Abba certainly had it right about summer night cities, I thought. Standing on the cruise ship deck, the glittering lights of Stockholm twinkle all around.
The sky is just starting to darken to a pale mauve, the air is warm, the mood is happy. In the land of the midnight sun, everything is well.
Two days in Sweden’s capital city is the highlight of this cruise on Fred Olsen’s elegant ship Balmoral. But there are many surprises in store.
That Scandinavian neighbour, Norway, may get all the attention for its dramatic fjords – but this voyage round the Swedish coast shows that Sweden can certainly match it for stunning scenery and fascinating cities.
Our journey begins in Rosyth – always a blessing for those from Scotland and the north of England who would rather do without the long trek to Dover or Southampton.
As we sail out the Forth, seeming almost to touch the Queensferry Crossing, our spirits are high.
Ahead of us are ten days of pleasure and discovery – cruising around the Swedish coastline, exploring some wonderful cities and, in between times, just relaxing and enjoying the many things the Balmoral has to offer.
Before we arrive at our first port, Malmo, we have a day at sea. Surprising as it may seem, this is one of the most memorable days of the whole holiday.
On the Balmoral’s top deck is the Observatory Lounge. With floor to ceiling windows all around, this is the place with the best views on the ship – the perfect place to sip a cocktail or two in the evening.
However, we have opted for a civilised formal afternoon tea, complete with piano accompaniment and, as luck would have it, that is the day we sail through the fjords on the country’s
Little red houses stand on lonely rocks, grander homes with yachts are moored outside – we sometimes sail so close to the shore squeezing amongst the archipelago islets, we can hear the birdsong and enjoy the gardens.
So we glide through these lovely places with strange sounding names – Gullmarsfjorden, Saltkallefjorden, Algofjorden – drinking our Lapsang Souchong and eating cucumber sandwiches and apple cake.
The next day we are in Malmo. There are many things this pretty little city can be proud of – but there are two you will be told of again and again – the innovative Turning Torso building by flamboyant architect Santiago Calatrava and, of course, the Oresund Bridge stretching across the Baltic. Fans
of Scandi noir will need no introduction to the latter. Its 12km length is one of the principal characters of the famous crime series.
Seeing its elegant span on a sunny summer’s day, however, removes all thoughts of dead bodies and police officers with problems.
Beloved by residents of Malmo and Copenhagen alike, it has defied critics including environmentalists who campaigned long and hard against it.
But nature sometimes has other plans and the bridge’s concrete pillars are now home to thousands of clams, who in turn are food for fish and other species never before seen in the area.
The city of Malmo itself is compact, easy to navigate and sparkling clean. We take a canal ride which reveals the city’s huge expanse of green parkland, cycle routes and wildlife areas.
We then stroll through the old town and enjoy the beautiful old squares, fountains, cafes and buildings.
Another day at sea includes a sail past scenic Gotland, and gives us a chance to make amends for enjoying Balmoral’s wonderful food so much – so swimming and a yoga class fill the day very pleasantly before we sail into Stockholm for two days in the capital city.
I don’t know about you, but there are three things I associate with Stockholm: Abba, the Nobel Prizes and the novels of Stieg Larsson. And on this visit, I am determined to find out more about all of them.
So, it’s off to the first destination: Abba The Museum. OK, it’s cheesy – and it’s pretty crowded – but it’s also a whole lot of fun. I confess right now that I’m a fan and, to be honest, if you know a bit about the band and their history, you won’t learn a lot here.
But what you will do is see a few things in the “flesh” – like the original costumes (surprisingly tiny), the interiors of their homes, studios and film sets and the gold discs and awards they accumulated over the years.
Famously, you can also get on stage and sing your heart out accompanied by holograms of the fabulous foursome.
After watching a few volunteers gamely giving it their all, it truly does reinforce just how good Abba were. Walk in, dance out, says the ticket. And that’s just what you’ll do.
After all that Seventies excitement, a walk around the beautiful Gamla Stan is in order. Full of lovely cobbled streets, inviting restaurants and enticing shops, this is the place to while away a few pleasant hours.
Although some are guilty of selling the usual touristy tat, this is surprisingly absent in most of the shops we found.
Craftwork, beautiful clothing and knitwear, stylish glassware and traditional wooden toys are all very tempting. Prices are certainly not cheap but you do feel you are getting something which would be hard to obtain elsewhere.
Gamla Stan, of course, is also where much of the action in Larsson’s books take place. But in the two days we wander around no dark doings are in evidence.
That area is also rich in attractions including the Royal Palace and the cathedral. However, we choose to visit the Nobel Prize Museum – a truly inspiring place with films of all the winners and their work over the years and, when we visited, a special exhibition on Martin Luther King. All that excellence can be quite emotional – luckily a quirky shop and cafe helps recovery.
The next day we sauntered around the city – this time across the bridge to the island of Blasieholmen opposite the Royal Palace.
On the way we pass the famous Grand Hotel, where you stay if you are either Barack Obama, a Nobel prizewinner – or just stinking rich.
We walk around Skeppsholmen, another of the city’s many islands. Now a base for culture, galleries and events, this huge parkland is a delight and reinforces the feeling that even in the height of summer and the tourist season, there are no frenzied crowds or snarling traffic.
It is sad to sail away from the Summer Night City but there is compensation. For a few hours we glide through the Stockholm Archipelago, an extensive smattering of rocks, headlands and pretty houses which provide a scenic gateway to this lovely city.
A day at sea gives us time to spend a few hours in the Atlantis Spa, where a relaxing massage sets us up for the following day and, sadly, our last port.
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city and its thriving industrial base includes being the home of Volvo.
We take in the city’s highlights including the Masthuggskyrkan, a church with the interior design of a ship and the main cultural area, Gotaplatsen, whose art gallery confusingly has the word ‘Pizzeria’ on the outside. A huge statue of a flamboyantly naked Poseiden stands on guard – while a much more modest statue of famous resident Victor Hasselblad stands shyly by.
A wander round the huge botanical gardens is a gentle pleasure and then we head back to the ship, sad to think that when we board we are heading home. But there is one more treat in store.
Gothenburg may not be as beautiful as Stockholm or as friendly as Malmo, but it also has a beautiful archipelago around it.
So as we say goodbye to the city, we can again sit on the deck and enjoy the sight of holiday houses, little islands and busy yachts making the most of the Scandinavian summer.
Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral will be setting sailing on an 11-night ‘Sweden’s Scenic Waterways & Cities’ cruise, L2011, departing from Rosyth on 28th May 2020.
Ports of call include: Rosyth, UK – cruising Swedish Fjords – Malmö, Sweden – Visby, Sweden – an overnight stay in Stockholm, Sweden – cruising Stockholm Archipelago – Gothenburg, Sweden – and Lysekil, Sweden – returning to Rosyth on 8th June 2020.
Prices currently start from £1,499 per person, and includes all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at www.fredolsencruises.com, or call 0800 0355 242
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