Sweden

Discovering The Vasa: The Museum That Changed My Mind

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I dislike museums.

Really dislike museums.

People think I’m insane to have been to Paris twice and not gone to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. Even more look at me like I should be locked in an insane asylum when I tell them I have no idea if the David was incredible or not, because I couldn’t be bothered to wait in line to see it while in Florence. But I can’t help it; museums are not my ‘thing’ and the thought of spending a day in a crowded building with hundreds of other tourists staring at really old paintings and sculptures…well that’s enough to give me nightmares.

So when a fellow Canadian I met in Copenhagen told me that I absolutely had to go to the Vasa Museum while in Stockholm, I actually cringed.

“I hate museums” I told him, hoping he would drop it and move on to other suggestions.

“Trust me” he said. “You have to see it”.

We spent the rest of the evening laughing over dinner and a few beers at our hostel bar, and as the time grew later and we said goodbye he reminded me again “Go to the Vasa Museum”. I told him I would as we exchanged contact info, but in reality I had zero intentions of actually doing so.

The next morning I landed in Stockholm and fell in love. I loved the buildings, I loved the bridges, and I fell completely in love with my hostel: the af chapman- an old restored ship.  I was the only one checking in at the time and quickly fell into conversation with the man at reception.

My sweet hostel in Stockholm
My sweet hostel in Stockholm

“You’re staying on the ship” he confirmed for me as he went through my reservation.

“Yes!” I told him, excited for this new experience. “I love boats, but I’ve never slept on one before so this is a first.”

He smiled back at me and my child-like enthusiasm. “Well if you love boats you must be going to the Vasa Museum.”

Ugh this museum again? Not wanting to be rude and explain my hatred for museums, I played dumb and pretended that I’d never heard of it.

“You’ll love it.” He told me, explaining that it was a giant ship that had sunk on its maiden voyage in the 1600s and been re-discovered and salvaged over 300 years later. The museum was dedicated entirely to the ship, where it had been put back together and was on display for visitors. “You’ll have to see it for yourself, it’s incredible.”

First thing the next morning, despite my strict no-museum agenda, I found myself pressing a button to call the ferry to take me across to see the Vasa for myself. After two recommendations and a little personal research I decided it was worth a shot; after all, I did love boats.

And so a little before 10am I found myself in a line of tourists forking over a small fortune to the good looking guy at the ticket counter.

“English tour at 11” he told me as he passed my ticket, “meet over in front of the windows on your left, look for the sign.”

Thanking him I moved forward, and entered the museum, where I was faced with the coolest, and biggest ‘boat’ I have ever seen: The Vasa. It was absolutely enormous; so much so that no matter where I stood I couldn’t, for the life of me, fit it all into one photo. So of course I just took about 100 photos of what I could fit in, but none of them do it justice.

(Part of) The Vasa
(Part of) The Vasa

As recommended, I joined the free English tour, and over the course of about 25 minutes learned about the Vasa. Designed as a warship, the Vasa was completed in the year 1628, and was meant to be a part of the military expedition for the Poland-Lithuania war. As such, the Vasa was one of the most powerfully armed ships in the world, armed primarily with bronze cannons made specifically for the Vasa. But despite the rich decorations, and massive weaponry, the Vasa had a major flaw: there was too much weight in the upper structure, which made the ship incredibly unstable. And so, on her maiden voyage on August 10th 1628 she sank, having only travelled a distance of about 1300m into the Stockholm harbour. Thirty people lost their lives in the naval disaster.

The Vasa from the back
The Vasa from the back

After spending centuries in a watery grave, the Vasa was re-discovered in the late 1950’s in a modern day shipping lane, and was salvaged in 1961. Over the next few years the wreck was pieced back together, and in 1988 she was moved to the Vasa Museum where she remains one of Stockholm’s major tourist attractions.

I spent nearly 2 hours in the Vasa museum, completely awestruck at the enormity of the ship. I’d never seen anything in my life like it, and loved every minute of my time learning about its history, the restoration, and the other interesting facts of the time period, and life aboard a ship that the exhibition had to offer.

Who wants to give this a try?
Who wants to give this a try?

I never thought I would recommend a museum to fellow travellers but the Vasa definitely changed my opinion on museums. So if you happen to be headed to Stockholm: make the Vasa Museum a priority.

 

The Vasa
The Vasa
  • Tickets are 130 SEK for an adult (about 20 CDN) during the time of my visit in March 2014.
  • Free 20-25 minute guided tours are offered throughout the day. It’s definitely worth taking one so check the schedule ahead of time to plan your visit around it.
  • There is a small theatre with a short film about the Discovery of the Vasa in the museum as well, for the best experience it is recommended that you watch that first before exploring for yourself.

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