Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Where the Glorious Laurels Grow

My travel article about Lund, Sweden has been published in the Fall 2007 issue of South of Sweden Magazine.

Where the glorious laurels grow

Heeding the bells of Sweden’s oldest and most otherworldly cathedral, bike bound students bump along cobblestone lanes, over leafy squares, and through the glorious green of Lundagård park as they have for centuries in Lund, the ancient, cosy home of Scandinavia’s largest university. Recently crowned Sweden’s most liveable and lovable city in a nationwide ranking, the ‘city of ideas’ charms with picturesque beauty, fascinates with copious culture, and entertains with waggish nostalgia.

From heathen to highbrow
The story of Lund begins over two thousand years ago, deep in the pagan times of Thor and Odin. Lund’s name comes from the Swedish word offerlund or sacrificial grove and is as ancient as the Iron Age tribes who held court to their Norse gods and goddesses in a spot very near the town’s current location. A large, rich, and powerful Iron Age village thrived for over a thousand years on the site now known as Uppåkra but likely already then called Lund. In 990 AD Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard ordered a stave church to be built at a strategic crossroads a few kilometres away from the original settlement and the ‘new’ Lund was born.

Lund rapidly became a vibrant medieval metropolis in newly united Denmark. From the very beginning, Lundagård park was the heart of the city, soon harbouring Denmark’s largest mint, the archbishopric of all of Scandinavia, and the great, glittering sandstone cathedral. Denmark’s most important and powerful city for over 300 years, Lund lost its significance during the Reformation and was ceded to Sweden, along with the rest of Scania, under the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658.

The first bud of Lund’s flowering academic tradition, blossomed in 1085 with the founding of Katedralskolan, Scandinavia’s first school and one that is still turning out scholars as a high school. In 1666, endeavouring to inspire Swedish decorum among the spirited Scanians, the Swedish government created Lund University. Now Scandinavia’s largest institution for higher education and research, Lund University busies approximately 40,600 students and several thousand employees in furthering the critical, ethical, original, and comical thinking that distinguishes the school.

Journeys in the academic village
The pretty cobbled streets of Lund’s compact city centre invite to aimless rambling and leisurely coasting by bicycle, which earns you instant local status in this bike-loving city. Hire one from Lundahoj at the central train station for only SEK 20 a day and explore the warren of narrow streets where the campus and city intermingle and exist in perfect symbiosis. Find Adeldgatan and Lilla Tomegatan for tranquil idylls of colourful cottages and climbing roses or take Sandgatan and Sölvegatan for magnificent university buildings swathed in ivy and dripping with wisteria.

Join the ecstatic academic tumult of fall when thousands of new students are initiated into Lund’s rare world. Attend a champagne drenched ball, a rowdy student musical called a Spex, or a legendary ‘Studentafton’, an evening with a high profile guest speaker that has been a tradition in Lund since 1905. The list of past speakers is impressive and surprising, including such super-celebrities as John Steinbeck, Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Roman Polanski, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Susan Sontag and Pink Floyd. Just this spring’s roster of guests included HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, Nobel Prize winning Biologist and Geneticist Andrew Fire, Silver screen legend Anita Ekberg, Muscle-bound actor Dolph Lundgren, and finally, Will Farrell, superstar comedian and one of the world’s most highly paid actors.

The doors of most university buildings are open to visitors and some conceal treasures such as the dreamy Museum of Classical Antiquities in the Department of Classics where milky white casts of classical sculptures glow in the sunshine streaming in though giant ornate windows. The university maintains the lush Lund Botanical Gardens, a magical place for strolls, picnics or kisses under the mistletoe growing on one of the apple trees. The gardens are free and open every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Do not miss the palatial greenhouses, open from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., where tiny flightless birds dart about handling pest control.

More jewels in the university’s crown are the Museum of Sketches (Skissernas Museum), housing the world’s largest collection of sketches and models for monumental and public art, the shimmering glass and timber Ingvar Kamprad Design Centre and the vine smothered University Library. Head deep into the bowels of the rambling Academic Union castle in Lundagård and you will chance upon the quirky, nostalgic Student Museum (open on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings) and the klädkammare where you can loan one of hundreds of costumes from the union’s numerous theatrical companies. The university’s sports hall, Gerdahallen, is one of Northern Europe’s largest training and exercise centres. Practically free for students and employees of the university, Gerdahallen also offers one time passes for just SEK 50 to ordinary mortals.

Cryptic Tales
In the hauntingly beautiful crypt under Lund’s massive cathedral, an enraged little figure tears at a pillar. The legend goes that a giant built the cathedral for the people of Lund in exchange for either the sun and the moon or their priest’s eyes. However, if the priest could guess the giant’s name before the cathedral was finished, the giant would release him from the gory promise. The priest guessed in vain until the day he overheard a soft voice in the forest, comforting a crying child that father Finn would soon be home with the priest’s eyes. The priest rushed back to the cathedral shouting, “Finn!” sending the giant into a rage of destruction. By some magic Finn was instantly shrunk and turned to stone and the cathedral was saved.

The rest of Domkyrkan, Scandinavia’s most distinguished Romanesque cathedral and a three star Michelin attraction, is equally fascinating and cavernous. Join one of the tours or services in English and catch one of the frequent and free organ concerts. Visit at the stroke of twelve noon or three o’clock in the afternoon to enjoy the elaborate chiming and capering of the Horologium mirabile Lundense, a masterpiece astrological clock dating from 1424. The clock is home to the smallest of the church’s five organs and it plays In Dulci Jubilo while various knights, magi and servants mark the hour. The tolling of the ancient cathedral bells send scholars scurrying in every direction, which is why virtually every class in Lund begins at fifteen minutes past the hour, a tradition known as the akademiska kvarten or academic quarter.

Culture under blue skies and stars
Scania’s largest museum and cultural mecca, the Kulturen open-air museum, fans out from Lundagård’s eastern gate in a maze of thatch and cobble, with authentic homes and wistful gardens that preserve the Swedish way of life through the ages. Founded in 1892, Kulturen is the world’s second oldest open-air museum. The scenery and events at the museum transform with the rhythm of the seasons and captivate visitors of all ages with traditional outdoor dances in summer, ghost walks in fall and classic Christmas festivities in winter.

A 19th century dairy borders Stadsparken, Lund’s City Park, and serves as yet another cultural playground. Cleverly called the Kulturmejeriet (dairy of culture), the dairy now churns and froths with weekly salsa and swing clubs, live concerts, jazz brunches, and dance workshops.

Each autumn Lund launches a one-night-only cultural extravaganza called Kulturnatten (Culture night) that transforms the town into cultural utopia of theatrical performances, concerts, workshops, poetry readings, fashions shows, open lectures, film showings and hundreds more activities. It is easy to understand why Lund is a prime candidate in the running to become a European Capital of Culture in 2014, when it is Sweden’s turn to showcase one extraordinary city.

Gastro-maniacs rejoice
Cheap eateries have a charm all their own and are obligatory in any university town but the culinary upper crust of Lund satisfies even the most discriminating palate. Settle into one of the romantic little cottages of Bantorget 9, for a fanciful seven-course tasting menu laced with exotic flavours like lavender and vanilla. Or duck into the town’s prettiest little courtyard off the lively jumble of shops on Lilla Fiskaregatan, to RIstorante il Italia for beef carpaccio drizzled with truffle oil and other heavenly Italian treats.

Relative newcomer, Klostergatans Vin & Delikatess, is already and institution among foodies with cheese, charcuterie, and fragrant oils by the heaps in the delicatessen. The bistro restaurant is French-focused, sometimes even serving authentic Alsatian choucroute, and as the name implies has an excellent selection of wines. At the opposite end of Klostergatan is another new arrival, Klostergatans Fisk, a combined seafood restaurant and fish shop with just a handful of tables where you can sup on lobster, oysters, crab, herring, tuna and more.

Godset, Lund’s best restaurant according to the eminent White Guide, is a devoted lover and defender of Scanian culinary tradition serving succulent game, variations on apples, and other seasonal delicacies. Housed in an old brick station building by the railway, the atmosphere of the restaurant is that of an industrial loft gone upscale.

At the sublime, turreted Grand Hotel in Lund intellect and gastronomy meet over oysters and champagne. Before a gourmet version of classic Swedish meatballs, the peerless Stellan will serve you the most divine sourdough bread this side of San Francisco. A singular sourdough starter that came via Stockholm from Egypt is the secret. Grand, as it has been affectionately known since it opened in 1899, also serves sophisticated cocktails and has a cosy lounge and wine tasting bar. The Grandiosa Sällskapet, Grand’s own society club arranges wine, whisky and chocolate tastings, tours, traditional student sing-alongs and other gleefulness.

Autumn leaves
Venture to the eastern expanse of Lund’s municipality where the heights of Romelåsen Ridge are ablaze in fall colour. Play 18 holes at the beautiful Romelåsen Golf Club or take the marked hiking trail, Skaneleden, which traverses the ridge and where you may stumble upon wild chanterelles or glimpse a fox. Sup at the crest of the ridge in The Lodge, a New England style retreat with a priceless view of the slopes and sunset, or down by Häckeberga Lake in a the lovely renaissance-style castle, Häckeberga Slott. Explore the nearby villages of Dalby, with its ancient church and an inn serving traditional Scanian fare and Flyinge, home of the National Stud of Sweden, which hosts the Flyinge International Dressage Show annually.

Lund is steeped in tradition and glory, but it is not content to rest on its laurels. Modern innovation from Lund like the asthma inhaler, fingerprint security locks, and mobile phone technology impact our everyday lives. Fokus News Magazine’s ranking of Swedish municipalities, crowns Lund as the place where people and businesses alike are the most exceptionally healthy, wealthy, and wise. The greatest attraction of Lund, however, is something that cannot be seen nor measured; it is the spirit of flippant fun with knowledge and of bursting in song and capering in fountains. Cheekiness and wit twinkle in the eyes of almost everyone you meet in Lund, and it is glorious.

Mark your calendar
September 13th-22nd, Fantastic Film Festival
Lund’s Fantastic Film Festival is where many films make their Swedish premiere. This year Lund hosts the prestigious Méliès d’Or European Film Awards.

September 15th, Kulturnatten
The city’s 23rd annual great night of culture actually starts early in the day. Get the full program at

September 20th-22nd, Shellfish buffet
Grand’s tables tremble under the weight of a sumptuous shellfish buffet.

September 22nd, Mejeriet turns 20
The Mejeriet celebrates its first 20 years with big name live concerts, a Jazz Brunch Deluxe and movies in the park.

September 28th-30th, Flyinge International Dressage Show
Sweden’s national stud hosts this elite equine event that attract the world’s top ranking competitors.

October 6th, Grand’s oyster bar
Slurp freshly harvested and shucked Swedish oysters at Grand from noon to 4 p.m.

October 28th, Grandsång
Join the traditional Grand sing-along in the great hall and recover with a glass of wine and a buffet dinner.

November 1st, Ghost walk at Kulturen
To celebrate All Saints Day, carve sugar beet jack-o-lanterns and go on a spooky tour of Kulturen.

November 3rd, The Grand Jazz Party
Dance and dine to swinging to big band and live jazz at Grand’s 20th annual Jazz Party.

November 11th, Mårten Gås
Book a table at any one of Lund’s finer restaurants to experience Scania’s ritual goose dinner.

Nov 25th, Skyltsöndag
The shops unveil their Christmas decorations, on the first advent, and a Christmas fair occupies Mårtenstorget, the market square.

Where to stay
The Grand Hotel is Lund’s most classic address.

Hotell Oskar is a pristine little townhouse with breakfast served next door in cosy Ebba’s Café.

Enjoy a royal slumber at peaceful Häckeberga Slott, a perfect little castle on an islet in Häckeberga Lake.

The luxury spa hotel on top of Romelåsen, The Lodge is an exquisite New England hideaway in the wilds of Skåne.

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