“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
His name was Oscar Youngquist, a farmer from rural Minnesota whose parents had emigrated from an area south of Stockholm. He was the grandfather I never knew, and his branch of the family tree was a curiosity to me, much like Sweden itself.
Our Baltic cruise on the Crystal Symphony ended in Stockholm. With one overnight on the ship and another in a hotel before heading home, I had two days to check out this land that the people who came before me had called home. Of course it would be nothing like the world my ancestors had known at the turn of the last century. But it was still Sweden, still their country, and I wanted somehow to view it through their eyes.
Sailing through the waters into Stockholm almost made me forget where I was. The pine trees, the deep blue waters, the lake houses that periodically appeared along the shoreline – the scenery could have been a doppelgänger for Northern Minnesota. The connection to my roots was starting to make sense. And we hadn’t even reached the port.
Stockholm itself is surrounded by water, an archipelago of 14 islands on Lake Mälaren, that feeds into the Baltic Sea. Beautiful bridges connect one area of the city to another, and it seems that no matter where you are, the water isn’t very far away. We spent our first day getting a feel for the city, wandering through the cobblestone streets of the old town of Gamla Stan and walking on the Strandvägen, a lovely boulevard that stretches along the city’s seemingly endless waterfront.
The next morning, we checked our bags at our hotel and headed to Stockholm’s number one attraction – the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a 17th century Swedish warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and remained at the bottom of the harbor until 1961. The ship was found mostly intact when it was brought to the surface, and along with hundreds of artifacts, was preserved and brought to its own museum.
After touring the museum, we stopped for a “fika,” a Swedish coffee break. Freshly baked cinnamon rolls lined the display cases of every café we visited, and I was convinced my love of cinnamon pastries must have been part of my birthright!
Our final stop of the day was Drottningholm Palace, the Swedish royal family’s private residence. The most scenic way to reach Drottningholm is by water, and although it seemed a little absurd to be boarding a sightseeing boat after finishing a 10-day cruise on the Baltic Sea, something inside me said I had to go.
The one-hour ride through the archipelago was a beautiful little journey, and just like the day we sailed into Stockholm, I was transported back to Northern Minnesota. Our tour boat glided through the waters of Lake Mälaren, its smooth ride interrupted only by the waves from passing speed boats.
We arrived at the palace in time for the English language tour, guided by a young Swedish woman who could have been one of my old classmates back in high school. It was an interesting tour, but the real hero of Drottningholm is the setting. Beautifully manicured grounds surround the palace, with stone walking paths, fountains and even swans on a serene pond. A large public park and picnic area are adjacent to the property, as if to proclaim that this may be the royal palace, but everyone is welcome.
Stretching Out the Day
As we waited for the boat to take us back to the city, the sun was beginning to hang lower in the sky. It was summer in the northern part of the world. The sun would be setting late and rising early, extending our day for almost as long as we wanted. We had an early plane to catch in the morning, but we had another hour ahead of us on Lake Mälaren, and we weren’t in any hurry to end our Swedish sojourn.
I like to think it would have pleased my grandfather that I had a chance to pay my respects to his homeland. He would have been happy to know that I felt at home there, that I understood why his family had chosen Minnesota those many years ago. It had been a wonderful peek into a past I never knew, and in the end, it seemed to me that the only real distance between Stockholm and St. Paul was a matter of geography.