Thursday, February 7, 2013

Travel Series: Gotland, Part One

After hearing so many good things about Gotland from friends and family, we decided that a trip there to see for ourselves was a must. It just so happened that a couple of Swedish holidays (Kristi himmelsfärds dag, or the Ascension in English, and National Day) were clumped together in such a way that we had five days off in a row, including the weekend, so we got an extra EXTRA long weekend without needing to use any vacation days at all. This doesn’t happen very often so we took advantage of it and decided on our trip to Gotland for that weekend. We started planning for our June trip in April. Little did we know that the ferry to and from Gotland booked up so quickly. Even booking two months ahead there were no slots available for cars on the ferry. What a bummer. With some research and luck however, we finagled our plans and decided to rent a car once we got to Gotland and we headed over on the ferry as passengers. Below is my travel journal of our four lovely days on Sweden’s eastern most island.

Day one: Visby

Our ferry arrived in the late afternoon. Not knowing exactly how far away our hotel was we opted to brave it and walk with our luggage instead of taking a cab. It wasn’t such a bad idea, as we arrived to the hotel within approximately fifteen minutes. Check in was a breeze as well and we were given a lovely corner room that had the cutest, mini balcony with views to the sea. In the time we had before dinner we took an exploratory walk around the old town area, or inner city of Visby, which I immediately fell in love with. The quaint cobblestone streets and medieval buildings only added to the romantic charm. Our long weekend was off to a fabulous start. 

For dinner we had reservations at a tapas restaurant called La Masia, located in another hotel nearby. Our own hotel served breakfast only but the staff was very helpful and offered their own restaurant recommendations. La Masia however was selected by yours truly based on reviews I found online. While the atmosphere was pleasant enough, the food was disappointing. The jalapeño popper appetizer, which was one of the things that drew me to the restaurant, was nothing more than a poorly breaded sliver of jalapeño and cheese, with little flavor let alone spice. Their lovely wine selection and outdoor seating however made up for the food and with it being our first evening on vacation we chose to focus on the positives and enjoyed our glasses of wine and the crisp island air. 

Afterward we walked down to the waterfront near our hotel. We strolled along the seawall as we took in the gorgeous sunset, and not too far down we discovered an opening in the wall that edged the boardwalk and decided to go in. There were no signs posted to stay out but we still felt as though we were doing something mischievous. As we strolled around exploring and looking at all of the unusual plants and trees we realized that we had happened upon the Botanisk Trädgården (Botanical Garden), which was open to the public. It was a beautifully, manicured garden and as we wandered through we even met the Botanical garden's cat, who appeared to want company but not affection. Feeling shunned, we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day's adventures. 

Day two: Fårö

After a lovely breakfast at our hotel we picked up our rental car and immediately headed north to Fårö. If you are heading to Fårö I recommend going as early in the day as possible because the wait for the ferry that takes your from Gotland to Fårö can be quite long. We were only seven or eight cars back in the line to the ferry and we waited about forty-five minutes before we were able to board the ferry. Once on the island of Fårö we took the road west to see Digerhuvud and then drove along the coast up to Långhammars. The raukar, or limestone pillars, at Digerhuvud were amazing to see but if you are tight on time I would recommend driving straight to Långhammars, where the limestone pillars are taller and even more amazing, to allow yourself more time to see the rest of the island, and Ingmar Bergman's home which we missed this trip. 

We stopped for lunch at the unlikely Kutens Bensin, a funky little place that served surprisingly excellent crepes. There was a garden out back with outdoor seating where we sat gazing around at vintage cars and old, neon signs from America while we waited for our food. The only drawback was that we arrived just after a large crowd so it took quite a while to get our food. Aside from the long wait however, I would highly recommend Kutens Bensin. The restaurant owner had lived in the United States for many years and he had a strong affinity for the American fifties and rock and roll. He even had a jukebox with a playlist complete with hundreds of old American songs from past years.

After lunch we drove to the sand beach of Sudersandsviken. It was unfortunately still a bit too cold to sunbathe or go for a swim so we took a chilly, barefoot walk along the water, daring to stick our toes in the icy water, before getting in the car and and heading onward to the Fårö Fyr (lighthouse). The landscape around lighthouse was beautifully picturesque, with a stone-covered beach and the Baltic Sea stretching as far as the eye could see. It felt like we were at the end of the world. We wandered around there taking photos and collecting a few stone souvenirs (me) before we started our drive back to the mainland and our hotel to rest up a bit before dinner. We dined that night at a quaint little Italian restaurant called Isola Bella. It had a gorgeous, interior dining room and a fairly new, modernized outdoor patio. We ordered red wine and pizza. Our wait for the food was the only downfall of our dining experience at Isola Bella. It was most likely an unusual glitch because it seemed that everyone around us was getting their food in a timely manner. We waited forty-five minutes for our pizza and when it finally arrived it was literally ice cold. Extremely disappointing. We mentioned this to our waitress, who was very apologetic and nice about it. We opted not to send it back to be remade, as we were beyond hungry by then but she still did not charge us for our pizza. I thought that was a very nice gesture on her part. My husband and I both agreed that we would definitely give Isola Bella another try.

Stay tuned for part two of this Travel Series....

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