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Friday, October 19, 2012

Week 5: Skokloster, Visby and Medeltidens veckor - Living History in its many forms, a.k.a. the best week of my life

My final weekend in Sweden way surpassed the boundaries of what realistically can be called weekend, and involved so many of the things that I love best that I am not sure that I have ever had a better time. 

On Thursday the film class that I was taking took a walking tour of Stockholm. The rationale was that first of all, if nothing else it is nice to walk around the city with people who are familiar with it, like the film teacher was. The second rationale was that from there we could check out some of the places where they filmed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the American and European versions, since many places were used for both. This is a picture of the place that Liz Salander lives.Stockholm is just a great city.

On Friday I was once again promised that I would finally see one of the places that the Swedes had got to this summer. The International Summer Session organized a group tour to Dalarna, home of the Dalarna horse which looms in tourist legend as the Swedish souvenir. First stop was Carl Larsson's house, where I took one photo inside before the tour guide remembered to tell us that we shouldn't do that. The tour guide was actually a direct descendant of artist Carl Larsson himself, so there was the added dimension added to the tour. 

From there we went to Falun, a particularly old copper mine, that they have dated now to about the 8th century. Legend has it that it was discovered by a farmer's goat, who had ran away and returned to the farm with red stains on his horns, leading the farmer to the mine. One of the most interesting parts was the royal family's signatures embossed with gold on the wall of the mine, seems to me there could be a great debate there. We finished the day in Tallberg, a picturesque town, paradise for rv-ers, and where I got many of the souvenirs that I brought home for my family. All three places were in Dalarna, but they were three of the most different places that I visited on my trip. We capped the day with waffles at the souvenir shop on the hill. 

Saturday Kristina, a fellow classmate from Lithuania, began a few proper weekend adventures, the weekend which I will never forget. We started Saturday with the Odyssey of the three buses and two hours that it takes to get to Skokloster from Uppsala. There is a boat ride that goes right there, which I was told is a lovely boat ride, but they were booked for a wedding. Instead we took a series of buses, and we agreed that while most of Sweden was beautiful, the town of  BĂ„lsta does not fairly represent Swedish beauty. But Skokloster was so beautiful and well worth it. The castle was built by Carl Gustaf Wrangel in the seventeenth century and it houses the oldest known chandelier in the world. The Historical interpreters are all in historical costume and the guided tour take you through one of the most impressive 17th, 18th century armouries I've ever seen, including the world's oldest surviving hammock and kayak. On the grounds I found what may have been my favourite runestone that I saw in Sweden (and I saw quite a few) with this fantastic picture of a mounted man. If you are in Uppsala this is a highlight, and if you have a car, it is not that far away. 

I decided to skip the film class's tour of the studios in Stockholm, and I was a little bummed about that, but only because of my desire to try and do absolutely everything. In fact, the reason why I decided to skip was one of the best things I have done, because on Sunday  Kristina and I took a short flight with Norwegian Air from Arlanda airport to Visby. Visby is a Unesco World Heritage site, because it is a hanseatic city with one of the best preserved medieval city walls. And in August every year it is a Mecca for medievalists when it hosts Medeltidens veckan, Middle Ages week. YOU SHOULD GO, IT IS AWESOME. 

When we arrived we wandered around the town until 6:00, when we took the bus to the Brukshotellet in Roma to check into the hotel and get something to eat. Roma is about twenty minutes outside of Visby, and this is a definite possibility if you are trying to find some reasonable accommodation during Middle Ages week. The drawback is that you really have to be on top of the bus schedule, because you don't want to get stuck in Visby, because there really won't be anywhere the stay. In Roma, there is one restaurant where you can get dinner, which is right by the Snus and Whiskey factory. This is the only place that I was in Sweden where they actually didn't speak English, and we were forced to practice Swedish. Fantastic! 

On Monday we took the bus to Visby and went to Gotland's museum first thing in the morning. In the hall with the runestones, there was one person dressed in Viking garb and was telling stories to a group of gathered children. My Swedish wasn't quite good enough to identify the tale. There is a fabulous collection in the museum. I probably rushed Kristina a little quickly through the science center section. After that we took a two hour walking tour in Swedish with Monkus Carolus. He took us into one of the tours along the city wall, and into the cellar of an excavated medieval house. And it was an exercise in Swedish comprehension. From there we visited the glassblowing shop in Mellangatan. They were in costume, and it was acknowledged that it was an old art, but what we were seeing was modern glass blowing, though still very cool. Then we visited briefly the Viking Age market where we saw sword swallowing, rocked out with the medieval entertainment and ate traditional foods. From there we went to an improv show in the ruins of St. Karin's Chuch in the Stor Torget. This was followed by a grand tournament in the evening. We supported the black and yellow knight, who was doing quite well, but didn't win the day, and then I bought a toffee apple. I also found out that candied apple is not something they have in Lithuania. We got a warm drink at one of the little coffee shops near the Stor Torget before we eventually caught a bus back to Roma. Best day ever!  

Tuesday we got up early to see the ruins of the old monastery (kloster) in Roma that have been converted into a Shakespearean festival stage. They were putting on an open air production of Hamlet, though with the number of rainy days Sweden had this summer, I bet they had a tough year. Then we took the bus to Visby, and went to the market, which we had only seen a little bit of, before all too soon taking the bus back to the airport and flying back to Uppsala. 

Visby and Gotland is a must for any medievally minded tourists bent on Sweden. The Viking Age and the High Middle Ages have such an interesting and unique history here, including a built history that is all too visible. And Middle Ages week adds such an interesting, campy and so highly enjoyable layer that I haven't seen anything like it.