The motorway along the eastern side of Sweden goes through a beautiful country, a true Northern landscape of spruce forests and lakes, green rye fields, golden rapeflower and seas of flax in full bloom, azure, gleaming like water from a distance.
The land is rich with the legacy of industrial revolution: canals, ruined factories, remnants of paper mills; and nowhere more so than in Norrkoping: Sweden’s “Manchester”, once the capital of a thriving textile industry, based on a crossing of rapids and waterfalls pouring through the centre of the city. Once the factories floundered, unable to compete with cheap Asian products, Norrkoping drastically reinvented itself (as one does) as a hub of design, creativity and student life. The waterfalls, once harnessed to power the mills, are now tourist attractions and stunning visual landmarks, as is the old factory district, taking up most of the city centre, now transformed into offices, university campuses and museums.
The Gota Canal cuts through all of Sweden from east to west (or west to east); it links Baltic and Atlantic, is an immense engineering achievement, and a great alternative way to see inland Sweden. It links the two great lakes, reaching Goteborg in the West, but in the East it starts inconspicuously in a small hamlet of Mem, where we stay the night. It is a charming bit of the country, where river, canal and sea join together seamlessly, and reminds us very much of the canals of England and Poland. The entry lock is busy all day, as small steam cruise ships putter back and forth between the small sea islands and the towns along the canal. Too bad that, among all this natural beauty, somebody decided to have a loud rave party nearby, which shatters our hopes of sleeping peacefully.
We move fast towards Stockholm, with one final stop at the Tyresta National Park: a swathe of forested marshland 20 km south of the capital, criss-crossed with hiking trails. The easiest and shortest one, the Owl Trail, takes us on a 3km loop around the chosen locations, showcasing the virgin forest’s unique ecosystem. Summer is budding here in the north; there are bilberries aplenty, among orchids and other swamp flowers, amazing beds of moss, and birch trees leaning against each other dangerously. The forest is untamed, which means the trees rot and fall on their own, and after the recent winds we need to tread carefully among the fallen trunks.
Twenty minutes drive from the centre – passing the huge white globe representing the Sun in the bizarre (and epic) Swedish replica of a solar system – of a virgin spruce wood, and suddenly we’re in the middle of Stockholm – the largest city on our Scandinavian route! There is a basic-looking, but decent motorhome site smack in the centre of the city – 2 km from the Old Town – and we’re lucky to find a place for the full planned three days of our stay.