We have regularly taken and loved canal cruises in France, so we were intrigued to travel to Gothenburg to join MS Juno, built, incredibly, in 1874, the oldest operating passenger ship in the world with overnight accommodation, on a trip which for most of the Swedes on board was the fulfilment of a lifetime dream.
The Gota Canal has a long history. Championed and created by Baltzar von Platen, the canal's initial plans were developed by Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford, who also created the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. Stretching 190 kilometres, with a total of 58 locks, this is a masterpiece of engineering. Much of it was excavated by hand using iron-shod wooden spades.
Joining in Gothenburg we set forth up river, in glorious sunshine, en route, ultimately, for Stockholm. This is certainly not the speediest way to travel between Sweden's two major cities: one hour by air, three by train or five by road…..or take the leisurely option, four days by boat!
We sat for hours watching the world go by, a beer in hand collected from the honesty bar on deck, chatting with our fellow passengers and occasionally hopping ashore to visit places of historical or cultural interest along the way, or simply to stretch our legs and take a walk to the next lock.
Accommodation is in tiny cupboard-like cabins with bunk beds, a small washbasin, and barely room to swing a hamster, let alone a cat. As on the Venice Simplon Orient Express, facilities (separate shower and WC) are shared, and if your cabin is located on one of the upper two decks, it opens right onto open deck - we were blessed with fantastic weather, but in stormy times this would make a nighttime trip to the loo a major expedition!
The route includes the transit of some of central Sweden's huge
lakes, and the variety of scenery as you travel from vast lakes to
narrow canals is captivating. Navigating the locks is
exciting, as Juno barely scrapes in, with birch logs hanging from the sides to act as buffers - most impressive is the flight of seven locks at Berg, a sight to behold.
Fixed seating dining takes place in the dining room and the lounge, with a two course menu at lunch and three course at night, freshly prepared with lots of local ingredients and Swedish specialities such as red deer, minced elk, or Baltic herring, and our fellow guests were a mixture of Scandinavians, Germans and English speakers including Australians and New Zealanders (of course most of the other guests also spoke perfect English). Service from a young and enthusiastic crew, doubling as deck hands, is charming and attentive.
This is a truly historic journey, and an unforgettable experience, travelling in a timeless landscape on a classic vessel, in the footsteps of famous earlier passengers such as Hans Christian Andersen and Henrik Ibsen.