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Vadstena in winter

Filed under: family,sweden — kevin @ 16:34

My parents came for a visit last weekend with Iain and Adele. The weather wasn’t great, with snow-chaos on Saturday and extremely low temperatures on Sunday. Apparently Saturday had the greatest snowfall since the 1960s.

Despite the cold Sunday was a nice sunny day, so we went on an outing to Vadstena:
Looking across a frozen moat to the entrance of a castle.  Above the entrance archway the sun shines through windows.

Lake Vättern was both frozen and covered in snow and it was pretty cold wandering around.
A white surface stretches out into the distance.  On the left a promontory reaches out into the lake. A path through snow leads up the middle of the picture.  On the left is a castle seen through trees.  On the right is a frozen and snow-covered lake. In the background part of a castle is lit by winter sun.  In front of it a childrens' playground sits among trees and snow.  In the foreground a statue of a woman looks down at the snow, her face lit by the reflected light.


Parents’ visit

Filed under: family,sweden,travel — kevin @ 17:53

My Mum and Dad came over to Sweden for a few weeks in June, this time they got much nicer weather than they had in November. I’ve only just got round to sorting out the pictures from their trip.

We started off with Midsummer weekend in Stockholm, enjoying the sunshine and seeing the wildlife at Skansen. We also visited the Vasa museum and saw the changing of the guard at the palace.
An adult female elk and her young calf stand in a fenced enclosure. A seal lying basking in the sun in shallow water.  The seal is looking at the camera. Two bear cubs standing on their hind legs play-fighting in a large wooded enclosure.
Mum standing beside a small dummy wearing a bright red hat in an old cobbled street. A white yacht surrounded by smaller vessels.  In the background is an island with trees and buildings. A soldier in ceremonial uniform (complete with spiked helmet) stands guard in front of a crowd of tourists.

We had a lovely morning close to lake Vättern at Omberg, where we also visited the ruins of the monastery at Alvastra. The tops of the ruined walls have been covered and then flowers grown on top.
A ruined church, stone arches against a vivid blue sky.  A tree-covered hill in the backgroun. Bright yellow flowers against a vivid blue sky.  In the background (out of focus) a ruined wall can be seen. Parents sitting at a picnic table in the sunshine.

During the week we also took a trip along the Göta canal from Berg to Borensberg with the M/S Wasa Lejon. It was a very relaxing trip, although we were puzzled about the people queuing an hour before departure.
A short stretch of canal with two lock gates which then broadens into a basin, narrows again for more locks and leads to a lake. Cows below a tree by the banks of a canal.  In the background fields under a blue sky. A white tour boat moored at one side of a canal.

Eleanor come over to join us for a long weekend, so we spent Saturday and Sunday in Kalmar. For some reason I don’t seem to have taken any pictures with Eleanor in… On the way back on Sunday we visited Vadstena again, although the weather was much better than the last couple of times I’d been there.
A pale stone castle with three green-roofed towers A rusted cannon sits on a wooden carriage, pointing out into the clear blue sky over the sea. A castle with a moat and tower, in the sunshine.


Linköping in the winter sunshine

Filed under: sweden — kevin @ 15:57

It was a beautifully clear, sunny day today, so I went for a walk around town. One of the reasons was to take some pictures. I seldom take many pictures of the places where I live; I want to make sure I have some of Linköping.

I set off up Vasavägen, past the Länsmuseum (which I’ve still never been inside) to the cathedral. It looked beautiful in the low sunshine but it was tricky to find an angle where there weren’t too many trees in the way. I like the way the steeple looks against the sky in this photo.
A church steeple roofed in pale green metal pokes up into a clear blue sky.  At lower left some bare trees are lit by the low winter sun.

From the cathedral I walked on to Trädgårdsföreningen, one of the bigger parks in the city. I was hoping it would be lit nicely, but I’d spent too long in bed today and the sun had disappeared behind buildings. I had to content myself with climbing up the hill to the Belvedere, which was still in sunlight. Unfortunately the ground around it was strewn with the rubbish from last night’s celebrations: broken glass, cigarette ends and spent fireworks.
Bare winter trees against a clear blue sky, lit by the low sun. Champagne bottles and other rubbish litter the rocky ground.

Just outside the park I noticed that the brutal chimney structure of the University Hospital’s boiler house looked interesting against the sky. I’ll have to try again when the sun is shining on the glass side. On that edge of the park is the Linköping beekeepers’ society, complete with a little sign warning pedestrian of the danger.
An ugly concrete chimney tower stands against the blue sky.  On the near side a spiral staircase is enclosed in a glass wall. A path leads off into a wintry park.  To the right there is a pedestrians-only sign, with another sign warning of nearby beehives.

A few hundred meters away is another, smaller, green space in the city. The Tinnerbäck, a small stream (“bäck” means the same as “beck” in English) that fills the open-air swimming pool, flows over a small waterfall beside the new cycle bridge.
A stream flows over a stone wall, icicles hang around it.

Then I walked down, through Hejdegården to the river Stångå (or should it be the river Stång? “å” means small river). Ducks were feeding on a small patch of ice where the Tinnerbäck flows into the river, or at least they were until someone started feeding them further downstream. Northwest along the river from here you can see the Drottningsbron (which used to open to allow shipping acces to Linköping’s harbour) and the district heating plant.
A mallard duck and drake walking around feeding on ice, in the background some others are swimming. The river leads from the foreground under a small bridge.  Trees line the banks on both sides, with buildings behind the trees.  In the background three chimneys can be seen, with the outer two emitting steam.

I finished off by continuing along the bank of the river to where the harbour used to be, now an industrial area that the local authorities are planning to raze and replace with a new travel centre. Here’s one final picture, the district heating plant that keeps my house warm and gives me huge amounts of lovely hot water.
A large industrial building in red brick, glowing in the low winter sun.  Two of the three chimneys are giving off steam.

If you have Google Earth installed on your computer you can follow the route using this file. I’d recommend turning on 3D buildings and setting “Show balloon when tour is paused” on the touring tab of the options (“Tools” menu, “Options…” on Windows).


A minor victory

Filed under: other,sweden — kevin @ 19:10

After several attempts I’m victorious in my struggle against the lath and plaster wall between my hall and kitchen:
A wood and metal coat rack with a couple of coats hanging from it, attached to a large wooden board and the wall.  Below is a shoe rack.

Some time ago I bought a shoe rack and coat rack from IKEA. Shoe racks seem to be more or less compulsory in Sweden. Attaching the hat rack (hatthylla) to the wall proved difficult. Rawlplugs pulled straight out and a little investigation led me to believe that the wall is made of lath and plaster, with a thick layer of extremely fragile plaster.

This weekend I finally got round to buying a stud detector, locating the solid bits inside the wall and then screwing a large piece of wood onto those bits. At last I have something solid to attach the coat rack to!

Of course the bit of wood (nice solid birch) cost more than the coat rack, but at least they match.


Stockholm – Midsummer

Filed under: sweden,travel — kevin @ 15:02

I’d been planning to visit Stockholm for a while and eventually got around to booking train tickets and accommodation. It was only afterwards that I realised that I was going to be there for the midsummer weekend.

Midsummer is a big thing in Sweden, with various traditional food, dancing round maypoles and a very strange song about small frogs (apparently they’re funny because they have no ears). The celebrations had been on the Friday evening, but there was still a holiday atmosphere.

When I was booking the train tickets I encountered one of the oddities of SJ‘s fare structure. It’s sometimes cheaper to travel first class than second class, including the days I was travelling. So on the Saturday morning I boarded the very shiny X2000 tilting train at Linköping and took my seat in the very nice first class coach. A first class ticket includes tea and coffee, fruit, newspapers and wireless internet.
The interior of a first-class railway carriage, decorated in muted colours and wood panelling.

The journey was pleasant, with stops at Norrköping and Södertalje. Lots of typical Swedish countryside passing by; the well-kept fields and red-painted houses look like something from a postcard, but there are plenty of them in between stretches of forest.

Arrival at Stockholm Central is a bit confusing, there’s a shortage of maps to allow you to orient yourself. I wandered around a bit and eventually found a sort of self-service tourist information desk and picked up a free map. I worked out where I was and which exit I wanted then started to make my way towards the Skeppsholmen youth hostel, stopping on the way for lunch.

Skeppsholmen is an island close to the centre of Stockholm, opposite the royal palace. It was formerly occupied by the Swedish navy but now most of the buildings have been converted into museums. The hostel is the former carpenters’ workshops and accommodation, there are also rooms available in af Chapman moored outside. Of course, this being Sweden, there are rules. I couldn’t get into my room until 3pm, so I had to carry all my stuff around until then.
On the left, in the foreground, a bronze statue of a winged man marks the start of a bridge.  To the right, in the distance, a white-painted tall ship glows in the evening sun. The bowsprit of a white sailing ship frames the Royal Palace.

Back to Kungsträdgård to the tourist information centre to buy a Stockholm Card. Another typical Swedish experience: “take a ticket and wait for your number to be called”. The manufacturers of these queueing machines must make plenty of money in Sweden.

On the way back to Skeppsholmen I walked past the Grand Hotel and almost right into Jay-Z, he was signing autographs on the pavement while several large American cars were being filled with wardrobes on wheels and hangers-on.

My first stop was the Arkitekturmuseet, in a modern building at the top of Skeppsholmen. It’s interesting, but not very interesting. A collection of models of various famous buildings and descriptions of typical building styles. Apparently the red paint with white corners on rural buildings was originally meant to look like (much more expensive) brick. It had started raining heavily while I was there, so I had an expensive espresso and waited for the rain to ease off before returning to the hostel.

My Stockholm Card included public transport, so I walked up to the ferry terminal at Nybroplan, getting fairly wet in the process. The rain stopped once I got there, so the long wait for the ferry wasn’t too bad. The ferry took me across to another island, Djurgården, which has many of Stockholm’s attractions, including the open-air museum Skansen. I spent a few hours wandering around Skansen, although most of the buildings had closed up at 5pm. Dinner was a takeaway reindeer meat, sour cream and mashed potato wrapped in flat bread thing from one of the stalls in the park.
A red wooden belfry with shingled legs against a blue sky. A small wooden building, painted red and white. An elk with calves in a wooded enclosure. A single-storey wooden building with an archway leading through to the back.

I took the historic tram back into the city and the T-banen to Gamla Stan (the old town) but it had started raining again so I just had a quick scuttle around before returning to the hostel.

The Skeppsholmen hostel isn’t a very sociable place, lacking a comfortable lounge or communal area. Instead they have a bar/restaurant, which I’m sure is very profitable for them. I went for a walk round the island to look at the various old boats moored around it, many of them being lived in.
Old boats moored in front of trees. A sailing boat moored to a wooden quay.

The next morning, after a fairly restless night due to the horrible bed, I got up for a little stroll then returned for the breakfast buffet. The buffet was pretty good, all the usual muesli, bread, ham, cheese and of course a selection of pickled herring. I get the feeling that Swedish youth hostels are lagging behind the rest of the world, still a bit of the old puritanical attitude there and nowhere near as nice as the typical New Zealand hostel.

I packed up, checked out and walked round to Vasamuséet, public transport has a bit of a slow start on a Sunday and it was a nice morning for strolling along the waterfront. The museum is excellent; the Vasa itself is very impressive and well preserved and restored. In particular they’ve made it quite clear which parts are original and which are modern replacements. A little bit more technical information about the raising would have been nice, but that’s just my engineering side. Tied up outside are a few more museum-ships, but there’s a terrible lack of information about them, apart from a little exhibit on ice breaking aboard the S:t Erik. In the museum I overheard two visitors talking about some prices quoted on one of the displays: “is that modern euros?” (no, I think they’re talking about 17th century euros).
Wooden carvings on the side of a ship, the wood is very dark, almost black. A wooden sailing ship in a museum buidling, people milling around down by the keel.

After a quick hot dog and Coke for lunch I visited the Estonia memorial, I noticed that one of the victims was Nigerian. Then it was on to the Nordiska museet, a huge and impressive building but it seems to be short of useful exhibition space. They had some odd but interesting exhibitions, including one of table settings from various historical periods. Another exhibition was of furniture, mentioning the research of the Home Research Institute that led to the development of the Swedish kitchen standard, this was featured in a film I wanted to see a few years ago but never got round to: Kitchen Stories.

Back to the Gamla Stan, in better weather this time, for a wander around. I visited the Nobel Museum, which frankly isn’t worth it, it’s all fancy displays and little real content. Gamla Stan was heaving with tourists, mostly German, many of them with that annoying habit of stopping suddenly in the middle of the pavement to take pictures.

For the train back to Linköping I’d paid a bit extra for SJ’s “plusmeny”, a three-course meal served at your seat. It was very much like an airline meal but was pretty good. Hot smoked fish, mashed potato and vegetables in a cheese and mustard sauce and salad. The dessert part wasn’t so good: soggy cake, synthetic cream and a puddle of generic fruit goo.

Catching up

Filed under: sweden,travel — kevin @ 12:50

You might have noticed that since moving to Sweden updates here have been few and far between. I think it’s mostly because there’s not so much to tell people about, life in Sweden is fairly similar to life anywhere else in Europe/North America.

Today, while I’m doing laundry, I’m making an effort to catch up a bit. Later on there will be an entry about my weekend in Stockholm at the end of June.

For now, here are some pictures from a hiking/camping trip to Omberg eco-park a few weekends ago. Lake Vättern is amazingly clear, apparently it’s safe to drink almost everywhere. Even in the harbour at Borghamn it was clean and free of the usual oily scum.

A narrow path leads through a dark coniferous forest, shafts of light shine down through gaps in the foliage. View across a large lake, framed by treetops in the foreground.  On the far side are low hills and above them a clear blue sky. An old two-storey building in gardens.  In the foreground are a sunlit wooden bench and table. Fields of golden crops stretch away from the camera, divided in the middle by a hedge with a single tree.  In the background red-painted farm buildings sit among trees.


My apartment

Filed under: sweden — kevin @ 14:09

It’s only taken me more than seven weeks but, at long last, here are some pictures of my apartment in Linköping.

View down a wood-floored hallway, with doors on either side, through a door at the far end. A wood-floored room with a double bed and a large round paper lampshade dangling from the ceiling. A wooden-floored room with a large sofa opposite a TV.  A large window looks out onto other apartments. A kitchen, metal worksurfaces and white cabinets.  Pots and coffee-making equipment are scattered around. A dining table stands in front of a large window.  Bed linen is draped over the chairs. A wood-floored room with an open doorway.  Beside the doorway is a white desk with a laptop sitting on it (among other clutter). A white-tiled bathroom.  A plastic shower curtain screens the bath, to the right is a sink with a mirrored cabinet over it.

In the last few weeks I’ve been looking for my next apartment. The people I’m subletting from are coming back from Denmark in August, so I have to have somewhere else to live by then. Finding an apartment isn’t all that easy, and with many of the property companies involves queues and points, all very northern European.

P.S. If you’re extra observant you might have noticed that the picture filenames have ‘Linkoping’, with an ‘o’ instead of the ‘ö’ (they’re different letters in Swedish). This is one of the many horrible lingering effects of most computer technology having its heritage in systems invented by people who thought that just the letters A-Z, numbers and a bit of punctation should be enough for anyone. There are several different ways of representing the letter ö — to make matters worse when I’m typing it here I have to use ö.

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