Nearing ten o’clock at night. Speeding through customs with a small, carry-on backpack to a waiting taxi. Luxury!
Well before eleven we round a corner warmed by the glowing windows of the William Pub to arrive at Akademi Hotellet.
Opening the door of our third floor room we step straight into a vision. Two steeples of the cathedral alight against the inky blackness of night. Stars of many colours ascending to heaven. Lasers lancing dark clouds.
Bags dumped, we gleefully retrace our steps and head for the William. An English pub Swede-ified.
Mellow lights. A rumble of conversation. No music.
A hipster pours us a Guinness and a glass of red wine. We sit in the window, taking in the sights.
A pile of dirty snow – and de facto bike rack. The cathedral’s mesmerising lights. Pavement grit, sparkling.
We sleep well. Don’t hear the bells marking the passing hours. Or the long peal greeting six in the morning, when the world’s still immersed in night.
Downstairs, the dining room’s warm and welcoming.
Tea lights glimmer on tables, pendant lights in windows.
A buffet of many delights awaits: boiled eggs, meats, pickles. Jams, cheeses, breads.
Tiny smoothies, violet speckled with blackberry-blue. Each a mouthful of jewel-like richness.
White yogurt, ladled with scarlet lingonberries. Like fresh snow dotted with bright holly berries – but edible.
Well-breakfasted, the prof heads off to Uppsala’s university, to meet a group of geneticists. A joint project, many moons in the planning.
For me, a day of lone discovery.
Preparing for this trip was odd. I had no worries, no anxieties. Most unlike me.
Somehow I knew. All would be well.
The cathedral, my first stop, detains me several hours.
I see the memorial to 12th century king and saint, Erik the Holy. It was believed he was murdered by the Danish on the site where the cathedral now stands.
Another monument, somewhat obscured by chairs (preparations for a professorial inauguration are underway), celebrates Carl Linnaeus.
There’s even a side chapel named after a chancellor of the university, Johan Skytte (1577-1645).
Particularly touching for me, with his links to Zambia and Barbara Hepworth, is Dag Hammarskjöld’s memorial.
In the chapel for silent prayer I sit, thinking.
Two young men enter. One tousled blonde, the other neatly dark.
The tousled one confounds my expectations, kneeling, praying, writing in the guest book.
His friend kneels in turn, head bowed, concentrating. Writes at length in the book. Prays some more before leaving.
I kneel. Send my hopes and fears up through the roof, into the winter sky.
Curiosity impels me to read what the young man wrote, in English – plainly not his native tongue.
It’s a plea for peace in the world.
Humbled, I pen a short echo and leave, warmed by the spirit of youth.
Taking the lift up the tower to the seventh floor I gawp at a medieval dress and other ancient textiles.
Back down on earth I realise I’m hungry and make my way downhill to the shops.
I enter one selling special teas – in packets, not to drink. The young man behind the counter chats in perfect English. Swedish by birth, son of Eritrean parents, he recommends a falafel van round the corner.
I’m too cold for that and brave a tiny café down a side street. Order an avocado ciabatta. Tea – black leaves, dotted with blue – is served in an infuser dunked in a mug of hot water.
I wander the shopping streets, amble along the riverbank.
A window display of Moomins lures me into a toyshop. I buy a plastic Moomin plate. The woman, roughly my age, remarks, in halting English, that though we learned to love Moomins as children, age doesn’t lessen their appeal. She’s right.
Light fading, I tromp back uphill, hesitate, then try the door of a church which looks as if it’s closed.
In the porch, I stand, stunned by faded scraps of paintings adorning walls and ceiling.
It’s the famine before the feast.
For the next hour I look, walk around, sit. Spellbound. And alone.
Like everywhere I’ve been it’s warm.
Brass chandeliers emit a mellow light. Candles burn.
It’s easy, here, to see how important paintings would have been to illiterate church goers. One has a special resonance for me, a child born on Holy Innocents’ Day. But I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
By the time we leave my brain’s abuzz. As if it’s been reconditioned. For one who works alone, it’s a rare treat.
Next day the prof and I are free to be tourists together and visit ‘my’ church.
The cathedral’s closed for the professorial inauguration. A disappointment soon eclipsed by the castle.
We marvel at the University’s precious silver bible. Written in the Gothic language, in the sixth century, on purple tinted parchment in silver and gold ink, it’s now on Unesco’s Memory of the World register. We see some awesome paper treasures – 700 year old books, maps and pictures. (Imagine 700 year old data sticks in a display case?)
It strikes me that education – learning – is valued here.
Yes, Uppsala’s an ancient university city. But the hoardings round building sites don’t boast of financial investment, or facilities, they celebrate Nobel prize-winners.
Admittedly, in this land of Abba, ‘money, money, money’ is a bit of an issue for us Brexit-burdened-Brits. Things are expensive, especially now the pound is weak.
But think on this, all ye who hate paying tax.
Signs outside the library and the castle tell us (in English) all the people of Sweden pay for the upkeep of these national assets – because it’s their national heritage.
There’s an additional charge on the fare for public transport into the airport – to help repay the costs incurred in upgrading the infrastructure.
That’s what taxes do. They pay for the things we all need, or care about, or treasure.
Or arguably should.
So I suppose the question is, what do we treasure?
Well, I treasure the memories of this visit. Well worth the airfare and my half of the hotel bill.
Thank you, Uppsala. It was wonderful.
See you again, soon. I hope.