Thursday, May 31, 2012

SWEDEN: an extended fika

Munson outAfter all the driving and other activities of the last two weeks, we’re just hanging loose in Bjärehalvön* for a few days. I’ve put my car in for some servicing as local mechanics seem to have more parts in stock/accessible than in France. I’d do almost anything to avoid a repeat of last year’s eight week car-repair.

I’m plotting out some options for the return journey, starting somewhere between 2-5th June. I’m open to any interesting suggestions around the axis between Amsterdam and Frankfurt, bearing in mind that I’ve already had stop-overs in Cologne, Essen and Bielefeld.

*Bjärehalvön is the pensinsula (halvön – half island) between Ängelholm and Bastad.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SWEDEN: Nils + Elna + 200 years

Annika & Mike
My first Swedish family connection!

On our way back south from Stockholm, we diverted to Vetlanda to have fika, a coffee break with cakes with my cousin Annika.

After several months’ research on my Swedish family history, it’s rewarding to make a connection across centuries and continents like this. Our last common ancestors were Nils Persson (born 200 years ago this year) and his wife Elna Pålsdotter. Son Sven went to Australia, Ola to America, Nils to Norway and Johann stayed in Sweden. Johann’s descendants are scattered across the south of Sweden, but to date I’ve only been in touch with Annika, and through her, her sisters and mother.

Most of the journey to Vetlanda retraced our drive north, except diverting at Mjölby where I recall a giant sculpture of a peeled potato decorated a roundabout taking us off the highway.

I’ve been using my driving time as an extended language lesson, each town or location sign a giant blue flashcard for me to rehearse difference vowels and word particles. Hearing Gustav snickering at my attempts is just a bonus.

In picking a first contact, I made a fine choice as Annika teaches English here, and brought along her friend and teaching colleague Malin. We just chatted about this and that over the course of an hour or so between Annika’s afternoon and evening teaching duties, and then a round of photos to prove to each side of the family that the meeting happened. Annika is my 4th cousin, which is what you’d expect from a common ancestor of that vintage, and for me typical in my closer overseas relatives who almost all arrived in Australia’s first century of colonization.
Munson on the open roadWe had another three hours on the road back to Gustav’s place. As much as Munson has been a great little traveller, in car and out, he was very glad to get back onto familiar ground and demanded an extended play time. I threw him his plush kong toy as a focus for play, which gave him squeaky delights for ages.

I just loved this cloud! (2)  I just loved this cloud! (1)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SWEDEN: Stockholm street life

By the water near our apartmentToday is our last day in Stockholm, and once our primal morning need for coffee was satisfied we were content to fill in a few gaps in the neighbourhoods we’ve explored  over the last three days.

Munson's adoring fans

The vibe on the streets was less relaxed this Monday morning, even our fellow metro travellers were incredibly restless, moving up and down the carriage to the consternation of Munson who was trying to keep his head down as much as possible.

6kg lollipop Munhilda, flaxen-haired Viking bitch
foxy lady beggingHappy Color wool shop

In a corner of Gamla Stan I found the Happy Color wool store whose brightly coloured wares beckoned me in and grab some odd skeins for future knitting projects. Finally done with that area we crossed one last bridge to the island of Södermalm in search of the most highly-rated coffee joint on my Beanhunter phone app.
Looking west towards Mariatorget on HornsgatanOur route took us down the Hornsgatan street to Mariatorget square which is home to one of the two hotels I stayed at last time, the rather funky Rival. Now I have a much better appreciation of central Stockholm’s layout so it doesn’t seem quite as suburban as it did on my first visit. If I’m likely to return to a city, it’s much better to cross and re-cross the same streets for a few days to really bed it down in my head.  When I read a book sited in a particular city I’ve visited I really enjoy re-embedding myself in that streetscape.
Munson in Mariatorget fountain depicting Thor slaying the sea sepent Jörmungandr
Mariatorget fountain- Tors fiske (Thor fishing)  Munson meets playful beagle

By far the commonest dog breed we’ve encountered on Swedish streets is the beagle. When asked about Munson, I can generally pick up the word ras i.e. race/breed and then when I start talking, people are generally cued by my accent and switch to English.
Johan & Nyström Johan & Nyström

A few blocks south of Mariatorget we found Johan & Nyström coffee roasters. I went in first to see if they had sandwiches or other food, but when I didn’t I left with the intention of getting food at the last cafe (Ka’s) that we passed and then returning for coffee at J&N.
waiting for coffee @ Johan & Nyström  Joel Kinnaman & Munson
As we passed the coffee I thought I recognised one of the people out on the street: Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman, looking considerably better scrubbed up than he does playing an ex- meth-addicted homicide detective in The Killing, based on the Danish crime series Forbrydelsen. I missed the original when it was shown in Australia but I’ve been hooked on this very finely acted version set in Seattle. It’s a test of my memory of Seattle streets and landscapes when I watch this show as a lot of it is actually shot in Vancouver, British Columbia so I have to trust my gut sometimes when trying to place a particular neighbourhood.

While I usually nod, smile and move on when I see a celebrity in the streets, I thought I’d say hello this time. I introduced myself, said I was a fan of his work in The Killing and that I’d lived in Seattle for years … and hence young fluffy-bum the malamute at my side. He was very friendly and appreciative – a big hearty handshake – and happy to have his photo taken as above. He’s better known in Sweden but that may change next year as he’s been cast as the lead in the new remake of Robocop along side Gary Oldman.

Leaving him to his conversation again, I rejoined Gustav outside the nearby Ka’s Cafe where we had some hearty salads at a pavement table. A young girl passerby blinked at Munson sitting patiently but dominating the street and named him Fenrir, the great wolf from Norse mythology. In Old Norse that was Hróðvitnir or  "fame-wolf". Perfect.
Munson's last ride home on the T-bana

Monday, May 28, 2012

SWEDEN: Djurgården, a corner of a larger field

this is a corner of a larger field

Close to the commercial centre of Stockholm is the island game park Djurgården which includes the open air museum Skansen, an amusement park, and several regular museums like the one for the Swedish ship Vasa, which I enjoyed so much on my first visit to this city.

Looking west from the bridge to Djurgården (1)


Yesterday’s wanderings and well-lubricated boating left us just wanting a slower, even more unstructured day. After collecting coffee and breakfast pastries in Östermalm we had a short walk to the bridge connecting Djurgården. The day was warming up quickly so we endeavoured to keep in the shade. We couldn’t enter Skansen with Munson so continued around its periphery to watch senseless power boat owners tearing up the narrow waterway without much regard to noise or the wash they created amongst the duck-filled reeds.

Somewhat perversely, perhaps in reaction to the crowds and noise, I felt that the walk was more pleasant on that wintry day in 2007 when I walked around this shore to see the statue of Jenny Lind rising above the ice lacing the stones by the water.
Waterside cafe

The island was as busy as you can imagine on a warm Sunday and we eventually took refuge in cold drinks at the waterside cafe by the entry bridge. Behind me in the queue at the bar was an alarmingly overdressed goth type in a black overcoat overlaid with a white skeleton design. He didn’t seem the type to be amused by a suggestion that Munson get that bone so I left that alone.

We took a different route back to Östermalm and then continued toward the modern centre, finding a Thai cafe for lunch. After some random browsing in stores we found ourselves on Drottninggatan (Queen Street) the central pedestrian street, as full of the usual high street brands as it is of personality.

reach baby reach Stockholm centre

By mid afternoon we were pretty spent and caught the T-bana back to the apartment. Gustav’s aunt Geta – our gracious but hitherto absent hostess - joined us for tea and cake. Munson was as restrained as a malamute can be in such circumstances with a new heart to win and a new promise of table crumbs.

Gerta and Munson

Sunday, May 27, 2012

SWEDEN: Cruising from palace to palace (part 2)

Stockholm boat cruise

With dinner and schnapps out of the way, we turned around from our resting place near Drottningholm palace for the journey back to Riddarholmen. Even with so much water to space out the harbour’s users, there were just too many idiot power boat skippers who liked flaunting their speed and would cut across our bows so that we had to deal with their wake knocking us around.

Kenneth uncorks the champagneMunson checks the quality
Kenneth’s solution to such minor crises was to reach into his refreshment trolley and bring out a magnum of champagne.

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I have a recurring dream/nightmare where Sydney’s harbour is lined by a single undulating apartment block, a hundred storey high ribbon of steel and concrete ensuring that every single person in the city had a harbour view. For some stretches of our journey this was brought to mind as banks of lower rise apartment blocks jostled for a view at every shore.

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For the most part though I just enjoyed the thuckity-thuckity-thuckity beat of the motor as the skyline of Gamla Stan came closer. For the last kilometre I stood on the foredeck, back to the mast, taking in the last row of apartments and cafes along the Riddarfjärden.

Gustav, Jörgen and Kenneth  Wrangel Palace ahead

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Wrangel Palace Our proud vessel
Jörgen dropped us off exactly where he collected us from about 4 hours earlier and we waved a quick goodbye as he had another engagement for the evening. Munson needed no help disembarking, thus to prance and woo-oo on solid ground.

SWEDEN: Cruising from palace to palace (part 1)

Gamla stan aftStockholm is built on an archipelago, a much larger one than that hidden under Venice’s island-filling streetscape, but you’re still aware of bridges and boats being at least around the corner wherever you go. The old town Gamla Stan sits on the relatively small island of Stadtsholmen, with two tiny satellite islets so close to it that you would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t separate at all.

Gamla Stan - with RiddarholmenOn my first visit here years ago I was introduced to Kenneth B, sharing an interest in things canine and moomine, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. Today he arranged for us all to go out boating through Stockholm’s waterways in a restored wooden boat owned by one of his friends.
Jörgen arrives (background Stadshuset, City Hall)

We were picked up on the western shore of Riddarholmen (The Knight’s Isle) in front of the Wrangel Palace just after 5pm by Jörgen. Because of the gap between boat and dock, it was a little difficult to persuade Munson to make the leap so I ended up picking him up (52kg according to a weigh-in last week) and dropping him gently onto the boat.  Once on board he was fine but settled down amidships in the most stable part of the vessel. Unlike Bondi who rode many ferries on Puget Sound before sampling smaller vessels, Munson hasn’t had a chance to try out his sea legs on anything smaller than a cross-Channel ferry.

Munson Mike
Langholmen Canal

One of the first places we were taken was the Langholmen Canal, rather narrowed by dozens of lovely old wooden boats.
A- Wrangel Palace on Riddenholme B - Drottningholm Palace Munson surveys the harbour

Our most distant point was Drottningholm Palace where the Swedish royal family lives, about 11 kilometres from our launch place at Gamla Stan.
Drottningholm Palace
Munson's nautical bliss Gustav ignores the palace
Kenneth & Gustav dine on the palace 'lawn'

The weather really couldn’t have been much better, warm enough to do out in nothing more than a light shirt, and a little breeze to liven up the outing. Kenneth had brought a small shopping trolley full of food for us, and then kept surprising us with more treats. We had brought our beer and wine, but I got a shock as I took a hearty swig of “water” to find that it was actually Finnish schnapps.Drottningholm Palace under late afternoon sun Marskens Snaps
While Munson had been enjoying the breeze and the interesting smells that played over the water, it was when the food was served that he really gained an interest in the proceedings. No surprise there.

Munson - food bliss

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