Ok, so I’m a bit obsessed with Vikings. I know I shouldn’t approve of mobs of wild men who go out raiding, pillaging and generally scaring the living daylights out of everyone who comes across them, but there’s something about them that fascinates me. It’s probably their zest for life and intrepid travel that attracts me.
Of course I couldn’t go to Stockholm and not visit Vasa. It’s the biggest tourist attraction in the city. What the Tower is to London, Vasa is to Stockholm. The Tower of London gets almost 3 million visitors a year; Vasa gets 1.2 million. But when you think that London is one of the world’s major capital cities and is an important hub for air travel, then you realise that Stockholm is punching well above its weight with Vasa.
I knew this meant it would be crowded and I thought it could well be tacky, but it’s not every day I get the chance to visit a massive Viking ship that lay on the bottom of the sea for 300 years before being raised in a death-defying recovery operation.
Vasa was actually so much better than I expected. Yes, it was crowded, but not so much that I felt hemmed in or unable to see anything.
The ship sits in the middle of a huge hall with various levels of floor wrapped around it. Some parts have been restored, but others have been left open so the inside can be seen.
I started with a tour. The guide was really informative and walked the small group round the ship talking about the history, the design, the engineering, the recovery and of course, how it sank in the first place.
It was on its maiden voyage and only made it 1300 metres before going down due to being top heavy with all the cannons it was carrying into battle.
Even the Titanic did better than that!
Over a period of twelve years, more than a thousand pigment samples have been taken from Vasa. All in all, twenty different kinds of paint have been found.
A small replica ship has been built showing how brightly coloured the original Vasa would have been when it set sail.
How stunning is this? And how different to the dull brown that I assumed the ship would have been.
Although the bulk (literally as well as figuratively) of the exhibition is taken up with the Vasa itself, there are plenty of other related displays too.
The one that interested me the most was about the skeletons found in the boat. Using modern technology, several of the skeletons have had facial reconstructions so we can see what they would have looked like. Scientists have also been able to discover facts about their lives from their bones.
After spending several hours looking at everything, reading everything and photographing everything it was time for fika.
The cafe has a wonderful outdoor area that made feel like I was sat on a boat, albeit a more comfortable one than the Vasa.