Travel: On the Richter scale of urban angst, Gotland scores a neat zero

I'M ON A small Swedish island in the middle of the Baltic. It's called Gotland and it is nothing to do with escapism. But I'll tell you this: you wouldn't mind living here. I've walked round the main town, Visby, in search of litter and haven't yet found any. All I found were cobbled streets and grassy meadow-like verges. The immaculate houses looked like they had been painted and re-roofed yesterday. On the Richter scale of urban angst, this place scored a zero.

And everybody in town is miraculously wealthy. Nobody blanches at paying pounds 4 for a beer. This tiresome phenomenon whereby the small countries of Europe enjoy the world's highest standards of living is a bit of a puzzler. If it's not Holland, it'll be Denmark, and if it's not Switzerland, it'll be Sweden. But has anyone ever seen a Swede sweat? It's as though they've hitched themselves onto German pay-packets by some economic sleight-of- hand. The fact that they are not actually working but eating lobster and wearing blazers seems to go unnoticed by the world's financiers as their populations are so small.

Anyway, all this cleanliness and prosperity is actually quite a turn- up for the books because Gotland means "land of the Goths". And you thought that the Goths were a crowd of bearded psychopaths in tanned leather trousers, did you not? A people who wantonly raped and pillaged their way across the hitherto civilised Roman world? In fact, after the Vandals and the Philistines (neither of whom, by the way, were vandals or philistines) it is hard to think of anyone with a less distinguished reputation.

Which just goes to show what a raw deal some people get from history. The Romans may have been Christian-killers and pederasts, but then they had the control of half the world to worry about. The Goths couldn't control half a forest without squabbling to the death among themselves. And yet Gotland was what the Goths left behind. Over here, "medieval" does not have the disparaging overtones that it has in middle-class English. Last night, I dined in a themed medieval restaurant, for example, cutting my wild boar with a dagger on a wooden bench under a sooty ceiling, waited upon by a wench in a long apron.

Primitive? Hardly. In Visby museum I have seen picture-stones covered in beautiful geometric designs; I have seen kaleidoscopic whirls representing the sun; runic inscriptions, drawings of ladies in long dresses and helmeted vikings in longboats with square sails. Oh yes, the Vikings - they were the other people to whom Gotland remains permanently indebted for their contribution to civilisation. The original good burgers, they filled Visby with warehouses and Gotland with splendid medieval churches, all the way back in the 11th and 12th centuries. No doubt they cared for their families, as well.

So when are the British going to make their peace with the maligned Goths and Vikings? Is a millennium insufficient time for the bad memories to fade? Will the sight of stolen English money - coins bearing the head of Ethelred the Unready in a museum in Visby - still be an irritant for another thousand years?

To judge by popular culture, possibly not. English children always instinctively prefer Vikings to, say, Ancient Roman republicans. In northern England, the Vikings have even got their Viking Centre at York. Signs of a long- overdue rapprochement with our Scandinavian cousins? At this rate, the good news may reach the Home Counties within a couple of centuries.

The trouble starts when we go to school and get told that the Vikings are not a serious object for study. It's envy, isn't it. Impoverished British teachers, still bitter about the handing over of all that Danegeld, yearn for the mythical security of the Roman Empire, while the descendants of Goths and Vikings laugh all the way to Gotland's banks. What history doesn't teach us.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam