Day 69 – Gods Old and New

Uppland

Uppland

We cross central Stockholm – the traffic almost non-existant, despite this being middle of the week – again, this time by car, lured by a vague rumour of the Campingaz bottle store in the Vasa Harbour. Campingaz, though widespread in most of Europe, is notoriously difficult to find in north of Denmark, and we wouldn’t want to get stranded without gas in the north wastes of Finland. The rumour proves true – and with a new full supply of cooking gas we head off, leaving the city by way of Solna and northern, non-descript suburbs, towards Uppsala.

Uppsala is the fourth largest city of Sweden – though that’s not saying much; once an ecclesiastical capital, now it’s a proud seat of one of the finest universities, whose graduates include some of the most famous sons of Sweden – Celsius and Linnaeus. The city’s main landmark, visible for miles, is the mighty gothic cathedral, the only “proper” cathedral of Scandinavia, lofty in its brick spires and full of raw, Germanic strength… although to be perfectly honest, you’d have to see all the other churches and cathedrals of Scandinavia to appreciate how impressive this temple once must have been. In the rest of Europe, it would barely register among some of the larger town parish churches…

We don’t stay too long in Uppsala – it’s still too hot, and the neighbourhood of the cathedral does not offer much in the way of shade of respite, apart from a nice, narrow river spanned by dozens of handsome wrought-iron foot bridges. There are parks and gardens all around the old town, including the most famous one, Linnaeus’ botanical garden. But we leave those to lovers of botany; we are more interested in things that are even less alive than plants, and so we move a few miles north of the “new” city to the otherwise insignificant suburb of Gamla Uppsala.

Here stands the reason for Uppsala’s mighty cathedral. Three impressively tall Dark Age mounds stand in a neat row, making the best effort to imitate Giza’s pyramids, with an Iron Age burial ground trailing at the end. Rather surprisingly, on the other end, stands a small brick church. Taken together, all this forms the Gamla Uppsala: pagan Scandinavia’s Vatican, the remains of the mightiest and most famous pagan temple and holy centre. The Viking descendants of those buried under the mounds continued to worship Odin, Thor and their brethren here late into 11th century, until the final offensive of Christianity. The now-small church is what remains of the original Uppsalan cathedral, built upon the foundations of the ruined pagan temple. Consumed by repeated fires in what must have seen a vengeful wrath of old demons, the cathedral and the accompanying see were moved to its current position in the south, leaving the ancient tombs and their secrets in peace.

The church, though a largely fairly modern, 19th century built, is interesting in itself, as it contains within its walls two old runic stones, one of which describes a journey undertaken by a certain Viking mariner to distant England.

Now we are definitely finished with Sweden. A longish car drive along a narrow, meandering road over the lakes and through forests later, we stop at a small campsite near Grisslehamn harbour – from which a ferry will take us to Aland in the morning.

This has been the longest stage of the trip yet – 16 days, over a thousand miles on the road – and the most varied. We were blessed with some fantastic weather: a far cry from last year’s winds and rains; we’ve earned a fair number of blisters – and we saw How to Train a Dragon 2 with Swedish subtitles 🙂 Stockholm gripped our hearts, Malmo surprised us, and Scania’s villages stunned us with their rose-clad beauty, but it should be a nice change to leave all that behind and face the raw wilds of Finland.

A sign in Gamla Uppsala, urging the public to walk ON the grass.

A sign in Gamla Uppsala, urging the public to walk ON the grass.

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