My son’s wedding – Reception

February 20, 2018

This is the only wedding-group shot that the photographer took. From the left, Lisa & Martin (Romina’s brother), myself and Barbro, Romina and Lars, Romina’s parents.

Lars and Romina wanted a white wedding, and their wish was granted as after 3 weeks of no snow, there was a copious snowfall the day before the wedding (and there was rain on the day after, ruining the pristine snow).

The reception was held at a remote 500-year-old farmhouse that nevertheless had modern facilities.

Romina’s brother and grandfather, a wonderful and kind man. (The brother is the one on the left) (and Romina is the one in the middle).

Enough of this, where’s the beer and cake? This was the wedding cake.

And that ancillary cake was also a masterpiece of cuisine, with an accurate map on the globe – showing even Tasmania and New Zealand correctly – the cup cakes had a different Lars-related theme on each one, and the cups were in the colours of the German Flag.

The photographer took a lot of natty photos (and as with the previous post, all these photos are (c) Sabine Holaubek and are downloadable from her web site).

The horse and cart – there were three of them – was to provide fun rides into the snow-covered forest for the guests mid-afternoon. There, Sabine took the Best Wedding Picture –

We returned for the dinner, where several comic sketches were enacted by Romina’s friends, and the usual speeches were made. I gave mine in English but launched into a few words of German for the main points – I can’t get the words to flow smoothly in my spoken German.

Myself and Romina’s parents. It is strange to find myself related to a family of Bavarians, and they must be equally amazed (by Newton’s Third Law) now to discover Australians in their family. My astrologer once said “Today your wildest dreams will come true … you will not like it at all.” Seriously, we all got along wonderfully well and we formed friendships that will last for the rest of our lives.

Eventually the reception ended, the guests departed and the bridal couple set off, but unfortunately the last bus had already gone.

And there they are, thinking about what lies beyond the mountains – Austria, actually, then Italy, the Mediterranean, Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Tasmania (which is where they are going to live), New Zealand, and Invercargill. My wonderful son and his wonderful new wife – the whole world is all yours; just get yourselves into focus, eh. Actually, more than the whole world:

You take care, son.


Kiwi interlude: Burt

February 19, 2018

March 2016: Lars, his new fiancee Romina, and Burt, at the end of the 3000-km Te Araroa walking trail.

Back in 2016 we flew to Invercargill to meet Lars and Romina at the end of their walk across New Zealand. Invercargill is famous for two things – it is the last town in the world as you go south, and it was the home of Burt Munro, eccentric self-taught builder of a bizarre motorbike that took the land speed record for two-wheelers.

Click the bike to embiggen it and then gaze in amazement for, as the gods are my witness, that is Burt Munro’s record-breaking bike. The handlebars are halfway down the front forks, and the plate at the back is to stop Burt sliding off when it gets going. It was a new bike in 1920, then abandoned for years in a field, bought by Burt in 1938 for 1 pound and then very heavily modified to take the under-1000cc speed record of 296 km/h in 1967. So, the fastest bike in the world was a 47-year-old machine …. during the record-breaking run Burt’s goggles flew off and he could not see where he was going, he could look only downwards but could just about see the black line painted across the Utah desert. The film The World’s Fastest Indian tells the story and THIS CLIP shows the test run when the officials were checking that the bike could actually go, and was safe (it had no parachute – and come to think of it, no brakes). See him take off at 1:07, still in second gear. Burt’s speed record stands to this day.

I went to pay homage at the place where Burt’s house and workshop once stood. A road for new housing is now built there, but named after him. And parked on the main road I saw this yellow Mini with the rego “P0RK P1” – not “IZ 6393” which, as every NZ hoon knows, was the rego of the yellow Mini featured in the iconic film Goodbye Pork Pie (1980) –

– in which the protagonist drives the Mini from Kaitaia to Invercargill – the same journey that Lars and Romina walked – selling off every removable part of the car on the way, finally arriving at Invercargill with only a chassis, four wheels, and an engine, which was on fire. I asked my NZ motorcycling mate Deany if he knew of the film, and he said “Know it? The mechanics I employed at the time are in it” (the scene at the Dunedin scrap yard)

Anyway after we had lapped up these icons of Antipodean culture, Lars and Romina came through and walked on to Bluff, where the trail ends and Barbro walked some of the way with them. Specifically, she walked the last 4 km and skipped the other 2,996 km. At one place (it was HERE, click on “Satellite” ) – Lars asked Barbro to go off and hide somewhere while he asked Romina something.

In the euphoria that followed after she said Yes to whatever it was, the three of them noticed that they were not alone. There, caught in the bushes was a helium balloon marked “Happy 60th Birthday”. Well, the first word was correct, so they named him “Burt” after Burt Munro, and brought him along with them.

In the airbnb-house where we stayed a few days Burt was then our constant companion. After a week he was still inflated, still floating so we took him with us to Queenstown. One morning we could not find him but finally saw him at the top of the stairwell, wistfully gazing through a window at our house’s excellent vista over central Queenstown. And the next morning, Burt was gone; we searched the house high and low but could not find him anywhere. There may have been an open window. We still think of him, wafting over the streets of Queenstown, perhaps riding in the chairlift or on a jet ski.

Wherever you are, Burt old mate, you take care, eh.

My son’s wedding – Ceremony

February 18, 2018

Lars and Romina’s wedding, 20 January 2018: these are their wedding rings.

The design shows certain trees and mountains they have passed by, particularly on their walk along the length of New Zealand. The metal of the rings is Palladium, an element noted for its great capacity to absorb gaseous hydrogen. Could be very handy, they might be driving a hydrogen-powered car one day, and the battery starts to get a bit low, and it so happens that there’d be some hydrogen and …

Lars completing negotiations with Sepp, the bride’s father. I think he got Romina for 35 camels, which would be quite a bargain as she is surely worth much more than that. Sepp then went off to find Romina and bring her up the aisle. Halfway up, he carefully checked to make sure he had the right person.

As you see, Romina found the prospect of marrying this particular groom rather funny. Or maybe he told her how many camels … anyway the four of them sat down at the desk, and work began.

Romina’s parents:

Romina’s brother and his fiancee. They observed with particular interest, because they are next (in July). I don’t know if the llamas will still be there by then.

The celebrant – an official of the Bayrischzell Town Council – lit two candles (in case of power cuts) and made a long speech in German. Most of it was about how Lars & Romina met but I think she would have started with acknowledging the original Saxon owners of the land, pointing out where the fire exits were, then describing the touristic attractions of Bayrischzell and outlining the opportunities for commercial investment in this thriving community. I do recall that her first words to Rory were “Do you have any ID” whereupon he produced his passport, which was earnestly examined.

With bride, groom and witnesses all positively identified, the wedding ceremony proceeded. When it was finished, everyone frantically applauded:

The critical moment – the exchange of rings –

Actually the critical moment was in the middle of the ceremony, when they signed the marriage certificate. At that point the celebrant escorted the bride and groom to a back room, where Romina collected her new passport, fully prepared with date of issue that day, and showing her new married name; her old passport was then stamped “cancelled”. This could have got her into all sorts of trouble when trying to leave Europe, and when trying to enter Australia, as everyone’s existing paperwork showed another name, but we had already filled out forms to expedite this. Her new passport was ordered weeks ago, of course, which had involved arguing about it being in a name that was not (yet) her name. The wedding could have been cancelled for various reasons – atomic bomb, outbreak of plague, eaten by llamas etc – but not the passport.

Anyway, the delighted bride and groom then exited the chamber. Everyone was so delighted, so so happy; even the photographer could not hold the camera straight. They moved on outside into the snow-covered streets, where the red VW waited to take them to the reception.

And while outside they were presented with Son of Burt, evoking the time two years before when they got engaged, and there were just the three of them, Lars Romina and Burt … this will be a Kiwi interlude for my next post.

Note: All the photos on this post are copyright and can be viewed – alll 788 of them – and purchased from the photographer’s web site HERE

My son’s wedding – Arrival

February 17, 2018

Here I am, or rather here I was in 2016, sampling the Munich cuisine with my son Lars. But now, on 20 January 2018, we were up in the Alps for his wedding to Romina:

And there’s the red VW, decked out for the wedding. In Germany there is no official recognition of anything that you might do in a church, whatever that is; all recognised weddings are conducted by a functionary at an official registry office, and this one was at the historic Town Hall of Bayrischzell, an Alpine village about 70km SE of Munich.

Lars attempting to dress for the ceremony. Unlike us old dinosaurs in our youth, he has not had to wear a tie every day of his life. This is one of several new experiences he will have today.

Ready to set off with Rory, the best man. However, it was decided that he’d look better with a shirt on – otherwise the more delicate ladies would swoon or come over all faint. But I do feel that this picture (taken by the official photographer Sabine Holaubek and purchasable from her web site – see next blog post) encapsulates Rory’s robust approach to life.

You be careful on those stairs, Lars! Look where you are treading – not even that little red handbag will save you.

The 75 guests arrived and took their seats at the Town Hall. Then, in the time before the Arrival of the Bride, the assembled guests enacted the Admiration of the Llamas.

A herd of llamas was grazing outside the building. They must have become seriously lost … or perhaps they were put there for the guests to look at before the bride arrived (late, as custom demands). Lars and Rory waited at the desk, upon which lay a folder of the necesssary official documents such as the wedding certificate; the word on the cover means “portfolio of the wedding” but we could not resist doing this:

The celebrant waited.

The groom and best man waited.

The guests waited.

The llamas quietly grazed outside the window.

The bride and her father approached the doorway of the room.

Books, saints, Munich, wedding

February 15, 2018

How I love books – this one about arrases, for example. A neat purchase at Cracow Castle, a few days before we saw Hamlet, which of course has a scene in which Polonius gets stabbed behind the arras (what a way to go!)

At my house in Melbourne I have put up a Book Hutch in the front garden. People can take and leave books as they wish. It is a tremendous success and we have been showered with praise; several anonymous letters of congratulation have been left the hutch, and an invite to dinner from the people in the next street who have another book hutch. Mine holds about 15 books and after about a week they have all gone and been replaced by new ones. However, someone left four huge books by Diana Gabaldon in it, which nobody ever took, and they filled up 2/3 of the room. So, I built an annexe for only books by Diana Gabaldon:

Why am I telling you this, well, I just thought you would like to know. And because, when we came to visit Romina’s parents at Munich, look what the reading material in our room was:

A little statue of St.Florian is commonly found in German houses. He is the patron saint of firefighters, and is usually depicted tipping a bucket of water over a burning building, thus:

He ought to be the patron saint of bucket-makers as well. (Or rain makers.) And if he’s really that size relative to the buildings he extinguishes, then your house being on fire could be the least of your worries. As his bucket is a traditional wooden one, I can point out that St.Urban of Langres is the patron saint of barrel-makers … there’s one for everything. St.Isidore is the patron saint of the Internet – so he’d be the proper saint to pray to, when your NBN connection slows down. St.Cajetan is the patron saint of:

  • Albania, Italy, Malta, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala
  • Workers
  • Unemployed people
  • Gamblers
  • People who do not gamble

I guess he’d be pretty busy. Now where was I – oh yes, here’s the Bayrischzell Fire Station with St Florian painted on the side:

Those birds hovering over it might be vultures. When you call the fire brigade they first ask “Have you prayed to St Florian … but if the fire is still going, we’ll come now.” There should be a patron saint for Buildings Not On Fire.

Whatever … so we arrived at Munich, took the suburban train to Gernlinden. I recall that when we were here 18 months ago, at this station there were jigsaw pieces strewn over the path, thus:

The patron saint of jigsaw puzzle fans … Ha! There isn’t one. I could volunteer: “Bert Figgs was trying to solve a 3,000 piece jigsaw of the Mona Lisa and was completely stuck. He prayed to St.Steve, who indicated that Bert had fitted the famous smile upside down, also that there were two missing pieces that his cat had taken away and put under the sofa. With this saintly help, he was able to complete the puzzle.”

I seem to have wandered from the topic at hand yet again; Sepp, Romina’s father, had left his bicycle outside the house:

In a nearby suburb of western Munich, Amazon have built a huge complex of grey warehouses, which the locals call Amazonia:

Sepp was driving into town at 7am one day, or rather, he wasn’t, because he stopped at a roundabout and 67 Amazon trucks went across before he could proceed. For the wedding, Sepp had bought this beautifully preserved 1968 Volkswagen:

Of course, he is as proud as a cat with two tails over this car. It was made in Mexico, curiously, and imported new to Germany where it had had only one owner – a little old lady who used it to drive to church and back. Yes, really! We put the VW on a trailer and drove for a couple of hours up into the mountains to Bayrischzell, the village where the wedding would be held. The views were like this:

… and we rented the house shown above, which could easily accommodate 20 people in their own rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms. All of Barbro’s family came down from Sweden, and we filled the house with Swedes.

Brixen im Thale

February 14, 2018

We came to Munich a few days before my son Lars’s wedding, and Lars found time to take us up to the ski field where he had worked for several winters (and where he met Romina). Behold, the village of igloos that he, with others, has just built.

Hier ist mein Sohn, der Iglubaumeister, mit dem Mädchen, das seine Frau wird:

The igloos are built fresh every winter, by a special proprietary technique, and they can be quite big and multi-roomed – this is the view inside the entrance to the big one:

You can sleep on a nice bed – woops, I meant sleep on an ice bed (with furs, of course), get married in an ice church, buy a drink and sit at an ice table from where you can admire ice carvings on the walls.

We saw the carver at work; this will be a puma. At the bottom left of the work, on the ground, is the magazine with the picture that he is copying. In the summer he works in stone on cathedrals etc.

But when there is little to do – which Lars said did happen from time to time as they were building the village – they play a Nail Game, as follows. Four-inch nails are lightly tapped into a heavy wooden stump. Then you have to bang your nail in – using the axe side of the hammer, thus:

With a bit of luck I could actually hit the nail and drive it an inch or so in. Without the skill, most of the time one misses – but the locals can bang it in with one blow. Not only that, they toss the hammer in a loop and catch it before striking the blow, in a single smooth movement:

Here’s some advice: Do not play this game with the locals! At least, not for money. Bang, it’s gone. Bang, it’s gone. Bang, it’s gone ….

The views down the mountain were perfect.

After we came off the mountain we were so exhausted that we had to head for the nearest cafe and scoff an Apple Strudel. Each.

Dresden (4) – 13 Feb 1945

February 5, 2018

Another post that is hard to write (and read). You don’t just walk around Dresden, there is a price to pay.

As we all know, the British and Americans bombed Dresden flat in 1945. There is still controversy over whether it was a legitimate target, or even relevant to progressing the war towards a victory. It looks very like a furious revenge for the 1940 destruction of Coventry, but that really was a legitimate target (arms production and heavy machinery).

Dresden had a lot of ornate buildings and artwork, which have now been restored ending in 2005 – even the newly formed communist government began restoration work immediately after the war. This clock, for example, once had (and now has again) bells made of the finest Meissen porcelain. And look at the detail in the stonework figures on an arch beside the palace. Dresden was, and is again, awash with this calibre of artwork.

Dresden had a historic Old City, residential suburbs, extensive railway yards and junctions and a large industrial area. The map below, issued by the British to their bomber crews, shows the area to be bombed – the quadrant below and right of centre. This is the Old City, containing nothing of military relevance, and it was utterly destroyed by more than a thousand bombers.

After the firestorm ended and the rubble was cleared away, some weeks later, the Old City looked like this.

The cathedral looked like this. It was consecrated in 1388 – 13 bloody 88. The statue of Luther in front of it, curiously, was more or less intact.

The cathedral was restored in the 1990s, at a cost of 180 million Euros (100 raised by public subscription and 80 from the German government). Original stones, black in colour, were identified and replaced exactly in their original locations in the stonework, so with the new stones being light brown in colour the stonework looks like this –

The cross on top of the restored cathedral was made in Coventry by the son of one of the bomber pilots. Another cross, inside the cathedral (sorry no photo) is made of medieval iron nails from the roof of the destroyed Coventry Cathedral.

The two cities (with Stalingrad) became the world’s first Twin Cities in 1959. Presumably they all shared a common desire, not to bomb the crap out of one another, ever again.

The British Lancaster bomber had a crew of seven: pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, flight engineer, wireless operator, mid gunner and rear gunner. My father served in the RAF as a wireless operator – he reckoned, correctly, that this might be useful in getting a job after the war, when bomb aimers and rear gunners would not be much in demand. We have lost his flight records, but it is very likely that he would have flown over Dresden on that night of 13 February 1945. I have to deal with this now. After the war he was active in the Berlin Airlift and he saw at first hand the devastation that had been wreaked on Germany. And he became a fierce pacifist.

Dresden (3) – various

February 4, 2018

Let’s meet at point A. If you don’t see me, look for me at meeting point B instead. The signs here are a bit iffy:

You can go ice skating in the courtyards of some of the old quadrilateral buildings. They flood the courtyard and charge you to skate.

And that is a lady selling illustrated comic poems for various jobs that people do. Sadly, she did not have one for iglubaumeister, which is what my son is – a master igloo builder. There is not much call for igloos in Australia, but who knows where his career might take him. It looks good on his resume, along with Shelf Stacker and Dog Shoo’er, in a Western Desert community when he was 10 years old and I ran the shop for 3 weeks.

This is the Dresden State Opera House, rebuilt of course after WW2. We went along in the hope of getting spare or returned tickets for Die Fledermaus. Ha! said the lady, you come here to the Dresden State Opera, one of the world’s finest, and you think there will be spare tickets? Tomorrow we have the first opera of Wagner’s Ring, which sold out 3 years ago.

So we walked over to the State Theatre where Hamlet was playing. And yes, there were a few, a very few, free seats so we got in and waited for the play to start. The stage looked like this:

And among an audience of mostly young people, we saw a death-metal version of Hamlet. Crikey, was I blown away. Brilliant sets and setting, brilliant re-ordering of the play, five devastating songs heavy enough to bring the roof down, terrific performances by musicians who could also act. Of all the Hamlet’s I have seen – dozens – this one takes the cake. If that was not enough, the star of the show (playing Hamlet) acted the play-within-the-play all by himself, and for the final duel scene, where (spoiler alert) Hamlet kills Laertes and the King and Queen – he played all four parts by himself, simultaneously. This actor, Christian Friedel, well deserved the standing ovation and 6 curtain calls that followed. You can see bits of it (all in German, of course) HERE and the first song, filmed straight, HERE

Dresden (2) – Parade of kings

February 3, 2018

Along one outer wall of the Dresden royal palace are 24,000 picture tiles, depicting a parade of all the kings of Saxony. Here’s Albrecht, for example – one of the only two kings shown on a prancing horse.

The detail is wonderful – here is a close-up of George, for example.

The later kings include Augustus II The Strong – on the left in the picture above. He is the other king on a prancing horse; more about him in a minute. Some inferior kings do not even have a horse, and have to walk. Augustus’s horse is shown trampling on a rose –

– an allegory for some lands that he conquered and, in legend, a girl who repudiated him. Augustus II was ambitious; he decided he would be king of Poland as well as Saxony. Becoming king of Poland was easy, because it was not hereditary, the Poles elected their king; well, actually the electing was done by a small group of influential Poles – highly bribe-able Poles. The only snag was that the king of Poland had to be a Catholic. Easily done, said the protestant Augustus, I’ll become one, and look, I’ll build a Catholic cathedral. Now another snag arose, that such a cathedral could not be built in Saxony on public land. But there was room, just about, in the palace gardens. So here’s Dresden’s Catholic cathedral, jammed in about ten feet away from the royal palace.

The new King Frederick Augustus of Poland (and continuing King Augustus II The Even Stronger of Saxony) was now so pleased with himself that he put up a golden statue of himself on a horse.

The parade of kings goes up to 1918, after which time kings were no longer in vogue in Saxony. Just as well, as there is no room for more kings on the side of the building. They could possibly have extended the palace building to the right. And removed some of the more obscure older kings at the other end. The palace would slowly migrate across Dresden over the years.

Dresden (1)

February 2, 2018

So we left Poland behind and entered Germany, staying at first for 4 nights in Dresden. Of the war damage, more later, and much of the ghastly post-war Communist heritage has been replaced but the above mural remains, along with some grotesque 1960s architecture. The city does have its own manhole cover design:

In the Communist times, the East German pedestrian crossing lights showed red and green men of a unique design. After 1989 the locals wanted to keep these, despite the memories that might be associated with them, and they have indeed remained; and lately some crossings show a GIRL, albeit with old-fashioned hair and clothes, instead of the patriarchal male figure.

Or perhaps those crossings are for girls only. Here’s a shop that must have had difficulty displaying its wares –

And here we are in a German-speaking environment. We need to get the hang of this as Barbro has been trying to study German for some years, I can read written technical German but cannot cope with the conversational language, and in two weeks (from when we were in Dresden) our son will be marrying a girl from Munich and we will be part of a whole Bavarian-speaking family who have no English!

But I am sure we will get by. As this menu says, in so many words, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. (So, girls, you stick the dagger in quite low down and then you sort of twist it upwards and slightly to the right).


February 2, 2018

Blog has been quiet lately while I returned from Europe (and underwent a week of post-trip despair). Will re-start it now, next posts: Dresden, then Munich and my son’s wedding.

Meanwhile, I thought I would compile an Index to it; I have made a start.
(this is an actual page from my BMW motorbike manual)

Krakow (4) – Schindler’s Factory

January 25, 2018

Oskar Schindler was an active Nazi party member, drunkard, briber, adulterer, spy (sentenced to death by the Czechs) and a ruthless opportunistic businessman, who ran a successful enamelling business in Krakow and happily used slave labour provided by the Gestapo. But he looked after his employees and fed them better, etc, so his products were of higher quality and were turned out in more quantity than those of his rivals, and thus his business expanded and he needed more employees. And thereby, as they say, hangs a tale.

When he saw how the Nazis were treating the local populace he was appalled, and he found a kind place in his heart. Later, when it became known through the book Schindler’s Ark that he had saved the lives of 1200 Jews, he was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations and, after he died in poverty in 1974, he was buried on Mt Zion: the only member of the Nazi Party to be so recognised.

His factory is now a major museum of life in Krakow under the Nazis, and we visited it on our last day in this city. Pre-war Krakow had a vibrant working and cultural life –

and look what was on the stage (Macbeth, at top left). Life became very dreary under the Nazis – sorry, the proper adjectives fail me here. They opened a shop that sold pictures and other regalia of Hitler; business was pretty slow. This is its front window at one time –

A propaganda notice board in 1939, and in the museum today –

School essay by Roman Polanksi, in his best handwriting –

“I suddenly realised that we were to be walled in. I got so scared that I eventually burst into tears”

Illegal printing press, and an excerpt from a partisan comic for boys, printed on it; note the high quality, given the circumstances

Schindler’s desk

Opposite the desk is a memorial consisting of a cubical room, with walls made of pewterware made in the factory. Inside the room, covering the walls, are written the names of the 1200 Jews saved by Schindler, writing at this desk.

Krakow (3) – Wawel Hill

January 24, 2018

At the southern end of the Old City stands the Wawel hill, groaning under the weight of famous churches, tombs of Polish heroes, and other buildings standing on it. I won’t catalogue all these, but there was a Mysterious Mound deliberately left in place but not labelled, and I have no idea why it is there, which must be the case because otherwise it would not be mysterious, would it?

One of the defensive towers, above, has three dunnies with external waste discharge. It would not be a good idea to use the middle one, or to lean out of the lower left window.

There is also a legendary dragon’s cave under the hill, closed on the day of our visit but I note with alarm that the visitors’ route is one-way only. From the entrance there is a sweeping view over the Vistula:

A lifelike statue of the Polish Pope, St John-Paul II, is one of dozens more all over Krakow, his home city.

And that is the simple house, at the bottom of the Wawel hill, where the Pope used to live when visiting Krakow. In the evening he would sit at an open window and talk to passers-by on any topic at all. The cross beside the house is the moving, simple memorial to the Katyn massacre.

In a shop over the road from the hill entrance is this very old chest of drawers, with Biblical Latin quote: et dixit Dominus Deus ad mulierem quire hoc fecisti quae respondit serpens decepit me et comedi

“And the Lord God said to the woman, what have you done here, and she replied, the serpent deceived me, and it was a hoot” (actually, “and I ate”)

And then we walked south from the Wawel hill, and came to this plain-looking building:

It is the entrance to Schindler’s Enamel Factory. And sorry, but the next blog will be devoid of laughs.

Krakow (2) – A bit of culture

January 23, 2018

I could write forever about the rich culture of this marvellous sity, but this will have to be a narrow selection. Above is the Florian Gate in the city wall, once (and still) the main entrance to the old city. From a back street you can see the Kosciuszko Mound, but it is more clearly seen (as in the second photo below) from the Wawel hill – see next blog – if you have a telephoto lens.

Kosciuszko was a Polish hero and also a hero in what is now Belarus, Lithuania, and the United States; he got around quite a bit and of course Australia’s highest mountain is named after him. He led the Polish National Uprising of 1794 from this spot in the main square –

Clearly he looked around the square for a suitable spot to start an uprising, and he decided that in the middle of those 4 marker stones would be a good place. The main square is replete with historical markers – this water pump is a moving memorial to a man who set himself on fire as a protest against the Katyn massacre being deliberately mis-reported in the history books.

And he has his own manhole cover … but this, below, is a more glorious exemplar of the genre.

A monument to Nicolaus Copernicus, who studied at the Jagellonian University here, one of the world’s oldest seats of learning.

Another monument, this one awful –

It commemorates Chopin, and jets of water are supposed to come out of the four raised thingies, whereupon they resemble the strings of a harp or piano. This is Barbro with an unlabelled stone.

It is phallic, but I don’t want to say what it looks like. Throughout the park there are benches marked with the name sof famous authors who have contributed to Polish culture.

Graham Masterton, prolific British horror author among whose works are also found about 30 sex instruction manuals. But he is more probably represented here because he has opened a competition for inmates of Polish prisons to write short stories. (Mine would start “In one bound I was free…”)

All over Krakow are elaborate Nativity scenes like this, colourful constructions displayed in glass cases and lit up at night. I always thought the Nativity was a very low-key sort of event, in a stable, but such are the mysteries of the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, Martin Luther attempts to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Wittenberg church.

Krakow (1)

January 22, 2018

This 1920’s aerial photo shows the central part of this ancient city, for many years the capital of Poland (when Poland was there). Krakow bristles with old buildings and history, both ancient and modern. And a Pope! This is the view from our hotel room, just inside the city walls and overlooking them.

Every morning, for two hours we had a grandstand view of these poor blokes who had to bring hundreds of cheap pictures, and hang them up.

And in the evening they had to take them down again. The pictures were originals, each briskly dashed off in probably an hour, and done in oils so that they were waterproof. Because it rained fairly often, and it took 2 hours to get them all down again. They seemed to sell about one picture a day, but in the summer trade would be very brisk.

The hotel where we stayed was good quality, but showed signs of management not caring much. There was an attached bistro, where we had an antipasto that curiously resembled the breakfast buffet. Barbro recognised some of the cheese segments and slices of ham. The waiter collected our antipastoidal plates and cutlery, and then brought the main course but no cutlery. This was indeed food for intrepid travellers … the sign outside depicted an animal but we could not make out what it was:

Perhaps it was some breed of a rare species that gives very tasty meat, or meat whose leftovers can be served again at breakfast, or perhaps the animal wants to be eaten (like the animal in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was brought in alive and spoke politely to the diners “Perhaps you would like my ribs, sir…“). Maybe this species is unique to Poland, or to Krakow itself … as the original owner of this skeleton might also have been:

My wife:

Amateur psychologists would note that the tramlines do not join up, symbolically. Now this marvellously old-fashioned shop –

– is a real, normally working shop in a backstreet of the working area, away from the tourists. Here also, in the rain and after sunset, I took this arty farty photo of cobblestones.

Your eyes will swap between seeing raised stones, and hollow areas with raised borders.


January 20, 2018

I interrupt this series of delayed blog posts to announce that today, Saturday January 20th, at Bayrichszell in the Alps, my wonderful son Lars Roberts is marrying the equally wonderful Romina Streifinger, of Munich.

Congratulations to you both!

Imagine my pride! Mount Everest!


January 17, 2018

Spare me for a few days, there is a family wedding coming up at the weekend. Blog will resume next week.

Meanwhile here is an arty farty photo of cobblestones in Krakow, taken in the dark and the rain. Your eyes will swap between seeing raised stones, and rectangular hollows with walls.

Gdansk to Krakow

January 16, 2018

I forgot to mention that our hotel in Gdansk had the usual mini-bar but also provided free beer! And if you drank it all, room service would bring some more (and I personally verified this). It was very good beer – they brew it in the hotel, you can’t buy it elsewhere, and I guess it would cost them nearly nothing to brew a few litres extra.

We took the train to Krakow; it was a very nice trip. (But wait till you hear about the Krakow to Dresden trip 4 days later). We passed through a number of unpronounceable Polish stations, Tczew for example:

Depressing untidy landscape here and there:

We got this close to Warsaw:

Finally we arrived at Krakow and got a taxi to our hotel, which was right next to the Florian Gate in the city walls. This is the ancient Florian Gate tower, photographed on our first evening:

And that is St Mary’s Cathedral, in the city centre. Yes, the two towers are different heights. It is famous that since 1392 (yes 1392) on the hour, a trumpeter plays a short tune from its tower, 4 times, once in each direction, but the fourth playing is cut short. This is said to commemorate the Mongol invasion of 1241 when a Mongol archer, presumably annoyed by the trumpeting, shot him. The noon playing is broadcast on Polish Radio, and thus via the Internet to the entire world.

It was cold on the streets, but our hotel in Krakow was very nice. It had pictures of Polish kings, including this one:

If you pointed out that he had no trousers, he’d belt you with that thing he’s carrying.


January 15, 2018

The 1980’s were a strange decade. A lot of people who hated trade unions, took a liking to one in Poland. In 1980, Lech Walesa, already a persona non grata everywhere in Poland as an agitator and thus unemployed, climbed the section of wall on the right to get into the Gdansk shipyard. I think the section of wall on the left offsets it nicely. It is from Berlin.

These are the famous shipyard gates, with replica of the 21 demands of the strikers on a brown-coloured plywood sheet. Well, actually these are not the original gates. After a tank was driven through them, the original gates looked like this:

The shipyard has gone now, and has been replaced by a state-of-the art museum of what happened. From the museum door, you gaze outward across a typical Communist landscape. Then when you get inside, it looks like this.

The actual building is hard to fit into a photograph, but it does look exactly like the builder’s sketch –

Opposite the building to the south, a number of capitalist buildings have spawned. The museum thoughtfully provides a view through a window that is partly blocked off so you can’t see most of them.

An aside. When I was a schoolboy I learned how to print posters and documents using movable metal type, and one of those ancient printing machines with a bed and big screw thread on top. “Be careful, Roberts”, said the teacher, “this is the most dangerous thing in the School“. “OK Sir, I will keep my fingers safely away from it when printing”. “No no, Roberts, I meant that this thing can bring down the Government“. So here’s a real Polish underground one –

The Poles were always a nuisance to their overlords in the USSR. That Polish Pope did no end of damage by offering support to dissidents, human kindness etc (and of course is now a saint, and revered all over Poland) and occasionally, just occasionally, a politician stood up for human rights. Here is Stanislaw Stomme declining to vote for (repressive) Polish constitutional amendments in 1976. His job and career as a politician rapidly came to an end.

What triggered the 1980 strike was the sacking of a female crane driver. Later on, she would have been pleased to note that the gantry crane that she drove, complete with a working piece of its gantry, is mounted in the museum. The little truck is what Walesa stood on, to make speeches inside the shipyard.

The 21 demands of the strikers were written on two plywood sheeets and hung at the gate. Above, I show the original sheets. They are a UNESCO-listed relic; see HERE or (easier) google “21 demands unesco”.

Spare a thought for the poor apparatchik who, alone, was sent in to negotiate with the strikers; he later said:

And you know this picture:

And what happened to Stanislaw Stomme? Well he found some better company. Of the 100 seats contested, 99 were won by Solidarity.

The party was over, despite what the Party Secretary thought.

That map was in the museum. One by one, the red countries turned off. The last one was Montenegro. I know, I watched them go from the map, three times.

Things in Gdansk

January 14, 2018

One very big thing is not in this post – tomrrow’s post will cover it – but here we go, here’s a wall. You call that a wall, well, this is a wall.

I do not know its history or why it has been left standing, in an expensive part of the middle of the city. Anyway, it is time for breakfast:

In the foreground, an excellent fry-up that you could serve in London and get compliments for it. Behind it, yogurt with fruit and berries and things. I’ll let you guess who had which one. Oh look! Some manhole covers, proudly displaying the city’s two-crosses emblem.

Along the King’s Walk, the houses have small front gardens across which a square pipe is fitted, to discharge water from the roof into the street. (“when it is raining” – hey thanks, Captain Obvious). These have gargoyle-like carvings and the locals call them “pukers” which you’d understand, if it was raining.

But that second one doesn’t work any more … we visited the main cathedral, one of hundreds of churches in this most Catholic city. It contains this Astronomical Clock, next to a 14th-century Flemish altarpiece –

And that is some good advice for astronomers, or for devout worshippers looking for Heaven. I found a picture of the Last Supper – curiously, this event is not much depicted in Poland, far more commonly in Germany and the Netherlands –

This one is quite a binge, as thirteen disciples have turned up, including Iscariot (red cloak, second from left at front) who of course was sent out mid-meal on an errand. Only 8 of the disciples have halos; perhaps they ran out of plates.


January 13, 2018

Spent 4 days in Gdansk, a lovely old (i.e. rebuilt after WW2 to its pre-war appearance) city. It is now mostly famous for the rise of the Solidarity movement – see my next blog but one – but in medieval times it was a very prosperous Hanseatic trading city. Here is the main drag, known as the Kings Walk because the Polish Kings used to walk up and meet their subjects of influence

And that is the Neptune fountain, centrepiece of the city and for centuries the main meeting point (Because it is away from the river, and the river stank). These buildings on the waterfront were former warehouses and rich residences –

The biggest crane on the world, in its day; not much to see as it is all enclosed –

These cranes were simple affairs of design going back to the time of the Pyramids; they were powered by a man (preferably as heavy as possible) running in a hamster wheel, and a train of gears. This crane had FOUR hamster wheels. With 24 men in each. It was used for fitting and removing the masts of ships being built or restored here.

That is the view from our hotel window – you can see that we got the lot! From the left: merchant town, old town (with cathedral behind it), warehouses, crane (behind a yacht mast).

Some buildings in the old city are very ornate:

and others more mundane, like the brick church above. I won’t catalogue all the wonders of Gdansk, but tomorrow’s blog will have a collection of small items.

Biblical mystery, and sandpit

January 13, 2018

Before I get going properly with Poland, the above relief carving in stone decorates a house in Gdansk. (Click on it for more detail). A wise-looking donkey is tethered to a tree, and an older man takes a possibly injured boy or smaller man down from the tree. On the right, someone is working in a vineyard. It is not the story of Balaam’s Ass, and I cannot place it. I thought I knew my Bible pretty well, but evidently not THAT well. Can anyone help me identify this?

Another story. In front of Birgitta’s flat in Olofstrom there is a sorry-looking sandpit, set into the tiled area and not used much. In September 2017, a pallet of concrete blocks appeared beside it; these photos were taken on Sept 1st and 3rd, respectively.

We returned a week ago, expecting to see the sandpit gone and the new blocks in place, covering the area. But no – the pallet was still there. Note the festive Christmas stars in peoples’ windows.

A closer inspection shows that the blocks are for making a firm edge around the sand pit. After 4 months, they have done 2 sides; the next brick is approaching from the left.

Sweden Food and stuff

January 11, 2018

As a farewell to this, my 23rd visit to Sweden (yes 23rd) I share with you some photos of Swedish Food, among other bits and pieces. This is a typical coffee break (“fika”) that we had –

And those are semlor, buns with almond paste in them, then a layer of cream and the top of the bun replaced. These are what killed King Adolph Frederick on 12 Feb 1771 – well, it may have been the feast of lobster, sauerkraut, kippers, and caviar all washed down with champagne, but it is more likely that his dessert of fourteen helpings of semlor was what did him in. Hey, when you are king you can have as many helpings of dessert as you like … and how would you rather die (the other options in those days were more bloody) … curiously, in the picture above there are only 13 semlor. This is, therefore, a display of An Almost Regicidal Dessert.

Some things never change – in the Karlskrona museum is a replica of an Old Shop –

– and at least one thing remains unchanged today – look at the blue tins in the middle of third shelf down. In a modern supermarket, however, I saw this ghastly travesty of a display:

Ho ho ho, I hope Santa soon puts the bottle down and pays more attention to the road. He is not even wearing a seat belt! And in the same supermarket I found –

Wow, not only a copious quantity of the well-known Oskar’s surstromming, but a more snooty black-labelled brand. This sort is probably better, i.e. it has gone off more, or the tin is under more pressure … one day, one fine day – no, one very smelly day, I will get to eat this stuff again. I might even be cast into a lake of it, in the afterlife.

Some various odd bits now, before we move on to Poland … these are lobster pieces to be grilled to make a broth, for Mats’s Xmas dinner. I just like the way they were laid out on the black oven tray. (They were nice to eat as well)

Coloured bird houses (for coloured birds). Maybe these are like the houses in old Iceland and Greenland villages, which are colour coded, the red house is always the post office, etc.

A car heater, to be plugged in and shoved under the engine overnight, to make it easier to start on a cold morning. “Cold” being, like, -20*C. People used to park over a bonfire of burning wood, but these are safer.

Finally the station board at Asarum railway station; this picture was taken at 16:19 and you will see that the clock hands are wrong, the digital time is wrong and they do not match each other! Our train (first on the list) was late anyway.

Why do they need clocks if the trains are late? So they can see how late they are, of course.


January 10, 2018

Now we are preparing to leave Sweden, and our last port of call is Hakan and Sara’s house in the beautiful naval city of Karlskrona. We arrived at night and this was the view from their house:

Hakan gets ready to go outside and conduct a barbecue.

This is the day view; across the sound you can see the historical part of the city. The little red hut in the middle is a privately owned sauna bath.

And historical it is – that multi-barbed harpoon was found in a peat bog near here and is eight thousand years old. In the main square you get a lovely view of the old buildings, and there is a statue of a fishwoman, with tools and fish –

Now those cute houses on the island above – that is the Most Often Photographed View in all of Sweden. IKEA in Melbourne have a huge print of it, all over the canteen wall. When someone buys one of the little houses, they are subjected to all sort of caveats and obligations to keep it looking exactly like it does.

But I know the truth, the ghastly secret about these houses – look again:

There they are on the left, and on the right is the magazine building where the Swedish Navy stores its gunpowder. And they probably have not had much use for loose gunpowder lately, so this square stone edifice is probably full of very old gunpowder. Oh well, here is the town’s manhole cover:

And as it was Xmas recently, as you see, some manholes are seasonally decorated with festive trimmings.

Jamshog graveyard

January 9, 2018

Oh how I love a graveyard, all those pretty stiffs … this is the older part of the graveyard at Jamshog, Blekinge, southern Sweden, with the church in the background. Barbro’s mother and brother are buried near here.

Families now tend to cremate rather than bury, and this is the place for offerings and mementoes to be displayed (it is not where the ashes are scattered)

You can buy a specific site, and these are now spreading all over the valley, like this:

And of course, this being Sweden, there is an extensive set of rules. One wonders what would happens to any resident who disobeys them.

They have also started a new place for scattering ashes, with stone plinths to which a little plaque is affixed. This is very new, only half-a-dozen takers so far, and there is plenty of room for more.

The Swedish Lutheran Church moves with the times, so, despite its being a Protestant Christian church, when you’re dead you’re very dead but equally beloved of God, and there is now a special section for Muslims.

And another section for religions yet to be invented:

And another even bigger section. Who knows what the future might bring?

Another village – Asarum

January 8, 2018

We walked around another village – Asarum, near Karlshamn; this is where Roger lives (who built the factory in China a year ago). Here’s the main street, the school and the bank.

The big building below may have been a hotel once. No sign now.

Now here’s the church. It does not look very church-y, does it?

Because its bell tower is over the street and up the hill.

I don’t know how it got there. Maybe it got outsourced … along the road beside it, there is a mysterious dent in the kerb.

Now to the main street, where there is a shop called REPTIL.

I wonder what sort of reptile they sell. And, noting the shop name, they have only one of it. Anyway, here’s a pond on the way back to Roger’s house; note the beautiful autumn/winter colours.

And here we are in the street where Roger lives. The houses are all very nice but I can never identify which house is his; it is somewhere in the middle. Finally, Barbro told me the secret way that she identifies it: Roger’s house is red, and all the others are white or yellow.


January 7, 2018

A new world … in this double-page spread of The World on pages 2-3 of the Swedish School Atlas – Great Britain has disappeared down the central fold!

[rant] Brexit, eh … what a silly idea. If it happens, it will be the biggest disaster in British (and before that, English) history since 1066, and I reckon even worse than that. [/rant]

A Walk in Dalby

January 6, 2018

We visited our friends Lars and Annamaj, who helped devise and lead the Sweden bike ride in mid-2017. They live in the ancient village of Dalby, outside Malmo and Lund; we went for walk at dusk and I, with camera ever at the ready, took pictures. They were bemused because (being familiar with everything we saw) they had seen nothing worth photographing, but here we go …

The ghastly AAK Silo towers over the hapless village. It has been standing empty for years and is covered in green slime, but the company has been unwilling to pull it down. Maybe they will want to store some green slime one day … meanwhile this architectural monstrosity exudes a baneful gothic feeling of post-industrial doom over this otherwise cute little hamlet.

This is a big house. I mean, look at it. Its size and bigness. What a big one. It just had to be photographed … it might shrink, and then nobody would believe you when you said how big it had been. Although, it does not have a garage.

The house where the priest of the church lives. The house is in the typical traditional Skane style, with thatched roof, cross pieces to hold the thatch down, chimney in the middle, door, windows, etc.

Lars and Annamaj, posing in front of Dalby Church (hidden behind the trees). The church dates from 1040 and I have blogged about it before. Lars is chairman of the church’s managing committee which hires and fires the priests, collects money, buys real estate, fits out the church, has arguments, etc.

For boys: a recovery vehicle powerful enough to lift and tow a full-sized laden truck. “Falck” is what you say when your truck breaks down. This thing looked so good, so red in the light of the sunset – and Lars said that when it is working, all those extra lights come on and it looks like a Christmas tree. How very festive.

And speaking of trees, here’s the Dalby village green tree, at dusk. It’s winter, so all the leaves have come off and you can see the rooks’ nests. Half an hour later –

The same tree, with the Moon peeking out behind the clouds at the left. By the time I took this photo it was actually completely dark and you could not really see the tree with the naked eye. The technical details of this photo are ISO 1600, 1/13 sec at f/3.3 – and the time was 4:10 pm, after sunset.

So then I got a shot at the rising Moon. This is not a bad effort for a hand-held camera. ISO 800, 1/200 sec at f/6.9. Look at Mare Crisium – the small round black patch near the edge at 2 o’clock. From Australia this feature is at 10 o’clock on the rising Moon; when we first came to Australia I felt there was something wrong with the Moon, and it took me a couple of months to work it out (with no telescope or binoculars at the time) – the Moon was upside down.

Also look along the terminator, where the Moon’s surface goes into shadow (all down the left-hand edge). Here the craters and mountains cast long shadows or stick up into the light, so you can see these features clearly. The lit-up main part of the Moon is just blindingly white.

And here’s Dalby Church with the December 2015 supermoon behind it. This is a real photo, hanging up in Lars and Annamaj’s house. The photographer knew exactly where to stand, and as the scene was like 5 miles away he had only a few seconds before the whole Moon set. Note the atmospheric refraction effects at the top of the Moon.

If you ever see the Moon this big, run like hell – well, don’t bother, because wherever you are, if the Moon is this close to Earth it will be about the last thing you will ever see, as 5-km high tidal waves of solid rock come sweeping over the surfaces of both bodies. And on that note of gloom and doom, we had tea at their house and returned to Malmo.

Malmo in winter

January 4, 2018

We stayed at a terrific little hotel in Malmo. They evidently own seven carpets for the reception area. If you did not already know (and we usually don’t – it is wonderful to be retired) you can tell what day it is, when you enter or exit the hotel.

The building has arched cellars that were built in 1317 – just after lunch – no really, 14th-century, and we had breakfast in these cellars. The building itself is from 1519; exposed wooden beams are in all the rooms. As you lie in bed, you can see that the timber joints are a bit iffy, with 20-mm gaps here and there, but so far they have held for 498 years.

Of course the building is awash with history, notably the time in 1658 when the traitorous lord Corfitz Ulfeldt bought it, right after Sweden had recovered these lands from Denmark … and then he plotted against the Swedish king, thus getting himself condemned to death by both the Swedish and Danish kings. He found it inadvisable to live in this building after that. There is a wonderfully atmospheric room, 200 years ago it housed the Malmo Public Library and now it has been restored to its former appearance with rows of books etc, and is now used as a coffee room.

We went out into the streets – bloody cold as ever – here is Malmo’s main square, Stortorget. And a beautiful old-style chemist shop.

And here’s a natty Malmo Manhole Cover, and a plaque set into the ground – a memorial to Donald Duck (“Kalle Anka”). Mr Duck is very popular in Sweden. But he got banned in Finland because he has no trousers.

A modern work of art, comical characters in a marching band. Great statues and very solidly designed and executed, but they are bang in the middle of the street, so the council have had to put a red cone in front of them. Revellers might occasionally remove the cone, so that the cars and buses crash head-on into the figures, in an amusing manner.

Went out to buy a toothbrush, and I happened to walk past the P-Hus Anna – the car park of doom, with its artwork of cars drawn in the style of the Vikings, with a poem written in runes.

I have baggage in my head about this runic poem, from 1980 when I first saw it, I have probably explained deep in the mists of time on this blog already but it is too emotionally powerful to go into again now. One day.

Swedish Forest

December 31, 2017

We went for a walk in the forest of central Sweden. The snow had just melted and been washed away by rain. Incredibly, without the snow cover, the ground cover of mosses and lichens looks identical (or, better than) to how it looks in the summer.

For comparison, that third picture had been taken in the summer … One area of the forest had rows of mossy boulders in otherwise clear ground – highlighting the intense green colour.

A distant wind farm stood in the sea, with a low blanket of fog gving it a mysterious aspect. Actually this is not the open sea – it’s Lake Vänern, but it is a huge lake, with sea-going ships on it; you cannot see the other side. The fish of the lake suffer from something called M74 syndrome.

Jonathan (Mats’s son), Mats, Barbro, and Paxi the dog.

Back at the house: a technical book of How to Ski.

I do love this book, with its equations. Now it all makes sense: you go out and find a mountain of height H, and ski down it, cosines and square roots flailing in all directions. Ensure that mG cos a > mu N dS/dt, otherwise you will fall off the mountain, landing in the valley with a force M(H-h)Gv/r but never mind, here you may find an inn with beer glasses of volume V which you can tilt at an angle /theta/ to make a slope of dy/dx, causing the beer to flow scientifically out of the glass at a rate dv/dt. Now I feel that I understand how to ski.

Happy New Year 2018 to my readers … here in Sweden it has not quite arrived yet, but the parties in Aus/NZ are already over. Today the Falcon Heavy rocket stands vertical on its launch pad, they will test-fire the engines to 92% capacity (keeping the rocket clamped down) on 6 January and launch it probably on 15 January. It will put Elon Musk’s car into orbit … around Mars. The things in the comics I used to read in the 1950s are starting to actually happen.

Karlstad, with dog

December 29, 2017

We have moved on to stay with Mats and family (Barbro’s brother) in Karlstad, a city near Oslo and the Norwegian border. The first day was wonderfully cold and frosty. The views from Mats’s house:

In that last picture, the dark object in centre foreground is Paxi, Mats’s hunting dog, who has slept in that place in the garden all night. She is a very good (and expensive) dog, trained for hunting wild elk. At the permitted time of year, Paxi follows one elk silently through dense forest and Mats follows the dog with a GPS. When the elk happens to stop, Paxi makes a special bark which causes the elk to stand still. Mats then tries to circle upwind of it, and if he can get a clear view of it at a good range (and if he can verify, using the training he went through when he got his hunting licence, that the elk is of the age and gender permitted to be shot) he shoots it accurately through the heart.

A few men who own large areas of land, club together and are permitted to shoot something like 5 mature elk per year, in say 2,000 hectares of dense forest. The elk population is controlled this way, and elk numbers are slightly increasing. I myself went on an elk hunt with Barbro’s/Mats’s father in October 1983, I’ll blog about it some time.

At dawn – 10 am – we walked into the town and went shopping – with the emergency replacement card which Mastercard got to us within 48 hours of the theft.

There’s not much to photograph in Karlstad town, and it was dark even when it was not dark (10am-3pm). But here’s the city’s manhole cover artwork.

Solna Mall, and Hagapark

December 29, 2017

Our first host’s flat was near Solna railway station and a huge shopping mall. One day only, there was wonderfully clear, cold weather.

Barbro went berserk buying things in that huge shopping mall, at least up until the point where her purse was stolen, with the credit card in it. Bloody nuisance. We are rather naive travellers, coming from a part of Australia that has a low crime rate (sort of – back at home, stuff was stolen from our front verandah this day too). Oh well, you can buy this in the shopping mall: (if your money has not been stolen)

Imagine my joy … I would kill for the taste of surstromming again. It’s a sort of herring, the complete fish is sealed up in the tin as soon as it’s been caught, and left to rot … after some months, the lid and base of the tin dome out with the pressure of the decompository gases, and when you open it (preferably wearing safety spectacles and before December 31 of the year of canning, otherwise the tin will open itself, with tragic results) the smell is incredibly ghastly, which is why we can’t serve it indoors, and if outdoors the neighbours will start a riot. So, no surstromming this year again eh?

More pictures of the lake in the beautifully landscaped and laid out Hagaparken.

Our host’s idea of fun is to run around the lake (12 km). And then paddle a kayak across it, go to the gym, come back and swim in the lake, run around it again the other way, etc. He is, of course, diabolically fit. Unlike me. On this day it was -7*C (which did not stop him in the least) and there was ice on the ground.

Look out, here come the elks.

A Swedish Christmas

December 27, 2017

We set out from Mats’s house, through the deserted icy streets of Karlstad, to go into the forest, about 1 km away.

Deep in the forest we saw a small fire and on approaching it, there was Santa and his sack of presents. And he had glögg for everybody (hot red wine with spices). Ho ho ho

Santa handed out the presents and poured out the glögg. He sounded very like Mats, but never mind.

Back at Mats’s house the Christmas Tree was ready

… and a nativity scene, with crib and manger set in a sandy area on the left, and shepherds and Magi in a snowy area to the right.

The dining table was all set out, lit by candles, and we proceeded to scoff an enormous Festive Feast.

Merry Xmas everybody!

Stockholm in Winter

December 26, 2017

The temp is +2*C, there are a few tourists and after lunchtime the shops fill up with people buying Xmas gifts. Here’s me in the Gamla Stan, the historic original part of Stockholm that occupies a very small island. In the summer you cannot move in the streets here, because of the crush of tourists.

A telescope in an antique shop.

I think “1572” is their stock number for the telescope, rather than its date. If it was really made in 1572 … well that would be quite remarkable; the sort of thing you dream in your wildest dreams of finding in an obscure junk shop that would rewrite history. There was a natty little Christmas Market in the main square, about 20 stalls and about 20 people, nobody buying anything.

Those buildings in the background are called the “Fem Små Hus”, possibly because (a) there are not five of them, (b) they are not small, and (c) they are not houses as we understand the term today.

The Royal Palace stands on the island of Gamla Stan.

It is guarded by only one guard, who in conformity with the non-sexist cultural nature of Scandinavia is not even a bloke. And quite a small female at that … she looked from side to side (looking for enemies, but you are still supposed to do it without moving a muscle) and stifled a yawn at one point. Remember, it’s cold out here. Having only one guard is very economical and allows the other soldiers to stay inside, at least until some enemies appear.

The palace square was a lonely place today, but in the summer tourists abound, as you can see from this Google Earth photo with tour buses. The King might find one of these buses handy, if he wants to go into the town, as in 1980 he applied for a council permit to park his car in the city – and was refused. Being King is not what it used to be. Even the statue of a previous king now needs to be held up by a frame and timberwork.

Here’s the Latin inscription on the front of the palace.

“{Dedicated} to the best, fortunate, pious and always venerable king,
the splendour of the Arctic Circle, the father of the fatherland, CHARLES THE TWELFTH, whose invincible virtue, with Herculean effort, has led him to the highest summit of glory. For his life and victory, Sweden prays indefatigably. May Fortune ensure the prosperity of his house, and enumerate the grandchildren of his grandchildren.”

To be picky, this is supposed to scan as verse in Latin but there is a mistake in the last line “et avorum numeret avos” where the ‘a’ of ‘avos’ is short but the hexametric metre needs a long vowel here. Yes really. 7/10, could do better, see me after class.

Sweden 2017 (again)

December 24, 2017

We are in Sweden for Xmas and New Year. Here’s a manhole cover.

Barbro waits on the street and soon attracts a herd of large photogenic reindeer, who feed on the frozen bodies of lost tourists.

We spent a week in Solna, a northern suburb of Stockholm. It was bloody cold! and there was snow on the ground, but within a couple of days it rained and it all melted. This is Hagapark, a huge formally laid-out park owned by the King.

As you see, progress on our walk was obstructed by a huge frozen puddle … we had to go back to our host’s flat and have coffee and cakes.

In Hagapark stand three huge copper tents erected by King Gustav III in the 1780s. This park and its adjoining palaces were going to become the sparkling Northen European centre of culture and happiness. Alas, the King fell foul of politics and petty divisions and it never happened. Here’s the copper tents, painted blue, and me in padded coat.

Hurry up with that photo, it is quarter to three in the afternoon and the Sun is about to set! It “rises”, that is to say the sky becomes a lighter shade of grey, at 10:30 in the morning and sets at 3:20pm. And did I say it was cold? At least it wasn’t raining or snowing.

Festive greetings, everyone. We are about to dive under for a real Swedish Family Christmas (celebrated on Xmas Eve) and I will soon post some lovely photos. Taken indoors.

Behi-i-ind you!

December 21, 2017

That Swedish bike tour happened 3 months ago. Now we are back in Sweden again, for Christmas and New year, then on to Poland and Germany where our son will get married on 20 Jan 2018.

Not many worthwhile pictures of this current trip yet, so here come some fillers. A month ago I was in Sydney; the train stations carry adverts for the MBA course at Sydney University. These adverts show what you might become in just a few years, if you get their MBA degree (and presumably then work very hard and are lucky)

This fictitious graduate, for example, is shown as making it to “Head of Global Football Ops” by 2023. He looks a bit nervous, and so he should, for every silver lining has a cloud – look, mate, behind you! Over your shoulder(*)! The Grim Reaper!

As this is Pantomime Season –
Audience: BEHI-I-IND YOU!
Character: (carefully looking over the wrong shoulder) OH NO THERE ISNT
Character: (carefully looking over other shoulder after the danger has moved to the other side) OH NO THERE ISNT
Audience, frantically: OH YES THERE IS

(*) And a bonus Aussie joke. Tired swagman leaning against the wall of the pub, hat pulled down over face. Passer-by: “Hey mate, look out! There’s a snake right by your foot!!” Swagman, slowly: “Which foot?”

End of cycling tour – Dressine

December 19, 2017

Outside Lund, along an abandoned length of an old railway track, you can hire a Dressine and ride up and down the track for 5-6 km. My dear wife Barbro demonstrates this device, which featured in Michael Portillo’s railway-journey programs.

Many of us had a go. Nice day, lovely forest, peaceful countryside. Of course you can’t overtake the one in front. And when you get to the end of the line, as one surely will, you have to hoik the whole thing off the track to turn it around. But, it was a hoot.

We had a slap-up dinner and there were speeches of thanks.

Lars and Annamaj Andersson put a lot of work in, planning the ride and leading the first group. It was very nice to work with them.

This two-week tour for 30 people was the best thing I have ever done. It was well prepared and it was fun to plan it and then carry it out. Thanks everyone! We might do it again, not in 2018 but maybe the year after.

This blog of course is running late, the cycling tour was in August and we’re in December now, I am actually back in Sweden again, in mid-winter. The next posts will be some lame jokes, and then I’ll see what I can post about. Merry Xmas to both my readers!

The Danish City of Helsingor

December 18, 2017

A ferry takes you across the Oresund to Denmark, where lies the city of Helsingor, famed as the “Elsinore” where Shakespeare set his play Hamlet. The castle stands on a promontory next to the ferry terminal (actually, the castle was there first) and indeed there is not much else to do here, except visit it and pay money for stuff. The ferry trip takes only 20 minutes, so there is just time to get a coffee in.

This apparatus baffled me at first, but really it is quite easy – you push the single button, and hot coffee comes whooshing out of the spout. (Don’t ask how it got in there to begin with).

For the castle and how to attack it, see later, but in walking over to it you pass these cutely numbered Luggage Lockers:

And a naval museum set 5 levels down, in a dry dock:

And – I bet you were waiting for this – manhole covers, some with the year marked, allowing us to play bingo.

And a mighty statue of a dock worker, and a silver copy of the famous “Mermaid” that is in Copenhagen.

Actually the silver figure is male – a merman – if that makes any difference. But on to the famous Elsinore Castle, here’s a view of it, with a model for the visually impaired.

It is surrounded by a moat, so, how to attack it? You can buy toy swords in the shop outside.

And also you can buy the plays of Shakespeare at the shop, so there is no need to attack the castle, or indeed to do anything else except to read these masterpieces of the English language. Was Hamlet mad? I could write ten PhD theses on that question alone. There is a drawbridge over the moat, but that is guarded by a Ferocious Female who will want to see your expensive admission ticket before she lets you in.

Curses! So suppose we can cross the moat some other way – the castle has mighty stone walls all around, with ornamental carvings for enemies to look at and admire while they devise their attack strategy.

Ah but you see this bit of the wall where the veneer has fallen away. Really, these are tatty old brick walls with a stone facade! Easy peasy, pass me the battering ram.

You can visit the shops on the corner of the moat. But these are haunted by a Headless Couple (Helga & Barbro)

Day 15 – Ven

December 16, 2017

We spent a day on the island of Ven (Danish: Hven) outisde Landskrona. Ven is famed for the observatory of Tycho Brahe, but I have already posted about this.

We hired bikes and rode around the island, which took about 15 minutes:

The sign says “25% slope – Bicycles ought to be walked”). Under the escarpment there are some cute houses, one of which has a back garden that you will visit if you don’t walk your bike down that slope.

Instead of re-visiting Tycho’s observatory, we went and checked out the Ven church, high on the hill:

The list of pastors goes back to 1535 and if you look carefully at the names, these are Danish until about 1657, when they all become Swedish. On top of that, then there was a Swedish pastor wth a name too long to fit properly. I bet the Danes thought of justifying a re-invasion over that … And since 1985, most of the pastors are: not males. And that little plaque underneath: Adolph and who? And why not in the main list?

Coloured beads are set out, that you can put in the cylinder at the right, to indicate what you want prayers to be said for. Amazingly, there is a fairly even distribution over the whole list, indicating that people’s worries are well spread across the whole spectrum of things than can be prayed about. I suppose we should be glad that there is no single issue that surpasses all the others. If there was a coloured bead to pray for a thunderbolt to strike Donald Trump, for example, there’d be a lot of that colour in the cylinder.

Outside is the grave of Bengt Forsberg, a publisher. One of the books he published was called “Liber Legendus” which means “the book you need to read”. The grave has a sailing ship monument and a terrific outlook over the sea – powerful feng shui. You can see Copenhagen and Landskrona easily, and (not shown here) the Oresund Bridge.

That’s the ferry coming from Landskrona to collect us. Ven also has a lighthouse. In a field. For ships that are lost.

Day 14(5) – Raaaaaaaal

December 15, 2017

A bike path in Helsingborg, with orange bike symbol to mark it.

A little south from Helsingborg stands the cute little town of Råå. One can visit it, and indeed becomes encouraged to do so upon the perusal of this publicly exhbited printed material.

They even cater for masochists who wish to run marathons. I cannot think of anything less relaxing!

And, as the leaflet says – look out – you can buy smoked eels at the harbour.

You see, as the map shows, there is a river in Råå. There are various words in Swedish for rivers of different sizes – including a size that we don’t have a word for in English because there are no rivers that big – one of the middle size rivers is “å” or “ån” in the definite form. So, the river here is called Rååå.

And, the eels (“ål”) come from the river. One of these is therefore a Råååål, or if you can’t display the 27th letter of the Swedish alphabet, Raaaaaaaal.

Luckily these are quite small eels. But, as Dean Martin might have sung, when you see a big eel and its teeth are like steel – that’s a moray ….