Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vacation Diary - Day 8

Gotland is a big island, and most people (I imagine) spend a portion of their trip exploring it by car or bus or by bike. We thought of renting bikes today, but ended up sticking to our tried and true walking routine. This means we've ended up covering only a very tiny portion of the total land mass, but...well, that's just your metaphor for life then...

We got going around 11 am seems our unpredictable sleeping patterns (I once more woke up early and occupied myself for a couple of hours before drifting off again) always net out to the same starting time. We went along the coast to the south, noting that Saturday morning is obviously the big departure time (this also reminds me of the mechanized nature of the classic British seaside vacation - you get rid of the old batch on Saturday morning and a new crowd rolls in a few hours later). The trail wasn't as immediately promising as yesterday, but within half an hour we were walking along cliff tops, with a great view back onto Visby harbour (very busy today with car ferries coming in - it's also a stopping point for cruise ships) and down onto much quieter beaches below. Not to overdo the British comparisons, but the terrain reminded me of it too, with stony paths and lots of hardy little flowers. Yesterday everyone on the beaches was covered up (so much for the myth of Swedish decadence!) but today we could see a woman swimming nude down below us. We found a path down to the shoreline, which eventually led us into the woods. Now it felt like we were far from everyone, but we gradually started to hear a droning got louder, and we suddenly hit a fence, looking through to a kids' go-kart track. So much, once again, for our illusions.

We walked up and found ourselves at a resort called Sommarland, which sounds kind of lame and probably is. We crossed the road and followed the cycling trail into a little residential area, which was pleasant but didn't really get us anywhere, so we retraced our steps, heading slowly back along the top of the cliffs and stopping along the way to eat our cunningly pre-purchased lunch. We headed back into Visby by another path, exploring the upper end of the city, where things are set up for normal life rather than for tourists. Looks like the majority of stores still close for Saturday afternoon, which I personally admire, but perhaps if you live here you just find it a pain in the ass, and you dream of unrestrained retail access.

We ended up back where we always do, today trying out Visby Glass' competitor (actually called Glass Magasinet, not Skopglass) - by the way, I said they have Ben and Jerry's, but before booking your trip, keep in mind a scoop of Ben and Jerry's will cost you an extra 5 kroner compared to the regular scoops. We are not really monitoring our expenditures, but I'm sure Swedish prices are a bit higher (it's an unfamiliar exchange rate so you tend not to focus on it) - certainly our Norway trip a few years ago ended up being relatively expensive. We wandered round Visby a bit more, filling in a few more unseen patches - at certain moments it looks as impossibly pretty as Disneyland - and then went back for our siesta.

We're not getting much insight into the Swedish psyche on this trip. It's a trite impression of course, but people feel pretty self-contained here - for example, when you're walking these remote routes and you pass someone going the other way, in some countries they'll habitually greet or acknowledge you, but here they generally stare straight ahead and keep going. Not that I'm saying we warrant a greeting. But superficially, you get the sense of a country that's figured out its own route in the world and values its inner cohesion (some people say Sweden has a strong vein of racism and corruption...unsurprisingly it's less of a visual melting pot than back home, but otherwise we're hardly here for long enough to explore such undercurrents). Other random observations. Many Visby restaurants supply blankets with their outside seating; hardly necessary this week, but presumably a nice touch at certain times. The bicycle racks sometimes come with little hoods to protect the seat from rain. And Visby even has a university, although one seemingly specializing in just a handful of quirky areas, including motion capture and DNA testing.

Anyway, I started watching Luis Bunuel's The Phantom Of Liberty (so many movies I wish I could watch annually, instead of every two or three years at the most). We had an exceptionally pleasant final evening here, walking round and filling in yet more gaps in the maze, and then randomly choosing a restaurant where we shared a quiche appetizer and chicken/vegetarian pasta main courses, and lots of wine. Then I ordered "grog" because it was on the drinks menu and I didn't know what it would get me, although they didn't seem sure what to do about it either (it ended up being kind of like a whiskey sour). The town was full of happy activity, not just from a presumably new influx of tourists but also from setting up for some water sports event over the next few days. Looks like it's even gonna be on Swedish TV (and presumably actually in Swedish). Must be the place to be!

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