After a bit of navigational difficulty on my part yesterday morning, we left
Falun and made our way deeper into Dalarna, the folkloric heartland of Sweden. This is
a region undoubtedly best known outside the country for the Dalahäst, the orange, wooden horses
produced by the hundreds of thousands within a cottage industry dating back
nearly a century.
These days, as we were informed by the lone worker not taking a coffee break while we were visiting one of the factories, most of those employed are retirees picking up a small addition to their pensions, but the carvers still do most of their work at home, as did their forebears, primarily local farmers who filled the long, cold winter months with this distinctive handwork.
No one is certain how this tradition began, but it was certainly well established by the first decade of the 20th century, and has gained momentum since. While the majority of the horses still come from one village, Nusnäs, over the years other communities have begun creating their own distinctive models. Moreover, the horses have been joined by pigs and roosters, and these too have begun to show up in different styles, representing individual villages throughout the area.
What makes this region so special to Swedes? Hard to say, actually. In many respects, the Dalarna and its people are markedly different than the rest of the nation. There are local dialects, for example, that are virtually unintelligible from one village to the next, let alone outside Dalarna. And the same can be said of the music, which tends to be extremely regional, right down to how one determines where the second beat in a typical 1-2-3 beat pattern falls--sometimes it's a bit late in arriving, and in other locales, it's decidedly ahead of where one would expect it to be. Yet Dalarna remains the place where Swedes direct tourists if they want to see the "real" Sweden. So who are we to argue with this?
Our journey took us up the eastern shore of Lake Siljan, the geographical and symbolic center of Dalarna. Along the way, we stopped in Tällberg at a small hemslöjd (handcraft) shop, that also happens to serve some of the best waffles in the country, and spring and summer are prime waffle season. Served up with a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream and a spoonful of hjortron (cloudberry) jam, these waffles are light but deceptively rich, as all who partook of this treat can surely attest. The other reason for stopping in Tällberg (should one actually need an excuse beyond eating waffles) is the spectacular view of the lake one has from this high point along the route.
Arriving at our stopping point in Håvre last night, we found yet another fine example of a "family hostel" awaiting us, and this time we have the entire place to ourselves.
In honor of our deep immersion in local culture these last couple of days, I elected to present the gang with a meal of simple, but typically Swedish foods: sill (pickled herring), freshly-baked flatbread (from a wood-fired oven in Rättvik), Leksands knäckebröd (hard bread), a variety of cheeses, pytt i panna (a type of hash made with diced potatoes and pork) and lingonberry sauce, and topped off with fresh strawberries and pepparkackor (gingersnaps). I'm delighted to say everyone gave the sill a try, although I'm not sure I've created any converts yet.
Today's journey basically involved getting from Point A (Håvre) to Point B (Umeå)--in other words, a fairly long day in the van. Nevertheless, we did manage to squeeze in one more very typical Swedish experience known as fika, loosely translated as a coffee break, but one that involves taking the time to enjoy one's surroundings and the company of others. We located a lovely little park along the river outside Örsköldsvik, where there were several small huts provided for just such a gathering.
This was particularly fortuitous because the temperature dropped rather suddenly as we drove north, which meant that sitting outdoors wasn't quite as comfortable as it had been previously. Given the Swedes' love of the outdoors, however, it's not surprising that these huts exist in most public parks. After all, why should a bit of cold weather stop you from enjoying a bit of food and friendship?
Tomorrow we head for the Arctic Circle and Jokkmokk, the village where we'll be staying for the next two weeks, learning more about Sámi culture.