The toilet paper selection process didn’t stand much of a chance. It was a Baltic island toss up between Öland and Gotland and, on the basis I had previously been to a barn dance near Borgholm, had never been to Visby and was on my way to Oskarshamn, it was destination by default.
I boarded the boat to Sweden’s so-called Majorca with the end-of-season crowd – like the couple I met on the sundeck who were disproportionately enthusiastic, I thought, about their holiday visiting all of Gotland’s 94 churches.
The view coming into shore is pretty spectacular; an enchanted fairyland scene with Sleeping Beauty spires which my photo doesn’t do justice.
Now, if you recall my overnight stay in the disused train in Lund, the novelty accomodation concept gets better. On arrival at the imposing-looking youth hostel, I was told I had a sea view. Brilliant. Unfortunately, it was hampered by bars and barbed wire.
Here, you don’t have a room. You have a cell. You’re not a guest. You’re an inmate. In theory anyway. This was Visby’s prison until 1996 and the fittings remain intact.
Just like one-time residents etched on the walls to claim their territory or waste a bit of time, these days it seems customary for inmates to let their successors know they ’woz here’ on the bunk bed.
Among others to have served time in my cell were Amanda and Madde from Falun, Marie and Peter from Mjölby and Tessan, who was even kind enough to leave her phone number.
There was a nice greeting from a criminal Nordic cousin: ”Have a good day = Rass I Bala (In Icelandic).” And some poetic words of wisdom from an anonymous inmate who must have been sentenced to life: ”You on a balcony with a shiny smile, not of this world.”
I allowed myself a good few days in Gotland which started with an afteroon wandering the streets within the fortress walls, visiting the Cathedral (only 93 to go now) and happily getting lost. I visited the ancient ruins and the morning after I felt like one after taking up a invitation to join some teenage Stockholmers for a night on the town.
Once recovered, I planned activities to explore the island; a dare-devil abseil, a speedy motorbike safari, creepy cave adventures and the like. But I opted for a gentle start and, whilst here on the breeding ground of the Gotland Pony, a pleasant trek in the country was on the cards.
Now I’m not an experienced horsewoman so I took a cart ride with a driver in tow. Trotting away it was all going so well until a lorry decided to drive past in a manner fitting to Formula One.
The horse didn’t take kindly to the trucker’s speed and took a swift right into a ditch, out of a ditch, into someone’s garden and I thought it was going to try and clear the upcoming fence.
I wasn’t hanging around to wait and see so I jumped out of the cart in a exceptionally convincing Miami Vice manouevre, complete with a roll. I considered continuing in character, checking round the bushes for armed criminals with my hands shaped like a 45-calibre.
Instead. I brushed myself down and rolled my sleeves up in a fashion that would have made Sonny Crockett proud. And then I limped home.
The day ended with a trip to Visby A&E in the company of a kid with a broken thumb and a bloke with a swollen toe. The X-ray results came back with a hairline fracture so at least the hospital trip, and the 400 crowns, was worth the effort.
Now the hills of Visby are not easy to navigate for the hobbling tourist and cructhes on cobbles are never a good combination. So imprisoned I really was, on the advice to take it easy. Resting makes me restless but then I thought about the couple on their church-conquering quest and realised where I would rather be.
I’m semi-way back on my feet again thanks to a snug-fitting support stocking and am currently accepting messages of condolences and contributions to scribble on it. Later I will auction it off to raise funds for a new flowerbed and donate it to the home-owner whose front lawn we crashed.
You’re very welcome to leave a message below – anything from contemporary poetry, Icelandic phrases or a simple ’woz here’ will do.
And, by the way, the horse never jumped.