Thursday, September 10, 2015

One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island)

Skälvik pier cottage on Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |

Our second summer in Stockholm has turned out to be the summer of visitors. First there were friends from New York whom I and another New York transplant in Sweden did a "beach" week with in Båstad in June, then my mom in July, followed (briefly) by my brother at the end of last month, and finally, my friend from San Francisco, whom I last saw two years ago when I spent July 4th with her and her family in North Carolina, just left after a few autumnal September days in Stockholm.

We kicked off her trip with our (now traditional) "Welcome to Sweden" herring and korv extravaganza dinner and then, after multiple checking of weather reports, decided that the next day would be the best option for our hoped-for boat trip out to the archipelago.

I had previously narrowed down the possibilities to Svartsö (Black Island, but for some reason billed as "the greenest island in the archipelago") and Gällnö (known as "the genuine archipelago experience"). Each were about an hour and a half from Stockholm and I'd not been to either, so it would be something new for her and for me.

As both sounded charming, we decided on Svartsö since the boat schedule was more accommodating, allowing us to leave at midday and return by 5PM with a reasonable 2 hours on the island.

In theory it should have been a lovely day, despite the cloudy skies, but as we scrutinized Strandvägen's berth numbers for our boat and I finally saw the contraption that would take us out to the archipelago, I began to have my doubts.

After more than a year in Sweden I've had time to take quite a few boats out to the archipelago (Grinda, Sandhamn, around the Åland Islands, and Artieplag / Gustavsberg) and every single one of them were pleasant to be on. Not luxurious, but charming, clean, and the type that wouldn't embarrass someone hoping to show off their new hometown to a visiting friend.

As we walked down the gangway and plodded along the well-trod carpet trying to find a space amidst the suitcases, baby strollers, and leashed dogs, I no longer had doubts, but well-founded dismay. We squeezed ourselves into the last two available spots at the back of the boat, smushed against the window and made the best of it, opening up magazines and settling in for the ride.

The view beyond the glass was beautiful, though, and towards the end of the trip, after the seats near us were vacated by people disembarking at the port before ours and a couple and their baby sat down, we found out why the boat was so crowded. A large Swedish-Danish wedding was planned for that weekend on Svartsö and many people were heading over to start the festivities.

As we pulled into port we saw a small gathering of people waving Swedish and Danish flags and waiting to welcome the wedding guests with a hug and a cocktail. The revelers went off to the left, and we veered right after seeing signs pointing to a hotel and a garden cafe, both of which could be good options for lunch.

Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |

We left the two or three small cottages at the pier behind us and promptly found ourselves surrounded by the sweet-smelling woods. Pine trees, moss-covered rocks, and birches lined our pathway as we set off briskly across the island. Soon we came across a flock of sheep puttering in their field and soon after that clusters of bicycles began to pass us carrying the wedding guests to the island's hotel.

A little bit after that I realized I was in need of a bathroom, and a moment after that, it began to rain. Luckily we had umbrellas with us, but the combination of not quite knowing when, if ever, we'd come across a shelter of some sort and the realization that we'd already been walking for almost half of our allotted island time rendered us a bit anxious. But then the ridiculousness of the situation won out over our disappointment and we ended up laughing our way further down the road.

We came to a crossroads with a sign pointing back the way we had come to the island's secondary port (note: that was the first signage we had seen since leaving the primary pier and hadn't seen anything previously signaling a turn off to the other pier) and a sign pointing to the left for the hotel and restaurant. Not quite knowing what to do, as the distance to the latter seemed to be quite far and we weren't sure if we'd make it back to either pier for the boat home, we stood there bewilderedly under our umbrellas.

A moment later a woman riding a four wheeler came from the direction of the hotel and I flagged her down. She shared the unsettling, yet by then, not surprising, news that the hotel and restaurant are no longer on their summer schedule, meaning that they're only open on the weekends (of course we were there on a week day), and that we wouldn't make it there and back before the boat came in any case. In addition, the closer pier was definitely the safer bet, but there was no bathroom there, just a little shelter.

Seeing my condition and that I was nervously hopping from foot to foot, the lady kindly offered to give me a ride the few hundred feet down the road to the local school, where she was heading for work, so I could use the bathroom there. I heaved myself up and we set off while my friend followed on foot. By the time I made my way out to the schoolhouse's porch, she had arrived and had her turn.

Before we took off for the pier our hero gave us one final piece of advice: pull the cord on the pier's semaphore so it flashes the white side towards the passing ferry boat, otherwise the captain won't pull over to pick us up.

Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |

A few minutes after we found the lane leading to the secondary pier the rain stopped and the sun peeked out. We arrived at the pier with twenty minutes to spare before the boat was scheduled to pass by and after we pulled the semaphore cord and noted that an odd personage (who would have been at home amidst woodland creatures) was peering out at us from the tiny cottage at the foot of the pier (pictured at the very top), we plopped ourselves down and each reached into our handbags. My friend had stashed an apple she'd bought on the way to Strandvägen that morning in hers while I'd tucked a quickly-made just-in-case sandwich into mine before we left the apartment.

When the boat finally came by we charged on, put our bags down, ordered two beers (one alcohol free, naturally) and relaxed knowing we'd be back amidst civilization soon. While the meander through the woods was relaxing, enjoyable and grounding, as frolics in the forest tend to be, I could have done without all of the agitation, uncertainty, and less than stellar travel conditions. But we laughed about every single comical thing that befell us and agreed we'd end the day on a high note.

Which we did, as we went directly from the gangway upon arriving in Stockholm to the Hotel Diplomat's T/BAR across the street. We settled ourselves on the outdoor terrace below an overhead heater with the now-brightly-shining-sun pointed directly at us and had ourselves a few more drinks and nibblies and much more laughter before we headed home.

Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |

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