Time seems to speed up when I’m travelling. Already Sandra and I have run out of time to take a few days exploring the Archipelago and so we opt for an evening cruise instead. We are both nerdily delighted to discover we will be travelling on an old heritage boat that is filled with polished wood and still runs on a coal engine. There is a little door where we look down to the motor, catch a glimpse of the pistons sliding and feel the heat of the burners.
The cruise begins with a trip between the main islands that make up Stockholm and Sandra points out where she lived for a year previously (which was also where she spent a year going to weekly sewing lessons with three little old ladies who had been sewing together for more than thirty years) and one of the royal family’s homes – a beautiful pink-orange miniature castle with perfectly manicured lawns sweeping down to the water.
Eventually we leave the surrounds of the city and venture onto the wide avenues of the Archipelago. It feels a bit like we have gone back in time as we see more and more historical architecture peeking from hill tops or nestled near the shore, though some modern gems are also in evidence. Perhaps the most imposing structure we soar past is Vaxholm Castle, built in 1549 for defensive purposes, sitting squat and heavy on the edge of a little island. But today it is painted by the sunset and looks more like a fairytale than a castle of war.
Sandra and I stay up on the top deck of the boat for as long as we can, but eventually the wind sharpens and we make our way inside where most surfaces are a polished rosy wood and little red velvet curtains are pulled back at the edges of all the windows.
Sandra mourns that she cannot show me the fierce and isolated beauty of the outer islands. She says some of the islands are so ravaged by wind that barely a thing can grow on them. Others are covered in trees that are bent and gnarled to the shape of the wind and though we do not see them on this trip, her descriptions conjure clear images in my mind. I imagine seeing these places next time I visit. I know I will visit again, not just to see Sandra, but because Sweden draws at me. It has since I visited in the winter of 2008. My first stop then was the little town Sandra grew up in, Knivsta, where in the middle of winter, covered in snow, the houses looked like little Christmas carols, all red and green and capped with ice. For now, I am content to admire the clouds, splayed above us like little glowing reflections of the islands through which we sail.