After dodging Dublin’s scores of city buses and swarms of tourists making the pilgrimage to view the Book of Kells – fast-forward – I find myself in the south-eastern Swedish countryside. It’s a complete change in tempo and my very first introduction to Sweden.
Staying with friends who reside on a lovely piece of farmland in Gamleby is a unique opportunity to see something other than the urban, and while Chanterelle mushroom picking deep in the forest, we couldn’t be further from it. Covered head to toe, we scour large areas, lifting tree branches or shrouds of moss, exuberant to find the small, bright orange tufts. Nubs at first, as you dig into the moist earth, large canopies reveal themselves. Uncovering one leads to others close by, that is, if the overly populous wild boars didn’t get to them first. Afterwards comes the prep: cleaning, drying, and cooking: frying in butter or adding to gravy. [Even more fun: picking berries. Wild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries. Berries galore!]
The nearby summer town of Västervik experiences an annual revival every July. Popular with yacht people, campers, and returning former residents, and with the beautiful archipelago for a backdrop, it’s a stage for all sorts of events. It hosts its 3-day annual song festival at the ruins of the Stegeholm Castle and we make the honorary romp into town to check out the ballads, promenade along the lake, and score some traditional fare. Spearheaded by the boys of Abba in 1966, Vis Festival used to attract big names in Swedish music, from folk to pop/rock bands, but the years have seen a dwindling in turnout.
Vendors in the city centre display their seasonal market of goods: old style food and preserves (reindeer meat, rabbit fur, forest berry jams); traditional folk clothing; and even antique steam engines. (I really liked the smoked reindeer mousse. Is that wrong?)
If candles are your thing, you’ll appreciate a stop at Gränsö Slotts Ljusstöperi, a workshop/gallery/store/café in one. The candlestick makers create handmade, classic branch candles with historic Nordic shapes. Using traditional techniques, the thin wicks are tied to sticks, dipped in stearin and formed individually to the right shape, and then dipped again. The smooth, white, tapered candle is organic, non-drip, clean burning, long-lasting and can be custom ordered for all occasions – delicately decorated with coloured beeswax.