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Sharing 16 UNESCO Sites of 2016 in My Hundredth Post

Sharing 16 UNESCO Sites of 2016 in My Hundredth Post

Soon, we will all be celebrating the onset of 2017. Before 2016 bids goodbye, I have another milestone to celebrate – I am scoring a century! Yes, that’s right. This is my hundredth post. I wanted it to be a landmark in more ways than one. Hence, I decided this post would be about the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I visited during 2016. Coincidentally, there are 16 of these!

Instead of keeping this post chronological, I am going to mix it up a bit! Some of these UNESCO sites may seem inane, but each is loaded with solid reasons for inscription. I’ll be going over those too. So, let me start the sharing.

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Reclining Buddha, Cave Temple, Dambulla

#1. Golden Temple or Cave Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

It lies around 150km East of Colombo, in central Sri Lanka. While the distance isn’t much, it can take you around 4 hours to reach here from Colombo.

While there are many caves sprinkled around the area, most travellers visit the 5 significant adjoining caves in the temple complex. The entire complex is still functional as a Buddhist Temple though it dates back to between 3rd century BCE and 18th century CE. Extremely well preserved, it was inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1991.

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Qutub Minar on a lunar eclipse night

#2. Qutub Minar, New Delhi, India

This 73-metre tall minaret is the tallest brick minaret in the world. It was commissioned in early 13th century by Qutb-al-Din Aibak and was completed by his successor, Iltutmish. Along with the other monuments in the Mehrauli Archeological Park, Qutub Minar has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You may wonder why I talk of Qutub Minar – a monument near my home. Well, I know of many people who live in Delhi but have never visited some of the monuments here. So, no harm sharing about my visit here during this year!

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Nederluleå Church, Gammelstad, Sweden

#3. Church Town of Gammelstad, Luleå, Sweden

Stone church of Gammelstad was built by Sweden in 1492 as the first move to lay lien on the territory, as borders were not well defined in those days. A church town came about around this church.

Here, people would build cottages and would use them for stay during their big feast pilgrimage. Though privately owned, these cottages were not meant for permanent residence. These had no water supply, no heating facility, and no cooking arrangements. All that was and still is taboo as these cottages were meant for a spartan stay during the pilgrimage. And that is what defined a church town. As it stayed true to the initial intent, the church town of Gammelstad has earned a UNESCO World Heritage site inscription in 1996.

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Dressing up Buddha at Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba, Anuradhapura

#4. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Considered to be the first capital of Sri Lanka (from 4th century CE to 11 century CE), Anuradhapura lies 205 kms North-East of Colombo. This distance may take up to 6 hours by road.

The excavated ruins consist of three types of structure – monastic buildings, Dagobas (bell shaped masonry), and Pokunas (bathing tanks). The largest Dagoba (Ruwanwelisaya) is 1100 feet in circumference. It got inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1982.

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Across this Amsterdam canal, you can spot the Anne Frank House

#5. Canals of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

More than one hundred kilometers of canals, about 90 islands and around 1,500 bridges are there in Amsterdam. The three main canals from 17th century – Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht – were dug during the Dutch Golden Age. These form concentric belts around the city, the Grachtengordel.

These canals are the keystone of Amsterdam’s exemplary city planning and were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.

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A memorial commemorating indentured labour landings in Mauritius

#6. Aapravasi Ghat, Mauritius

Aapravasi Ghat (Immigration Depot) or Coolie Ghat has earned its UNESCO inscription in 2006 for being the first port that received indentured labour, many of whom settled in Mauritius, while the others made their way to the plantations across the British empire.

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Impressive interiors of San Agustin Church, Manila, The Philippines

#7. San Agustin Church, Manila, Philippines

San Agustin Church is one of the four Baroque Churches of Philippines that were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1993.

The church building does not only seem imposing and indestructible, it truly is. It has withstood repeated calamitous damage at the hands of raging fires, enemy attacks and high-intensity earthquakes.

Its flat ceiling has been painted in a magical way to give an illusion of 3D bass relief work, just like what you see in the Gallery of Maps (Sistine Chapel), Vatican!

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Sanchi Stupa, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India

#8. Sanchi Stupa, Sanchi, India

This Buddhist monument is the oldest brick monument in the country. It was commissioned in 3rd century BCE by Emperor Ashoka and was built over the relics of Buddha.

It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

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Bali Rice Fields

#9. Cultural Landscape of Bali Province

Volcanoes provide Bali with fertile soil. Combined with a wet tropical climate, that makes it an ideal location for crop cultivation. River water has been channelled into canals for irrigation. It allows the cultivation of rice on both flat land and mountain terraces.

Rice, water, and subak, (water-controlling cooperative social system) together have shaped the Bali landscape over the past thousand years. These are an integral part of Bali’s religious life too. As rice is seen as the gift of god, the subak system is considered part of Bali’s temple culture.

Together with their temples, five rice terraces of Bali covering an area of 19,500 hectare, became a UNESCO site in 2012.

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Polonnaruwa Buddhist Temple Ruins

#10. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

After the decimation of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa became the second capital of Sri Lanka. The most illustrious king who reigned was Parakramabahu I. His reign is marked by a distinctly superior irrigation system as he was obsessed with not wasting even a drop of water that descended from heaven. It was inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1982. Even today, Polonnaruwa remains an important Buddhism pilgrimage site in the country.

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The intricate system of windmills for keeping the sea waters out

#11. Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

When you are living 7 metres below sea level and you do not have gills, you need to keep the sea water out of your village. The residents of Kinderdijk, a settlement that is a 25-minute speedboat ride inland from Rotterdam, deployed an ingenious technique to pump seawater out – an elaborate arrangement of 19 windmills.

Though these windmills were commissioned in the mid-eighteenth century, they are still functional. They continue to fulfill the original purpose of keeping the land dry while providing 3-storeyed living quarters to the farmers who own them. A windmill-turned-museum gives you a glimpse into the local culture and lifestyle. This well-preserved traditional innovation has earned the windmills of Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997.

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One of the water bodies in Singapore Botanic Gardens

#12. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore

Created in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Gardens demonstrate the evolution a Pleasure Garden, to a colonial Economic Garden for research, to a world-class botanic garden that is both – a scientific institution and a place of conservation, recreation and education. This site got inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. Incidentally, this is the only UNESCO site in Singapore.

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The Secretariat Building in the Capitol Complex, Chandigarh

#13. Capitol Complex, Chandigarh, India

In 2015, the architectural work of Le Corbusier got acknowledged by UNESCO as World Heritage, thanks to its outstanding contribution to the modern movement. This work is spread over 7 countries – Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, India, Japan and Switzerland. Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex is a part of this UNESCO listing. While the Secretariat building is a typical Le Corbusier structure, the Open Hand Monument is an abstract installation in the Capitol Complex that has been adopted by the Chandigarh Administration as the symbol of the city.

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Le Morne Brabant forms the backdrop of the Crystal Rock

#14. Le Morne, Mauritius

These are two of the most recognisable spots in Mauritius! While Crystal Rock is just a fossilised coral reef, Le Morne Brabant got inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for an unfortunate reason. This monolith was a hideout for slaves who would run away from their masters. When the Abolition of Slavery Act got passed in 1853, these masters went to Le Morne to give the good news to the slaves. The slaves misunderstood the intent. They jumped and committed suicide from this cliff!

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Visitors enjoying a lazy afternoon on one of the ramparts of Galle Fort

#15. Galle Fort, Galle, Sri Lanka

Built in 1588 CE and further fortified extensively from 1649 CE onwards, the fort is a living, buzzing township with multi-cultural population. The town planning of this habitation is typical of the Dutch (a sterling example being Amsterdam). It survived the notoriously devastating tsunami that hit 14 countries on 26th December 2004. It houses a few churches, one of which has been converted in to a mosque after Muslim accession of the fort. Additionally, the fort has a clock tower and a lighthouse.

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Skogskyrkogården or Woodland Cemetery

#16. Skogskyrkogården or Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Few cemeteries across the globe can boast being UNESCO World Heritage sites. Skogskyrkogården is one of those. Interestingly, this cemetery got inscribed in UNESCO list because of its landmark architecture that influenced numerous cemeteries across the globe. It is a brilliant blend of terrain, vegetation, and purpose. Interred grave of Greta Garbo, the heartthrob of Hollywood in 1920s and 30s, is also here (she passed away in Manhattan).

Now, while visiting 16 of these heritage sites during the year was fascinating, here’s looking forward to 17 or more during 2017!

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A Tucked-Away Town – Gammelstad

A Tucked-Away Town – Gammelstad

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
The 15th-century Nederluleå Church was the pivot of community life.

My story, A Tucked-Away Town – Gammelstad, has appeared in October 2016 issue of JetWings International – the in-flight magazine for international sectors of Jet Airways.

Exploring Sweden’s best-preserved church town, Gammelstad

As we approached Gammelstad, the imposing Nederluleå Church filled the horizon. Our guide, a summer volunteer, pointed at the imposing structure and said, “This church was built by the Swedish to stake a claim on the territory rather than with the intention to propagate religion.”

We had driven from Luleå, a city on the coast of northern Sweden, to Gammelstad to see its deep-red cottages, over 400 in number. The church town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Quaint red cottages with farms dot the Gammelstad Village

In 1323, a peace treaty was signed between Sweden and Novgorod Republic, a medieval Slavic state that extended from Baltic Sea to regions of modern Russia. In those days, the boundaries of the two countries were not clearly defined, thus resulting in attempts of colonisation. The first move to assert its lien on the territory was made by Sweden in 1492 when the stone church was inaugurated.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
The altarpiece at the Nederluleå Church is one of the finest of its kind in Sweden

Across the road from the church is the Visitor Centre, a good place to start a tour of the town. The Centre regales the town’s history with an exhibition, slideshows, and brochures. Our guide took us through the architectural model of the town, complementing it with stories from the medieval times – the narration was nothing short of a period drama!

The church town tradition

Nederluleå Church was the pivot of community life for villages within a radius of 15 kilometres. Though privately owned, the cottages were not meant for permanent residence – the pilgrims resided in these wooden cottages during religious festivals, when owing to the distance, travelling to and fro from their village was difficult.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Measures for safety such as a firefighting tool is placed at an accessible spot

These cottages had no water supply, no heating facility, and no provision for cooking. Even today, these church cottages are used in the traditional way – there is no running water, no open flames are allowed, and the cottages can be used for not more than one night. This spartan lifestyle continues to define the church town, even today.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Travellers often bake their own bread, an activity that we also engaged in

Things changed in 1621 when the town got its city rights. Luleå was initially founded here and it transformed from being a temporary church town to a town of residents. That worked well for a few years but, in 1649, Luleå was moved to its current location, 10 km away from Gammelstad, to meet the growing demands of an expanding maritime trade. This development led to Gammelstad re-assuming its church town role. A beached ship that we discovered during our walk through the town is a telltale of the times when Gammelstad was a harbour.

Around the town

The construction of the Nederluleå Church started in the 15th century and continued into the early 16th century. The church has a huge organ that was inaugurated in 1971.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
High tea at a church town cottage

During our visit, we engaged in baking bread using a flat stone oven and making butter. The pilgrims, during their stay, made their own bread here. Making butter entailed churning buttermilk in a tall wooden barrel – a rhythmic process emitting sounds akin to a traditional percussion instrument.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Pews arranged inside the magnificient Nederluleå Church

At one of the eateries, you are served the bread you have baked with evening tea – a tradition practiced in Gammelstad for the last 400 years. Interestingly, it is said that while all pilgrims baked bread, making butter was restricted to the well-heeled as butter was used as currency in those days.

We had another culinary surprise in store for us. In the heart of the town, we savoured a seven-course exotic meal at Kaptensgården. A fine dining restaurant, Kaptensgården serves preparations made from local meats and ingredients. The menu ranged from ptarmigan to quail, white fish to salmon, reindeer to chicken and much more.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
The antique key to the church town’s museum

After lunch, we visited the Hägnan Open Air Museum – a town cottage converted into a museum. A walk through Hägnan, along with its large vintage key, takes you closer to the lifestyle of the town. Amidst the small red cottages, stands a fairly sizeable farmhouse, which is Gammelstad’s mayor’s house.

Gammelstad, with its humble cottages, is a remarkable example of the traditional church town of northern Scandinavia. Instantly allowing you to travel back in time, this is indeed a travel experience not to be missed!

A Tucked-Away Town - GammelstadA Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad

 

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Bofors Gun – The Inside Story

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story

 

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Ersta Gun Museum

A museum with a difference!

Just before the commencement of TBEXStockholm, VisitSweden had organised a familiarisation trip for us to Landsort. It is a small, scenic, sparsely populated, yet a strategically located island in Stockholm Archipelago. We had travelled from Stockholm by bus to reach a jetty. From here, a fast ferry took us to this island. Here, our abode for the night was a Naval Pilots’ Tower. Till then, I had no way of knowing that soon I will be telling my readers a gripping tale titled Bofors Gun – The Inside Story !

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Panoramic view of Landsort – as seen from the Naval Pilots’ Tower

The presence of a Naval Pilots’ Tower indicated some sort of military connection of the island. But the exact linkage did not dawn upon us till a small buggy pulled by a quad-bike transported us to a huge gun that just seemed to jut out of a solid granite rock face.

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Our Guide – a retired Brigadier
Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Camouflaged entrance of the museum

Once there, we were told that we were about to enter the rock that has now been preserved as Ersta Gun Museum! Upon careful scrutiny, we noticed a well-camouflaged dirt passage that led to a solid metal door. In fact, the entire site was so well camouflaged that even careful aerial surveillance would not have revealed the gun. By the way, a Bofors that fired 12cm shells was the gun deployed here! That’s when we realised we were just going to be told an interesting tale: Bofors Gun – The Inside Story ! 

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
A sectional plan of the museum

Thanks to his just-right military past, our guide, a retired artillery brigadier, was more than suitably equipped to explain every detail of the museum. Be it the strategic importance of the location, the gun & ammunition, the living quarters beneath, or whatever else!

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story

As we went into the artificially lit underbelly of the earth descending steep, well secured, sturdy metal ladders, the import of this strategic position was explained to us. During the cold war era, this was the shortest route Russia could have taken to attack the US.

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
The room stacked with mortar shells

These guns, 18 of them, were meant as a line of defense deployed by Sweden. These were located on 6 different islands of the archipelago. Given that none of these guns were ever fired, it is evident that this move proved to be an effective deterrent for Russians.

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Bofors 12cm shells

After climbing down, we were ushered into a decent sized room. Its walls were lined with rows of crates stacked with mortar shells! We were in a state of shock seeing all this high-powered ammunition! Seeing our surprised looks and gaping mouths, our guide told us that these shells have all been emptied out!

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
The insides of a Bofors Shell – a diagrammatic representation

An on-going commentary about the gun, its precision and firepower continually drew gasps of amazement from our group. This fortification was created with a plan of ensuring the survival of the men manning the gun station for one whole month, without any outside support! And, this survival was not just in ordinary times, but also even in the event of a nuclear blast of 100 kilotonnes happening just 300 metres away! Now, that’s an atomic blast 5 times the size of the bomb that hit Hiroshima!

The Hovercraft Technology at work!

The magazine of the gun contained 25 shells, which could be fired at a maximum speed of 25 shells per minute. Each of these live shells weighed 46 kg. The combined weight of the magazine (without counting the weight of the container) was a whopping 1150 kg.

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Close up of a 25-shell magazine

Even more amazing was the fact that just one person was enough to pull that magazine and bring it to load the gun since the crates moved around on an air-cushion – a technology similar to the one that makes a hovercraft glide over land or water! Volvo had provided this know how indigenously!

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Volvo Technology

Considering that the gun would have heated up if it rapid-fired 25 shells per minute, the gun barrel was water-cooled with pipes coiled around it. This brings us to another important aspect of this unique stronghold – WATER!

Water!

Since this bastion was created to provide wherewithal of survival for a month without outside support, naturally water was necessary for such survival. 2 tanks with a cumulative capacity of 10,000 litres were installed 4 levels beneath to take care of this vital need!

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Water storage tanks – four levels below the surface

Let’s now see how this gun worked! The design of this remarkable gun was such that while the gunner would fire from the cabin just behind the barrel of this artillery gun, a simple computer joystick in the GPS/Control Room controlled the aim. When we enquired about the precision of the gun, we were told that it was capable of hitting a pilot boat moving at 100 kph at a distance of 20 km. And the range of the gun? It mind-numbing 27 km!

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Our guide explaining the intricacies of the computer controlled trajectory of the shells fired by the gun
Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
Pantry in the living quarters

As we started our climb back from the bottom-most floor (four levels under the earth) taking in the cramped living quarters, the pantry, the toilets, etc., we couldn’t help feeling amazed at the stupendous feat of various different streams of engineering that had been painstakingly brought together to make this remarkable fortification work!

Bofors Gun – The Inside Story
The writer/photographer trying shooting of a different kind

If you visit Stockholm and are able to spare a day, do visit this unique museum with a difference. It will bring you face to face with the way of life of an artilleryman! The museum fee is steep (US$100 per person, with a minimum group of 4 and maximum of 10), but well worth it!

Bofors - The Inside Story!

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The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

After TBEXStockholm, VisitSweden had organised a 2-night/3-day fam trip to Luleå for us. In Gammelstad, a restaurant we dined in blew my mind! This is an account of that experience by a non-food blogger!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
The Table Setting

Here’s a candid admission (and the food-lovers are welcome to shower me with brickbats) – I normally do not write about food. In fact, for me, food is a necessary evil we have to waste time on during our travels. In my nomadic stints, I make do with whatever takes the least time and provides enough energy to keep moving on.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
The humble signage of a not-so-humble restaurant

An exception occurred while I was in Gammelstad! This 500-year old Church Town that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, slow-paced our group. We spent a whole day in this one square mile township! While this town was pretty and we learnt a lot about Scandinavian history, we were glad when the dinner was announced!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Johan talks about his inspiration while Evelina creates the first starter

It was 6 pm and we made our way into a nondescript back alley of Gammelstad. There stood Kaptensgården, a fine-dining restaurant run by Johan Thingvall, who got his chef training working with many a fine-dining restaurant in Stockholm! The restaurant seemed like just another gleaming cottage – the likes of which were lining the many streets and lanes of Gammelstad.

Once we entered the restaurant, we quickly became aware of the immaculate attention to detail all around us! And the biggest surprise Johan announced was that theirs was a live cooking kitchen!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Our dinner menu

We settled down in our respective places and were greeted by our own individual 7-course dinner menu comprising 3 starters, 2 entrees and 2 desserts! Since the menu was in Swedish (Greek to me!), I promptly sought help and wrote down the names of the dishes and their ingredients in English.

As such, the ingredients seemed exotic enough. Its true magic started to unfold once the live-cooking started. Johan, assisted by his able deputy Evelina, slowly began casting his spells of wizardry.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Whitefish roe, red onions

The first course, a subtly-lemony creation, was a delicately prepared starter of trout and cucumber. As we were slowly nibbling through this course to savour the taste for longer, we found Johan creating some intricate nests, complete with whitefish-roe-filled quail eggshells!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
The skinning of a willow grouse

While pecking at this delicacy, we found him skinning a couple of grouse. The next starter was a ptarmigan (willow grouse) topped with a quail egg yellow, served rare. While he served the starter, he shared an interesting tale from the arctic.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Ptarmigan and dove

He talked about his ptarmigan-hunting expeditions up in the Arctic Circle. Day after day, he would ski for hours and then set up camp for some rest. Some days he was lucky, while the other days would just be a wild goose… er… a wild grouse chase! During the entire hunting expedition, he might land himself a couple of dozen willow grouse, if he was lucky. And here, he had just served almost 10% of his entire season’s hunt!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Whitefish, oats, turnip and herbs
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
The reindeer entrée

Soon, the starters were done and dusted and the entrées followed. Whitefish was steamed to perfection and the reindeer entrée was succulent! Though the portion looked small, we realised how scientifically well-worked out they were as we felt stuffed to the gills trying to wade through these delicious entrées!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Blueberries, egg, vanilla

The dessert listing of blueberries, egg and vanilla hardly did justice to the intricacy of this masterpiece – it was a double whammy of a tart shell and a meringue! The explosion of flavours of the blueberry filling and the creamy sauce together left us all smacking our lips in delight!

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
Cloudberries and Chocolate

Our last course, another dessert, was rustled up with light, sweet-sour cloudberries and heavy, almost too sugary dark chocolate. The combined taste was amazing! As I licked off the last remnants of this awesome dessert, I casually looked at my watch and realised we had been witnessing a showman for three hours! Yes, our dinner had gone on till 9 pm! This dinner made me recall the oft-heard phrase –

‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!
The White Guide listing plaques

Given that such prodigious, almost inspirational innovations are a norm for Johan and Kaptensgården, it is little wonder that this distinctive eatery has been making its way into Scandinavia’s premier and authoritative dining guide – The White Guide – year after year!

If you enjoy magical meals and happen to be around Luleå in Sweden, do make your way to Johan’s Kaptensgården in Gammelstad. But do remember to call +46-920-25 70 17 and make a booking first!

Kaptensgården
Häradsvägen 9
954 33 Gammelstad
Sweden
www.restaurangkaptensgarden.se
info@restaurangkaptensgarden.se

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!

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