Stockholm is beautiful and crisp in the Fall.
To get the full impact of the photos and to read the captions, click on the first one and view them as a slideshow.
The ferry ride across the Baltic dropped us off in Visby. Everywhere I turned there was beauty. This medieval town charmed with its cobblestone streets, quaint structures and immense ruins. In 1995, Visby was designated a World Heritage site.
“Visby is an outstanding example of a north European medieval walled trading town which preserves with remarkable completeness a townscape and assemblage of high-quality ancient buildings …” (UNESCO)
Striking features in Visby:
- A town plan with an ancient street network.
- Medieval warehouses, serving as sales premises and storerooms for the merchants of the town.
- The town wall, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, is 3.4 kms long. 27 ground towers and 9 hanging towers have been preserved.
- The 12 church ruins … remains of churches erected in the 13th and 14th centuries.
- Well-preserved wooden buildings … (Gotland Municipality)
One of many church ruins inside the medieval walls.
Drotten Church was built in the 13th Century and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Drotten Church is an old Norse word for “ruler” and “God.” (Swedish National Heritage Board)
The summer tourist season was over. They say Visby is beautiful in the summer. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than the vibrant fall colors – all shades of reds, yellows and greens.
Imagine stepping into this rose garden from the back door of your home.
More sheep statues along the cobblestone streets.
Taking center stage on Stora Torget (Main Square) was S:ta Karin Kyrka (St. Catherine’s Church).
As far back as 5,500 years ago, Stora Torget (The Main Square) was populated by Stone Age fishermen and seal hunters. Many artisans had their workshops here: comb-makers, shoemakers and tanners.
The Franciscan brethren were granted land on the south side of the square in the 1230s. They erected the church of St. Catherine with adjoining monastery buildings on this ground. (Gotland Municipality)
Looking up at the ceiling. Man-made brick by brick.
Next to Hotell St. Clemens where we stayed (and which we highly recommend), was its namesake, S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin.
I could not resist this narrow stairway.
At the top, I had this lovely view of the nearby homes.
Across the road from S:t Clemens were the Botanical Gardens (which I’ve written about in my previous post). At one end of the gardens was a large stone wall.
More glorious fall foliage covered large portions of the medieval wall.
I could almost envision viking warriors positioned inside the wall looking out to the sea for possible invaders.
The Powder Tower was a defensive tower and is one of the oldest surviving secular buildings in Scandinavia, dating probably from the mid-12th century.
The tower acquired its name in the 18th century when the Crown had a powder magazine here.There are ancient inscriptions on doors and walls. There was no heating and the tower was never lived in, though it did serve for a time as a prison. (Swedish National Heritage Board)
The Gotland flag. What is not to like about this place?!
Fårö is sparsely populated. The summer tourists were gone and the locals were not to be seen. We had the narrow roads all to ourselves.
I was on a quest to find Gotland sheep and Fårö satisfied. Along an empty road, behind a fence on a large pasture of land, I spotted them.
This fella’ (or gal) on the left was quite curious and walked over to me. Meanwhile, the two behind him were playing around butting heads.
As he got closer, I found his eyes to be quite interesting. Rather than round pupils, his were like horizontal slits. I had never noticed! Apparently this is quite typical for sheep. From a little research on the web, I found an article that explains how the shape of an animals’ pupils affects how well they can control light entering the eye.
… horizontally elongated pupils are nearly always found in grazing animals, which have eyes on the sides of their heads. They are also very likely to be prey animals such as sheep and goats. (Source)
As we continued driving along, we pulled over to take a look at a Gotland farm. This farmhouse at Bondans was built in 1783. There was a visitor’s stand that provided the history of the farm. I snapped a picture of it so that I would remember the details and have transcribed parts of it here.
In bygone days, farms were largely self-sufficient. Stone was used to build houses and fences. The forests provided firewood and timber. Clothes were made from wool and linen. The people on the farm lived off their fields and animals, hunting and fishing.
The farmhouse is a ‘parhus’ – a traditional laterally inverted structure with a hall mid-front, backed by a small parlor, both flanked by a large room on each side. Other farm buildings include a cow-shed thatched with sedge, a barn with a threshing mill, a row of outhouses, a store with a goose shed, a cellar and flax-drying shed, where there is a kiln used to roast malt for beer. (Sign posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)
Even back then, these farmers were planting green roofs, which help with insulation.
When wood became scarce in the eighteenth century, the state granted twenty years’ tax relief to those who built houses of stone. In the stone houses that were subsequently built, the walls were no longer of finely hewn stone but of dry-walled stone, plastered both inside and outside. (Sign posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)
I found this little structure to be so quaint and wondered what it would look like in black and white.
On the Langhammar Nature Preserve, before we reached the rock-covered beaches and giant rauks, we crossed an area with lush green vegetation.
The vegetation at Langhammar and in the areas to the south have been strongly affected by long-term sheep-grazing. The south end of the reserve could almost be described as “discontinuous savanna”; pine groves alternate with barren, heath-like tracts of alvar, and smaller areas of somewhat more luxuriant wet meadows. In the central part of Langhammar, the rocky ground is largely covered by low, crouching juniper bushes, which have been stunted by sheep and the wind. (Sign at Langhammars Nature Reserve posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)
The Helgumannen fishing village is located on the Digerhuvud Nature Reserve. The cottages were all shuttered for the coming winter.
Near the Gamla Hamn Nature Reserve, we followed signs pointing to S:t Olof’s Kyrka. Instead of a building, we found only the foundation of the church which dates back to the Medieval period.
According to tradition, Gotland was converted to Christianity by the saintly Norwegian King Olof. In front of you there are the foundations of a small wooden chapel called St. Olof’s Church. The chapel is surrounded by a circular churchyard. (Sign posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)
We didn’t see them but near the shore there is apparently a burial ground with various graves dating back to Medieval times. From the endless gray skies and chill from the wind, I can only imagine what it might have been like during the Ice Age, or to see Viking ships arriving at the harbor. We were only on Fårö for a few hours but I will remember it forever.
I understand why long ago people thought the earth was flat. Looking to the horizon, a pang of fear spread across my heart. If we kept going, surely we would fall off the edge…
From Stockholm, we took a bus from the central station to Nynäshamn, about an hour and twenty minutes’ ride. At Nynäshamn, we boarded a ferry to Gotland, a Swedish island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The ferry ride took just over three hours. We rented a car and drove north. When the land ran out, we boarded another ferry for a seven minute ride to Fårö, our destination.
Tiny Fårö has expansive views of the sea. From its shores, the Baltic Sea is black and deep and cold. Ingmar Bergman, the famed Swedish director, lived and died on Fårö. Bergman also directed some of his films against the austere backdrop of the island.
We drove straight to the shore to see the “rauks,” giant limestone formations molded over time by the sea. They stood there, towering in the distance.
Here and there, we could see man’s attempts to create their own stacks.
To give you some perspective, I took this photograph of my husband walking toward the sea. It’s difficult to express the impact of the scene on my senses. How tiny I felt against the raw power of rock and water and wind. So beautifully breathtaking and alarming at the same time.
The seawater is clear and cold.
At times, I felt like an astronaut staring at a moonscape – eerily barren but very much alive.
This man-made stack was over six feet high. I wonder how long it will stand against the winds?
The rocks were cold but soft from the constant beating from the sea.
Our last stop was at Gamla Hamn. Gamla Hamn stands for “ancient harbor” as this area is thought to have been used for fishing and trading in the Middle Ages. (Source)
There was no one besides us out there, which made it that much more magical and melancholy. Then we spotted two swans swimming in the bitterly cold sea.
For some reason, the landscape made me sad. I was somehow insignificant against its raw immensity. But still I marveled at its beauty.
My husband, the pilgrim, returned from a long walk of 863 kilometers across northern Spain. He walked westward from the Spanish-French border to the Atlantic Ocean. He followed the Camino De Santiago (the Way of St. James), a pilgrimage that has been walked by thousands before him since medieval times.
This was his trip, not mine, so I cannot write about its spiritual significance or the physical endurance required to make the trip. That is his story to tell, or not, in his own time. What I can relay are snippets of experiences and sights that he shared with me along the way.
The first day was the hardest. It was an uphill climb through ankle-deep mud in the pouring rain and winds that blew horizontally along the path. He told me that there were crosses and makeshift memorials covered in stones marking the places where pilgrims had started and ended their walks.
On his way from Roncesvalles to Burguete, he walked through the Sorginaritzaga Forest. Before entering, he came across a sign written in four languages. The caption read “Brujería” or “Witchcraft.”
The Sorginaritzaga forest, whose meaning is “oakwood of witches,” was where some of the most well-known witches’ covens of the XVI century were held, …
As he walked through the forest, he came across the White Cross placed there to protect the pilgrims from witches.
Despite this ominous beginning, he found time to send me photos of the countryside and of sheep grazing in the fields. He spotted this flock of sheep near the Basque town of Zubiri.
He told me these were Manech sheep. They are black-faced free roaming sheep known for their milk and from which “ossau-iraty” cheese is made.
He even snapped photos of some of the yarn stores he happened to spot in the towns he came across. Mercería Nhilos is in Nájera; Lanas Lany in León.
Along the way, pilgrims stay in albergues. The albergues provide a bed and usually a meal, sometimes a community dinner or a light breakfast. Curfews are strict so as not to disturb the weary pilgrims. The bunk beds shown below are in a pilgrim’s shelter attached to a local church in Belorado. The albergue was run by German nuns. The bed was free although a contribution of 5€ to the nun’s fund was recommended.
Another albergue was at St. Mary’s Nunnery in the city of Carrión de los Condes. According to my husband, one nun will tend to your feet with an extensive first aid kit and all the patience in the world. That evening, they held a pilgrim’s mass with a blessing of the feet followed by a community dinner and some singing and entertainment for the weary travelers. The following day would consist of a brutal 20-mile walk in desert-like conditions.
Within 58 kilometers of Santiago de Compostela, my pilgrim made it up the side of a mountain in the province of Galicia where this stone marker is located.
This albergue was situated near Itero de la Vega in a medieval structure run by an Italian religious fraternity. The simple refuge had no electricity, only candles to light the way.
In Burgos, he had a clear view of the magnificent cathedral.
Halfway between León and Santiago de Compostela, he stayed in the town of Vega de Valcarce, population 800. It was there he spotted this statue of an old woman knitting.
From Ezcaray, arriving precisely on my birthday, he shipped this exquisite blanket woven with 73% mohair and 27% wool from Mantas Ezcaray.
When he returned – a little sunburned, a bit achy – he came bearing gifts. For the boys, beautiful picture books about the Camino de Santiago and a myriad of stories, both funny and painful. For me, this book, Tejeduría Tradicional Galicia, or roughly translated, Traditional Weaving of Galicia. To complement this gift came a bookmarker knit by a local artisan made from a linen yarn spun from locally cultivated flax.
We hope our boys make this journey some day. Perhaps my pilgrim and I will travel it together.