My Baltic Adventure

Our cruise ship was sailing smoothly through the Baltic Sea along the coast of Sweden. I could tell that we were not that far from shore for I saw under the blue skies miles and miles of greenery dotted by a gray structure – a castle, perhaps - and small houses painted in red, something different from what I’d seen in my previous travels. It was quite charming. As we reached Stockholm, the sky became grey and brooding.  It was not charming anymore. Dark clouds hovered above the cityscape consisting of modern Scandinavian buildings juxtaposed with medieval architecture. It looked like a European city, not necessarily the IKEA picture of Stockholm, but the European city of a Kieslowski or a Fincher movie. Coincidentally, Stockholm was one of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movie locations.

After hearing from the ship location guide that Stockholm is a cosmopolitan and diverse city, and after seeing the cityscape with buildings that seemed to float on water, lots of water and islands connected by bridges, I knew it was not all that bad.

Armed with information gathered from the ship location guide, I was excited to explore Stockholm on my own.  I mapped out all the places I wanted to visit: Stockholm’s Stadshus (City Hall) to see the Nobel Banquet Hall; Gamla Stan said to be the best preserved medieval city center in the world; Drottnihgholm Palace, the private residence of the Swedish royal family; and the Ice Bar to cap the day off with a drink served in a glass made of ice. However, it would be a sacrilege to be in Stockholm and not visit the ABBA Museum. You see, my mother was the biggest ABBA fan that we played an ABBA song at her funeral. So the first order of business was for me to go to the island of Djurgarden where the ABBA Museum and most of the museums in Stockholm are located.

The following day, I woke up to an ominous sky, so I decided to wear a hooded windbreaker before leaving the ship.  Then I hopped on the hop-on-hop-off-boat to the island of Djurgarden with the plan of hitting the ABBA museum first. But the first boat-stop was at the Vasa Museum. So I decided to follow the eight people who got off the boat with me, all headed to the Vasa. We all had to go around the building to find the entrance to the museum. We were among the first visitors of the day.

The huge museum housed the Vasa, a 17th century warship that sank in the Baltic Sea. The beautiful ship occupies almost the entire museum, which is equivalent to a seven-story building.  The one side of the building is made up of seven floors, each floor has a display dedicated to the ship’s history, some artifacts recovered from the ship, and the story about the ship’s recovery and how it was raised from the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The sunken ship was almost intact when it was recovered. The mud from the bottom of the Baltic Sea that covered the sunken ship was credited for preserving the beautiful woodcarvings and the intricate design. It was amazing to see the intricate wood carved ship in its entirety.
The Vasa - 17th Century Warship  
Visitors started pouring in as I left the Vasa Museum.  I saw long lines at the museum entrance and tourists getting off the big tour buses and tour buses still arriving. The scene confirmed what the ship location guide said about the Vasa Museum - it is the most visited museum in Scandinavia.
The crowd outside the Vasa Museum


I started heading to the ABBA Museum when I saw a gardener's pickup truck filled with cuttings and two gardeners tending the gardens just outside the Vasa Museum. I asked one of the gardeners for direction to the ABBA Museum just to confirm that I was heading in the right direction. Then I noticed that the Nordic Museum was just a few steps away, I veered off and decided to go to the Nordic museum, not intending to go inside, but to take quick pictures. There was hardly anyone at the Nordic Museum compared to the long lines at the Vasa museum entrance.

As I walked away from the Nordic museum, I felt a drop of water bounced off my hood. I was surprised where it came from since it was not even raining anymore.  Ah 'a bird dropping',  I thought. I did not make anything of it; I rather expected something like it to happen to me in my lifetime since I love to take pictures of nature especially trees and birds.  Suddenly, I noticed that I was being followed by a man in dark grey suit. He was pointing to my back and my empty camera bag that was hanging loosely from my shoulder.  I did not care about the empty camera bag, but the SLR camera that was hanging on my neck and my sling bag across my shoulder inside my windbreaker. He handed me some Kleenex and offered to wipe out the bird droppings from my back. I ignored the man’s offer to help. I headed back to the Vasa museum to wash up, but the man was persistent; he kept following me and pointing to my back and told me to take my jacket off and see how bad it looked. The man sounded and looked like a gentleman that I thought he was a tour guide. When I saw my camera bag covered in bird shit, I relented.  I laid my SLR camera at the back of the gardener’s pickup truck, took the Kleenex and started wiping my camera bag.  He then told me to take my windbreaker off as it really looked bad at the back.  In that instant, I knew something did not feel right.  As soon as I took my windbreaker off, another person from out of nowhere snatched my sling bag that contained my room key, my wallet with three credit cards and some cash in it.  And for some reason, I put my iPhone in my windbreaker pocket instead of keeping it in my sling bag that day.

I suddenly realized the whole thing was a setup and how stupid of me to fall into the trap. It was the man himself who sprayed my windbreaker and camera bag with the bird droppings or it would have taken several flocks of birds to make the kind of mess that covered my whole camera bag. And it should have registered why the man had some tissue paper readily available.  Suddenly I felt a knot in my stomach and my mouth became very very dry. I started yelling "Someone snatched my bag” repeatedly and ran after the other man who was leaving the scene. When the gardener came to help, both men were already gone. The gardener escorted me to the security that was rounding the parking lot, but the security guard could do nothing. The guard shook his head and mumbled in Swedish. The gardener translated what the guard said in English, "They're gone, they drove off"  [You may think that the gardener was part of the setup. Let me assure you she was legit and was wearing a civil servant uniform that had the same logo as the pickup truck’s logo. The sort of uniform I wear as a volunteer for the US National Park System. That’s why I approached her in the first place.]

I went back to the Vasa museum to report the incident to the proper authority.. The people at the Vasa museum were very nice. They dropped whatever they were doing and immediately called the police and tried to connect me to the police that could speak English, and passed me the office phone so I could begin to report the incident, and call my banks to cancel my credit cards. Luckily, I left my passport and another credit card in the safe deposit box.  Reporting the incident was a lenghty process. Needless to say, the whole incident ruined the rest of my trip.

NOTE:  All photos by the author.



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