221,831 islands, 2,011 miles of coastline, 53.1% of its area covered in forests and boasting some of the most spectacular scenery in the world where the vast majority of the population speak English, albeit as a second language, yes, Sweden a country I have just returned from.
My journey begins at Dover on boarding Fred Olsen’s cruise ship Boudicca, my home for the next 10 nights. Being late July, the sun is still high in the sky as we slip our berth and head into the English Channel to begin the 36-hour sailing to our first port of call, Malmo. The ship offers a variety of cabins and mine, 4045, an outside view with on suite facilities, has a plentiful supply of hanging and drawer space, flat screen TV, hair dryer, electrical sockets of the continental 2-pin variety plus an English 3-pin, extremely comfortable beds plus bathroom with a bath and shower.
The following day we continue across the mill pond smooth North Sea heading for the Baltic, a day to relax, take in the sun, enjoy the onboard amenities and facilities together with the occasional glass of chilled rose wine. An early night as the next day we enter the Baltic Sea and begin cruising the Swedish Fjords.
The Swedish Fjords and inland waters create memories, memories of wildlife, birds skimming the water’s surface before diving and resurfacing with fish. Small islands, holiday homes set amongst the pine trees, families enjoying a day’s sailing in the warm summer air cheerily waving as we cruise by whilst inter-island ferries ply their trade. By the days end I begin to grasp how many islands Sweden has.
Following two relaxing days at sea its up early to take in the first glimpses of the famous Oresund Bridge commonly referred to as the Malmo Bridge shimmering in the early morning heat haze. A great feat of engineering, nearly 8kms long connecting Sweden to Denmark. Completed in 1999 after 4 years of construction the bridge that carries 4 lanes of traffic and twin railway lines was finally opened on 1st July 2000.
Malmo, the third largest city in Sweden has much to offer the tourist. My choice is the Malmo City and Canal Tour. The coach covers the main sights and monuments, the ‘Twisting Torso’ designed by Santiago Calvatrava considered to be the tallest twisted skyscraper in the world, 54 storeys rising to 623 ft high and home to 147 apartments. The old town square represents a trip back through time, the Malmo Radhus or Town Hall built in the 1500’s with the Dutch Renaissance style façade added in 1860, houses that were once the homes of merchants, statue of King Karl Gustav X of Sweden who took Malmo and the Scanian Region from Danish occupation in the 1600’s and much more. Time to board the open sightseeing boat for a 50- minute cruise through the waterways and harbour area of the city enabling us to see the inner city, both old and new, but watch out for the bridges, some of them are very low. Too soon it is all over and its back to the ship for lunch. 4pm sees us moving slowly away from our berth as we head for our next port of call, Visby on the island of Gotland.
Being so far north the sun sets late affording excellent views from our dining table situated in a window position. The Malmo Bridge bathed in sunlight, wind farms, their slowly revolving blades creating shadows on the water as we cruise majestically past by on calm blue sea.
Lunch time the following day sees us arriving in Visby the major town on the island of Gotland. Records trace Visby back to around 900AD although remains found on the island give it a history going back to the Stone Age. Gotland like Malmo was originally Danish but gained by Sweden in 1645. The original city walls are still standing and the harbour area has a vibrant feel with visitors and locals alike taking in the sunshine whilst visiting the bars and restaurants that are in abundance along the water front. An area of beauty and no wonder it is now on the World Heritage list. The tour today is titled ‘West Coast Exploration’ starting at the walled city of Visby before heading into the country. First stop, the church of Stenkumla dating back to the 12th century, then on through the countryside of forests, farms and small villages before arriving at Stelor Mansion for coffee and cake. An opportunity to stand on the forests edge and take in the surrounding beauty. 30 minutes later finds us heading for the old harbour at Gnisvard, dating back to Viking times, now a tranquil area with small boats moored, fishermen’s cottages that have become holiday homes. Hidden amongst them, the small beach chapel, built in the early 1800s where the candle stick holders are in the shapes of boats and model ships hang from the ceiling depicting the villages past. A short distance away are the ‘Stone Ships’ burial grounds in the form of ships and edged with large stones. The day has passed quickly and time to return to the ship.
Following dinner, it’s show time and tonight is the turn of one of my favourite acts, Barnaby, a comedian I first saw over 15 years ago. A true professional that has the audience laughing from the outset. What makes him so good, his stories and jokes are funny and can be associated with real life, as he says at the end, “45 minutes and not a single swear word, it can be done”.
We now head for one of my favourite ports, Stockholm, the sail in for me is one of the most impressive and beautiful in the world. Passing islands large and small, some uninhabited where pine trees thrive almost to the water’s edge, others sporting large holiday homes with their own beach and moorings, ferries plying their trade between the islands whilst the waterways are busy with pleasure craft, tourist boats and yachts. The 3-hour journey is spectacular and one to remember. The city of Stockholm like most capital cities has much to offer and see. Spread over fourteen islands it is home to nearly 5 million people and has a history traced back to the Stone Age. The first thing that most people notice is how clean it is, virtually no graffiti, clean gutters and pavements, no rubbish thus making it pleasant to walk in all areas. From the harbour many of the famous sights are within easy walking distance, the Stockholm Cathedral built in 1279 with spectacular wood carved pulpit, Royal Drottningholm. Palace, home to Sweden’s Royal Family, the Opera House, opened in 1792 and for something a little newer, The Abba Museum depicting the famous song groups journey. To take in the majority of Stockholm’s famous sights the Ho-Ho water bus is an excellent means of transport. Our visit coincides with a heatwave so that night I dine at the ships Poolside Restaurant, an al fresco area and what an excellent choice. Fresh scallops, followed by sirloin steak done to perfection and washed down with a very acceptable rose wine. Desert, a beautifully presented passion fruit chocolate cylinder comprising chocolate mousse, passion fruit ganache, cocoa sand and crunchy peanuts, coffee to follow. For me at a cover charge of £20 it represents excellent value for money.
Saying goodbye to Stockholm we head for our final port of the cruise, Gothenburg and due to the distance requires a day at sea. With the wonderful warm weather, it is no surprise that most people head for the sunbathing areas and the pools. My favourite, Marquee Deck, large rattan chairs and settees adorned with thick blue and white cushions, the pool but a few steps away making sitting in the sun and watching the world go by, a pleasure that can only be described as ‘I could get used to this’.
8am arrival into Gothenburg to another hot day with blue sky and calm seas. After early breakfast it all aboard the coach for a tour of Gothenburg City followed by a canal cruise. First stop, the Masthugg Church with its 200ft steeple built in 1914 on one of the city’s highest points. The interior boasts models and artefacts depicting the maritime heritage of this, Sweden’s second largest city. Step outside, enjoy magnificent views across the city, the huge Alsvorg Suspension Bridge spanning the main sea gateway to Gothenburg in the distance. Back on the coach we make our way through the city passing shops, restaurants, the City Hall, Court Building, Concert Hall and much more before arriving at the river boat boarding point. Once on board we glide along the canals and waterways having the landmarks pointed out by the very knowledgeable guide, under low bridges, passing park walkers, people sitting and taking in the sun before we emerge onto the main harbour. Moored here are ships from a bygone time, the naval destroyer ‘Smaland’, an old cargo ship, the sailing Barque ‘Viking’ that is now an hotel and just back from the water’s edge the Maritime Museum. This is a city that to explore in its entirety would take more than a day but this trip proves an excellent taster.
All too soon we are back to the ship where members of the crew wait on the quayside for us with cold towels and refreshing drinks whilst members of the entertainment team hold a very large banner welcoming us home. What a lovely gesture. Soon we are making ready to sail but Fred Olsen have one last surprise for us, The Gota Lejon Youth Band, a group of 18 musicians, 5 dancers and a standard bearer who play their hearts out on the quayside for our entertainment. As we move away from the quayside they play ‘Anchors Away’ the dancers wave us off and there are not many dry eyes around me. Now it is a day at sea back to Dover. The sky is turning dark and rain is forecast. The holiday is definitely ending. Next day I sample the ‘Special’ afternoon tea in the Observatory Lounge, finger sandwiches, cakes, warm scones with cream and jam (which goes on first) and tea from a proper teapot poured through a strainer. After that it’s time to visit the Atlantis Spa for a relaxing facial and massage. What it is to be pampered.
But what of the ship, Boudicca. A small ship by today’s standards but one that is loved by the people who travel on it time and time again, a ship that fits perfectly into the niche of mature travellers. Reasonably drinks, gratuities that are one of the lowest in the cruise industry, prices in Pound Sterling, service that is first class. The food deserves a special mention, lunch time buffets with seafood of Crab Claws, Large Mussels, Smoked Salmon, dinners with so much choice on the menu it is difficult to choose. During my cruise the passengers consumed 1,955kg of fish, 1972kg of Pork 1437kg of Poultry not to mention other meats and vegetables plus 634 litres of Ice Cream. To wash it all down they consumed 1,280 bottles of Red Wine, 1,200 of White and 280 of Rose. The entertainment team headed by Alan Tait are up there with the best and as for the Crew Show, this ended with passengers giving a standing ovation, I won’t describe it as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for future passengers. Guest entertainers, Barnaby, a great comedian, Glenn Macnamara described as the UK’s finest swing singer and a member of the UK’s Rat Pack and Andy Varadi, a multi-instrumentalist, provided great entertainment. This was a cruise that left me with many happy memories. Any regrets, yes just one, having to say goodbye and leave the ship, but I will be back.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.