guide book, we’d individually picked out almost identical lists of the museums we wanted to visit. Top of both of our lists was the Vasa Museum, so that’s where we headed first.
The Vasa is Sweden’s equivalent of the Mary Rose. It’s a little bit later (the Mary Rose was completed in 1512 / sank in 1545; the Vasa was completed and sank in 1628) and was raised earlier (the Vasa was raised in 1961; the Mary Rose in 1982). The ship had come to rest upright in 32 metres of water. It was raised by digging 6 tunnels under the ship to carry 12 steel cables which were used to support the ship as it was brought to the surface. Much of the conservation information (the spraying with PEG, a soluble wax, over a number of years followed by a lengthy drying process) was familiar from our visit to the Mary Rose in 2015.
The most amazing thing about the Vasa compared to the Mary Rose is just how complete it is:
Conditions in Stockholm harbour, where the ship sank, ensured that it was well preserved. The cold temperatures and low salinity of the Baltic meant no ship worm (they prefer warmer saltier conditions). Also, pollution from the city of Stockholm ensured a low-oxygen environment that kept bacteria and fungi at bay.
The Vasa was commissioned by the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf (1594-1632, reigned 1611-1632) who was instrumental in the development of the Swedish military. He was the grandson of Gustav I Vasa (he of the Swedish reformation). Gustav I Vasa was succeeded by (in chronological order – skip this bit if you feel no need to know these things….):
1. Eric XIV (he of the mental issues);
2. Eric’s brother John III (whose tomb we saw in Uppsala Cathedral);
3. John III’s son Sigismund, who was elected King of Poland, became Sigismund III of Sweden on his father’s death, then was deposed as he was just too Catholic to be acceptable in post-Reformation Sweden;
4. another of Gustav I Vasa’s sons, Charles IX, and then finally to
5. Charles’ son Gustav II Adolf. Phew!
We wonder if we’ll come across Sigusmund again when we’re in Poland…..
Anyway, in 1628 when the Vasa was nearing completion, Gustav II Vasa was away in Poland fighting his arch enemy, his own cousin Sigismund. Gustav was very keen for the ship to be completed on time, with a letter threatening “his majesty’s displeasure” should there be any delay.
All was not well though…. the Vasa’s captain called in an admiral involved in the project to raise his concerns. To show how unstable the ship was, the captain had thirty men run across the deck. After they’d crossed the deck just three times, the admiral called a halt to the demonstration, afraid that the ship would capsize if they continued.
It seems that no-one was prepared to tell the King that the Vasa was a disaster waiting to happen, and so it set off as planned on its maiden voyage. Conditions were calm, and only four of the ten sails were put up. Nevertheless, the ship only managed to cover 1000-1500 metres (the information boards varied in the detail) before sinking. At the first puff of wind, it had keeled over, water had rushed into the lower gun deck, and the ship had capsized.
Luckily, the death toll was much lower than it had been on the Mary Rose, with just 30 of a full crew of around 445 killed (these seem to have got trapped in the ship; one guy had got stuck behind a gun carriage, for example).
An enquiry was held but came to no firm conclusions and assigned no blame, probably because the King himself was involved; he’d repeatedly changed the plans, wanting more guns and bigger guns (as Kings are wont to do), and presumably no-one had dared stand up to him and question his changes.
The design was basically a terrible one with the ship being far too narrow and top-heavy. It carried only 120 tons of ballast (there was no room to carry more, and even if it could have been added it would have brought the gun ports on the lower gun deck dangerously close to the water line) and had a draft of just 4.8 metres.
It may have been a terribly designed ship from a practical perspective, but aesthetically it’s a work of art. The carvings are amazing. Here’s the stern:
You can tell where pieces of wood have been replaced; they’re the lighter, more reddish-coloured ones. Overall, we were told that the ship is 95-98% original (again, the exact figure varied).
After leaving the Vasa Museum we had a good “orientation wander” through Central Stockholm, popping into the Medieval Museum for fun (entry was free) on our way back to the tube station. Here’s Mark interviewing a medieval bread seller:
On our second day in Stockholm, we headed to the Historiska Museet, where the Vikingry is to be found. Their fun “which Norse God are you?” quiz decided that one of us was Heimdal and the other Skadi. We’ll leave it to you to work out which is which!
The Historiska Museet wasn’t as big as we’d expected, but we saw a lot of interesting stuff, including the sword (and the other grave goods) from one of the graves at Sollerön on Lake Siljan that we visited last week:
As well as the Viking exhibition, the museum had a large collection of gold and silver artefacts from across the ages (amounting to over 52kg of gold and over 200kg of silver. Yikes, that’ll be worth a bit….. ):
In one of the other exhibitions, we found knives, arrowheads, scrapers and the like from Nämforsen, the place with the rock carvings of moose that we visited on our way back to the coast from our detour inland. This is the place where we’d unwittingly parked on an old settlement site: we wonder if any if these artefacts came from there….
From here, we wandered to the Royal Armoury, located in some vaults under the Royal Palace. On the way, we happened upon a bit of a changing of the guard.
The Royal Armoury (which had made it onto Mark’s list but not mine….) was much better than I’d expected. I think I just have painful memories of losing the will to live in the somewhat extensive collection in the Tower of London…… 😱
There were lots of things on display in the Armoury that belonged to people we’d heard of. Here’s a helmet belonging to Gustav I Vasa (he of the Swedish Reformation), for example:
… and some stuff belonging to Gustav II Adolf (he of the Vasa debacle):
There were also, naturally, some suits of armour, and a collection of royal carriages:
We then had time for a good wander round Gamla Stan (the Old Town), which is where the tourist tat shops are to be found together with bars and restaurants, all housed in some very attractive old buildings:
We had time on Sunday to do a lot of general mooching about. The centre of Stockholm is much smaller than we expected, and it’s very easy to get between the main sites. We did investigate a couple of ships that were free to visit. The first was an old lightship built in 1903 and decommissioned in 1969:
The second was Sweden’s first sea-going icebreaker, completed in 1915 and decommissioned in 1977:
There was an interesting exhibition inside on the extent to which the Baltic freezes in a mild / average / hard winter (round the edges / down to about Stockholm / right round the bottom of Sweden) and how ships can call on assistance from icebreakers during the winter months.
Mark claims that he’s had enough of ships, but that didn’t stop him wanting to investigate the engine room on this one….
Overall, Stockholm has been a very easy city to visit. The camp site has everything we need, and we’ve been making use of the washing machines in the evenings so we’ll be setting off again “fully fettled”. It’s been particularly easy to get about with our 3-day travelcards – just a half-mile walk to the tube station then a 20-minute ride into the city centre.
We’ve only had to use one tube line (which takes us from our camp site and runs right through the city centre where we’ve used four different stops). Mark, refusing to call anything by its real name, as usual, has had no difficulty remembering how to get home: “We want the train to Nose Bag” (Norsborg to the Swedes….). He’s been so confident getting around that not only has he not been clinging to the back of my coat (as he did in London for fear of getting lost in the crowds and never finding his way home to Kampington), he’s even been concerning himself with aesthetics / not looking like a country bumpkin. You can almost hear the cogs turning as he approaches the station and mentally rehearses what he needs to do to get through the barrier. On our second morning, he strutted past the newbie campers queued up at the information kiosk to buy their travel cards, negotiated the barrier, then proudly announced “did you see that?? Cool as you like…..” 😎
After three days, we think we’ve now seen what we want to of Stockholm, and it’s time to move on…..
We have no idea as yet where we’re headed to tomorrow. We do have a list of the remaining places we want to visit in Sweden, and we’ve located them all on the map. Working out a bit of a plan of action is a job for this evening, over a glass of wine or two 🍷🍷