Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Visit a Big Gun on an Island

On our last full day in Sweden we decided to go see an artillery battery. 

We did!  And we enjoyed it!  You would have too, don’t kid yourself.  It was interesting and in a gorgeous place and really what more could you want? 

The Batteri Landsort sits at the northern end of the island of Oja (and you’ll have to imagine the umlaut over the O because while I have been informed that I could put it in there if I took the time to figure out how to do so I choose not to out of sheer brazen obstinacy).  The island is also often called Landsort, and that makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it.  Oja is the southernmost island in the archipelago of surrounds Stockholm, though not the southernmost island in all of Sweden.  Sweden’s coast is ragged and full of islands, and of Swedish islands there is no end.  It’s one of the nice things about Sweden.

You can’t get there by car – there’s no bridge – so you have to take the ferry.

We drove down to the Ankarudden harbor, south of Stockholm, to the ferry port that morning.  It’s about an hour’s drive, and we enjoyed ourselves on the trip the way one does when traveling with friends, chatting and watching the scenery go by.  We were running on something of a tight schedule though, since the ferry only runs a few times a day and we wanted to spend as much time as we could on the island.  Plus we had an appointed time to tour the battery and we didn’t want to miss it.

We got to the ferry with about ten minutes to spare, bought our tickets, and made ourselves comfortable.

It’s a lovely ride, really, along the coast from Ankarudden, and you can watch the scenery pass by either from inside the ferry or from the seats up on the rooftop.  You pass by any number of other islands – some of them bigger than Oja, and some of them barely the size of the ferry.  There are islands with people on them, and islands with birds on them, and sometimes just islands with trees on them.  We passed them all by, each and every one, and continued on our way.

The harbor is tiny, as you would expect, but with a bit of maneuvering we reached the dock and piled out onto the pier.

The ferry drops you off at the only real village on Oja, a cluster of homes on the southern end of the island that I later discovered was called Storhamn.  There are other clusters of homes here and there, some of which even have names, but this is the main one.  It’s a low-key sort of place – there aren’t really cars on the island other than the occasional 4-wheeler, so everything is close together.  The whole island is less than half a mile across at its widest point and maybe 2.5 miles long.  It’s walkable.

We wandered around the village for a bit until we found a place that would rent bicycles.  The battery is up on the northern end of the island and most of us were planning to walk there, but Sara’s knee was giving her troubles and it was easier for her to bike.  The woman who ran the place seemed kind of surprised to see us but was happy to let us have one of the many bicycles that she had parked in a line in front of her house, and – thus outfitted – we headed north.

It was supposed to have been a cooler day, but the sun was bright and the air warmed pretty quickly as we walked up the spine of the island.  There’s only one road that runs from one end to the other, and as roads go it was pretty quiet – a graveled path wide enough for four or five people to walk abreast that took us through some wooded areas and some shoreline areas.  Oja has always lived off the sea, and the monuments reflect that.

We managed to find the battery – walk until you see the small sign, don’t miss the small sign, follow the small sign when it says to turn right, and there you are – and we sat out on a large rock to await our guide.

Jack was, at one time, a tank commander, and he is a man who truly loves his job.  I think you’d have to, giving tours of an abandoned military base on a small island, because otherwise you wouldn’t last.

The battery itself is actually pretty cool.  It’s four levels plus the gun on top, and it was built during the Cold War to guard against Soviet invasion.  It could house 25 men, though it was never permanently staffed (people would come in for service either when called or on a periodic basis).  It was designed to withstand a direct hit by an atomic bomb.  It was – as Jack proudly informed us – at one time the most sophisticated gun in the entire world, better than anything the Americans or Soviets had.  It could fire massive shells at a rate of 25 per minute and hit things 27km away.  And we saw all of it.

It’s cool and cramped inside, as you would expect, and you find yourself climbing up and down ladders and walking down narrow hallways, but occasionally you turn and find yourself in a large chamber full of whatever it was that they put in it – the bottom one had water and fuel, for example, and there was a big one in the middle for ammunition.  When Mats served his time in the Swedish military he had to do some things that reminded him a lot of what we saw here, which made it interesting that way, and Jack did a really good job of explaining it all.  Eventually we headed back outside through the camouflage canopy and into the sunlight once again.

At this point Sara and Helena went back down to the village on the bike.  The rest of us were supposed to follow by foot and eventually we did, but you know, we were that far north and there wasn’t much of the island left and we figured why not?  So we walked the little bit up until we found it, and my we were glad we did.  For one thing, it was gorgeous.

For another thing there were goats climbing around because of course there were goats.  Why wouldn’t there be goats?  Goats make everything just that much more ridiculous and we need more goats in our lives.  They’re the four-legged version of turkeys that way, except not as fragile.

Eventually we found a little cove where we could explore for a bit.

We also found what might have been my favorite road sign in all of Europe.  Let’s leave aside the fact that there really aren’t cars on Oja – we saw a grand total of one little 4-wheeler on the road the whole time we were there.  Let’s just focus on the fact that enough people drove off the end of the island and into the sea that someone felt it was worthwhile to put up a sign warning people not to do that anymore.  As if a sign would deter the kinds of people who would drive off the end of an island that had essentially unlimited visibility.  I think the kinds of people who need that sign are precisely the ones who aren’t going to pay any attention to it, and you have to love a sign like that.

Immediately after I took that picture I walked off the end of the island and fell into the sea.

No, actually, I didn’t, but wouldn’t that have been just the perfect end to that paragraph?  Don’t tell me I don’t know how to construct a story.

The walk back always goes faster than the walk up for some reason, and in no time we were back in Storhamn, though we did stop along the way to explore the little church by the side of the road.  It’s a surprisingly peaceful place, and I think providing peace is one of the most blessed things an organization can do in this world, so I’m all in favor of anything that creates more of it.

By this point we were starving and ready to eat the paint off the walls, but fortunately there was a nice little restaurant right by the water where we could get not only tasty hot sandwiches and other food, but also tubes of those Swedish butter cookies that we love.  Their slogan really translates as “For the sake of good taste” but when you look at it quickly, as an English speaker, it looks like “For a good smack in the skull,” and really how can you not love a butter cookie that wants to kick your ass with flavor?

This was also the time when it became imperative to find some facilities, and it struck me how informal they were about that on Oja.  There are some bathrooms that are clearly meant for tourists – they’re in a separate building with big signs and all – and there are some that are part of someone’s house except with a door that opens to the outside and a little sign that says you can use it.  It was kind of charming, really.

Since we were already down on the southern end of Oja and the ferry wasn’t scheduled to pick us up for a while, Mats, Maria, Lauren and I decided to walk down to the lighthouse that gives Oja its other name.  The Landsorts Fyr is, according to the map we bought, the oldest operating lighthouse in Sweden.  Most of it was built in the 1670s – the white part – and the red part was added in the 1800s.  You’re allowed to go in and climb up, but it’s quite a hill just to get to the lighthouse so we contented ourselves with wandering around the base and admiring the views.

There’s another set of batteries there by the lighthouse that you can explore if you want to, as well as a bunker leftover from early in the 20th century that you can go inside if you want – it’s kind of small and deteriorating a bit but if you’re there you might as well go inside.

I have no idea what the larger meaning of this statue is (you can kind of see it in the photo above, too), but I kind of like it.  I spent much of my childhood making paper airplanes.  This, folks, is Art.

Eventually other people in our group also headed out to see the lighthouse, but by that point we were back by the restaurant watching the jellyfish swim next to the tugboats, because what else would you do on a sunny afternoon in Sweden?

We made our way over to the harbor again when it was time to go, and it seemed like precisely the kind of place where we should take group pictures.  So we did.

Then we boarded the ferry and took the long ride back to Ankarudden.

It was a roundabout trip home, after that.  For one thing, we couldn’t figure out why the GPS was telling us to take all these tiny little dirt roads until we figured out that it had managed to reset itself to “Walking” rather than “Driving.”  Once we restored it to automotive thinking it turned out that our trip home was scheduled for only a tiny fraction of the time it would have taken us to walk!  It’s these little victories that make life sweet.

We also stopped by the theater where Maria was directing a production of Neil Simon’s Rumors.    She’d actually put together her own performance company to make this happen, and throughout the visit she had to take care of this or that production thing.  Theater is demanding that way.  In fact the day we arrived in Sweden she spent much of the afternoon building a set piece with one of her colleagues out on the lawn while we talked.  The show is going up in a nice little space, and we got to see how it will look.  We also met Maximus, who is handling some of the tech.

If you find yourself in Huddinge this weekend or in early October, you should go see it!

The evening was spent sharing dinner and talking and then getting ready to head out – packing, doing laundry, and so on.  The teenagers all retreated to one room and hung out together for a while, and the rest of us did the same elsewhere. 

It’s a lovely thing to visit friends, but then you have to go.

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