UPPSALA & BRO.
On Sunday morning, I met up with Sara and her boyfriend, David, to go to Gamla Uppsala, north of Stockholm. Gamla meaning "old," so: Old Uppsala. Uppsala is a site of Norse lore. Some say Odin resided there, some say Freyr. It is also the location of an important sacrifice (you can read more about it via the wikipedia link above). There is a nearby church, very old, with its own cemetery, on the same grounds, indicating the confluence of Pagan and Christian ideologies. Surrounding this area are hundreds of beautiful trees; I was particularly keen on the weeping birch trees in the area.
Though a site of death and sacrifice, I found the place to be surprisingly peaceful. Perhaps it was the presence of such gentle giants (trees); perhaps it was the Norwegian Crows flitting about reminding me of Odin's two ravens, Huginn & Muninn. Either way, any thought I had of feeling tense or sorrowful being in Uppsala was nonexistent.
After our visit at Gamla Uppsala, we headed southwest to Bro to visit a famous rune. As David googled directions from the backseat of the car, Sara regaled me with wonderful impressions of how fellow Scandinavians speak. First was the impression of the happy-go-lucky Norwegians, who, she said, always sound happy.
"The Danish, they think we sound drunk when we talk," Sara said. And then she made a wonderful impression of what a Swede thinks a Dane sounds like.
I got the sense that there is a rivalry between Danes and Swedes, one that, according to history, goes back for centuries, with various invasions, killing off of royal family members, and so forth. The two countries are now connected by a bridge, completed in 2000. This bridge is also the premise for a popular Swedish-Danish drama called, appropriately, The Bridge.
We finally happened upon the small town of Bro and parked near the local church which was built in the 1100s. It's amazing what history can be found here. A church from the 1100s--one of the time periods of one of my screenplays...it's completely surreal to be in this place with such ancient history.
We walked around the church, closed up, and also surrounded by a cemetery, until we walked toward the main road. The sky was grey and tempestuous. Birds darted about.
"There it is." David points. We look at the large slab of smooth rock across the road. We examine the marker. David explains how the runes indicate the beginning and end of a word. It's a sort of "x" shape. It's amazing to see this intact runestone. David explains that there are runestones all over Sweden. "There's one near where I work," Sara says. It's incredible...these ancient markers...adjacent to roads and houses, places of work and places of worship.
A Birka tour was, aside from Air BnB lodgings and some transportation arrangements, the only thing I had booked in advance before leaving Seattle. The boat (the only way to reach Birka) left from City Hall at 10 a.m. and would arrive by noon. The boat was a pleasant journey and the fellow tourists were a mix of Swedish, American, German, English, etc. There were at least 3 people from Indiana...
The designated area for tourists is small, but pleasant, and well worth a trip. There is a small pop-up stand for coffee and pastries. I tried the spinach & sheep cheese empanada-type pastry with a cup of coffee. Highly recommended. The museum presented miniature depictions of what a long hall would have looked like, what the village of Birka looked like, etc. Only a small percentage of Birka has been excavated. Any archaeological excavations have been largely funded by a private investor.
The tour took us around burial mounds (now, like at Gamla Uppsala, covered over by grass) and to where the fort would have been, where they assume the vikings would have lived.
Vikings, you see, are not a tribal people, they are not an ethnic group. To be a viking was a profession.
The tour guide pointed to a field.
"That is Birka."
"I know, you are all impressed." He laughs.
After the boat docked at the city center, I met up with Sara and Emma for dinner at the gay-owned Mälarpaviljongen.
Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.
This place has the BEST atmosphere of any place I have ever been too. This can probably be attributed by the fact that it is completely on the water, surrounded by plants, with enclosed gazebo dining areas, a floating barge area, etc. (Check out the website and see for yourself!)
Though I felt completely underdressed next to the fashionable Swedes who were just getting off of work (I had just done the day tour to Birka, predictably dressed in my green hoodie and jeans, looking like I had gotten some sun, my long hair a mess)...
It DIDN'T matter!
The food was great and the menu was mostly full of traditional items. I had salmon with potatoes in hollandaise sauce, broccoli, and microgreens with a glass of white wine. I asked Emma if salmon and potatoes could be considered traditional and she said yes. Emma got herring with lingonberries, and potatoes. Sara had a shrimp cesar salad.
What a treat it was to wine and dine on the water under the gorgeous summery sun after a day of historical sightseeing on Birka.