A visit to Sweden in bleak mid-winter to see a dear old friend who is ill could have been a equally bleak affair with temperatures of -20 but as always was enlivened by the wonderful hospitality of our friends and the unique Swedish way of embracing life and looking to the future with optimism. We spent the weekend in a place we know well, Västerås on the shores of Lake Mälaren. This is no mean city being the sixth largest in Sweden with the headquarters of ABB, Bombardier Transportation and H & M, a university of 16,000 students and an important Cultural, Artistic and Historic centre. Indeed at the other end of Lake Mälaren is a city called Stockholm and it around this lake Norse Tribes who were to be called The Swedes (from the Norse from “one’s own ( tribesmen)”) developed the common culture and sense of purpose which led to the unique nation we know today as Sweden.
Västerås is a city in central Sweden, located on the shore of Lake Mälaren in the province Västmanland, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Stockholm. The city had a population of around 137,000. Västerås is the seat of Västerås Municipality, the capital of Västmanland County and an Episcopal see with the fine Cathedral Västerås Domkyrka in the Baltic brick gothic style containing Royal tombs.
It is one of the oldest cities in Sweden and Northern Europe. The name originates from Västra Aros, which refers to the river mouth of Svartån. The area has been populated since the Nordic Viking Age, before 1000 AD. In the beginning of the 11th century it was the second largest city in Sweden, and by the 12th century had become the seat of the bishop. Anundshög is located just outside the City of Västerås. Anundshög is Sweden’s largest burial mound. “Hög” is derived from the Old Norse word haugr meaning mound or barrow. It was built about 500 AD and is over 74 yards wide and is almost 10 yards high. In the ensuing centuries a cathedral and a monastery were built. The first City Arms date from the end of the 13th century.
In the 14th century Vasteras Castle was developed into a castle stronghold. In 1520 it was captured by the Danes but King Gustav Vasa liberated Västerås in April 1521. The reformation of Vasteras of 1527 was an important historic event whereby King Gustav Vasa ended Catholicism in Sweden. Rudbeckianska Gymnasiet, the oldest gymnasium (secondary school) in Sweden, was built in Västerås by Johannes Rudbeckius in 1623.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the growing of cucumber became popular, and Västerås received the nickname Gurkstaden (the Cucumber City), which it still retains today. Västerås has the largest lakeside commercial and recreational port in Scandinavia on Lake Mälaren. The city also has a skyscraper cordially nicknamed “Skrapan” (English: The Scraper) which has Sweden’s highest-located cocktail bar, called Sky Bar, on the 24th floor of the building. One of the historical reasons that made Västerås a city is its trading-friendly location by the river Svartån and Lake Mälaren. The city remains one of the main logistical centres in Sweden due to its central location in the densely populated region Mälardalen and favourable infrastructure connections with railways, waterways and highways.
he next significant period for Vasteras began with industrialisation when a turbine building was built on the river Svartån in 1891. The city’s entire development was significantly enhanced by ASEA whose founder Jonas Wenström invented the three phase power system and built a turbine house on the Svartån which still stands today. ASEA’s HQ is in the city and after a merger with Brown Boweri in 1988 the company is now known as ABB and is still the largest local employer. Other important manufacturing enterprise are the metal works, Svenska Metallverken and Bombardier Transportation. As a result Västerås has became one of the country´s foremost industrial cities. The engineering industry has been very important for Vasteras, but today the business life is more diverse, focusing on high technology, automation, logistics and trade. One legacy of the industrial employment opportunities in the city is the diversity of the population with many Italians being recruited after the War and the population being augmented by many foreign nationals who have graduated from the University and found employment in this busy and productive city.
Today Västerås provides a really good entry point to Sweden with numerous budget airline flights into Västerås Airport just outside the town. Originally called Hässlö Flygplats after the Swedish Airforce base there which was decommissioned in 1983 it is about 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of Stockholm, Sweden. It is located far outside the Stockholm Municipality and Stockholm County, but uses the name Stockholm-Västerås anyway. It is not an airport to
linger in as it is probably one of the only airports I have been to which does not see the need to provide an ATM for its customers. This is a particular issue as, wait for it, Sweden is the only country to use the Swedish Crown and there is no Bureau de Change at this airport either so paying a taxi or buying a coach ticket to Stockholm could be an issue. The catering here is with kindness described as rudimentary, expensive and surly and must be consumed in ambience free surroundings. The “Duty Free” shop is a unique proposition as it will only sell you drink if you are taking it outside the EU and it really has no other Swedish produce to sell you either – go to IKEA when you get home. There is a direct coach service to Stockholm which takes 1 ½ hours, a taxi into Västerås takes 12/15 minutes and costs £10 as does the trip to the train station where Stockholm is an hour away. This is an airport where the person called the customer does not exist.
Västerås itself enjoys a fine position on Lake Mälaren with the lakeside the scene of new upmarket developments, a marina and a harbour from which you can take a boat trip into Stockholm in summer. It has a wide selection of hotels originally aimed at business users and the University but often offering very good value weekend deals. Among the more unusual lodgings is a room under the lake or in a tree!
It has the contrast between the photogenic old town by the river Svartån and the modern but highly convenient and compact shopping and business district replete with plenty of good value places to eat. With a prosperous business base and the large University population it is a lively and solid town with plenty of clubs and bars humming away in the evenings. The position which makes it Sweden’s logistics hub makes it a good base being on the motorway to Gothenburg and Malmö and less than an hour from the historic University town of Uppsala. Stockholm is an easy day trip by train or coach and all around is the lovely lake shore country replete with islands, little harbours and Castles. Car hire is easy, the roads are uncrowded and the countryside is lovely and renting a cabin out of town is surprisingly economical.
Info on the local tourist site here;
Just one more thing. Did I forget to mention for a week of madness every year Västerås hosts the world’s biggest and (this being Sweden) maddest Car Show?