Dalaro And the Deep Blue Sea
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Nearly 20 years ago, during a long bicycle trip through Europe, a friend and I happened upon a small coastal town that was too alluring not to stop in. We were about 25 miles southeast of Stockholm, pedaling north from Copenhagen to meet up with a friend.
There wasn't much to the town, really; I remember a cobalt blue bay with several small islands dotting the horizon, a ragged shoreline and a few of the simple yet stately cottages that line the back roads of Sweden.
As we looked for a place to pull over for a rest, we saw an inconspicuous sign featuring a drawing of a house and a single word beneath it: "Vandrarhem." We had unwittingly ridden to the door of a waterfront youth hostel. The decision, it seemed, had been made for us: Our friend in the capital would have to wait a couple of days.
We had stumbled upon Dalaro, gateway to the Stockholm archipelago, historical defender of the Crown from seafaring Russians and, for more than 100 years, a summer retreat for fortunate Stockholmers. I can't recall what we did there, but I've remembered it ever since as one of my favorite spots in a country I came to know quite well.
So when my brother and sister-in-law asked if I could join them for a vacation in Sweden, how could I say no? For several summers they had rented a house near Stockholm, in a quiet town on the Baltic Sea.
You can guess the rest. My brother, Chip, had found Dalaro by chance, as I had. Unlike me, he had the good sense to keep going back.
The More Things Change . . .
A few weeks later, not long after Midsummer's Day, I was back in the land of cloudberries and cardamom buns, lolling on the deck of the rental house, watching as the near-midnight sun performed a slow-motion light show across the darkening bay. A clan of ducks commuted along the shallows in V-formation. Come mornings, we came to see, they evidently were permitted a free-swim period, with each doing its own thing before falling into line once again.
Some vacationers did pretty much the same thing. A middle-aged couple strode to the water's edge in the mornings, stripped out of their robes and dived in. The nudists next door? Not really. In Sweden, it's just an invigorating, sensible way to start a summer day.
You could spend a lot of time -- all of it highly useful, of course -- pondering these phenomena. But we had pressing business to tend to. In my long absence, my sister-in-law said, Dalaro had changed. I had to check out the main street.
Sure enough, there it was, in the center of town: a newish bakery, complete with warm cinnamon rolls, blond wood tables, fancy sandwiches and even something called Dalaro bread, a seemingly good-for-you affair. To my brother and me, this was a major development, like a skyscraper might be to others. And so it came to be that we felt morally obligated to walk there every morning for some serious carbo-loading. You know, to support small business.
The modern conveniences and contrivances had arrived, if only in a typically understated Swedish sense. There were boutiques and at least one art gallery, though it never seemed to be open. Things change. After all, it had been nearly 20 years.
I knew that the youth hostel must be gone. Location, location, location: Some laws of real estate are immutable, even in famously left-leaning Sweden. It surely didn't make sense that a $15-a-night refuge for the young and restless would command such prime property. Okay, fine. After all, I didn't need it any longer.