There’s No Such Thing As Boredom in This Historic Swedish Town.
It was mid-morning when Simon, Otto, a fellow travel blogger, and I were met at the Linköping train station by Maria, our guide for the day. The weather was mild and sunny, we had our schedule in hand and Maria was ready to show us some of the many delights of her town.
Linköping is located slightly over an hour by train southwest of Stockholm. Tucked in amongst the forests and lakes of the interior province of Östergötland, this friendly Swedish town has enough history, culture and activities to keep even the most energetic tourist busy for at least a week. However, since a day was all we had, Maria made sure we sampled the best of Linköping.
Flying High, Swedish Style
Our first stop was Flygvapenmuseum, the Swedish Air Force Museum, where we were greeted by our guide. Through its exhibitions of over 100 original aircraft, artifacts, simulators and interactive displays, the museum captivates visitors with a chronological history of the development of military aviation in Sweden.
Our guide introduced us to the rattling sound of one of the first aircraft to fly in Sweden. We were standing in the pioneer section, between two of the oldest planes, which were brought from France in 1912.
One was a biplane with a set of double wings. The pilot sat in a cockpit so narrow claustrophobics need not have applied. He was confined between walls with no seatbelt and no roof. We could only imagine how painfully cold it was in November, flying just over 60 miles per hour at 300 feet.
We were able to touch some of the materials from which these early planes were constructed: soft cotton-like canvas, thin metal and a mahogany propeller on the nose of the aircraft.
The plane on our other side was box-like in appearance with a single wing on each side. Sweden’s fledgeling air force purchased both planes in order to determine which was the better of the two.
At first, these planes were used mainly for reconnaissance. Once WWI, began to ravage Europe however, pilots would have to stand up in the cockpit, grab a grenade from the box at their feet and toss it over the side.
We were given thin gloves to put on before touching the wheel of the first plane made in Sweden by Saab in 1939. This one had a bomb hatch and wide landing gear.
By 1945 Saab’s planes were equipped with narrower landing gear, machine guns and a rounded nose; the prop was now located on the tail. It was not until the end of WWII that Saab began manufacturing cars.
We saw the first test model of the planes that are in use today, These were products of the post-Cold War era, beginning in the late 1980’s. They were designed to multi-task, with the ability to do both reconnaissance and serve as fighter planes.
The Cold War exhibits had more to feed the imagination than planes. The exhibit was divided into five sections: one for each decade of the Cold War, 1950-1990. Each section had a model apartment decorated in the style of the decade with music, radio broadcasts and telephone ring tones to intensify the atmosphere.
The 1960s apartment was outfitted with kitchen cabinets that leaned forward in the fashion of the time. I just had to open one of the cabinets to satisfy myself that the shelves weren’t slanted as well. The kitchen also contained a refrigerator with an ice box, which was then new to the country.
Both hideous and bazaar were the figurines of Stalin. These less than charming chotchkes were a stark reminder of Sweden’s centuries-old fear and mistrust of Russia. Added to this was the new fear of spies, brought on by several spy scandals.
By the mid-60s Sweden had the world’s fourth largest air force. When you put this in perspective, however, this ranking was not all that impressive, because of the mammoth size of the air forces of the United States, Great Britain and the USSR.
Today, the Swedish Air Force has a total of 170 planes and an impressive fleet of helicopters. This is far less than the country possessed in the 60s, but these planes are far more efficient.
By this time, we were down to five minutes before we were scheduled for lunch, and we could choose to take a bathroom break or see the 1980’s apartment. Ignoring our bladders, we decided to see rather than pee. Our guide told us this apartment was horrible, and she wasn’t kidding. Arched doorways, poofy sofas and flouncy curtains made me wonder if lunch might not be such a good idea.
In 2016, admission to the museum is free, as it is with all state run museums. A change in government could bring back admission fees, so be sure to check the museum website to be sure.
Interlude with Lunch and Locks
A safe distance from the ghastly decor of the 1980s apartment, lunch was indeed a good idea. We dined al fresco on fresh fish and sides at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the historic Göta Canal.
Hunger and thirst assuaged, we visited the Göta Kanal Bergs Slussar Exhibit, then boarded the M/S Prinsen for a short cruise down the canal and through three of its locks.
The 120 mile long canal was constructed early in the 19th century, and is a key part of an essential waterway stretching approximately 382 miles. It connects several rivers and lakes to form a route from west coast Gothenburg to east coast Söderköping.
The actual cruise takes several hours, but a half hour after we left the dock, the captain pulled in to let the four of us disembark in order to make our next appointment.
Learning by Turning Back Time
After we were dropped off, we strolled up a path running alongside the canal to be whisked off to Gamla (Old) Linköping, a living outdoor museum of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. The turn-of-the-century town was one part of the museum. The forest and farm, which we did not visit, comprised the remaining two sectors.
Although the houses were original, their location was not. They once resided where they were built, in the heart of Linköping.
These buildings were gradually moved to their current location during the, 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. Most of the 80 to 90 buildings were raised up and relocated as complete structures. However, some had to be divided into sections in order to be moved.
There is no entrance fee for this museum, and there never will be, because people make their homes in the apartments above the shops at street level. Some come and go to their jobs outside the museum, while some residents are craftspeople who live above their shops.
During the 1940s, Saab moved into the area and began manufacturing, first airplanes and then cars. Linköping underwent a major change, and the then local leaders wanted to give the town a major facelift by tearing down the old buildings.
A public outcry ensued and with the help and support of an insightful local politician the destruction was stopped. The compromise was to move the historic buildings to another location, thus preserving the town’s memories and heritage.
Today, the municipality funds the museum, along with sponsor support. Those who rent apartments are required to agree to keep the exterior authentic right down to making sure window decorations reflect the style of the turn of the century. Also, barbecues, loud music and TVs are prohibited during the hours the museum is open to the public. This is done to preserve the sounds, smells and atmosphere of the period. The apartments, however, are modern inside, where no one can see.
After imparting this fascinating piece of history and background, our museum guide, dressed in a vibrant deep blue period costume, showed us around the town. A variety of craftspeople were plying the wares and demonstrating their skills in their respective shops. We peeked into a small café where customers were engaging in the traditional Swedish coffee and sweet roll break known as “fica”. And we sampled raspberries from a bush tended by municipal gardeners who do all the planting and landscaping in accordance with the flowers, plants, fruits and vegetables grown in the early 20th century.
We were shown around two of the three classrooms in the school museum. These were replicas of classrooms from three different time periods.
In 1840, only children from wealthy families were educated in private schools or by governesses. Two years later, public schools began opening for children of all classes, and by 1850, there were so many students in this school the children were having to learn in shifts.
Because paper was so expensive at that time, a slate was used by teacher and pupils. We saw this and the, actual rabbit’s paw used for an eraser. Writing and math were also taught by the use of a sand box where children wrote and erased with sticks. A wheel was employed to cut a pattern in the sand to show the children the right angle for forming their letters.
In the 1880’s classroom, the students were sitting at desks with lids for storage of books, and holes for their inkwell. The 1910 classroom, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit, was upstairs.
Entering the kitchen of a 1920’s house, we found soup made from nettles simmering away on the old iron stove. Our guide explained that at that time, Sweden was very poor, and nothing went to waste.
Our guide told us that nettles, when cooked down, taste a little like spinach. With the addition of salt, white pepper and water,the nettles made a thick, hearty soup. And in case you’re wondering, long, slow cooking gets the sting out of the nettles, giving the soup a gentle flavor. The kitchen is also used to make such traditional goodies as elderflower lemonade in the summer and gingerbread cookies at christmas
The family who had lived in the house left many of their belongings, so each piece of furniture and every item on display was authentic.
The museum serves as an interactive wonderland for children and adults alike. During our visit, we witnessed a hands-on demonstration of rope making in the learning area, as well as dying yarn using plant extracts.
The museum also offers weekly activities with themes such as cooking and folklore.
Our last stop was the general store where the townspeople congregated to catch up with the latest news and gossip. It carried everything from shoes to candy, and stocked items likely to have been sold in the store back in the day.
We were sent of with a packet of information about the museum and paper cones filled with assorted Swedish hard candies.
Cathedral, Castle and Calling It a Day
Although it was late afternoon, there was still much to see. Fortunately, Linköping is a walkable town, and the last stops on our tour were in close proximity to the train station.
First, we had a brief tour of Linköping Cathedral, which saw its beginning in the 12th century. A mere 100 years later, the original church began to outgrow its congregation.
A massive building project was begun less than halfway through the 13th century, but the old church was still in everyday use during the construction. Finally, the church was demolished, and its stones recycled as part of the new structure.
Completion of the main church took 300 years. The north door and the Roman arch in the choir date back to the earliest phase of construction. The belfry, the west façade and the tower were added much later.
The magnificent tower and spire soar 351 feet into the Linköping skyline, and is the town’s most prominent feature. Although final exterior touches were added in 1886, the interior is constantly undergoing change.
Like Salisbury Cathedral, Linköping Cathedral was Catholic when it was built. During the Reformation in the 16th century, Salisbury became Anglican, while Linköping was transformed into a Lutheran church.
Our cathedral guide showed us several pieces of beautifully crafted modern art that had been installed in the Cathedral in the last 20 years, including several sculptures.
But one of the most impressive artworks was to be found in the Lady Chapel. Three panels of window glass were etched with the face of a young Mary in the center, and her large billowing cloak. Sadly, the best time to photograph the window was early morning when the light streams in like gold. Now there’s a reason to return if there ever was one.
A short walk from the Cathedral, and we were at Linköping Castle, parts of which dates as far back as the twelfth century. As a result, the entire castle is known as Sweden’s oldest secular structure.
Our castle guide only had time for a brief history lesson at the entrance, but Simon was able to look up the spiral staircase leading to the tower.
It was steep and narrow, ending abruptly long before reaching its intended destination. Our guide explained that although the staircase was modern when it was built in the 13th century, it had been allowed to fall into disrepair. He also made clear a long-standing curiosity of mine about these staircases.
Apparently, they were built so that only one attacker could ascend the stairs at a time. Thus making the upper levels defendable. Also, because the curve of the stairs is clockwise, it made it difficult for a man with a sword to strike anything other than part of the stone wall. That is, of course, if he was right handed.
The castle underwent periods of war and peace. One particularly fierce 16th century battle for the throne culminated in the simultaneous and bloody execution of many of the victor king’s enemies in the town square.
When a massive fire nearly destroyed the town in 1700, the castle was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate. Eventually it was taken over by the town and parts of the castle were pressed into service as the city slammer.
Today the county governor’s reception rooms and private residence are located in the castle.
Outdoors once more, we took a stroll through the town down to the Kinda Canal, enjoying the soft breezes and the sunshine, which was still pouring down on us from high in the sky, even though it was early evening.
A splendid dinner ended our day in Linköping, and we were ready to head back to Stockholm. Maria dropped us off at the train station. This was the only melancholy part of our day. Maria had proven herself to be an excellent guide and a most pleasant companion.
Although we always seemed to be behind schedule, and some of our activities were rushed. We saw and experienced enough to know we would love to return. In some ways, our day in Linköping was a kind of smorgasbord with many tantalizing things to tempt us. We couldn’t devour large amounts of any one thing, or we would miss out on sampling a wider variety of the good stuff. It was delightfully Swedish from start to finish.