If there’s something that’s ever inspired me to travel, that is reading. Reading as much as I could and from every single place in the world. Stories that were fun or sad, fast or slow, wild or quiet… And while that hasn’t made me a writer, it has given me the opportunity to travel when I couldn’t do it as much as I wanted.
Las month, I had the chance to connect those two passions: traveling and reading for a trip that would take me to the world of red houses, green forests and magic of Astrid Lindgren in Småland, Sweden.
If you haven’t read a book by her (yet), take a walk to your local library and look for the stories from Pippi Longstocking, the boy Emil, Ronja and many more. They are in the children’s book category, but don’t underestimate these stories. They include strong kids, quirky adults, freedom and the right to be “fine with being a little different.”
Join me on this day trip to Vimmerby, only 3 hours away from Stockholm and Göteborg, to discover what inspired one of the greatest swedish writers and the places where her stories came alive.
Strolling around Vimmerby town
Vimmerby was not only the place where Astrid Lindgren was born. She got the inspiration for many of the stories and characters from her books in the town.
Vimmerby has a genuine small-town atmosphere, which seems to be cut out of Astrid Lindgren’s books. It dates as far back as 1364, when it was mentioned as a marketplace. During the 18th century, it was the main point for oxen commerce in Sweden. Later, in the 19th century, it was a commercial spot with up to 12 tanneries, one of which is now kept at Skansen open air museum in Stockholm.
Much looks the same as when she lived here. Emil’s marketplace, Kalle Blomkvist’s alleys and the building for Pippi’s candy shop can be spotted with and easy walk around town.
But Astrid has made an impression on the whole town as much as it made an impression on her stories. At Stora Torget there is a bronze statue depicting Astrid seated by her typewriter. The chair opposite to her it is heated; so you can sit there any day of the year and see her work on her typewriter. And maybe get some inspiration.
The town is also nice for kids, who can play at the boat in across the square. Or grab a book at one of the smallest libraries in the world.
And, if you want to play around, try to spot the differences between today’s Vimmerby and the buildings and alleys at Astrid Lindgren’s books. Or from the real Vimmerby and their “copy” at the theme park (hing: you can find a “copy” later in this post ;) ).
The Näs, the origin of it all
The Näs (the nose) was Astrid’s birthplace and childhood home. Only 10 minutes walking from the centre of Vimmerby, this old farm land was where she got the inspiration for her stories. And it makes all the sense, as for old superstitious swedes the nose was where “potentially troublesome” spirits lived. What a place for a strong independent and creative woman to grow up, don’t you think?
A visit to Astrid Lindgren’s Näs is the best way to discover the different aspects of her life that lead to the outstanding stories she created. But also to her political and social influence across the nordic countries and the rest of the world.
Living in this typical red house (above) with her family, Astrid met tramps traveling through Sweden, lived surrounded by nature and made up many of the games that kids play on her books. You can imagine her listening to the stories told and playing at the beautiful gardens surrounding. Or enjoying one of the traditional swedish cheesecakes with cottage cheese and almonds (Ostkaka) that they now serve at the museums café.
She even had a real “Lemonade Tree”. A 200 years old elm tree where Astrid and her siblings would pick up fresh lemonade in the summer, from a big hole in the trunk (#spoleralert: the lemonade deliver would leave it there when they weren’t home, to keep it safe from thieves and tramps.)
But I won’t tell you more, now it’s your turn discover the connections between her real life and her stories.
When to visit: Astrid Lindgren’s Näs opens everyday in summer and Wednesday to Sunday all other seasons. They also hold a Christmas market in early December.
Price: Children up to 16 years old can enter the exhibit and the gardens. Adults pay 170SEK, with discounted prices during Spring and for Students and Seniors.
Guided tours for the family house are available al throughout the year in English and German, but they should be booked in advance to guarantee a seat. Check for info here.
Other: there is a restaurant&cafe (Ostkaka cheesecake recommended), a museum shop and a crafts & books shop run by the some of Astrid’s relatives. Also, the exhibition holds a wall of fame of ALMA, the children’s writers award run by the Swedish Arts Council.
Astrid Lindgren’s World, a different theme park
Astrid Lindgren’s Värld or Astrid Lindgren’s World is a different theme park (at least not one of the Disney kind).
This one was designed not to amaze adults with the heights or the speed of its “attractions” but to let the kids play free in the world of the characters Astrid designed for them. There are animals, and bookstores, they don’t serve fast food, and characters don’t look like plush toys but are real actors.
All around the park, Pippi, Mardie, Emil and many other characters come to life and children get to meet them and even play with them. And, when they are not around, they can also get inside the theatre sets and find out what’s inside the houses, footpaths and even mountains where the stories come true every day.
The park also has some places just for play, like a barn with slides and ropes to jump around and houses on a child-friendly scale.
I must admit I hadn’t read all of her stories and, not knowing any Swedish, I couldn’t understand most of the plays that we encountered while walking through the park. However, I had a great fun by watching the kids and actors interact and many of the songs sounded familiar. Plus, most of the signage is in English too, so you I tried a few of the games and riddles that are everywhere around the park.
There are other interesting things in the park, like enjoying proper traditional food. The park doesn’t serve fast food or dishes from semi-finished products. Since 2010, they serve almost exclusively locally produced swedish food.
All of the recipes served at the park are linked with her stories. Dishes that the people from Småland used to eat when Astrid was a kid. Which have been developed in partnership with one of Sweden’s top chefs: Fredik Eriksson, who’s also one of the two gastronomical advisors at the Nobel Prize banquet.
What you see above is Isterband, a coarsely ground smoked sausage from Småland with potatoes in white sauce, pickled beets and gherkins. This was my meal (a tasty choice), but you can also try meatballs, cherry-glazed pork, fried fillets of Baltic herring… or go for the vegetarian options with potato casserole or oven-baked forest mushrooms.
When to visit: Astrid Lindgren’s Värld opens daily from the 20th of May to the 28th of August. But it is also open every weekend in September and for the Swedish autumn half-term break, when they have a traditional craft market.
Price: There are 1, 2 and 3 day passes and prices vary through the season. Up to mid-June adult 1 day ticket is 260 SEK and kids pay 185 SEK. High season, adults pay 400 SEK and kids 290 SEK. (prices may vary year to year.) Tickets are available online here and there are also combined tickets with Astrid Lindgren’s Näs.
The main difference between high and low season is the number of performances. Up to 50 shows of different lengths during main season with 60 characters from 10 different stories.
And… Kids up to 14 years old get in free on their birthday. Every other day, babies up to 3 years old go free too.
Other: Food is not pricey, but you can bring your food to the park too: there are several picnic areas and a few barbecue places (coal is also available at the parks’ shops).
There is sign language interpretation on 12, 13, 14 July and 9, 10, 11 August.
There is free wifi at the park and some designated smoking points too.
and some more
Also, just outside the town, you can find the “real” Katthult and Noisy Village, where the films were made. Or visit the parks and lakes surrounding.
And, while we didn’t visit, the getting a Moose kiss at Virum park looks like a fun idea too.
Where to sleep in Vimmerby
For this trip we stayed at the Best Western Vimmerby Stadshotell, down town Vimmerby (accross the statue of Astrid Lindgren) and only 15 minutes on foot to Astrid’s old house. It is a Best Western, which means standard american quality and nice design, but I must add that the hotel’s restaurant is a nice spot for local beer and great food you should check.