Stockholm, with its beautiful cityscape patterned by many navigable waterways , surrounding dozens of islands laced together by a network of bridges, has been called the Venice of the North.
The comparison with Venice is fitting in one respect. Stockholm is as much an architectural treasure as is that gem of the Italian State. But unlike Venice, Stockholm's network of canals, rivers, and lakes is pollution free.
Whether attibutable to the cultural heritage from Viking ancestors or to the Scandinavian tradition of great seamanship, the Swedish people treat their waterways, and their sailing vessels, with wholesome respect. Stockholm is fondly referred to as "the city that floats." And a great deal of leisure-time recreational and educational activity occurs on and/or about the water.
Pleasure craft, both motor and sail, ply the canals. Ferryboats transport citizens (who clearly prefer the boat to the bus) between several major points of embarkation. Commercial sightseeing vessels tour the harbor and make excursions to lovely suburban settings. Steamships cruise across the Baltic to Finland. Houseboats bob gently against the quays to which they are moored.
Many of Stockholm's aquatic activities are available to travelers, and it is really quite necessary for visitors to get onto the water to experience the spirit of this city.
In this respect, a special oppotunity awaits travelers who are eligible to use the international network of youth hostels. Stockholm's youth hostel happens to be the "af Chapman," a full-rigged sailing vessel.
The ship, built in 1888, measures 78 meters long by 11 meters wide. She is permanently moored by a jetty at Skeppsholmen, one of Stockholm's many islands. The gleaming white vessel, with her three masts and web of rigging, is an exquisite sight, right in the center of Stockholm.
The view from her deck, across the water, is of Gamla Stan (Stockholm's beautiful Old Town, the most ancient part of the city) and the Royal Palace. In crossing the gangplank you feel almost removed from the 20th century.
Af Chapman's dormitories have 130 bunks. Cabins of various sizes (four, six, or eight bunks) are divided into women's and men's section, each with separate wash and shower facilities and toilets. The bunks cost 23 Swedish kronor per might for Youth Hostel Association members; nonmembers must pay 28 Swedish kronor a night.
Shipboard regulations are strictly enforced. Guests must be up by 8 a.m., with bunks tidy by 9 a.m. Bed sheets must be used in the bunks; sleeping bags are not allowed. The ship's dining hall offers a full breakfast (consisting of juice, cereal, eggs, bread and butter, marmalade, cheese, and hot beverage or milk) from 8 to 10 a.m. for a minimal cost. Dormitory areas are closed to guests from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for cleaning. There is a cur- few. At midnight the ship's entrance is locked until 6 the following morning. Guests are required to the silent from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Smoking and alcoholic beverages are strictly forbidden, as is throwing any paper or refuse onto the decks or into the water. guests may use a lockable cupboard for storage of their belongings.
Brigit Meleha, a capable, friendly, and robust woman, has been at the helm of af Chapman as housemother for the past 29 years. Mrs. Melecha's love for the ship and for her charges is immediately evident in the warm exuberance with which she greets her guests.
Every day, Mrs. Melecha supervises the swabbing of decks, polishing of brass fittings, baking of breakfast breads, and keeping of books and records. She also has her special touches, and this means being on hand to help with any situation.
A special relationship has developed between Mrs. Melecha and local firemen. who have taken a protective attitude toward this favorite ship. Mrs. Melecha is encouraged to sound the alarm at the first suspicion of anything amiss. Normally, false alarms cost the caller a heavy fine, but the fire department helpfully classifies all calls from af Chapman as training drills.So, Mrs. Melecha may remain well within the margins of safety without worrying about exceeding her budget.
Adjacent to Mrs. Melecha's own spacious quarters are two small private cabins that can also be rented. With portholes, neatly built-in bunks and furniture, and wood paneling, they are absolutely charming. Guests staying in these cabins must obey ship's regulations, including the curfew, but the price is about one-fifth of what a hotel room might cost.
Af Chapman has been run as a youth hostel since 1949. She was built in 1888 at Whitehaven in the north of England and christened the Dunboyne. In 1923 the Swedish Navy acquired her and dubbed her af Chapman. She was used as a naval training ship, with long voyages to America, Australia, and Africa until 1935. In 1945, when the Swedish Navy no longer needed her for this purchased by the City of Stockholm to be preserved as the last sailing vessel of the Swedish Navy. She was offered to the Swedish Touring Club for use as a youth hostel, and a costly program was drawn up for her restoration and fitting out.
At present, af Chapman accommodates approximately 15,000 travelers each year. Most guests stay for an average of two nights. As many as 100 people are turned away each day, and authorities are planning construction of additional youth hostel facilities on Skeppsholmen, near the ship. The largest number of af Chapman's guests come from the United States, West Germany, and Australia, but the roster contains representatives from almost every nation in the world.
The International Youth Hostel Association has offices in most cities around the world. Despite the name of the organization, there is really no restriction of membership according to age, except in Switzerland and Germany. The American Youth Hostel Association has its national headquarters at Delaplane, Va. The ZIP code is 22025 and the phone number is (703) 592-3271. Annual membership costs $7 (for those under 18 or over 60 years of age) or $14 (18 to 60 years of age).
Reservations for af Chapman must be made directly at: STF:s vandrarhem af Chapman, Skeppsholmen. 11 49 Stockholm, Sweden. Phone number are 08-10 37 15 or 08-20 57 05. It is best to book ahead by at least two months.
The lovely and distinctive adventure of a night aboard af Chapman offers the opportunity to meet and share quarters with people from all around the world. Even more special and appealing is the experience of an aspect of Swedish life, of a life close to the water -- and a fond and unforgettable encounter with Stockholm, the city that floats.