Recently we had the itch to travel again and a cruise from Stockholm to Lisbon struck our fancy. So it was time to hit the road.
After arriving in Stockholm from New York, we checked into the lovely Crystal Plaza Hotel owned by Benny Anderson of the Swedish pop group Abba.
After a much needed nap, we met up with a Swede who had sold me an antique piece of Royal Doulton pottery on eBay some months ago. The shipping was going to be $75 from Stockholm to Louisville! I paid for the pot and asked him to keep it and told him I would get it in person.
We had dinner on the sidewalk at a local Korean barbecue restaurant in the middle of Stockholm.
Day three of our journey started with a fabulous Swedish breakfast smorgasbord at the hotel.
Then we went up to see the Royal Palace.
We started our visit with a trip to the Cathedral, next to the palace, where Crown Princess Victoria was married to her personal trainer, now Prince Daniel, on June 19, 2010. It is a charming old church with the usual hanging pulpit crowned by an enormous hand-carved, gold leafed crown with acanthus leaves, graves of long past rulers and an incredible choir. The ebony and silver altar was donated to the cathedral in the 1650s.
It was our luck to stumble in on the choir singing a cappella for a recording company. The acoustics in the church were phenomenal. We were held spellbound at the glorious sound for at least an hour.
Then we tore ourselves away and walked across the square to the official residence of H.M. the King. It was designed by Nichodemus Tessin the Younger in the style of the Italian Baroque. Completed in 1754, it is partly built on the remains of the former Tre Kronor Castle, which was destroyed by fire in 1697.
The Palace features a selection of furniture and interiors which date chiefly from the 18th and 19th centuries. We toured the Royal Apartments for visitors, the Hall Apartments of the Orders of Chivalry, the Treasury, the Tre Kronor Museum and the Hall of State.
We had a brief tour of the Bernadotte Apartments, the home of this dynasty of Swedish monarchs. If you know your history and can keep it straight, you know that Napoleon saw to it that General Bernadotte of France became King of Sweden (Bernadotte was married to a sister of Napoleon’s brother Joseph’s wife.).
Charles VIII of Sweden was childless and in 1810 he was elected Prince of Denmark. After his death the Riksdag elected Jean Baptiste Bernadotte who was a Marshall of France as heir. He was King Charles XIV of Sweden and Carl III Johan of Norway from 1818 till his death in 1844. The union of Norway and Sweden lasted till 1905. Charles XIV John of Sweden was adopted by Charles XIII of Norway. There is more to it but by now even I am confused!
After that, we headed to the little known Hallwyl Museum, an upper-class residence in the middle of Stockholm built in 1893-98. This magnificent residence was created by the Count and Countess von Hallwyl. It consists of 40 rooms built around an inner courtyard and is extremely art nouveau.
One of Sweden’s foremost collectors, Wilhelmina von Hallwyl built the house to showcase her magnificent collections of art, porcelain, paintings, sculpture, furniture, you name it, and she had it in spades. Even her kitchen towels were monogramed.
All of the inner city of Stockholom is one art nouveau building after another – not flashy, more subtle, but still beautiful. There were no modern and glass skyscrapers. The archipelago with all that water helps make it one of the most lovely cities I’ve ever seen. There are bicycle lanes on all the sidewalks and in the streets.
The next morning we left our hotel after a hearty breakfast and took a cab to the dock, only a few minutes away. It was $30! Everything is expensive in Stockholm.
We boarded the Seabourn Pride, a small ship holding about 300 guests. It was a shock after sailing for so long on Regent with 600. But it was lovely and our stateroom was quite nice. The closet space was more than adequate, and we had lots of drawer space. We had the obligatory sofa, two chairs, coffee table, occasional table and fridge with bookshelves over it.
Our first full day at sea provided us with a fascinating lecture and slide show on the life and works of Carl Faberge, jeweler to the czars of Russia. Then surprise! We were given the opportunity to buy copies of some of the pieces.
At noon we arrived at Mariehamn Stad, Aland, one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos. It consists of some 6,500 islands, with only 60 of them inhabited and lies about 60 miles off the coast of Sweden. It was founded in 1861, during the reign of the Russian Czar Alexander II and named after his wife Czarina Maria Alexandrovna. It is an autonomous region, which “gives it the right to pass laws in areas relating to the internal affairs of the region and to exercise its own budgetary power.”
Aland’s autonomy is regulated by the Act on the Autonomy of Aland passed by the Parliament of Finland. It is confusing to the novice.
Aland pays taxes to Finland. In return Finland sends those taxes back to Aland. Aland is in charge of health and medical care, the environment, promotion of industry, internal transports, local government, policing and postal communication, radio and TV.
In these areas Aland functions practically like an independent state with its own laws and administration. Finnish State law applies to foreign affairs, most civil and criminal law, the court system, customs and state taxation.
All this and I had never even heard of Aland. Have you?
As far back as is known the people of Aland have spoken Swedish and had a culture that is similar to that in Sweden. Aland was also a part of the Swedish kingdom, enjoying periods of independence, up until the war of 1808-09, when Sweden was forced to relinquish Finland and Aland to Russia. As a result Aland became part of the Grand Dutchy of Finland.
When the Russian Empire began to fall apart in 1917, representatives of Aland’s municipalities held a secret meeting at the Aland Folk High School, where they decided to seek reunification with their Swedish motherland. A delegation presented this request, which was backed by a mass petition signed by an overwhelming majority of the local adult population, to the Swedish king and government.
In 1917 Finland declared itself an independent republic, referring to the same principle of popular self-determination as had been invoked by the Alanders in support of their claim for reunification with Sweden.
Aland in the meantime went to the newly formed League of Nations. They presented a compromise decision which offered something to each of the three parties to the conflict, Finland, Sweden and Aland.
Finland was granted sovereignty over Aland, but was placed under an obligation to guarantee to the population of the Islands their Swedish culture, language, local customs and the system of self-government that Finland had offered Aland in 1920. The decision was supplemented with an agreement between Finland and Sweden on how the guarantees were to be realized. The League also decided that a treaty governing Aland’s demilitarisation and neutralization should be drawn up to ensure that the islands would never become a military threat to Sweden.
On top of all that, Swedish is the official language and publications and documents sent by Finnish Government agencies to Aland must also be in Swedish!
Mercy! All that for a few dozen islands populated mostly with cows.
The next day we arrived in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It was sunny and we were berthed right downtown in sight of an open air market and a gorgeous church. We got on a bus for a short tour of the town.
Helsinki was a Swedish outpost until the early 19th century, when it became the capital of the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, an event that triggered a building boom. More expansion came in the 1920s following Finnish independence.
Evidence of Finnish creativity and design sense is all around you, in Helsinki architecture, handicrafts, decorative arts and hundreds of pieces of monumental sculpture. Harsh winters, with up to 18 hours of darkness daily in December, may have encouraged these artistic talents; they certainly developed the Finn’s legendary courage and endurance, which enabled them to survive while powerful neighbors fought over their land, exploiting or simply ignoring its people. The factor that sets them apart is their language, impenetrable to most outsiders. Like the Finns themselves, it is neither Slav nor Scandinavian, but came with their ancestors from central Asia.
Almost all of the architecture is classical. The neoclassical Luthern cathedral. Tuomiokirkko, was intended by architect Engel to have one great dome. But on his death in 1840, another Prussia émigré, Ernst Lohrmann, took over the project. Fearing that a single cupola might not be sufficiently monumental, he added four smaller domes spangled with gilded stars and lined the roof with copies of statues by Bertel Thorvaldsen in Copenhagen’s cathedral.
Helsinki’s Olympic stadium, built for the 1940 Olympic Games, which were canceled when war broke out, was eventually used when Finland hosted the games in 1952. Near there is the Sibeliuksen Park laid out on a hill overlooking the sea, in honor of the composer Jean Sibelius.
To one side of the park stands a massive steel sculpture resembling organ pipes or birch trees created by Eila Hiltunen and dedicated to the musical vision of Sibelius. Next to it is a relief portraying Silbelius at the height of his musical creativity.
Needless to say “Finlandia” was played on the bus for the rest of the trip as we returned to the ship. It was time to board the ship and leave for St. Petersburg.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.