We saved the best for last! On the Long Study Tour for my World of the Vikings course, we went to Visby on the island of Gotland. We arrived by ferry, and it was fun to be out on the Baltic Sea without being able to see any land around us. After we arrived in Visby, we had a guided tour around the city before dinner. I absolutely loved the city wall, Almedalen (the park), and the church ruins. It’s no wonder that Visby is on the list as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plus, the sunsets are AMAZING. I enjoyed evening walks around the city and morning runs along the waterfront.
Over the three days that we spent in Gotland, we visited Gotland’s museum (the picture stone hall was my favorite), learned about The Battle of Visby in 1361 from PhD candidate Thomas Neijman, took a walking tour with a focus on women’s history, and had a discussion with Dr. Maja Bäckvall about runic inscriptions and the modern uses of runes, particularly in games.
The city is loaded with history, so we had a great time exploring and seeing how the city has preserved its heritage. The modern Catholic church is a great example because it was designed to incorporate a medieval basement as its floor—I thought that was so cool.
We had one day off from academic activities when we visited Fårö, a small island just north of Gotland. We rode Icelandic horses to the beach and visited a rauk field—the column-like limestone formations on the beach. I couldn’t stop walking around to look at them because the different angles brought different silhouettes—it was like finding pictures in the clouds.
We left Gotland to visit another island, Öland, which is also in the Baltic Sea (but a bridge connects it to the mainland). On Öland, we drove to two different ring forts (of the 19 forts found on the island!). The first one we visited was Ektorp, a fort from the Iron Age that has been reconstructed. There we enjoyed the museum and shooting arrows with a long bow. After lunch in the café, we drove to the middle of the island to visit the Ismantorp Fortress, which is the largest and probably the oldest (dated to around 200 CE!) of the ring forts. A guide met us there and gave us a great tour (despite the wind and snow showers). After warming up on the bus ride to our hotel in Kalmar, we enjoyed a nice walk to Kalmar Castle before dinner.
I’m so glad we went to both Gotland and Öland because the two islands are such interesting places. Their location in the Baltic Sea makes them rich places for historical finds, and it would be a shame to come to Sweden and not see Gotland, I think. I can’t trust the weather here, but it keeps us on our toes. Nothing like another cold walking tour to make us nostalgic for our previous trips to Sigtuna and Uppsala! We really have been fortunate to go on these academic and cultural visits. For me, having the opportunity to visit these historical destinations not only brings our class readings to life and adds depth to my understanding, but it also makes me feel more motivated to learn and interested in the course material.
We all keep our distance these days, but when it comes to learning about the Viking Age, I prefer to get up close—even if it’s just a very large circle of stones. (Hah—an oversimplification of course. Trolls?)
There is so much to be discovered! And so much Gute Glass to eat.