Before coming to Sweden, I had never dreamed of seeing a Viking shield, let alone an entire Viking city.
We had traveled from Stockholm, our home for this last month, about forty minutes by plane to Gotland, an island just off of Sweden’s eastern coast. The Baltic stretched for miles around us, and when the plane touched down, it seemed we were transported back in time. The bus ride from the airport to the walled city of Visby was barely twenty minutes, but those twenty minutes took us from the modern familiarities of the twentieth century back to the remnants of the medieval era. The stone wall that surrounds the city, and the medieval city within the walls, seemed impossible despite its concreteness.
We spent the three days in Visby in awe. We walked the cobblestone streets, wandered up through ancient buildings and roofless churches and sturdy storehouses, saw kilograms of Viking coins and sets of armor twice as old as the nation we call home. We mountain biked up to the top of Högklint, a forty-five-meter cliff that leans over the ocean. From our vantage point, Visby sat nearly shrouded in the distance by mist. We saw sheep—hundreds of sheep—and Gotland ponies, which roam near wild through the open wilderness of the island.
The second day, we took a day trip to the opposite side of the island, where we visited several archeological digs and incredible natural rock formations that overlooked the sea. We picnicked in the crisp salt air and munched on Kex bars, a now favorite fika treat. We tried famous Gotland brews, and we watched the sun slip over the horizon into the sea.
The most vivid memory of Gotland I possess, however, was our second night. We were walking along the path that sat between the wall and the Baltic. The stars were out, the sun long set. It was chilly but calm, with not a breath of wind. The night was silent save the lapping of the water on the rocky shore. A group of us sat trying to skip rocks across the sea, laughing and considering this wild place in which we found ourselves. We are halfway across the world from where we are most familiar, in a place that feels foreign not just in the language of the street signs but even in the age of the rooms where we sleep.
Even so, as we sat and skipped rocks, I realized that these people who just a month ago were strangers are now friends, and they are friends I hope to have for a very long time. We started a wild adventure together here in Sweden, one that I’m sure will only increase in magnificence as it continues. In this beautiful country, nothing remains ordinary for long. Gotland was not the beginning of our trip, nor will it be the end, but it was an unforgettable moment I hope to savor for the days and years to come.