“Swedish people love to lose themselves.” commented my friend Isabella. She added with a sigh "I wish I could join you”.
Isabella had her reasons to be upset. I was about to start from Stockholm for Gotland, the largest island of Sweden. The place where every Swedish desires to be in solitude. Surrounded by the Baltic Sea, Gotland is one of the hidden treasures of Europe. In spite of having serene landscapes, pristine beauty and enriched history, Gotland experiences fewer tourists. The unusual high accommodation cost of the place might be a reason behind it. In August 2018, I was lucky to locate a budget AirBnB at Gotland and instantly planned for a trip.
On a Saturday morning I boarded a Gotland-bound cruise from Stockholm's Ninasham port. The cruise had only sitting arrangements. During the cruise many individuals got busy sunbathing themselves on the deck which is a favourite pastime for the tourists during summer. People with their own car could have them parked in the lower floor of the cruise.
There are many restaurants serving various cuisines during the cruise. I busied myself with a cup of coffee and a variety of snacks while enjoying a lovely voyage. It took three and a half hours to reach Visby, the capital of Gotland.
Spelled also as Gottland or Gothland, this is the largest island of Sweden. The province also has the same name which includes the islands of Fårö and Gotska Sandön on its northern side, along the Karlsö Islands (Lilla and Stora) to its western end. The island is small enough to travel across in a day but one needs weeks to explore it in detail.
Deboarding from the cruise I walked towards my desired accommodation facility, located inside the old town. After checking in, I freshened up and started exploring the old town. Like most of the old towns of Europe, the township of Visby was built by the Hanseatic League, a mediaeval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in central and northern Europe which reached its peak by the end of the 13th century.
Fortification of the town was completed during the 12th century. The 3.5-kilometre-long mediaeval ring wall with many of its original towers is still intact. The wall was constructed to protect the town from other enemies. By virtue of its location Visby was an important port of trading in Baltic Sea. Thus, Visby was attacked, plundered and invaded several times.
At present Visby Is a well-preserved old town. Sitting pretty by the streets of the town are more than 200 buildings and homes dating back to a period between the 12th and 14th centuries. The buildings are being adaptively refused as hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes, bar and even as nightclubs. The exterior of the houses remains unchanged, with the interior being modified carefully and aesthetically. Upon entering the AirBnB I booked, the interiors made me think that I have time travelled the Middle Ages. Visby old town is listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO.
Strolling on the cobbled stone pathways of Visby, I could essence the town's past during the mediaeval era. The baroque and gothic architectures with vibrant colours were a treat to the eyes. I went to the ruin of St. Nicholas’s Church. The church was shown in Ingmar Bergman’s movie The Shame. I walked towards Visby Cathedral and witnessed a colourful sunset on the backdrop of the vibrant cathedral.
I took a break in a cafe for ‘fika’ - the most popular word in Swedish culture. Fika means coffee. But fika also signifies a coffee table meeting, chit chatting over dessert. Just like the rest of Sweden, coffee and kennel bullen (cinnamon roll) are popular desserts in Visby.
Next morning, I started early for Fårö - Ingmar Bergman’s tent. Since it was not a touristy season, there was less public transport. So, I booked a car. Driver Joakim drove me towards the ferry terminal. The terminal reminded me of the scene from the movie The Shame where the protagonist Ian and Eva had taken their cars to the mayor's house in the movie. Not only that, but in other pictures this ferry system was repeatedly shown as the only way of communication to the rest of the world. Since there is no school, post office and bank, every resident of Fårö needs to avail the ferry service to reach Gotland. This ferry service is the 'umbilical cord' between Fårö and Gotland.
The car crossed the bridge and I reached Fårö. I wanted to go first to the Bergmann Centre. However, Joakim suggested that I should start with Langamaras beach. This pristine beach is known for its natural beauty. Langamaras beach is world famous for its salt stacks. During the last ice age, sandstone accumulation has created various natural sculptures here. ‘Nature is the greatest architect and sculptor’, I recalled the old idiom. These salt stakes were shown in Bergman’s movie Through a Glass Darkly.
Next, I visited the long-awaited Bergman’s Centre - the house where the great director lived during the last 47 years of his life. Bergman's arrival at this island was a coincidence. The great man was checking out outdoor locations for the film Through a Glass Darkly. First Bergman chose a different region, but then he decided to shoot at Faro. The rest is history. Once in an interview, Bergman confessed about his 'love at first sight' with this island, and yet it occupied a ‘relationship’ space in his consciousness that was as intense as with a person. Apart from ‘Through a glass darkly’ he shot four other feature films in Fårö - The Shame, Passion of Ana, The Persona, Hour of Wolf, a TV series, Scenes From A Marriage and a documentary Fårö - 1979. After visiting Fårö, I realised why the island played as a ‘character’ in his films.
Joakim said, the people of the small island loved and adored him so much, that they helped him even without any cost. Until his time, almost everybody in Fårö was involved in his films. After his dismissal in 2007, his residence was converted to a museum.
The set design of the movie The Persona is kept as is inside the museum. Usually, one of his films is usually played in the projector. During July, the island celebrates Bergman Week - a film festival named after him. The chess board used in the movie The Seventh Seal was preserved there. Surprisingly, the pieces that look like humans; and the position of the board was the same as was in the last scene of the film. The ambience creates an underlying tension in the human mind. It seems like death is asking to play chess against him, this was the concept of the movie.
I came out and Joakim drove me to Gotland. On the way back he showed various parts of Fårö that were present in Bergman’s movies. While coming back from Gotland, I met a man on a cruise. He suggested that I should have at least seven days in hand while planning for Gotland. He was absolutely right.