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Sweden '15. V: Stockholm: A walk from Skeppsholmen to Kungsholmen

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So we set out from Vasa Museum on Djurgården, took a ferry to Skeppsholmen, walked through Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Riddarholmen to Kungsholmen, and then took a metro train back to where we left our car in the morning.

Djurgårdsbron
Djurgårdsbron

1. Djurgårdsbron (Swed. Djurgården Bridge) again.

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Sweden '15. IV: Vasa Museum

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Vasa Ship Museum (Vasamuseet) is one of the best known museums of Djurgården. As its name suggests, it is basically built around one single exhibit: Vasa ship.

Some history is in order, now. Sweden in the 17th century was a major European power. At the peak of its growth, it ruled over territories which are now known as Finland, Estonia, Latvia, parts of Russian Republic of Karelia and Russian Leningrad Oblast, and some territories in Germany (Bremen-Verden) and Poland (Pomerania). During this period, Sweden also finalized its own borders, annexing Scania, Öland, Jämtland, and some other territories. Russia in particular had a lot of wars with Sweden in 17th and 18th centuries.

King Gustav II Adolf the Great ruled Sweden in 1611-1632, and he is now known as one of the greatest military commanders Sweden ever had; he is even considered "the father of modern warfare", and he was greatly admired by Napoleon himself. He was the one who recognized that the Swedish Navy had to be modernized in order to be competitive. At the time, boarding was considered to be how naval battles are won. Gustav Adolf however loved artillery, and ordered construction of new warships, heavily armed with cannons. Which turned out to be a really great idea, except for that minor Vasa mishap. Vasa was to be the first of these ships with two cannon decks, and to become the flagship of the Swedish Navy. Thus, it was laid down in 1626, at the shipyard on Blasieholmen (just off the Old Town of Stockholm, now built-up and connected to the mainland).

Vasa was to be a very impressive ship, 47.5 meters long with 64 cannons in total, and lots and lots of ornamentation. The thing is, the design had major stability problems. The ship was too tall and top-heavy with all those cannons, and not nearly wide enough. It pretty much was unable to sail.

Now, of course the engineers and shipwrights and even simple seamen watching the ship hull grow at the shipyard, had some idea that something was wrong. But laws of physics which apply to ships were not known at the time, and everything was done pretty much by rule of thumb. And if the king orders you to put more and more cannons on the ship, who are you to refuse him. In the end Vasa was launched in 1628 with no major changes to its design.

You could have guessed what happened next. Vasa set sail and actually managed to sail for about a kilometer, just until the first gust of wind. Which promptly capsized the ship. Which sank right in the harbor, in full view of pretty much the entire Stockholm watching the show, including the king. Quite an embarassment. Most of the crew escaped, but still, 30 people died in the shipwreck.

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Sweden '15. III: Djurgården

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Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is also the largest city of the Nordic countries overall, with population of 920,000 (2.2 million metropolitan area). It also happens to be my favorite (large) city in the world, so far (edit: as of 2018, I like Helsinki better). Last year, we visited Stockholm and explored its Old Town (Gamlastan), and some of its Norrmalm and Södermalm districts, so this time we chose something different, deciding to start with the island of Djurgården.

Djurgården (Swed. Game Park) is an island in the eastern part of Stockholm, home to many parks and museums, including Vasa Ship museum, Skansen open-air museum, Junibacken the museum of Astrid Lindgren, Gröna Lund the amusement park, and many others. Historically, it indeed used to be a Royal game park, which transformed to its present state towards the second half of the 19th century. There are bridges to Djurgården, and a very short ferry line connecting it to the Stockholm Old Town.

We arrived to Stockholm at 6:30 local time, which is way too early for pretty much anything, and decided to drive to Djurgården and walk around for a while until some museum opens. We had plans for Skansen and Vasa Ship museum, but ended up visiting only the latter.

Leaving ferry terminal
Leaving ferry terminal

1. Leaving the Viking Line ferry terminal.

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Sweden '15. II: Viking Grace Turku-Stockholm ferry

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In the first part, we drove from St. Petersburg to Turku (600 km), and after a short walk around Turku, got to the Viking Line ferry terminal.

The Baltic Sea boasts an extremely lively system of sea ferries. Probably no other sea in the world matches it in that respect. The main routes are Helsinki-Tallinn, Helsinki-Stockholm, and Turku-Stockholm. There are ferries to the Åland Isles, halfway between Finland and Sweden, and Finland-Sweden ferries usually make a stop at Åland anyway (this is apparently required for them to operate tax-free shops onboard). There is also a Stockholm-Riga route, some routes from Finland to Poland and Germany, Vaasa-Umeå route (Finland-Sweden but much farther in the north), St. Petersburg-Helsinki, St. Petersburg-Helsinki-Stockholm-Tallinn, and probably some others. Still, Helsinki-Tallinn and Turku-Stockholm are by far the most important ones.

Most ferries on these routes are operated by only two companies, Viking Line and Tallink-Silja. I’m not sure if there is any significant difference; so far I only had experience with Viking Line. The ferries themselves are huge, and are properly called cruiseferries. Apart from basic passage, optionally with any car or RV or even a semi truck, they offer cabins, including some luxurious ones, bars and restaurants, tax-free shops (mostly with cosmetics and jewelry), spas, nightclubs, and so on. In fact you can actually just book a round trip cruise, without actually setting a foot down at your destination, just so you can drink twice as much. Yes people actually do that, largely because of cheap booze. There is even a stereotype of "drunken Finns falling asleep right in the corridors" although I didn’t actually witness anything to that degree.

Even if you actually just want to drive from Finland to Sweden, the ferry is the only reasonable option. You could drive all the way around the Baltic Sea up north, of course. That would be 1800 km from Turku to Stockholm. That’s two days of driving, and the gas alone would cost you more than a ferry ticket. The scenery would not be particularly exciting as well, not on the Finnish side at least.

So, we were interested in an overnight passage from Turku to Stockholm (and back, eight days later), for three people with a regular-sized car. This cost us €495, with a return trip. This included breakfasts, both for direct and return trip, and a dinner in all-you-can-eat buffet, for direct trip only (although we ended up buying it on the return trip anyway). It would have been €342 without any meals. Could have been even cheaper if we picked a cabin without a window for the direct trip. By the time you get to your cabin you’re generally too drunk to enjoy the scenery anyway. The price seems reasonable enough. In fact most of long-distance ferries on other routes I considered for possible travels seem to cost significantly more.

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Sweden '15. I: The road to the Baltic Sea and the city of Turku

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In the July of 2015, me, my girlfriend Olga, and our friend, whose name is also Olga, planned a road trip across Sweden. Sweden was not our first option (the original idea was Germany), and this was not going to be our first visit there; in 2014, we made a short but intense road trip to Flåm, Norway from Finland on a rental car. This time, I actually had my own car in a reasonable shape, and so we chose Sweden (with a little bit of Denmark) as a nice and reachable destination.

In hindsight, our itinerary, which had been pretty much entirely plotted by me, was not the best one. Too much driving and not enough staying in one place for a while to enjoy it. This however was somewhat rectified in the second half of our journey. Overall, we certainly saw a lot and enjoyed it very much, and this is a short account of our trip, in fourteen parts (and believe me I really tried to make this short!).

The Sandero
The Sandero

1. So, we all packed our briefcases, and our Sandero, near our apartment block in southwestern St. Petersburg, Russia, is ready to go now.

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