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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Week 2: Uppsala, Birka and Viking tourism

My activities during my second week in Sweden were largely dictated by the fact that the Unesco World Heritage Site Birka, which I was determined to see,  between July 9-15 was hosting a Viking Market on site, so the place would be just teeming with Viking Age re-enactors. So this was the Viking weekend, where everyday I did at least a little bit of Viking Age tourism. But I also found out a lot more about religious history in Sweden, Carl Linnaeus and Gustav Vasa.

I started touring around Uppsala on Wednesday after class, when I went over to the Upplands museum, which had a very interesting display on the Upplands prehistory, which included their Viking Age material.

Friday I decided to look around Uppsala. First I went and looked properly around the Domkyrkan (Cathedral). The Cathedral is one of the finest in Sweden since Uppsala has been an important religious site here since Adam of Bremen wrote about the country in the second half of the eleventh century, and probably earlier as the remains at Gamla Uppsala would suggest. At around 10:00 am Friday morning I decided to wander around the cathedral and then paid the admittance fee to go up and see the treasury, which was well worth it.

After treating myself to lunch at Max (basically the Swedish fast food restaurant) I took the #2 bus from outside of the City Hall to Gamla Uppsala, which I was very excited to see. When I got off the bus two British tourists asked me where the entrance to the museum was, and I said it looked like it was off to the left somewhere. They told me that they were not expecting my accent. I spent several hours exploring the Gamla Uppsala museum. In fact I wandered around, took the tour and had to be kicked out when it was closing because I was stopping to read everything. I then went to the Odinsborg restaurant, a restaurant that local s say has been associating the mounds with the Viking Age for them for as long as they can remember, though the mounds are in fact from earlier in the Iron Age. It is also Adam of Bremen and successive nationalistic writers that have continued to make that association. I then went to St. Erik's church on site and explored all over the top of the mounds. The whole of the site drips in a past national romanticism, which the heritage people are quick to point out is one major part of the history of the site.

Instead of taking the bus back I walked along the St. Erik's trail (Eriksleden), the path of the procession of the relics of St. Erik on St. Erik's day, May 18th. The relics would be moved from the old religious centre at Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) to the new one in Uppsala on that day, and this is the path that they would take.

Saturday I woke up really early and took the train to Stockholm. The Stromma boat for Birka leaves from the Stadshusbron (bridge), right by the City Hall (Stadshus). I was able to explore the City Hall outer area a little before catching my boat to Birka. It is a long and windy boat ride, but the guide points out a few places along the way that are interesting for people going to see a Viking Age site. The Archipelago is also lovely. When I got there I wandered around the market and the reconstructions, and I walked up to St. Ansgar's cross (erected in the 19th century). I took the guided tour (really worth it), went to the museum, ate Viking Stew at the restaurant and then had to take the boat back. It was worth it to go at the time of the Viking Market. It was very lively and always something to see.

Sunday I went to see more things around Uppsala. First I went to the Botanical Gardens and wandered around. Carl Linnaeus, scientific giant, was based at Uppsala University so flowers are very important to the history and culture of the city.

From there I went to the Uppsala Slott (castle) for the art and the guided tour. Gustav Vasa built the original castle when he was trying to convert the country to Protestantism. Since this was perhaps the most important religious site the castle is here so that there can be a permanent presence felt by the powerful church.

Next I went to the Carolina Redvivia, the library for Uppsala University. The collections that they have on display are some of the very best treasures I have ever seen, including a 15th/16th century map of Mexico which shows spaniards whipping along their indigenous slaves, one of Mozart's notebooks and, of course, the Silver Bible, which is the best example of the Gothic language and lettering anywhere in the world. It is spectacular. But I was also interested in the 13th century manuscript that they have of Snorri Sturluson's Younger Edda.

Finally I made my way over to the Carl Linnaeus and University's garden. I took the audio guided tour around the house until they kicked me out, and then I wandered around the gardens until I was so exhausted that it was time to go home.

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