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The WASA- most powerful warship in the North Sea- for less than a day
Ah, the folly of men.
In the 1600's, Sweden was a great military power. To keep it’s supremacy, the king ordered a warship to be built, bigger, more powerful than anything else afloat. And so it was that the WASA took shape. She was an awesome 64-gun warship , built in Stockholm, and launched in 1627. Of those 64 cannon, 48 were 24 pounders, making her, indeed, the most powerful ship of her time.
Can you imagine how proud the king and the ship builders were when they launched this formidable vessel? Surely they must have let their minds drift to contemplate the sweetness of military victories far into the future, now that they had this "super weapon".
As the Wasa left her moorings and started to sail out of Stockholm Harbor, a fresh wind blew in from the sea, filling her sails. Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent they had placed too many guns too high up in the ship, making the ship extremely top heavy. How did they know this? The ship capsized before even getting out of the harbor!
Most of the 64 guns were salvaged in 1663-1664. And then, somehow, the exact location of the wreck was lost, and she lay in the mud at the bottom of Stockholm Harbor for nearly 300 years, until being re-discovered in 1956.
Turns out that the mud on the bottom of the harbor is especially dense and airless, two factors that preserved the ship from rot and decay. Thus, when you visit her today, the vast majority of her original structure is intact, and very little new materials were used in her rebuilding. This lets us ‘modern’ visitors see exactly what life at sea was like in those times; not in an imagined environment, but in the real thing.
We have visited this museum twice, and it was just as riveting the second time as it was the first. The building is easily accessible to anyone in a wheelchair, and should not be missed if you are in Stockholm.
We know you are wondering. The exact number of those who drowned on that fateful day is not known, but it was over 100, for sure. A heavy price to pay, and for what?
Nan watching a glass blower making a vase at Orefors, Sweden
For a good number of years, Nancy has collected crystal vases, candy dishes, and the like. There is a famous glass blowing company, Orefors , the largest glassworks group in Scandinavia, with a history dating from 1742. When we went, we were the only visitors there. Now, they boast over a million people a year come through their shops.
I had a patient who, as a graduate student, had spent a year and a half in Sweden, staying with a family in the ancient town of Visby on the island of Gotland . It is the best preserved medieval city in Scandinavia, and has been named a Unesco World Heritage site. Visby is protected by a wall of stone that encircles the city and the old church ruins at its center.
My patient described how each year the townsfolk dressed up in period clothing and hosted Medieval Week to commemorate a battle that took place July, 1361. During this fight, 1800 Swedish peasant farmers attempted to defend the town against 100 invaders- trained soldiers, who were loyal to the king of Denmark. Woefully outmatched, there were no survivors on the Swedish side and Visby was forced to pay retribution to the Danes lest any remaining townspeople be put to death.
My patient recommended we not miss this celebration. He even put us in touch with the family who had hosted him when he was a student. They still lived in the town and were eager to show us around.
We took the ferry boat that regularly sails between Visby and the mainland, drove into town, and parked. I left Nancy in the car and went to check into the hotel.
As I crossed the street, I heard someone call out to me. Looking up, I saw a man, strangely dressed, carrying a pole of some sort.
"I am the burgermeister of this town and I invite you to participate in the tournaments soon to be held."
Had I not been prepared, I suppose I would have thought one of us was losing his mind. However, I thanked him for his invitation, and mentioned my wife- in a wheelchair- might have trouble attending.
"You need not worry", he said. "I will personally see that you are well cared for when you come."
Dream adventurous dreams and be open to serendipitous events.
We checked into the hotel, and the following day, went out into the streets. What a sight! All the townspeople dress for the occasion:
We ambled along, following the crowd to the tournament, held on a wide field just outside the city walls where the original battle had taken place. The Burgermeister saw us coming and came over to personally escort us to the King's Box.
With the walls of the old city as a backdrop, it was too real to be though of as merely a "Re- enactment". Fantastic!!
There was a longbow competition, axe and spear throwing, and a variety of engagements just like you see in the movies. The finale was, of course, a joust between a number of pairs of mounted knights. The winner rode around the field with a beautiful young girl on the horse with him. Unbelievable!