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The Vasa Museum

Monday, July 30th, 2007

I´m a sucker for history museums and the Vasa Museum is one of the most interesting  to which I´ve been.  There is nothing better than turning up in a new country and heading to the museum to get a bearing on the culture and mutual heritage of the people.  In Stockholm the Vasa Museum takes you back 350 years into the Sweden of the past, all under the omnipresent shadow of a very, very old boat.

The Vasa was finished in 1628 and was one the of the first big war ships to have two gundecks.  King Gustav II wanted the Vasa to be grand, adorned with brightly painted sculptures and armed to the teeth with 64 cannons.  Unfortunately all its gunpower and beauty never stuck neither fear nor awe into any enemy as it met a hasty death.

The Vasa set sail on August 10, 1628 and immediately started to keel over.  They righted her just before the water reached the gun ports but twenty minutes later another stiff wind caught her sails and she couldn´t be saved.  Into Stockholm bay the Vasa sank to remain lost until 1956. 

Anders Franzen had been searching for the Vasa since 1953 and finally one lucky day pulled up his lead probe and saw oak.  Over the course of the next seven years divers, historians, and salvagers worked tirelessly to bring the ship back to the surface.  In 1961 the Vasa sailed again having been miraculously preserved in the mud and less salty Baltic Sea waters.  In saltier water woodworms would have devoured the ship centuries ago, but not here.

Once again this massive ship, albeit structurally flawed, can be admired in nearly all her glory.  Even the sculptures remain intact, some even with traces of their original paint.

So why did she sink?  Basically the Vasa should be been a bit wider but the balast was the ultimate cause of her sinking.  They used round stone balast which rolled to one side in the first breeze and put the boat´s center of balance off for the rest of its short life.  I don´t know if there´s a moral here?  The locals might say don´t hire a Dutchman for a job the Swedes could do better, even though they probably couldn´t have.

Stockholm, Sweden

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

In 1969 my Mom and Aunt Janet flew to Europe, bought a VW bug, and toured around for a while. I´ve listened to the stories throughout my life and since childhood have wanted to see those places. Stockholm in particular was my Mom´s favorite city so I´ve fit it into this trip to take a quick peak. They were also in Iceland, my next stop.

Now I´ve sometimes wondered whether it was the city itself that left such a good impression, or just some tall blond guy named Sven she happened to cross paths with. Now that I´m here I can see the allure.

Stockholm is a water city, built on a group of islands that make up the mazelike waterway that is the eastern coast of Sweden. Maybe it was the confinement of island living that made the Swedes build up a bit more, because the city has a taller feel to it than what I expected in Europe. The buildings just feel a story or two higher and gives Stockholm a grand, royal fell to it. This feels like it´s always been a city of wealth, and judging from the prices so far, it still is.

It spent two days just walking through the city in rain and shine. Highlights I liked are:

Old Town

The Vasa Museum

The Modern Art Museum