Monday, February 25, 2008

Öland





Saturday, Feb. 9th, 2008

We lounged for a short while, Hunter joining us in the sleigh bed for a wiggly snuggle. We could see a bright fog from the Frimurarehotellet windows and hoped it would burn off before too long. We had to be out of our parking space by nine am, so we scrambled to shower, pack and get to the breakfast room.

In the breakfast room, I was especially taken by a painting of the sea—the focus was close, as if one were studying it from some deep point, eyes nearly at the surface. It was very well done, but closeup, it was done very simply. A study I’d like to try. As I tried to gather things to eat for Hunter and myself, Hunter was especially demanding, whiny and loud. It was difficult to contain him and we knew why. Knowing he still had a fever made it no easier on us or him, however. We were all too glad to eat quickly, grab our things and get out of Kalmar.

The crazy night scene in downtown Kalmar was conspicuously missing in this not so early Saturday morning, except for the excess litter in the courtyard and street. Now and then someone with a rolling suitcase walked toward the train station and a train shooshed to a stop on the tracks.

When we drove around the car-blocked downtown, we noticed a fishing wharf where boat masts prodded the fog to the rhythm of light waves. The narrow, gold and red townhouse-lined streets looked especially novel in the fog.

In no time, we were crossing Sweden’s longest bridge (4 miles) over Kalmarsund (only a mile shorter than the Danish/Swedish Oresund Bridge), me praying the fog would lift and Hunter trying to find one of the lighthouses noted on the map. By the middle of the bridge we emerged into blue sky and sun and our attitude about exploring Sweden’s second largest island was much improved!

The guidebook advised that we drive clockwise around the island from the bridge (which enters south of center on its west coast.) However, as Phil told me what village signs he saw and I mentioned those we should be entering, we realized he had chosen to go counterclockwise. Turning the guidebook like a map upside down did not help, but starting at the end of the list of things to see did.

Our first stop was Karlvestenen, a well-preserved tomb standing in the middle of a plowed field of dark earth. A grassy walkway led from the parking lot, along the edge of the field and out into the center where the tomb stood. Phil was quite pleased with this stone and the red writings on it. He was soon wishing he had his cousin, Dennis, along for the ride.

From there, I took (we keep switching drivers) a narrow side road between two fields to get photos of the scarecrows. I love how many scarecrows there are in the fields around Sweden-- Usually two to three per plowed or growing field. These are sticks in the ground stuck through a pant leg, the other leg running in the wind, and through the neck of the shirt where just below, a cross stick goes partially through the arms so that the arms wave in the wind. No head, no straw.

We continued along that tiny road and through the tiniest village you’ve ever seen—bedecked with low stone walls and stone and sod storehouses—toward a large windmill. According to the guidebooks and tourist brochures, Öland once had more windmills than Holland. Sure enough, after taking shots of this well-preserved wind mill, we could hardly keep count of the mills we saw.

We joined a road Phil thought sure was the “main road,” and it was. It was just as narrow as the other “main road.” 30, 50, 70, 90 and back down again, repeatedly.

Our next stop was a field of rocks Phil thought were supposed to be Viking standing rocks. He wandered all around but found nothing convincing. It was good that Hunter chose to stay in the car during that time because it was cold and windy at the top of the mound of rocks.

We did finally come upon the standing rocks he was looking for. They were the Mysinge grave fields including “burial sites and standing stones from the Stone Age to the late Iron Age,” (Sweden, Lonely Planet, 2006, p. 141). These were stones standing in the shape of a ship. Hunter and I busied ourselves in the car, posed for some of Phil’s many photos and busied ourselves again. We gave Phil quite awhile, probably 20 to 30 minutes, but he was unhappy when we finally begged him to come back. “That may well have been the best set of standing stones I will see in my lifetime,” he said, mournfully. He liked that he had the whole area to himself and didn’t have to fight the crowds for photo time. We had set out to accomplish a nearly impossible tour of an island we were told would take only half of an hour to span from end to end and we had already been here a few hours. We felt we should be further down and back up the island by now.

We were also told that all the natural fields among the green and plowed fields are covered in snowdrop wildflowers in the spring. Even without the flowers, the stretch of fields rushing past us were beautiful. We enjoyed fresh air and very little traffic.

Lunch time loomed, especially in the stomach of our four-year old, so we thought it appropriate to arrive at Långe Jan, Scandinavia’s tallest lighthouse, where the guidebook mentioned we would find a café. Indeed, we found the climbable lighthouse. It was locked and so was the café. At least the restrooms were open. We decided to wander around the place, anyway. Maybe there would be a place to eat down the road.

Långe Jan is set in a nature reserve complete with bird-spotting stands where 500 to 600 mm lenses jut out of photographer’s tri-pod-legged cameras. The tiny point surrounded by the Baltic Sea is peaceful and idyllic in February. We saw a few families with small children, five or six bird-spotters and a few college-aged and elderly folks. Otherwise, the place seemed more quiet than it probably is in the spring and summer. We collected stones, took photos of swan and were delighted to be shown a few seals sunning on the larger rocks near the shore.

A man with a VERY LONG camera lens warned us not to get too close to the seals or they would dive off of the rocks. Phil went back to the car to get his biggest lens. I stayed behind the photographer quite a ways and snapped a few photos. This view was closer than my trip to Måkläppen, near where we live.

I don’t really know what has come over me, but I’m completely enamored with the seals. It is one thing to see them perform at the San Diego zoo, or on television, it is completely another to see them in the wild—without having to pay admission to see them. They have adorable faces, are amazingly fat, seem playful as they splash in the water, but also seem enormously dangerous when they fight.

I had moved away from the seals to another part of the waterline to see if there would be any glittering pieces of amber in the seaweed. During this time, Hunter frantically announced that he needed to go to the bathroom. While I picked my way back up the beach from the shoreline over soggy, spongy, deep seaweed to get to him, he dropped his pants and whizzed on the rocks, in full view of bird-spotter binoculars, the photographer, the seals and tourists making their way closer to the sea. “I’m all done, Mom! I did it myself,” Hunter told me proudly when I got to him. Of course, I had seen him. The beach was relatively unpopulated. I swallowed my embarrassment.

Phil returned, creeping as close as he could for some great photos of seal. I got a shot of him waving at the seals. The two seals, lying sideways on the rocks, facing the shore, nervously flapped their small side-fins and adjusted their sunning positions. Phil kept waving. The seals seemed to consider Phil’s actions a form of questionable communication between earthlings and sea-wildlife. They dove into the water.

The man with the powerful camera lens was visibly upset by this, but we were leaving with our photos, I guess. He moved his camera five feet closer and crouched down to the ground to wait. Phil had a smirk on his mouth as he headed back to the car, but I felt badly for the photographer. The seals would eventually climb the rocks again, sunning themselves when they no longer felt threatened.

As we were leaving, Phil traded lenses with me so I could try the 500 mm. Wow! I could get no more than the top of the lighthouse or a seal head in the water with it. I had to choose how many swans to fit in the frame. But it was not a stabilized lens and I didn’t have a tri-pod, so my massively zoomed photos were generally terrible. It was a fun experiment, though. One of the bird-spotters told me he was trying out his new stabilized 400 mm Nikon lens with 600 mm capability. I didn’t understand how all that worked, but I was impressed when he said he could hand-hold the camera and get decent shots of the exotic birds flying over and stopping for a rest on the sand bars. Phil has warned me that if I insist on getting good bird photos, I will spend the rest of my life trying to afford the perfect lens. Hmmm. I don’t even make any money, yet!

We left the seals, the birds, Långe Jan, the remains of a Viking-age church, gave Hunter a cookie and drove in search of a place to eat. We ended up at Ektorp, the ruins of a ring fortress from the 5th century. The walls have been rebuilt and there are reed-roofed huts which have been constructed to house museums and demonstrations from medieval times. We drove into a completely empty parkinglot which is obviously used for a great number of tourists and tour busses in the summer.

The reception area was closed, but still displayed the charge to see the place during the summer: 50 kroner per person. There were picnic tables in the reception courtyard, so I set up my emergency food rations into a picnic while the wind tried to take our hats and crackers and to freeze our hands as we ate. We should have done like the two young couples who arrived after us and cozied up inside the fortress, away from the wind, to have our picnic. It was a fair walk from the parking lot and courtyard to the actual ruins, though, so it was nice to be free of the food stuff when we wandered around or ran, as Hunter did inside the recreated fortressed village.

The guidebook says that this place is set up to demonstrate a living village, complete with pigs on the loose and many other delightful things. For us, it was just peaceful walking around, watching some little black birds swooping around, imagining what it was like to try to rebuild the massive walls, finding a pond and a garden out back, etc. We saw what we needed to see.

We had quite a ways to drive, then, to find the northern lighthouse and another castle ruin. Hunter, still feverish, finally fell asleep and we felt sleepy, too. I told Phil I would need a cup of tea or coffee soon or I wouldn’t be able to endure the rest of the day. We decided that our goal would be to be off the island and heading back home by 4:30 pm and it was already 2:30 or 3 pm. We noticed that half an hour of driving was not getting us quickly (30, 50, 70, 90, and back down, remember?) to the north end of the island.

We passed ancient rock-built villages and homesteads with signs pointing down narrow driveways between closely built homes and outbuildings, which read, “rum & frukost” (bed and breakfast), “galleri,” and “glaseri” (glass blowing). Me and my artistic curiosity suffered each passing. But Hunter was finally getting some much needed rest and we had very little time left. There were no open cafés or kaffe shops.

At Gårdby, we finally found Gårdby Kaffe and Lenthandel. Because Hunter was still sleeping, Phil went in first to use the restroom and said he would come back so I could go in and get some caffeine. However, it seemed Phil would never return. When he finally did, he insisted that we both go in together and watch Hunter through the big windows. I understood why. The place was a beautifully renovated old country store with the most delightfully decorated dining area off to the side for tea and goodies. I hope to write about this place and sell the piece, it was such a wonderful place. If only I could take you all there. You would love it better than Starbucks, I promise!

By the time we were back on the road, it was nearly 4:30 pm, and we could see a major intersection for continuing north or going back across the island to Kalmar, the town we needed to go through to go home. We decided to abandon seeing the rest of the island (since it was impossible in the time we had and Hunter was so miserable) at that point. We had seen most of what we had looked most forward to seeing on that trip, so felt no disappointment leaving—except for one: We had thoroughly enjoyed the place.

Crossing the bridge into the sunset, we decided we would definitely have to return to see the central and northern parts of the island another time. Besides, we need to see the miles and miles of wildflowers in the spring!

Phil consented to going into the original IKEA, which was just off of the bridge, and was pleased to find out there were only 20 minutes left (why are we always doing this in such a big store?). The place was set up like so many homes with bedrooms, livingrooms, kitchens, bathrooms in complete house settings. It was like snooping through people’s homes while they were absent! Especially cozy were whole bookcases full of books and cd’s which were for sale, too, but looked like private collections. I told Phil I missed looking at things like this to fix up the house. “Are you kidding?” he asked, “That is something I don’t miss—having to fix up the house!” Sigh.

We caught an early dinner at the Burger King next door and headed into the lingering mild sunset and the eventual darkness, to surge our way home for four and a half torturous hours of 30, 50, 70, 90, 110/km/hr. Phil drove, exclaiming, “I just don’t remember so many little towns!”

I rode in the back with Hunter, blowing his nose every five minutes. Hunter passed the time by finding ways of annoying me just like my little brother did back in the days of three week family vacations. I was still annoyed by space-encroaching, being poked, pinched, punched and licked. When we did find something to laugh about, I thought Phil was going to say, like my dad used to say, “stop cackling in the back seat!”


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