Cruise the 'Blue Ribbon of Sweden'

Build a canal across Sweden? Preposterous! The purpose was simple: to avoid Danish customs and to expedite exports of iron from eastern Sweden to the West.

The principle wasn't new. As far back as 1450 BC, a canal had been built between the Nile and the Red Sea for irrigation purposes.

Construction on the Gota Canal began in 1810, and for 22 years, 58,000 men toiled 12 hours a day, six days a week, with little more than simple hand tools to remove the equivalent of a bank 16 feet high and 3 feet wide across the length of the country.

Commercial traffic on the canal thrived for nearly a century before the advent of railways and motorized vehicles diminished its importance. By 1978, only tourist boats were allowed on the waterway, taking four days to go from one coast to the other.

For travelers today, the Gota Canal is an opportunity to cruise through time and space, floating through the past while savoring the joys of a simpler era. Not only does it pass through ever-changing scenery with 65 bridges and 58 locks, the canal also offers fascinating insights into Swedish history.

As you ply its waters, walkers march along the towpath, engaging you in conversation as if they are lifelong friends. Vapor steams from a mirror-smooth surface, enhancing shoreline reflections with dual images. Columns of sheep stroll the water's edge while birds glide silently upon unseen currents of air and deer graze in the distance. Passengers become intent on catching a glimpse of a finch or a wren or a nightingale; others identify each wildflower that comes into view: daisies, buttercups, peonies and more.

Time becomes meaningless. Mother Nature is in charge, and she will not be hurried.

The Gota Canal is the ideal way to explore the soul of a country by surrounding yourself in the wonder of nature known as the "Blue Ribbon of Sweden."