You sense the diver's emotion when he reported from the bottom of Stockholm's harbor: "It's pitch black, but I feel something big. The side of a ship!"
When you walk into the Vasa Museum, less than a mile from where the diver gave his excited report in 1956, it is as if you, too, have descended into the depths to make an enormous discovery.
The museum is built around the world's only intact 17th century warship. Dwarfing the cavernous surroundings, its masts reaching through a roof that could represent the sea's surface, the world's only intact 17th century warship reposes in towering glory. The royal warship Vasa is experiencing far more honor and acclain in its reincarnation than it did in a lifetime that measured less than a nautical mile.
The city of Stockholm turned out in 1628 to cheer its first -- and last -- voyage. Pride turned to horror as a small gust of wind caught the sails and seawater poured through its gunports.
In our mind's eye we can envision the sunshine glinting off the yellow-and-blue royal pennants and gilded carvings as the world's most powerful ship, measuring two-thirds the length of a football field, built from the wood of 1,000 oak trees, as it set out from its dock at the royal palace and sailed to the bottom of the harbor. The king himself had ordered an extra gun deck, which made the Vasa top-heavy.
"It was not a good idea," declared our guide.
What those spectators could not envision was the ship's final home, visible today from the Vasa's final home, the fatal dock. Three masts protrude from the museum roof.
Today one of the viewing balconies places the visitor at eye level with the upper stern where the most famous artesans of the day produced carvings. The human story of the Vasa is told on Level 5.
The Vasa we see today is 95 percent original and so well-preserved by the 40-degree waters that after being salvaged, it actually floated. Searchers found edible butter that had aged one-third of a millenium.
I can only echo the words of our guide: "If you only choose one thing in Sweden, choose the Vasa."