Lonely Planet is absolutely right when it says that Swedes get all melty-eyed about Dalarna, the area around Lake Siljan, about three hours’ drive northwest of Stockholm. That’s exactly what our son-in-law’s mother did, and even recommended her favourite hotel to us.
We booked on the internet, and saved more than half the room price by doing so. The hire of a Seat 1800 diesel set us back 600 Swedish kronor (about S$100) a day. Petrol costs about 30 percent more than in Singapore, and that in a country where distances are vast.
Very low permissible levels of alcohol in the blood (0.02 percent) mean you can barely have even one drink before driving. Swedish speed restrictions are conservative, too, and the countryside has more than its fair share of granny-type drivers. If you can cope with all that, plus having to drive on the right, hiring a car is a good idea.
Dotted with those traditional red-painted wooden dwellings and historical copper, tin and silver mines, Dalarna seems to be regarded by Swedes as their cultural heartland. The red-painted Dalarna wooden horse became a symbol of Sweden when a giant version of it featured outside the Swedish pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Huge expanses of water and hundreds of kilometres of trails make this a favourite destination for lovers of boating, hiking and other outdoorsy pursuits.
Falun is Dalarna’s main centre. It’s famous for a 17th-century copper mine that helped fund the military exploits that made Sweden a leading European power in the 18th century. Interestingly, a by-product of copper mining is the red oxide that is the basis of the red paint that makes traditional Swedish houses so picturesque.
The free Dalarnas Museum at Falun has a comprehensive collection of folk art and other traditions, but the highlight of the day was a visit to Carl Larssonsgorden, 10km from Falun in the impossibly quaint little village of Sundborn. Carl was a painter, his wife Karin a textile artist way before her time, and this is the home of this turn-of-the-century couple and their seven children. Every fascinatingly decorated inch of it reveals how they lived and breathed their art. Carl’s portraits of the family appear on walls, door panels and in windowpanes; the lifestyle is reminiscent of that of the characters in A. S. Byatt’s recent novel The Children’s Book. Some of the home’s treasures date back to the 16th century; it even houses a 13th-century Japanese sculpture.
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