Have you heard of Lövstabruk?
I know I hadn't -- not until I rode into the small Swedish village one day last summer.
Lövstabruk was just a dot on my maps -- a very small dot -- but it turned out to be so much more.
I was on a bicycle/camping trip -- riding along on a forest road somewhere north of Östhammar and south of Galve -- when I saw a sign pointing the way to Lövstabruk. There was no description of what was there -- just the name of the village. On a whim I turned right and rode into what was once the site of one of the world's leading ironworks, but was now home to a population of about 100 people.
Lövstabruk was established in 1596 and for a time in the 18th century was the biggest ironworks in Sweden. The Russians plundered and burned Lövstabruk in 1719, but the ironworks were rebuilt and continued to operate until 1926, when operations ceased. The production facilities were torn down, but virtually all the surrounding buildings -- most of which date to the 18th century -- remain intact. And this is what I rode into on that gray, rainy Saturday afternoon.
I stopped next to the wooden clock tower, across the road from the church, which had been rebuilt in the 1720s. An organ was being played inside the church, and as I gazed at the magnificent grounds and buildings, I was treated to a stirring recital.
The organ was built between 1725 and 1728, and as I learned later, a concert was scheduled that evening. I had rode in while the organist was practicing. An elderly Swedish woman I met later in the day told me the concerts draw people from all over the country -- and how lucky I was to be there that day -- and urged me to stay and attend. But as I told her, I had already listened to my own private performance.
I spent more than three hours wandering the grounds at Lövstabruk. There were only a few other people there, so it felt as if I had the place to myself. And there was more music. The workers from the National Property Board of Sweden, which maintains the site, were dressed in period costumes that day. Some of them roamed the estate, singing songs.
Lövstabruk was a unique experience, one that I would not have stumbled into if I were not traveling by bicycle. But Lövstabruk was just one of many memorable experiences I had as I wandered the roads of Sweden, riding more than 1,000 miles during a four-week journey. Every day had its own story. Every day was unique.
My objective is not to see how many miles I can ride. It's what I see and who I meet that's important. It was in Sweden -- during a five-month journey across Europe when I was 23 years old -- that I learned to stop and appreciate the moment.
Last summer was the third time I rode in Sweden -- and it was the best. The scenery -- forests, lakes, rivers, farmland and castles -- was spectacular. At least once a day I would stop on a quiet road, look around in wonder, and tell myself it doesn't get any better than this.
But it always did.
I discovered towns and villages I can only describe as jewels. Östhammar, Söderhamn, Bollnäs, Mellanfjarden, Strängnäs and Trosa are visual delights.
Gysinge is another carefully maintained industrial village that dates to the 16th century. Like Lövstabruk, Gysinge was one of Sweden's biggest ironworks during the 1800s.
The Dalälven River flows by Gysinge and there are white-water rapids next to the village. Across the bridge, on the other side of the river, is Färnebofjärdens National Park, a beautiful, serene place. There's also an old abandoned railroad bridge nearby.
I spent hours -- over two days -- exploring Gysinge and the surrounding area. I enjoyed every minute of it.
During my journey I camped in the forest and at camp sites. Most nights I camped alongside a body of water. One night, camped on a lake near Delsbo, I watched a gorgeous sunset about 10 p.m. and the start of an equally gorgeous sunrise about 1 a.m.
Remember, this is the land of the midnight sun, and the days are long.
There were days where I was up at six in the morning, packed and riding by seven, wandering the roads until eight in the evening.
I never knew what I was going to find.
But I was never disappointed.
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