Stockholm, Sweden, 8/6-8/2012
The shipboard hostel is still operating and popular as ever, but I found a better deal at the Lord Nelson, a unique little hotel in the middle of old town, dressed up by a husband & wife team starting in 1973. It is outfitted like a ship, complete with brass trim, portholes, dark wood paneling, curios and ship captain portraits. The several floors are named after decks of a ship and each room is named after a ship. On top is a small sundeck with a crow’s nest view of surrounding rooftops. My room had the look and feel (and size) of a ship’s cabin. My window opened onto the street and let in a riot of happy tourist noises. Three stories below, crowds swelled by the busload as the morning warmed. Around lunch time it got so packed I could hardly get out the front door. By dinner the torrent slowed again to a dribble. And later, I could walk beyond the candle-lit restaurants, through squares and alleys hearing only the wind blow and the rain fall.
A stay in Stockholm would hardly be complete without paying a visit to Wasa. In 1628 this flagship set out on her maiden voyage and sank in the middle of the harbor after traveling less than a mile. It is now believed that King Gustav’s request for an extra gun deck, combined with the extra weight of visitors aboard, made the ship top heavy, causing it to heel over with the first big gust of wind. With all cannon ports open from a salute just fired, the ship quickly filled with water.
There were immediate attempts to raise the ship to no avail. Thirty-Five years later most of the cannons were recovered. Then, after 300 years of sleep in 100 feet of water, salvage was resumed. Normally, ship worms would have completely erased wood wreck in that interval. But because the Baltic Sea is so low in salt, ship worms don’t thrive there. Minimal tidal action, low-temperature, low-oxygen and hydrogen sulfide pollution worked together for maximum preservation.
After a couple years of preparation, the ship was raised in 1961. For the next 17 years it was kept in a temporary enclosure where it was sprayed day and night with polyethylene glycol to fill the cells of the waterlogged wood with something solid. During that period they set it up so you could walk aboard and take a look between spritzes. I happened to visit it way back then on my family’s maiden voyage abroad. It smelled like a swamp and looked like wax was dripping from the wood. Weird but cool. Wasa has since gained notoriety for groundbreaking preservation techniques.
They opened the current museum in 1990. You can gaze upon the magnificent craft from six different levels. At the base of the hull you can watch conservators continuing their work. On upper levels you can look at the many objects recovered and preserved. Personally, I was fascinated they were able to restore the original sails from white mush found in the sail lockers. Another major display is the remains of 14 victims found aboard, accompanied by a forensic analysis of their ailments.