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.

Maggie checking out the displays at the museum.

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.)

Here’s my cute bunch of guys. Malachi is taller than Dad now.

We were escorted to a room to put on hardhats and rain capes (lots of water underground, it drips on you throughout the tour).

From there we began the slow muddy decent down 60 meters—first a set of wooden stairs, then tunnel after dimly lit tunnel.

View of the wooden shaft we first walked down to get to the mine.

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.

4 Comments on “48 Hours in Dalarna–Part One

  1. I so enjoy living through your stories Lana. The kids will always remember these trips/sacrifices you make as a family. I know the fear you speak of DANGER & LIABILITY…when we traveled to Greece I thought the same thing…you are walking on the sidewalk in town and all the sudden it ends and there is a large drop off with little to no signage to warn you. Thanks for sharing the stories and photos ! I take it you all survived the trip.

    • Thanks Debbie! Your trip to Greece is exactly how I remember it. Risking your life daily just driving or walking down the street. A friend of ours broke their femur bone falling into an open manhole. Maybe litigation has its benefits:)

  2. Lana, thanks for making me take a day off work so we could have so much fun and experience this beautiful country. I love reading about your adventures!!

  3. Just love the picture of all your boys, they already look older! (not Cooper of course 🙂 So happy to see your family having fun together. We miss you guys!

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