The 4th and final stop on the cruise before returning to Copenhagen was Stockholm, Sweden. This was my favorite stop for the entire trip because of how scenic and walkable it was. Stockholm is made up of a ton of small islands, otherwise known as an archipelago. On the early morning journey through these islands, you got an amazing view of some incredibly scenic Swedish summer homes, complete with docks, sailboats, and all. Having a summer home on one of these tiny islands would be amazing. Somehow, our giant cruise ship navigated through all these islands.
There is also no modern cruise ship dock. So when our huge cruise ship pulled into the city, we got prime parking. We docked in between a bunch of islands, a few hundred yards from old town. As we were sitting in the Windjammer Café eating breakfast, we had an amazing view of all the islands immediately near Stockholm’s city centre. Already, this was cooler than any of the other ports we had stopped at.
The plan was for everyone to meet at 8:00 am and “tender” to shore. At the previous port, we all planned to meet at 10:00 am to disembark. However, the Grants moseyed in at 10:15 am and wouldn’t get off the boat until they were served coffee and mimosas. The stars must have aligned in Stockholm because both the Grants and the Schetzels were there 10 minutes early and ready to go. We ended up being one of the first groups off the boat. We didn’t have to wait at all, which was amazing.
Before you actually make it to the port, the cruise ship either doesn’t know or doesn’t tell you where you are going to end up. At some of these cities, there are multiple ports that are miles apart. It’s a big guessing game until you actually arrive, get your bearings, and align yourself to your Rick Steves hand drawn maps. I did my best to figure out exactly where we were docked in relation to the important points of interest that we had wanted to see that day, but you never really know if you’re correct until you hit dry land and see some landmarks.
While on the tender, which is actually a cruise ship life boat, I realized that we were heading for Old Town Stockholm and that there was a ferry leaving imminently for Djurgarden island, which is the site of the Vasa Museum. If we could make this ferry, we would beat the crowd to the Vasa museum and set ourselves up for a perfect circular route that led us back to the Old Town tender port in time for departure.
After a brief team meeting, the group agreed and we hurried to the ferry. Luckily, we made it just in time and the ferry left just after we boarded. Success! We had been the first ones off the cruise ship, avoided the throngs of Americans blindly following a cruise ship tour guide with a giant numbered paddle, and made it on a Swedish commuter ferry heading for Djurgarden island.
Once on the island, we confidently made our way over to the Vasa museum, which is a giant restoration site and museum dedicated to the Vasa ship, which sank 20 minutes into her 1628 maiden voyage. On the walk there, I gloated about how we were doing so great to avoid the huge crowds of people heading to this same museum. After a 10 minute walk, we made it to the museum entrance only to realize that the museum didn’t open for another 1.5 hours…… That’s when I realized that I led the group into what kids these days would call an “epic fail”. I had read that the museum opened at 8:30 am; however, that is June – September, and it was still May. Through the end of May, the museum opens at 10am, but I hadn’t read that part of the book. One member of the group who will remain nameless was quite mad at me. He or she commented about how I had single handily wasted 1/5th of their time in Stockholm. Luckily, Rick Steves was able to able to bail us out as usual. There was a bike rental place 2 minutes away, which we never would have found without the book because it was under construction. We decided to rent bikes and explore this rural residential island until the museum opened. The prices for bike rental had even gone up by 20 kroners per person (about 3 USD) since the book had been published. I was able to use the Rick Steves book as leverage to get the price quoted in the book. BOOM. We were back on track.
After some paperwork, we were flying along the wooded bike trails on Djurgarden island. It was incredibly exhilarating. We were aimlessly wandering through this Swedish island’s maze of bike paths, roads, sidewalks, and dirt trails. While my mom didn’t make it off the boat due to knee troubles, Tara’s mom, Mona, was brave enough to ride bikes with us. Let’s be honest, she really didn’t have a choice. You could tell she was a little rusty when we made it to the first small hill. About ½ way up the hill, Mona must have decided it was too tough and she cut the wheel 90 degrees to the left to turn back down the hill. Luckily my dad, who was immediately to Mona’s left had lightning quick reflexes and was able to avoid a collision and help Mona regain control of her bike after a near miss.
The rest of the bike exploration went well. The homes on this island were amazing and the scenery was top notch. I wish I could have taken credit for planning this excursion, but this all happened as a result of my botched touristic leadership. Either way, this was one of my favorite activities of the entire trip. On the way back to the museum, I tried to lead us astray once again, but Doug senior, Dan, and Tara pointed us in the correct direction and we made it back before our time limit was up.
Now we were back on schedule. The Vasa museum had just opened its doors and we were re-united with the cruise tour guides holding the giant numbered paddles….. sigh. Regardless, this museum was very cool. In 1628, the Vasa ship left port and only made it less than a nautical mile from port before a gust of wind threw it off balance, causing it to take on water through the cannon holes and sink. Out of approximately 445 crew on board, only 30-50 died. This is probably because most were still on the top deck waving to people on the shore as the ship began to sink. The museum didn’t really go into the most interesting part in my mind. I was interested in the design flaw that caused the ship to sink. They said that the ship was top heavy and too narrow, but that was about it. I wanted to see some diagrams and design principles that were not followed…… Oh well, I’m guessing the non-engineer readers do not care.
The giant wooden ship was brought to the surface in 1961 and has been undergoing restoration ever since. Today, the ship is 95% complete original wood, making it pretty darn authentic.
Fun fact: The Vasa is the oldest most complete sunken ship ever recovered.
After we left the Vasa museum, the cool morning air had burned off and it was actually really warm. Probably around 75-80 F. I kind of wished that I had worn shorts. Who knew that you would get warmer weather by traveling from England to Scandinavia. Because it was so nice, we decided to walk a mile or so to the start of a Rick Steves walking tour (sorry Mona). We made our way along the water and took note of the incredible amount of Swedes outside on their lunch hour also enjoying the incredible weather and sunlight. This was truly an amazing day for weather.
After we made it to the statue of King Karl XII in Kungstradgarden park, we started our walking tour through new town. New Town wasn’t anything too magnificent. It resembled the Helsinki and the rest of the modern parts of the Baltic cities that we had previously seen. Still, it was an enjoyable walk. The weather was perfect, so I was loving the excuse to be outdoors as much as possible.
The highlight of this walking tour was actually an electronics store. Tara and I have recently become fascinated by Urbanears headphones, which are headquartered in Stockholm. Tara found them through researching a comfortable brand of ear buds that she could run with and not have them fall out. They are ergonomically designed for comfort and durability and they are actually pretty amazing. I have been convinced. We had been searching for them at every mall in the Baltic that we had been to so far, but weren’t able to find them until we hit Media Markt in Stockholm. Media Markt is similar to Best Buy. Check out the display:
These are the on-ear variety that Tara ended up buying (she had already ordered the ear buds online), but I got a pair of ear buds that are great. Mission accomplished. Our parents happily followed us around as we searched, but I could tell they didn’t really see the appeal. We saved about $5 by going to Sweden to get these things as opposed to ordering them from the UK. Don’t tell my parents, but this was the whole reason we planned this cruise.
After the new town walk, we connected it to the old town walk. Again, sorry Mona. At the beginning, we had to declare to Mona how much walking we planned on doing and I may have undersold the actual amount. And I definitely did not mention any bike riding. My mom must have known what I was up to and decided to not even get off the boat.
We toured the old town courtesy of Rick Steves (usual).
After about 50% of the walk in reverse direction, it became clear Mona was suffering so we ended the walk and headed for the ship. After we were able to see the ship, we pointed Mona in the right direction and made our way to a local watering hole for a celebratory local beer. Tara and I enjoyed the delicious Swedish beer with our dads and reminisced about the day and the beauty of Stockholm.
After the celebratory beer, we headed back to the ship. On the boardwalk, Tara spotted a happy hour deal that was too good to pass up. Only 49 kroners for a beer, or $7.43 USD if you are keeping track at home. (This is a steal for Scandinavia) Apparently we had now tired out both of our fathers at this point as well because they were too tired to have another beer…. Oh well. Tara and I had another local beer as we admired the Swedish islands and the Vision of the Seas out in front of us. We killed another half an hour and headed back to the boat shortly before it left port.
That evening was the final formal evening. Here is the only picture of the entire group. Not a bad looking bunch.
The next day was a lazy day at sea where we rock climbed, art auctioned, drank, ate, and reminisced. It was probably the day where we spent the most time together as a group and was a lot of fun.
Next up, Copenhagen.