Ok, so as you probably know by now, we’re Americans living in Stockholm. We use public transportation exclusively. We don’t even have a car over here! And we love it! But we do sometimes yearn for the open road, cruising down the countryside under your own power. And so, we decided to rent a car and brave the open highways of southern Sweden!
For our first Swedish road trip, we decided on a small, but well known town along the eastern coast called Kalmar. It was highly recommended by the locals, was easy to get to, and was about a five hour drive.
Not only is it a great historic area with a still intact renaissance war castle, but Kalmar is also well known for its glass crafting. We did visit a couple of outlet stores while there and we bought some nice crystal glasses and bowls.
We really lucked out on the weather this time. For the first time since old man winter wrapped his icy fingers around Stockholm, the temperature was actually around 60 degrees Fahrenheit! By far the warmest day of the year. And since we were headed south, it would be even a little warmer than that.
Unlike most of our other adventures that begin with the subway, for this one we took the bus to the Hertz rental office. When we got to the office, there was no one there. The place was deserted. And mind you, this a work day, Friday around 9am. Jana wasn’t worried, she said she had special instructions in case this happened. So we went a couple of doors down. There was a keypad on the door. We entered our secret code from Jana’s special instructions, but nothing happened. Oh look, there’s another keypad over here. We entered the code into that one, got a confirmation buzz, then I pulled the door open and we stepped inside.
It was a small room with what appeared to be an elevator door. There was only one button: down. We pushed it. After a minute or so, the elevator door slowly parted open. It was a very small elevator. Following the special instructions, we stepped inside and pressed the button for negative three. That’s right, three levels down. There was a long pause. Finally, the inner door moaned and creaked as it slid shut, sealing us in. Then there was a violent jolt as we started our decent. I looked at Jana and said, “And they were never seen again.”
Ha ha, we had a good laugh. After a brief argument with an unmanned kiosk, we got our keys for our fancy Volvo wagon (it even had dual exhausts and a spoiler), and off we went. I leaned out the window and raised my fist as I yelled, “ROAD TRIP!” A column in the garage nearly took my head off. I knew it was there.
Söderköping (Mayberry, EU)
We had a great recommendation for a place to stop along the way. It was about an hour and a half into the trip. It was supposed to be a cozy ice cream parlor with an outdoor area that overlooked a beautiful canal. And it was there, and we found it. And it was cozy, and it was right on the canal. And it was closed due to construction!
But because it was closed, it forced us to explore this wonderful, quaint little Swedish town, er uh village. I swear this place was like a Twilight Zone mirror image of Mayberry. I kept thinking I would see Barney Fife (Bårnet Fifé) slapping a parking ticket on our fancy city slicker Volvo (with dual exhausts). For those of you who don’t know what the Twilight Zone is or have never heard of Mayberry, you’re too young to be reading this, so get out.
Since it was such a warm, beautiful day, we figured we would find another place with outdoor seating. We scoured the entire town, which took ten minutes. We found an area where a dozen or so people (half the population of the town) were waiting in line to get into this one place. Turns out, it was another ice cream place. I guess with the one by the canal shut down, this one was picking up the slack. But there was nowhere to sit, and I was ready for a frap or a latte. We did find a coffee shop, but it was a misunderstanding on our part, it was an actual coffee shop, as in coffe beans, ground roast, etc.
We finally found this one place that had outdoor seating (they had put out some lawn chairs). There were only six, but two were actually vacant. So I rushed to secure our territory, while Jana went inside to get our refreshments. Turns out it was another ice cream shop. This town really does love ice cream! It just added to the Twilight Zone aura. And even more weird thing, the whole time we were there, we didn’t see a single person using an electronic device.
We sat outside, eating ice cream, right off their main square. We were pretty sure we were the only tourists there. A young mom walked by pushing a stroller and chatting with her friend. Nothing unusual about that. Except that she was barefooted <play the Twilight theme music in your head>.
But the place really did do the trick for us. It displaced us from our hustle-bustle big city Stockholm mindsets and made us sit and relax in the warm sun enjoying each other’s company and some magical ice cream.
And then we were, that’s right: On the Road Again.
Driving to Kalmar
They say it isn’t the destination, but the journey that is special. And this trip was no exception. We had traveled many times along the waterways marveling at the beautiful archipelago scenery from a boat or ship. But this trip showed us what was behind all that, what rural Sweden was really like. And it was spectacular.
Wide open highways, gorgeous backcountry homesteads, spawling green pastures. Well, see for yourself below, but please forgive the quality as they were snapped while flying down the highway:
And it literally just went on and on and on. One really nice thing was that, apparently, in Sweden they have some strict laws about keeping the landscape free of billboard clutter.
A note on driving in Sweden. We didn’t really see it as being that much different than what we were used to in the US. Most of the signs were intuitive, and of course everything is in the metric system. The roads were smoother than any I had ever seen in the US. No construction to speak of, and not a single pothole. And yes, that is a warning sign for a moose crossing!
There was one oddity, however. As we were driving, the car would occasionally make a beep, like a warning tone. We checked the gauges and lights, but everything looked good. I did have my phone BT’d to the car and was streaming music and navigation, so we figured it had something to do with that. On the trip back, it started doing it again. I started exploring the visual tools in the car itself and brought up the navigation map. There was a symbol of a camera pointed at a car. I looked out the window and, sure enough, there was an automated camera taking pictures of speeders. The car had been trying to warn us of this. I can only imagine how many times the cameras must have caught us speeding. Hopefully, we won’t get deported as a result!
Like most European cities, Kalmar has a long and violent past. This is especially true of the cities that were on the coast. Particularly in the 1600’s, Kalmar saw a lot of war and bloodshed. At the time, it was located very close to the Danish border. The area just south of Kalmar used to belong to the Danish, but it is part of Sweden today.
See the model of the city, above, with the castle right on the water. This is a battle castle complete with moat, drawbridges, and cannons. It was under siege 22 times, but was never taken. Also note the walls encircling the entire city itself. The mark of a true war city. We all think of Sweden as a peaceful, neutral-ish country. Perhaps it was all the wars and violence from the past that made it that way.
But today, the town is bursting with charisma and elegance.
Stately European architecture that just takes your breath away.
Here you can see part of the original wall that once circled the city. The tower looking over it all is more modern, but awe inspiring to behold.
Magnificent parks, bridges, canals, and tunnels. Great restaurants, bars, and cafes. What else could you ask for on a long weekend getaway?
Definitely one of the better castles we have toured in Europe. You can see the effort they have put into keeping it in such great shape. It is integrated into the town’s landscape.
See above, the approach to the castle from the town. Stunning. Note that you can see two of the short cannon towers. There are four total, one on each corner. Here’s a closer view of one of the towers:
If those ducks think they’re gonna take the tower, they better think again! As I mentioned before, this castle had been under siege at least 22 times, but was never taken.
See below a view of the seaward defensive battery:
An all around fabulous castle. The interior was well done, too. Sorry I didn’t get any pictures of that. It was well presented and had lots of good information about all the rooms. Some of the ceiling work was still in its original form, but the pictures didn’t come out well (too dark).
If you recall, from the top of the article, the town is situated just west of a rather large island. There is a 6km (3.7mi) bridge that connects the mainland with the island. As you can well imagine, the island was ravaged and raided time after time during the wars. In fact, there are still remnants of old castles on the island dating back to the 300 A.D. Unbelievable!
We did venture over to the island. It is covered with farms, pastures, and homesteads. And it’s incredibly beautiful!
See below, we even ventured off the beaten path a couple of times in our city slicker fancy Volvo wagon with dual exhausts!
We stopped at one of the castle sites. Unfortunately, it had fallen to ruins. But not after hundreds of years of being the center of a war culture. It was built around 300 A.D. and was still in full operation as late as the 1200’s.
And that was really it. After touring around on the island, we returned to Stockholm. It was a great visit and a great town. Given enough time, we would gladly return to Kalmar and yes, even stopping again at Mayberry, EU.