Exploring Visby

Trip Start Apr 29, 2011
Trip End Sep 03, 2011

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Flag of Sweden  , Gotland,
Thursday, August 4, 2011

The first washing day. It was a fabulous morning, hot and sunny and ideal for drying washing. Here in the marina there are 3 machines available on a pre-booking basis, with daily pieces of paper put out, demarcated into hourly intervals as from 08:00. At 07:58 we were there and 'bagsed' all 3 machines for the first hour. We wanted to wash our guests’ sleeping bags so that we could stow them away for the season and of course, we had some of our own laundry to do.

Laundry done, we wandered into town, which involved our first hill for quite a long time and got our bearings and found the whereabouts of the supermarkets. We happened across a market and I was quite pleased to find one stall selling Crocs or copies of Crocs at least. The reason for this is that my pair, which had been standing in the sun, had mysteriously shrunk (at least the right shoe had) and were no longer wearable – a mystery. I find these shoes very comfy on board, they are quite spongy and one is on one’s feet quite a lot when sailing. Anyway, I was disappointed in that he only had small sizes so the search was on! I was determined to find some now.

Back to the boat and with a plan for our walk in mind, after lunch we set off back into town. Now Visby is old, very old. It was at its most prosperous in the 200 years from 1150 onwards and it was a very important member of the Hanseatic League that dominated trade in these parts. It had huge numbers of German settlers, so many that the legislation was written in both Swedish and German. One of the reasons why Visby is on the Unesco World Heritage List is due to its remarkable, well-preserved walls, 3.5km of them were completed by the mid 13th century of which significant remnants remain today. These walls served to exclude foreign invaders but also, interestingly, the local farmers. There was a dispute, no a war, between the townsfolk and the local peasant community over rights to trade and in 1288 there was a civil war, which the town won, with the result that Gotland ended up with two republics, the republic of Visby and the republic of Gotland. All was stable until the Danes arrived 80 years later and fought with the farmers, with the city spectating from the walls. The farmers lost and 1800 of them were buried in mass graves, many of which have subsequently been excavated. Seeing this, the city opened the gates and the Danish King Valdemar Atterdag, according to legend, agreed not to sack the city provided he was given 3 barrels of gold and silver. His fleet, with the booty, was sunk and the treasure has never been found....

Visby then became the base for pirates and remained as such for well nigh 200 years. Now the pirates come in Sunseeker yachts and such like but apart from that Visby is now a peaceful place.

One feature of this part of the world is the number of medieval churches that survive. Every one of the old parishes in Gotland still has its own old church (many have several churches) – by old I mean built between 1100 and 1350. This amounts to a minimum of 92 medieval churches! The primary one in Visby is the St Maria Cathedral, dating from 1225 and originally built as a church for German merchants, to become a cathedral three centuries later. There are several other churches in Visby and no fewer than 10 other ruined ones – not bad for a town with a population of only 22000! Now I haven’t turned to religion in my dotage but these buildings and the history they represent, are fascinating and in many cases, stunning. What we loved about the Cathedral were the gargoyles, they were spectacular.

I have jumped ahead of myself a little. En route to the cathedral, our walk took us across a park near the library where I happened to utter to Julie ‘if only I had a net’. This was in reference to a group of young ladies sunbathing, a lovely sight and I hope I don’t offend when I include a photo. I know at least some of my friends will be anything other than offended....

We then pressed on, heavy footed in my case and came up to the city walls. They are impressive, they really do encompass the old town. Dotted around the town are concrete sheep, I guess they denote the Gotland sheep, famous for its fleece and represented on the flags flying in the city. Whether the sheep is the Gotland emblem or not, I don’t know.

Our path then took us towards the Cathedral. There were nice views out across the bay and a substantial cruise liner, too large to come into the harbour, was anchored outside. The Cathedral’s interior was very interesting and restful but having seen so many in our Baltic travels, it doesn’t stand out – but the gargoyles do!

Then it was back to the boat time, followed by a stint in the library on the internet. Unlike most harbours in other countries we have been to this year, to date Sweden does not provide free wifi, rather they offer a Telia (Swedish telecom company) service and again, once you log on the clock starts and doesn’t stop, even if you’ve logged off – in other words, a useless, expensive service. Why can’t they have the German system where you only pay for what you use ie the time that you’re actually connected? Seems much fairer to me. Anyway, the library, only 200 yards or so away, offers free wifi  and they give you a log in id and password for a week’s access. Nice people!

Having made use of the library, to do email, check weather and so on, we also took advantage of the network to download the past week’s Archers and we listened to these episodes, sitting in the cockpit in the sun, drinking beer and eating nibbles, quite content with life, apart from the continuing sadness about Mike. I’ve decided not to mention this again, not because it doesn’t matter but because it does, if you see what I mean. Anyway, decision made, the only other thing to report was our watching a DVD of ‘Fascinating Aida’ – a present to me from Julie and saved for the boat. They are such a talented trio, so funny. In case you’ve never seen them, have a look at this URL as a taster

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