Tending to Visby - Sweden's jewel in the 'krona'!

Trip Start May 09, 2009
Trip End May 25, 2009

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Where I stayed
On board the MSC Opera

Flag of Sweden  , Gotland,
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Next stop on leaving Stockholm was Visby. This walled city only has a population of about 23,000 and is situated on the west coast of the island of Gotland that lies off the east coast of Sweden.

Visby is not what you'd call on the 'tourist trail’. The ferry from Nynäshamn takes about 3 hours so Visby is not somewhere you’d normally go for a day trip!

The MSC Opera had only paid for ½ a day mooring in Visby. The ship dropped anchor at 8:00am and was due to set sail again at 1:30pm.  The fact that we were only in port for a few hours coupled with the fact that there were only 2 shore excursions (and one of them was bike hire!!) should have sent a message to my brain that are limited things to do in Visby and the things that you can do, can be done between 8am and 1:30pm!!

The maximum draught in the harbour at Visby is 7.2m and although there are 8 berths, any one berth can’t contain a ship longer than 200m. The Opera is 286m hence me referring to ‘dropping anchor’ for this, my friends, was our first encounter with a tender.

As well as the organisation of shipping everyone ashore by tender having to be in 6 languages it’s only fair that the disapproval and frustration of certain passengers is also aired in as many languages. There is really nothing you can do but wait your turn. The staff do their best to make the transportation as smooth as possible.

On arriving at the tender embarkation station, in our case, the Caruso lounge, you are given a ticket and wait for your turn. It took us about 45minutes to actually embark the tender. This is mainly due to getting all those who have booked official shore excursions sorted first.

The tender only took about 10 minutes to the quayside but depending on the tide, can be a bit choppy. The weather is in the mid 60s and a slight breeze but the tender still bobbed up and down like a restless child trying to escape its mothers grasp!!

We followed everyone else off the tender and headed in the general direction of the town centre. Along the quayside we spotted what looked like a mini train on wheels; the type of transport that when you’re 5 or 6, you wet yourself because you’re so excited. The type of transport that when you’re a teenager or even in your 20s or 30s wouldn’t been seen dead on because it’s embarrassing and tacky and you don’t want your mates to see you enjoying yourself. Well guess what, when you’re fast approaching 50, you may as well be 5 or 6 again (apart from the wetting bit – that’ll happen in about another 30 years!!!) At this age, ‘tacky’ stops meaning ‘’bad taste’ and starts meaning ‘novel and fun’ again!! In my case ‘tacky’ has reverted back to it’s original definition as being ‘slightly sticky’ as in ‘that blu-tac is a bit tacky!!!’

The ‘road train’ is a good way of getting your bearings and seeing what the town has to offer. If there is anything of great interest, you can take a closer look, in your own time later on.

The ride was very pleasant and took around 30 minutes, taking us around the outside of the city wall, along the ramparts and through one of the gates to the old town of this medieval settlement.

After we alighted from the train we headed toward the centre of the town. Visby is a UNESCO World Heritage Town. This is evident from the narrow cobbled thoroughfares that are extremely well preserved.  What is even more remarkable are the CITY walls. I thought you could only have city walls that surround a city. Visby is a town. If I were the one responsible for building the walls to keep out the pillaging Vikings, I would have spread the word that these were ‘town’ walls. The Vikings would have then had second thoughts;

‘It’s only a town. Not gonna be much there. We need to pillage a city. Much more rewarding. C’mon, lets leave them alone in their town surrounded by their town walls. You’ve wasted your time mate. We wouldn’t have pillaged you even if you didn’t have a wall. You’re only a town. Not worth doing…’

A noticeable feature of Visby is the number of churches. There are 15 within the walled area. Every time they built a new street, the architect must have said, ‘ Now what do we have, let’s see. We have some houses, some shops, pavements, a mailbox. Oh I know a church. We don’t have a church. Better build one. Them round the corner have one…’

My overall thoughts of Visby on walking back to the tender is that this is a very pleasant and quaint town with typically shaped Swedish buildings lining the typically shaped Swedish cobbled streets. But you have to ask yourself this: ‘Is this somewhere I would visit if I wasn’t brought here by a cruise ship’ Probably not!! This is not doing Visby a disservice. Apart from a very well preserved medieval wall, there is nothing really in Visby that you couldn’t find on the mainland. Is it worth the 3-hour boat trip to see a wall? Saying that, Israel do OK with their wailing one!!

Half a day only managed to give me a flavour of Gotland and those who know the island better than me would more than likely argue that Visby is not Gotland just like Florida is not as good as it gets in the USA!!! (sorry to burst some peoples bubbles!!)

As the Opera weighted anchor and headed for our penultimate destination, Roisin and I stood on the aft deck as we sailed by the landscape sweeping down to the sea. The rolling hills looked untouched and felt like they were still waiting to be discovered. We stared out to sea until the land diminished to a thin line then disappeared over the horizon. We looked at each other and our thoughts said it all. Maybe I got this horribly wrong!

Go on, I dare you. Give it a go.

We did!

Gotland may just be the jewel in Sweden’s ‘krona’!!
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