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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

Sweden's Old Capital: Kalmar

SWEDEN | Saturday, 8 September 2018 | Views [191]

Back in the day, as in the 16th Century, capitals weren’t stationary cities where the business of the country happened, but rather wherever the monarch happened to be. In those days Sweden’s kings spent considerable time in Kalmar, which once guarded the southern boarder of Sweden. Nowadays Kalmar is a good 4 hour train ride from Denmark’s eastern city of Copenhagen. 

For the majority of our trip we had sunny weather for sightseeing wherever we were staying, and it rained, if at all, while we were on the train. It was really the perfect combination! The first morning in Kalmar we started at the number one attraction: the castle, built in the 12th century, and then like any good castle renovated and added on to over the next several hundred years to keep up with the times. 

After a quick poke in one of the towers on the first floor, dungeon turned kitchen, we caught one of the English tours of the castle. It was somewhere around here that I realized Europeans don’t actually speak every language, and when the Danish and Germans are visiting Sweden guess what language they speak? English! (It makes me feel a bit better about only speaking English, and in this case a couple of words in Swedish). 

Our tour guide was very informative and started off by giving us the background on the relevant Swedish history, which had put Kalmar on the southern boarder with Denmark all those years ago when Denmark wasn’t quite such a small country after all. For a period of about a century though the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians came together starting in 1397 in a rather revolutionary act to create a union, which was signed in Kalmar. However before the mid 1500s Sweden was happily independent again. 

Like Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen one could actually imagine living in Kalmar Castle without feeling entirely lost. The first really memorable room was the Queen’s chamber where the wooden paneling around the room rather than being painted was actually inlaid with different woods of various colors to create scenes just as if someone had taken a fine brush to it. The rather average to small looking bed in the room, was actually considered quit big at the time when people slept sitting up in order to balance the essential fluids of the body. One reason for this bed’s larger size was so that a servant could sleep at the end of the bed to keep it warm. Another interesting feature of the carved wooden bed is that fact that the noses of all the faces had been cut off. Apparently noses used to be considered the place where your soul could leave your body. (Hence the phrase “bless you” when we sneeze.) By cutting the wooden noses off you were also keeping evil spirits from entering. 

The next impressive room was the dinning hall, with a table decked out the way it would’ve been for a feast (albeit not originally in plastic food). The only reason they know today what was on the table during one particular feast is because one guest took very good notes. Now the idea of a dinner party then is not the same thing today. At these dinners if you were lucky enough to be invited by the King you were allowed to take up a place around the wall of the dinning hall and watch for several hours as the royal family (and perhaps some guests of equal standing) slowly ate their way through the feast on the table between drinks and conversation. Any sign of water on the table was also replaced by a beer like drink. Unfortunately I don’t recall the numbers, but suffice it to say no one (at the table) would’ve been allowed to drive afterwards, or possibly at all, given the consistent replacement of water with alcoholic drinks in those days. Personally I’m glad dinner parties are a bit more sociable these days and with plenty of water!

The last room we visited in the main castle was the chapel. It’s relatively small, but easy to see why it’s booked up for weddings each year. My friend and I agreed that even though rather unreligious ourselves there was definitely a charm to the little room. 

Before leaving the castle we pursued the temporary renaissance display modeling some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s forward thinking, though not always functional creations such as several ideas for a flying machine, more similar to today’s helicopter than airplane. For being a proclaimed pacifist he also designed an incredible number of fighting and defense mechanisms, which it was noted his patrons had plenty of money for.

After a wander around town to a couple of the squares, and one of the original gated archways to the city, perhaps better described as a tunnel, we found lunch at an indoor restaurant in part of a larger shopping area. Once I’d muddled through the menu only resorting to looking up certain words I was completely unsure of I ended up ordering a dish of potatoes, vegetables and Lak, which turned out to be Salmon rather than the “Lak fish” I was imagining. 

We took the long way back to our airbnb through the old part of town, and by the small, colorful houses with beautiful flowers growing up their walls, including one with two bowls of water one labeled “For Cats” on the ground and the other labeled “For Birds” on a table, all in perfect English. We also meandered through a local park only discoverable behind the plain fence thanks to Rick Steves’ advice. With plenty of shady trees, and a low key cafe it would be the perfect place to spend an afternoon with a friend. Before I knew it we’d reached our very tiny, and equally beautiful Airbnb. 

I’d roughly describe it as the same size as a tiny house. However they managed to cram in sitting/sleeping area, kitchen with cook top and sink, fridge, washing machine, and bathroom with the ceiling just about a foot higher than head hight. This was our second bathroom where the shower consisted of simply a curtain to prevent water from the shower head on the bathroom wall from getting the toilet and sink wet as well. However the tiled floor is all connected, so even after squeegeeing it down tip-toeing after someone’s shower was usually required. 

Having learned my lesson about how cold the inviting ocean really is I instead spent the early evening on a large rock a short wade from the beach watching the waves, and the other, rather heartier family bobbing around in the water by the pier. 

Thankfully it appears some European countries have not disposed of all of their luggage lockers at train stations for fear of explosives being put in them (as most of the UK seems to), and my friend and I were able to leave our luggage the next morning while we visited the Kalmar County Museum. Despite its rather dull name this museum houses an interesting collection of artifacts, and history about the 17th century shipwreck one island and a tiny bit of ocean away from Kalmar. In the days when it sat above water the Kronan was a huge ship, and apparently the most heavily armed vessel in world. Unfortunately its admiral though a skilled administrator was not a skilled sailor and in fact knew nothing of sailing prior to his appointment to the position by the King. To give the admiral credit he managed to stay afloat for a while, but on that faithful day in 1676 he miscalculated his maneuver as the Swedes faced off against the Danish, and before the fight had even begun the ship caught too much wind, tipped over and the gun ports filled with water. Sadly the whole thing explored shortly afterwards when a lantern ignited the explosives in the hold and less than 5% of the men on board survived. 

What sunk to the ocean floor though is now a great view into maritime life in the mid 17th century with everything from coins, metal canisters with specifically fitted lids even though they look identical, and golden spoons (for the top brass), to shoes, and violins (the oldest one known to exist I believe). The one thing in short supply though were the original cannons, most of which had been salvaged not long after the disaster using rudimentary diving suits (and a substantial about of time). As Rick Steves puts it “cannons were so valuable they were prized the way a Rolls Royce would be today” and you wouldn’t want to leave 200 or so of them on the ocean floor!  

Without the luxury of golden spoons, but thankfully with the added convenience of a fork, my friend and I enjoyed lunch at an Indian restaurant, which only cost about $12. With the exchange rate between dollars and Swedish Kroner somewhere around 9 to 1, 120 kroner suddenly doesn’t seem that expensive. We actually found Sweden to be the cheapest of the Scandinavian countries (out of Denmark, Sweden & Norway with Denmark probably coming in as the most pricy), and not altogether extremely expensive. After a leisurely lunch we made our way back to the train station and headed north to Sweden’s modern-day capital: Stockholm. 

Tags: food, kalmar, kalmar castle, kalmar county museum, kronan, scandinavian prices


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