A Travellerspoint blog

September 2018

Under Sail in Sweden

semi-overcast 13 °C

In the past two weeks we've sailed the fjords of Norway, cruised along the coast from Stavanger to Bergen, visited the thousand year old longships of the vikings and the historic vessels of Heyerdhal and Amundsen in Oslo. We've lived aboard an old Baltic cruise ship and explored the 400 year old wreck of King Adolphus's magnificent warship, the 'Vasa', in Stockholm. And now, the nautical nature of our trip to Scandinavia continues with a visit to a windjammer...
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This is a painting of the four masted barque the 'Viking'. Built in Copenhagan in 1906 she was the largest sailing ship ever constructed in Scandinavia and she has a fascinating history. One day in July 1909, while carrying a full cargo of wheat from Australia to Europe she reached a speed of 15.5 knots (nearly 30 kilometers an hour) under full sail. 'Viking' had an auxiliary engine for manouvering in harbour and this is the ship's telegraph...
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The 'Viking' is a four masted square-rigger carrying course sails, royals, gallants, top gallants and topsails. Along with staysails, jibs and mizzens the ship had 31 sails when under full canvas and was an awesome sight with all sails set. The top of the foremast is a dizzying 182 feet above the main deck and seamen had to climb there everytime the topsails had to be furled or unfurled...
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On 25 February 1917, during the first World War, she was sighted and boarded by a German commerce raider. The 'Viking' was sailing under a neutral Danish flag and was allowed to proceed. However, a few weeks later the Germans adopted a policy of sinking all foreign vessels and 'Viking' had had a lucky escape. This is the 'Viking' today...
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In 1929 the 'Viking' was registered under the Finnish flag and made many voyages around the world. The ship's holds today are conference rooms and guest cabins but in her working years these cavernous spaces held upwards of four thousand tons of Australian grain bound for Europe...
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She took part in many of the Great Grain Races from Victoria, Australia, to Falmouth, England, and won the race in 1948. She continued working until 1950 when the Swedish government purchased her to save her from the breaker's yard. She is now permanently moored in Gothenburg harbour as a historic hotel. This is the dining room...
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It is intriguing to note that although the days of the windjammers were numbered since the introduction of ocean going steamships in the 1840s, the 'Viking' was still sailing when we were born. This is a seaman's cabin from the days of sail...
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And this is our cabin for the next three days...
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Yes – we are staying aboard this majestic old ship in Gothenburg. Unfortunately we cannot sail anywhere because a suspension bridge built in the late 1960s has effectively locked the ship in, since the masts are taller than the bridge. It is unlikely she ever will sail the open seas again but we feel honoured to have had the privilege of staying aboard.

Posted by Hawkson 08:20 Archived in Sweden Comments (4)

The Splendour of Stockholm

semi-overcast 12 °C

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The grandeur of Stockholm is inescapable as we gaze across the cityscape from the deck of our ship – the Rygerfjord. However, the view won't change much over the next few days because we are not going anywhere. We are staying aboard one of the hotel ships permanently docked in Stockholm harbour. These smaller, older, Baltic cruisers have been converted to provide comfortable accommodation in the very heart of the city and everyone has a great sea view...
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Stockholm sprawls over fourteen islands and has masses of scenic waterfronts lined with historic buildings including the parliament and the somewhat austere royal palace that was rebuilt starting in 1697 following a major fire. However, the interior of the palace is anything but austere...
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The palace has nearly 1,500 rooms and many of the state rooms and royal apartments are as sumptuously decorated and furnished as those at Versailles. The Great Hall was modelled on the Hall of Mirrors in Louis XIV's flambouyant palace and can comfortably seat 170 for dinner...
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The Swedes have long been peace-loving people to a fault, (it is even an offence to shout at your own child in Sweden). However, that has not always been the case. The Kingdom of Sweden was a great regional power between 1600 and 1800; ruling Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and even parts of Russia, Norway and Northern Germany. In order to keep control of such a large domain the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, needed a powerful navy and in 1628 his battleship, the Vasa, was launched in Stockholm. This is a model...
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The Vasa was magnificent; the biggest and best armed ship ever built in its day. It took the timber from a thousand mature oaks and its decks were lined with 64 heavy bronze canons. It would have been a formidable foe for any enemy. But, how do we know this? Because, on August 10th 1628, decked out in bunting with thousands of onlookers and dignitaries cheering from the Stockholm quayside, the massive 1200 ton Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage. She sailed exactly 1,300 yards before she turned turtle and sank. In one of the most complex salvage operations ever undertaken, the almost intact wreck was raised from the seabed in 1961. It was so robustly constructed that when it was pumped clear of mud and water after more than 300 years of submersion it floated without assistance. Now fully restored, the Vasa is an awe-inspiring sight, (although difficult to portray in photos because of the enormous size)....
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Here's a view of the main deck from above...
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The wood was almost perfectly preserved in the mud and some of the rigging and sails survived underwater, as did the carpenter's chest complete with all his tools. Unfortunately the carpenter, along with just twenty nine others, died when the ship sank. An enquiry found that the ship was top-heavy due to the king wanting double the number of guns ever put on a ship before, so no one was punished for the disaster.

Stockholm has a wealth of history and interesting architecture, but we couldn't leave without visiting the museum dedicated to Sweden's best known export – Abba.. Who knew that Sheila was one of the founding members?...
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Another well known export is the open sandwich, smorgesbrod, so we had to try some - delicious!...
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Our few days in Stockholm are coming to end. Next stop the southwestern city of Gothenburg where we hope to meet up with a very grand old lady of the sea.

Posted by Hawkson 11:03 Archived in Sweden Comments (4)

A Flavour of Norway

sunny 16 °C

Considering the size of Norway, its capital is so small it is barely a speck on the globe, yet, as we discovered, it packs quite a punch for tourists. Even the weather was on our side as we walked its spotlessly clean streets and well kept parks and gardens. Despite its northerly latitude, Oslo's gardens are still blooming with roses, dahlias and cosmos. However, knowing that it can get bloomin' cold here in winter, we questioned the Norwegian's obsession with nakedness...
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This statue is outside the Nobel Peace Centre at the harbour, but almost every statue in the city appears in a state of undress. More than 300 nudes by Norwegian artist Vigeland line the avenues of Frogner park...
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There were no nudes in front of the royal palace – in fact, there was no one in front of the palace when we visited apart from a lonely guardsman at the front door...
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Although the royal standard suggested that King Harald V was in residence, we walked right up to the palace – no gates; no walls; no security barriers of any kind. Oslo seems to be a very safe and peaceful city today despite the horrendous massacre on July 22, 2011 when right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Brevik, killed 77 people with bombs and guns.

Oslo is a very modern city because the old wooden city was destroyed by fire in 1624. The new city, called Christiania, was built in brick and stone around the harbour fortress and renamed Oslo in 1924...
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Oslo has carefully preserved its past in numerous museums and, by relocating some of its older houses, together with buildings from other parts of the country, to an outdoor Folk Museum on the Bygdoy peninsula. This farmhouse is more than 300 year old...
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... whereas this 'stave church' dates back some 800 years to the height of the Viking era...
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Stave churches, built entirely of wood and supported by massive log pillars known as stavs, were once common throughout Scandinavia, but few survive today. The decorated timber interior of this church is most impressive...
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We also visited the Nobel Peace Museum and in the Henrik Ibsen museum we saw the apartment where he wrote many of his plays in later life...
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And then we went to the National Gallery to see the original version of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch...
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This priceless painting has been stolen twice and recovered, and a later version by Munch was sold in London for $120 US million in 2012.

Norway has been a delight in all respects except one – how on earth can anyone afford to live here?
So what does it cost? A lunchtime bowl of carrot soup with two slices of baguette in Eidsfjorden cost us $30 Cdn. each. You can expect to pay $30-$40 for breakfast, $10-$15 for a cappucino, $30-$60 for a light lunch of soup and sandwich, and a 2 course dinner without drinks costs a minimum of $70.
Day trips on the fjords including bus/train transfer cost $300 per person per day – plus a further $40 for a short taxi ride to the bus station in the rain. (Taximetres have $20 on the clock before you start).
And the hotel prices? Well, you get what you pay for, but start at $200 Cdn a night.
However, we have not seen or spent a single krone or ore here. Norway is rapidly becoming a cashless society so our credit cards have taken a hammering. After 9 days here we are officially museum'd out and bankrupt. We have had a most memorable time in Norway and are now on our way to Sweden where where our ship awaits on the docks in Stockholm.

Posted by Hawkson 11:30 Archived in Norway Comments (7)

All at Sea with the Vikings

sunny 18 °C

Norway is a land of myths and legends, it is also the home of some of the greatest adventurers and explorers the world has ever known. This is a Viking longboat that was built more than 1200 years ago...
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The Oseberg took 32 Norse oarsmen to row, although it could be sailed in the right conditions. and it was more than 90% complete, though flattened, when it was discovered underground nearly a century ago. The woodwork and ornamentation is in amazingly good condition especially as the entire ship was used as a burial sarcophagus for two, (presumably aristocratic), women...
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The Norsemen or Vikings, as they were later known, populated many countries during the Middle Ages and had colonies as far away as Newfoundland, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. There were two Norse kings of England and the Normans were actually Norse descendants. (Who knew?). Some other things we discovered at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo is that Vikings didn't wear horned helmets and they didn't push their dead out to sea on burning boats: they buried important people in their boats, together with their dogs, horses, carriages and all manner of grave goods for the afterlife. Several of these perfectly preserved burial boats from the 9th century have been excavated. This is the largest – an ocean going vessel called the Gokstad...
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In addition to the perfectly preserved Viking longships, Oslo is also home to a number of other historic vessels including the Fram...
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The Fram is a ship that was built to withstand the crushing weight of Arctic ice, and more than a hundred years ago it took Norwegian explorer Fridjof Nansens closer to the North Pole than any man previously. However, the Fram is best remembered for its role in taking Roald Amundsen and his team to Antarctica where, in December of 1911, he became the first man to reach the South Pole - a feat equivalent to being the first man on the moon at the time. It was thrilling to visit this iconic ship and to be able to walk around the decks and cabins in the footsteps of Amundsen.
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His original nameplate is still above his cabin door...
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The Norwegian Amundsen had beaten the ill-fated Englishman, Capt. R.F.Scott, to the South Pole by just a few weeks, but this wasn't his first accomplishment. Between 1903 and 1906 Roald Amundsen and a crew of just six were the first to circumnavigate the Arctic by way of the fabled Northwest Passage in this ship – the Gjoa...
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It was also thrilling to visit the museum dedicated to one of James' boyhood heroes, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdhal. Heyerdhal suffered hydrophobia following a near drowning as a child, yet he led an ocean-going expedition to prove that the original inhabitants of Polynesia had arrived on bamboo rafts after fleeing persecution by the Incas in south America. Who has not heard of the Kon- Tiki expedition? Well – here is the actual bamboo raft that Heyerdhal and five crew sailed seven thousand kilometres across the open Pacific from Peru to Polynesia...
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This remarkable, though possibly foolhardy, voyage began on April 27th 1947,and lasted 101 days. Heyedhal became a hero who went on to build more rafts of papyrus and reeds to show how ancient peoples navigated the world. This is Ra – a papyrus raft that almost crossed the North Atlantic, and nearly killed him and his crew...
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Heyerdhal never gave up his determined quest to prove his generally unaccepted theories of world migration. He could have been right but, in the end, DNA has conclusively proved him wrong – the Polynesians came from Asia.
Tomorrow – more fascinating facts and interesting sights from Norway's delightful capital.

Posted by Hawkson 10:11 Archived in Norway Comments (7)

Of Rainbows and Waterfalls...

sunny 20 °C

Every weather forecast told a different story as we planned our boat trip to the Hardanger, Sor and Eid fjords until we decided that we might be in Bergen until next June if we waited for a sunny day. So, with raingear and umbrellas, we set off to make rainbows from the raindrops...
When the skies are grey
and the sun doesn't shine
When dark clouds scud
and wild winds whip the brine
All you need is a rainbow or two to brighten your day...

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All was not gloom. Three storms in as many days might have dampened our spirits, but it sent water cascading out of the mountains in a myriad of spectacular waterfalls. They cut silvery slashes through the forests and threatened to wash overboard the tiny villages of whitewashed wooden houses that cling precariously to the edge...
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It's only September, but snow is already blanketing the mountain tops and we caught glimpses through the clouds from time to time as we sailed deeper into the fjords...
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Every turn of the ship's wheel brought a different view, but the relentless rain washed out the colours and kept us inboard until we spotted a huddle of ancient huts that were weathering alongside birch trees in their autumnal mantles...
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And so, our fjord days are over and the pretty city of Bergen, and its persistent rain, was behind us as we travelled eastwards on the train to Oslo.
We have been bowled over by the helpfulness and friendliness of every Norwegian we have met so far and Christine made instant friends with this little chap on the train...
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Blue skies were on the horizon as we climbed higher into the mountains on Norway's scenic railway from Bergen to Oslo...
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The alpine railway took us alongside the swollen rivers that were dashing headlong to the fjords and out into the North Sea...
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The seven hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo took us through a picturesque gallery of landscape art rivalling any created by the great masters. Fjords, rivers, lakes and waterfalls streamed past us in a constant flow, while mountains, forests and picture-perfect villages flashed by like alpine postcards as we slipped from tunnel to tunnel, climbing higher and higher until the snow began to fall as we neared Myrdal...
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And then we carried on upwards until we skimmed the very edge of winter at Finse...
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It's all downhill from Finse to Oslo but the skies cleared and there is sunshine in our future. However, we are not done with the storm-laden North Sea quite yet. We are just taking a respite as we head eastwards to Oslo and then to Sweden and the Baltic before slipping south to the westerly coast of Denmark.

Posted by Hawkson 12:23 Archived in Norway Comments (5)

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