There’s no place like…

It’s a strange contradiction, that one of the cities whose landmarks and streets I have known as well as my home city hasn’t been on the top of my list of places to visit. Rome, France, Spain, Japan, New Zealand, Istanbul, Malta – they’ve all been ticked off, but somehow that one city lurking in the background, all foggy streets, lamplight, theatre and history, just sat there quietly, waiting, as overlooked as the back of my hand.

Last week I finally made it there, and I should warn you that I have collected enough memories, history, stories and material for at least three posts. Until the next time we visit.

So without gilding the lilly, while I may have the body of a woman I have the heart of a man, so we will keep calm and carry on, the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, and despite my love of the sound of deadlines as they whoosh past we shall get on with it (‘Yes, get on with it!’).

In case my heavy hints didn’t help, the place that we went, finally, was London. Now that you’ve reached this point, go back to the title and complete the line preferably in a gravelly Johnny Depp voice. It will set the mood. (Obviously I don’t endorse this view of London. It was much less foggy for a start.)

My first impression, as we stepped off the train at Liverpool Street Station, wasn’t darkness, creeping fog and dirt, but the pride and elegance of the Industrial era towering over a living city. Having been recently renovated, the iron columns of the old station loomed above us, topped with delicate lattice work buttresses and supported by painted palm bases. Far above was a semi-transparent ceiling that let in enough light to give the building a glow but not enough to see the clouded sky. It was a good first impression.
From there we made the most important purchase of our trip; oyster cards. I cannot overstate how useful these are, to be able to unthinkingly breeze through the gates of the tube or onto buses with a little, satisfying blip. The second most important thing we collected was a map of the underground. These were both worth their weight in gold.

Oyster and map

Oyster and map

So it was a simple thing to make our way to the airbnb accommodation, settle in and make a plan for the evening. My partner had, predictably, looked up the location before and sussed out the local pubs and breweries, of which there were many, so it was to one of these that we headed for our first night.

The pub was loud, warm and bracingly welcoming. However, within 5 minutes of stepping inside we had committed our first cultural faux pas. To us, a space at a table with empty and half-full glasses means that someone has left without finishing their drinks. But au contraire! Here it meant that the drinkers in question were outside smoking, and had left the half-full glass as a sign that they’d be back. Muttering apologies we escaped and found a new spot, where we excitedly ordered our first sausage roll in years and I enjoyed a very hot, very clovey mulled cider.
‘To London!’ we cheered, clinking our glasses together and settling into the beaten up old couch.

So, knowing me, as many of you readers do, what would you lay your money down as the first place we’d visit in London? If you guessed the National Gallery then no, but you’re close. If you guessed the recently opened Jack the Ripper museum, then frankly I don’t think you know me as much as you think.
If you guessed the British Museum, then well done! You win the prize of my esteem and a detailed description of my visit the next time we meet. Be prepared for enthusiasm and jazz-hands.

British Museum

British Museum

There is a piece of stone that I have wanted to see for most of my life, at least since I was 8 or 9. I’ve seen a copy and left a flower on the grave of one of the men who worked with it, in Paris. It is one of the most important artifacts in the world, and enabled us to open up a part of human history that had been partly hidden behind mysterious symbols for a very long time. It was, of course, the Rosetta Stone. I am, however, a person who enjoys drawing out the anticipation, so it was to the right, and the Assyrian gallery that we headed for first.

There we found the reconstruction of a massive door, cuneiform rolls and semi-human statues staring down at us. The most interesting for me were the panels from the palace of Ashurbanipal II in Nimrud. They showed hunting, war and the gods, typical stuff, but something about the finely detailed curls in the beards, the lone, perhaps baffled fish in the river crossing scene and the delicate beauty of the gazelle being offered up to the king charmed me. We spent a while there, staring and absorbing, before we slipped into the Egyptian gallery.

River crossing from Nimrud

River crossing from Nimrud

It didn’t take long to spot the Rosetta stone, mostly surrounded by school kids and tourists and looking exactly as I’d imagined. It was a very special moment and the culmination in a way of a lifetime of immersing myself in history.

Rosetta Stone, at last

Rosetta Stone, at last

Also in the Egyptian gallery were reliefs, sarcophagi and monumental heads of Amenhotep III and Ramses II. The latter especially looked serene, sure perhaps that thousands of years later he would not be forgotten or left buried in the desert.

A serene Pharaoh

A serene Pharaoh

The next part of the museum we ventured into focused on Greece, and it was here that my partner found himself unexpectedly entranced. He’s recently completed a ceramics course, bringing home a selection of lovely bowls and plates, so the displays of ancient plates, amphorae, vases and jugs entirely grabbed his attention. And they were stunning. Almost all where in the black on red style, showing gods and heroes parading about, or mortals indulging in an amphorae or two of wine. The quality of the work was stunning though, often discreetly signed by the painter and the potter, and found in places as far afield as Campania in Italy and in Egypt. It reminded me of the fineness of Georg Jensen ewers, or other designer home wares that you’d be more likely to display on a shelf than actually use.
Further on there were Corinthian helmets, one with a dent, Sassanid swords and statuary, but for me it was all a build up to the main event.

Athenian pottery

Athenian pottery

I have been debating with myself as to whether to get into the politics surrounding the artifacts I’m about to describe. Though it’s important, for now I’m going to describe the moment so you can see what I saw, and someday I’ll get into the issue, perhaps when I’ve seen the original home of the artifacts.
When I first heard of the Parthenon Marbles, or the Elgin Marbles as I first heard them referred to, I for some reason imagined then literally as big, white marbles. As in the round ones that kids used to play with, but white and smooth and a metres tall. I am, I fear, sometimes too literal.

What they actually are, of course, are the friezes and statues that once adorned the Parthenon in Athens, carved of fine marble and showing at once the incredible artistic outpourings of the time and how difficult it can be to correctly interpret the people of the past. Most of the works show a cavalcade of riders filling up panel after panel with movement and life, the muscles and tendons on the horses and men seeming to thrum with energy even without the paint and decoration that would once have covered them.

Living marble

Living marble

A parade was also taking place, with men and women tugging along heifers, sometimes against their will and carrying mysterious instruments for purposes that we don’t know.
At the end of each room where large but fragmentary statues that once sat on the triangular ends of the temple. Neptune, and perhaps Aphrodite and Demeter lounge and sit around, headless and armless, the folds of their clothes caught in sudden movement. The heads of horses also perch on display, nostrils wide and eyes fierce, though their bodies are long gone.

Parthenon sculptures

Parthenon sculptures

Finally there were the ‘Metopes’, panels showing a battle between centaurs and Lapiths. Again and again a man and centaur were shown locked in battle, always at a critical moment. It felt as though in the moment of sculpting the fight could go either way, the stone clutched in one hand could fly into the enemy’s face or a spear could be turned aside. In addition to the fine artistry, they seemed to live and tell a story, if we can only work out the message.

An endless battle

An endless battle

Having left the world of classical Greece, we found ourselves sharing space with fragments from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. If you’ve ever wondered where the word mausoleum comes from, look no further. In the 300d BCE a woman called Artemisia commissioned a massive tomb for her husband Mausolus and herself, which became one of the wonders of the ancient world. Though they were part of the Persian empire she employed Greek architects to design it, and the fragments that are left show a mix of both influences. Two massive statues remain, possibly of Mausolus and his sister-wife Artemisia, but the most amazing piece in my opinion was the head, shoulders and part of the legs of a horse that once stood with three others in a chariot on the roof. It was simply huge, towering over me as it once did over the city.

A colossal horse

A colossal horse

Then there was the Celtic room which turned into the Romano-British and then Viking gallery. It included incredible dishes and cups from the Mildenhall find, a delicately made chest chain probably worn only once by a very young Romano-British bride on her wedding and a seemingly unimportant letter from the Roman period.

A silver dish from the Mildenhall find

A silver dish from the Mildenhall find

It was from 100CE Vindolanda on the then border of the empire, and addressed to a woman named Sulpicia Lepidina. It was a birthday party invitation, written mostly by a scribe but in the bottom corner it had been signed by the sender, Claudia Severa,

I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail.

This letter is thought to be the earliest known writing in Latin by a woman, and I adore how innocuous it is. And at the same time showing the love and life of real people, and everyday life. I hope Sulpicia made it to Claudia’s birthday.

Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings

Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings

At the end of the long room were the treasures from the Sutton Hoo burial. I’ve known about these for a long time, but somehow the fact that they were in the British Museum had slipped my mind until I read up about the Museum prior to visiting. Knowing that I was eager to see the treasure, in particular the helmet, my partner told me to close my eyes and turned me around to see it when he spotted it before me. I saw first the reconstruction, a beautifully made helmet of silver, inlaid with precious stones and decorated with symbols from the Roman, Celtic and Viking worlds. To the side was the original, much reduced, but with the decorations still visible.

Sutton Hoo reconstruction

Sutton Hoo reconstruction


Sutton Hoo original

Sutton Hoo original

Even though no one knows for sure who the man buried with the helmet was, he was lucky to have incredible craftsmen available to provide treasures to take on his final journey. As well as the helmet, was the clasp of a purse, a brooch and buckles, made of gold and gems and of the sort of quality I’d expect on the catalogue of a professional jeweler today. It goes to show that despite the prejudice about those who went before us being somehow less able due to the limitations of technology, they were just as capable of creating beautiful things, simply and confidently.

Purse clasp from Sutton Hoo

Purse clasp from Sutton Hoo

By now we were tiring, and the wonders of the past were starting to blur together a little, so we headed to the exit. On the way out I bought something which I felt symbolised my impressions of London, at least prior to visiting; a compact umbrella decorated with writing from the Rosetta Stone. Armed against the likely rain, we went out and continued our first day in London.

Advertisements

The city of islands

Having woken somewhat groggily from a post-Viking feast slumber, we eventually set out on our second day in Stockholm in the late morning. The city by this time was alive with people, gaggles of tourists, locals crossing town for work or play or just wandering about and enjoying the summer. We joined the crowds on Gamla Stan, planning to cross to the mainland to catch a ferry.

Our route took us past the royal palace, where it seemed that something was afoot. The largest crowds we had seen so far were packed and still packing behind rope barricades, apparently watching the palace guards, who in turn seemed to be blankly watching nothing. No one seemed inclined to explain what was going on, so we hung about curiously until an announcement that the changing of the guards was imminent. As neither of us was very interested and it seemed unlikely to involve horses or the royal family we hurried out, passing a marching band and a group of very serious looking guards on their way to take over guarding duty.

Stockholm from a ferry

Stockholm from a ferry

Now that we had escaped the fanfare, we skirted around the palace and found the ferry dock, where we caught one across to Djurgården, an island which seems to house most of the interesting and fun places in Stockholm. As we looked for somewhere to have lunch, we could hear screams from the theme park and see people darting about the tree lined streets, bound for the ABBA Museum (I’m not kidding), the Vasa Museum or Skansen, which was our destination.

So Skansen; how to describe it… Basically it’s a combination zoo, craft village, music venue, playground and outside museum in the middle of an island, in the middle of Stockholm. To understand you really have to visit it.
As we following the paths around for our first visit, we found the wolf enclosure, where we spotted one fellow trying to sleep in the sun and ignore the pointing crowds. I got a thrill spotting him, or her, as I did when I caught a glimpse of a single wolf at Nordens Ark last year. Speaking of which, I do intend to post about that day at some point.

Spot the wolf!

Spot the wolf!

From wolves, we saw a family of lynxes, the kittens pattering about with huge paws and the mother patiently carrying them across streams while the father lazed in the shade of a tree.
Then bears, sleeping in furry, comfortable piles in the sun, also ignoring the excited people leaning over the fences and taking photos.

Sleeping bears

Sleeping bears

One of the animals I found the most interesting was one that I hadn’t seen before, at least not in the flesh. European bison were almost extinct at one point, with a small amount remaining in zoos and none left in the wild. Thanks to breeding programs, there are now a few herds out there and also a number in zoos such as Skansen. They were one of the most represented animals in cave paintings, and seeing them in life I could imagine why they had such an influence on the people who shared the world with them thousands of years ago.

Bisons being shy

Bisons being shy

Finally we found deer, lying next to fences and tolerating the children (and older people) touching their furry summer antlers.

A tolerant reindeer

A tolerant reindeer

Elsewhere in the park we came across a tall and imposing building, that I have just discovered is the Hällestad belfry. At first glance I had no idea of it’s purpose, though it seemed most of all to be somehow foreign and strange, possibly pre-Christian and part of some culture that doesn’t exist any more. It looks as though it’s covered in thousands of wooden scales and smells deeply of resin and pine, as with the smaller belfry near where we live, and also the cabin we stayed at in Norway months ago. Once we were off the island, it is one of the few thing that can be made out between the trees and the towers of the theme park.

Hällestad belfry

Hällestad belfry

Other ancient buildings were scattered around the paths, old farm houses, churches and even a manor house. A fearless squirrel ran out and pestered some children for a little while then disappeared, and ponies and horses appeared intermittently, carrying children or pulling a cart. As we got more hot and tired, we found an icecream van and enjoyed the treats by the old theatre with a lovely view of the city below.

Stockholm from Djurgården

Stockholm from Djurgården

As we tried to find the exit we passed through the craft village, and got dragged by curiosity into the glass making workshop, where someone was in the middle of making a series of stylised reindeer with apparent ease. Outside great loads of glass fragments were strewn across the rocks, like piles of colourful and clear ice.

Once we had made our way outside we caught a tram to the mainland and then walked to the ferry harbour, to wait for another journey. After staring up into the seamlessly blue sky for a short while, our boat arrived and we settled in for a ride through the archipelago.
If you have a look at Stockholm on a map, you will see that between the city and the sea there is a maze of islands of all sizes. On our voyage to Vaxholm, one of the nearest publicly open islands, the scenery changed from built up apartments, cliffs covered in houses, then scattered housing, an oil refinery and finally leafy green shores with expensive houses and tiny harbours poking out between the trees.

Island houses

Island houses

We’d pass uninterrupted stretches of trees, then a 4 story manor would appear, deck chairs set out on the front lawn or a party in full swing on a terrace. Though we didn’t know it at the time, we even passed an island called Boo. If you don’t believe me look it up. It was also right across the water from a place called Bo, apparently.

Sunset on the archipelago

Sunset on the archipelago

Vaxholm is small and neat and lovely, and we didn’t really have enough time to take it all in, or visit the old fortress. We did have time though for dinner on a rooftop terrace with a very nice view of the fortress and the harbour.

Vaxholm fortress

Vaxholm fortress

For our return trip we caught a steamer, much more old fashioned than the modern ferry we’d arrived on. We found benches on the lacquered wooden deck to watch the islands passing by and the sun slowly set, and listened to the steady chugging of the engine as we sipped cider and beer.

Nighttime on a steamer

Nighttime on a steamer

Back in the city, we discovered a festival that was ending, in loud music and bright flickering lights, and walked down the main street guarded by hippy-looking lions. When we returned to Gamla Stan for one last loo before we went back to the hotel, we bumped into an old friend who we hadn’t seen since last year. He was visiting the city with some friends from his hometown, and after exclaiming about coincidences, introductions and chatting, they invited us to follow them along to a bar for a final drink. The bar was in the nice part of town, and inhabited by well dressed folk dancing and drinking well dressedly. We chatted and laughed some more, and I enjoyed another Madde, before eventually their post-kayaking exhaustion and our post-exploring tiredness overtook us.
As we stood and swayed on the tram headed for the hotel, we found out that one of the fellows was the project manager of a planned museum to honour Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. This is the sort of thing we just take for granted in Sweden.

Stockholm at night

Stockholm at night

The next day, after leaving our luggage at the train station, we headed to the History Museum. Limited slightly by time, we went through the exhibitions quicker than I would have liked, but we managed to take in the huge numbers of Viking artifacts, get drawn into stories of ancient people, marvel at the hoard of gold and silver and even practice archery. Sadly I wasn’t able to find the original Freya pendant that I have a replica of, but I’m sure that wasn’t my last visit to Stockholm.

From there we went to the train station, then the train and then to our seats. On the ride back we were entertained by another pianist, who played some Håkan Hellström to the delight of a chef and his audience, preparing us for our return to Göteborg and home.

From the 1960s to the 1060s

As of this week my partner and I both properly return to work/study, ending what feels now to have been a very long and languorous Summer. To mark the ending we went on one final trip together, this time to the capital city of our still-newish home.

We decided to travel across the land this time, on a refurbished 1960s train. Second class was slightly squeezy, as we unfortunately weren’t lucky enough to get one of the Harry Potter style booths (next time!), though I suspect if we had I may have been forced to at least hum the final theme song and pretend I was heading for Scotland. This was more than made up for by the bar carriage, which included a pianist serenely playing Cyndi Lauper and U2 covers amidst chatting travellers and the occasional bump of the train.

The pianist

The pianist

When we were able to pull ourselves away from her performance we had lunch in the dining carriage, which was done up in what I think of as an Agatha Christie style. As we waited for the food, I imagined Poirot strolling down the aisle, or cries of surprise as the annoying lady who had been seated next to me in the second class carriage passed out and died mysteriously, sparking a panic and only solved after a chase down the roof of the train. However, the only surprise we got was that the house, or in this case train, wine was very nice and that the sunny weather stretched all the way across the country.

The dining carriage

The dining carriage

The tranquility of old fashioned travel was soon replaced by more modern bustle, as we stepped off the train and into the crowds at the central station. I hadn’t really thought how small and quiet Göteborg is until I was confronted by the noise and endless amount of people that charged by as we made our slightly dazed way to the hotel.

Once we had settled in, we went back out again, taking a roundabout way to an afterwork with my partners Stockholm workmates. Our route took us through Gamla Stan and past more crowds of tourists, staring about at the old buildings, cobbled streets, trinket stores and the occasional runestone in a wall. We eventually found the venue for the drinks, a terrace bar overlooking the city and the river. We chatted, laughed and I was introduced to ‘the drink of the summer’, something called Madde or Maddeline, a mix of rose and schweppes which turned out to be delicious, and is in my opinion, if not the drink of the summer then a definite contender.

We continued the evening at a restaurant in Gamla Stan, which may have been terribly touristy but was so worth it that I honestly don’t care.
Aifur is a Viking themed resturant, and as we descended the stairs into the darkness and warmth, and were introduced to the crowded tables by a very loud fellow in costume, I felt more part of an authentic experience of history than I have since chatting with Vikings at Foteviken or standing on a topfloor apartment at Ostia. The atmosphere was all loud talking and laughter, candlelit darkness, heavy wooden designs and furniture and through it all the playing of two musicians.

Viking musicians

Viking musicians

My guess for their instruments was a type of hurdy-gurdy, partly because I really love that word and also because I don’t know any other word for wind-up violin banjo things. Before food arrived we whet our thirst on mead, continuously poured into our clay cups and were soon swept away by the drink and our surroundings. The food was thick, spiced, heavy and delicious, though I have to say that eating a chicken with a large two-prong fork isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Old fashioned table ware

Old fashioned table ware

In time, too short a time, we shambled out into the colder night air and cheerfully embarked on a raid of an Irish pub. One drink later, we were back out on the street, making a sleepy and slightly wobbly way back to the hotel, where we slept well and dreamed of feasts and rousing music.

Berries and caves of my ancestors

It was the second full day of our road trip, and finally the sun had arrived. The country was transformed, and for a little while we imagined we were in another land, but more on that later.

We had all been avidly checking our various, and variously unreliable, weather apps in the hopes that there would be a gap in the clouds, and though predictions had ranged from rain to cloudly to partly cloudy, we awoke to clear skies. So with enthusiasm, and a tiny bit of trepidation, we set off for a day of adventure on the coast.

Our destination was Mölle, a little seaside town that was apparently very popular with German tourists around the beginning of the last century. There was even a direct train from Berlin, and the Kaiser visited once. I assume the lack of explanation on the posters about the heady days of sunbathing Germans was a combination of Swedish humbleness and self-effacement. Or perhaps they were just as baffled as us.
Whatever the actual reason, in the sunlight, the whitewashing houses and jetties seemed more Mediterranean than Scandinavian. Lovely as the curving streets and seaside villas were, we had another goal in Mölle, and it involved even more activity than climbing the steps of Viking watchtowers (see the previous post if that comment seemed at all peculiar, it’s got Vikings in it).

Mölle by the sea

Mölle by the sea

Our friend had been told that the area had some beautiful scenery that was best seen on a hike, and even included a few bathing places. So we had come with bathers, walking shoes, packed lunches and I at least had a burning need to do my first swim of the year.
The hike started off relatively easily then suddenly became steep and rocky, reminding me of the hike I had done around Cinque Terre in 2008. Rather than gnarled old olive trees, here were bent over birches and beeches, and I imagined the sea that swooshed against the rocks below would be colder.

Rocky coast

Rocky coast

After a time the trees opened up and we found ourselves on a grassy field, bounded on one side by a cliff and on the other wind blown birch trees. On the edge of the cliff stood a pine, that looked strangely that those I had seen at Gallipoli last November. The yellow grass and sunlit sea almost convinced us we were on the edge of the Mediterranean, rather than within sight of Denmark.

Birches and sunburnt grass

Birches and sunburnt grass

Then we heard a familiar thunk, and agreed that Swedes were undeterred by any terrain when it came to golf.
It wasn’t the last time we saw signs of golf courses on our hike; we’d think that we were in a dense forest, the quiet only broken by the crashing of waves, when a loud donk interrupted the idyll.
Another surprise was the raspberries. Oh the berries. They started appearing after the Mediterranean cliff, first in tiny patches by the sides of the path and then in larger swathes, tiny snatches of red among the thick green leaves that were quickly plucked and stuffed in our mouths. Some were bitter or sour, but more often than not there would be a perfectly sweet one, and we got adept at recognising the most ripe ones. Unfortunately we had nothing to put them in and so had to eat them all straight away, which was terrible, of course.

Technically unripe blackberries, but still, berries!

Technically unripe blackberries, but still, berries!

I got especially good at spotting them along the paths so we would often be walking along quietly, watching our footing and the scenery, when I’d cry out ‘berries!’ and point, like some sweet-toothed bloodhound. Often the cry would come before the thought, which we decided must be some latent skill that has been passed down from my early Scandinavian berry picking ancestors.

Over cow fields mysteriously empty of cows, past other hikers and through forests we walked, until finally we reached our first destination. Right on the point of the peninsula stands an old lighthouse, a small building surrounded by sudden tourists. There were two cafes, a bar, a tour bus and lots of people milling about, which was quite a change from the peaceful if slightly minefield-like cow fields we’d just left.
We found an empty picnic bench overlooking the sea (and sunbathing tourists) and enjoyed our lunch, as clouds began to make their way back across the sky. While there was no rain, it seemed that the clear blue skies and sun were over for the time being, and so after having eaten and rested, we put our cardigans back on and continued our walk.

Old beaches

Old beaches

The walk back around the other side of the peninsula was easier, and the first stop along the path was a cave. The way to the cave was a rope hanging down a steep, sandy cliff, so we left that one and continued on, exclaiming about berries and eating them. We next found a porpoise look out, where we saw no porpoises, but rather a small rocky beach. I felt like an ant scrabbling across jumbles sandgrains, which made more a cleaner but more treacherous beach walk. The water was warmer than I thought and after all the walking, it was pleasant to cool my feet on the shore, balancing on the pink and blue rocks.

Pebbled shores

Pebbled shores

Our final stop on the hike was the beach we’d packed our bathers for. It turned out to be similar to the porpoiseless porpoise beach (and before you ask, yes, I did make a few puns), though with more people and with two other sights of interest. On either side of the beach, among the cliffs, were two caves that had been inhabited since the stone age. We went into one, a tiny places only a few metres deep and a few more high. There was soot and ashes from a recent fire, and two benches just outside. It was very moving standing inside, wondering who had lived there and how different the world had been for them. And how similar.

An ancient cave

An ancient cave

I can imagine that they, at least, would have been more likely to wade into the sea than I was when I realised that most of the rocks had a green, slippery covering that almost sent me under the shallow water as I considered swimming. Other people on the beach swam instead, though hearteningly for me none of them managed it without at least a little bit of wobbly balancing.

From the beach it was a short walk across the peninsula to Mölle, via raspberries and at least one golf course. Back in town we enjoyed the feeling of earning a bit of tiredness, and drove back to Malmö for our last night.

On the final day we packed up and cleaned out, and as the weather still seemed pleasant we drove further along the coast to a little town that had been recommended to us. Ystad was indeed small, a harbour town with a cathedral, cobbled stones, a sandy beach and a Viking ship.

Ystad street

Ystad street

The Viking ship was admittedly not from the town, but from Denmark, and was making a quick stop. Most of the space was taken up by supplies, sleeping bags and the sort of equipment that I imagine Vikings would have liked to have had on their voyages. It was also graceful and impressive, and I wondered how I hadn’t picked it out of the crowds of other boats in the harbour before.

A Viking ship

A Viking ship

Back in town we had lunch in the courtyard of an old brewery, an excellent and tasty end to our roadtrip. After that it was only a matter of a final stop at a bakery and then driving back up to Göteborg, saying goodbye to Skåne and the girl on the goose as we went.

Goodbye to the goose girl

Goodbye to the goose girl

2 Vikings, 2 towers and summer rain

I write this post from our new apartment, which we have officially and formally moved into. Following yet another visit to IKEA (let it be the last) it’s now looking and feeling even more homely.
The whole of this week hasn’t been spent moving our things and settling in though. We did most of the work last week, as on Sunday we had to be up and hitting the road, bound for more travels. This time we were heading south, for parts of Sweden that we had heard much of but had never seen. We were going with a friend, and so in true road trip style we piled into a hired car and set off with snacks and Spotify playlists, hoping that the weather would clear.

Snacks for the journey

Snacks for the journey

Our first stop was to have been Mölle, a coastal town where we were hoping to hike and possibly swim, but as the skies remained grey and the rain continued to fall we headed on to Malmö.
Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden, and has a reputation for innovation, lots of cyclists and general hippness. There seemed fewer cyclists than I had imagined, but it did have a modern feeling, and the Twisting Torso isn’t something you see every day. We first glimpsed it as we drove towards the city, a pale blue and white construction that seemed to change colour as we got closer.

Twisting Torso from the beach

Twisting Torso from the beach

As we were too early to get the keys to the apartment we were staying at (airbnb – it works!) we found some parking and went for a wander around town in the hopes of finding food and something to occupy us. We found both at the Malmö Konst Hall, including possibly the worst temptation to tamper with an artwork that I’ve ever seen. 10 metres of carefully laid sand with an artfully shaped wheel rolled over it. And nothing but an exasperated chap telling us to please step back. I resisted of course, but I dread to imagine a mob of school children on an excursion.

From there we went to the Modern Art Museum, via the canal that runs through the centre of town and the central shopping areas. At the museum I discovered that I still do not understand Picasso, but that there have been many more modern female artists in Scandinavia than I had thought. It also sparked a discussion about why self-portraits are less glamorous than the other paintings done by artists. Possibly you can choose a model but not your own face? Artists are as self-critical as the rest of us? Any other theories out there?

Our final stop was a closer look at the Twisting Torso, which looked less graceful but more impressive up close.
Then we found the apartment and got settled in, preparing for our first full day of exploring, in which the weather would hopefully improve.

Beneath the Twisting Torso

Beneath the Twisting Torso

It didn’t.

We did however have a plan and so after breakfast we set off in the car for a small town to the south, where there exists an even smaller town very different from any I had ever seen.
Foteviken village is a place where a very particular lifestyle is permitted and celebrated, where people can visit or stay if they wish, as long as they abide by the rules. For those who stay there are no mobile phones, watches, zips or clothing that would have been seen since the late Viking era.

The town is a reconstruction of a village from that era, complete with various types of buildings, workshops, chickens wandering around and a ship sitting out at sea.

A ship and two boats at sea

A ship and two boats at sea

Inside the buildings were authentic bowls, food, fireplaces, weapons, tapestries and furniture, and inside one there were even two Vikings. They were busy trying to light a fire in a large mud and manure oven, but fortunately were not too busy to have a chat with us. They spend a few months a year living here, often sleeping outside the town but spending as much time as possible working as smiths, carpenters of weavers, contributing to the town and acting as guides for visitors.

As it was raining the town was pretty quiet so we got about an hour and a half with one of the fellows, who eventually resorted to using the blacksmiths bellows to light the fire (authentic of course – when I joked that using new technology surely helped he looked as though I had spoken a terrible blasphemy). He showed us the house of the King, which was decorated with tapestries, helmets, weapons and a very nicely carved chair.

The house of the King

The house of the King

The King is the man who established the town, and who decides whether or not people are allowed to stay. He also scrutinises the goods at the regular markets to ensure that there is nothing that would have been made after around 1200 CE. From what we were told woe betides anyone who has plastic.

Apples for the King

Apples for the King

After our tour we found the guard tower, which housed some more helmets and weapons, and steep stairs that lead up to the viewing platform from which we had a wonderful view over the town and the sea.

The stone circle

The stone circle

From there we found the stone circle, the execution area and the sacrificial grove. Thankfully the guidelines for the town state that no live animal is allowed to be sacrificed, so all that stood there were a collection of wooden figures, that like the rest of the town looked more authentic than glamorous.

The sacrificial grove

The sacrificial grove

It’s fair to say that I thought the place was brilliant, and from the stories we were told there are many other places around Scandinavia and Europe where you can experience Viking life. Whether your interests are in markets, battles or just the authentic way of life, you can find something. The stories about the wounds that some of the fighters got gave us the impression that this is more than a hobby for some people.

Do not be surprised if there is another post about a Viking village sometime in the future.

The guard tower

The guard tower

When we got back to Malmö and had lunch, the weather still hadn’t improved, so we decided to explore another place out of town that we had heard interesting things about.
Lund is a university town, and as such seemed remarkably like Cambridge, which we had visited last year. The reason for this, we suspect, is that the reliance on the university means that other industries that tend to transform towns through the years don’t have as much of an effect. The result is cobbled streets, Tudor-style buildings and a sense of timelessness.

A street in Lund

A street in Lund

We first explored the cathedral in the centre of town, which included an interesting crypt, and then wandered outside, taking streets that seemed interesting and allowing ourselves to get lost.

In the crypt

In the crypt

As the rain returned so did we to Malmö, to rest for another day of sightseeing, hoping again that the weather would clear and allow us to explore without the tiring drizzle.

It did, and that is a post for next week.