48 Hours in Dalarna–Part One
We woke up the morning of our trip and I still wasn’t sure we were actually going, “Are we going?” I asked my husband. Nothing was packed, no hotel booked. “Yes,” he said, “we’re going.” He took the day off work, hooray! We gave the kids 30 minutes to throw together whatever they could fit in their backpacks for the overnight trip. (And no, I didn’t check what it was). I started calling every hotel listed in the Dalarna region of Frommer’s Sweden guide. The first three were booked solid, the fourth, a Best Western in Mora, further north then we wanted to drive, was available. Fine, “I’ll take it,” I said, a room with 5 beds, good enough.
We packed swimsuits (there was an indoor pool at the hotel) and winter coats, hats, gloves, rain gear and loaded the cooler with what measly snacks we could scrounge from the cupboards (Swedes don’t make the best snack foods). As consolation, everyone got a handful of Halloween candy before we all jumped into the Acura and took off. Four hours later (and one stop for gas and hotdogs—Swedes do know how to make awesome hotdogs) we arrived at Falu Gruva, a copper mine from the 13th century, listed as a World Heritage Sight. I couldn’t have planned the timing any better, the last and only English tour was about to start in an hour which meant we had time to roam the museum and get hot cocoa at the café.
Before our tour, we walked outside to where you can stand on the highest bridge in Sweden (possibly the shortest too), more of a grate really, that you look through to the bottom of the mine, 280 meters down—dizzying. I’m not sure pictures do justice to just how expansive and deep this mine is, it looks like a canyon in the southwest, something you’d see in the Arizona desert.
When the group gathered for the tour, there were 18 of us. Maggie was by far the youngest—3 years old, the minimum age required to enter the mine. (We seriously questioned the sanity of that decision afterward, the place was filled with liabilities! Forget suing McDonald’s for hot coffee, this had REAL danger.)
From there we began the slow muddy decent down 60 meters—first a set of wooden stairs, then tunnel after dimly lit tunnel.
Maggie kept saying, “I’m not even scared.” I think she sensed we were nervous and was trying to reassure us. Trust me, I was scared. Cooper held onto Maggie’s hand and occasionally carried her, making sure she didn’t get near the railing, where if you weren’t careful, you could drop off several hundred feet. But why should I be surprised when Swedes build steep open staircases into their homes without any hand rails, they’re used to this sort of thing.
As you can see from the photos, it was dark and wet and cold, around 5 degrees. Minors worked in these conditions for up to 11-hour days. They carried torches for light, making the air smoky too. (Nice work if you can get it, huh?) In spite of harsh conditions, the mine brought immense economic wealth to Falun and to all of Sweden. Fun Fact: This mine supplied the copper used to construct the roof of the Palace of Versailles.
During the tour, you’ll see a wall with the signatures of all the kings who visited the copper mines—paying homage to their greatest asset. You’ll also hear the story of Fett Mett (pronounced Fat Matt). I won’t spoil it for you now, but to give you a clue, he was a minor who got stuck in the mine when part of it collapsed. He wasn’t discovered for thirty years and when they did find his body, imagine their shock to see he looked exactly the way he did the day he died! The copper vitriol had perfectly preserved him.
The mine, entirely man made, was in business until 1992 when they finally shut down production. Now they only make the Iron Oxide red paint you see on homes all over Sweden. I love the color because it reminds me of the barns in Pennsylvania where I grew up with, a deep contrasting red, sharp against a landscape of green fields and blue skies. You can buy a container of paint, if you like, at the gift shop or an iron candleholder or horse. But I didn’t need a souvenir to remember our afternoon, the adventure itself was plenty.