Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's a Vasa(ster)!

After a sunny morning walking around the very beautiful shoreline of Stockholm's many islands, and a crazy fun afternoon at the Abba Museum (see earlier post), we had to get something to eat before we all perished.  So I said goodbye to my spirit ABBA-mal Agnatha...OK, fine, just the little figurine of her I was sorely tempted to buy at the gift shop:

We then headed back towards Gamla Stan (aka Old Town) and on the way came along these types of scenes:

Yeah, I know, this place is holy freaking gorgeous, Bätmän! After an afternoon of Abba overload (I'm a fan, but even I can admit when I'm about to OD on Swedish pop), we decided it was time for something more historical and found ourselves at the Vasa Museum, without knowing exactly what to expect.  What we found was a fascinating study of how a failed project of trying to make something new happen, turns into a rather revealing history of 17th century life in the Swedish Kingdom under Gustavus Adolphus (Gustav II).  At least that's what our guide [this guy] at the museum said after the introduction of "Welcome to the museum dedicated to the best preserved ship...that sank only after 25 minutes of launching into her maiden voyage." [I'm kind of paraphrasing]

We were told that king Gustav II and his cousin, the King of Poland, were bitter rivals from the time they both became potential ascendants to the throne of Sweden (aka from the moment they were born).  Why you might ask?  Well, Gustav was a protestant who was lower in the line of succession (and the dude who ended up becoming the King of Poland was higher) to the Swedish throne.  Well, how did Gustav end up becoming king?  Sweden, a protestant realm, and its people would not accept a Catholic head of state, so Gustav took the throne and the two countries kept fighting battles and wars for decades of these two cousins' respective reigns.  They were also fighting over Sweden's expansion beyond Livonia (modern day Latvia) and northern parts of Poland, but at the end of the day, this (like most European wars of the day) was a war of bitter family politics masked behind "divine rights."

What role does the Vasa play in all of this?  Gustav II commissioned double gun-decked ships to be built to provide naval support for the Swedish ground forces, and Vasa was basically the first attempt.  It was a magnificent ship, but it was doomed from the start.  With a Dutch shipbuilder attempting to design and build something that had never been done before (i.e. there were no ships with double gun barrels at the time) and construction crews from different countries (Swedish, Dutch, German, etc.), each of whom used different measurements, the final product looked great.  Then the Vasa was launched (with the plan to meet the Swedish army and the King in battle in Northern Poland)...a slight wind began to tip the already off balance ship...and blam!  Literally 25 minutes after launch, the ship (and some of its crew) found itself at the bottom of Stockholm's natural harbor.

Just don't ask this guy (I'm not referring to Jeff, but the guy that turned into THAT guy on our half hour tour) [the blue shirt behind Jeff...we did good stealth work on this one]:

BlueShirt decided that our guide's presentation just wasn't informative enough and began to pepper (aka interrupt and take over the tour) with his own explanations of history...followed by awkward giggles seeking our approval.  You know the type:  teacher (aka guide) asks question to make his presentation more interactive and BlueShirt jumps in with way more than necessary information making us all sigh uncomfortably inside and out...Imagine first year Hermione's REALLY annoying second-cousin, and you'll get an idea of what we were dealing with.  This is pretty much what we wanted to do every time BlueShirt began to talk:

The amazing thing about the whole Vasa sinking situation, is that the failures of this ship's design helped lead the way to ensuring that other ships like it were launched successfully (with slight tweaks).  What's more amazing is that this ship was in the waters of Stockholm harbor for 300+ years and that it was so well preserved.  Almost 98% of the ship, as it is displayed at the Vasa Museum, is original.  You MUST see this for yourself if/when you visit Stockholm.  The ship and the Museum really are incredible.

And now, with our brains fed with all this history and facts and stuff, we went to meet Jon's friends Eli and Emma for more Swedish food and drinking.  See ya!

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