Cities / Towns Visited: 45
Countries Visited: 14
Steps Taken Today: 24,681
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,582,454
We awoke, ate and headed out early, knowing that today would be chock full of things to see. Our first stop was to be the royal palace, and as we arrived and went to walk across the courtyard to reach the ticket office we were promptly stopped by a rather stern looking female military officer. Fear not, it was nothing sinister, we had just happened to turn up as some rather official looking military personnel were arriving, and ceremoniously inspecting the royal guard. The blue and yellow clad guards stood at attention in their pointed helmets, and after the esteemed officers had headed inside, they then carried out the changing of the guard before marching out of the courtyard. It was quite the happy accident to have been able to see it. Thus, somewhat chuffed, we headed in to buy our tickets.
After a bit of a wait, we managed to acquire the precious slips and headed back out to the courtyard just in time to have to stop again as the high ranking officers, once more, saluted the royal guard on their way to their chauffeured car. Formalities out of the way, we were finally able to head into the state rooms and royal apartments to explore. Everywhere we turned we were greeted by something ornate, or gilded, or otherwise regal looking; massive gleaming chandeliers, a plethora of intricate frescoes covering the ceiling, almost every spare wall covered with portraits and stunning paintings, and all of the fancy furniture you could ever want. There was even a dark crimson breakfast room which was lit in a way that I will henceforth be referring to is as Satan’s breakfast room. It is important to note that this beautiful palace still functions as a place to host important guests and world leaders, and you are able to see the two rooms they may choose to reside in during their visit, one massive fancy room, or a smaller more subdued space which looks more like a nice hotel room. Call me a typical pleb but I’d be all over that massive plush suite over that single bed any day.
The next part of the palace displays a large exhibition on royal awards and orders given, for the most part, to this and other royal families and world leaders, but also to some ‘normal’ people who have achieved great things, or dedicated their life to noble pursuits in service of the country or humanity as a whole. I must say, I find it all a little ridiculous; especially the fact that the royal family become members of these prestigious orders simply by being born or marrying in, but any other person must work tirelessly and for many decades in the service of others to have the award bestowed upon them. It seems more like a private club, than an honour, but that’s just my opinion. I’m just going to go ahead and reserve my respect for military medals over these royal trinkets if you don’t mind.
Leaving the exhibition we wandered across to the royal chapel of the palace, which is less of a sacred church, and more of a massive vaulted hall, decorated to the teeth with gilding and giant biblical frescoes. It seemed more like a show of wealth and grandeur than a place anyone could possibly humble themselves before their lord, but you can judge that for yourself.
Stepping back out into the inner courtyard, we headed out and around the exterior until we reached the Gustav III Museum of Antiquities. This small museum houses the named king’s collection of sculptures, including a large number of busts, an ancient statue of Endymion, and a full set of life size statues depicting the nine muses of Greek mythology. The audio guide was fascinating and I was intrigued to learn about how many of these old statues are made by reworking different figures, and that if you look close enough you can see the traces of these destroyed works, from one goddess statue’s head being slightly too small in comparison to the body as they used a different gods statue and had to rework the facial features to make it feminine, which, in turn, shrunk the size noticeably. Another more obvious example was one of the nine muses whose marble body was originally that of the Egyptian goddess Isis, and who’s head was originally a male Roman God. When you look at the statue you can still see the flowing hair of Isis on the shoulders, although the head which has been reworked to make it look like the female muse has her hair up in somewhat of a bun; a rather amusing and poorly executed example of ancient sculpture.
After a quick trip through the basements of the palace, which display a number of old relics from the palace, as well as the foundations of the current and former palaces on the site from medieval times, we headed off to visit the Riddarholm cathedral; the resting place of many of the past monarchs and their families. The soaring tower is topped by a beautiful metal spire which has diamond shapes cut from it, giving it a delicate carved appearance. The interior oozes history, with the walls lined with the crests of the knights and recipients of the Order of the Seraphim which are placed here upon their death. Many of them are royal family members from Sweden and abroad (surprise, surprise), but there are also other world leaders, clergy members and esteemed society members, who’s crests are easy to pick out as they are not topped by a crown. In side niche chapels, in the crypt, and in front of the altar sit royal sarcophagi, including a few tiny ones housing those unfortunate princes and princesses who didn’t make it through childhood back when the chances of reaching adulthood were much slimmer, regardless of your status.
Eventually it was time to scurry off to our last attraction for the day, the Vasa Ship Museum. After quickly purchasing tickets for the next day’s trip at the docks, we headed straight there. Now for those of you who are unaware, Vasa (aside from being the surname of the former ruling royals of Sweden) was a wooden war ship built in 1626, which sunk only one kilometre into its maiden voyage. It was located in the bay in the late 1950’s and was carefully lifted back to the surface where it was preserved and is now on display. Walking into the museum it really hits you just how massive this ship was, the exhibition is spread over five floors, and the ship fills the entire centre space, and that’s only because the mast is not standing at full height. It it an incredible sight, and was so well preserved by the still water, and mineral rich silt and water of the bay that it looks almost exactly as it did on that fateful day, aside from the fact the paint is no longer in tact. From the intricately carved wooden figures to the kilometres of remade rigging, makes it look like something straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, and it left me gobsmacked.
The museum itself is put together spectacularly, with many visual aids and displays to explain everything from its construction, to its recovery, to why it sunk in the first place. Ironically this war ship was not a casualty of war, but instead of poor design. It turns out that it was simply not wide enough to offset its height, and was not loaded in the bottom with enough ballast, thus when the wind caught its sail it tilted over and water surged in through the cannon ports, resulting in its quick descent to the sea floor, killing many crew members in the process. The bottom floor of the exhibition even has some incredible facial reconstructions that they made of from a number of the skeletons found in the shipwreck, including a woman in her late 20s.
There is also a display of how they believe the numerous wooden figures would have been painted just opposite the originals still sitting in all their glory on the ships (check). Just like old castles and cathedrals, it’s hard to imagine that this gargantuan wooden beauty was once brightly painted.
The upper floors also display a huge number of artifacts recovered on the ship, from clothing, to board games, to weapons (although the ships expensive cannons were recovered not long after its sinking). They also have a few reconstructions to show how parts of the interior of the ship would have looked like, which you can walk through, and are superbly immersive.
It was amazing to watch the short film they show on the construction and failure of the ship, as well as the incredible effort needed to bring her back to the surface, especially back in a time when diving gear was heavy, and cumbersome, and oxygen tanks were not yet a thing; instead they had to dig under the ship and run ropes beneath it all whilst still being attached to an oxygen line running to the surface. I only have praise for the curators of this museum, and the wonderful job they have done in making a space chock full of information, but in no way tedious and boring.
Our day was at an end and we left, not because we wanted to, but because we were being ushered out as the museum closed. Exhausted, but educated, we headed back for a home cooked meal and much needed sleep. As I internally reviewed our day, my mind weaved its way back to that hulking wooden ship. I can’t even imagine the shock and terror of the crew when the vessel tipped. We all empathise with the loss of the Titanic on its maiden voyage but much of its human loss was the direct cause of reduced safety in favour of aesthetics, it was petty and superficial. The phrase ‘sinking faster than the Titanic’ is one which grinds my gears; it makes little sense, it took almost three hours for it to dip below the surface and fall to its watery grave, comparatively the Vasa sunk quickly, and it well pre-dated modern safety measures, meaning that the chances of survival were slim, despite the fact it was well within sight of the shore. More lifeboats could have saved the lives of most of the passengers of the Titanic; but almost nothing, save better ship design and testing, could have saved the unfortunate souls on the Vasa. Many simply didn’t even have time to get to the upper deck to escape before the water filled the interior, and many became trapped, one being pinned beneath one of the cannons and being found there all these centuries later. There was nothing any of the innocent onlookers on the shore who had come out to see it off on its journey, could do to save their family or friends aboard. I can’t even imagine how helpless they must have felt in that situation, and how many times they had to relive that scene throughout their lives. I can’t fathom having to bury empty caskets knowing exactly where the bodies were, but unable to bring them home and give them a proper funeral. In that moment their pain was my pain, and I fell asleep in unease.