Wednesday, December 30, 2009


In the last post I said I'd found the story I wrote back in 2001 about my adventures to the glassblowing factories and studios in Sweden.  This area is called "Glasriket" and I had a very long day visiting them in the dead of winter.  I said the post was long and I think I found a way around it.  I didn't read all of it, but it does have some interesting points.  I mention looking something up on the internet using "Yahoo", I have only dim memories of life on the net before Google.  

If you want to read the entire story, click the "Read More" link.

A Trip to Glasriket
Alligator Alley Revisited

by Jeff Wright
February, 2001

For those who know about my exploits, the subtitle is more appropriate. For those that don’t know me, well, that’s another story.

This tale begins innocently enough. I had to go on a business trip to Sweden. No problem. Get on a plane, fly over the ocean in the middle of the night, switch in Amsterdam, and ride a puddle-jumper to Gothenburg (Göteborg for those who care).

Wait a minute! Sweden, that’s where the glassblowers are, right? I am a glassblower. OK, so I am not a professional one. I’ve been at it for about 18 months now and every once in a while come up with a reasonable facsimile of a worthwhile piece of “art”. Or, at least that’s what my wife says.

A quick trip to the Internet is in order. Look up glassblowing in Sweden. Yahoo comes up with some outrageous number of matches: something like 6,230,126,320,582,296. More or less. As I start clicking and rejecting web sites, quite by accident I find a site called “Glasriket”. Don’t know what it is, I hope it isn’t some porn or other equally unsavory site. Turns out to be the “Kingdom of Crystal”, which is “Glasriket” in Swedish.

I soon realized that almost all of the glass houses and studios in Sweden are located in an area about 30 miles square. Kind of like in Venice, only these look like they are out in the boonies. Lets see. Gothenburg is on the west seacoast and the Glasriket area is near the eastern seacoast. Time to go to MapQuest and see how far it is. There aren’t driving directions for Sweden so go looking for a country map. Looks like about 150 miles. Whoops, that’s 250 km for those on the Metric system. No problem. I drive that far most days here in the States.

So it’s off to Sweden for me. Turns out that I have to be in Paris the following week for company business. I need to be in Sweden Wednesday through Friday. That leaves to weekend for adventure. All set. Those who know me well will understand the fatal flaw in my “preparation”. Those who don’t, stay tuned.

All goes well at the office and client. I really enjoy meeting people from other countries. My mother’s side of the family originates in Sweden, so I was looking forward to the trip. I really didn’t know much about the country, or the people, for that matter. Friday afternoon I lay out my plans to my Swedish compatriots. I could have guessed the response. Boy, that’s a long drive. No problem, I reply, sometimes I drive that many miles or more just commuting to work.

But I need a rental car. My host was gracious enough to ferry me around to the rental car places until we found a car that had an automatic transmission. Thanks to Johan for his efforts on a Friday evening. Along the way we found a tourist kiosk while we were looking for more detailed maps of the country. They actually had a decent map and luckily enough, a pamphlet on the “Kingdom of Crystal”. At least I got the one in English.

Here is the map from the back cover of the guidebook. This map was used during the day trip through the “Kingdom of Crystal”. Almost every back road is shown here. You can get a sense of how isolated the area really is.

Everything is ready. Friday night, rental car with unlimited miles, and I don’t have to be in Paris for 36 hours. I am set. I have a brand new Volvo S60 2.4L with only 344 km on it. Nice car. It also has studded tires. Holy smokes, Batman, I haven’t seen studded tires since I was a kid. The wheels in my head don’t always turn at the right speed. Again, for those who know me…

I wrestle with the map and the pamphlet during dinner. Swedish food, but that’s another story. I plan to get up early Saturday morning. Most of the glass places look like they open at 10:00am. If I leave around seven I’ll have more than enough time to drive over and arrive just around opening time. That’s the plan.

All night I tossed and turned. I was anxious to get going. So of course when I did get some rest, I overslept. Get up, shower, pack, and check out in record time. Finally get in the car at 7:30am. A normal Jeff start. But it is a clear, crisp morning. Then I realize its still dark. Very dark. Like middle of the night dark. Check the time on my phone and the clock in the car. Both say 7:30. Both are on European mode so if it were still night they would indicate something like 22:30. Nope, both check.

So off I go. There is construction near the hotel. I’ve been going through it for four days now but only from the other direction, and not with me driving. I turned left when I should’ve turned right. For those that know me… But I do get to go through town and it is only an extra ten minutes. It’s always easier to go to the next expressway entrance than turnaround. That’s an American Male thing, anyhow.

As I’m driving through Gothenburg, which is around 900,000 people, I realize how clean and nice it looks. The actual town is about the size of Detroit proper, but incredibly nicer. But, like Detroit, this is a ghost town this time of day. I only see a few cars during my ten-minute drive through town. NO problem finding the entrance for the highway. This time, at least, I seem to be headed in the right direction.

Halmstead is about an hour south of Gothenburg. I travel for many miles, or even more kilometers, at a stretch without seeing any other cars. And it’s still dark. The car is great. I understand now how great heated seats can be. I wonder why they aren’t more common in the U.S. Halmstead is the junction where I leave the expressway and begin the trek across country on two-lane roads. Already I’ve gone 135 km. As everywhere else I’ve been, there are gas stations on the corner. I must stop: breakfast and pit stops require my attention.

Refreshed and fueled up with a 1.5L Coke and six mini-muffins, I’m ready. It is now about 8:30am and just getting to be daylight. Take off down the road, and for the second time in a row, I’m heading in the right direction. The road signs and markings are very well done. Even out here in the middle of nowhere.

Headed east and drove for at least 30 minutes without seeing another car. Or town, or house, or horse, or anything. Sweden is very sparsely populated. Rural, isolated, but strangely beautiful. Hills, rocks, and trees everywhere. Then it hits me. The landscape could pass for western Pennsylvania where I was born. Now I know why my relatives settled there. I could be home.

What’s that sound? There is a strange buzzing. It gets louder and higher pitch when I go faster, and softer when I slow down. Oh yeah, that’s the studded tires. Even though there has been a fine film of frost over everything, I haven’t had any problems. I like these tires but they must do damage to the roads. However even out here in the boonies the roads are like brand new. Wish the U.S. would take notice.

I’m headed for the town of Växjö. It is really the first town on road 25. Don’t even ask me to try and pronounce it. Looks to be about 10,000 people. Its about 60 miles away. OK that’s 100 km from Halmstead. Should take about an hour. I pass through several towns, some are just houses on either side of the road.

Then there are the traffic roundabouts. I don’t really understand all the traffic rules and some of these have five or six entrances and exits. Gotta pay attention to the signs. As I get close to the towns, I encounter some traffic. The car in front of me is now driving on the shoulder. What’s he doing? He is slowing down. I slow down. He slows down even more. He gets further on the shoulder. What should I do? I have no choice but to pass him. No cars coming. OK, easy to get around the little car with my high-powered sports car. He then pulls out behind me and off we go. Oh, I think I get it, you are supposed to get out of the way of faster vehicles. Friendly. Try it a couple more times. Same thing. I like this kind of driving.

Wait, what’s that signpost up ahead? Next stop, Crystal Kingdom. Well, Magic Kingdom this ain’t. A sign indicates visitor information in 500 m. I slow down and pull over where the visitor sign indicates. The “information” turns out to be a board, about the size of a sheet of plywood, covered with a map of where the various glass houses are. Then I realize it’s just a bigger version of the map from my pamphlet. Not much else but it does indicate that the weekend times for most of the shops is 10:00 to 16:00. That’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon for us from the U.S.

The “Kingdom” could sure use some of Disney’s magic marketing. But at least I’m in the Kingdom of Crystal and its only 9:30 in the morning. The “Kingdom” is an area about 50 miles east to west by 30 miles north to south. There are sixteen factories/studios located in this area. They are all marked with signs on the road pointing to “Glasbruk” which means “glass works”. I make a mental plan of attack to get to as many of the sixteen as I can. The first one is just a little way up the road.

I see it!! My first “Glasbruk” sign. It points me off the road into a very little village. I follow two or three more similar signs. There it is. Its “Orrefors i Hovantorp”. Orrefors is a, no the only, name in Swedish glass I know. Wow. I made it. I feel one of my “a-ha” moments coming. I look around the parking lot. There is room for probably 200 cars. There is only one car in the lot. And it’s frosted over. But the sign says they are open. I park and go in.

As I walk up the stairs, I read a sign stating “Blowing demonstrated on Weekdays only”. Wait, what is this? This wasn’t in the pamphlet. This wasn’t on the Web. Oh well, there are 15 more places to visit. I enter anyway. I am treated to a fantastic array of production glass. I see more goblets in one place than I’ve ever seen before. All of them are handmade. Impressive. I wander around feeling a little lonely. The frosted car must belong to the lonely person behind the counter. Its 10:30 and I may be the only visitor of the day, most likely I am the first judging by the parking lot.

I feel my glassblowing talents diminish quickly as I walk around. The pieces are wonderful. There are “snake” goblets where thick colored glass wraps around the very thin stems of the clear goblet. Easy in concept, wonderful in execution. There are “threaded” platters where the clear platter has a wonderful spiral color threaded out from the center. Again, I marvel at the simplicity and the elegance of the pieces. The last thing that catches my eye are the assortment of “color drop” drinking vessels. From shot glasses, to tumblers, to massive goblets, these clear vessels each have a small drop of blue color in the base area that tapers from a large bulb to a tiny pin point. I still wonder how they achieved the effect.

My eyes then notice a studio behind a glass wall. There are worktables neatly lined in rows. There must be twenty of them. Each one is the same, yet different. This is where all of the painted glass items are created. Clear items are brought in on carts to be hand-painted by the artist at the bench. It looks like each artist does something different, based on the colors of paint and tools on the worktable. I would love to watch these items being created but, again, they only work weekdays.

Inspired and disappointed. The next stop will be even better I tell myself. I try not to let the thoughts of chasing alligators cross my mind. Not yet.

Next stop is Studioglas Strömbergshyttan. Just a few minutes up the road. I pull into the gas station I passed on my way through the little village. Restrooms are a key need of mine. But that’s another story…

As I pull in to the parking lot, I see a large building called Sandvik. This location isn’t marked on the map but is discussed in the guide pamphlet. Sandvik seems to be mainly a factory outlet for Kosta, Boda, and Orrefors. This place is big but not nearly as nice as the last stop. There’s that sign again. Blowing only on the weekdays. What is this? I’ve come 6,000 miles to see some real glassblowing and everyone is home. What are they doing? Don’t they love the glass and the heat as much as I do?

I look around but am somewhat disappointed. I see a lot of what I’ve already seen. This is an interesting little area and there are lots of other things to do within the grounds. One of note is a “Radio Museum”. Looks like a lot of old radios in the window. Maybe some other time. There is a little glass studio on the grounds as well. Better check it out while I’m here.

Studioglas Strömbergshyttan is a small artist studio similar to the ones in the U.S. that I am familiar with. I walk up the hill from the Radio Museum. This isn’t a large factory. It’s a small house. OK, this may be what I’ve been looking for. I walk in and don’t see any of the familiar signs. I hear the roar of the furnace. This is more like it. I wander around the front room looking at the displays. Thoughts of the Ann Arbor Art Fair drift through my head. Animals, fruit, vessels, normal “artsy” things. Good work. Most would sell well in Ann Arbor, land of fruits and nuts.

A couple of things catch my eye. Glass candy sitting in dishes. They look just like wrapped hard candies. Neat. I also see the most creative item yet. One that I instantly know would be the $20 hit of any art fair. Glass eggs. No, not eggs in the shell colored similar to Faberge eggs. These are fried eggs! A close inspection reveals how easy these are to make. The “yolk” is a little yellow candle. It just sits in a small depression on a cookie of white glass. The white is streaked, not solid. Perfect. From three feet away I would swear these were real fried eggs sitting on a plate! I know that I could sell a million of them. Well, maybe ten. But thoughts of plates of eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, a real breakfast feast, are spinning. Now that’s art. This is one place I would like to spend time talking with the artists.

I can see through the door back to the shop. The tools, benches, and other paraphernalia all look similar. The shop is messy. That too is normal. But I don’t see any signs of life. I ask the young woman sitting behind the counter if anyone will be working today. No, only on weekdays. That “a-ha” feeling has now been confirmed. I am not going to see any glass being blown today. So close, yet so far away. I see a lot of glass but that is only a small part of why I made the trek. I walk out into the brisk air, all I can think about is alligators and the trip to alligator alley. I wonder if I should call home and tell my wife. No, on second thought it’s already been 17 years and I still hear about those damn alligators. Besides its noon here but six in the morning at home. There are more shops to visit, and maybe I’ll get lucky.

I brought a camera but haven’t taken any pictures. I feel very uncomfortable in the places I’ve been thus far. In almost every one, I haven’t seen anyone else. This part of Sweden is definitely a summer tourist destination. They must get a lot of people visiting since all of the studio parking lots are huge. Some are K-Mart parking lot huge. Taking pictures of the works seems out of place. I try making a mental note of all I’ve seen but my memory isn’t as good as it once was. A list of all of the neat ideas will be a must to carry back with me. I start to think about how another “business” trip to Sweden can be arranged so that I have one or two weekdays free to visit the shops and actually see the artists.

So far, the three places I visited have been on or very near the main road. Now when I say main road I don’t mean like the highways in America. I mean that these are two lane backcountry roads that we are used to. I am feeling adventuresome. Why not. I have all my belongings in the car. At least I learned one lesson from the alligators. I have almost a full tank of gas. Time to hit the Swedish version of back roads. Bergdala is a small village up the back roads about fifteen minutes away.

I am just a little bit concerned. The other villages on the map at least show a little spot of a town. Bergdala is nothing. Just two lines crossing on the map. I turn the trusty Volvo onto a narrower, but just as well maintained, road. There just isn’t any sign of civilization. Or anything else, for that matter. A few minutes later the Glasbruk sign points me onto an even smaller road. One more sign and turn and I am definitely in the back roads. Then I see the village. Well collection of about ten houses. Most of these turn out to be part of the Bergdala glass works. There is a restaurant but it looks closed. There is a children’s play area and small buildings, but they look empty too. There is the workshop. That’s empty as well. I walk into another large display area for glass. And, you guessed it, a sign stating that tours are available every weekday.

I see some different types of glass here. Bergdala is noted for “Bergdala Blue”. This is one of the deepest, richest blue colors of glass I’ve ever seen. It is used on everything. On clear vessels, it is used as a decoration or lip wrap. It is used as the main color of other pieces. Blue, blue, everywhere. But not a drop being blown. There is more variety here to see than some of the other places.

Some of the neatest pieces I really have a hard time describing. These are large, heavy objects that I would call “faceted bowls and eggs”. The eggs are solid pieces of glass, with many layers of varying colors. These are then encased in a textured glass (frit, for those who know glassblowing) covering. Of course, if this was all there was to the piece it would be quite uninteresting since only the covering would be visible. But the piece has a slice cut off at an angle. This facet is highly polished, exposing the core of the layers of color and texture inside. This reminds me of gem collectors cutting an ugly piece of rock and finding something marvelous inside. The bowls are done in the same fashion but are hollow inside.

Another interesting variation was a solid clear glass egg with a colored “tube” in it. Imagine a ten-pound clear egg that someone pressed a finger into. The depression extends about three-fourths of the way through the egg and is colored. Some eggs were clear, some were frosted, but all were striking. Easy to do but marvels to look at.

All of the “factories” have little signs or cards stating whom the designer was. I learn that an artist designs most of the objects. These people don’t actually blow glass but tell the craftsmen what to make. The designer’s name is associated with the piece. The glassblower is just a machine. Each shop does allow the glassblowers to create their own designs. These usually were some of the more “arty” works I saw during my visits. Having designers makes sense but I wonder what the glassblowers think. Too bad I won’t be able to ask any. What if I walked up to some of the nearby houses? I’ll bet that most of the workers live nearby. Would they want to talk? Probably not to some crazy American knocking on their door in the middle of winter.

Next stop is Skruf. The first trick is to weave my way back to the main road and then meander the back roads south for ten or fifteen minutes. This turns out to be almost trivial. If I can’t see glassblowers then at least I shouldn’t get lost. This is a smaller place than some of the others. The sign says this is a four-person shop. I cannot tell if that is four designers or four glassblowers. Their main product is the water barometers that are becoming popular in the U.S. They say they make 600,000 per year. I hope they have more than four glassblowers! The rest of the display area is mostly funny cartoon heads of animals, birds, I don’t exactly know what they are, on a stick in a base of wood. Reminds me again of Art Fair stuff. Most of the other stuff is hand-painted. Again, cartoonish figures are used extensively.

One of my favorite pieces, after the sunny-side up eggs of course, is an interesting tea-light I saw at Skruf. These are very simple in form but look wonderful with the tea-light burning in them. A small ball of textured glass is blown, then cut off at an angle, similar to the faceted eggs. A tea-light candle is placed in the bottom. Instant tea (light). I must attempt to create some of these things when I return.

Here I see many bowls with threads of color wrapped around them. I know that some of the pieces I’ve made similar to these are better! I see one of my ideas, which I haven’t actually made yet, on display. It is a bowl with several threaded colors interlaced on a bowl. “I coulda been a designa”, I think to myself.

I am feeling overwhelmed by all of the things I’ve seen. But there is much more to go. Hi ho, hi ho, its off to Johanfors I go. This is a critical decision point. I’ve been working my way west to east. I can either backtrack get on the main roads and get to Johanfors, or I can go the “back way”. I choose the latter.

This turns out to be a wonderful idea. The roads are empty, I’ve got a great car, and my mind is racing. I follow the road for about twenty minutes. Up and down the hills and valleys. On either side of the road are huge pine forests that are touched with frost and a little snow. Out here there is some snow covering everything but certainly not like to two feet of white stuff I left in Michigan. There are probably only a couple of inches of the white stuff here. It looks so tranquil. I am glad I came this far. And I am determined to make the best of the situation.

Johanfors is interesting for two reasons. First the glasses and vessels are whimsical. I particularly like the “Birdie” pitcher. This is a white pitcher with a yellow beak for a spout. It sits on a yellow pad that reminds me of a duck foot. The handle is also yellow and shaped to resemble a wing. Cute. Second, they have a “Glass Museum”. This is an interesting little tour to take. You can see Swedish glass from many different periods. The museum contains some “art” pieces that are, well, arty.

I am getting really tired of visiting glass shops and just seeing glass. I came to see glassblowers in action. And all I see is the finished product. I need to be bolder. Johanfors workshop is in a separate building from the sales area. The building is long and fairly narrow. Probably 200 feet long and 50 feet wide. The sign for visitors points up a ramp. There is no one around. Maybe its left open. Locked. Well so much for that thought. I peer in the windows and see a real Swedish glass factory. Fairly messy but I recognize all of the equipment. The steady glow of the furnaces is the only indication that this is a working shop and not some remnant of ancient history. Glassblowing tools have changed little in the last 200 years.

There is a catwalk all around, about fifteen feet from the floor, where you can peer down on the activities when the shop is open. The ground floor exterior has many large windows. Most are dirty and hard to see through. But there is one window open. Of course, it’s the middle of winter but the furnace keeps the interior quite warm. I stick my head in and look around. A working studio! Everything is geared towards teams of workers. Each bench area is for a single “gaffer” or master blower. The assistants keep him busy. The benches and tools are certainly customized. Some benches have old kitchen chair cushions taped on. Others are carved like the seat of a Windsor chair. When you spend eight hours a day sitting and making glass, I guess this makes sense.

OSHA would never approve of the working conditions. There are gas lines for torches running all over the floor. This is a dangerous place, no doubt about it. One thing that is different than small studios in the U.S. is the continuous annealer. Glass needs to cool slowly once the piece is finished or else it will crack, and in some cases, explode. Not a good thing. Studios use box-like ovens, called annealers or lehrs, which gradually cool down the glass overnight. This obviously is impractical for a large factory. They use an annealer that operates much like a commercial pizza oven. Put the hot glass in one end and a moving conveyor belt slowly moves the piece through the oven. By the time it reaches the other end, the piece is finished. I could see the finished pieces from Friday’s work sitting at the end of the conveyor belt ready to be polished and sold when the crew starts work again Monday morning.

I could stare in the window like a kid with his nose pressed against a candy store window. But its cold outside and I must press on to the next stop. Which, as usual needs to be a pit stop. A pass a small gas station, where I dutifully stop, use the facilities, and feeling guilty, buy a Snickers candy bar for lunch. I still have some of the large Coke left. A very nutritious lunch, the lunch of champions. But I really am more excited about some of the ideas I’ve seen than eating. A rare occasion indeed for those who know me…

The next Glasbruk is Åfors, located in another ten-house town. I get a sense of déjà vu. Many of the pieces for sale look identical to some of the others I’ve seen along my journey. A sign says the Orrefors company has bought or merged with Kosta, Boda, and Åfors. They also own the first place I went to, “Orrefors i Hovmantorp”. Pieces made at any of these places are sold at all of the various outlet stores. So the painted pieces from Hovmantorp are available at Boda, and so on.

There are some very interesting pieces here at Åfors. I’m not sure where they are actually made, though. The “Machine Series” has a high-tech feel. These are clear glass jars in various interlocking shapes. These would make a nice set of canisters for a counter. The lids are very large industrial cap nuts, probably 3 inches across. There is a matching hollow bolt for the nut to screw on to. The glass is clear and very angular. Must be blown into a mold to obtain that shape. The angles of the pieces are designed to nestle together. I don’t think they are meant to be functional canisters but would be quite decorative filled with colorful items.

The bottom is as perfect as the rest of the pieces. When a piece of glass is completed, a small mark or dimple is left on the bottom from where the blowpipe or punty is attached. These dimples must be ground and polished to remove these marks. This operation is the most boring, painful part of the whole process. I suspect that the people who do this operation are among the most underpaid of all the studio employees!

One of the things that people identify with glass from Sweden is the so-called “Swedish Foot”. The foot is the piece of glass at the bottom of the piece. Pieces I’ve created in the U.S. have a very large, thick foot that is referred to as a Swedish foot. Well, I haven’t seen any that look like that in the several thousand pieces I’ve looked at today. The feet are all very small and delicate. Again, this is a testament to the skill of the glassblowers.

It’s getting on towards mid-afternoon. Most of the places close at 16:00. That’s four in the afternoon for us westerners. No time to dally. I begin to realize that my plans of staying in the area and driving to the airport in the morning might not work out. I haven’t seen any open restaurants. The guidebook shows a few hotels, but they are still about 20 miles away. They might not even be open this time of year. I wouldn’t want to show up and be the only one in the place.

Kosta is the next stop. I realize that almost all of the factories and studios are named after the town. So the Kosta Glassworks is in Kosta, of course. Along the way, I drive by SEA. This is one of the few outlets that aren’t named for the town. I drive by but it looks like more of the same from what I can see from the driveway. So I keep driving. Kosta is just down the road.

Guess what? Same stuff here at Kosta as I’ve seen elsewhere. The one new piece that struck me as neat was what I can only describe as an “optic pineapple twist”. This piece has a latticework of lines with tiny bubbles at the intersections of the lines. These tea-lights are quite unique. I have several ideas how these are made; probably all of them are wrong. Bought a tea-light here. It was 100 Krona. Less than 11 bucks. I like the look and figure I can make some. But I need one to examine. I pick out a nice one. Can’t help but thinking I’ve seen these tea-lights someplace else.

I’ve now seen most of the Glasbruks along roads 25 and 28. The third major road in the area is 31. There are seven factories in the area that I haven’t seen. I have about two hours to closing. Getting pretty close to last call. I decide that Orrefors is the only remaining factory that is a must see. So I have about 20 minutes cross-country along a back road.

Again, what a beautiful ride through some scenic countryside. Wait, there is someone running along the road! Where are the houses? Where did this guy come from? As I approach closer I realize he isn’t running, he’s cross-country skiing. But there isn’t any snow. He’s skiing on skis with rollerblade wheels. I pass about three more of them spread out over a mile or so. Since there isn’t anything for about 30 km, he is really far from home.

Orrefors is another small town. A few houses go by and then a very large parking lot comes into view. This is home base for the Orrefors company. There are many buildings here. There is a large picnic area with tables. There is only one other car in the lot!

The outlet store is huge. I should mention that I really haven’t paid attention to some of the signs in the shops I’ve been in. Here I do. These are “factory outlet” stores where they only sell seconds. The “best” pieces are shipped around the world to be sold in retail stores. I spend quite a while examining pieces to see if I can detect the defect. Rarely can I detect any. For example, one of the pieces had a very small bubble in the foot. Others must meet some incredible criteria of which I don’t have any clue. These are the closet things to perfection that I’ve seen in glass. I could spend days examining pieces to figure out how they were made and gathering ideas for my own work.

I exit the store with my mind swimming. There are some brochures here and I pick up a few. I wish the other shops had some available. There is a gallery and exhibit hall in another building. The exhibit is old glass, some dating to the 1750’s. Most of the works on display were from the period of 1900 to 1950. I really didn’t believe the dates at first. These were incredible works of art. I compare what was being done in Sweden at the turn of the century with the “art” from the studio glass movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s in the U.S. Absolutely no comparison. The pieces on display were museum quality, pieces from the same period in the U.S. look like child’s play. I realized then that the factories in Sweden have been around since the mid-1700’s.

A woman is giving a tour of the exhibit hall, albeit in Swedish. I hover around to see what I could learn. There was a demonstration bench and tools set up. Most were identical to that we use in small studios in the U.S. Except that everything is made of wood. The bench arms aren’t parallel to the floor, which is what I am used to. Instead, they angle quite steeply toward the floor. Curious. The wood blocks are the same as in the U.S. but kept in a wooden bucket in from of the bench, instead of behind it. The blowpipes are much longer and thinner. They also don’t seem to have the nice plastic mouthpieces the U.S. pipes do.

The glass shop is a building about 300 feet long and 60 feet wide, about the size of a football field. This is really much smaller than I expected given the amount of glass they sell. Looking through the windows there appeared to be 30 to 40 individual areas, and each bench has its own “glory hole” for reheating the pieces while it is being worked. Again, as in the other factories, each bench area is individualized. Also, there are special tools for handling the pieces being made at that bench. I really need to come back here and watch!! I would love to be able to talk to the workers. I’ll bet they speak English since everyone else I’ve met in the country does. Elsewhere on the grounds where the designers studios. The signs indicate that you can actually meet the designers. Bet they only work on weekdays also.

Another pit stop and I’m ready for the road. Only I really should get some gas. I have a long trip back to the other side of the country. The Volvo either gets incredible mileage or has a large gas tank. Either way, the trip computer says I only have about 200 km left to empty. I’ve already driven about 500 km. I passed a small gas station and convenience store on the way in from the main road. So I decide to stop there.

What kind of gas does this car take? I know from my trips to Germany that the Mercedes-Benz cars take premium gas. I look through the owner’s manual for the answer. Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but I couldn’t read it. It’s in Swedish! But I know enough to find the section on fuel. 89 Octane, or at least I think that is what is says.

The pump looks easy enough. I get out, find the filler door, and get the car on the correct side of the pump. But no gas comes out. I expected that this self-serve would work like in the U.S. Pump and then pay inside. I don’t think they have a problem with drive-offs! But nothing happens. I select the 89 octane, lift the lever, and pull the handle. Nothing. I recheck everything. Nothing seems wrong. Then I hear someone yelling at me. Looking up, I see the owner pointing to a machine, which looks like an ATM machine. He comes out and starts talking in Swedish. I shrug my shoulders and say something profound. “Huh” is what I think I ended up saying. He says “English?” “Yes” I reply.

He tells me I must pay first. He walks me over to the ATM machine. It takes cash or credit cards. I have lots of Swedish Krona bills so I jam a 100-Krona note into the machine. He smiles, waiting for me to put more money in the machine. I say no thanks. He looks at me strangely. 100-Krona is about $11.09 or some such amount, and gas is 9.9 Krona per liter. That’s works out to about $4.00 per gallon! So I just bought two and a half gallons of gas. Lets see, the car is getting about 10 miles per liter, or so the trip computer says. That gives me about 100 km more travel. Guess that does it. Thank the owner and pump my gas. The whole transaction is over in about seven seconds.

Well, since I’ve taken all his time for this little transaction I figure the least I can do is buy something. Inside looks like any gas station in the U.S. Fast foods but I don’t recognize anything. A bag of cheddar cheese popcorn and a Coke Light (Diet Coke) serves as a late lunch. I’ve really been eating healthy today.

I have time for one more stop. I must also make a decision. The hotels listed in the guidebook are in Nybro. A big small town. Looks to be about a half hour from where I am. But it is also the farthest away from Gothenburg where I need to be for the trip to Paris tomorrow. Do I retreat and go back to Gothenburg or do I press on to Nybro? There might not be anyplace to stay or eat in Nybro. Especially considering everything I’ve seen thus far. Decision time. Make on more stop and then head back to Gothenburg.

The nearest shop that is in the right direction is Målerås, in Målerås of course. If I travel northwesterly on 31, I can stop before they close at 16:00. I pull in the parking at about 15:30 (3:30 in the afternoon).

This factory is famous for it’s crystal blocks “engraved” with animals and birds. These look like irregular-shaped, one-inch thick, paperweights. These are meant to stand on end instead of laying flat. These are obviously made in a mold, since there are so many of each one. I can see several hundred different animals and birds on display. These are the “bread and butter” of the factory.

The more “artsy” items include nude torsos of women done in a similar fashion. These torsos are muted by frosting the glass. The actual torso is done in a different colored glass powder. These are quite unique. I haven’t been much of a fan of cast glass but these are obviously better than anything I’ve seen before.

There is also an attached exhibit hall at Målerås. These are large, museum-sized art pieces. They are disturbing. They are all by the same designer as the animals and torsos. But I dare say this exhibit shows the twisted side of him. I could stay longer but I get the impression that the only worker wanted to close early.

Well, that means no more glass today. I get in the car and contemplate the long trek back to Gothenburg. I now understand the maps and feel like I know the area intimately. I did not make any driving errors and I didn’t get lost! That is a tremendous accomplishment by itself. I have about 250 km driving (150 miles) to get back to Gothenburg.

The fastest way back is via the back road between Kosta and Lessebo. No problem now. I knew where I was but something bothered me. The sun never really rose very far above the horizon all day. Now it seemed to be setting. It was dropping fast. Then I remembered where I was, about 250 miles south of the Artic Circle, in the winter. The sun never really rises much. It comes up around 9 in the morning and is completely set by 4 in the afternoon. Short days, indeed. I would hate to be farther north in the perpetual darkness. Of course this makes summer days incredibly long.

Driving along the back road, I saw a wonderful sunset. All alone in the woods and the colors coming through the trees was certainly worth seeing. In retrospect, I was disappointed that I didn’t see any glass being created. But I had a great adventure and started thinking about how to get back here during the week.

Once the sun had set, the frost set in fast. The roads were getting covered quickly since there really isn’t much traffic. Then the fog begins. Pea soup thick in some places. I am questioning the wisdom of driving at night, even if it is only 5 o’clock. Can’t go nearly as fast as the trip in, but I press on. Wave goodbye at the sign that says “Leaving the Kingdom of Crystal”. Not much better on the backside of the sign than on the front when I came in this morning.

I see a truck in the distance with yellow flashing lights, which are extremely bright. As I approach I see that it is a sand truck. No environmentally unfriendly salt here. It seems to work well, and with the studded tires, I feel quite safe. I have to pass quite a few slow moving trucks. I like the courtesy of moving out of the way of faster vehicles. I feel quite invincible until I feel the need for a pit stop. I only get about an hour before the need sets in. I am truly in the middle of nowhere. It still is over 30 minutes to Växjö. What to do? What every boy does in the woods. Pee. I realize that there are little pull-off areas on the side of the road about every two miles. I pass one. Perfect. I pass several vehicles and put a good deal of distance between them and me. Here is the next pull-off. Quick. Stop. Turn on flashers and turn off lights. Out. Pee. Zip up. Back in the car. Lights on. Go! Back on the road just as I see lights in the distance from the cars I passed. Glad no one was coming from the other direction. No one is the wiser, until now.

In Växjö there is a McDonalds. All right!! Get some real food. Swedish food is good but I have been junk-fooding all day, might just as well keep up the trend. I park and go in. Use the facilities just in case. The Playland area looks like any other of the thousands of Micky D’s I’ve seen in the U.S. Guess what? Order by number. A “Number 1” here is the same Big Mac meal as in the U.S. Back on the road, eating in the car, only the fries aren’t quite as good. They are pretty mushy and taste different. Yet I do recognize the taste. The potatoes in the restaurants taste the same. You can make things look the same but not quite the same taste.

About an hour later, I arrive back in Halmstead. Pull off in the same gas station I visited this morning. Perform a ritual pit stop and pick up a candy bar and Coke Light for the remaining hour. One more hour and I’m back in Gothenburg, getting off the expressway at the correct exit.

A short trip through town and there is the hotel, just like I left it at 7:30 this morning. A quick glance at the clock. Its 19:30. Three hours, forty-five minutes from deep in the heart of Glasriket to the hotel. About an hour longer than the trip in. Twelve hours door to door for the whole trip. 805 km or 499 miles. Not bad and it’s a good thing I had unlimited mileage on the car. The trip calculator indicates that I have about 90 km of gas remaining. The airport is about 30 km so I think I gauged the fuel correctly!

As I enter the hotel to check in, I see several tea-lights on the counter. Then it hits me. That feeling I had back at Kosta about tea-lights was right on. I’ve seen these everywhere. They are all over the counters, in the lounge area, in the restaurants, everywhere. Must be a popular item.

I am exhausted but exhilarated at the same time. A good nights sleep and its off to Paris for four days of meetings. I buy some glass candies at the airport the next day on my way to Paris. Only now I know where these were made.

Now I was mentioning at the outset of this story something about those alligators. Trips like this for me don’t ever turn out as expected. This one wasn’t too bad. All those miles and hours to see glassblowing. There wasn’t any. That’s my luck. A similar trip, but this time with family in tow, took place in Florida. There’s a road there called “Alligator Alley”. A short trip to see some alligators, that’s the grand scheme. Drag the family along on a “wild alligator chase”. But of course, we don’t see any alligators. We see them the next day at Busch Gardens. A 500 mile, 12 hour trip then too. For those who know me, this is normal, but that’s another story.

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