In this new installment of Expedition Spotlight, Cultural Specialist Alexander Hillary shares his knowledge and passion for the spectacular natural paradise with guests aboard National Geographic Orion.
Sunday dawned cool but sunny, and a gentle breeze rippled the waters of Stockholm Harbour as the ship awoke. Guests enjoyed breakfast with scenic views of Gamlastan on the one side and the tall ship of Chapman on the other. The day’s first activity was an early morning presentation delivered by Jim Hannson and Patrick Hoglund of the Vrak Museum of Wrecks. Their talk about the maritime archaeology of the Baltic and the story of the excavation of the Vasa’s sister ship Applet whetted guests’ appetite for the next activity – a visit to the spectacular Vasa , now in its own museum in the city. The best way to get around Stockholm is by boat, and so it was by Zodiac that we arrived at the fabulous museum. Nothing can truly prepare first time visitors for the entry to the museum, where this great warship – beautifully preserved for nearly 300 years in the waters of Stockholm – now resides. For many, it was enough to simply wander around the levels overlooking the ship, but local guides were also on hand to explain the intricacies of the ship’s rescue and restoration. After lunch on board and an invigorating walk around the harbour for some guests, we prepared for the afternoon excursions. One group went on a walking tour of Gamlastan, the city’s historic quarter, where evidence of settlement right back to the Vikings can be found in the narrow and scenic streets. Another group went to Fotografiska, Stockholm’s museum of photography. A visit to the Millesgarden Art Museum and Sculpture Garden outside the city completed the artistic afternoon. At 6:00 pm, we sailed out of Stockholm Harbour with a scenic evening light illuminating dozens of pleasure and sailboats as we toasted the city from the sun deck.
This morning, we sailed through the beautiful Swedish Archipelago and boarded Zodiacs for a spectacular cruise along the Djurgården Canal running along the Royal Game Park island of Djurgården into the vibrant heart of Stockholm. We enjoyed a breath-taking view of Stockholm from the vantage point of its waterways and cruised past some of the city's most beautiful sights and buildings. Along the way, our wonderful hotel department arranged for champagne and delicious appetizers that we enjoyed together on the water in perfect sunny conditions. In the afternoon, a private concert was organised just for us with Emilia Amper, one of Sweden’s most sought-after folk musicians. Emilia is a world-renowned, Grammy-nominated master of a unique Swedish folk instrument called the nyckelharpa, meaning “keyed fiddle.” Through her music, she and her band (Emilia Amper Trio) shared with us her deep knowledge and love of Swedish and Nordic traditions with charisma, virtuosity, and energy.
We arrived to Makatea early in the morning. We were greeted by a view of beautiful coral cliffs, which have risen out of the water. The morning was filled with activities, including birding, viewing the sulfur mines (once a major industry in French Polynesia), and snorkeling in a cave system with a freshwater supply. The system is known as the grotto, and it was lit up by the dive team with very well-placed dive lights. After an amazing Mexican lunch on deck 4, it was full steam ahead for water activities. The divers went to a point on Makatea and had an incredible dive in the amazing island’s blue waters. Not too far from the divers, the snorkelers were enjoying the same amazing reefs and clear blue waters of Makatea.
Early risers witnessed our entrance into the quaint town of Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, a collection of Swedish-speaking Finnish islands in the Baltic Sea. The rest of us emerged for the day’s excursions into a chill but sunny morning – the perfect excuse to pull out the sweaters we’d packed but have barely had a reason to wear until now. The first of three groups departed on a history tour of the islands, beginning at the ruins of Bomarsund Fortress, a Russian fortification constructed in the 1830s but destroyed by Anglo-French troops in the Crimean War. After a thorough exploration of the fort’s remains and a walk through the exceptional visitors’ center, guests on this excursion enjoyed lunch and a ‘Swedish pancake’ (a delicious baked rice pudding with cardamom and plum sauce). In the afternoon, they visited the nearby Kastelholm Castle, one of only five surviving Finnish medieval castles, and the Jan Karlsgården Open Air Museum. The second group embarked on a maritime adventure, beginning with a visit to the Emelia , a galeas (small trade vessel) currently being built using traditional techniques. Their next stop was the Pellas Museum, the homestead of Captain Sven Erikson, the last captain of the four-masted steel ship Herzogin Cecile , which sank in 1939. Salvaged pieces of her wreck are on display at the Åland Maritime Museum, the final stop on the tour, which also included a walk through the Pommern , a stunning black four-masted barque built to carry cargo between England and Australia in the early 1900s. The third group focused on the local producers around Åland, beginning with a stop at SALT, a living craft house with studio space for artisans to create and sell their woven rugs, printed tea towels, candles, and candies. We also explored the Emelia before being treated to a gourmet apple juice tasting at Öfvergårds, an internationally award-winning apple orchard. The delicious food did not end there. We drove to Stallhagen Brewery for a tour of their operations and an amazing lunch of locally caught fish and potatoes. After reuniting on the ship, we all enjoyed an afternoon concert by the Gölby Fiddlers, a group of talented young female fiddlers from the islands. This was followed by a recap, dinner on board, and an evening to explore the parts of the town we had yet to see.
Early this morning, we arrived in the beautiful Ekenäs Archipelago National Park in Finland. The park is composed of numerous islands with beautiful wilderness, lakes, lush forests, and rocky beaches. The National Park covers an area of about 20 square miles (52 square km) and was established in 1989 to protect the thousands of seabirds that nest on the islets, such as the emblem species of the park, the common eider (Somateria mollissima). On the island of Jussarö, we spent the morning walking nature trails. Everything seemed to reflect the beautiful, traditional, idyllic archipelago scenery. Jussarö has a unique history of fishing, seafaring, defense activities, and iron mining. People have been aware of Jussarö Island’s exceptional magnetic field since the 17th century. The field causes ships' compasses to malfunction, and the iron ore occurrence is the biggest undersea deposit in Finland. From 1834 to 1861 and again from 1954 to 1967, the iron ore on Jussarö was mined. After closing the mine, the buildings and infrastructures were abandoned and left to deteriorate, creating a spooky atmosphere. In the afternoon, we sailed to the island of Modermagen, meaning “mother's lap.” We went on a lovely hike through semi-open forest with mossy groundcover. The conditions were just right for kayakers to explore the island from the water along with Zodiac cruisers who got a great view of the exposed bedrock and the unique experience of observing the best of Finnish nature.