We’ve spent the last couple of days camping at the marina in Mariestad. In fact, we chose to pay to stay there which is unusual for us – if we can find a free spot (and we always can in Sweden) we don’t pay. But it looked like a nice place and a marina would make a change from tucked away in the countryside somewhere. We came to Mariestad because of a recommendation in our Really Rough Guide, but to be honest, we didn’t really see the great attraction of the town. It was nice enough, but like so many places, seems wholly geared towards the main tourist season so, out of season, is not so special.
The old part of town does have some interesting architecture, so we picked up a guided walk brochure from the tourist office. The brochure wasn’t particularly well written and failed to tell us about the most interesting bits, like the little mirrors sticking out from some of the old houses. We found out from a guy at the marina that, as far as he knows, they were purely to assist the occupant of the house in being nosey and keeping an eye on what was going on outside. Sounds like I could do with some of those.
Our blah mood wasn’t helped by the fact that it was pretty cold and a bit drizzly – on a sunny day we probably could have spent far longer wandering around. But the draw of the warm van and hot chocolate was too much and, to be honest, the marina was the most interesting place to be. Winter preparations were being made and yachts were being craned out of the water to be taken to storage sheds. Apparently the lake freezes for a couple of months – surely not the whole lake? All 5600 square kilometres of it? Don’t know, maybe it is just the edges, but certainly it is enough to mean that it is best not to leave your boat in the water.
And we had electricity – we were even spoiled and the lovely lady in the marina office didn’t charge us for it on our second night. Combined with good data signal, it meant that we quickly converted to slobby ways, spending far too much time on the computer working, skyping, surfing and watching DVDs. We charged everything we own and felt really decadent because we could have every light on in the evening.
After two days of that, we’d had enough and moved down the coast to Läckö Castle for a bit of culture. The castle closes for the winter season in a couple of days, which means that it is really a very stripped down version that you get to see now – three of the four floors are closed as are many of the visitor facilities. The floor that is open is by guided tour only, but our guide Frederick was excellent and gave us a fascinating history of Sweden’s military past and, of course, the castle in particular Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie who we can thank for the castle in its present form. It is worth checking out the link to his grandfather, Pontus de la Gardie, a French born mercenary, fighting for the Danes, captured by Sweden and forced to become a Swedish subject. He lied about his background and convinced the Swedes that he was from French nobility which he proved by delivering some letters to the Russian Czar, Ivan the Terrible. At the time, so Frederick told us, the Swedish kings were incredibly rude and often started such letters with ‘You bloody arsehole’ or similar. As you can imagine, Ivan didn’t take too kindly to this and often killed the messenger – to survive delivery of such letters proved, in the eyes of the king, de la Gardie’s noble heritage.
One of the key features of the castle is the way in which the state rooms are decorated. As Frederick said, the place was cold enough without adding limestone floors and plaster ceilings so everything possible was made in wood but painted to look like something else – pillars, plaster mouldings on the ceiling etc. Much of it is in original condition and surprisingly well preserved given the harsh winters in this part of the world.
Not surprisingly, the castle cafe is closed, so back to the van for a hot lunch and coffee – it is really getting quite cold now.