arriving in Stockholm, sweden
With mixed feelings we sail into our last port today. It has been an amazing cruise, we have seen and learned and experienced so much. We are sad that it is coming to an end, but excited to see Stockholm, and especially to arrive in style. Stockholm is built on islands connected by more than 50 bridges, and surrounded by an archipelago of around 30,000 islands and islets. Around 150 of the islands are inhabited. Apparently 20% of Swedes own a summer house, and many of these are on islands in the Stockholm Archipelago. I can see the appeal. Arriving by cruise ship early in the morning on a clear sunny day was a magical experience. I have put together a little video to try to capture the scene in a small way. (Note that the video segments are 6 times normal speed. If the video looks blurry, click the little HD button in the lower right corner)
After docking in Stockholm we headed out to purchase our Stockholm Pass. In the end we probably didn’t save any money by getting the pass, but we came close to breaking even. We just love the convenience of having the pass and not worrying about where to buy a bus or tram ticket, having the right change or worrying what attractions are costing. We had been given some incorrect information about where to purchase the pass, so wasted probably an hour doing that, but that’s life.
Today’s plan was a gentle, restful day with not a lot of walking and no rushing. 19,000 steps and 14km later we didn’t quite achieve all our goals for the day but we loved the slower pace and particularly the almost complete absence of crowds.
Drottningholm Palace was built during the 17th century, by Queen Hedvig Eleonora as her summer palace. It has survived to be one of the most well-preserved palaces in Sweden, and is still used today as the permanent royal residence. It was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991. It is said that the style and architecture was inspired by 17th and 18th French chateaux. It is about an hour from the centre of Stockholm but boat (or bus and train). We caught an old steam ferry and were treated to a cruise along Lake Mälaren to get to the Palace.
When we arrived at Drottningholm our hearts sank to see large crowds of children. Multiple large groups. Multiple noisy large groups. So much for our peaceful day away from the throng. However it seems we timed our arrival perfectly as they were all leaving, and we had the place almost to ourselves for the rest of the day. Winner!
Inside the Palace
The Palace is gorgeous. Very well preserved (or restored), everything is well displayed with signage (mostly) in English. There are guided tours but we chose to explore on our own, using the excellent and inexpensive (30 SEK = $US3.50) guidebook we purchased there. We loved the over-the-top decor, the frequent use of trompe l’oeil, the chandeliers, the paintings and sculptures, and the glimpse into the royal lifestyle.
The Palace Gardens
The Drottningholm Palace Gardens are vast (120 hectares) and impressive. A large Baroque garden in formal French style was designed along with the palace. and includes many statues and fountains. Most of the statues were spoils of war, coming from Prague in 1648 and Fredriksborg Castle in Denmark in 1659. The largest part of the park is laid out in a less formal, landscaped style. Winding paths and a large irregularly shaped pond contrast with the formal layout of the Baroque garden. A rather splendid curiosity from Gustav III’s time is the Vakttältet (Turkish tent), a wooden structure built in 1781 to house the royal dragoon guards. The facade is entirely of sheet metal, painted to resemble canvas, concealing a 2 storey wooden building where the guards’ dormitories were.
One of the highlights of a visit to Drottningholm is the Theatre, dating from 1766, claimed to be the world’s oldest theatre still preserved in its original condition. The interior features are made of plaster and papier mâché, and the original scenery with wooden hand driven machinery is still in working order. They also have hand worked machines to create sound effects. We had a fun tour of the theatre (the only way you can see it – other than to attend a performance), though we were disappointed it didn’t include any back stage viewing. The theatre is popular for operas and other regular shows.
The Chinese Pavillion
Beyond the gardens is the world’s classiest birthday present – the Chinese Pavilion, built by King Adolf Fredrik for his wife Queen Lovisa Ulrika in 1753 as a surprise for her 33rd birthday. Husbands of the world – you will never top this!
In a letter to her mother, Queen Sophia Dorothea of Prussia, the Queen wrote: “He brought me to one side of the garden and I was surprised to suddenly be part of a fairy tale, for the King had built a Chinese castle, the most beautiful one can see.”
The Chinese Pavilion was created at a time when Europe was fascinated by all things Asian, and Chinoiserie was all the rage. This is a somewhat extreme and well-preserved example of this craze. It was used in the summer when the Queen would spend time with family & friends, engaged in conversation, embroidery or reading. The original Chinese Pavillion only lasted 10 years, and was replaced by the one you can see today. The decor is a mixture of authentic artifacts from China and Japan, and what Europeans imagined China to be like at that time. It has been beautifully and sensitively restored and was a pleasure to explore with the excellent included audio-guide (and almost no tourists).
Saying Goodbye to the Viking Sea
We stayed so long at the palace we missed the last boat back to town, but we did enjoy a lovely sit at the cafe having a glass of cider and a snack. We caught a bus then a train and then another bus back – not quite as relaxing as the boat, but we got to see parts of the city we would otherwise have missed. Back on the ship we met up with some new friends we made on board and ate our dinner on the deck. Good company, good food and a great view. What more could you ask for? Just then we watched as several hot air balloons rose over the horizon to complete the picture. The official time of sunset was 9:42pm, but the sun is never more than 12° below the horizon all night, so it never got completely dark. Fascinating.
Find out more about our Viking Homelands Cruise here.