02 October 2012

Views of Stockholm by Boat

Stockholm is a watery place.  Agnafit in the sagas, its enduring image is Gamla Stan, a loop of color rising from the waves.  Walking from island to island, one comes up against the shore, turns and finds the sea again.  Better to take to the water, then, to really see the city and to move more freely.  Over two trips we spent a lot of time on boats, where the city spaces are broadest and Stockholm catches the best light.
On the ferry between Slussen and Skansen, we stood out in the wind and watched the buoys pass.  It's a little boat, with a small deck.  The locals - with shopping bags and strollers - sat inside, talking to each other.  On the way back to the old town, it was colder and the sky was grey.  We rested on hard wooden benches, looking out the window.  The Gröna Lund amusement park soared in a cluster of disused spires and spirals, closed for the day or the season.  Muted fall colors floated by in the mist.
There are enough trees and green hills in Stockholm to give some areas the feel of a village - copper steeples above low roofs, little quays jutting over cold water.  If you constrict your perspective, a view from shore can make the city feel almost rural.
We spent our last night in Stockholm on a hostel in the hold of a boat.  Our beds were small and uncomfortable, the ship rocked through the night, the room was as bare and cramped as a closet.  Still, it was fun.  From our cabin we could see passing feet and bicycle wheels on the dock.  We drank beer upstairs in the wooden bar, listening to a man and the waitress speak Russian.  A full moon was in the air and Stockholm's harbor was beautiful; the movement of the water, the quiet creaking, the smell of old ship and bleach - it all lent the evening a wonderful melancholy.  From the bar's portholes, we looked to the archipelago.  Thousands of islands spill from the city into the sea.  Some have cottages and trees.  Others are bare skerries, nothing but grey rock.
We left Stockholm and Sweden on a ferry to Finland.  The boat was huge and moved through the water as though on rails.  The view from inside was expansive - the boat's taller than most buildings in town.  Stockholm slipped away faster than we expected into the rainy morning.  Shoreline passed like scenery in a movie, smoothly, until we were looking at empty land, then - much later - only grey water.
People take the ferry for the day, getting off at the Åland Islands and taking the next boat back.  They drink and gamble on the way, lured by cheap beer and slot machines.  The sea is tax-free.  Old couples sit with glasses of wine and stare out at the waves.  Young men disembark with bags of alcohol.  Everyone is a little bleary eyed.  There's not much to see, but there's a slight feeling - once the boat has passed into open water - of the sea swelling under your legs and of the immensity of the ocean. 

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