The day being Sunday, we decided that it should be a rest day from installing third born children in Scandinavian universities and instead we would be tourists, so we did that most touristy of tourist things and we went to Ikea. Actually we were trying to follow the road signs for Stockholm to get onto the road that would take us to the rural, unspoilt Östergötland region of Sweden and we just ended up at Ikea by accident. To make matters worse we ended up in the wrong Ikea by accident. We found ourselves in some sort of satellite flat-pack furniture collection centre sort of Ikea to start with but we were sent down the road to the normal Ikea by the Ikea lady that worked there. She looked a bit sad as she gave us directions to the other place, probably because her own Ikea wasn’t very well patronised and she was a bit lonely. I made a mental note to write to the Chief Executive of Ikea, asking him to name a table lamp after the poor woman to cheer her up. In the real Ikea we bought student bed covers and student chocolate and everyone was happy there, especially us, and then we were on our way as proper tourists again.
Our Rose outside the chocolate shop in Jönköping.
The motorway drive up the eastern shore of Lake Vättern was nothing short of gorgeous but because we were on a big busy road we couldn’t stop for a photo opportunity or a paddle in the waters. So we turned off onto a much smaller road near Gränna. We didn’t get out of the car here either because Gränna is famous for being the place where red and white striped candy canes were invented and we were both following calorie controlled diets, especially after our Ikea chocolate incident earlier on. In fact, we had even been tempted to eat the bed covers as they looked so nice. Gränna was also famous for its pear production (in the spring the hills around it have been described as a ‘confetti of pear blossom’), and for being the birthplace of Salomon Auguste Andrée, the gung-ho balloonist who led a doomed attempt to reach the North Pole in 1897.
As I drove through the town I spent a few moments in silence to reflect upon the life of poor Mr Andrée. I had to admire his determination to explore and thank my lucky stars that I lived in an age where easyJet made travelling a little less dangerous. Though doomed as his voyage may have been, he didn’t have to endure some squeaky voiced, make up encrusted, fat arsed slapper from Basingstoke telling him that she hoped he would enjoy his flight to Gatwick.
Just beyond Gränna we stopped to visit a car boot sale in a garage because we felt safe there as it was unlikely that they would sell candy canes or Ikea chocolate but they did happen to sell 1980s style coffee mugs (Rose bought one and broke one) and 1970s style postcards which I just couldn’t resist. The proprietor who looked like he had just stepped off a Viking longship and straight into his gardening clothes spoke no English which was probably a good thing because had he been able to do so he seemed like the kind of bloke who would tell us to sod off back to England. We did manage to work out from his spiel that he was reluctant to give us our 5 kronor change (about 50p) on the grounds that he was a bad tempered old git that had made his way through life with only plums and plum wine for nourishment. He would have been even more reluctant had he known that we had broken one of his mugs. Normally I would have offered to pay for any breakages but I didn’t think his crappy mug was worth 5 kronor and I doubted if he would ever find another out of date faded postcard customer as enthusiastic about his tatty wares as I was, so I should have got a bit of a discount for buying five of them but didn’t. Also I didn’t think I should pay for the damage as it wasn’t me who broke the mug. It was our Rose.
A typical postcard designed to entice tourists to Gränna .
High on the hill above Gränna was Brahehus, the ruined castle of Per Brahe, one of Sweden’s first counts, who encouraged the growing of pears in the region in the seventeenth century. Before he could do this, of course, his mother had encouraged the growing of Pers in the region in the seventeenth century. So I wondered why they hadn’t called him Pears Brahe and had he been a good enough bloke to be referred to as ‘a nice Pers’ and was Brahe the Swedish word for bra?
Our next stop was at Rökstenen which, when we first saw it from a distance, we thought was a motorway service station type thing without the motorway but it turned out to be the site of one of the most famous rune stones in the world, featuring the longest known runic inscription in stone. According to my trusty guide book, dating back to the ninth century it is considered the first piece of written Swedish and thus it marks the beginning of the history of Swedish literature. So without it there would never have been such a thing as an Ikea catalogue. The church there, miles from anywhere so not surprisingly lacking in Sunday morning worshippers, was most impressive and the same applied to the adjacent gift shop which had a fine selection of fridge magnets and rune flavoured Cornettos.
Tiny hamlets with huge churches and neat old houses built from timber set amongst lush fields and forests lined the road from Rökstenen for most of the rest of our journey until late into the afternoon. Oh so pretty!
Borghamn was little more than a jetty alongside which a few boats were moored, some underused but nevertheless open holiday hostels, a sign warning people using the lake to watch out for military exercises going on and a very fat man staring at a sailing dinghy and belching every two minutes. Here I took my shoes and socks off and dipped my toes in the cool, cool waters of the lake. I sat there in total serenity (but for the belching) for five minutes with my feet in the vast Lake Vättern in Sweden and thought back to my swim in the vast Lake Balaton in Hungary earlier in the year. How I love a good lake. Where would my next lake be? Then it rained very heavily so I dashed back to the car with my wet feet to keep dry and we drove on in the hope that it would stop or run out of water or we would find a nice roadside café.
It would have been handy if it had stopped raining five minutes before we arrived in Vadstena instead of five minutes afterwards because we got a bit damp and windswept whilst searching for a café to shelter in. Excellent signage led us perfectly to the Pilgrims’ Café in the grounds of a large and beautiful fourteenth century abbey but it was closed. Why would this be on a Sunday afternoon in August in a pretty little town by a lake? Religion isn’t exactly my cup of tea, especially when the Pilgrims’ Café was closed and there were no cups of tea to be had, but somehow I was pleased that it was making a stand against tourism and it had won on its Sabbath day.
Vadstena really was a lovely place with its moated castle, its twisty turny cobbled streets, its irregular shaped houses and its lakeside park awash with wild birds and bathed in warm sunshine too. This really was the holiday travel stuff of my dreams in a place where I doubt if anybody I know had ever even heard of, let alone been. The threat of more rain eventually forced us under the canopy of a street café for a cuppa but it didn’t rain so, still feeling threatened, we went into the Co-op supermarket next door for a Plopp.
Going for a Plopp in Vadstena.
After many more northerly miles we ate our evening meal outside another café in another street and under another canopy. We both had a more than generous helping of flounder stuffed with seafood so we became humans stuffed with flounder stuffed with seafood. I thought that perhaps this was the furthest north in the world that I had ever eaten my tea but didn’t want to bang on about it as I had once had a Vesta prawn risotto in a youth hostel in Orkney which may have been just a touch more northerly. But I could certainly say that it was the furthest north I had ever eaten flounder, this having been the only occasion on which I had ever eaten flounder.
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that we saw a massive flock of what were probably swans flying over the road in the distance as we made our way back to Jönköping. If Rose had been keeping a travel journal of her own on this trip I’m sure she would have called it Desperately Seeking a Moose because as we drove back along the lakeside motorway she spent every second of the journey scouring the fields and forests that flanked it for a real live moose and telling me all about the horrible things she would do to me if I saw a moose first and she wasn’t with me at the time.
The sun was setting over Lake Vättern as we approached Jönköping. It was beautiful. We saw a couple of hares running about in the grounds of Rose’s student accommodation residence block as we approached it. They were beautiful. Sweden was such a beautiful place in so many ways. The bit we had seen today had been very beautiful but the vast expanses of Sweden that lay further north were, according to my trusty guide book, breathtakingly spectacular. I knew I had to return one day.
The castle in Vadstena.