Date: May 29th to June 6th 2006
Distance : 54 miles
Weather : Sun - at last
After a quick visit to Vastervik to make sure everything was in the right place, and to acquire the special Danish lamp (of which, more later), we finally set off for Visby, on Gotland.
Gotland is the premier Swedish holiday island. The indigenous population of around 60,000 swells to around 300,000 for six weeks from the end of June. The capital, Visby, a rather nicely preserved hanseatic town, apparently becomes a raucous madhouse.
Fortunately, we arrived with the weather, but before the crowds.
The town itself is glorious, with the enclosing wall almost intact, and many, many hanseatic buildings. In 1372 the town was attacked by King Valdemar of Denmark. The local (foreign) merchants simply closed up the wall, and over 2000 peasants were massacred outside before the town was finally stormed. Apparently the King soon left, clutching some booty and a bunch of trade agreements, and the town merchants continued to prosper. The poor peasants however, were toast. The only remnant to their suffering is a forlorn, and rather battered stone cross, lying in an unmarked meadow, a few hundred meters from the town wall. It marks the mass grave of some 1200 women and children...
The roads within the walls are narrow and lined with cobblestones, and cars are banned during the summer. No one however seems to take any notice, and you spend your time dodging the ruddy things. Its surprising, but the presence of cars just does seem to grate.
The town is littered with impressive church ruins. Apparently in the 1700s, the locals took a liking to the stone they were built in, as this made excellent building material, so they simply looted them. However enough survives to show how seriously impressive they were. Some are floodlight at night, and host summer music concerts.
On the Sunday after we arrived the town held a graduation ball. The graduates, all dressed to the nines (with some of the girls looking a little under-dressed for the chill northerly breeze) arrived in a procession of classic (well, old) cars. The procession route was lined with people taking photographs but, oddly, no one cheered or waved. The only emotion seemed to be reserved for the cars, with some booing reserved for the odd hapless local who'd ended up in his car mixed in with the parade.
The graduates were all turfed out onto what was originally the harbour, but is now a picturesque park with a pretty lake, where they stood around drinking champagne, having their photo taken, and generally looking pretty. After an afternoon ogling young blonde swedish girls in strappy dresses, I couldn't understand why we had to leave so urgently...
On the Tuesday, we hired a car. We'll, I call it a car... The harbourmaster does a nice line in scooters, and there are gazillions of bikes for rent, but just by the ferry port is a guy renting bangers for the excellent price of 250 SEK a day. (Slogan - 'the right car for the right price'). You know you've picked the right place when the shelf of the office is lined with cans of WD-40.The car was fine, apart from the lingering smell of petrol.
Anyway it allowed us to get around the south of the island in one day. We decided to visit the gallery of the celebrated artist Lars Jonsson. His paintings of birdlife are something else, and nearby are the coasts which inspire him. The southern tip of Gotland, Hoburgen, is a picnicers paradise, and apparently a major truck stop for migrating birds. The road runs along the coast for a few miles. I guess in high season it must be heaving.
Back in Visby, we decided it was time to eat out. The meal was OK, but Pat hit the big time with a dessert called 'Chocolate Circus'.