Some of the pages of Stockholm tourist bumph that you’ll find on the Internet (the source of all that is good and true) say that the city is just minutes away from the Stockholm Archipelago. That is not wholly accurate. The archipelago is not minutes away. It’s pretty much right there.
The City of Stockholm includes a few of the islands in the archipelago. In total, the archipelago encompasses about 30,000 islands spread over roughly 80 kilometres, mostly east of Stockholm. If you have some spare time in Stockholm and the weather is nice, a boat tour through a part of the archipelago is a relaxing way to fill that time.
During the height of the tourist season, which runs from late June to late August, you’ll have the option of a full-day cruise that includes meals. In the shoulder season, which is when I was there, the only option is a two-and-a-half- to three-hour tour. (When I say “shoulder season,” I’m obviously not referring to a body part. Rather, I mean the time of year outside the peak tourist season, but not in the “you’ve got to be a complete effing idiot to come to Stockholm this time of year without a really, really, really good business reason to do so because it’s freaking cold and it barely stays light long enough to not bump into the nearest obstruction” season.) I was there in early June, so the shorter cruise was my only option.
(The short cruise also runs on weekends at least once a day, and daily from Christmas to just after New Year’s, during the “you’ve got to be a complete effing idiot to come to Stockholm this time of year without a really, really, really good business reason to do so because it’s freaking cold and it barely stays light long enough for you to not bump into the nearest obstruction” season, but why the hell would you want to go on an archipelago tour then?)
If you take the under three-hour cruise around lunch time you can opt to have lunch in the on-board restaurant. I didn’t. I recommend that you don’t either. That’s not a comment on the food. I have no way to judge the cuisine because, as I said, I didn’t try it. The point is that the restaurant is on the interior of the boat. There are windows, but they aren’t particularly large windows. Even if the windows were larger, people on the deck outside the restaurant can block your view. And the view is serenely sublime. The point is, you can have lunch anywhere, but you can’t sit and immerse yourself in the passing waterways, islands and greenery anywhere. Being an epic neurotic, it takes me at least three hours to so much as begin to relax, so I don’t want to forfeit a single minute of the relaxing view, even if it were for something as life-enhancing as lunch.
When I say “immerse yourself” I obviously don’t mean that literally. I don’t know if they would stop to rescue people who dive or fall overboard and I had no inclination to find out.
Speaking of relaxing, whether or not you take a mealtime cruise, the bar is open. You can buy a glass of wine, served in a real wine glass, take it out to the exterior benches, sip languidly, and mellow out as you enjoy the landscape that floats by. As I suggested, mellowing out is not something that comes naturally or easily to me. Wine helps. It allows me to cut my “so much as begin to relax” time down to two and a quarter hours—two hours and five minutes on a particularly good day.
(Re the previous paragraph, yeah, yeah. I know. I know. It’s you, or rather the boat you are in, that floats by the landscape, not the other way around, but, shut up. Stop being such a damned literal-minded stickler. It’s not a flattering look for you. Besides, if you want to get technical, we’re on a planet that’s rotating on it’s axis, while revolving around a star, in a spiral galaxy that’s moving through space. From that perspective, what, exactly, is floating past what? So shut the hell up and let me get on with this blog post. Time is a-wasting.)
One of the problems with the boat is that the restaurant is at its center. There are benches on a promenade (an admittedly far, far, far too grand a word for this walkway) around the periphery of the boat. There is no publicly accessible upper deck above the restaurant. Thus, if you’re not eating in the restaurant, you sit on benches or stand against the railing facing out on either side of restaurant. As a result, you get to see sights only on one side of the boat. I was on right side, so I didn’t see the sights on the left side.
You might say, “What’s the big problem? When the boat turns around so the embarkation point can eventually become the debarkation* point you’ll be facing the other way and get to see the sights you missed.” You might say that, but, if you did, you’d be wrong. The tour takes a somewhat different route back, so it passes different sights. Therefore, if you take the tour and sit on the left side of the boat you’ll see something different than what I’m about to describe below. Let me know. Then again, my descriptive and narrative abilities suck big time, so maybe you should take the tour twice—once on each side—and let me know 1) what I missed and 2) what I misdescribed.
As the boat cruised along, a guide, or at least a voice on a loudspeaker, told us about the sights we were seeing (assuming you were on the correct side of the boat to see the particular sight) along the way. The commentary was in both English and Swedish.
One of the first things the guide told us was that we were on a steamship that was built in 1912. Um. Gulp. That was the year of the Titanic’s maiden and only voyage. That probably was not the wisest of things to tell me, the winner of the gold medal in the World Neurotics Competition for the past 45 years running. (I wasn’t old enough to qualify for the games before that.)
Are there ever any icebergs in the Stockholm Archipelago in early June? I’m asking for a friend. I might have been able to wax more eloquently on the sights I saw on the cruise if I hadn’t been so busy keeping an eye out for icebergs as we glided past. At least, that’s the excuse for my horrid writing that I’m going to stick with for this blog post.
One of the first sights the guide told us about was a citadel, Kastellet. What’s interesting about this particular citadel is a custom that has been carried at Kastellet on for at least a couple of hundred years. The Swedish flag is raised and lowered every morning and every evening while Sweden is at peace. Having no attachment to Sweden other than as a vacationer there, I never thought I’d be quite so happy to see the Swedish flag flying as I was then. Did I mention that I’m a world-class neurotic?
The guide also pointed out a statue that I didn’t see for a reason that I have forgotten now that I’ve finally gotten around to writing this up almost a year and a half later. (Was it on the other side of the ship? I don’t remember.) The statue was originally intended for the U.N. headquarters in New York, but it was deemed to be too Christian for that venue. Huh. I wonder if the religious right-wing of the American Republican Party know that something was kept out of the United States for being too Christian. Then again, being an atheist, if it were up to me, I would have turned it down for being too ridiculous no matter what religion it allegedly venerated.
Islands of the Archipelago
As we penetrated the waters of the archipelago further (penetrating the archipelago rather than its waters could have been rather hazardous for the ship and its passengers), we passed number of islands. Now, wasn’t that an idiotically redundant thing to say? “Lots of islands” is the defining feature of an archipelago. If we hadn’t passed by a number of islands it would have been a river, lake or ocean tour rather than an archipelago tour. Never mind. Take it as a given that there were a lot of islands.
Some of the landforms were big enough that they might not have actually been classified as an island, but rather a small part of a much larger continent. Then again, what’s a continent but a really big island? On the cruise, I was more into mellowing out than trying to learn anything, so I didn’t investigate it further. After the cruise, I was more into being incredibly lazy than trying to learn anything because that’s just the sort of indolent bastard I am.
According to the guide, one of those islands, one that can be reached only by boat (don’t get snarky with me; there can be bridges to islands), had a restaurant on it that is quite busy during the summer, despite the fact that only small boats could dock at that island.
Many, maybe even most, of the islands that were big enough to do so hosted a house, cottage or workplace of some sort. In some cases, “big enough” seemed like a rather poorly defined term to me.
The islands tended to be less inhabited the further we got from Stockholm. This was totally unsurprising to me because who the hell wants to live in the middle of nowhere, without so much as a good Swedish meatball restaurant in sight? (Now that I think of it, I never did come across a restaurant that featured Swedish meatballs when I was in Stockholm. I wonder if Swedish meatballs are just a North American thing.)
On the cruise we passed a lot of, as I said, islands, but also waterways, forests, trees that were not clumped together in a large enough number to be called forests, and various structures. I could describe them in-depth (in-depth, but poorly because of that poor writing skills thing) if I took better notes or if I had a better memory, but neither is the case. Besides, did I mention there was wine for sale on the cruise that you could drink on the benches as you watched the world go by? That didn’t help with my memory, powers of observation or attention span. Although it probably doesn’t lower my writing aptitude much.
The previous paragraph is my pathetic way of saying, enjoy the pictures below because you’re sure as hell not going to get to read me wax poetic about the Archipelago. I recommend seeing it for yourself if you get a chance.
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* Is it just me or does it seem wrong to you too that embarkation and debarkation don’t have to involve dogs, trees or, better yet, both.