Sweden - Uppsala and Gamla Uppsala


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February 18th 2020
Published: February 29th 2020
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Dear All

Greetings again! In this blog entry I will write up about my adventures on my second full day in Sweden. After my first incredible day exploring Stockholm, I thought it would be hard to beat, but it turned out each day was just amazing, and so varied from each other. I felt I really packed a lot into my three days of exploring this small and beautiful part of Sweden.

For my second day, I planned a day trip northwards, about 70km by train, taking around 35 minutes by the express service, to the ancient and historical centre of Uppsala. I was not disappointed. The city is famous for its current status as a university town, but also for its importance in both Swedish and Viking history. I also enjoy visiting a place a bit off the international tourist track, and this seemed to be one of those - a small delve into the vastness of Sweden beyond the city-break centre of Stockholm.

I left my accommodation around 9am, and was amazed to be able to make it to Stockholm Central station to take the 10.07 express train to Uppsala – I was aiming for the 11.07, or even the 10.37 if possible, but the swiftness and efficiency of Swedish public transport took me by surprise, and I was happy to be spending an additional hour on my trip for the day. The train was super modern, with two storeys, and I enjoyed the journey, gazing out of the window while listening to my favourite Abba songs which I had specifically downloaded for my visit – I’m not into the classic “Mamma Mia” type of Abba song, but more the group’s amazing B-Side, Swedish folksy and little-known types of music, such as songs including “The Piper”, “Move On” and “People Need Love”. I had also bought a CD of Abba singing in Swedish, some of the songs I had downloaded here too, which I thought was a great way to help me further in learning Swedish. It was lovely watching the urban landscape turn suburban and then rural, with Swedish pop music in my ears. As we were approaching Uppsala station, we also passed by the one and only Ikea store that I spotted during my time there. Along with a classic, right-angled Volvo car which I had seen and photographed the day before in Stockholm
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Uppsala
just outside the Kungliga Slottet, Royal Palace, in the Gamla Stan, I had now ticked off all the classic Swedish experiences – Abba, Ikea and Volvo – yay!

The station was modern, and I made my way to what I thought was the Tourist Information Centre, only to find out it had recently closed, and I was to rely on my Lonely Planet and Google Maps for travel information – no problem there really. I have found Google Maps, along with another amazing app Maps.Me, to be so much more valuable I think than a guidebook, in being able to locate not just where one is, but also search for nearby sights of importance, and most importantly get amazing up-to-date travel and public transport information. My visit to Uppsala first took me to its beautiful waterway running through the middle of town, the Fyrisån River, and its surrounding old and classic buildings. From there I headed towards the city’s main attraction, the stunning Domkyrka, dating back to the 13th century, and with its huge twin spires standing at an impressive 130m, it is the tallest church in Scandinavia. Whilst there, I was able, in Swedish, to find out more information about my main interest in my visit from a lovely lady in the church’s souvenir shop, on how to take and follow the Eriksleden “Pilgrim’s Path” from Uppsala’s Domkyrka, 6km northwards to the church in Gamla Uppsala, or “Old Uppsala”.

The story of the Eriksleden dates back to the times of King Erik Jedvarsson (c.1120-1160), who was King of Sweden from 1156, until he met his untimely end in 1160. King Erik is famed for having completed the conversion of pagan, Viking Sweden to Christianity, and due to this and his martyr’s death, is also referred to as Saint Erik, and the patron saint of Sweden. The church holds his remains, as he was beheaded on the site by Danish invaders on 18th May 1160. The legend goes that his head rolled down the hill from where the battle between the Swedes and the Danes took place, towards the river, and where it stopped, there sprang up a spring of water which remains a well to this day. Apparently upon touching his body, a blind woman was able to see, and so began the miraculous healings attributed to this man, and the saintdom was soon bestowed.

Erik’s body was originally buried in the church which existed at the time, 6km away to the north in Gamla Uppsala. When the new Domkyrka was built in modern day Uppsala in 1273, his remains were moved there, but every year on the anniversary of the day of his martyrdom, 18th May, his remains were carried in religious procession from the Domkyrka, along the Eriksleden pilgrim’s path, to the church in Gamla Uppsala, hence the beginnings of this short pilgrim path which pilgrims and tourists such as myself still follow to this day.

So having located the beginning of the pilgrim path, I began the gentle stroll, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The weather was fair but breezy, and it seemed I was the only tourist in town let alone on the pilgrim’s path. It was easy to follow, guided by a symbol every now and then on nearby posts, with arrows pointing in the right direction. I also had a Swedish map and information leaflet, which I could just about understand, to inform me of interesting places along the way.

The walk took me first upstream along the Fyrisån River, and then northwards through the suburbs of Uppsala. Upon reaching the outskirts of town, I passed by some more gorgeously cute, gingerbread-style Scandinavian cottages, noting once more as I had done the day before in the area around my accommodation, the great number of flagpoles displaying the Swedish flag on numerous homesteads dotted around. It was good to see the Swedes being proud of their country, as they should be. From hereon, the path passed by farmland, and then a slight pre-arranged detour took me through a beautiful forested wilderness area called the Tunåsen Ridge, climbing a hill to a spectacular viewpoint from where you could see all the way back the 6km to Uppsala and its Domkyrka and spires in the distance, and straight on and down to the end of the pilgrim’s path, where it reaches the fascinating attraction of Gamla Uppsala. In just under two hours, I had arrived at the end of the Eriksleden, and was looking forward very much to what was lying ahead.

Gamla Uppsala was actually my main purpose in visiting Uppsala. Ever since hearing about the location in an episode of the amazing “Vikings” TV series just over a year ago, I had been interested in visiting the place. Gamla Uppsala is said to be the location of an ancient spiritual centre of the Vikings, whereby tribes from all over the region would come and worship the Norse gods, including Odin, god of war, Thor, god of thunder, and Freyr, god of fertility. It is also said that every nine years, mandatory participation at a sacrificial festival there was required of everyone. During the festival, nine males of every kind of animal, as well as humans, were sacrificed and hanged up in a nearby sacred grove. However, since the German medieval chronicler who wrote about this tradition, Adam of Bremen (c. 1050-1081), never actually visited the site, but only heard about it from others, controversy over whether this actually happened exists.

What is certain, however, is that Gamla Uppsala during Viking times was an important burial centre, with its three large Royal Mounds, and 300 smaller mounds, dating from the 6th to the 12th centuries, making it famous and popular with visitors today. Just behind the three main mounds lies the Gamla Uppsala Church, once the most important religious centre in the region and the centre of the Archbishopric of Sweden from the 11th to 13th centuries, after which the ecclesiastical centre of the state was moved south to the current Domkyrka in Uppsala. The original building experienced a fire in 1240, and subsequently the large nave and transepts of the cathedral were removed, leaving behind the very short, blunted-looking yet very attractive building one sees today. It seemed so incongruous yet at the same time sincerely photogenic, to see the beautiful little church situated in the middle of the ancient, pagan burial mounds. Perhaps it was intended for the seat of Christianity in Sweden to be sited upon the old seat of Viking paganism, as many a Christian conqueror has done in the past throughout the world, presumably showing the conquest and power of Christianity over paganism. Just behind the church lay an open, terraced area, which is said to have been the location of an impressive Royal Hall, housing the Viking rulers of the region at the time between the 6th and 8th centuries. Nearby, legend also has it that the great Yggdrasil Tree grew, beside the afore-mentioned sacred (sacrificial) grove. This was an evergreen tree, believed by the Vikings to be the world itself, actually one of nine worlds in total (nine seems to have been a very important number for the Vikings!), with a rainbow bridge called Bifrost linking these various worlds of the gods, spirits and humans. I found all of this information to be fascinating, having heard snippets from various sources on such a tree, but never having quite known much about it. Alas, it seems to be only legend though, as while Adam of Bremen, and also Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 1241), had both written about such stories and places, archaeological digs in the area have not yet come across any signs of sacrifices or the sacred tree itself.

Upon arriving in the beautiful Gamla Uppsala, it was just after 2pm, and I had planned my arrival to coincide with lunchtime, and another “Dagens Lunch” at the amazing Odinsborg Restaurant onsite. Whilst upstairs the restaurant was filled with Viking artefacts and decorations, only the café downstairs was open, but they still whipped up another mean lunch menu for me, consisting of delicious bacon, potato, sauce and lingonberries, with bread, salad and coffee on the side. Having nourished myself once more after my mini-pilgrimage, I enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours exploring the site and its attractions. Once again, I was one of the very few visitors there, and I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around and getting a feel for the place, its culture, history and what amazing happenings must have gone on there over hundreds of years of Swedish and Viking history.

Just as dusk was approaching, I decided to take a bus back into town again, not feeling particularly up to the return 6km journey of the Eriksleden once more, and arrived back in Uppsala just as the sun was setting. I had just about enough daylight time left to hightail it up the hill overlooking the river and centre of town to the Uppsala Slott at the top, stopping by for a brief 20 minute visit to the lovely Upplandsmuseet in town, and a fascinating exhibition there on the Sami people of northern Scandinavia, before it closed at 5pm, on the way. Uppsala Slott is important in Swedish history as it contains the state hall were Kings of Sweden were enthroned from the 16th century, when King Gustav Vasa built it, to the 18th century. King Gustav Vasa (1496-1560) is credited for having begun the modern state of Sweden, after the collapse of the Kalmar Union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway in 1523. His day of coronation on 6th June is now celebrated as the country’s national day. The Uppsala Slott was beautiful and imposing, but due to it being the tourist off-season, was not open for visits. After a few photos of the castle from the outside and the city below, I headed back down the hill again, across the river and through the town, back to the train station, where I caught another express train heading back once more to Stockholm.

It had been a wonderful day of explorations of the beautiful city of Uppsala, the truly intriguing site of Gamla Uppsala nearby, and the taking of the Eriksleden Pilgrim’s Path between the two. I was heading back into Stockholm again once more, where Sweden’s amazingly efficient public transport system would take me back again to my extremely cosy lodgings back in Trollbäcken, for a lovely evening of Swedish beer, self-catered food and contemplation of my second amazing day in this wonderful country.

I shall write up about my final full day and return journey back to London again in my next one, the third and final blog entry for this mini trip to Sweden.

In the meantime, thank you for reading, and all the very best for now.

Alex


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29th February 2020

Folksy Music
If you liked the folksier music of ABBA you'll probably enjoy Nordman. ) Glad you had an enjoyable second day as well. :)
1st March 2020

Folksy Music
Great, thank you my friend. I shall look into the music of Nordman 😊
1st March 2020
Gamla Uppsala

The burial mounds
I remember seeing those burial mounds myself the olny time I did some sightseeing in Uppsala myself (alsmost 30 years ago). We have plans on going to Uppsala some time. It just never happens because it is too easy to go there for us. Did you know that Carl Linnaeus worked out of Uppsala. I Think his old home still stands there and it might be a museum today. If you are into Viking history you need to visit Birka, a Viking settlement (no, rather Viking City) in Lake Mälaren. I guess you didn't see it this time because there is no boat traffic running there in winter. In summer, during vacation season, there are boats going there and the museum is open and they have guided tours. /Ake
1st March 2020
Gamla Uppsala

The Burial Mounds
Wonderful, thanks for this Ake. There is so much to see in Sweden, I do hope to be able to return at some point too see more. Birka sounds really interesting, and right up my street - I'm very much interested in Viking history. I didn't get to see Carl Linnaeus's house this time. It is very true that we rarely get to see places that are close to us. There are just so many amazing places to see in this beautiful world! Thank you for reading my blog 😊
12th March 2020

Trains, music, and burial mounds
I could hear you enjoying your Abba as the train moved swiftly north. This location has a lot of spiritual energy and significance from the sounds of it. Beautiful architecture.
14th March 2020

Spiritual Energy
Gosh, I think you're right, there was indeed spiritual energy there - I don't think I realised it at the time, but it seems so clear now...!
12th March 2020
Me, Fyrisån River

Along the river front
Nice.
14th March 2020
Me, Fyrisån River

River Front
Thank you :)
21st March 2020

So much history!
I really knew nothing about Uppsala at all before reading your excellent account of it. Ironically, I have a travel blogger friend who lives there (or closeby) and I have met her twice at "Euromeets" which I mentioned in some of my blogs. BTW, I used to like Abba's music quite a bit. Nice photos, Alex!
21st March 2020

Swedish History
Yes, I think Uppsala has a lot of places of historical importance for Sweden. It was lovely being there. Small world about the nearby travel blogger! Maybe I passed them on a cobbled alley somewhere...! And great to hear you also like Abba music 😊
12th May 2020

Erikleden Pilgrimage
My wife Linda has called off our Scotland trip planned for Aug 2020. So I am looking for an alternative with pilgrimages being something she has agreed to in the past. And I have an ancestral link. Recently, through a distant cousin, I learned that my ancestor, Galfridus FitzWalter de Northcote, was related to the Vikings who occupied Normandy. His five times great grandfather was Rollo "The Viking" Rogenwaldsson, the 1st Duke of Normandy which the king of France gave to him in return for keeping other Vikings from attacking Paris. Rollo "The Viking" participated in the attack on Bayeux, Normandy in 890 after being banished to the Orkney Islands in 876. Rollo descended from three Earls of North Trondelag, Norway and four Kings of Vestfold, Norway. The first of these kings came from Sweden (which somewhat explains my 7% Swedish DNA match), and were descendants of 19 kings of the Yngling dynasty, as recounted in the Yngling Saga, which goes all the way back to 240 AD. Yngling means descendants of Freyr, a Norsk God who was likely immortal, and his wife Gerd, the daughter of a giant. Beowulf also features in this saga. This line goes back 60 generations and 1760 years! So now I am planning at trip to Oslo and Uppsala.
12th May 2020

Pilgrimage
Sorry to hear of the cancellation of the plans for your Scotland visit this summer Bob. Your thoughts on a new pilgrimage to Oslo and Uppsala sound very exciting, and I wish you all the best in the planning there. Take care and all the best 😊

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