Sunday 3rd August 2008, Uppsala, Sweden
It was still wet and raining as we drove back into Uppsala this morning but quickly improved once we arrived. All of Scandinavia, we have discovered, is completely silent and empty on Sunday mornings, so we had no trouble driving right into the centre of the city and finding somewhere to park near the old University buildings and the public park.
Uppsala is Sweden's fourth largest city and it is every bit as attractive as we expected it to be. It is spaciously laid out with open green parks, an imposing, mainly 16th century castle on a grassy mound in the centre of the city, the largest cathedral in Scandinavia, a university of world renown and an academic library that can hold its own with many national libraries. It also has several alumni of world repute, the most well known probably being Karl Linnaeus, best known for developing a scheme for classifying plants that has become accepted as standard by botanists everywhere.
Our day was spent entirely on our feet. In the massive brick Cathedral we found the tomb of St. Erik, the patron saint of Sweden, murdered by the Danes in 1160, as well as that of Linnaeus. Also buried here is King Gustav Vasa who threw off the union with Denmark in 1523. We also stumbled across the tomb of Emmanuel Swedenborg, the scientist, philosopher and theologian. He was actually first buried in London, where he died in 1772. In 1905 his body was transferred to Uppsala but it was later discovered that the wrong head had been re-interred, the original probably having been stolen by a dedicated phrenologist many years before. When Swedenborg's actual head came up for auction at Sotheby's in 1978 it was snapped up by Sweden and so today all parts of his body are safely reunited. Externally the Cathedral has been greatly altered and what is seen today is mainly 19th century, particularly the two high spires. Inside however it is uncluttered gothic, the walls and the spaces between the ribs of the roof arches attractively painted and decorated.
Outside the Cathedral are several 11th century standing stones with runic inscriptions, similar to ones we saw in 2006 at Jelling in Denmark.
Down in the town we found a low-key craft market with people wearing national costume. On a stage in the square was a pop concert – 19th century style. It was well done and amusing even if we didn't understand the language.
Nearby is the 19th century main University building standing in attractive parkland, while just beyond stands the Library. According to our guidebook it has in excess of 5,000,000 books! We found this hard to believe but our attempt to check it out by counting them was foiled as the reading rooms were closed. Probably just as well really as it would have taken us best part of the day and there was so much else to see. There was though, a wonderful exhibition of the gems from the collections, some of which had ended up in Uppsala as the result of Swedish wars, taken as booty. Exhibits included the pride of the Library, the Silver Bible, written in Ravenna at the beginning of the 6th century – one of the only texts in the Gothic language. Also greatly prized is the Carta Marina, the first modern map of Scandinavia, printed in Venice in 1539. There were early Icelandic manuscripts of sagas, Mozart's draft of the "Magic Flute" and the Gustav Vasa Bible - the first complete Bible in Swedish, printed here in Uppsala in 1540. Some of the writings of Linnaeus were also displayed, as was Ptolemy's map of the world and a page from Gutenberg's 42-line Bible.
Highly impressed so far by Uppsala we made our way up to the castle, the façade having a massive round tower at either end. Its austerity was muted by giving it a wash of pink paint. Attached to it is the city Art Gallery while the formal gardens at the side lead down to the Linnaeum with its orangery and the present University Botanical Gardens beyond, where we wandered amongst the labelled specimens of flowering plants, shrubs and trees, all at their most prolific and beautiful. Here there were bright dahlias. Uppsala is currently celebrating this flower, named after Anders Dahl, a native of the city and student of Linnaeus. In front of the orangery were a couple of giant-sized benches. Having climbed up on one for a rest, I momentarily dozed off. Suddenly a huge hare broke cover nearby and raced across the lawn, over a couple of flower beds and disappeared amongst the apple trees. I was left feeling very much like Alice in Wonderland and the hare was undoubtedly late for an important appointment! Incidentally, hares seem quite common in Scandinavia, we have seen several of them and they really are very large.
The gardens had a pretty café where we bought coffees, a huge sandwich to share and a couple of slices of blueberry and cranberry tart hidden beneath a mountain of whipped cream. Around £7 in total. We would have paid that for the sandwich alone back in Norway.
Refreshed we made our way across town to the house where Linnaeus lived with his family during his tenure of the chair of Medicine and Botany at the University, while at the same time developing his classification system for the identification of plant species. His home stands in what was, at that time, the original botanical gardens. These still exist, maintained much as they would have been during Linnaeus' day, neatly laid out and labelled in well maintained beds. It was interesting to wander the compact rooms of his home with its hand-painted wall paper, original furnishings and cabinets of delicate china. Upstairs was the lecture room where students would gather to hear him speak. Here too was his library with the bed where he died and a room of specimens – birds, pickled snakes, an armadillo, several tortoises and dried fishes and lizards.
Eventually we made our way back through the modern part of the city, through the shopping centre, past the Town Hall, across the Main Square, along beside the river past several 17th century gabled houses, over the bridge to the pumping station - which according to the local guidebook supplied the city with water and sewage(?) - then round the town park and finally back to Modestine. We were quite exhausted! During the afternoon we discovered the existence of another campsite, very near the city centre so drove here for the night. It saved driving all the way back to last night's site and will be convenient for us to visit Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) tomorrow. (Unfortunately we keep confusing the name with curry spices and calling it Gama Masala.)
Monday 4th August 2008, Stockholm, Sweden
This morning we made our way to Gamla Uppsala. This was the original site of the city of Uppsala, the heart of Sweden, and the resting place of the early kings. Originally the cathedral was here but, after it burned down in the 13th century, it was decided to move the city, complete with its original name, to its present location about five kilometres to the south, on the Fyrlsån River where a trading port had already been established.
Set amongst wide, flat, open plains of agricultural land, huge grassy burial mounds rise mysteriously above the surrounding landscape, while in the distance the castle walls and cathedral spires of the present city can be seen. Though only dating from around the 6th century AD they have an air of magic about them that is comparable to that experienced at Stonehenge.
There are three major mounds, several lesser ones and hundreds more minor burials, many of which have collapsed beneath their grassy covering leaving the surrounding fields looking pock-marked.
The attached museum tells what is known of these early Viking graves, where the bodies seem to have been cremated within the mounds, along with everything they might need in the afterlife. Excavations in the 1880s revealed only charred bones and the blackened remnants of burial objects.
This morning, in the sunshine, it was a peaceful place to wander between the mounds, covered with long grasses and wild flowers. Indeed, Linnaeus used to bring his students on botany field trips to the site, rich not only in plants but also butterflies and insects.
We visited the nearby parish church, which is made up of the choir and central tower of the former cathedral. In turn this was constructed over an early pagan site where sacrifices were carried out every nine years when the bodies of men and animals were hung from the surrounding trees and left to rot.
The present church stands at the centre of a very beautiful, flowery churchyard of raked gravel paths and graves each with its granite headstone. Inside, the church is light with wide arches. It is painted and delicately decorated as seems the norm in Swedish churches. It has a 17th century, simple baroque pulpit that accords well with the church - most of those we have seen have been far too ornate for the restrained gothic interiors.
cathedral, with its separate wooden bell tower, Gamla Uppsala
Of particular interest was the family vault of Anders Celsius, inventor of the centigrade thermometer. Actually, he had the measuring system the opposite way around, with 100 degrees being freezing, descending to zero as temperatures increased. While eagerly accepting the principle of the Celsius scale, it was Linnaeus who pointed out its impracticality for measuring extreme temperatures and inverted it, thus contributing to the centigrade system as we know it today.
Having imbibed so much knowledge all morning we were quite looking forward to the other great attraction at Gamla Uppsala, namely the Swedish Sock Museum! Imagine our dismay when we found it to be closed! Now we'd never know the Scandinavian secret of turning the heel using four needles, nor of how they whiled away the endless darkness of Swedish winters darning up their toes in the northern latitudes. Until today we'd always thought the Nirvana of Scandinavian museums was the Museum of Danish Knitting in Hjørring. Now we can no longer be so certain.
It was time for lunch. At a pretty table with candles in the little garden café near the burial mounds we experienced Swedish smärgåsar – large open sandwiches piled high with chilled prawns, hard-boiled egg, lemon and mayonnaise surrounded by fresh salad. They were as nice as they sound. We also helped ourselves to as much coffee as we could drink. A very agreeable experience at a very reasonable price.
During the afternoon we drove down towards Stockholm, stopping to use the internet at the library at Märsta. We had to become registered members before we could have access so our records are now on the library computer for perpetuity. Strangely we discovered a large collection of books by P.G. Wodehouse. The librarian explained that his works are greatly admired in Sweden and the national P.G. Wodehouse Appreciation Society convenes regularly in Märsta where they all dress up in 1930s costume and wander around with monocles in their eyes. The things one learns by travelling!!
By the time we rejoined Modestine it was pouring with rain and since then it has continued unabated.