For the last nine days, I have been staying in Ludvika in Dalarna, Sweden, with my friend Taren and her precocious ragdoll cat, Toby.
My almost normal blood pressure readings are testament to the incredibly relaxing time I’ve had here in Dalarna, so, instead of a sequential narration of each nap Toby and I took, I’m just going to subject you to the highlights, by topic.
The day after I arrived, Taren and I attempted to find some museums that were open. Darlana has a multitude of tourist attractions relating to “industrial heritage” and railways but unfortunately for me, they only open between June and August. However, we were able to discover one little museet, tucked away in an alley in Borlänge – the CTH Hat Factory Museum! I loved seeing the tools used to handmake the hats, like the shape moulds for all the different styles!
Borlänge (pronounced bore-langer, with an emphasis on the bore due to the lack of interesting attractions) was also the home of a famous tenor and had some golden dalahäst statues that made suitable posing partners for my photos.
Dalahäst are the little wooden horses iconic of Dalarna. While we were browsing in a second hand shop (one of Taren’s weaknesses), I found some dalahäst to buy as souvenirs, which were significantly cheaper than in the tourist information stores. They also had a poster explaining the distinguishing features of horses from different areas. I got a little red horse, which is the popular colour, today, and an orange one, which is the more historically traditional colour. I discovered when we got in the car that the little red horse had a date written on it and turned out to have the same birthday as Adam, although the dalahäst is a little younger.
On Sunday, while Taren’s husband, Marcus, was in town, we visited the Falun Mine. This mine is a World Heritage listed site and, at one time, supplied two-thirds of the copper in Europe. The social impact of the mine was so significant due to the amount of money that Sweden made from the mine and the wars waged from its revenue that it is considered to have changed European history. Falun mine has produced iron, copper, gold, lead, zinc and silver, as well as the iconic red paint which covers most houses in the countryside.
The mine is said to have been discovered in the 10th century by a goat named Köre who came home one day with rust coloured horns from lying down in ore. This makes Falun Mine older than the country of Sweden!
We had a wander around the surface and saw buildings where ore was sorted by child labourers and the shaft house with its annoying, but potentially lifesaving, bell, which rings as notification that the pumps are still working underground. There are also eagle owls who nest in the mine, although we didn’t see them on our visit. The open cut pit wasn’t actually intentional. On midsummer’s day in 1687, all the miners were out celebrating when the mine collapsed so no one was injured. It was touted as a miracle!
We were also lucky enough to visit on a day that the mine museum was open. It was a brilliant exhibit and I especially enjoyed dressing up in medieval peasant clothes, playing the ore vs rock game and seeing the original mine charter from the 1300s!
Taren had booked the three of us on an underground tour. We got kitted up in hard hats and rain coats and descended the stairs, knocking on our way in as a sign of respect for The Lady of the Mine. This mystical guardian had four rules: no whistling (singing hymns was okay), no cursing, no screaming and no spitting. If you broke the rules, you might see the Lady wearing white as a warning, or black when you are past a warning…
The mine is full of vitriolic water which preserves organic material. This meant that there were 300-year-old wooden structures which were covered in water but still structurally sound after all that time. We were told also about a miner in the 17th century who died mysteriously in the mine, only to be found completely preserved 42 years later. His name was Fat Matt (although the Swedish word, “fett” for “fat”, meant more “buff” at that time). He disappeared, wearing his Sunday best, into the mine two weeks before his wedding was supposed to take place. He was identified when his body was discovered by his then 65-year-old fiancee. Instead of giving Matt the overdue burial he deserved, his body was put on display as an attraction. Thankfully, his bones were buried finally in the 1930s.
In the mine, we learnt about the mining method of fire-setting used here and how hoisted buckets were used as transport, although they didn’t stop at each level, so one had to swing the bucket to get off.
We also saw the signatures of royalty who had visited the mine and a completely preserved Christmas tree! And there were some rock bolts, but not as many as I would have expected.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and he jokingly (I think?) claimed that the reason for his expertise on the mine was that he would be turning 326 at the end of the month, having been perfectly preserved by exposure to the mine water!
If you ever find yourself in Dalarna, Falun Mine is a must see!
We also stopped at a mine which has been re-purposed as a concert venue and an old railway round house on our day out on Saturday.
Behind Taren’s apartment is the forest of Högberget. I went for a little wander around there for some exercise.
I took a stroll around a duck pond and the banks of Lake Väsman, which is overlooked by Ludvika, on a day with the most beautiful, fine weather!
I have always admired Taren’s style, which was clearly evident in the way she has decorated her 1940s, wall-papered apartment.
I think that my Grandmother would especially like the Easter Tree of birch branches and feathers, which is traditional for Spring in Sweden.
No proper visit to Sweden would be complete without a visit to the unofficial Swedish embassy – IKEA! I made Taren take a photo of me in a model kitchen to prove I was there.
I had probably more fun than I should have wandering around Swedish supermarkets, trying to work out what the products were. My favourite was a rice pudding called Risifrutti. A dessert taste for breakfast calories! And I noticed as well that you buy jam in sausages. Marcus explained it is because you only buy jars the first time, then you buy sausage refills. Makes sense!
My impression of Dalarna, based on the restaurants that we went to, is that they have pretty good Chinese food. We went to a lunch buffet in Ludvika called Chinatown, which catered to Chinese, Thai and Swedish tastes, with traditional Swedish food for those not willing to try Asian. Of course, there was also a traditional Dalarna horse on the wall!
After our mining tour in Faluna, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for a massive lunch-dinner feast, culminating in banana fritters!
And to top it off, I had a delicious chocolate frog cake and hot chocolate at a patisserie!
Taren went to great lengths to make sure I had a proper Swedish culinary experience serving me salmon with dill and leek sauce, meatballs with lingonberries and Falun sausage casserole. (Falun sausage is traditionally made from the oxen whose hide was used to make the mine ropes but nowadays, it’s like a giant cheerio made of pork.) We had bruschetta and cheese, and went to the state-run bottelo to find me some stouts to try.
I repaid the favour with some Icelandic meat soup and a baked cheese cake with blueberries, which literally turned our teeth blue. I particularly enjoyed the novelty of baking in a climate where you can leave your dish on the windowsill to cool!
As boring as it may sound to others, I had a really marvellous time – staying in, watching the rain from the window, enjoying Swedish netflix, snuggling Toby, painting, drinking tea, gossiping with Taren, practising yoga, writing and taking it really easy. It was so nice to take it slow without any worries, and I am so glad that Taren kindly let me indulge in my self-care in her picturesque European apartment with her very snuggly cat! Tack, Tazza!