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So we're vikings on Midsommar

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog, we took a 17 hour ferry across the Baltic Sea to Stockholm in Sweden, just like they did in ancient times. Well, I suppose there were some modern twists. It was set up like a cruise ship, with entertainment, games, kids play areas, restaurants, and the like. With a maximum occupancy of over 2000 people, I guess you have to keep them entertained somehow. With all that being cheaper than a plane ticket for one person, and the fact that most of the journey was overnight, it was the way for us to go.

Ferry boat shenanigans

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That's our boat

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Arriving in Stockholm, we dropped off our things at a hostel this time and set out into the city. We’ve been told that Scandinavia is quite expensive so we’re trying to offset the costs by staying in cheaper accommodation where possible, but hostels are typically pretty great anyway. With unusually warm, sunny weather, we set out towards Gamla Stan, otherwise known as Stockholm old city.

Hello Stockholm!

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We started wandering the streets but quickly found ourselves in front of the royal palace at the changing of the guard. Full of pomp and circumstance (what does that even mean?), we watched the change and then went to check out the palace. Several areas were accessible to us, including the treasury with many crown jewels, the royal apartments, and an armory full of royal weapons and armor of old. Admission also included access to the church where many kings and queens of Sweden are buried.

But what are they changing?

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The Royal Palace

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Palace from the inside

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The royal church

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The next morning we walked through the more modern part of Stockholm (less than 400 years old compared to Gamla Stan’s 700) and visited the most famous museum in Sweden, the Vasamuseet. This museum actually only contains one thing, a massive 17th century warship called the Vasa. When the ship was built in 1620, the king ordered it the best ship in the world. It was to stand taller than all the others and command not one, but two gun decks – a feat that had never been done before.

"Modern" Stockholm

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The massive warship Vasa

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As it turns out, it hadn’t been done because the design was remarkably flawed – but good luck telling the King that, who approved it. On its maiden voyage, the ship made it about 2 miles from port before a strong wind caught the ship, tipping the incredibly top heavy ship hard to the left. The lower gun deck filled with water and the boat sank within minutes. It stayed at the bottom of the sea for 333 years before it was rediscovered and brought out of the water. The ship is 98% original even after being underwater for so long, and the museum also contains tons of information on the crew, the history, and showcases the items that were found on board.

A really beautiful ship

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After lunch we found our way to the Swedish History museum to get some more information about Sweden’s past. Our search covered the kings and queens from the Middle Ages to the present but we also got to go on a tour to learn about Vikings. I had almost forgotten about those horned helmet wearing guys! As it turns out, the term Viking simply means “traveler” in their ancient language. The Vikings of old did a lot of travel, venturing as far as the Middle East, India, and the Americas. So, the term fits them well, but they were so much more than that. In terms of the word, we are just present day Vikings ourselves. We also found out they didn’t actually wear those crazy helmets, which was a bit of a bummer.

Learning can be fun!

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We spent the next morning on a walking tour of Gamla Stan, since we had only briefly seen it up until this point. Some of the buildings date back 700 years, and the most amazing thing is that since Sweden avoided both World Wars, the city is still as it was that long ago. The tour took us through the winding cobbled streets and we had trouble putting our cameras down as each beautiful building had its story to tell.

700 year old Gamla Stan

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Gamla Stan

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Yet more Gamla Stan

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Somewhat inadvertently, we ended up in Sweden on the longest day of the year, which in Sweden is a massive holiday called Midsommar. It’s so big that it’s right up there with Christmas, and everything closes so the people can go out into the countryside or the archipelago and celebrate. Stockholm sits on 14 islands of a large archipelago that stretches out into the Baltic Sea. Many of these islands are quite small and rural, making a perfect place to go and celebrate summer’s arrival. We jumped on a boat and went to join them.

Archipelago paradise

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The Midsommar festival starts with the decorating of a large pole, called the May Pole, with flowers. Once finished, it’s hoisted up and the locals sing and dance to traditional songs all around it. We did our best to participate, hopping like frogs and other goofy moves. The small island we were on, Feather Island, was a great place to celebrate. We even had some traditional Swedish open faced sandwiches, which I ate too fast to get a picture of. With the amazing summer weather, it made for a great day.

Party around the May pole

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Knowing that we’ll be returning to Sweden in about a week, we took a six hour train/bus combo across the border to Oslo. Because of a planned trip out to the western fjords in Norway, our time in Oslo ended up getting split up as well. We had one full day in the city the first time around, and we wanted to make the most of it. As with most cities of late, we set out on a walking tour of the city to learn what we could.

This is Oslo

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Oslo has been around for a while, but surprisingly Norway is a relatively new country. Until 1905, it’s been ruled by either Denmark or Sweden. When they were finally given independence, they still asked a Danish prince to be their king. What’s up with that? Even though most buildings were built after a huge fire at the end of the 17th century, the city just didn’t feel that old to us. Maybe it had to do with coming out of Stockholm where buildings were so much older.

Oslo

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For the rest of the day, we headed up to Akershus Fortress for some views of the city before returning home for dinner. Since the sun wasn’t going to set until around midnight (and rise again at 3am), we set out later in the evening to a nearby park. At the park are over 200 sculptures in bronze or granite from a famous local sculptor. It was crazy to think that he created them all by his own hand.

Views of Oslo

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The sculpture park

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We’re very excited to return to Oslo in about a week, but right now the western edge of Norway beckons. This is the fjord land and we will see how they compare to those across the globe in New Zealand. To get there we took the six hour train through the heart of Norway and the many great views along the route. I’ll end the blog with a few pictures of that scenery, but stay tuned for a blog on the western fjordlands soon!

Norway views

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Norway views

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Pictures can do this no justice

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