Photos and Story by Lisa TE Sonne
While cruising on the ms Eurodam to St. Petersburg, Russia, I realized how much I like cities that are informed by their geography. Cities of hills—Rome, Athens, San Francisco, Istanbul; cities of river mouths — London, New Orleans, Buenos Aires; and cities of islands — Venice, New York City, Hong Kong to suggest only a few. All are the evolving offspring of human culture and Mother Nature shaping each other. And all have dramatic biographies and make for rich visits for those who love both outdoor and indoor activities when they travel.
Until this current cruise, I hadn’t realized that Sweden’s capital city has 14 islands within its boundaries embraced by Lake Malaren. The classic water route in and out of Stockholm includes an archipelago of thousands of islands — from small picturesque dollops with a few pines and rocks, to those with enticing-looking homes tucked in the woods, and even greater masses with roads, and defense barracks left over from more threatening times.
The sheer greenness of some islets is reminiscent of the maze of islands near Sitka, Alaska — my first cruise on the Holland American line years ago. Three generations of family wove through gorgeous islands and glided past dramatic coasts close enough to hear the resounding cracks of calving glaciers.
Now my husband and I are back, this time on Holland America’s Baltics Adventure to visit some of Europe’s Baltic cities, where East and West traded ideas and dominations centuries before the Cold War. This trip is more about walls and windows than whales and winds. Architecture, history and the arts of people fill our shore excursions. The 12-day itinerary includes St Petersburg in Russia, Tallinn in Estonia, Helsinki in Finland, Berlin and Kiel in Germany, and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden.
Stockholm is welcoming with its charming spires, squares, castles, parks, pubs, palaces, bridges, and smiling sun worshipers. My husband and I arrive a day early to enjoy some time in port before sea voyage. It’s common anti-jetlag advice to get some daylight time at your arrival destination, including gentle walking, before succumbing to the comforts of bed. That’s easy in Stockholm in the summer — it is still light out after 9 P.M. and there’s lots to see by foot.
Across the street from our hotel, the Hilton Stockholm Slussen, we immerse ourselves in local fare with the delicious four herring and cheese plate at The Blue Door’s outdoor patio full of Swedes next to a building going back to the 17th century. Sitting outside, we enjoy great conversation with our table neighbors, local writers who were amused that we Americans liked the herring so much.
The next day we head out to explore. Stockholm offers 85 museums from A to V: The ABBA, featuring the successful musical group and interactive exhibits, to the Voxholm Fortress Museum, including a tower with a commanding view of the islands. To walk to the Nobel Museum, we cross a bridge to the island Stadholman and meander past medieval and Renaissance architecture, to the heart of Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan, also known as “the town between the bridges” dating back to the 13th century. Church bells ring, people smile, colorful pub signs swing in light breezes, and vibrant flowers in window boxes display the benefits of long hours of northern summer daylight.
In the main square Stortorget, the Nobel Museum highlights the inspiring winners of the prestigious Nobel Prizes for Peace, Medicine, Literature, and Physics. The prizes, named after the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, started in 1895. The Peace prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway each year, but the other awards are all bestowed in Stockholm. Museum exhibits include “Ideas Changing the World,” not far from the Nobel Bistro with award-winning food, and a gift store full of creative learning toys. I could have taken home my own Nobel Medal (made of chocolate) but opted instead for a Nobel pencil.
Another Stockholm highlight is a museum built around the oldest known complete ship in the world — the Vasa. The magnificent wooden Vasa was first launched in 1628 and quickly sank. More than 333 years later, it was retrieved and restored. Almost all of its original 700 plus sculptures were recovered, too. King Gustav’s mighty Vasa was the Titanic of the early 17th century. Built with pride and great scale, it went down tragically on its maiden voyage.
I am glad to be on board Holland America’s Eurodam instead; a ship of even bigger scale that has proven itself sea worthy many times (and has a spa, swimming pools and theaters). We depart Stockholm and set sail for the next port—another great Island City, St. Petersburg, known for part of the 20th Century as Leningrad. Peter the Great, founder in 1703, brought in European engineers, artists and scientists to transform marshlands into a city of canals and islands. It became the Imperial capital for almost two centuries, and remains a cultural magnet. The islands of this impressive city are both natural and man-made.
I am in good company on the Eurodam, with 2,200 passengers and a crew of more than 800. Together we face some great cities ahead...with and without islands.
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