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A Journey Through Time
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A Journey Through Time
  Gota Canal Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

There are many ways to touch the past --books, movies, museums, whole town replicas-- many ways, yet, none quite as romantic, quite as authentic, quite as revealing as a cruise on Sweden's legendary Gota Canal.

The Gota Canal, "The Blue Ribbon of Sweden" is 322 nautical miles of waterway through three canals with sixty-five locks across ten lakes and one inland sea. The oldest lock was built in 1607 and the highest lock is 300 feet above sea level. The first attempt to cut through the land was in 1435; however, it wasn't until 1832 that the canal that now links Stockholm on the east coast to Goteborg on the west coast was successfully completed.

Today, among other floating things, three steamships--Juno, Wilhelm Tham and Diana (built in 1874, 1912 and 1931 respectively--squeeze through the narrow passageway ( on different days, of course ), past 12th century medieval convents and castles, 16th century churches, thick stands of beech and oak, grazing elk and hungry gosanders and dozens of villages straight from the pages of history books.

Sometimes the steamer gets so close to the banks, passengers jump on shore and jog, walk briskly or bike alongside for miles and miles. Photographers love it. They run ahead then turn to shoot pictures of the old-fashioned boat as she rises forward up and down the locks. Other times, the boat pushes along lakes that seem as big as the ocean.

Guests are encouraged to wander about the historical towns en route. Towns such as Vadstena, where St. Birgitta, a saint from the 12th century and the founder of the Roman Catholic Birgittine Order for Women, lies buried. Or Motala, burial ground of Baltzar van Platen, the man who created the canal project.

The canal took twenty-three years to build. Mr. van Platen died in 1829, three years before the canal was opened to traffic.

The guests are also encouraged to poke about the handsome hand-crafted vessels. ( The ships have virtually remained unchanged since their christening other than the installation of diesel engines. ) Passengers are welcome on the bridge, too, unless the ship's inside a lock when the Captain's concentration is on navigation. And, at the sound of the ship's bell, everyone is invited to the sitting/tea/activity parlor where the Captain or the first officer relates some important historical fact of the area or describes an about-to-occur event.

On one occasion, dinner is served on shore in a real medieval castle. The fare includes a play of events that took place in the 14th century -- the banishment of two princely brothers to the dungeon. The hungry revelers are noticeably moved. Especially after a trip to the infamous dungeon.

The journey, which at times is in danger of going under for lack of funds, takes four days. Four short days on a salvaged piece of floating history from the turn of the century, where, in a unique and intimate way, charmed passengers can experience yesterday as if it were today.

At least, a tiny strip of it along the legendary Gota Canal.




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