Day 3 - Stockholm, Sweden

July 3rd continued...

While eating we met up with a staff member from Princess, a couple from Australia and a couple from Northern Ireland who were going on the RIB boat with us. We walked down to the dock behind the museum, where the guide was waiting. On the dock we were each given a bag with our suits. They were like survival suits, in that they were designed to keep a person alive in 5 degree water for an hour. Unlike I imagine the survival suits that the coast guard uses; these were not really fitted like scuba suits, more along the lines of a one-piece ski suit in bright red. The fact that we had to put these suits on wasn’t making Tina any more comfortable with this adventure.

Our suits on, life vests over that and all our other gear in the dry bags they gave us, it was time to climb into the boat. I wasn’t sure what RIB boat meant, I found out it stands for Rigid Inflatable Boat. A little more stream lined than the boats we had used for salmon fishing in Alaska, this boat had a regular rigid bottom. Towards the back near the out board motor, were six “seats” that we paired up and straddled like you would a horse. Between these seats was the wheel were the guide stood and navigated our boat. Along the top edge of the boat is where the inflatable aspect comes in; it was an inflated tube that made the boat lighter to skim across the water at over 40 knots.

In the boat and ready to go, the seat directly in front of me was empty and Brad and Tina were behind us on the same side of the boat. We gently pulled away from the dock and started out along the water ways of Stockholm and the out laying archipelago. As we were leaving the city, I noticed the narrow waterways -- canals that separated the parkland from a residential area. Although in the city, the houses along the river were “country” style houses with small piers and boats tied up. The waterways really are another set of roads with several other boats going along the same path we did and speed limit signs along the banks.

The further outside the city we got, the faster the boat was able to go and with the water being calm we cruised along watching the houses and islands pass by. At times it felt that you were on a lake, but at other moments I expected to see the open ocean when we turned a corner.
In fact, we were far from the ocean. We learned that the waterways we were zipping through all freeze over in the winter.

Our guide explained that most of the houses we were passing, which happened to be the same ones we had passed on the ship coming into port, were vacation homes. The Swedish people have anywhere from five to 10 weeks vacation a year and generally most of the country goes on vacation in the summer to these houses. Some of the houses appeared as if they were in the formation of small communities, with power lines running to them under the water. Every so often we stopped and our guide would talk about the area, including showing us the “birth place” of Absolute Vodka.

We pulled through one waterway with a fort, some restaurants and a boat-up gas station. It was not something I ever thought about, but with the number of boats we saw it made perfect sense that a boater would want to pull up to the pump to refuel. I was really surprised at how young some of the kids were who were out driving boats. The guide told us that one-in-four Swedes owned a boat.

Every so often the guide would have a little fun with us and cut across the wake of other boats. Since the boat was so light, it hoped over the water, popping us off our seats and then back down. When we were in a clear area and no other boats appeared to be around our driver circled the boat in a spiral giving us all a great ride, first turning in really fast to the right then swinging out a spinning to the left. I could not stop laughing. It was so much fun.

We stopped along the bank at one point, our driver pulled the boat into the sand and tied it off so we could get out and have a snack. With all the bouncing that the boat had been making, it was nice to take a break. Interestingly, the law in Sweden is that even if you own the land, the public has a right to use it, as long as they stay away from your house -- the idea of “Every Man’s Right.” So we were eating Danishes and drinking soda on someone’s personal property – all perfectly legal. After chatting for a while and enjoying the beautiful day, we got back on our boat. It took talent for our driver to maneuver our boat back through the islands to where the cruise ship was docked.our cruise ship from the RIB boat

As we approached the dock I took photos of our ship. Our guide offered to pull us closer, much to the shock of the Princess staff member that was waiting for us. We road right along the side of the cruise ship taking some photos then spinning the boat around to give us one last ride before pulling up to the dock. We took off all our gear and walked back to the cruise ship. Before reboarding Chris and I ducked into the souvenir shop that was right alongside the cruise ship. It was very small, but I was able to get a little something to add to my Christmas decorations and found golf balls for Brian's collection.

We were definitely some of the last people to get on the boat, because the staff were talking to each other as we walked through and said only 129 people were still left to pass through and it was almost 5 p.m. We had to shower quickly and get changed for dinner, but we actually made it down to the dining room before the rest of our group. The theme for dinner was Continental, which is not a term I understand at all. No one went with the frog legs, but there was something for everyone at least. Chris enjoyed most of his meal. Ending with crème brule is always nice.

After dinner, Chris and I checked out the photos that had been taken of us the previous night. They were all BAD. Not that it’s easy to get seven people to all look good in one photo, but when you cannot get one photo with a majority of the group looking good, you just have to say no. When we returned to the room to change, Tina called to see if we wanted to join them at one of the shows. We elected to check out the shops instead and then hit the casino. It was a better night for me – I won $12 on a 5 cents slot machine, getting back some of the money I lost the night before at the roulette table. Chris wasn’t having a great night, but he did manage to win a prize pack in a drawing that included a free entry in to the slot tournament, some bingo cards and a free portrait from all the ones the cruise ship takes. After a late evening at the casino, we checked out the all-night buffet for some cookies and treats before bed and changing the clocks for yet another time zone.