Medieval Sweden – The Annual Visby Festival

Medieval Sweden

The Annual Medieval Festival in Visby

I’m going to try to write occasionally about some of the interesting but less well known places I’ve visited. This time around it’s the annual Visby Medieval Festival. This is an annual affair that takes place from Sunday to Sunday in the 32nd month of the year (beginning of August). There are about 22 000 people who live in this lively Medieval city. The number of visitors during the festival however is close to 40 000! Visby is on the Swedish island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Medival play in Visby - a Jester watches a KingAbout Medieval Visby

UNESCO calls Visby “the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe”. It was the centre of Baltic commerce from about the 11th to 14th centuries. Visby was partially burned in the 15th century but retains 17 Medieval churches (2 outside the walls). There are also over 200 other buildings with substantial Medieval elements remaining. The 12th century Visby cathedral predates the city wall. There is also the 3.4km long 13th century wall remains intact today.

The Medieval Festival

The Medieval festival in Visby is taken a bit more seriously than the more touristy Carcassone in south-western France. It was interesting to see that some of the visitors left their money “somewhere else” and camped rough in the Botanical Gardens, taking on the role of Medieval beggars. The tourists wearing Medieval clothing appeared to outnumber those of us who foolishly wore jeans and t-shirts. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but there are thousands who do dress up. Those who forgot, can buy or rent their clothing and sandals, made locally in the Medieval tradition. Much of the food and drink offered is the same as was offered in the 14th century. And of course those selling crafts during the festival can only sell those they made themselves using Medieval techniques.

Medival peasants in Visby sit at a tableNo Medieval festival would be complete without jousting, jesters, music and the occasional reenactment where a woman gets built into the wall for having let the Danes in.

Visby Medieval Festival - Death stalks a peasant girlWhat Else for the Tourist?

Visby boasts some very nice restaurants that are far from Medieval by any standards. The Botanical Gardens are another must see (Swedes call Visby the City of Roses). The island of Gotland is quite flat with a sparse population. This makes it an ideal place for cycling from place to place. There are a number of sights including Medieval churches (if you didn’t get enough in Visby) and some pleasant beaches. Visby and the rest of Gotland make an excellent 1-2 week escape from modern times.

Petra and Highlights of Jordan

Petra and Highlights of Jordan

Adventure Off The Beaten Trail

Jordan is one of the more under-rated destinations and perfect for anyone who likes a bit of adventure … and unlike Egypt they actually obey traffic laws. Sure I was nearly run off a cliff when a transport decided to pass another on a blind curve, nearly was turned into pizza when the brakes failed on the Land Rover as we threaded the needle between oncoming trucks and someone did throw some dynamite into a bar in Ma’an that I had just visited … but they do stop at red lights, even at night!

Essentials for the Visitor

If you want to do Jordan right here are the highlights, more or less in order:

1. Visit Petra

I cannot stress how amazing Petra is – without a doubt it is the highlight of Jordan. Do not miss it. You should book 2-3 days for your visit with perhaps additional days in between visit days to relax. More on this below,

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

2. Rent/hire a car

Driving in Jordan is easy and it’s reasonably safer than having a driver who might fall asleep on the highway (it happens a lot) or drive off a cliff (also happens more than it should). Drivers will use their signals/indicators to let you know if it is safe to pass (left signal means don’t pass, right means all clear), they use their lights at night (unlike Egyptians) and follow the rules reasonably better than some places in Europe. Don’t be bothered if the highways suddenly widens to become a landing strip (unless a plane is coming) and be prepared to pull over if there’s a big sand storm. You can cheaply cross the country by taxi as well, which isn’t bad if you get a good driver (I’ve been in a cab with two drivers who took turns when they were tired – very impressed). Coaches will not get you everywhere you want to go.

3. Overnight in Wadi RumWadi Rum in southern Jordan at Dusk

Wadi Rum lies in southern Jordan, not far from Aqaba. While I didn’t actually overnight there I did at least stay until nightfall. I relative of mine did overnight there and verifies that the sunrise is as impressive as the sunset. Instead I camped out in the ruins of a 2000 year old Nabatean bath house while doing archaeology elsewhere in Jordan and it was certainly a highlight.  Do not go into Wadi Rum unless you have 4 wheel drive. Point of fact, an old Land Rover will hold about 13 people as long as some of you are willing to ride on the roof or hang off the sides/back – great to know if your other vehicle gets stuck.

Land Rover in Wadi Rum Jordan4. Follow the Desert Loop

Do a loop east of Amman to visit the black desert and Qasr Azraq, a Roman fort in eastern Jordan where T.E. Lawrence wintered before pushing on to Damascus. On the way you can stop and visit Qasr al-Kharrana, Um-al-Jamal.

Jordanian Qasr al-KharranaYou can also see Qasr Amra with possibly the oldest picture on the celestial sky in the round.

In the round

Qasr Amra – the oldest known picture of the celestial sky in the round.

5. Tour the Roman City of Jerash

Visit the Roman city of Jerash in northern Jordan. An easy drive from Amman.

6.the Dead Sea & Crusader Castles

Drop by and visit the Dead Sea and stop at the crusader castles such as Shobek and Kerak.

A Quick Guide to Petra

Petra needs a mention on its own and it is worth the trip to Jordan just to see it. If you have only five places to visit in your lifetime then Petra should be one of them – I’ll let you choose the other four (though the temples at Siem Reap and a felucca ride from Aswan to Edfu could contend). You should plan to spend two days in Petra, with an optional day of rest in between. A third day would allow you to explore some of the less visited areas, but is not necessary.

Essentials for a Petra Visit

Petra is an adventure, not a cruise ship so dress and pack appropriately. You will be best off with very comfortable footwear, preferably hiking boots and socks that wick away sweat. Long sleeves and trousers are preferred both to risk offending the locals and to avoid sun burn, however this is one of the few areas in Jordan where shorts will be less likely to cause offense. Water and snacks would also be a good idea as the site is enormous and you may not be able to find a vendor when you want one. If you get off the beaten trail you will want to have a reserve. Also pack a map and a camera (you shouldn’t need a compass as the geography is fairly obvious).

The Siq

All visits to Petra start with a walk through the narrow gorge called the Siq, on a slight downward grade and an uneven surface for about 1.2km. You will need to conserve enough energy to make it out as the slight grade is a killer if you tried to pack everything into a single day.

Don’t expect to see much inside any of the ruins apart from the amazing colour of the stone.Coloured rock of Petra Jordan

The Treasury

When you arrive at Al Khazneh (the Treasury) the path to the rest of Petra will continue to the right. Turn to the right as you emerge from the Siq and look for a way to climb up the cliff opposite the ruin. There is a way that isn’t too difficult if you’re careful and it gives you an excellent view from above.

View of the Treasury from Above in Petra Jordan

View if you climb the cliff opposite the Treasury in Petra

Looking back at the Siq from the Treasury in Petra Jordan

The Monastary

After visiting Al Khazneh go to Ad Deir (the Monastery). Do not stop for anything else – if you have the energy you can visit other places on the way back (don’t be tempted by the Nabatean theatre). The first time I went to Petra I made the mistake of visiting the High Place and then Ad Deir and was too exhausted to appreciate it. Ad Deir is second to Al Khazneh in terms of sights you will see (and second only because it doesn’t have that famous view from the Siq). To arrive there you need to descend into the valley (remember, you will need to go back again), cross the valley with its temples and Roman colonnade, then climb up into the mountains on the other side. View of from the side of The Monestary at Petra JordanYou can follow a path that is to the left when facing Ad Deir and climb to the top but be careful – this is one of the places that tourists have been reported falling to their death and it’s a good 50m to the bottom. Expect that rocks, scaffolding etc may break apart and stay away from edges anywhere high.

On top of Ad Deir in Petra Jordan

Do not slip off!

Other Highlights of Petra

If you are visiting for two days you can come back the way you came and visit some of the sights on the way out, and if you have the energy as you climb back out of the valley stop by the tombs to your left (Urn, Silk, Corinthian, Palace). If you are only at Petra one day then your first priority after Al Khazneh and Ad Deir, if you have enough energy, is the High Place of Sacrafice. In a one day visit you should head to the path near the Temple of the Roman Soldier and the Garden Temple, after returning to the valley from Ad Deir, and return via the path near the theatre. In a two day trip you should start with the path near the theatre and head to the High Place early and choose what else to visit based on your energy level.Petra theatreDon’t bother with the Crusader Castle at Petra – it’s really not worth the effort unless you are there for 3-4 days.

Summary

That’s it – I hope you get to experience this wonderful location. Oh yes, while you can get away shorts at Petra please be respectful of local sensitivities … modest attire and learning a couple of words of Arabic will work wonders in how you are received.

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Afterward

I had been thinking of doing an article “Egypt Done Right” as that’s a country with some amazing hidden gems, but unfortunately I’ll have to skip that considering circumstances. That being said you are more likely to die in a car accident in that country than be killed in a terror attack. I was in Egypt four months before the Hatshepsut massacre and in that time saw one tourist coach turned over after it crashed into three camels and another burned out at the side of the road after it had hit a transport whose driver was likely asleep.

Disney World Without The Wait

Disney World Without the Wait

It is possible to visit Disney World without spending half your time in line. All it takes is a bit of planning and a willingness to get up in the morning!

My 2nd round with Disney World in the past three years went swimmingly well. There was no need to wait more than five minutes for any attraction in eight days (not counting for shows) and now that I’ve ended up helping plan vacations for two friends I decided it would be easier to blog about it.

Quite frankly, I don’t need to as long as there is easywdw.com. The blogger, Josh, seems to spend half his days at Disney World and does a far better job of it than I.

The Best Way To Visit Disney World

Sign up For Everything Disney

Disney sends out PIN codes to certain people. These codes are for offers not available to the general public. The offers may be released to the general public, perhaps with more restrictions and certainly with less availability. How Disney determines who gets PIN codes is a bit of a mystery but Disney does need your email address at a bare minimum. Ask for the promotional DVD. Create a Disney account and make some trial bookings. Sign up for the Disney video club. Do anything that lets Disney know you are interested. I’ve managed to get a few PIN codes and have used them twice for a free Dining Plan. The person who the PIN code must be on any tripped booked, even if for just one day – so if grandma gets a PIN and doesn’t want to go then too bad. With a PIN code you can book up to 3 rooms. The rooms need to be at the same resort and the bookings have to overlap but other than that the bookings can be different.

Show up early

This is the most important rule – if you show up 45 minutes before the scheduled opening time you will be at the front of the queue and you will have minimal waits for everything right up until 11:00am – even at crazy times like Christmas.

Follow the crowd calendars.

Josh can tell you one year in advance what the crowds levels will be and what the most favourable park to visit is on any given day – there is a huge difference between least and most favourable even on the low crowd days.

Follow the cheat sheets

The Cheat Sheets will help you know which ride to take when – some rides get crowded quickly because of slow load times and low capacity. Book fastpasses 60 days out according to cheat sheets – don’t waste them on rides with no line ups.

Book table service restaurants

Book Disney World restaurants 180 days in advance (180+10 if you stay at a Disney resort). You need to do this to get Cinderella’s Royal Table … other restaurants may be less extreme but some still require several months in advance booking. Book Be Our Guest quick service as a free fastpass (doesn’t count as one of your three per day) – you may not get the invitation with your booking until the choice times are booked … it’s fun to walk past the hoards who are waiting.

Enjoy Disney World at Night

The highlights are the Fireworks, like Wishes and Illuminations, as well as Fantasmic and the Main Street Electrical Parade. Besides these you should do the following at night, because they are way better in the dark: Jungle Cruise, Tomorrowland Transit Authority/People Mover, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse & Astro Orbitor.

Summing Up

If you follow those step you should have an easy time of it … provided you can wake everyone up in time.

Disney is a bit off my normal preference of travel but I still like it … and they do a few things very well: customer service, line management, the little details.

Fireworks at Disney World

Fireworks at Disney World