Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stockholm's Vasa museum truly incredible

Our first full day in Stockholm got off to an excellent start with crepes with lingonberry jam for breakfast. Lingonberries are a small red fruit from small shrubs found in tundra vegetation. They are a staple of the Swedish diet and they have them with all kinds of foods.

We linked up with Kate and Matt and walked along the harbour passing many tour boats before we ended up at the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a  64-gun ship commissioned in the 1600s by King Gustav II. On Sunday, the 10th of August, 1628, Vasa lay rigged and ready for sea. Ballast, guns and ammunition were all on board. On the quays and shores along Strömmen, an excited public waited to watch the ship leave Stockholm.

Over a hundred crewmen were on board, as well as women and children. The crew had permission to take family and guests along for the first part of the passage through the Archipelago. For the first few hundred meters, Vasa was warped along the waterfront with cables from the shore. Sailors climbed the rigging to set four of Vasa’s ten sails. A salute was fired, and Vasa slowly began her maiden voyage.

Once Vasa came out from under the lee of the Södermalm cliffs, the sails could catch the wind, but the ship was tender and heeled over to port, then heeled again, even farther. Water rushed in through the open gun-ports and the ship’s fate was decided. Vasa sank after 1300 meters.

Why did she sink? The underwater part of the hull was too small and the ballast insufficient in relation to the rigging and cannon. The leaders of the inquest believed that the ship was well built but incorrectly proportioned. The Vice Admiral had been present before the ship sailed, when the captain demonstrated how unstable the ship was by having 30 men run back and forth across the upper deck. On their third pass, the ship was ready to capsize at the quay. The blame can be shared among several people including the shipbuilder, captain, admiral and the king.

The Vasa was lifted in stages with the final lift in April 1961. For 17 years, Vasa was sprayed with polyethylene glycol — PEG —a chemical compound that replaces the water in waterlogged wood to prevent shrinkage and cracking. The current Vasa Museum opened in 1990.

Ninety-eight per cent of the Vasa is preserved. There are still carpenters working on the ship clinging to scaffolding as they exchange the deteriorating iron bolts. The museum is on several levels giving an excellent close-up view of the ship and its intricately decorated wood carvings. On each level of the museum there were models and displays to show the shipyards, life on board and a hands-on computer-generated model that allowed you to change the parameters of the ballast and design to see how the Vasa sank.

One of my favourite displays was of the skeletons of those who died onboard. Many of the skeletons revealed malnutrition early in life. Several of the skulls had been forensically reconstructed so that you could see what the sailors actually looked like. The Vasa Museum is definitely one of the best museums that I have ever visited.

Our explorations had made us quite hungry. Matt, who is working in Stockholm, and knows all the good places to eat, led us to a historical house, where we had the most delicious soup with loads of lobster and shrimp.

Later that evening we went to Sodermalm for a traditional Swedish dinner. There were two choices of menu to follow. I chose Skane, which is in the south of Sweden. The server was a delightful Australian lady, who couldn't resist a Swedish man she met in Australia and who is now her husband. She wouldn't actually say what the first course was. It was listed as carrot, celery, parsnip and potato. The dish came with little bits of the slightly cooked vegetables and parsnip balls. A consommé was added and it made a beautiful soup. I tasted Seamus' elk and it was melt-in-your-mouth good. For the second course I had herring with lingonberries, cress and potato. This was followed by cooked apples with homemade cinnamon ice cream and dried raspberries. What a meal! The Swedes certainly know how to eat. Thank goodness we did lots of walking.

1 comment:

Country Girl said...

What an excellent museum that was. The best I've ever been to as well. Your account of it is excellent. As is your account of our meal, which was the highlight of my trip, gastronomically speaking, that is.