Not becoming too serious

by Jo Hart | Posted in Interviews

Meet the Swedish hippie version of Basil (John Cleese) from Fawlty Towers: Stefan Thorendal, owner of a “Bed & Bicycle” in Öland.

After ten hours, two train rides, a bus ride, a pack of nuts, three podcasts, half a Spanish crossword and two-ish naps, I find myself relocated from Oslo to Öland, a small island in the southeast of Sweden. My final destination is Lantgården – promoted as a “Bed & Bicycle” nature hostel.

I am welcomed (hugged, even) by a tall, skinny character wearing an orange fleece jacket. Stefan Thorendal runs Lantgården together with his spouse, occasionally helped out by his children and some volunteers. High season does not allow the busy 110-bed hostel owner to complete a meal nor a conversation without being interrupted by phone calls or inquiring guests. In bits and pieces, however, I am able to sit him down for an interview.

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Tipis over caravans
Stefan calculates that he has spent about 10 years of his life travelling, and he will keep on doing so by spending half the year in Lantgården, and the remaining half “adventuring”, as he so beautifully puts it. When Stefan decided to fulfill his hostel dream in 2007, he bought some premises in rather dire conditions. Hard work and an eye for detail has transformed what was once a worn-down asylum center into a place of true rustic charm.

– As a traveler I pick up the best ideas from hostels around the world, but I have figured one cannot always control the atmosphere. I imagined my place to be this oasis of tipis and Mongolian tents, but due to the location, I seem to be getting lots of traditional camping guests.

Stefan wants to draw the line at caravans, though.

– They are simply not beautifying, he claims, squirming in his chair. He admits that he carries this inner fear that caravan tourists from over at “Böda Sand” (note: Sweden’s biggest campsite, even has its own reality show) will suddenly flock to his secluded natural site. In fact, Stefan’s ideal site is something even more off the beaten track than the one he holds today:

– I am fascinated by roadless land – land one can only access by foot. Ideally, it would also be phoneless, and internetless. Today’s travelers seem to be stuck in their “other lives” a lot.

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The power of Cleese
For now, Stefan literally runs around on the premises of a dream that turned out to be somewhat more hectic and logistics-demanding than he had imagined. On days when chaos accumulates and all goes wrong, he blesses himself for having used Fawlty Towers as his “how-to” manual on hosteling.

– It helps remind me that nothing should become too serious. It’s all about going along with the crazy – crazy days can actually make for quite fun days: language misunderstandings, culinary Italians making fire alarms go off, a drunk guest trying to open his cabin door using an axe – out here anything can happen, really, Stefan laughs, and exhales slowly in a rare moment of no phone calls, no queues, no check-ins.

Out on the site, the Swedish summer sun dawns across refurbished old bikes and wild rabbits, leaving nothing but a pale pink veil that oh so slowly turns to night, and almost unnoticeable, again to day.

sykkel

If you want to visit Lantgården, simply make your way to “Hagaby”, either by car, bus or ideally: bicycle! Contrary to the mild grudge he holds against caravan tourists, Stefan does have a weak spot for long distance bikers and backpackers. The restless who are not keen on having 100% vacation can even volunteer with Stefan through Worldpackers.

Lantgården is one of many accommodation options for those wanting to explore idyllic Öland. Most other options seem to be more traditional Scandinavian campsites (hot dogs, ice cream, squealy kids, local singer songwriters – you get the drill). Rumour has it Wikegårds Semesterby (“Wikegårds holiday village”) is explicitly LGBT-friendly. I can only confirm the heavy presence of rainbow flags, but hey, it’s Sweden anyway: Gay usually Okay.

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