Medieval Visby

Trip Start May 30, 2014
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15
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Trip End Jun 30, 2014


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Flag of Sweden  , Gotland,
Monday, June 16, 2014

Our final port of call was Visby, Sweden, on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea south of Stockholm. I hadn't ever heard of Visby before this cruise, but it used to be another Hanseatic trading town and has a very long history. Many of its medieval houses and other structures still exist, some restored and some only as ruins. The city wall, built in the late 13th century, is also largely intact. As a result, Visby has World Heritage site status. Today it is a popular holiday destination for Swedes, with numerous hotels and shops geared to tourists. It’s supposed to have one of the sunnier climates in Sweden, but for us it was mostly cool and cloudy, no more than about 15 degrees.

Visby does not have a harbour that could accommodate the Brilliance of the Seas, so we had to use tenders between the ship and the pier. We had little information about Visby from the cruise line or from Rick Steves, so we headed to the Tourist Information office first, a short walk from the pier. There we picked up a map and some suggestions for a walking tour.

We walked through some narrow streets admiring the medieval houses and through what they called the Botanical Garden, but it was really just a park with some flower beds. Given the northern climate, it wasn’t all that impressive. I noticed the lilacs were currently in bloom, much as they would be currently in Edmonton at this time of year. We continued along the old city wall and along the beach in some places, and climbed one of the intact towers for a higher view. Eventually we came to the first of about a dozen different sites with building ruins. It was a church built by the Dominicans in 1235. Much of its original roof was missing, but some modern wooden roof structures had been added to provide shelter from the rain. It is currently used in the summer months for what are essentially outdoor services, given that only some of the walls and none of the windows are intact.

We came to a main square with several outdoor cafes and decided to have coffee there, as it was rather cool. Our timing was perfect, because as soon as we sat down under the large covered patio with patio heaters, it began to rain. We sat there sipping our cappuccinos and lattes for almost an hour, while the girls warmed themselves in red blankets provided by the restaurant.

When the rain stopped, we had a closer look at the St. Nicholas church ruin that faces on the same square. This one had the entire roof missing and Terry and I found it interesting to study the somewhat crude engineering (steel tie rods, concrete infill) used to stabilize the structure so it doesn’t collapse further on us tourists.

The Sankta Maria Cathedral, not in ruins, is currently undergoing a three year major renovation, so we were only able to go into a small side chapel, not the main church.  We continued on to several more, not quite as dramatic, building ruins, stopping at a number of shops along the way. Many of the shops seemed to sell nothing but products made from a certain breed of sheep they said was unique to Gotland. Everything you can imagine made from sheepskin, shearling, wool and wool felt: coats, hats, scarves, slippers, rugs and a hundred other assorted knick knacks, from iPad covers to golf head covers, but all rather expensive.

We were back on board well before the last tender at 3:15. The weather continued to cooperate – no more rain – as we commenced our two-day sea journey back to Harwich, England.
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