Sunday 4th September continued
We commenced the long walk along the gangway to the M/S Silja Serenade which appeared even bigger than the ferry from the day before. Once inside I gasped at its scale. Whilst I’d been on a small Nile cruise ship and numerous ferries to France I’d never experienced a proper cruise ship with cabins. Apparently there were 37 different nationalities on board and I read that the ship had a capacity of 2,800.
The promenade deck (that we entered on) contained all the main shops and restaurants whilst cabins hugged either side of the ship all the way to the top deck. This meant that as we were placed in a non sea facing cabin we had a view of the promenade deck below. Jayde, Giulia, Christine and I went up to the Boat Deck so we could get some pictures of us leaving. I stayed until we past the island with the fort then explored a bit on my own before returning to the cabin I was sharing with Matt and Chris to have a lie down.
We had all agreed to spend a little extra to participate in the “all you can eat/drink” grand buffet but first we sat in the Atlantis Club where El gave us some information about the history of Sweden and in particular Stockholm. I was hungry by the time we sat down to eat and felt suitably prepared to stuff myself.
As usual I was like a kid in a sweet shop, and found it an exciting novelty to pour my own beer. Whilst initially I stuck to the foods I knew I’d like I did eventually try a number of the fish dishes for example the herring which put me outside of my comfort zone though turned out to be incredibly tasty. Finally I went to get a number of the small dessert treats which included a mango flavoured mousse that Chris in particular had taken a liking to. Unfortunately an ice cream chocolate brownie Sunday I created for myself was the final straw for my stomach and I realised I’d over eaten.
Matt, Chris, El and I went to the New York Bar where karaoke was taking place expecting the others to join after they’d freshened up in their room. Matt and I got a cocktail however the karaoke was dominated by a group of school aged children who I believe were taking part in a hockey tournament and it therefore felt a bit like a school disco. The others still hadn’t arrived so we left and went to their room.
We sat listening to music before Chris and I went to get seats for us to watch the midnight entertainment show. It was already busy when we arrived and our seats weren’t the best up near what appeared to be a group of over excited lads on a stag do. I’d never seen a cruise show before but some of the music and dances got the crowd going. Christine joined up about half way through and Jayde, Giulia and El caught the end at the back where we joined them standing.
I was too tired to stay up much later for the live band and was feeling a bit unsteady from my large dinner and the gentle sway of the ship / vibrations from the engine. Fortunately lying down helped and I was soon asleep.
Monday 5th September
Whilst It hadn’t been my best night sleep I at least awoke no longer feeling bloated or sick. After a shower a took a little stroll on the boat deck to see our approach to Stockholm as we weaved through the archipelago. It was quite overcast and windy so I soon made my way inside and back to the Grand Buffet to meet the others for breakfast.
We arrived in Stockholm and due to a construction site around the new ferry terminal had quite a long walk before we actually reached land. It was another long journey for us to reach the underground station and as I’d also been carrying some of Giulia bags I felt like the kids toy Bucking Bronco. Eventually we arrived at the hostel however only one room was ready which it was agreed the girls could use.
Matt, Chris and I sat in the lobby all on our phones. I sat finalising plans to meet up with Victoria and gratefully accepted her invitation for me to stay in her accommodation because it meant we could spend longer together and because I didn’t have to worry about getting back to the hostel on my own. As a result I quickly packed an over night bag and left the bigger bag with Jayde so she would still have everything she needed.
Matt then suggested a trip to Ikea just to get the three of us out of the hostel and to actually explore Stockholm in the little time we had available. Taking street directions from El we just made it on to the free bus in time. The buses were not that frequent so once at the store we worked out how long we had to do the ‘circular tour’ and to eat the infamous Kottbullar meatballs. Obviously in truth it wasn’t any different to any other Ikea but I did end up buying a new inflatable travel pillow and the meatballs didn’t disappoint.
The three of arrived back at the hostel in plenty of time and I got changed and reorganised my overnight bag. We then left to take part in a walking tour. Until this point El had taken them all however the one around Stockholm was hosted by an external company. Whilst I wanted to do the tour I felt like a child on Christmas eve because I couldn’t wait to see Victoria.
We met our guide in the main square outside the Nobel museum. Our guide arrived wearing a Viking costume complete with a helmet with horns. We were asked what was wrong with the costume and I played the role of class know-it-all by correctly saying the helmet shouldn’t have had horns. We were then all given plastic coloured helmets to wear for the duration of the walk.
We made our way through the paths of Gamla Stan (the old town) and our first notable stop was the Royal Palace where we stopped and were told about the Royal Family who like the British Royal Family now only really perform ceremonial duties of state and attend official engagements. Our guide provided us with some information about the Hanseatic League, a way for tradesman to protect their economic interests and which sounded a bit like a medieval version of the EU to me.
There were a number of other highlights and a particularly small statue of a boy which was meant to give good luck if rubbed however we used it to get selfies and Matt even tried to do a face swap on snapchat.We also passed a statue of Olaus Petri, largely responsible for the Protestant Reformation in Sweden out Storkyrkan (St Nicholas Church) and Mårten Trotzigs Gränd,a steep narrow alley of steps. My personal highlight though was a Viking runestone which it appeared had been rather randomly built in to a wall on one of the main streets.
I waited in the square after the others had left and then made my way to the train station where I was finally reunited with a dear friend. Victoria kindly provided me with a SL card to get around the city and we then got a train and had a brief walk to Monteliusvägen a really nice lookout over the city where we had a beer.
We chatted for a while and enjoyed the view before catching the ferry to Djurgården. Victoria told me Djur meant animal and Djurgården was the hunting ground. It was quite a pretty island and home to the Grona Lund Theme park however perhaps because it was slightly outside the summer season it was closed. Instead we walked part of the way around the lake and found ourselves outside the Abba museum where we got a quick picture.
Next we caught the tram and then walked around the Waldemarsudde gardens which surrounded next to a museum which had formerly been home to a Swedish prince. The gardens were still in full bloom and we got some photos in the pavilion and some sun flowers. It was nice to know where Victoria has been spending a lot of time and I can see why she enjoys walking around the island.
We returned back to the city and after discussing the two options Victoria had suggested we eventually decided on a Vegetarian buffet at Hermans Vegetariska Restauran. There were lovely views from the balcony of the restaurant (though we didn’t have a window seat) and the food was fresh and delicious. I also ordered myself a beer but we resisted trying any of the delicious looking desserts.
We made our way back in to the old town and went to Aifur Krog & Bar which was Viking themed. We ordered two mugs of mead and made our way in to the Great Hall. We asked one of the waitresses if we could sit on the side and saying yes we climbed up on to a ledge which made us feel like the King and Queen of the hall. It then became apparent we weren’t actually allowed to be up there so we jumped down and took our seat at a normal long table.
It was dark by the time we got back and in order to take a short cut back to the apartment we had to walk through some woods though the apartment itself wasn’t in the middle of nowhere. We sat in the lounge for a short while but I think we were both feeling quite tired so went to our separate rooms.
Tuesday 6th September
I woke up when I heard Victoria leave to get breakfast. After we’d eaten the breakfast she prepared us there was a bit of discussion as to where I should explore. Unfortunately the City Hall tours were not running so we decided to visit Vaxholm an island in the archipelago which had the added benefit of being a new experience for Victoria as well.
We had to walk along a pavement next to the highway to reach the Bus stop and whilst the weather had initially appeared cloudy it was glorious by the time we boarded the bus. The bus took just under an hour and was fairy pretty. We arrived in the town/island of Vaxholm, nicknamed the capital of the archipelago then caught a short ferry ride across the water to the fort.
We spent an hour or so exploring the island, starting with a pleasant wall around the fort and then walked on the the walls. Vaxholm Fortress was built in 1544 and the stretch of water it defended had originally been the main way to enter Stockholm. We decided to skip the actual museum and as it was approaching lunch caught the ferry back to the main town.
From there we walked to Hembygdsgårds a little cafe by a pretty little harbour that Victoria had wanted to visit with someone. I enjoyed my Toast Skagen (basically a prawn cocktail on toast) and pastry, possibly to the disappointment of a watching crow who appeared to be eyeing up scraps. Eventually it was time for us to return to the city so I could join my tour before our ferry to Riga. We said our goodbyes and even though we knew we were seeing each other within a month still felt sad to be parting.
El had explained that the M/S Isabelle had been a particular nice ferry and not to raise our expectations for our final overnight journey. Boarding the M/S Isabelle it was evidently older and smaller however it was still grand compared to the steerage conditions I had anticipated. Whilst our cabin was smaller and a bit cramped even for three people (it could apparently hold four) we did at least have a sea view.
Jayde, Chris, Matt and I explored some of the upper outer decks however unlike the M/S Silja Serenade there was no promenade deck full of shops and restaurants and the duty free wasn’t open. Jayde and I returned to the back of the boat, found a seat and rested with a coke as we departed and slowly meandered through the archipelago. Christine joined us and we stayed until the sun began to set and I waited until we had passed the island I’d visited with Victoria earlier in the day.
I quickly got ready so I could meet the others for dinner. After we’d finished eating we continued to sit at the table chatting and eventually it was suggested we play some cards. Matt provided the cards and Christine, Chris, El and we proceeded to play multiple rounds of the card game “Asshole”. The jovial competitive nature kept it fun and after a while we decided to move the game to our room after first calling in to duty free to get snacks and cider.
As it approached midnight, Christine, Chris and I decided to catch the evening show however in my opinion it was slightly odd and wasn’t as good as the one on the M/S Silja Serenade. Rather unfortunately for the dancers the highlight was probably a member of the audience jumping on to the stage and joining in with the act which initially looked part of the routine. He soon got escorted off the stage.
After leaving the show we continued up to another bar where we planned to take part in karaoke. The bar was pretty empty however there was one person singing and he sounded professional compared to the drunken attempts we had expected . El, Chris, Christine and I took the stage for the penultimate song of the night, a wonderful rendition of “Take Me Home Country Roads”. El and Christine sang “The Winner Takes it all” for the final song as I provided backing vocals and dance moves.
Wednesday 7th September
As with the previous cruise, I had started to feel slightly unsteady by the time I had climbed in to bed but I woke naturally. The ferry had noticeably rolled a bit more though the vibrations from the engines were less obvious. I had a quick shower and made my way to breakfast where the others soon joined. Soon we caught a glimpse of land and about an hour later we were in the crowd of passengers waiting to dis-embark.