Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Day trip to Marstrand - straight out of a storybook

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Marstrand, less than an hour from Gothenburg, is straight out of a storybook. A perfect day trip destination!

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On my last day in Gothenburg the sky has taken on an ominous dark hue. The scorching temperatures of previous days are so gone. 

Not that I'm complaining (not that I could, either), seeing how my face is so shinged even the thought of moving it hurts.

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The capsule wardrobe I put together for the trip, oozing nautical elegance proves to be highly insufficient for this kind of weather, so my OOTD (that's Outfit Of The Day for those of you not fluent in the professional blogger lingo) winds up consisting of literally every piece of clothing I've brought with me and yet another jumper I nick from Gothenburger.

(What a clever plan - soon he'll have no clothes left and will have no choice but to walk around in all of his naked glory. Mmmmhhhmmm...)

But weather is just a... state of mind, right? So, feeling foolishly hopeful, we set out on our day trip.

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By the time we reach Koön all hope is dead. 

Not only is it cold, but the grey skies start to spit out the first drops of water. By the time we step on the Koön-Marstrand ferry the rain gets riotous.

Gothenburger curses the rain blasting on our faces and retreats to shelter; I on the other hands clap my hands like a manic monkey. On meth. 

The ferry ride over only takes a couple of minutes and I'm already in love with the scenery of Marstrand guest harbour about to receive us on the other side. 

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The first impression of the candy coloured wooden houses remind me of all those quaint English seaside resorts.

"Coming here is so much nicer in the summer", my date grunts. "Though then the place is swarming with them bloody tourists". Ah, the all-conquering power of positive thinking! 

I on the other hand can't wait to explore the place. The colourful wooden villas, the narrow cobble-stoned alleyways, the cheerful ambiance that hangs above the rooftops dancing polka... Everything is just so adorably Swedish. 

My inner Pippi Longstocking has come home. 

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I honestly couldn't tell you what is the most charming thing about this place: the Swedish flags our Western neighbours so joyously like to fly everywhere, the architecture echoing Astrid Lindgren storybooks or the fact that even our ferry is called Nisse. 

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Located less than 50 kilometres from Gothenburg, Marstrand's cuteness charms even on a bad day. It makes for a perfect day trip destination, especially for a Villa Villekulla-maniac such as yours truly who never fails to get all giddy in gingerbread house paradises such as Porvoo, HankoJurmala and Åland

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While Marstrand was granted city privileges already in 1200's it does feel a tad grandiose to refer to this place as a city - the population is, after all, mere 1300.

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Owing to its coastal location, Marstrand has witnessed its share of the fights between the Swedes and the Danes; never quite agreeing on where to set the borders. 

Following the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658 Marstrand and the surrounding area of Bohuslän became Swedish, but on two brief occasions (1677-1679 and 1719-1720) the Danes managed to take over again.

(Since then they've been focusing on what they do best: chain-smoking and pastry-making.)

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Marstrand's location and its port, ice-free all year round, turned it into a significant trading hub.

In 1775 it was granted free port status, as a result of which the city enjoyed certain autonomy over the rest of the state. The special privileges featured - among other things - freedom of migration and religion.

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This attracted hundreds of Jews to settle over here: in Marstrand they were free of the heavy restrictions imposed on them everywhere else in Sweden. 

As a result Marstrand left its mark in the Jewish history at large: in 1780 the city became the location of the first ever synagogue in the whole of Scandinavia. 

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The Jewish community of Marstrand, consisting mainly of artisans and merchants, turned out to be shortlived. After a couple of decades majority of them relocated to Gothenburg. 

By 1805 all but one family had left Marstrand. 

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Smuggling got out of control and so the free port did not turn out to be as profitable enterprise as the state had envisioned. As a result the privileges were revoked in 1794.

That also coincided with the end of the greatest of all of the great herring periods (1747-1808).

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The Great Herring Period. I bet that got your imagination to run wild, like the Chelsea FC fans after a Spurs game, huh?

Oh, yes. The Great Herring Period.

It's an event that occurs roughly once a century. That's when the herring comes in exceptionally huge quantities and traditionally boosts the local economy into a massive growth.

Once the Greatest of All The Great Herring periods and the free port privileges came to an end, Marstrand wilted back into an impoverished little village.

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The latter half of the 19th century saw the trade and fishing pick up again, but the thing that helped Marstrand's new coming was the fact that somewhat surprisingly it became one of the first and most popular seaside resorts in the country.

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The thing that made Marstrand particularly attractive destination was the fact that this was The Place that King Oscar II, the great-grandfather of the current King was so fond of and spent all the summers of his reign (1872-1905) holidaying in.  

(Let's face it: nothing makes a place more desirable in the eyes of the likes of Hyacinth Buckets everywhere than the knowledge they'll be "holidaying in the very spot where the aristocracy with their unrivalled pedigree and outstanding understanding of the finer things in life likes to entertain themselves away from the prying eyes of the commoners")

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Sure enough the monarch did like to entertain himself and the upper echelons of the society in Societetshuset, opened in his honour in 1887.

Not surprisingly it continues to be a very popular venue for weddings and other festivities still today. 

(I'm sure Hyacinth herself wouldn't pass on an opportunity to host one of her famous candle-lit suppers here.)

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In addition to Societetshuset the other significant landmark (and one of the most popular sights) is Carlsten's fortress, towering over the rest of Marstrand. Throughout its history it's also been used as a prison.

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It also served as the venue of one of the first outdoor tennis courts in Sweden, commissioned by the tennis-loving King Oscar II himself. 

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These days Marstrand is a popular destination especially among the sailing enthusiasts. The island hosts annually several sailing competitions such as Marstrandsregatta and Match Cup Sweden.

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Though Marstrand is the promised land of summer houses that exchange hands for some serious money, it hasn't forgotten its past.

The first weekend of each June the island celebrates a Weekend of the Herring - festival. Herring is also proudly depicted in the Marstrand's coat of arms. 

(Fun with flags, everyone!!!)

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Inlands Bryggeri, island's very own small brewery makes sure that you'll stay hydrated even after feasting on all  that herring (pickled, marinated, fried... you name it!)

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In the end the rain just gets to be too much: in addition to Gothenburger's patience and my shoes, it's about to wreack havoc on my camera, too.

Sunday afternoon is drawing to an end and the few places open today are all starting to close their doors.

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We, too, decide to give up and seek refuge in the heated terrace of Marstrands Wärdshuset, located right next to the port as the sanguine singing echoing from the inside (without a doubt fuelled by impressive amounts of beer) imply that we've found one place that's not about to close anytime soon. 

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The daily catch of langustines has already sold out, but some herring (well, how else?) and a bowl of steaming hot, gloriously creamy fish and seafood soup nurture our bodies back to life.

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And whaddayaknow - after our late lunch even the rain has decided to take a break and our expedition continues. 

"I'll take you back in the summer", Gothenburger vows. "Even with them tourists!"

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Bus from Gothenburg to Marstrand costs about €7 one way, for time tables please see here.

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So, how's that for an eye candy (hope you're not still thinking about the naked Gothenburger - I meant the island!) ? 

Does Marstrand make your heart melt as well?



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