Before my husband, Don, and I left Juneau, we knew we wanted to visit the small old towns of Fredrikstad, Norway and Sigtuna, Sweden. Fredrikstad is an hour away from Oslo by train. The ferry crossing takes only five minutes to Fredrikstad Gamblebyen (the Old Town). It was raining.
We wandered the cobbled streets and admired the 18th and 19th century brick and wooden buildings and houses. Don especially enjoyed the large 1674-91 stone warehouse that is now a gallery and art studio.
On this rainy day, the gallery was the most popular site in town. All the art had reduced prices and the employees served wine to their visitors and customers. I especially liked a large 19th century wooden house with carved gingerbread around the doors and eaves. The windows were filled with a variety of old collectibles.
We found the Major-Stuen restaurant. The posted menu sounded familiar. We realized that Lonely Planet recommends the restaurant for its international menu, Norwegian dishes and whale meat. We probably missed our chance to eat whale meat. However, our chicken club sandwiches were piled high with chicken, bacon and salad.
After lunch, we visited the Fredrikstad Museum. I was pleased to see a display of Sigrid Undset novels. Ms. Undset won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. We saw a number of exhibits that featured 19th century life in Fredrikstad, but the printed guides in English were not reader friendly.
From the museum, we slowly made our way back to the ferry and took more photos including several of King Fredrik for whom the fort and town were named. We walked back to the train station and waited an hour for the train to Oslo. It was raining in Oslo as well; so instead of leaving our hotel, we ate a pub meal in the Hotel Stefan.
The day before we left Sweden to return home, we visited Sweden's oldest town, Sigtuna. From Uppsala, we took the train to Marsta and from Marsta we took the bus. When we arrived in Sigtuna, the Tourist Information was still closed.
We walked along the lake and admired the noisy ducks, seagulls and dogs walking their masters and mistresses. We fell in love with the yellow bandstand. We heard firing and saw smoke rising across the lake. Later we learned that the rat-a-tat-tat and booms were from a military base.
Archeological digs indicate that Sigtuna dates back to 980 AD. However, most of the buildings date from the 1700s. In earlier years, fires were common. We found our first runic stone. The historical marker even translated the runic writing in English. We warmed up with hot chocolate. We walked to the Tourist Information and the friendly, helpful blonde woman chatted with us and gave us a map.
We walked to St. Mary's Church that is built of red brick and looks rather modern. However, the Dominican monks began building the church about 1230. The interior is beautiful and light. The side chapels' ceilings, window surrounds, the walls and the carved and gilded altar are decorated with medieval painting. We fell in love with the beautiful Japanese calligraphy of the 23rd Psalm. The calligraphy is written within a fan shaped space on a floral background.
We visited all 10 of the ruined medieval churches that were built in the 12th century. We took photos of the Town Hall that is the smallest Radhus in Sweden. For many years, the townsfolk hid the key to the Town Hall behind one of the shutters.
We saw a number of runic stones along the road, in the yards of private homes and in a couple of parks. We enjoyed reading the English translations. The translation of one of the runes reads, "Gillog and usi had this stone erected in memory of - Arne's son." We learned that Anund was quite arrogant. The translation of his runic stone boasts, "Anund had the stone erected in memory of himself in his lifetime."
The runes are carved into granite rocks and the runes (writing) are now colored with red paint. According to Sigtuna's visitor's guide, "Over 150 runic stones have been found in the Sigtuna municipality. Of these, 25 have disappeared, and only fragments are preserved of another 50."
We took a lunch break and enjoyed a good deli lunch. Don had crayfish salad; I had chicken salad. I have discovered that no two cafes or restaurants serve the same chicken salad.
The Sigtuna Museum features the history of the town that began in 980 AD. King Eric's son Olof "authorized the first Swedish coinage in Sigtuna in 995." The town became smaller over the course of time. However in the last few decades, Sigtuna has been discovered as a good place to live.
We visited the bookstore where I found an English version of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils that is used in Swedish elementary schools to teach the students the geography of Sweden. The author, Selma Lagerlof, and her characters are featured on the 20 konor bill. The book cost me far more than a 20 konor.
Scandinavia includes Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark and the cities of Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. In three weeks, Don and I only had time to visit the southern parts of Sweden and Norway.
Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.
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