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Aussies in Sweden
and on Australia Australians Abroad
måndag, februari 27, 2006
Well, I've finally recovered after a day of eating, drinking and laughing on Saturday. I was decidedly seedy on Sunday, but I think it is less due to old age and overindulgence than to some local bug I picked up from somewhere or other. I slept for a good part of the afternoon and last night, which is most unusual, but am feeling a lot better today.
On Saturday, we spent the afternoon out enjoying coffee and buns in the sunshine by the pier, soaking up those life giving rays. It's always so relaxed when we are with Bosse and Ann - the talk flows and the laughter is non-stop.
We retired home as the sun sank below the treeline and continued our gab fest there. They had come to visit fully laden with treats - a bunch of beautiful, deep red tulips, some wine and a special CD. It often surprises me to read that some expats in Sweden complain bitterly about how cold and unfriendly Swedes are when I find the opposite to be true. For example, not only had Bosse gone to the trouble of selecting Australian wines (and believe me, Aussie wines are in a real minority in a European bottle shop), but he also ensured by careful reading of the labels that those wines he chose even came from my home state (South Australia). There are five significant wine regions in S.A. - Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Clare, Fleurieu Peninsula and the SouthEast and I got to enjoy wines from two of those areas on Saturday, thanks to Bosse caring enough to go to some effort to find them.
And the C.D. was a special compilation album that they ordered from a friend, containing the hits from the marvellous 1960's Australian band The Easybeats. I feel very spoiled and played the CD LOUDLY all Sunday - including the megahit Friday on My Mind. See what I mean? These people rock - always thoughtful, always open and so easy to talk to that I feel like I've known them all of my life.
I had made Asian style food for dinner and a really easy Swedish dessert called Glasstårta (literally ice-cream cake, but it's more like a frozen cheesecake). I thought I'd share the recipe as it was really simple and delicious and something that can be made well in advance, so you can spend time with your guests instead of being in the kitchen.
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
200g cream cheese, warmed to room temperature
300ml thickened cream
3-4 digestive biscuits
To serve: fruit, whipped cream
Grease a springform cake tin with butter. Crush a couple of digestive biscuits and sprinkle over the bottom.
Now, I found it easiest to beat the ingredients in separate bowls, then combine them in the order the recipe stated. In the largest bowl, mix together the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar and beat them well until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is pale and creamy. Beat in the cream cheese (that has already been beaten smooth). Beat cream until thick and soft peaks form, then mix into the egg, sugar, cream cheese mix. Finally, whip the egg whites until stiff and carefully fold into the mixture.
Spoon into the prepared cake tin. At this stage you can sprinkle a couple of crushed digestive biscuits over the top, but I didn't do that. Pop into the freezer for several hours (or several days). Take the cake out of the freezer about 30 minutes before you want to serve it. Many people here eat it as it is, but I garnished it with whipped cream, kiwi fruit and fresh sliced strawberries. It's yummy!
The days here are lighter now, but the weather itself is very changeable as you would expect as spring approaches. When I went to look outside yesterday afternoon, it was utterly calm and as I turned my head to the left, the sun was so bright I had to wear sunglasses. There was the unmistakable noise of drip, drip as the ice rapidly melted into fast flowing little rivulets and enormous puddles.
It felt like finally spring was definitely coming our way. I daydreamed that soon the flowers would be peeking at me through the ground, the bees would be heading back to the meadows. But then I turned my head to the right. The sky was black against the bright light. It was as though someone had turned off the sun and was just waiting for it to die out in one last flash. The houses looked like flickering mirrors against the barrage of weather torrents. I sat and watched as my shadow raced home to sleep. It began snowing again, fluffy flakes dusting the streets, the cars and the older snow, creating a pristine environment once more. I know that it won’t last much longer – we are turning a slow corner in the seasons.
Today, it is bright and sunny again - beautiful, piercingly bright clear blue skies, sunshine glittering off the water and the snow and everything looking so clean and pretty once again. However, it is bitterly cold - minus 10C this morning and the promise of minus 15C tomorrow. Still too early to abandon my thermals and Lambi definitely needed her coat outside in the crisp, frosty air this morning. But I can't feel sad - the days are light, there is still daylight at 5pm and every day new birds return to Sweden.
I hope a few of them are taking a precaution like this - we don't want to see an outbreak of bird flu here. Perhaps I better get some woolly wear for my two little birds...
And can I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy International Polar Bear Day. No really, it isn't a joke. Who dreams up these bizarre days anyway? I couldn't resist googling it and would you believe that I came up with literally dozens of e-card sites that seriously have cards for this occasion. Is everyone quite mad? Why didn't I get an e-card yesterday from any of you guys? Hmm......
And anyway, what about the Bipolar bears? Where's their day, I wonder.....
lördag, februari 25, 2006
I'm ashamed to say, I was complaining about the miserable weather, the crowds at the supermarket, my painful period and all the usual here yesterday. But at least my town wasn't covered in pig manure. I think I could put up with alomst anything else than that. Those poor, poor people.
Today, I should be madly cooking and cleaning as we have friends coming over for dinner, but instead I'm here enjoying a break in the morning sunshine and blogging. I'm not as slack as I sound, as I did most of the preparation yesterday. When I have friends over, I like to spend time with them, not tied to the kitchen stove, so I tend to make food that will only need a small amount of last minute work. I was going along swimmingly with the final touches to the salad and preparing the main course for the oven when I suddenly ran out of alfoil. Double damn! I'll have to go and get some later on, but for now it's time for a sun bath. Even Sheila is out of her cage and taking advantage of the warming rays of the sun. Smart girl.
Bruce on the other hand is restless and prefers exploring on the desk, also bathed in sunshine. This time he isn't nibbling the bills, looking out of the window or eating the rattan from my chair. Instead, he's trying to see what I have hidden in the desk drawer. There are no secrets in this house, I can tell you. I'm wondering how long it will be before he is inside of the drawer, eating up all the guarantee papers and user manuals for the various bits of electronic equipment we have. I think I'll look for a new hiding place for our passports.
The other day I had to collect a prescription from the chemist. Unfortunately I had kept it in this pile and the woman serving me at the chemist was puzzled by the nibbled edge of the paper. I was so tempted to say that it was rats, but decided against it and said nothing, just smiled. One of these days he's going to eat something important and then he'll be in strife.
Okay, back from the shop now with alfoil and everything is now ready. It is beautiful outside today, with the sun shining, the snow glistening and melting and it's so light that it makes you feel happy. The view from centrum across the spire of the church and out across to the islands is breathtaking.
It is hard to believe that this is taken from the middle of town. You'd swear that you were out in the middle of nowhere, far away from the madding crowds and enjoying solitude and peace. I love that contrast in Nynäshamn. You are surrounded by forest, lakes and the sea as well as having the conveniences of living in a town (access to public transport, shops, library, other people). It really is the best of both worlds.
Many people like to be out and about on the weekends, no matter the conditions and everyone, no matter how young, joins in.
I laughed heartily when I spotted that guy out on the ice with a pram! Lars-Göran thought it looked quite ordinary and I guess it is, but it's something that I would never have seen in Australia, so I still react like a tourist when it happens. Not only do you take the baby out on the ice, you also take time to stop and sit down for a coffee and snack. No, I'm serious!
Yep, you build a fire out in the woods (no worries about a bushfire over here) and settle down with your friends to "enjoy" a cuppa. I still think they are nuts. Lars-Göran suggested that we have an afternoon coffee outside today when Bosse and Ann arrive. "You know", he said, "go down to the boat harbour and sit out on the deck of the guard house and enjoy nature for a while." I looked at the temperature - it's 4C. That's not weather to enjoy anything! I suspect this is some kind of cunning plan by the boys to have an excuse to go down to the boat, just because we are so close.
And speaking of boats, I was sent this little film by a friend who does translation work in the Netherlands. She thought I'd like it, both because of the nautical reference but also because it is amusing for anyone who has struggled to learn a foreign language. Though maybe not so funny for those who've had to use the coastguard! Enjoy Mayday! Mayday!
torsdag, februari 23, 2006
"This is presenting Australia as we are. We're plain-speaking, we're friendly. It's using the vernacular." So said Australian Tourism Minister Fran Bailey when she launched the country’s new tourism campaign today. As you would expect, a brand new web site, WheretheBloodyHellAreYou.com, has sprung up overnight and is showing footage of the the new commercial. Here you will see film of Aussies larking about in the sun saying things like, “We’ve poured you a beer. We’ve had the camels shampooed. We’ve saved you a spot on the beach. We've got the `roos off the green. And we’ve got the sharks out of the pool. ... So where the bloody hell are you?”
We've had the camels shampooed??? Err...whiskey-tango-foxtrot???
Predictably, some people are hot and bothered by the “bloody hell” line, prompting Prime Minister John Howard to defend it, saying he did not believe the ads were offensive. “It’s a colloquialism,” he says. “It’s not a word that is seen quite in the same category as other words that nobody ought to use in public or on the media or in advertisements.” It's obvious that he hasn't consulted my gran, who would have radically different views on this and who is no doubt on her way to the headquarters of the Australian Tourist Board with a bar of soap to wash out their mouths. Go get 'em, gran. I bet the switchboards of the talkback radio stations are jammed.
I had a look at the ad campaign and quite liked it and agree that in the context of it all, the use of bloody is okay. It's certainly a word that does get bandied around a bit in Oz, even if I don't often use it. (Quiet, there in the rear stalls!) My only query was why they chose the young woman to say it. I think it is more the sort of thing said by the boys down at the pub. But then again, I've been away for a few years now and things have probably changed. I wonder, though, what the international market will make of this $180 million campaign to attract them Down Under by swearing at them. I guess the proof of its effectiveness will be shown in the rise or fall in tourists from the marketed countries (China, Japan, India, the United States, Germany and Britain). I think it's bright, fresh, quirky and a bit cheeky so I hope it's a success. My Swede thinks it's "bloody funny". Pity Sweden isn't included in the marketing sweep.
Today is a dazzling, sunny almost spring like day in Nynäshamn. And it is the first day of the big annual book sale all over the country. I have to say that this is among one of my favourite things about being in Sweden. Every year, in late February, every book shop here, simultaneously puts on a huge sale. Any place that sells books, from the huge bookseller chains (including on-line retailers), the smaller specialised shops, even department stores, supermarkets and the corner shop cash in on the Swedes love of reading - not to mention their love of a good bargain.
In true Swedish style, one must be there at opening time on the first day. When we lived in Stockholm we went along to the midnight openings of the big central bookshops, spending a couple of hours in the middle of the night browsing through the selection in our favourite shops and fighting off the hordes of people vying for a bargain. I tell you, it's like the post-Christmas sales and requires the liberal use of elbows and shoulders to fight your way in. Not to mention incredible patience to wait out in the darkness and snow for the doors to open. It's hard to fathom that they do all of this to buy books. I think it's wonderful as there is nothing I like spending my money on more than books.
Here in Nynäshamn, we have the one bookshop only and they opened this morning at 7 a.m. for the early birds who wanted the best buys. There were a respectable number of people here considering the time of the morning.
We had a fairly leisurely look around, but there was not a lot to interest us in the selection here unfortunately. I thought there were a lot of coffee table type of books and what I call "christmas present books" (garbage by Danielle Steele, Dan Brown etc). We had looked throgh the catalogue at home a few days before and picked out a few of biographies, fact books and novels to check out, but none of them were quite what we wanted. It made us pine for the shops in Stockholm! However, we did find a couple of road map booklets with detailed tourist information in them - one for Sweden and one for Europe - as well as a lovely little book on common Swedish garden birds that you see from your kitchen window.
So we bought them and trudged home through the rapidly melting snow. It was a little disappointing as in the past we had managed to find an armful of novels, but then there is always next year. That's the good thing about it - it's a regular event to look forward to and anyway, we may pop into Stockholm and look around this week anyway.
When we got home and looked out the window, I saw what looked like a smiling face in the snow of the front garden opposite us.
I was quite excitedly babbling about it, urging Lars-Göran to look at it and see if it looked like a smiley to him. He looked at me as though I was nuts and said "Well, of course it is. Obviously someone drew it." I looked again and said "But there are no footprints! It must be a natural phenomenon." Which was when he pointed out that perhaps someone had leaned over the low chainlink fence.
Of course I knew that already....
tisdag, februari 21, 2006
I received a letter this week from a friend in Adelaide (waves a big hello to Jane!) who was querying whether there were moose in Sweden as it was her understanding that these animals were only to be found in the northern states of the USA and in Canada. Jane, if the Swedish tourist authorities could hear you, they would let out a huge wail of despair as they have staked their whole Come Visit Sweden campaigns on the recognition factor of the estimated 250,000 moose (älg) who make Sweden their home. The fact that this brand-recognition-cum-brainwashing has not extended to the antipodes will come as a grave disappointment to them and I'm sure several hand-wringing sessions will be held over the next few years to contemplate where they have gone wrong.
You can see a map of their distribution across the northern hemisphere and some facts about the moose here. Apparently some purists quibble over the classification of these animals with several zoologists arguing that the north American animal is a moose and the slightly smaller European animal is an elk. But according to the Swedish tourist authorities, it is moose. And who are we to argue with them?
You cannot move anywhere in Sweden without falling over tourist stands full of moose paraphanelia - stuffed toys, t-shirts, postcards, keyrings, shot glasses, fridge magnets, socks, ties ad nauseum all graced with the image of a moose. It's a bit like the marsupial overload you get in Australia. And these road signs you see pictured here are dotted all over the country. I intend to investigate the moose more closely when we are away this summer, despite Lars-Göran's extreme reluctance. While we are at Kalmar, I intend to force him (either by laying on a real tantrum or perhaps at gunpoint) to take me to Grönåsens Älg Park, purely so I can have a close encounter with the king of the forest and report back to you, my loyal readers. So Jane, watch out for moose postcards from Sweden in the mail.
Earlier today, I stumbled on this site and had some fun composing a snapshot of keywords on my blog. The resulting picture is here:
I was quite pleased with the result, though I see there is no mention of moose. We'll have to rectify that over the next few months, won't we?
Lars-Göran's daughter sent us another letter today, this time from Sri Lanka, where she seems to be getting on really well, except for an annoying case of headlice (poor kid!) She is enjoying her work there and seems to have overcome the bout of homesickness she was suffering from a couple of weeks back. One funny thing she wrote about was being introduced to a very strange game - cricket! I had to laugh. While those of us brought up in countries that were once a part of the British Empire know this game intimately (and know that Australia are the best in the world at it!), to most of the rest of the world, the game remains a completely unfathomable mystery. I'm pretty certain that Madde thinks it's an incredibly weird sport.
It's been cold and slushy for the last couple of days, though the days are considerably lighter and that is always cheering and a sure sign that spring can't be too far off. Down at the harbour, the water birds continue to return in great numbers.
They seem to be very grateful for the family that is there to feed them as it is hard to find any kind of food at the moment with a lot of the ground still covered in snow and the water still a mishmash of crushed ice. I laughed as the family looked like they were wading through a veritable sea of ducks.
I wanted to finish with a lovely picture story sent to me by a friend in Moscow. It was a feature in the local newspaper about a wonderfully inventive Snowmen Parade on the streets. Isn't it fabulous? There are more pictures in the link.
After looking at that, I think you'll agree that snowman making ought to be included in the winter olympics. I know I'd watch it and it would have to be more interesting than bizarre sports like curling.
Now I better be off and get dinner ready and try and think of a way of smuggling these into the house. Purely for safety reasons, you understand. Reflectors are vital here when walking outside in winter and I'm thinking of these ones solely on practical grounds. Would I lie to you?
söndag, februari 19, 2006
I spent a relaxing morning on this cold, drizzly Sunday sitting by the window and finishing off Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. It's so grey and slushy out that I don't want to venture far from my cosy position here.
This is one of the books that I ordered in via the fabulous inter-library loan system. For only 10kr ($AU1.70!) one can order in a book from any library in Sweden, to be picked up at your own local library. It's a bargain and an essential service for a poor but avid reader like me. As you can imagine, the librarians know me very well and I am really grateful for the service. In fact I'm feeling somewhat chuffed that instead of ordering in several books I requested last month from another library, they actually bought them for our own library! Maybe I should charge a spotter fee?
I enjoyed the Bryson book very much as I have all of the others of his that I've read. He has a style of writing that appeals to me and I find them a relaxing read. The only impediment to my total enjoyment was that some misguided and overzealous proofreader-wannabe had borrowed the book before me and made all kinds of bizarre "corrections". I'm used to reading library books in English where some Swede had underlined a word, then written the Swedish word above it - annoying, but maybe understandable. But this moron had no clue about what they were doing. My guess was that their English was simply not up to the subtle interpretations required and perhaps they ought to have borrowed the readily available Swedish translation. So there were numerous crossings out of perfectly correct words and insertion of totally incorrect words in their place.
One example will illustrate what I mean. Mr Bryson has just stepped off the train and is about to head off on a walk along the regal sweep of Dorset's Studland Beach. He writes: "It was a glorious day to be abroad." Our proofreader friend has crossed out abroad and replaced it with aboard. "Are you serious?" I think, trying unsuccessfully to suspend my disbelief. "Aboard what? He's walking you dork. He has already got off the train!" I realise by the puzzled look that the dog is giving me that I've spoken this last sentence out loud. Just as well it's only the two of us here.
A quick look at the Oxford Dictionary would have told Mr/Ms Proofreader that there is more than one meaning for that word and possibly Mr Bryson may not have meant "in or to a foreign country", but rather "at large; in circulation" or even, heaven forbid "out of doors". This wasn't the only correction, but you'll get the idea. I think this person deserves the "Knob of the Week" award. I'm sure Mr Bryson will be highly amused. I would never dream of correcting a Swedish book like that. Sure I may (and often am) puzzled by a Swedish word use, in which case I consult a Swedish dictionary or ask Lars-Göran for an explanation. But I'd never advertise my poor grasp of a language so publicly!
I've carefully flipped through my next book (John Banville's The Sea) and am relieved that nobody has attacked this copy. Actually I'm the first borrower as this is one of the books the library bought when I ordered it in.
This weekend I've also tried the Swedish delicacy hetvägg for the first time. You already know that I love this time of the year for the yummy, calorie and cholesterol filled treats known as semlor. And yes, I know the link title is semla - that is the singular form of the word (as if you can stop at one, anyway!). I've always been hesitant to try it hetvägg style after reading that one of the kings of Sweden died after eating it. But when I read that
"King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died of digestion problems on February 12, 1771 after consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sour cabbage, smoked herring and champagne that was topped off by 14 servings of his favourite dessert hetvägg, a semla served in a bowl of hot milk."
I knew I was safe. He ate fourteen of these in one sitting?
And after a big, rich meal? I think he was a coronary waiting to happen.
So Lars-Göran heated up a soup bowl of milk and placed the cream bun in the middle. No joke!
For those of us fortunate enough to live in South Australia, you'd probably recognise these buns as being not unlike the Balfour's kitchener bun (though we have almond paste instead of jam under the cream). Wow, I was googling these buns and found an entry in a wonderful website called Encyclopædia of South Australian Culture. I'm going to spend a happy afternnon pouring over this website! And what an interesting story about the kitchener buns. You know, I never realised that they were a strictly S.A. thing.
Anyway, picture soaking that bun in warm milk before eating it.
At least Lars-Göran was happy and I can at least say that I've tried it, though I doubt I'll be repeating the experience. I prefer my buns raw. (I wonder what google will do with that phrase)
fredag, februari 17, 2006
Nope. No relation to the blue tit or the coal tit. Just another one of those English phrases that leaves my man looking bewildered. Still, very descriptive of the sort of weather you associate with February in this neck of the woods. So what does one do in these conditions? If you were thinking open fire, cosy slippers, an afghan rug and a good book, you'd be wrong. Surely you aren't going to let the below zero temperatures and hip deep snow hinder you from going out, are you?
Join me and see what the Swedes do in February.
This weekend, thousands of people will be flocking out to Lake Mälaren for the long distance skating event Vikingarännet - literally "The Viking Run", where competitors can skate the 50 kilometres from Uppsala to Stockholm. For those not quite as mad, there is a shortened track of "only" 22 kilometres from Sigtuna to Stockholm. I don't know about you, but I'm still liking the thought of the open fire scenario much more.
I know, I know, I'm never, ever going to be truly Swedish at this rate.
So, on to the "lake", which looks quite different now than it did last time we visited in summer. For a start, where is the water?
I'm really surprised that things are still frozen solid here. In Nynäshamn, the harbour area looks more like an esky of slowly melting crushed ice, but the fresh water on Mälaren is frozen rock hard and perfect for skating. I still can't believe that this is the place where we sail in summer, with all of those reeds gently waving in the breeze, full of the calls of nesting waterfowl and industrial strength mosquitoes. Today in the sunshine it is a still and silent sea of white.
Because everything is so organised over in Sweden, you don't have to go out with your seacharts and GPS, nor leave a trail of cake crumbs to retrace your steps as they have thoughtfully cleared a track for you to follow all the way from here (Upplands-Väsby) to Sigtuna (only 10 kilometers away). "Where is that open fire?" thinks Marie. Our friend Lennart however, has no such wimpy thoughts as he strides out on to the ice and prepares to strut his stuff.
It is fun for the whole family and even the pets can come out for a romp. You will of course note that this is a normal family dog bouncing along with enthusiasm and happily greeting total strangers. Other, more sensetive and regal puppies would be safely wrapped in their pure wool coats and curled up asleep in their daddy's backpack.
Still, this scene reminds me a little of a recent discussion I was having with an internet friend in the Netherlands, where we were trying to come up with suggestions to spice up the Winter Olympics and make them a bit more interesting. One suggestion was to let a few polar bears loose on the cross country skiing course and see how fast they'd go then on pure adrenaline driven fear. Imagine the ratings! Imagine frigging Bruce McAvaney calling the event. Yes, I feel quite cheered up now. Still freezing, but at least laughing.
Along the way, the weather changes suddenly as it is prone to do and a thick mist starts to roll in, obscuring the horizon and enveloping everything in it's cool damp grip. At this stage I'm thinking back to my grade seven social studies class and wishing I'd paid more attention when Sr Mary told us about Mawson, Scott, Shackelton, Amundsen and the other Antarctic survival stories. Then I vaguely recall that the Norwegian team ate their huskies on the return journey. Am considering suggesting that we eat the dog if things become desperate. Not that I'm a drama queen or anything...
However, the dog is saved by the sight of the beautiful old town of Sigtuna, which dates back to 980AD. What is even more welcoming is the sight of an open café - the very pretty Tant Brun's Coffee Shop, housed in an intimate and charming old building dating from the 1700s. Strangely, nobody seems to be using the garden area today. Last time I was here, it was packed solid with customers.
The doorway was inviting, with its promise of warm pastries, hot chocolate and warm fire. It is a delightful place, with a lot of rustic charm coming from the uneven floors and low ceilings that force most men to have to bend or risk banging their head.
Now all there was to do was to contemplate the ten kilometre skate back to Väsby. Or there is always the bus...
And since I mentioned the Winter Olympics, could I please ask Australia to get a move on. You've only won one gold medal to Sweden's two - this is a state of events that can't be tolerated in this house. Do I have to come to Turin myself with a few polar bears?
onsdag, februari 15, 2006
I simply love a city that you can walk in and find something wonderful down every street. Stockholm is one of those cities and we certainly did walk and yes, there was something lovely in every street of the old town, Gamla Stan. The architecture in this part of the city is very beautiful. 13th century buildings with steeples that pierce the sky and form a beautiful skyline.
It is an engaging place to spend a few hours wandering around - you are never far from a glimpse of water or a baroque cathedral, a cobbled square, narrow lane or statue. Navigating the narrow streets in this charming city is loads of fun and honestly the best way of seeing it all is to simply wander around. You will find art, history, and culture around every corner.
I would say that a tour of Gamla Stan definitely forms the core of any visit to Stockholm. It is absolutely beautiful in any season and you can feel the medieval atmosphere in the air along the numerous picturesque narrow streets and alleys.
The architecture is stunning and all along the streets there are so many original arts/crafts and crystal shops selling beautiful Kosta-Boda and Orrefors crystal pieces. You can truly get lost in time in this beautiful old part of Stockholm. And each time you look up, you are reminded of the history of the place. The colours they used are so warm and rich that even on a grey, snowy day they still look picturesque.
Wandering along from the underground station I came to Västerlånggatan, the main “Pedestrian Street”. The longest street in the old town is lined with pubs, café, restaurants and many, many small shops--a haven for any tourist. In summer this area is jammed packed with tourists and a place that locals avoid like the plague. But in winter it is so much quieter, though there were still a surprising number of tour groups being led around the slushy, snow filled streets. As well as a few people out doing lunchtime shopping. But it is the very quiet Österlånggatan that I love to spend time in.
One of the things that fascinates me in many northern European cities is the higgeldy-piggeldy nature of some of the buildings. You can see that town planners and building inspectors had not been invented when many of these structures were erected and the angles that they literally sway at are fascinating. It can be a little unnerving at first as you expect them to topple down any minute.
In the middle ages, Baltic trade was dominated by the Germanic cities of the north and grouped under the Hanseatic League and their architectural influence can be seen all around us. Heading away from the area around the 17th century German Church, you come to Mårten Trotzigs Gränd which is the steepest, narrowest tiniest, little street in the entire city, with 39 steps and a width of just 90 cm (35 inches) across. If you stretch our arms out, you can touch both sides of the walls at once.
You certainly could hear everything your neighbours were up to in a place like this. I'm much more fond of a little more "personal space" than this affords, but it is still a lively, vibrant place to visit. I do however have to say that the snow clearing in Nynäshamn is much more efficient than here in central Stockholm and I was so glad that I was wearing my spikes as the snow and ice on the cobblestones, added to the steep incline of the streets made walking there a bit treacherous.
My chief reason for visiting here was to meet up with some friends, including one who was visiting from Sydney and who had come out for the day in the snow wearing white canvas sneakers which caused those of us who live here to laugh out loud. Needless to say, they leaked water, became soaked and her feet froze. But she was a good sport about it. Lars-Göran, feeling very fatherly towards her asked if she at least had her thermal long johns with her and she beamed up at him and said "Don't worry, yes, of course I do!" and opened her handbag to show him them. *insert rolling eyes* I can't tease her too much as she brought me TWO packets of Naprogesic, for which I will fall down on the ground and worship her for for the next year or so.
Here you can see a few of us standing outside our favourite Gamla Stan café after we had been inside to fortify ourselves with warm calorie-laden drinks and giant sandwiches. I love both Chokladkoppen (the yellow building) and Kaffekoppen (the red building), both very eclectic, warm and inviting places with a cosy, unhurried atmosphere that encourages you to linger. One puzzling thing was that literally everything came accompanied by a slice of orange - and I mean EVERYTHING we ordered, no matter what it was. That is something I hadn't seen in Adelaide since the 1970's, except perhaps at that wonderful, quirky Adelaide icon Spats Coffee Lounge (I wonder if that place still exists?).
We wandered up past the palace, where we discovered someone even more inappropriately attired than Kirsty. It's always comforting when you are a long way from home to strike something very familiar. And today, while watching this guy dressed in only a pair of cargo shorts, sandals and a rather manic expression loping down Drottninggatan in the snow, I was reminded of another Adelaide icon - our very own Johnny. What a hoot to find that he has his very own Stockholm counterpart.
Later it was a short walk down past Järntorget - a lovely square and once a busy trade center for iron and an open space perfect for the work of the stevedores who loaded goods onto the waiting ships. There were many taverns in this area where the seamen came to eat and drink, along with many brothels. But today, despite the weather, there were only divers.
And along the historic picturesque island of Riddarholmen (or “Knights Island”) where noblemen and knights built their palaces in the 17th century, we looked across at the beautiful and much photographed area of Söder Mälarstrand and Mariaberget across the water. I love this area and enjoy the view from my train each time I enter or leave the city. I've always loved history and this country is so rich in it. What has struck me the most is how we’ll put a memorial plaque on a building that is 200 years old in Australia, but 200 years in Sweden is still a “new” house. In Gamla Stan, we are seeing buildings that were built around 750 years ago.
It's always a very humbling experience for me. But I did have a great day, enjoying the company of good friends and feeling proud to show off a little of my new homeland.
måndag, februari 13, 2006
This is a view from our apartment peephole out onto the landing. Not that we are super nosey or anything, but it's sometimes nice to take a look and see what is happening and who is at the door. Today it has been filled with workmen, installing an acoustic ceiling in this rather cavernous area and I can't believe the difference it has made. When I came home, I noticed how muffled the sound was and not even Lambi realised I was home until I opened the door to the apartment. What a hit!
You can see that they have been painting the area as well. There is a darker mushroom beige at the bottom with a lighter tone above. I believe they are also installing a frieze later this week. It looks so much better than the institutional lunatic asylum green that was there before. We have also had the tilers in today installing the marble slab in the bathroom and fixing the grouting around the doorway, though I was startled to read that water is going to be cut off for two days later in the week. We are not allowed to use anything and they will be installing what they called a skogstoalett (literally a forest toilet) in our bathroom for those days. A "forest toilet"? What - like a hole in the ground full of leaves? I can't wait and see what it really is.
As you can see, the snow continues to lie around in drifts, but as it has been sunny, I don't mind looking at the fluffy landscape. I've also been out in it a lot over the weekend as Lambi is in season again and so is determined to cover every square inch of town in pursuit of a mate. Still, if you have to be stuck outside, there is really no better place to be than surrounded by all of this natural beauty.
Our friend Kirsty has been in Stockholm for a few days enjoying the snow but suffering terribly from sinus aches brought on by the very dry air here. Tomorrow it is forecast to cold and mostly sunny, so we are going to "do" Gamla Stan (the old town) with Kirsty and meet up with some other friends there as well. This is one of my favourite areas of Stockholm, so I'm looking forward to wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere.
I had to smile when I saw this cartoon strip in the freebie Metro paper last week.
For those who don't read Swedish, among other things, the guy is complaining of racism in Sweden, claiming he was sacked because he was an immigrant. His friend protests that in fact his apartment was full of lollies he stole from the kiosk where he worked . His response was to say that it wasn't the point. No-one would have suspected him if he was Swedish.
What made me smile was that I seriously had the identical conversation with a Turkish immigrant here while I was doing my advanced Swedish class. He burst into class one evening claiming he'd been sacked because he was an immigrant. All of us in the class were immigrants, so he got a sympathetic reception. I asked what he did for a job and he told me that he delivered the junk mail advertising in our area. Further questioning revealed that he felt it was unfair to expect him to deliver in our area as most apartment buildings were three storeys high with no lifts. Did we realise how tiring it was? "And nobody reads the junk mail anyway" he reasoned. So apparently he was doing us all a favour (in his eyes) by putting it straight into the recycling bins. Sort of sparing us the hassle.
What our intrepid friend didn't realise is that his employer had several "control" households in the area. They ring in once a week and let the agency know which ads were delivered that week. Oops! Det var inte meningen! So it wasn't too long before they discovered that he was being paid, but he wasn't delivering the ads.
There was nothing I could say that convinced him that he might actually be in the wrong here. According to him, if he had been Swedish, they would never have had controllers in his area.
So it was with a real sense of deja-vu that I read the cartoon.
lördag, februari 11, 2006
It’s blindingly sunny and cold here today after a week of grey skies and continual snow. I have so enjoyed these last few weeks of changeable conditions. It’s the most unusual late winter I’ve had since I came here in 2000. I always say that what I like best about Sweden are the ever changing seasons, even the blustery and bitter days of February. I think that what I like most about this February is that we are having so many seasons in rapid succession. It really is like a picture postcard.
Of course, not all of the family are so enchanted by the scenery. In fact, some of the family look positively bored by it all. It takes a lot to impress my well-travelled pets.
One reason that I’m happy about the sunshine is that a friend from Sydney is arriving in Stockholm for a few days. She will be treated to the city at its best – with the stately architecture contrasting with the beautiful mounds of soft, white snow glittering like diamonds, brilliant sunny, cloudless blue skies and crisp, cold nights. I’m pretty sure she’ll never want to leave, especially if the snow stays around.
Just lately I’ve really started to cherish my weekends. During the week, I always have to be organised, up and about early and it makes me feel somewhat stressed. One reason for the extra early start has been the builders, who arrive while it is still dark and start up their electrical tools. As they are renovating all of the apartments, you can expect them to barge in at any time to fix small things here and there. A couple of times I’ve been caught in my dressing gown at the breakfast table, so now I ensure that I am dressed and ready in good time.
But on Saturday and Sunday I am free from that stress and can get up at my leisure, read a few pages of my book while lolling about in bed and slouch around the apartment in my dressing gown for as long as I like. Except that Lambi always has strict ideas about going outside way before I’m ready for her. But it’s better than the usual weekday morning chaos. And it's also a chance to really enjoy the scenery in my beautiful town.
Last night, I had a quick look at some of the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games in Turin. As you would expect from the very arty Italians, it was quite sleek, stylish and a little quirky. I was particularly fond of the cute black and white cows. Yet again, the sheer length of the ceremony made me thank the powers that be that Australia appears at the beginning of the alphabetical line-up! I get bored very quickly of groups of highly excited people marching past the camera. By the time we’re getting to countries beginning with “B”, I’ve generally had enough. So no, I didn’t see Sweden march into the arena. But I did manage to tease Lars-Göran about the fact that Australia won two gold medals at the last winter games while Sweden won none. I know, I know, with the whole dual citizen thing I ought to support Sweden as well, but I find that my heart simply isn’t in it. I’ve been cheering for Australia for too long and now it is a habit I can’t break. To be perfectly honest, we’ll probably ignore the whole thing. Neither of us is particularly fond of sport and neither of us ever seriously feels that patriotic urge to cheer for our country. It’s all a bit tribal for my taste. I’ll really only be looking for opportunities to tease him.
What did surprise me last night was the number of African and Asian countries that sent teams. Very small teams, but still - Zambia? India? Thailand? You don’t normally associate these countries with winter sports. I guess the film about the very popular Jamaican bobsled team inspired them. As a consistent supporter of the underdog, I would love to see one of them snatch a medal.
And before I forget, we have a new doormat. I know you are thinking that Lars-Göran is the doormat, but he can’t do the job alone. I had thought of buying this model, but really it’s been done to death lately and is a bit passé. So instead, we opted for one that reflects our usual reaction to visitors:
I didn’t actually buy it – but I think it was an inspired choice by my dear man, who is becoming more and more Australian as time goes on. The beauty of this mat is that our good friends will see the humour straight away and laugh. As for those who are offended by it, well they are probably those to whom it was directed. Let’s hope they get the hint!
onsdag, februari 08, 2006
For ten months of the year, Svandammen is just a pond. A very small one at that, overgrown with reeds, nesting moorhens, coots and ducks in summer, and with a family of swans who live there year round. Svandammen is located in the park along the railway line and near the harbour area where I frequently walk, so I get a good look at in all seasons.
Over the last few weeks, since it's become so cold, it's been transformed into a classic winter scene - frozen, with skaters. They're here when the slanted winter light dazzles as it reflects off the snow, they're here when it's overcast and snowfall threatens. On the weekends, the skaters consist of family groups, teaching the little ones how to handle the ice. But at other times the ice is filled with young boys practicing their hockey moves, all at a blinding speed.
For those who like to skate over a decent distance, Svandammen is not the place for them. In very cold years, one can sometimes skate on the sea here, especially in the more protected bays. But many people journey up to Stockholm and skate on Lake Mälaren. On Sunday, up near Kairo, the skaters were out enjoying the afternoon sunshine and -15C temperatures.
That strange metal contraption you see out on the ice is actually a diving board and bathing platform, looking rather forlorn and abandoned this time of the year. It's always hard to believe that this is the same place one swims and sails in over the summer months.
The weekend was also the time to put "Operation Rescue Matilda" in place. We felt really bad for our friends, but fortunately Anders is a very focused and organised person and while poor Beth cried, he got on to the insurers right away and they went straight to work. First, a barge with pumping equipment was brought up alongside the semi-submerged boat:
If you look towards the centre of the picture, you'll see a diver. No, I'm not kidding. That poor man had to descend into the dark, icy, murky depths in order to check what damage lay below the waterline and to plug the hole with plastic sheeting and do the same with the skylight. They then set the pumps going:
Three hours and quite a few cubic metres of water and slush later, Matilda was raised and then it was time to inspect the damage inside. All of the mattresses and fabric components were totally ruined and had to be dumped, but the good news is that it is that the wood areas are still sound and will only need to be dried out and revarnished. And the engine works! Some miracle workers from the Beckholmen wharves managed to clean it out and get it going again. It was then time to load up the trailer, climbing over two boats with all of the items to be dumped.
At least it was a sunny day.
So at last, she is above the water where she belongs. And now they will get a chance to know every square centimetre of their new boat very intimately. I look at all the varnished surfaces and remember the painful time I had last spring applying seven layers of varnish that Matilda needs (and let's not forget the sanding in between each layer!) to the wooden areas of our own boat. She's a very high maintenance lady.
It has been reported in the media over the last couple of days that the Swedish chain Lindex have been forced to remove the wording on these posters to be displayed at bus stops and train stations. I looked at the posters, shrugged, thought it was an extremely silly ad campaign and moved on. But then, I think a lot of ad campaigns are silly and this seemed no worse than many others, so I was surprised that the powers that be at SL complained about it.
They decided that "the text will upset certain groups in society", though they didn't name these groups who would be upset. Other expat bloggers Curiosa and Mark have their own theory on this. Perhaps they ought to look at the pictures in the posters as well. They would no doubt offend the sort of "groups in society" who might choose to boycott Lindex, burn Swedish flags, bomb embassies etc. But leaving that particular little pandora's box alone for the moment, I wonder who they think will be upset by "We love boobs". Maybe the native English speakers in Sweden? Are we so numerous and powerful? Though you DO have to wonder why they chose an English slogan to appeal to a Swedish speaking population. What's wrong with "Vi älskar tuttar". Or does that smack of sniggering men's locker room talk?
There are a lot of English slogans used in Swedish advertising which always puzzles me. Don't you have enough of your own words that you feel the need to borrow ours? And while the Swedish advertisers argue that this slogan sounds "cute" in their ears, it just sounds silly to most native English speakers.
And a tip to the advertising boys at Lindex. When you choose to be funny in another language, you ought to check the meaning of the word before you set up the campaign!
måndag, februari 06, 2006
It has been snowing heavily for the last two days, with big flakes of snow falling from a sky that is dark and forbidding. We seem to have lost the beautiful blue skies and moved into the dull, grey stuff. Of course, Lars-Göran is feeling quite smug that his "We haven't had February yet!" predictions have come true, so we may have to widen the doors so his head can fit in.
I wasn't the only one fooled. Several bird species have returned to Sweden thinking that it really was an early spring. Out in the garden, blue tits are grateful for the seed balls left out for them :
I used to disapprove of this practice of aiding nature by leaving out seeds, thinking that it would only encourage them to become dependent on hand-outs. But after living through a few industrial strength northern winters, I'm actually prepared to invite the poor little mites into my home and wait on them hand and foot for the whole winter.
One of the joys of living in a coastal town is the sheer variety of water birds who make this their summer home. While a few hardy ducks and swans stay all year, it is the migratory ones that I watch out for most. After spotting a heron last week, I've now seen that one of my favourites, sothönor (coots) have started to appear in the harbour area.
I always thought these were moorhens, but have recently learned that while closely related, they are not the same bird at all. They are really shy birds and a firm favourite among the visitors to the little lake where they often nest. Also out on the water, I spotted some new gulls back from their southern sojourn and probably wishing they'd stayed there for a few more weeks:
How can they stand it out there? I'm cold just looking at them.
Remember me telling you last month that mad Swedes go out in freezing conditions to catch a wave? Well, one of my friends in Norway sent me a story to demonstrate that anything Swedes can do, Norwegians can do one better (yes, these inter-country rivalries are alive and kicking). She sent me a story about a moose surfing on a chunk of ice, accompanied by this picture:
What can I say? Norwegians are such show-offs. And Lars-Göran, being quick to spot a Norwegian trying to pull a fast one, noticed that the picture was a complete fake. It is not the actual moose surfing (the stupid berk who saw it didn't take a picture). This mock-up was done by fark user Random Swede. Noice!
Life here continues to trundle along. People have emailed and asked about the renovations and all I can say is that I am counting the days until it is all over. The noise is incredible at the moment as they are drilling up the concrete floor in the laundry, setting up scaffolding to install an acoustic ceiling out in the landing and just to add a little extra inconvenience, they are drilling out in the solid rock of the back garden to install bergvärme.
This is a type of heating system that relies on the warmth generated from deep in the earth. Even though it's hard to believe that any part of the earth is warm in Sweden. Apparently that drilling will be going on for the next two weeks. Kill me now! The poor man who does the work must have the world's most boring job. He simply loads the drill heads into the pipes that bore the hole through the rock. Every six minutes, he draws it up and replaces the drill head. Eight hours a day. I'll never complain about work again after seeing what he has to do all day.
We had the tiler here today to look over some grouting in the bathroom and kitchen that we are not happy with and the plumber came and looked at our new toilet which is not functioning properly either. He fiddled with it for a while, then muttered something about him not being able to fix it and he'll talk with the manufacturer and get back to us. Which is great, except that now the toilet does not work at all! And I only discovered this after I used it and it refused to flush.
lördag, februari 04, 2006
Yes, Boreas (god of the North Wind in Greek mythology) has swept over Sweden with a vengeance - just check out those minus degrees on the SVT weather map. Brrr.....
It's -12C at the moment, which is a far cry from the lovely +8C we had a couple of days ago when I was waxing lyrical about spring awakening. Early next week they are forecasting temperatures in the low minus twenty range, so I bet the trains will be late or non-existent every day. Yesterday evening the snow came tumbling down in soft waves, reshaping the landscape and blanketing the world with a soft, white covering.
The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches. - e.e. cummings
We had made a tentative plan to meet up with some friends in Stockholm today, but it was just too cold to be bothered making such a long journey, so I cancelled and spent the day home instead. We did go out and catch some of the brilliant sunshine, but we forgot batteries for the camera, so there are no pictures. We also wandered down to the harbour and turned up the heating in the boat to make sure that the temperature of the engine room stays above zero. We don't need another burst water pipe this winter.
Meanwhile, back at home, Bruce (one of our inquisitive cockatiels) went for a quick fossick along the desk, spreading seeds in his path.
He appears to have taken it upon himself to sort through our bills. What a pity he doesn't offer to PAY them as well. I wonder if we can simply ignore the ones he managed to chew up? Do you think it will be a good enough excuse?
I am aware that while we are freezing our goolies off up here, Australia is still baking in hot temperatures. My friend Kim sent me a couple of photos from Adelaide during the current heatwave. It seems that it is not only the human population that is feeling dry and parched. Even the native animals are being enticed out of the bush and into suburban gardens.
For those of you who don't recognise the animal, it is a koala (like Teddy and Freddy who are currently appearing at Skansen). It is so unusual to see these little fellas out of a tree. And even rarer to see one drinking. Koalas mostly get the liquid they need from the leaves they eat rather than drinking from creeks or puddles. In fact the name koala means No drink in aboriginal. I'm assuming this one is feeling stressed, so I hope the people who found him contacted the wildlife service.
We were sitting at breakfast discussing our summer sailing and I mentioned that our route will take us past the island where the sixteenth century astronomer Tycho Brahe had an observatory and that it looked an interesting place to visit. "Who?" said Lars-Göran. So I repeated Tycho Brahe and wrote it down and showed him just to be sure. Then the penny dropped. He had no idea who "Tie-ko Bray" was, but of course knew who "Tea-koo Bra-hee" was.
This is not the first time that he has been perplexed by my pronunciation of European names and he usually laughs at how we English speakers mangle them. The first time, it was the name Bach (which I pronounced "Bark" as you do). He had no clue who I was talking about until I wrote it down and he told me it was pronounced "Baa.. then some ghastly sound as though he was clearing his throat from a big pile of phlegm. No way was I going to say that. So instead when his music comes on the radio, I say "Woof! Woof!" instead.
Things were worse with famous Swedish names. Now, we've all heard every tennis commentator in the world say Björn Borg's name. Without fail, they say "Bee-yon Borg" (with a hard "g" on the end). And not once in all of these years have I ever heard Mr Borg contradict that and correct them. Which is crazy as his name is actually pronounced "Bee-yawn Borry". Can you imagine what would happen if they'd mispronounced McEnroe's name? We'd never hear the end of it. But here I've been saying it wrong all of these years.
And worse still is the director Ingemar Bergman. For Swedes reading this, we say it in English as Bögman. This is funny as bög is the Swedish slang word for gay. In fact, it should read as Berry-man.
I'm guessing that as soon as we hit the island of Ven, Lars-Göran will begin to bray like a donkey. It's going to be an interesting trip....
torsdag, februari 02, 2006
Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.
It's 5 degrees celsius today - that’s spring weather, not winter. The ice is rapidly melting, the snow hides in the shade and turns gray and slushy, the trees may soon be tricked into budding. Not that I’m complaining too much, though it only delays the inevitable: there will be snow again, and bitter wind, and then the long months of spring mud. But today in the sunshine, all of the colours sparkle in the soft spring light.
As the spring awakens and signs abound of the earth beginning to stretch and open up to the light it may be both the moment to celebrate being half way through winter as well as the opportunity to lift up my head, breath deeply and catch the scent and sight of spring while it lasts. And to revel in the transformation of my world as it shakes off the white winter covering and daylight pushes back the edges of the dark night.
The sun is shining brightly in Nynäshamn today, in fact, it's so warm that I have the the balcony door open and warm air is wafting in, along with the car fumes. It's so warm I am wearing a teeshirt. (Of course that could have more to do with menopause then the ambient air as L-G quips.) In the afternoon there is a bit of nip in the air, though you can see that the waters beckon us, even if the shore is still snowy.
We are still living in a depressing building site, with the builders firing up their equipment early in the morning, the whole apartment complex filled with dust, noise and chaos as water and electricity is shut off periodically and the kitchens and laundry are renovated. We also got a new security front door and today we were told that they will be fixing the acoustics in the landing outside of our apartment, so it should reduce the echo effect that sends Lambi wild when someone comes home at 2 a.m. I can't wait for that!
While I mutter and grumble about the inconvenience, I can see an end in sight. And it won't look like this place. Be sure to click on the picture to see it "in all it's glory" - shudder! Though worryingly, I think Lars-Göran's mum would love it.
In brighter news, Lars-Göran has acquired a new toy this week - yet another digital camera - the Canon Powershot S2 IS. He has been unhappy with the Olympus pretty much since we bought it. At the time he liked the idea of a light, compact, slip-in-the-pocket camera and its weather proof casing, it just didn't suit his photographic style. He became increasingly frustrated with the lack of manual settings (he loves tweaking settings), it's poor function in bad light and the inevitable camera shake you get with such a lightweight camera.
So, it was back to the Canon range that we so loved and he has chosen the best fit for a price we can afford - just! So he can take his nature shots from afar
or even duck in for a close up using the 12x optical zoom:
It even has a video function, so he has been taking home movies like a demented Ingemar Bergman the last few days. I hope that phase wears off soon. However, he has sacrificed the compact function as this camera is much more like a SLR in size and weight but the additional benefits he gets from it far outweigh the inconvenience of needing to use a camera bag instead of his jacket pocket again.
The photos on this entry were taken with the new camera and so far we are really happy with it. The real test will be when we take it out on the boat and see how it fares in a marine environment. But just in case, we still have our old Olympus on hand as you never know...
This month's postsMonday I have Friday on my mind (måndag, februari 27, 2006)
If You Think You're Having a Bad Day... (lördag, februari 25, 2006)
Australia, its not all booze and kangaroos (torsdag, februari 23, 2006)
Yes, Jane. There really are moose in Sweden. (tisdag, februari 21, 2006)
The joy that are semlor (söndag, februari 19, 2006)
Colder than a witch's tit (fredag, februari 17, 2006)
An afternoon stroll in Gamla Stan (onsdag, februari 15, 2006)
Looking through the round window... (måndag, februari 13, 2006)
Laying out the welcome mat (lördag, februari 11, 2006)
Making a boob of yourself (onsdag, februari 08, 2006)
Cold and Raw the North Wind doth blow (måndag, februari 06, 2006)
Animal Quackers (lördag, februari 04, 2006)
Boys and their toys (torsdag, februari 02, 2006)
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