...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Öland, solen och vindarnas ö

Third installment of our Amazing Car Trip story

Pictures of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 in Öland posted at Multiply.

It's challenging to write an entry on Öland because you simply know where to begin. There are so many sights to see that that you cannot exhaust them in a two-day trip, and there are so many new experiences for the first-time tourist that you simply don't have time to sit down and put words to thoughts before the new barrage of sensations. I was ooh-ing and aah-ing from the time we crossed the Öland bridge from the city of Kalmar. It was like entering a tourist dream. No wonder it seemed that at least half of the 9 million Swedes were all in Öland at the same time. You wouldn't believe the traffic density on that bridge, they say, especially during midsummer.

Despite the number of tourists, it's not that hard to find a quiet space of your own in Sweden's second largest island: just avoid the tourist spots of Borgholm and Böda Sand beach and camping. We visited those too, classic tourists that we were after all. In other places though, our Öland vacation felt like a country escape. At least (in contrast to the Philippine tourist destinations), you can enjoy your sightseeing without people always following you around and trying to sell you something.


Solen och vindarnas ö, the island of the sun and the winds

Geologically, Öland is a relatively young island. Whereas mainland Sweden lies on hard bedrock, Öland (together with Gotland, the largest Swedish island) are made of softer limestone, causing the islands' interesting landscapes. Öland has Sweden's longest sandy beach, Böda Sand, on it's north-eastern tip, where white sand stretches for 20 whole kilometers. On the island's western side are Byrums raukar, vertical limestone stacks that have been shaped by waves and strong winds from the sea. Then on the south side (which we didn't go to), lies Europe's largest limestone pavement – called an alvar – where vegetation hardly grows, but is home to many rare and endangered species.

That Öland is nicknamed the island of the sun and winds is not an empty atttribution either. The sea and wind had shaped the island as it looks today. The ancient forests that lie near its shores are twisted, almost spiral, deformed by winds. Bushes in the plains don't grow straight but slant sideways. Lone trees grow branches only to one side. And in the north of the island, the expansive Neptuni plains (christened by Linneus during his trip to Öland) are littered with small flat pebbles that have been cast ashore there over many centuries.

Böda Sand beach. Amazingly long, it has a giant camping area behind it that could easily fit tens of thousands of trailers. If you have the energy to walk to the far end of the beach, the family beach turns naturist.

Byrums raukar. And I climbed there despite my fear of water (which you probably can still see on my face).

Neptuni åkrar. Fields of shingle that lead to a shore of fossils.

Fossils to Modern-day recreations: a walk through time

The island too is rich in history and cultural heritage. Archaeological evidence indicates that people lived in the island as early as 8000 B.C. Stone-age settlers walked there using an ice bridge from the mainland (Interestingly, we get to Öland by bridge too nowadays, although it is of a different material). There are also many cultural heritage sites from the Viking times and from Sweden's Iron Age. Traces of their settlements and burial grounds literally litter the island. It's as if someone threw a jumble of artifacts belonging to different ages carelessly on Öland's grounds. It is not impossible to be at one landmark and find the next one a few meters away. On the contrary, this happens quite often. Fossils of trilobites in Neptuni lie a few meters away from a Viking burial ground. Last-century windmills are a stone's throw away from a Viking rune stone. Medieval trenches and ancient burial cairns lie together in the even more ancient Troll's forest, where a 900-year old oak – one of Sweden's oldest – also stands. In the same forest is a skeleton of a shipwreck that had been unmercifully been cast there by a storm on Christmas 1926. Ancient meets Viking, meets Medieval, meets modern man. And the whole feeling is alien.

The sun behind a windmill. This windmill was in a row of the best preserved windmills in the island. There are 400 last-century windmills in Öland.

The schooner Swiks on one of the shingle beaches in Trollskogen.

Fossils at Neptuni åkrar. Look closely in the middle of the picture or click to enlarge.

Thanks to the many archaeological finds in the island, researchers more or less know how people of old used to live here and they construct reconstructions of how they think those people lived. We visited one such reconstruction of an Iron Age house – the second of its kind, actually. The first Iron Age house reconstruction, funnily enough, burned to the ground after an electrical malfunction. Talk about time warp.

I will talk more about my impressions of Öland and our last stop, Borgholm, on my next entry. Stay tuned until then!

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