From ship to prison: unique hostels in Sweden

  • Updated: May 2, 2013 - 6:01 PM
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The Gustaf Af Klint, a decommissioned steamship-turned-hostel, is inexpensive and well-located, near Stockholm’s Old Town and the metro.

Gustav AF Klint

My wife and I booked a two-bed cabin on the Gustav Af Klint, a beat-up, decommissioned steamship-turned-hostel, because it was a bargain at around $60 a night and in a great location, near Stockholm’s Old Town and the metro. Turns out, it was a memorable, pleasant base for our time in Stockholm, too.

Our room was spartan at best, with a porthole for a window and two bunks, but what the lodging lacked in amenities, it more than made up for in location and ambience.

The hostel was very near Skansen, the open-air Swedish folk museum and park where we celebrated Midsummer along with throngs of others (www.skansen.se; click the “English” button at the upper right).

Also nearby is the once gritty Södermalm neighborhood. A five-minute walk from the hostel landed me on its cobblestone streets, where hipsters and bohemians hung out in open-air restaurants and cafes, many quaffing Swedish brew and taking in the magnificence of the Swedish summer in late June. The neighborhood is also home to a tour based on Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium trilogy, the first of which is “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” The Stieg Larsson Millennium Tour, offered in nine languages, begins at the Stockholm City Museum and winds up and down the hills of Södermalm, where the book’s main characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, lived and worked (www.stadsmuseum.stockholm.se).

Fresh off the walking tour and back at the ship hostel, my legs ached. A bottle of Swedish pear cider and French fries with ketchup from the restaurant atop the boat were the perfect remedy. The people-watching from our restaurant perch also took my mind off my sore legs. Swedes scurried to nearby cruise ships bound for Finland and Estonia, luggage on rollers in tow.

Back in our berth, the view of the water and Old Town out our portal window felt almost cinematic.

On our last night there, as a storm approached, a tall ship sailed slowly past our window, with city lights blinking in the distance and the sky turning from gray to black as rain began to fall. We never left our spot on the bunk, watching the lights of Stockholm’s cityscape change outside that little round window. Even the muffled thud of dance music from a nearby floating disco club couldn’t keep us from sleep, as waves rolling off the passing ship gently rocked the boat.

More info: The Gustav Af Klint floats on the water at Stadsgårdens Kajplatser 153, just steps from the Slussen metro stop (www.gustafafklint.se; click the “in English” button at the upper right).

Visby Prison Hostel

A three-hour ferry ride took us from Nynäshamn, near Stockholm, to Visby, on the Island of Gotland. As we approached the port, we could see the watchtowers of the Visby Prison Hostel, where we would spend the night.

The place did not look like a typical, welcoming hotel. The 150-year-old squat stone and concrete fortress was ringed with razor ribbon, though the prison closed decades ago.

Inside, the building had its own eeriness. Heavy metal hinges and door locks remind visitors that their hostel room was once a prison cell. The names of the last inmates who dwelled in the cell and the crimes that sent them to the prison are printed in Swedish on many of the doors. The rooms are clean, if austere. The original solid wood doors help drown out any bustle of tourists in the hallway, though during our visit in late June, the hordes had yet to descend on Visby, a popular summer retreat for Swedes.

Large, stylish common areas were a reprieve from the simple rooms. On our floor, a red velvet couch and a pair of wicker chairs draped in red cloth set the tone. The Swedish sun streamed in through tall windows. English- and Swedish-language fashion and gossip magazines sat on a table.

The breakfast salon featured high ceilings, deep red walls and views of the Visby harbor.

A traditional Swedish breakfast, including caviar, orange marmalade, hard-boiled eggs and liver pâté, is included in the hostel fee, where a two-bed cell can be had for about $65 to $100, depending on the season — but not the linen for the prison bunks, which were an extra couple dollars.

A pub and cafe tent called Lås & Bom sits just outside the prison, affording tourists a chance to sip beer or coffee with a close-up prison view. A footpath cuts through a field of tall grass beyond the prison, following the prison wall. Some of the walls are now partly covered in graffiti and shaded by nearby hardwood trees.

More info: Visby Prison Hostel is near the ferry dock in Visby, on the Island of Gotland (Skeppsbron 1, Visby; www .visbyfangelse.se; click the British flag at the right).

David Joles

David Joles

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