Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Österlen, February 15th, 2008

By noon I had almost completely packed the car (it’s getting easier to simplify this process as we do it more often). Just after noon, I had picked Hunter up from preschool, paid a Swedish artist for making a leather hairpiece for me at a local bank, and picked Phil up from the bus stop on the way home. We ate lunch and were on our way to the area of Sweden known as Österlen.

We drove along the southern coast of Sweden past Viking village/towns such as Trelleborg and Ystad (pronounced “eestad”), towns close to home that we hope to visit more thoroughly another day. Between Trelleborg and Ystad, we stopped for the second time at the Smygehuk lighthouse—just west of the southernmost point of Sweden. The sky was blue; better for photos than the last time we were there. We watched a man fishing up to his wader waste in the calm sea, though he had once-in-awhile to jump a wave or two. A man staying in the nearby hostel greeted us. He was from Germany. Otherwise, we have yet to find the woman who allows people to climb the old lighthouse.

We had in mind to see Ales Stenar, the “Nordic Stonehenge” before sunset and to find a place to eat further on. It was not quite 60 km from Smygehuk. The distances were much more friendly and easy on the body of aging 40-somethings and wiggly four-year olds than the week before.

I had first learned of Ales Stenar through a man I met on an airport shuttle in Seattle just two weeks before we left from the U.S. to Sweden. He had promised to e-mail me his favorite trips from Malmö so that we could enjoy them while we were in Sweden. We are still ticking each of his recommendations off of the list and enjoying every one!

Sure enough, we arrived in Kåseberga a tiny fishing village, about an hour and a half before sunset. Hunter refused to climb the hill to the site, which bothered me a great deal, because I was not going to miss out on this major Swedish site, and I knew Phil would be too absorbed, time- wise, in photographing such an amazing place to trade off with me. So, Phil and I donned our ski suits to endure the mighty wind by the sea when the temperatures were 34 degrees Fahrenheit (feels much colder in the sea wind than at home in Idaho). Phil went on ahead of me while I struggled to get all my clothing right and fussed over Hunter. And Hunter stayed locked in the car with his toys, watching the local fishermen change their boots, get out and put away their fishing gear and big trucks load and unload cargo from rather small fishing boats.

The climb and walk to Ales Stenar was a 1 km walk from the parking lot, mostly uphill. It warmed me up, that’s for sure. The trail was a very dusty, dry dirt with dirty grass on either side, obviously a popular climb. When I reached the top, however, I was stunned by the sight! In every direction I could see a generally flat hilltop of green meadow, overlooking the sea, the tiny village, these ship-shaped standing stones all draped by the wide blue sky. Hunter would have loved running and twirling around in the spaciousness of it, I was sure. I was tempted to do so, myself!

I found Phil happily snapping photos from his camera, using the tripod. Long shadows fell across the grass between and from the stones. Our own shadows were just as long. A few couples and three college-aged girls wandered around a little, but we pretty much had the stones to ourselves. Most people walked around the stones, then to the bluff over the sea for a wonderful lookout. I simply shot a few photos, enjoyed seeing Phil so happy (a better set of standing stones than those others of his lifetime, by the way), and breathed the cool, clean air. I felt compelled to hurry back down the hill to Hunter.

Hurry, I did. I mostly ran down. It was good I did, too, because just as I arrived, our car was surrounded by a growing group of college students playing loud music, smoking, drinking and generally behaving in ways I didn’t wish for Hunter to be gawking at. As it was, he had plenty of questions. He was not crying, though, so I was glad he seemed well adjusted.

I took Hunter down to the short shoreline for a little run on the sand, which he enjoyed. It was a quaint little place and I was glad to see him smiling and enjoying himself; a definite change from parts of the weekend before (though he had been a real trooper).

Soon Phil returned. We got back to our normal jeans and t-shirts, the winter gear in the back of the car. Driving away from the increasing mob that had just started moving up the hill toward the stones, Phil said, “I’m glad to be done just before that group takes over the place.” We would miss the stones in the sunset, but, you see, the view would have been a bit spoiled by the partying youths (or maybe those would have been the photos that sold).

My favorite pale pink and blue sky began to appear on the horizon over an expanse of beautiful patches of plowed and greening farmland dotted with farmhouse squares as we drove over road 9 toward Smrishamn. But before we were anywhere near town, I stopped at a field full of treasure—white and gray swan feeding on the rapeseed field! There was not a car in sight on this narrow road, so I simply stopped, rolled down my window and shot two photos before Phil announced he would be getting out of the car.

A larger gray swan cautiously meandered closer to the flock and stretched its wings. When Phil closed the back door, the swans took wing. If only I could tell you how amazing that was! Phil got back in the car after we noticed someone stopped behind us and apologized, “That was not what I meant to happen, I promise.” No big deal, I drove off, happy to have seen what I saw. Just then, a few feet down the road, the whole flock of swans flew low over our heads, the pink sky at their backs. I was in wonderous heaven watching the seeming slow motion of their flight over our car. It didn’t matter that someone was behind me, I drove slowly, too. The car behind seemed not to mind the obstacle I was creating, creeping along quietly along with me. I hope the image of that flock of flying swan stays with me a very long time.

We only had a few km to go before we were in Simrishamn, a larger fishing village with traditionally European flavored buildings lining the cobblestone streets. When we parked and got out of our car, the street wafted deliciously of cooking food. Our stomachs appreciated this all the more. Sunset had ripened to the point of painting the buildings a deep pink.

We ate at Måns Byckere AB, instead of one of the guidebook recommendations, because it was open, first of all, and secondly, because the special was a Friday grille with a dessert bar. It was all delicious, but I wish you could have tasted some of Sweden’s best desserts. The berry torte was good, as well as the crème brulee with chocolate sauce (there were three sauces to choose from), but the strawberry crème filled pancake (layered pancakes and cream frosted completely over with the cream) was by far the best of everything there. Except for some more dense chocolate desserts, Swedish deserts are quite light. They served sweet watermelon and pineapple, too, for those being more careful with their diets.

By the time we were finished with dinner, the restaurang (as they call it) was filling up considerably. We headed back out into the charming street where red and black kerosene lanterns burned their welcomes to hungry passersby. There was a perfect half moon over the Simrishamn Harbour as we bumped over the cobbled streets out of town.

We were headed into the deepening darkness, the landscape changing from a horizon of fields to trees lighted only by the moon a million pinpoint stars. We made a few wrong turns toward finding the Elisetorp Bed and Breakfast, on the edge of Stenshuvud National Park, where we spent the night, but we eventually found it. The problem was that it was so wonderfully dark in the seeming middle of nowhere (and cold!) that we couldn’t even find which door we were to knock on to announce our arrival.

We stood in the opening of a bondgård, which is a grouping of buildings including a farmhouse, a barn and any number of other buildings for other purposes. The purposes of an “L” of the buildings was cozy bed and breakfast rooms, two functioning rooms and two under contruction and a soon-to-be new ceramic studio for Saga Keramik. We didn’t know any of this as we stood in the 20 something degree wind with a serious wind factor under the moon and stars. Our first greeting was the mewing of a yellow tabby cat, which eventually showed itself and begged to be allowed in the back door of the farm house.

Finally, after knocking at several doors and trying to call the number to the B&B, the young, dark-haired Saga found us cold and waiting at the door of her sales shop. To her credit, we arrived more than an hour before we said we’d be there, so we had not been expected. We were allowed into a very warm, tiny room and guided to where the extra bedding for Hunter’s cot was and where the utensils for the morning’s breakfast were. She said her husband would be along later with the breakfast goods to be placed in the refrigerator. The furniture in the room and the bathroom fixtures were of practical IKEA stock.

The place was a little small for the time we needed to waste before bed. We found a deck of cards in the cupboard and I explained the faces to Hunter then Phil played an easy comparing game, called “War,” with him. We did remember to bring some Legos and Knex with us, so Phil and Hunter proceded to build helicopter cars and other interesting inventions. I busied myself getting Hunter’s bed and clothing ready, studying travel guides and brochures and looking through the log book of guests who had stayed in the room.

The temperature of the room was a bit too warm for me, so I decided to get something out of the car, which was a little walk from our room, and walked up the street a ways just to enjoy being where no lamps interfered with the deep darkness of the countryside. The air was fresh and cool. There were patches of trees and patches of open field. I could see the constellations I recognized from Idaho and the Big Dipper was standing on its handle. If it had been only Phil and myself, we would have walked together out there for an hour or more in Holy Silence.

Soon after I came back to the ultra-warm room, Saga knocked on the door and produced a long basket of goodies for breakfast. In it were freshly purchased sliced meat, pineapple yoghurt, bread, a ceramic pitcher of milk, a small ceramic bowl of home-made plum jam and a tiny ceramic bowl of butter. This was before I realized that Saga was a potter. I asked, “Did you make these, holding up the pitcher,” to which she said she did. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to talk to you more about that in the morning!” I said, and she agreed before leaving us for the night.

Phil let me call my oldest daughter for her birthday from his cell phone. He dozed while I chatted. During such times, it is especially difficult to be overseas.

We were soon off to slumber in the slightly too-firm beds and slept like logs until morning.

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