You begin to feel attached to a city when you take a half-day trip and, as you drive back in the evening, realize you’ve been missing it. Watching the sunset and the twilight colours, the cars on the highway and the skyline ahead, a familiar feeling slowly fills your heart. So, one summer, while I was staying in Stockholm enjoying its slow pace and charming islands, I had a sort of epiphany. This city was starting to feel like home to me. I realized this on my way back after spending an afternoon in Uppsala, north of the Swedish capital.
UPPSALA, A CITY OF LEGENDS
Even though I had already been in Uppsala, all I had was a picture of a snow-covered city surrounded by an icy fog, so I was eager to see it again in a warmer season. And the town I saw this time was completely different from the one I remembered. Bicycles, small restaurants, flowers, the sun-bathed cathedral. Uppsala is a lovely place. Walking along the Fyrisån river, a peaceful feeling descends into your soul. The outdoor tables of the cafés are occupied by students. Young moms stroll about with their children. I know winters can be incredibly cold, but it’s hard not to want to live here, in the welfare country. Life has a slower pace and the air is pure.
GUSTAV VASA AND THE CATHEDRAL
Beyond the houses stand out the spires of the Gothic cathedral. Inside are the frescos telling Saint Erik’s story and the tombs of Linnaeus, the famous scientist, and King Gustav Vasa, whose sword is in the treasure hall. It was Gustav Vasa himself who had the castle built. This imposing building was reconstructed on the hill after a terrible fire destroyed it in 1702. Beyond the cathedral stands Uppsala University with its incredible library, in which is kept the original sheet music of Mozart’s Magic Flute.
But it is Gamla Uppsala that brings me back to the mythical atmosphere of ancient Sweden. The oldest part of the town is surrounded by sweet, green slopes. It reminds me of the Hobbiton village described by Tolkien. Among the trees are small houses with their chocolate coloured roofs. An old Viking church stands alone, with an 11th-century rune stone set into the wall.
OF KINGS AND ELVES
According to the myth, once upon a time Sweden was ruled by the Yngling dynasty kings, semi-legendary figures who lived in Uppsala, where the god of beauty and of the Elves’ kingdom, Yngvi-Freyr, built a temple that would become famous across Scandinavia. And now I’m looking at it. History and myth merge together in the accounts of the birth of Sweden. And Scandinavian legends are full of tales of gods and kings, warriors and enchanted woods, rings and swords and battles. It might be the quiet, or the murmuring wind, or perhaps the light playing among the trees, but there’s magic in the air.
Fascinated by the small towns, we decide to visit Sigtuna, the first Swedish town founded in 980 A.D. on Lake Mälaren. What I find is the typical Nordic village, with a main street called Stora Gatan. In the narrow lanes are hidden little shops and tearooms. Under the summer light caressing the landscape, we go to the marina. There’s a restaurant, the Boathouse Tavern & Bar, and people gather to enjoy the summer afternoons, when the sun never sets. It would be a pity to stay inside in a day like this, but Sigtuna Museum seems to be an interesting place to visit. Inside there’s a curious collection of wooden objects and even pieces of contemporary design.
However, I prefer to walk. I look around, drinking in the colours and the lively atmosphere. I watch the tourists go in and out of the artisans’ shops and the cats dozing on the doorways, following the scent of baked bread and pinewood. The walk brings me to Mariakyrkan. This 13th century church is also one of the oldest brick building in the Lake Mälaren valley. Then I go back to the village.
CINNAMON & COFFEE
One of the little red houses, so typically Swedish, is home to a famous 17th century coffee house, Tant Bruns kaffestuga. Hot chocolate, tea and cakes are served in the back garden or inside, by the fire. I am beginning to think that this place is bewitched. It is too hard to leave. Auntie Brown’s Café, with the smiling waitresses, the lit fireplace and the smell of cinnamon and butter, is a magical place for sure.