Driving through Kronberg County is driving through a microcosm of what Sweden is famous for. On both sides of the road, you regularly pass wide lakes, and you pass through tall forests of evergreen trees. In patches of flat land, farms with Burgundy buildings dot the landscape, with well tilled fields only a few feet from the road. From time to time, rarely this far south, you pass through canyons of tall black granite.
During golden hour in particular, the views are beautiful, as the warm light fills the lakes and fields.
Växjö gives the impression of being larger than it actually is. With a population of under 70,000 people, it is smaller than Halmstad, but the combination of the large lake in the town center, the sports arena and a sizeable shopping district gives it the impression of being a much larger location.
Priding itself on its environmental credentials, Växjö calls itself the Greenest City in Europe and has done so since 2007.
The city is clean, well maintained and has numerous shops, wide plaza streets and as spring has arrived, a great deal of outside seating.
Of particular note, the Glass Street, officially called Sandgärdsgatan, runs along the south end of the main shopping area and has a number of statues and other sculptures heavily featuring locally made glass, one of Växjö primary exports and something they are extremely proud of.
There are a number of good places to eat in Växjö, many Swedish chains have a presence as well as a good number of entirely local options.
A small Mexican off of the main shopping area, the menu is small but good and the spiciness dialled back, but this is Sweden, but the service is great.
An upmarket Italian, serving very good pasta. They have a communal table for casual diners as well as more typical seating.
A hipster venue, with an old world vibe. The menu is limited but good, and the tables have folding wooden seating which have a certain charm. Its got a raised external patio overlooking glass street and often has live music.
Comparatively small, only a single floor, the Art Museum, there are generally two exhibitions on. The first was “About A Brexit, No I Mean a Breakup“ a strange look at the lifecycle of a relationship, featuring a 20 hour dance routine in a bacon costume to the tune of “I want you back”. This was originally performed live and live-streamed before being put on loop in the museum.
The second was “Elegant on Västerportsvägen” a series of over a hundred paintings done by a single artist, blending styles of painting.
Worth visiting, with free entrance, but it won’t take too much of your day to see it all.
Perhaps the most famous museum in Växjö, the Emigrants House documents the departure of almost a third of the Swedish population to the US and Canada at the start of the 20th Century. By 1930, Chicago was the second largest Swedish city, with only Stockholm having a greater number of Swedes. It was also interesting to learn that a potato famine was responsible for much of the migration, similar to the Irish emigration. There are models and some few items of emigrants, but primarily the story is told in text and images, with a small model street to view.
There is a room dedicated to Vilhelm Moberg, famous for his Swedish novels about the emigration, and there is always a temporary exhibit, at the time on the dangers and influence of Propaganda.
Finally, there is a good sized auditorium, where a number of talks are given throughout the year.
The Småland Museum is the oldest county museum in Sweden, built in 1792 and tells the history of the region. There is a scale model of how Växjö once looked, as well as a walk through of traditional tools and items from the home. Norway’s Outdoor Museum takes the idea quite a lot further, but it is worth a look. Additionally there is room, with working loom (which you can use under supervision) along with a number of antique carpets that were locally woven.
Finally there is a number of pre-historic items relating to early settlers in the area such as bow and arrows, flint and maps for grave sites.
Linked to the Småland Museum, and sharing a ticket with with it and the Emigrants House, is the glass museum, perhaps the pride of Växjö. The ground floor is dedicated to the practical, the glassworks produced by the region over the years. Interestingly items used in the manufacture of the glass are used for display. Banners are hung from suspended glass blowing tubes, items are stood on disused trolleys. Its a subtle touch, but makes a real difference
Upstairs there is much more artwork made of glass. Artists creating strange and beautiful creations using glass as their medium.
Almost exactly five kilometres in circumference, just to the south of the Cathedral and still quite central to the town is Växjösjön lake. There is a restaurant on the north shore, and a walking and running track surrounds it. On a good day it is popular and has a lovely view.
Between Växjösjön and the Cathedral is Linnéparken, a small park with children's area, and a number of plants and sculptures. It runs down the lake edge until it reaches the swimming pool.
It was built near the Linnaeus University in the year 1900 as a morning (wedding) gift. In the middle of a university campus, it is an unusual sight. Used as a hotel for guests, it is a faux-castle, a single tower jutting up from the top of a hill.
The surrounding park and views over the river make it a lovely spot, if you can ignore the nearby new build university buildings. Worth a five minute detour.
A strange building, down a side road from Teleborgsvägen, the strange water tower is in the middle of a field. Blocked one way by a private road, its not easy to get to by car.
The shape of the water tower amplifies noise underneath it leading to its name the Echo Temple. Small noises are amplified and echos are clear. Its an interesting spot to visit if you are nearby and can find your way there.
Not far from Växjö town, there is the Bergkvara castle ruin. Surrounded on three sides by water, the only access it to park nearby and go through the private grounds of a large manor house (They allow this, but ask you keep to the pathways)
The ruins are first mentioned in 1355, it was described as decayed by the mid 18th century, the owners having built the manor (also called Bergkvara) nearby and moved into that the castle slowly fell to the ruin it is now.
Much smaller than the nearby Kronobergs Slottsruin, you are able to go inside the square building at any time of year.
To the north of Växjö is Kronoberg Slottsruin, a reasonably large castle ruin on an island in lake accessible only via bridge.
There is a large parking lot, and a cafe and toilet (open summer months only) as well as a summer ferry across the lake. During the summer there is access to the central courtyard of the castle, but the rest of the year, visitors should content themselves with outside views.
After the original stone building here was destroyed in the Dano-Swedish war, it was rebuilt as as fortified castle in 1472. For its first few hundred years, the castle was a key strategic location, as it was on the Swedish/Danish border.
The castle was neglected from the mid17th Century onwards and decayed, though its heavy stone walls have largely remained intact at the front.
There is a small island in front of the castle, connected via bridge to the mainland and via drawbridge to the castle itself. Even in sprint, this is a popular picnic location with locals and gives good views of the castle sides.
Just north of Linnéparken is the Cathedral of Växjö. Of medieval origin, it is heavily reconstructed in the 19th and 20th centurys, leaving little of its medieval origins visible.
It’s twin spires give it an unusual and striking appearance and it is well worth a viewing.
Stopping in Ryd town is likely a matter of necessity rather than desire for a traveller. It is a tiny village with a population of under 1,500. Despite this, it has three distinct pizza restaurants, an ICA and two Godis shops. There appear to be no other restaurants, cafes or bars nearby.
Whilst it is the nearest population center to the Bilkyrkogården Kyrkö mosse it is not a base for tourists looking to visit.
The Car Graveyard in Kyrkö bog is a peculiar place by any definition. Åke Danielsson, who was called " Åke of the bog “ lived and worked, breaking peat on the bog and ran a strange car scrapyard as a sideline in the bog where he all the cars. When he left the bog in 1991 (having abandoned the business some ten years before) the cars were left abandoned, but protected from removal by a business licence and over time they have slowly come to ruin.
Left unattended, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of wrecks ranging from almost whole to completely rusted away. It is not a place for rushing or for unattended children as there are rusted edges and sharp corners everywhere
Many campaigners have pushed for their removal due to the environmental impact of cars rusting and petroleum leaking into the soil, but this has not been actioned.
Instead, the Car Graveyard has become a little known, but strangely popular tourist attraction. There is an eerie silence in the forest area, and along the pathways and further into the bog, you see the remains of cars and trucks, slowly returning to nature.
The forest is thick enough that there is not a great deal of light, so patches of sun illuminate the cars sporadically. The peat breaking hut ant the hut Åke lived in are still there, in better shape than many of the cars. The toilet he used consisted of old oil barrels built into a small shed with a hood as a roof, which also remains.
It remains, for now, as a monument to Åke of the bog and the strangeness of modern life.
Read more about Åke: http://www.jasifil.se/kyrkomosse/
Älmhult is a peculiar place. As the birthplace of IKEA, it has slowly been subsumed but the company it created. The town is not very big any more, but the Ikea campus on the other side of the train tracks (and the huge Stena factory) dominate the landscape.
A lot of the town was closed late on Sunday when I stopped in, but there are a range of restaurants of various price points and behind the town hall there is an engraved stone for the King, not listed on google maps, and only found via Pokemon Go’s portals.
Not a particularly vibrant seeming place, and it gives the impression that the train tracks that separate it from the IKEA museum, also keep the tourists on the IKEA side of town rather than coming across whilst they visit.
IKEA’s original building in Älmhult has been refurbished into a sleek 3 floor museum of IKEA’s history, with the IKEA motel facing it across the carpark.
The motel was originally built to facilitate people coming to IKEA from further away as the shopping experience was a guided one. IKEA prioritised hiring and training housewives for its consultants as they worked on the principal no one knew the home better and could articulate the needs more clearly.
Aside from a fascinating run through IKEA’s history from a single store in Älmhult to the global mega-brand it is today, we also get insight into the change in identity, slowly consolidating into the blue and yellow we know today from the viking hats and moose used across the world at various points in its history.
The top floor contained the exhibition relating to Human Shelter, a documentary co-funded by Ikea looking into what makes a home, from the shacks floating on the rivers of Nigeria, to the tiny mobile homes of the Saami to the refugee camps the exhibition shows highlights from the films projected into representative spaces of the rooms shown.
There is also a small IKEA store selling a number of unique items unavailable in any mainstream IKEA, and a restaurant offering not just the famous meatballs and hotdogs (the history of both being covered in the museum) but also an additional four meatball types to try.