It didn't get dark until close to midnight, and then at around 4 am the light streamed in again and woke me up. I can’t remember the last time Ally consistently slept so much better than I did. But after being awake for a couple of hours, I did go back to sleep again and stayed that way until around 9. We left the hotel at 10.30 and took a brief ferry ride, from a terminal just a few minutes away, to Djurgarden, site of one of Stockholm’s best known attractions, the Vasamusett. The Vasa was a warship that capsized in Stockholm harbor in 1628, barely into its maiden voyage, killing several dozen of its crew. It was largely forgotten over the next 300 years, then in the 50s a marine archaeologist relocated it; it was raised up in the early 60s and then, after extensive restoration work, placed in a purpose-built museum in the early 90s. Rising up in layers around the ship, the museum takes just about every angle you could think of: sketching a broader picture of Sweden at the time (which doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs); reconstructing examples of the dead crew’s faces based on their skulls and computer analysis; and so on.
The Vasa itself is quite magnificent (apparently the low salt content of the harbor aided its relatively good condition); like I was saying earlier about cathedrals, marked by an intricacy of detail that would surely seldom be fully appreciated once built, although presumably here for the glory of empire rather than God. And the magnificence is obviously tempered by the knowledge that it represents a rather profound design blunder – apparently the hull just wasn’t relatively wide and deep enough to provide sufficient ballast, so the ship was knocked on its side by the first gentle squall it encountered, and took on water through the gun hatches. And I’ll tell ya, as soon as I saw the hull, that’s what I said to myself, shaking my head in sorrow, oh God, those idiots, how could they have thought that was wide enough?
The standard downtown map of Stockholm has about one fifth the scale of that of Paris – a walk that might look demanding and complicated down on paper turns out to be a mere stroll. We walked back from the museum, crossing a bridge to Ostermalm, walking along the water to the area called “City,” and then across another bridge to our area of Gamla Stan, which is the old city. It only took about half an hour (there’s a water taxi providing “hop-on hop-off” service between all these points, but you’d have to be pretty lazy to use it, more like “haul-your-fat-slothful-ass-on haul-your-fat-slothful-ass off”). Then we split a chicken curry sandwich, before some further old city exploration. The most common current artifact seems to be pictures of the princess and prince, a hangover from the royal wedding just a week or so ago. We have however seen no Abba artifacts whatsoever.
At around 2.15, feeling like we’d already had an exceptionally nice return on the day, we caught a cab to Stockholm’s inner city airport, and just an hour and a half later we were on the island of Gotland…if only all transitions could be as uncomplicated. At first sight Gotland is remarkably lush and brightly coloured, as if everywhere else in the world were afflicted by a fog we’ve long stopped registering. A brief cab ride took us into the heart of the main city, Visby, where we are spending the next three days at the Hotel Stenugnen. We wouldn’t have planned to leave Stockholm so quickly, but Gotland is a very popular summer destination for the Swedes, and we could literally only find one available hotel room, and then only if we came on these specific nights. It’s an exceptionally nice little hotel, with a pretty white room staring out onto the street.
Everyone in Stockholm seemed to speak English as a matter of course – actually it often seemed to edge out Swedish as the default language. Gotland is a bit more (we must assume) truly Swedish, but it’s hardly a great difficulty. The universal language anyway isn’t English, nor love, but rather pointing/nodding/ shrugging. We had a fine walk around Visby tonight – it’s another old city with remnants of medieval walls and a near-maze of winding, cobbled streets, somewhat bigger than we thought it would be, and with promises of amazing walks leading off in all directions. Of course it’s also crammed with eating and drinking places (and has a movie theater currently showing Sex And The City 2 and Robin Hood). We covered most of the perimeter, insofar as that’s marked by the old wall anyway, and then had dinner at one of the eight restaurants constituting the “culinary Gotland” circuit. For the last few days we have not been eating that much, or seeking out anything too special, but we made up a bit for that tonight with an outstanding (and suitably expensive) meal. Ally had lamb and I (of course) had fish (cod), and we drank sangria for a change.
Afterwards we went for a further walk, along the coastline and past a ferry terminal where – from the looks of things – many Swedes turn up on vacation, leave their cars for the duration of their stay, pick up bikes at an adjacent depot, and do things the healthy way until it’s time to leave. Both Paris and Sweden, needless to say, are light years ahead of North America in this respect, with a steadfast commitment to bike lanes (Paris also has a recently implemented system of rental bikes which people unlock via credit card at one location and then drop off at another – it seemed to be a big hit from our casual observation). Visby further helps discourage cars by seemingly having a 2 mile an hour speed limit within city limits (well, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much). We kept going until we’d just about left about the city behind (although we resisted the temptation of old-time windmills on an adjacent hill - is anything more postcard-perfect than windmills?) and then we walked back, choosing one of the many nearby hangouts to work through a bottle of wine (our vacation evening routine may have elements of repetition, but it’s damn good). An adjacent place was showing every sign of being a pull-out-the-stops pulsating night spot, but we’re just too old even to investigate. Although we’re only a half hour flight from Stockholm, it felt to me like it got dark an hour earlier, but my lack of knowledge of meteorology and related sciences prevents me from confidently asserting this to be the case.