The deep waters of the North Sea, leading to the scenic fjords, make for spectacular cruising offshore Scandinavia. A passage between Sweden and Denmark, an entrance to the Baltic Sea, opens up time-honored routes of trade and conquest. Today, with multiples of port stops in six countries, we can visit Scandinavia for shopping, dining, and educational sightseeing. It's enjoyable to share what I learned from the Stockholm port excursion aboard Viking Cruises, on a "Viking Homelands" cruise. Through a variety of experiences, we all gained a better understanding of this historic - and currently topical - region.
Vikings once plied these waters in dragon-ships, so-called due to the terrifying carvings at each prow. Viking life is seen in excavated coastal settlements which include artifacts of everyday life. In shipbuilding, the Scandinavian-originated "clinker" construction is unique, along with the double-ended design. Viking-built ships used clinker techniques, overlapping hull planking, and their expertise enabled them to build large ships.Typically, as observed in other nautical locales around Europe at the same time the size of the vessel was more limited. Most large vessel constructors moved to butting together planks and sealing the gap with caulking made from tar and fibre (oakum).
Later, after the time of Vikings, shipbuilding moved ahead to the classic galleon style exhibited in Stockholm at the Vasa Museum. This design enabled large holds for merchandise transport or mounting cannons. Technology evidently did not advance rapidly in shipbuilding because today we know of two pride-of-the-fleet ships that sank on a maiden voyage. One is England's Mary Rose, sinking in 1511 while sailing out under the gaze of King Henry VIII. More than 100 years later in 1628, in Stockholm harbor, the ship Vasa rolled under the water when sailing for the first time.
The tour excursion to the Vasa Museum is an unbelievable experience. Before you is an actual 225-foot-long galleon from 1628, complete in its details. It has the sculpting on its prow, stern, and a crow’s-nest at the mast top. It was to sail away from the dock, hence it is fully outfitted with seagoing tools and personal effects. Clothing recovered, with human bones, show how seamen of the time actually dressed. Weapons and cannons look as if they could bark again today. One can speculate if the construction should have not included a second deck of cannons, possibly responsible for the ship’s instability?
It must also be mentioned that in Oslo, Norway, the display of an actual 8th-century Viking longship is unavailable for viewing until perhaps 2026 due to expansion of the museum in Oslo. Other toured seafaring museums provided ample examples of Viking lore and lifestyles. Viewing of artifacts and museums in groups organized by a cruise ship is a great way to travel with the bustle replaced by grace at the day’s end. While some in a party have an interest in history, the cruise director always has organized excursions for foodies and culture experiences. Convenient to get back aboard and safe, people meet back at the ship in the afternoon. Discuss your day later at any of the onboard restaurants, from your stateroom balcony, or while enjoying company of others in the lounge. It's a most pleasant experience and memorable trip that is truly leisure.
Video: VASA starboard bow and rigging
Video: VASA stern rudder to top rail
Video: VASA stern colorizationVASA stern colorizationVASA model
Author’s note: Although this experience was hosted by Viking Cruises, the thoughts and comments expressed here are totally my own.