Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Excursion

This morning it wasn’t raining…so Leif and I went for a walk to the local castle. Before you get all excited thinking that every town has it’s own medieval castle with battlements or even just a ruined tower sitting around, understand that the word “castle” here is simply a home for royalty. So many castles are more like a Swedish “chateau“, really a very large and beautiful home that is actually pretty contemporary considering Sweden’s long history.

Actually, what happened here in Sturefores and I suppose in many towns is that the royalty, somewhere between 1700 and 1900 decided that the old family home was just too outdated and they replaced it with something more sophisticated, with modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing. But many ruined and going to ruin (actual) castles were torn down to make room for the new castle. The castle here is very pretty, built in the 1700’s, with a beautiful formal garden dating from the same period and several little “funny” houses built in the style of different cultures. The Chinese house is where Leif’s brother proposed to his girlfriend Karin last month.

Vreta Kloster Kyrka
 That afternoon, as promised, we all got into Tomas’ car and started our “little excursion with the car.” Five of us went: me, Leif, Tomas, their father and Frederick…a good friend to Tomas and Leif. It looked like rain, so we packed rain boots (for the off-road activity, whatever that meant) and coats, folding chairs and the cooler and of course my camera for our drive around the lake near Linkoping. First stop was an old church and ruined cloister from around 1100. It’s a beautiful place, far different from the churches in Florence. Still vaulted, but not as high. None of the colorful frescoes of the later catholic churches, just lots of gray stone. Pews in place, with little doors and numbers so each family knew where they were supposed to sit. Frederick and I walked around taking about a million pictures while the rest watched me and I’m pretty sure laughed at me. I like ruined things, broken things, things that have used by people and show that use. It gives them life.

We all piled back into the car and drove to the next site, but on the way we saw an actual ruin of a castle tried to see it, but it is a private property. Belonging, in fact, to the major family buried in the church we had just left. Douglas…not a very Swedish sounding name, but they said that they weren’t Swedish, but probably Scottish from several centuries ago. This was the old castle (yes, really a castle with a tower and everything) and their new home was right in front of it. Maybe when they are done restoring it I’ll look and tell you about it.

The next stop was a canal built between two lakes. We followed a couple of canoes through the locks (one lake is higher than the other) and watched the rain come towards us across the lake. It’s a big lake and shallow. Probably a lot like Mille Lacs in Minnesota. In a country filled with lakes, this one was created to help complete a waterway between the east and west coasts of Sweden. We decided to start again before the rain reached our next stop: the mysterious “off road” adventure.

This was the north shore of the lake, where the glaciers had scraped everything away and what’s left looks just like the woods we find “up north” in Minnesota. Big stands of pines planted years ago, poplars, birches and oaks. This region is known for the oaks that grow here. They are strong and grow like weeds and were harvested almost into extinction for shipbuilding. As we drove we kept our eyes open for deer and moose, all the while claiming that the virtual downpour we were driving through was really only a few small drops and shouldn’t stop us from walking for a bit. Well, everyone except Tomas and Leif. OK, really just me and Frederic, everyone else wanted to skip the walk.

But being the gentlemen that they are they left the decision up to me and the rain really had let up by then. So we put on our boots and jackets, grabbed the umbrella and the cooler and headed off across a rye field. Halfway across the field it started to rain again, not much, but enough to make several in the group look at me with crossed eyes. Once we got into the trees it wasn’t as wet and we marched onward towards the “perfect” spot according to Frederick, who first discovered this place years ago. It is now and official “historic” spot with ruins from several different centuries somewhere out there in the woods. We were headed for the Iron Age fortress, which has a fantastic view of the channel between the lake we had driven around and the rest of the chain of lakes. It was only a pile of rocks, but the view truly was worth getting wet for.

We unpacked the cooler and took turns standing under the one umbrella, eating our sandwiches and drinking our coffee. Leif’s dad followed the whole way, preferring his clogs to rain boots and shunning the umbrella completely. It really was a fun adventure for me and one I didn’t want to miss because of a little rain. What if I don’t get back here? I didn’t want to miss anything, and Tomas said that for him it was nice to get visitors so he can see his country again. Leif says that taking me places lets him see with new eyes, because we look at the world very differently most of the time. On the way back to the car, Frederick ate part of a fern root with me. He says that they are good “bush” food if you get lost in the woods. I suppose so, they taste almost like licorice. But this is also the guy who picked up a snail, put it under his nose and asked me what I thought of his moustache. He is probably one of those people who can see the word “sucker” tattooed on my forehead.

Back at the car we took all the rain gear off and stowed it into the trunk and packed ourselves back into the car. Did I mention that there were two men and me in the back seat of a BMW sedan? We didn’t really need the seat belts, we were held in place by the force of the doors against our bodies, but rules are rules. We decided to skip one of the last stops because we missed our turn and headed for our last castle of the day.

This was another site which had a new castle built on it, but the site was fantastic. It’s possible to walk to the castle on two sides. The other two are sheer drop offs to a huge valley below that used to be a lake. Absolutely breathtaking. Also easy to see how this spot was easily defendable. It also gave us a great view of the coming storm, which was blowing up strongly with thunder and lightening, so we decided to call it a day. And it was a great day.

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