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& Other Swedish Dream Islands


This article ORIGINALLY APPEARED SPRING, 2012. MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2015               Photo © HOME AT FIRST


          Sweden is very different now. As a youth of the 1960s, my impressions of Sweden came from pin-up actresses Anita Ekberg and Britt Ekland, and from the black and white movies of Ingmar Bergman. Bergman’s films presented a very different impression of Sweden than the pin-ups provided. The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, and others, portrayed Sweden as no frolicsome land populated with inviting, oversexed blondes for whom life was an active, youthful, and intellectually trivial party.

          Bergman’s Sweden was shocking, troubling, unattractive, and disappointing. His films still had attractive blondes, and sex was a common theme in most of them. But the films were not frolics. They explored basic questions of human existence: the whys of life and death, of emotion, of reason, of religion, and of relationships. They did so with a mixture of stark reality and starker dreams. Most of them were pessimistic and depressing.

          My favorite Bergman film is Wild Strawberries. It’s different from others of his early period. About an old man coming to grips with the last years of life, the film focuses on questions of human existence. Dreams and nightmares play important roles in Wild Strawberries, and troubled relationships, especially between the sexes and the generations both current and remembered, help propel the plot. Like many of his films, the action occurs during a journey, a journey that is both real and figurative, a journey in the present marked with milestones of the past: memories and dreams. Ultimately the old man sorts through his troubling thoughts. He comes to an accommo-dation with the many relationships of his life, complete and incomplete, that he now accepts even if he can no longer influence them. Fullness Fullness of life,

The timeless journey from the past to future:
the surreal clock from the opening dream
sequence of Bergman's "Wild Strawberries".

Bergman suggests, has more to do with accepting


the journey with all its difficulties and delights than with attempting to force an outcome.




          Forty years on I have a very different view of Sweden. I have had my own journey of wild strawberries.  My son married a Swedish girl. He had met her when they were both students in London. After graduating from college, he went back to London to work for a year. He met her again – she was working in London, too – they fell in love and a couple of years later were married in her family’s home city, Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast. Their wedding was the excuse for my first visit to Sweden. I stayed on to get to know the country, finishing my trip in Stockholm,


Sweden’s glittering island capital on its 

 Death does not play chess with knights in modern
 Stockholm, where the odds favor life. The iconic still is from Ingmar Bergman's "the seventh seal".

Baltic east coast.
          My youthful impressions of Sweden were partially confirmed: Swedish women come close to matching their intimidating physical stereotypes: tall, blonde, fit, and very pretty. But I found scant evidence of Ingmar Bergman’s Sweden. Twenty-first century Sweden is obviously prosperous and nearly as attractive as its women. Its cities may lack the architectural warmth of certain great European cities to the south, but, despite a certain northern severity, they effuse subtle wealth, stability, and permanence. Stockholm, especially, laid out on a pearl necklace of islands straddling the sweet/salt divide between fresh-water Lake


Mälaren at its outlet into the brackish

Baltic Sea, is a model modern city: confident, efficient, interesting, trendy, walkable, and green. There are no signs of Bergman’s depressing Sweden here. Conversation laced with laughter, humming as a low-level, understated form rarely heard in the louder-is-better U.S., plays as the white noise background along Stockholm’s streets. This is no place for old men wrestling their demons of depression, old women whose youthful beauty has not evolved into mature elegance, misshapen, dull-witted children, or coarse, oafish Vikings. Death does not play chess with knights in modern Stockholm, where the odds favor Life.

          When I learned that Swedes dream of escaping their modern city lives for a simpler existence in rustic, rust red seaside cabins, I imagined Bergman’s picnic scenes from Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal. Maybe, I thought, the Swedish soul is saved beside the sea. I tucked the idea in my memory and pledged that I would return to Sweden one day to pursue the theory by exploring Stockholm’s Baltic archipelago.

          When my son, now a father of a 5-year-old boy, invited me to visit his family in Stockholm, I jumped at the chance, but added that I would love to go out into the archipelago for a weekend with them. He answered yes eagerly — he had heard much about the pleasures of the Swedish island vacation but had yet to experience it. He said he would do all the planning, using recommen-dations from his Swedish friends and colleagues at work. All I had to do was pay my share and show up on time.

          The weekend began

Two major passenger lines serve Stockholm's Baltic archipelago, offering
 short, medium, and long cruises to the islands as well as specialty theme
cruises for dinner, dancing, and brunch without destinations.


taking shape when we agreed on a specific island destination after consulting the very helpful on-line resource provided on the web site of Waxholmsbolaget, a private/public company that operates passenger ferries in the archipelago, Stockholm harbor, and on Lake Mälaren. I was encouraged by this paragraph on the website’s destinations page:

          “First we travel through the lush inner archipelago where the islands are richly forested and, since the end of the 1800’s, lined with attractive summer villas. At the turn of the last century Stockholm was quite a grimy city and the idyllic archipelago was a magnet for those who could afford it. As soon as spring was in the air, estate owners, general managers, and directors would leave for their summer retreats built in Old Scandinavian, National Romantic or Swiss chalet style. Wives and children settled in for the summer while their men folk commuted to the office on the trendy new steamboats.”

          When my son, Jess, emailed me that his wife, Lisa, would not be joining us because she had friends coming to visit her in Stockholm that weekend, the nature of the trip changed. We would now be three generations, father, son, and grandson. Creature comforts would mean less. Accommodations could be simple. We could all share one room and one bathroom would be plenty. Activities would mean more. Shopping would be for food, not for arts and crafts. Access to nature would be important. Access to civilization would be less important. We wanted a place that wasn’t in a fashionable resort or upscale village. We wanted to be able to ride bikes, hike in the woods, and have a picnic by the water. We wanted comfortable beds, clean indoor plumbing, a kitchen good enough for us to make breakfast and snacks for our backpacks. We wanted a good restaurant with a seafood menu available for Saturday night dinner.

          We studied the ferry company’s destinations page, which currently lists and describes twenty-two places to visit in the archipelago. As we independently read through the destinations, Jess and I made lists of those that looked like possible matches for us. Then we compared lists. One island that appeared on both our lists seemed particularly well-suited. Jess, who is Swedish-speaking, took on the task of finding accommodations information. He found a cabin perfect for the three of us owned by a couple who also rented bikes to visitors. The down side of the cabin was its location: in the woods rather than on the water. Riding heavily in favor of the cabin was its less-than-half-mile proximity to a highly rated fish restaurant, Wikströms Fisk, one of only two restaurants open on the island. After a quick transatlantic phone call, Jess called the cabin-owner back, and reserved the cabin and two bikes (one with a child’s seat) for the weekend over the week I would be in Sweden. We had decided on the outer island of Möja.



          We decided to opt for the convenience (no changes from bus to ferry en route) of taking the fast ferry operated by Strömma Turism & Sjöfart AB, whose large-capacity Cinderella boats depart from central Stockholm’s Strandvägen quay for the 2¾ hour cruise to Möja (see Strömma’s video about Möja). The spacious, big capacity (up to 450 persons) boats have large restaurants on two levels, promising to keep a 5-year-old’s interest for most if not all the trip. We booked our boat immediately after booking our cabin and the bikes, and then we booked our supper at Wikströms Fish


restaurant. We were ready.

Sunny, warm weather and empty seats aft.

          The Saturday we sailed to Möja, we woke to a bright morning and cloudless skies. We put our packs on our backs and headed for our local Tunnelbana metro station for the quick ride across the center of Stockholm to the Strandvägen quay and our waiting boat, Cinderella II. Jess and Alex and I found seats on the lower back deck, out of the wind and out of the direct morning sun as we headed east into the archipelago. We were surprised there were empty seats on this the morning boat on what promised to be a dry, mostly sunny Saturday.

          The cruise was scenic and relaxing.


Alex had the run of the boat, and Jess and

I took turns keeping him from falling over-

board. There were a few other families on board among people of all ages. Those carrying little with them may have been taking a day-long sightseeing cruise. Some lugged suitcases, shopping bags full of supplies, bikes, buggies, and carts, obviously heading for their island homes for a week or more. We weekenders carried full packs on our backs and a few things in our hands. Otherwise, we sipped coffee and nursed a pastry each over the journey between breakfast in Stockholm and lunch on Möja.

Passengers sunning themselves, drinking coffee,
and snacking as we cruise the archipelago.



THE BALTIC ARCHIPELAGO:  Ingmarsö Island         Photo © HOME AT FIRST

          Once beyond Stockholm harbor Cinderella II made frequent stops, dropping off passengers at the islands of Vaxholm, Svartsö, Ingmarsö, and Finnhamn before finally reaching Möja. Several small harbors served each of the last four island groups in the outer archipelago. Möja itself, about 6 miles long by 2 miles wide, has six landings served by the Cinderella boats and other ferries. We arrived at ours, Ramsmora, on time. We disembarked with about ten other passengers, leaving an almost empty boat behind us.

          We walked a quarter mile up a dusty road from the Ramsmora landing. We found our landlords’ farm easily: a long row of rental bikes lined the dirt lane in front of their prim red wooden farmhouse trimmed in white. The landlady came up the lane from her substantial vegetable garden to meet us, wiping her hands on her apron. Although she greeted us in English, she was quite relieved that Jess and Alex speak Swedish. Jess and I selected our bikes. Jess’s had a child seat already in place. Our landlady put our backpacks and hand baggage on a cart attached to her ATV. We mounted our bikes and followed the ATV the half-mile or so up the road to the driveway that led to our cabin.


          Our cabin was, predictably, a wooden

Möja: Jess & Alex on our cabin balcony
with our bikes stowed underneath.


building with vertical slats, neatly painted rust with white trim. What wasn’t predictable was that our living quarters was upstairs above a machine shop. Parked outside by the machine shop door were two front-end loaders, like big yellow dinosaurs. Not for everybody, of course. But for a 5-year-old boy, dinosaur-like front-end loaders are the perfect accessories to a cabin in the woods. For the boy’s father and grandfather, comfortable beds, a clean bathroom, and a usable kitchen trumped the front-end loaders. We found them to be perfectly adequate. Rated above “adequate” was the sunset-facing balcony that looked


across a fallow field toward the forest. The

warm afternoon sun invited us to languish on the balcony, but, even here, time

pressures forced us to rush away.


          Quickly we emptied our knapsacks and headed out the door. We had limited time to get to the nearest store, at the hamlet of Långvik, about a mile north of us where Möja’s main road ends at the inlet on its northeastern corner. We arrived at the COOP Nära before 3PM Saturday to find the store mostly shopped out. But, we did find what we needed for lunch today and breakfast tomorrow: milk, butter, bread, cheese, coffee, sugar, eggs, jam, and a couple of pastries. We half-filled our knapsacks with our purchases and leaned them against our bikes outside the shop. Alex had found a source of

Möja: The COOP Nära grocery. We filled our knapsacks, skipped some stones, and rode home on our bikes.

skipping stones by the quay across from the


store, and we took five minutes to test our arms on this quiet Baltic inlet.


          Back at the cabin we made

Möja: We hopped from boulder to boulder. We would
have swum, if the latitude were not the equal of the
middle of Hudson Bay and the southern tip of Greenland.

sandwiches and milk for a late lunch. Afterwards, we climbed on our bikes again and set off to explore the island. The first stop was an isolated lake not a couple hundred yards from our cabin. To get there we rode half-way back to Ramsmora then turned inland (west) on a rough lane that led past some rental cabins and an old farm. At the end of the lane, we parked our bikes where a trail led into a wood. After five minutes of following false trails leading nowhere, we emerged from the forest to a large clearing at the southern shore of a lake several acres large. Charcoal circles set among the grasses and dotted the shore as evidence


of recent picnics. Large, ancient boulders

provided windbreaks at the water’s edge. Almost unnoticeable in the long grass were the tiny red heads of wild strawberries.

          We hopped from boulder to boulder. We skipped more stones. We would have swum, if the latitude were not the equal of the middle of Hudson Bay, the southern tip of Greenland, or Yakutat Bay, Alaska. Instead, we got back on our bikes and headed

south to see that end of the island.


          We arrived at the village of Berg, principal habitation of Möja, big enough for a restaurant, bakery & café, hamburger bar, a village shop, the island’s heritage museum, handicraft center, fire house, helicopter pad, a ferry landing, boatyard, a number of permanent residences, several vacation houses, and Möja’s only school and its only church. About 300 persons live permanently on Möja. Berg is the center of their community, the closest thing residents have to a town. Unlike the nearly empty hamlets we had seen at Ramsmora and Långvik, Berg was busy: its boatyard was full of visiting craft and their sailors, its restaurant and café hummed with patrons, a group was readying the pavilion for an evening dance. We heard laughter and the music of glassware. We heard the percussion of hammers in the boatyard. A pen of sheep and goats bleated their tuneless song. Atop a hill on the southwest side of Berg overlooking the village from a grove of trees is Möja’s elegant wooden church. Built in 1768, it replaced an earlier church that was the only building on the island spared the torches of marauding

Atop a hill overlooking the village of Berg is Moja's elegant wooden church built in 1768. Photo © Home At First.

Möja: Atop a hill overlooking the
village of Berg is Möja's elegant
wooden church built in 1768.


Russians in 1719. Swedes, as a rule, do not regularly


attend church. Nor do I. But, had I the chance, I would have gone to services here. Churches serve well remote populations at the mercy of the weather, the sea, and invading Russians.


          We cycled home from Berg, and

The wooden, utilitarian, dining room, simple and rustic, traditionally Scandinavian, could have once been a one-room school or a country meeting house. Photo © Home At First.

Möja: The wooden, utilitarian, dining room, simple and
rustic, traditionally Scandinavian, could have once
been a one-room school or a country meeting house.


got cleaned up for dinner at Wikströms Fisk. With Alex along, we had made reservations for 6PM, and were not at all surprised to be the first and only customers. The wooden, utilitarian dining room, simple and rustic, traditionally Scandinavian, could have once been a one-room school or a country meeting house. Our waitress, a pretty blonde in her early 20s, seated us and made sure Alex felt at ease by bringing him books and toys. The next diners did not arrive until our food had been served, but suddenly the dining room was all but full. Sunset filled the room through uncurtained window panes, making the


wooden walls and floor glow. The ringing

of crystal, silver, and china accompanied a steady murmur of conversation, in Swedish except at our table.



          Across the room two places at one table remained unoccupied. The entry door swung open. Two people, two final diners, entered the room and made their way to their places. The man, perhaps 30 and lumberjack husky, a strawberry blonde with a new beard and a red face, wore a blue shirt, black pants, and black suspenders. The woman, avian thin, wore a black dress – not fashionable, but antique, like a wispy Queen Victoria mourning dress – that covered to her ankles leaving visible what we would have called “grandma’s shoes”, and a cap of white gauze lace, with untied white strings. Were I Swedish, I might have thought two characters from Bergman’s medieval Seventh Seal had joined us for dinner. But the Swedes, rarely anything but decorous, seemed not to notice. But I’m from Pennsylvania, and I became instantly restless.

          “Jess, they’re Mennonites! How can it be?! What are they doing here?!”

          But my son doesn’t really know much about our Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, and probably would have to study a little to see a difference in appearance between Mennonite Christians and certain Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects. But I know enough. My dad grew up “plain” in a similar Anabaptist sect, and I still have relatives who keep certain of the customs and trappings of “plain” dress and culture. Over the conversations in Swedish I strained to hear the language of the most recent guests. Were they Americans? But I couldn’t hear them, as plain people extend their modesty to their speech volume, too. When their turn came to order supper, the volume of their speech increased. I heard their language: American; and I heard their distinct accent, too: Pennsylvania Dutch. Two of the four family paths of my grandson Alex – Swedish maritime and Pennsylvania Dutch – were sharing space and time in this remote place.

          I’m not especially brazen, but neither am I shy, especially when I travel. And I had to know what these severely dressed countrymen of mine were doing on Möja. Because we were the first-come and first-served, we were also first-finished. We paid the bill and Jess and Alex headed for the exit, but I headed across the room for the Mennonites.

          “Excuse me,” I started, “but I heard you speak and thought you might be from Pennsylvania, where I’m from.”

          The man, not quite looking me in the eye, replied cryptically, “Yes, partly.”

          I thought that I was annoying him, and I was sure that he wished I would go away, but I also knew he had no idea that I suddenly found myself in this Ingmar Bergman movie and had to learn more.

          “Partly?” I responded.

          “Yes. We come from Pennsylvania but are moving to Ohio.”

          Again his eyes never quite rose to mine, and his presumed wife did not so much as turn toward me. All around us the Swedes had become still, straining to hear the conversation of these two very different looking Americans in their midst. I assumed the Swedes were not much curious about me, but very eager to have me serve as their interlocutor.

          “Ohio? I hear there is some great farmland in Ohio.”

          “We are not farmers. We are moving to Columbus.”

          “My father farmed as a boy. He grew up on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.”

          The woman turned to me for the first time. I think I saw curiosity replace the shyness on her face. “We are from Lancaster County,” she offered straight-faced, bravely.

          “My father’s family farm was near Manheim, near Sporting Hill on the Chiques Creek,” I offered, hoping they might know the local geography enough to consider me something more of a neighbor than a nuisance.

          She brightened into a big smile.

          “I teach at Sporting Hill School,” she said. “What’s your family name?”

          “Fahnestock,” I volunteered, but, because we’re not Mennonites I expected no recognition. Any Fahnestocks would have gone to the local public school. (I learned later the local public elementary school had closed in 2007. To avoid bussing, my distant cousins may very well have enrolled in the local Mennonite school once the public school closed.)

          “We have had some Fahnestock children,” she said. “Did you know the school has expanded to two rooms?”

          She had accepted me. But she suddenly became sad.

          “Well, I don’t teach there any more. We’re moving away to Ohio once we return home.”

          I took a chance: “Are you newlyweds?”

          “Yes,” she said. A trip to Sweden and the stay on Möja must be their honeymoon. But how did they know about Stockholm’s Baltic Archipelago? Why would they come to a place with little connection to their culture, their ancestry, their religion, their way of life?

          “What will you do in Ohio?” I asked.

          “I have taken a job teaching at Ohio State University,” her husband replied, not offering details.

          “At their agricultural school?” I pressed, assuming the Pennsylvania Dutch stereotype.

          “No, Cultural Anthropology.”

          I swallowed my next question: “Do Mennonites do that?” and congratulated them instead on their marriage. I apologized again for interrupting them, wished them a good dinner, and hurried out of the dining room to join my son and grandson. Maybe some of the Swedes in the room understood the conversation, but I doubt any understood the context. I am sure I did not.



          I slept well that Saturday night in the cabin. It was chilly we we awoke, but hot coffee and hot chocolate coaxed us all out of bed. Our boat didn’t leave until afternoon, so we continued our bicycle exploration of Möja, cycling for about an hour before packing up and making our way to the Ramsmora landing. We dropped our bikes and turned in our cabin key at our landlady’s farm; she bid us a heartfelt if somewhat shy good-bye.

          We were first at Ramsmora, and had time to skip more stones into the Baltic. As we did another two-dozen or so passengers arrived to wait for the boat. A few were weekenders like us, but most were carrying sufficient belongings to last a week or more: suitcases, bedding, wheeled carts, their own bikes. Among the weekenders was the Mennonite couple. If they saw us, they didn’t acknowledge us in any way.

          The Cinderella I arrived on-time. Ramsmora was one of its first stops on the return trip to Stockholm, and the boat was largely empty. But that soon changed. At each landing along the way people laden with belongings waited for the boat, like so many refugees on an exodus. Cinderella I was already full to the gunnels before we reached the islands of the Inner Archipelago, with passengers and baggage blocking aisles and gangways, sitting on stairs and pressed against bulkheads. During the last hour of the trip it was no longer possible to get to a bathroom. The day turned gloomier each mile closer to Stockholm we traveled. Drizzle evolved into a steady rain, driving all indoors. The crew made room in the boat’s two cabins by piling non-perishable belonging like bikes and buggies on the exposed fore and aft decks. Windows fogged. Children, already restless and bored, began to whine at being hemmed in by adults. The trip ended mercifully on central Stockholm’s Strandvägen quay on-time. Alex, Jesse, and I ran through the raindrops to the subway and were home early for supper.




          I went to Möja intent on discovering a Sweden I had seen in Bergman’s films and imagined from histories, fictions, and travel articles I have read. I wanted to come to know the Swedes, the people my son married into and that my grandson is half biologically and nearly 100% culturally. I believed I had a better chance of learning these things on Möja in Stockholm’s Baltic Archipelago because I was sure I would find quintessential Sweden skipping stones along the rocky inlets and picking wild strawberries in meadows by the forested lakes. In part I did.

          While looking for Sweden I encountered my own heritage, cultural and biological: visions of my father’s past, my son’s present, and my grandson’s future, all appeared to me like Bergman apparitions just as real and unreal. In Wild Strawberries the old man comes to an accommodation with the many relationships of his life, complete and incomplete, that he now accepts even if he can no longer influence them. Fullness of life has more to do with accepting the journey with all its difficulties and delights, all of its mysteries and uncertainties than with attempting to force an outcome. 


Stockholm's Baltic Archipelago: Ingmarsö Island landing.                 Photo © HOME AT FIRST


Stockholm's Baltic Archipelago extends east from STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN some 70 miles into the Baltic Sea. The island of Möja is thirty miles ENE of Stockholm and is one of the closest of the outer islands of the hundreds of islands and islets that make up the archipelago.

Nearest HOME AT FIRST Lodgings are located in downtown Stockholm. SAMPLE.


Cruising into the Archipelago:
     Several companies offer boat transfers from Stockholm to islands of the archipelago. Two principal companies run scheduled public ferries and excursions through the archipelago using sizeable boats on a large scale:

Strömma (Cinderella Boats)


Basic Web Information (non-commercial):   VISIT STOCKHOLM

We Have Limited Time. Can We See the Archipelago in One Day? Yes. Both of the above-listed ferry companies offer a wide variety of day, part-day, and evening cruises. Some cruises make stops that permit short visits on certain islands. Others are themed brunch or dinner cruises, some with entertainment on board. See their websites for a complete listing. Because you will want to decide on which day-cruise works best for you — based on the weather, your energy levels, the amount of time you have, and activities competing for your limited time in Stockholm — you should arrange your own day sailings once in Stockholm. Stop at the boat operators' offices at the piers or in the Stockholm Tourist Center at Vasagatan 14 across from Stockholm's Central Rail Station.

Will Home At First Organize Overnight Trips for Us? Yes. As part of your HOME AT FIRST Scandinavian itinerary, we will arrange overnight accommodations plus appropriate boat reservations/tickets to the island destination of your choice. We charge no service fee to arrange & manage the booking for you.


Who Can Do This Overnight Trip? The overnight trip to Möja requires reasonable fitness and competence riding bicycles as both walking and cycling are necessary. There are no strenuous hills, traffic is minimal, and walks and bike rides need not be longer than 25 minutes one-way.
         Other island destinations require less energy, as ferry landings are at villages where lodgings, restaurants, and shops are clustered.

Cinderella boats at Stockholm's Strandvagen quay awaiting passengers for the Baltic Archipelago. Photo © Home At First.
Cinderella boats at Stockholm's Strandvagen quay
awaiting passengers for the Baltic Archipelago.

Photo © Home At First


When to Go: Many islands of Stockholm's Baltic Archipelago are accessible year-round and ferry services operate except during harsh winter weather. However, much of the lodging and dining infrastructure is seasonal, operating May through September only. Most popular time: mid-June through mid-August. Best time to go when the weather may be excellent and trail crowding minimal: mid-May to mid-June and late-August. Rain comes frequently to the Baltic, and, while there is no official rainy season, May-June receives less rain than July-August.


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