Sailing into Stockholm – what a way to start the day!
Thanks to a 4:00am sunrise and thin curtains our day started nice and early. By 6:00am we were up on the top deck of the ship, watching as the first islands of the Stockholm archipelago came into view. It was still pretty cold at that time of day (about 10C) and the wind was bracing to say the least. Unsurprisingly we had the whole top deck to ourselves for the first hour or so!
As it warmed up other passengers began to emerge and the clouds dissipated, revealing the real beauty of the Stockholm archipelago. Some of the islands we sailed past were quite big – big enough to have their own roads and to be serviced by ferries to carry vehicles to and fro. Other islands were tiny, no more than lumps of rock. Most of the islands were forested, densely covered in pine, spruce and other conifers. The ship passed right by many of the islands as it navigated its way towards the city heart of Stockholm so we got to see many of them up close.
Many of the islands had homes on them, most likely summer holiday homes (statistics show that most people in Sweden have vacation homes – there are over 600,000 summer cottages in Stockholm alone; the highest rate of second home ownership in the world). There were lots of beautiful big houses, with large manicured lawns and piers at the end of the garden. We also saw quite a few tiny shacks, the perfect size for a summer retreat no doubt. No matter the size of the houses, however, there was always a boat moored nearby. Makes sense really, in a city like Stockholm, built across 30,000 islands, how else could you get around? The cruise through the Stockholm archipelago was stunning, definitely one of the highlights of our journey so far!
We arrived in Stockholm at 9:30am and made our way to our hotel, where we were able to check-in straight away (yay!). Our hotel is pretty unique: it’s a ship moored just off Riddarfjarden Island, one of the 3 islands that make up Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (translation = old town). The Malardrottning was first built in 1924 for a Mr CK Billings, a millionaire from New York. It was then sold to the Huttons, of Woolworths fame and Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, received it as a gift from her father on her 18th birthday. She gave it away to the Royal English Navy. During the second world war the ship was moved to Norway where it was used as a training ship. In 1980 the ship was bought by a Swedish entrepreneur, refurbished and anchored where it is today.
It so cool – we’re sleeping on a ship! The ship moves a little with the waves, but not much – just enough to lull you to sleep. It’s also very cool because we’re literally 5 minutes from the Gamla Stan and some of the best sights in Stockholm! The cabin/room we’re in is small but comfortable, with 3 portholes we can peak through for our very own water views. You can’t get much better water views than this!
After dropping off our bags we went straight over to the heart of the old town to check out the oldest of Stockholm’s historical buildings. The Gamla Stan marks the site of the original township of Stockholm and was heaps of fun to wander through, with its narrow cobbled streets and cute central square, complete with a fountain where locals used to collect their fresh water.
The main city of Stockholm is built across 14 islands and is characterised by beautifully restored old buildings, lots of water and lots of parks (apparently over 30% of the city area is made up of waterways and another 30% is made up of parks and green spaces). The name Stockholm means “log island” in Swedish; the name was given to the town when it as first established in the 11th century to describe the characteristic features of the island Where the Gamla Stad still stands. There are no logs on the island any more, but there are lots of beautifully restored buildings, some dating back as far as the 16th century, but most from the 18th and 19th century.
The 17th century saw Sweden grow into a major European power and in 1634 Stockholm became the official capital of the Swedish empire. Today it is a lively, vibrant city with a population of about 2.2 million and a reputation as a very liveable, safe and modern city. We’ve only been here a day, but we certainly like what we’ve seen so far!
After wandering through the Gamla Stan, lunch was calling. We discovered that eating out in Sweden is seriously expensive (e.g. 2 cappuccinos = 72 kronor or about $12AUD; 2 sandwiches = 120 kronor or about $20AUD). We will need to find a supermarket if we want to stick to our budget! It could also be because we’re in the touristy part of town, so it may be that wandering further afield reveals cheaper eats.
Once we were fed and fuelled up we decided to go visit the Kungliga slottet (translation = the Royal Palace of Sweden). The current palace was built in 1697 atop the ruins of a much older medieval fortress which burnt down in 1692. The palace was decorated in the Baroque style of the time and was to be an example to the wealth and might of the Swedish Empire, which was at its peak in the late 17th century. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the castle, but you can see from the exterior that it’s a pretty impressive construction. And though the interiors are nowhere near as awe-inspiring as those of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, they were still splendid. Our extensive tour through the Royal Palace brought our first day in Sweden to an end – and what a great day it was!