Outlaw Biker Gang

Trip Start Aug 12, 2012
Trip End Aug 25, 2012

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Flag of Sweden  , Gotland,
Saturday, August 18, 2012

From PASSAGES: Visby is located on the island of Gotland, the Baltic and Sweden's largest island with an area of 1860 square miles. Over a third of the islands 57200 residents live in Visby which is the seat of the Gotland Municipality and the only "Locality" with historical city status on the island. It is arguably the best-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the most notable historical remains are the two miles of the Ring Wall called Ringmuren that circle the city, built in the 1300s at its current height and the Cathedral of St. Mary, dating back to 1225. Its medieval feel is still very much evident today, rich in ancient history with winding cobbled streets and charming architecture waiting to be discovered.

For many Scandinavians, Gotland is a main holiday island and, away from the city of Visby, there are many fine beaches with a relaxed summer-party vibe, while the sheep farming and wild orchids await those who travel inland.

Visby has been inhabited since the Stone Age and was conquered in 1361 by Valdemar IV of Denmark. In the 1390s, it was taken by pirates, the Victual Brothers. However, an invading army of Teutonic Knights conquered Gotland in 1398, destroyed Visby and expelled the Brothers. In 1409, Grand Master Ulrich von Lungingen of the Teutonic Knights guaranteed peace with the Kalmar Union of Scandinavia by selling the island to Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

In 1411, King Eric of Pomerania had the castle of Visborg constructed, and settled himself there for twelve years.. In 1470, the Hanseatic League rescinded Visby’s status as a Hanseatic town, but in 1525 the merchants of Visby were in a feud with Lubeck in what is now Germany. The Lubeckers burned all of Visby’s churches except the cathedral. Gotland was again conquered by Sweden in 1645 at the Treaty of Brumsebro, after 300 years of Danish rule and has grown and prospered, mostly peacefully, ever since.

Swedish author Mari Jungstedt has set nine detective novels on the island of Gotland. The principal character, DS Ander Knutas, is based at the police headquarters there. Gotland’s fairytale like characteristics, colorful atmosphere, and gentle climate make for a unique and unexpected hidden treasure – a photographer’s paradise. And, while the quaint harbor itself remains the perfect setting for a coffee, wine, or beer, take time to stroll the streets beyond, just like the Vikings did and where hidden treasure and charm awaits for you as it did them.

From Cari and Greg: We anchored early in the morning and boarded a tender boat for a short cruise to shore to the island of Gotland. We were going to explore Visby by bicycle; following a short discussion, we dubbed ourselves the Outlaw Biker Gang. After a short walk from the dock, we met our guide and were equipped with our bikes. Visby is the city on the island of Gotland. Gotland historically was independent before it was overtaken by Denmark. Currently, it is controlled by Sweden.

Whoa. Bicycling around Visby was incredibly easy at times (on long, flat, dirt roads) or extremely exhausting (up a steep, cobblestoned hill). At times, we had to get off our bikes and walk them up the incline. Nonetheless, it was a great and very fun tour! We started our ride through Almedalen, a sprawling park in the middle of old Visby, which is basically everything inside the “wall.” The preserved part of the city is surrounded by a giant, stone wall, called the Ringwall, that spans 3.5 km and took about 200 years to build (the city began building in the 11th century and finished in the 13th century). The wall was high on land locked sides to keep out neighbors and low when backed to water because there was less to worry about on the side facing the sea.

We rode along the wall, heading toward the Powder Tower, one of Visby’s oldest monuments. We were able to abandon our bikes to climb the tower, which we did. It paid off; the views both of inside and outside the wall were wonderful.

We rode through the lovely botanical gardens before heading up the first hill to Klinten, the old workers’ quarters. As we walked our bikes up the hill, we passed quaint, little, rose-covered houses. At the top of the hill, we were able to take in the view of the lower part of the city and the medieval cathedral, Sankta Maria Kyrka (complete with all of its scary gargoyles).

After we had all finished taking pictures, we mounted our bicycles, headed through narrow lanes, and past the eastern gate for a five km ride south to Fridhem. The ride was flat and easy, down country roads, past sheep grazing at the “Lamm Safari” (yes, that’s a real thing), and past a incomplete rendition of Stonehenge.

When we arrived at Villa Fridhem, we parked our bikes under the trees because it had started to rain. Fridhem is a large house that served as the summer home of Prinsessan (Princess) Eugenie, the daughter of King Oscar Bernadotte of Denmark. Princess Euginie had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and, under doctor’s orders, moved to Gotland for a more moderate climate. It was a wonderful coffee break! We snacked on warm pretzels and shortbread cookies and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee, which a welcome reprieve from the rain. 

We returned to our bikes and continued up a hill to the top of Hogklint, a steep cliff overlooking the port. After posing for pictures, we coasted down the hillside past Villa Villehulla (named for the famous house in Pippi Longstockings), and back into Visby, where we returned our bicycles.

We had all the time in the world before we were due back on the ship. We went shopping for souvenirs in the little shops around “downtown” (Greg bought some socks with sheep on them) before settling on the patio of Bolaget, a small restaurant on the square. The square was bustling; the church was closed for a wedding and a flash mob on bicycles stopped right by our table to sing traditional hymns.

After lunch, which we ate with a couple from our ship, we returned to the ship for a lazy evening at sea. 
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