From Rainstorms to Rock Music: Kalmar to Oskarshamn
05 July 2017 | Oskarshamn, Sweden
It seems an eternity since I posted a blog entry, but in truth it’s only been a week. We’ve packed in so many interesting experiences that it seems like many weeks instead. When I last wrote we had just arrived in Kalmar after an exciting sail up from Karlskrona. A rather too exciting docking had left us wondering what damage had been done. We later watched some landings that were just as exciting as ours, and people told us that Kalmar is renowned for its strong and unpredictable winds.
After a good night’s rest we checked out the damage. At one point during that sail from Karlskrona, a piece of elderly shock cord broke, allowing the Monitor self-steering gear to bang from its stowed to its fully deployed position and, we later discovered, knocking the dinghy’s 5-gallon gas tank out of its (we thought) completely secure straps. (The gas tank, we hope, didn’t leak and subsequently washed up on a Swedish shore, where someone can use the fuel rather than us being guilty of an oil spill…) We have one bent metal fitting from our Kalmar docking, which will likely need to be replaced at some point, and our name on the side of the boat will need to be renewed perhaps a bit earlier than expected. We did no damage to anyone else, thank heavens!
Kalmar proved to be a very interesting place, and we ended up staying four days. This was mostly because of bad weather, but also because it was on a direct train line from Copenhagen, by means of which Chip and Kit Gardes could easily arrive a couple of days later.
The first day in Kalmar we visited the Kalmar Slott (castle) which had interesting exhibits of Swedish history, as well as suits of armor, a fully-furnished dining hall, amazing 400-year-old marquetry (pictures made of 17 different types of inlaid wood), royal bedrooms and a secret passage. There were period-dressed young Swedish women, ready to tell us about what we were seeing, including the renaissance uses of herbs and the reasons for the secret passage (for the king to escape his annoying brother, and to use the loo). Somehow we missed the chapel, which Lonely Planet tells us is a highly-sought-after wedding venue for young Swedish brides.
We walked around the old part of the town and saw lots of strawberry vendors, several American shops (Ben & Jerry’s, Subway…) and plenty of nice restaurants that spilled out into sidewalk cafes. An elaborate fountain had bronze panels featuring scenes of mayhem and triumph from Swedish history. Craig frequented the nearby chandlery, looking for various necessary bits and pieces of boat hardware, including a new 6-gallon gas tank to replace the one that mysteriously disappeared between Karlskrona and Kalmar.
Then it turned rainy and windy. We dashed up to the restroom to take showers, and into the adjacent shopping center to shop for food. We got out the sewing machine and made a Sunbrella cover for the new gas tank. We caught up on our reading and used the harbor wi-fi to learn the latest about the weird political situations in the United States. I made a bus trip (in the rain) up to Kalmar’s Ikea to replace a couple of aging pillows. You may or may not be surprised to know that the Ikea in Kalmar is about the same size as the one in Portland. It was absolutely crammed with people escaping the rain to shop for household furnishings and/or eat at the reasonably priced Ikea restaurant.
Chip & Kit arrived in the rain (the train station was about 500 yards from where we had docked the boat), and after they dried off and settled in, we decided to visit the Cathedral in the old City and a couple of interesting-sounding museums. By far the hit of the day was the Kalmar Län Museum. They have an exhibit of artifacts from a 1676 ship which exploded mid-naval battle. Because of the unique conditions in the Baltic (low salinity) and the mud into which the wreck settled, there was very little deterioration. The exhibit included many articles of daily living including leather shoes, complete uniforms, wood carvings, brass navigation instruments that looked to have been manufactured yesterday, all the parts to a nice violin in its case, hundreds of gold and silver coins, and sets of bottles – both pewter and glass – in fitted boxes, some of which had been opened by the museum conservators and found to still contain liquor with 40% alcohol.
After gawking at these incredible exhibits, we found ourselves on the fourth floor where there was a nice restaurant, featuring a salad bar with pickled herring and lingonberry jam. (What more could a person want?) (That was Chip’s favorite – he’s a Swedish herring fan). I chose the meatballs and pasta dish, not realizing that no sauce was included. The waiter offered me ketchup instead. Hmmm… I remember when one of our exchange students, Henrik Olsson, came to live with us, he asked whether we had ketchup to use on pasta that already had quite a bit of tomato sauce. I guess he’s not the only Swede with a taste for ketchup.
The next morning we planned to sail to Borgholm, on the island of Öland. I was awake at 6 am, as was Chip. Our respective spouses were still asleep, so we decided to walk into Kalmar’s Old City in search of coffee. There were certainly plenty of trendy coffee shops we had seen a couple of days previously on our walk through the City. But it turns out that at 6:30 am on a Sunday, nothing at all was open. Coffee shops had signs that they were opening at 11 am or later. We decided that a hotel might have coffee for their guests at all hours. So we made our way to the Stad Hotel on the City’s central square. The clerk said they did indeed have coffee, and he said it was freshly brewed. He offered us a couple of to-go cups “on the house”. We accepted the coffee and took our first sips. Walking out the door we agreed that it was certifiably the worst coffee either of us has ever tasted. Imagine McDonald’s coffee after it has sat on a burner all night. We walked far enough to be out of view of the hotel’s windows, and poured both cups down a street drain. Back at the boat, Craig and Kit were awake, so we ground beans and made good coffee for all before our morning departure to Borgholm in sunshine and light winds.
At Borgholm, we found that no side-ties were available, so we actually managed to tie from the bow to a buoy and from the stern to a floating dock. We hadn’t seen this particular docking arrangement before, but it seemed to be, and was, workable for us on this particular day. Much depends upon the height of the dock and the direction of the wind. As the evening progressed, a lot of wind came up, but we found that we bounced around less with this docking arrangement than we had with a side tie in Kalmar.
One of our cruising guides, by an irreverant Englishman named Martin Edge, describes Borgholm as “The Home World of the Hive,” a reference to the Borg Collective, featured in Star Trek Next Generation. But that description is pretty far-off from what we found in Borgholm. It’s a pleasant town with a sea-resort feel. The Swedish Royal Family has their summer palace nearby, and the residential parts of the town are filled with posh Victorian Swedish houses. (It turns out that the English Queen Victoria had quite a presence here, and she was the one who actually instigated the building of what is now the Swedish Royal Palace.)
We visited Borgholm Castle the next day – it’s mostly a huge ruin, but parts have been restored with interesting historical exhibits. The Swedish Royal family abandoned it when the wood roofs and other wooden parts burned in the nineteenth century. Parts of the castle have been restored, but most of the new work going on seems to have to do with turning it into a “historically sensitive” rock concert venue. Speaking of rock concerts, on our way back to the boat that evening, we learned that the hotel at the head of the docks was having an “after beach” party that evening. The idea was, evidently, that you (hypothetical, young, with-it vacationer) spent all day on the beach and now it was time to PARTY! The weather in the afternoon and evening was awful enough that no one was on the beach, but that didn’t stop anyone from coming to the party. The thumpa-thumpa of rock music during the evening was fortunately mostly drowned out by slapping waves and clanking halyards.
The next morning it was still quite windy, but sunny. We had decided to rent a car and drive around the island. When we first went into the hotel where we were to rent, the electricity was out (apparently on the entire island) so getting signed up was a somewhat tedious process. After the power finally came on, we got underway. The guide book told us that there were over 400 Dutch-style windmills on Öland, so our first stop was at the largest of them. We were able to climb up to the sixth floor of eight, seeing grinding stones, complicated sets of gears, chutes, steep ladders, sail parts, and ultimately a deck with a 360 degree view of the Öland countryside. Unfortunately neither this, nor any of the other dozens of windmills we saw were operational, although there were plenty of modern wind turbines generating electricity for the island.
We stopped at Kaffeestugan in the little town of Böga and had our morning dose of fika (the Swedish coffee-and-pastry occasion which I described in my previous blog entry). Wonderful coffee and spectacularly delicious (and expensive) pastries. Then we drove on further north, looked at a couple of harbors, a lighthouse, more windmills and beautiful scenery. We stopped at a nature reserve to have a look around and found that we had parked on top of a bed of wild strawberries. They have an intense strawberry flavor and were perfectly ripe.
We visited a medieval church, which unfortunately only opens Wednesday through Sunday (we were there on a Monday). We looked at ancient gravestones, where the writing was completely eliminated by centuries of weather. We looked through the windows, but there wasn’t much to be seen. I was interested in this church because it reportedly had a Viking rune stone inside, but there was no joy to be had.
Next we entered a forest preserve where they reportedly had 1000-year old oaks. It turns out that almost all of the Öland oaks had been cut down in past centuries for ship-building. Forests have been replanted, but not many of them contain oaks. We did find some old oaks, as well as beech trees and a beautiful untouched forest floor. Right next to the forest preserve was a huge camping operation, primarily for folks with campers or trailers. There were swimming pools, Segway rentals, kayaks, beaches and who knows what else. Many of the campers had huge zip-on canvas living rooms larger than the camper itself. Obviously, everyone is prepared for rain.
When we got back to Borgholm, we saw a beautiful sunset and prepared to sail to Oskarshamn the next morning. The winds were quiet, so the sounds of another thumpa-thumpa concert or nightclub clearly reached us across the water. Never mind, we slept well that night after our fabulous day of exploration.
When we reached Oskarshamn, we were told that we could stay only one day because they have reservations for boats coming in for the upcoming rock festival (biggest festival of the year). Obviously we’re following the wrong calendar! In fact there was a stage going up about 30 feet from where we docked, and fencing was being erected to separate the boaters from the concertgoers. The harbormaster has assured us that it will be very loud here. We’ve managed to wangle an additional day’s moorage, and the rock concert won’t start until the day after we leave. We walked up into town, got groceries, got most excellent pastries from Nilsson’s Conditeri, and have managed to wash our dirty clothes in the marina’s free machines. Kit is making us a most-excellent lamb stew for dinner, and we’re feeling very relaxed.
I hope this blog post finds you all in a pleasant place and excellent spirits like we are.