Wednesday, 29 June 2016

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

We know from the opening chapters of this book that St Malo in France is bombed by the allies in WW2 (August 1944) because it is believed that it is a German stronghold. We also know that a German soldier and a blind French girl are in St Malo at that time.  What we don't know yet is how they got there, and we don't know yet if they will ever meet.

And then we go backwards. To an orphanage in Germany before the war, and a small boy who finds out how to make a radio.  Werner will become the German Soldier, and his sister Jutta will remain in the orphanage until near the end of the war.  In Paris, Marie-Laurie has lost her sight, and her father has built her a model of the arondissement where they live, so that she has a map for her hands, to teach her to navigate her local streets.  The war comes, and each life is described, jumping backwards and forwards, so that we can see how these two arrived in St Malo, and how they both, in small ways, contributed to their country's war efforts. 

The cruelty of any dictator is shocking.  But it is the efficiency of Hitler and his ministers that shocks here.  How boy soldiers were trained and how the weakest were weeded out, the strongest pushed for greater glory.  Man's inhumanity to man is well described in the chapters concerning Werner at his training school, who has to get through training or there will be nothing for him.  I found every page worth reading, but every page had it's own heartbreak.  These two children.  Will they ever gain adulthood?  And after the war, what then?

Superb telling of a war we know a lot about but in a way that perhaps we never thought about.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The One-In-A-Million-Boy - Monica Wood

Monica Wood (author of We Were the Kennedys) dragged me straight in from the first page, and kept me reading until I put it down with a sigh of pleasure at the end. The premise of this book is that a father, estranged from his ex-wife and son, is going to finish up some odd jobs that his son couldn't. That's it. The characters are what make this a delight. The one in a million boy, a scout who on discovering how old Ona Vitkus is (104 and counting) realises that he may be able to get her into the Guinness Book of Records for something or other; Ona herself, who has a very interesting story to tell, and does so, on a tape recorder that the boy produces. Quinn, the boy's father, a session musician and "fill in" for groups, always dreaming of the bigtime; Belle, his twice ex-wife and father of the boy; and other, not quite so rounded but essential characters which pop up from time to time. This is really Quinn and Belle's story - although it is Ona that tells hers. I loved the chapters with Ona's voice on the tape, the recognition that old age does not come by itself (there is a passage at the beginning where Ona explains to the boy that the highest notes of bird songs are lost to her now, and a very moving couple of lines right at the end where the boy will ask his father to enable her to hear those songs). This was such a wonderful read, easy to say "just one more chapter" every time I stopped. Told in a quirky style which I loved, I hope that as many readers as possible will get to know and remember Ona and the others. I am certainly recommending it to the many readers I come across. Oh, and don't forget to read the last list at the end.


Friday, 17 June 2016

Death of Jo Cox MP

Not often that real life moves me to tears.  Yesterday and today, listening to people talking about this woman, mother and Member of Parliament, I just kept asking myself WHY?,  as I always do when something makes me question the power of the universe and your God. 

 I say yours, because I believe we are all entitled to live out our lives on this planet free of fear, and with love in our hearts. I believe we should be free to worship in any way we please too, whether the old Pagan way, or called to prayer by your Imam, or entering into your temple, your church, your synagogue.  I believe that different days of the week should be celebrated by people in the way that they choose, and I continue to believe that somewhere there is a good heart in most humans.  Not all, we know that, but most humans.

So sad that a bitter heart, full of spite for someone else's belief in their fellow man, can take away someone who cares about more than just themselves.  I am sending out karma here, looking for the good hearts.  There are more of them than the dark hearts;  we just have to gently make our views known.

Jo Cox knew that - this is the quote that is being used:  "“While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

Just change the word constituency for world ............

Early June in the Garden - Part 2 of 2

So..... more of what's on offer at Pine Tree Cottage in early June.  This is Achillea millefolium or commonly, yarrow.   Lovely bright colour in my yellow and white border - one of the earlier things for early summer.  

 And can we talk about hardy geraniums?  Two years ago, I bought "Zoe", a prizewinning (Best Perennial of the 20th century or something) and supposedly a ground covering geranium. No picture of her because she's pouting.  Now I know I have an odd garden, different soils in different places and very odd in what likes it where.  I also know that roses have been in the garden before, as some I have planted don't thrive until I move them.  But Zoe?  She sits in a moody little pile, doesn't smother weeds and gives me around 4 blooms each year.  Whereas these little fellas just bloom and bloom and spread and spread.  I have loads in different sizes and colours, and even though I didn't start them
out for ground cover, that's what I got.
They will bloom all summer if I give them a haircut after the first flowering and they are all different.  The hues range from white to purple, although for some reason I seem to like the pinker shades best (or was that what was on offer when I did the shopping?).  The garden here has been divided up into different themes.  I have three beds which were planted first - and for a specific purpose, because they are the three I can see from the living room window, and I got what I wanted - a sort of living water colour, a
 sort of three beds full, if you like. There are all
 sorts of things in those beds, but they are choc-a-block and with no colour theme, just a lovely cottage garden kind of tumble.    There are roses in there too, but at least one of them is due a move at the end of the season as they are unhappy.  Graham Thomas (yellow) has been in the same place for 13 years, but never performs as I feel he should, so he will get moved up the garden.  Chapeau de Napoleon (pink) is lovely, but hit and miss.  Some years only one blossom some years 4 or 5 on this moss rose.  But not enough, so he will have to move too.  Then I have Nuit de Young, a small flowered dark dark red which is usually the earliest to bloom but this year is way behind, although full of bud.  And the smell!  Perfumiers must have used this one in the past - it is so tiny but so fragrant.  Only one flowering per season though, so it is in a bed with lots of other things.  Then comes a rose that shouldn't be where it is (she loves a wall), and this is Zepherine Drouhin.  Again, full of perfume.  I have given her a nice wigwam, and that seems to work.  Sorry, this shot is sideways, my pc has thrown a wobbly!

And another smelly lady here - Gertrude Jekyll which is such a perfect bloom - and sits in a border with day lilies each side and scabious underneath.  I love flowers in the house, and once in a while I will cut a rose and bring one in, but they are never so beautiful as they are on the bush.

And finally, sisyrinchium striatum which is a plant every garden should have.  The reason for this is that it self seeds, loves a dry patch, doesn't need watering, and gives some height to a border.  I just pull out the seeded plants when I spot one in the wrong place.  The bloom colour is cream/pale yellow, and it's about two feet tall.  I have to confess that this is not my picture, but I'm sure you won't mind!  Again, my PC won't let me turn pictures.  
At the top of the garden are several roses that I will take pics of later, all different, all grown for different reasons. And next month we are having hard standing laid for parking .... for 14 years we have fought against this but last winter was so wet the area around the car was just a mud bath.  So we have taken the plunge.  But plant-wise it requires some thought.  I don't want just a huge slab of something, and in any case, non-porous surfaces not only need planning permission, but would be silly knowing how much rain could sit in that area.  So it's got to do the job, and it's got to look good afterwards.  More on that at another time.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Early June in the Garden - part 1 of 2

When we first moved to Pine Tree Cottage, 14 years ago, we had 100 feet of grass, ivy and weeds, plus some hedges.  At last it's now getting to the point where I can say "that's right!".  Not "that's done", because you never are, but It's looking like I think it should.  Above is a Huechera, Limeade, I think.

This is a new-ish rock rose (commonly) or Helianthemum, sorry no name, which I put in only last year.  Slow to spread, but got more flowers than last year, so I am pleased.  It's a vibrant red - this pic doesn't capture the colour so well.

 When I said nothing in the garden.... that's not strictly true.  This peony appears every year in two places.  I get two flowers on one, and one only on the other.  But it's such a lovely deep red, and one of the old fashioned kind, I don't have the heart to move it out - anyway, I have plenty of room.  You can see in the background some lily of the valley.  Didn't know I had them, either, they took about 5 years to show themselves, and now they are rampant - those I do have to dig a few out every year now.  Oh and a few old faithful tulips come up every spring, although I have added many more.

And here, amongst lovely lime green euphorbias are two alliums - the only two that ever appear out of a dozen planted!  But no matter, every early summer they are suddenly there, so delicate and every year a surprise!

Below, a little patch of common oxalis, showing their faces to the sun.  I love the little yellow one with the red leaves too, and though some regard it as a weed I do not.

 Finally the last picture for Part 1 of this June tour is a Geum (sorry no name) which I put in this spring, and which formed a huge clump very quickly and gave me so many flowers I thought it would make itself sick!!  The leaves you see are not from that, but from a perennial sunflower which I was given last autumn.  It stayed in its pot through a very wet winter here and frankly, I thought I had lost it.  Anyway, I planted out the root and hoped for the best and here it is, growing like a mad thing.  It goes up to about 7 foot tall when in flower, so I am rather looking forward to that.  it is in a small area which will have yellow, orange and white flowers mostly, including the blossom on the Amelanchier which went in in March.

You may have noticed as you scrolled down that most of these plants have small flowers.  I love bigger stuff too, and my roses look as though we'll have a decent show this summer, but somehow I am softhearted when it comes to small flowers.... My Mum loved alpines, and if she had to look at the flower through a magnifying glass, that was so much the better!  That's a bit too small for me, but I do love the smaller flowers, and so do the bees. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Birth House - Ami McKay

Not to be mistaken under any circumstances with The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom (Please!), I can recommend this one wholeheartedly.  This is a book of the kind I love - a lot of facts woven in with the fiction.  Good research of the real stuff always makes a better read, I find.

Miss B. is an elderly woman, a descendent of an Acadian - that is, one of the French settlers that lived in the northern part of Nova Scotia until the British removed them, put them on ships and sent them down the Atlantic coast of America. They resettled in Louisiana, and from Acadia, we get Cajun, the music and the food.  Miss B's forebears came back to Nova Scotia and settled on the Bay of Fundy coast.  She's a midwife - of the old fashioned kind.  She has lots of old fashioned remedies, she brings babies into the world, she nurses sick people and brings them back to health if she can.  And she is close friends with Dora, who at the beginning of the book is a young child, and by the end is a midwife herself, a widow at 19, and with an adopted child. Miss B. has taught Dora everything she knows, but Dora is not sure she wants this kind of responsibility.  Like witches of folklore, everyone loves a midwife until something goes wrong, and then she's spurned.

The majority of this story has for it's background WW1.  No-one Dora cares for is lost, and there is little about the war itself although there are some nice details here, including the Newfoundland socks that men on the front would barter for, as they were warmer than any other.  During the course of Dora's story, the Halifax Explosion occurs.  This was a huge and dreadful even in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917 when 2,000 were killed, 9,000 injured, and 6,000 left homeless.  The Spanish Flu is also touched upon whilst Dora is living in Boston, Mass.

Descriptions of births are explicit, but why should they not be?  This is a story of rural midwifery, and the fight to make medical practitioners understand that sometimes women did know best..  From time to time an advert from a newspaper of the time is included in the book's pages, and also reports from the newspaper of deaths, perhaps murders, and of course, all the news that's fit to print.  A curl up and read to the end without stopping kind of book, but anyway you choose to read it, it's a good one.

Friday, 10 June 2016

John Prine and Iris DeMent - In Spite of Ourselves: Mrs Mac's Tune Choice

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm puts a song up from time to time, and, imitation being the best form of flattery, I am following her lead.  So when I found a favourite on YouTube, I thought you might enjoy it too.  Love the thinking behind the words.... listen carefully!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 8 - Last Days

29 May
Bags packed.  Breakfast eaten.  Now we will check out,  and the hotel will hold our bags in that big cupboard they all have, whilst we pop out and get the tram for a last shot of culture!

At the Theil Gallery on the Djurgarten island, we discover first, the house itself  which was just so beautiful and calm, and secondly, a sad story of money won and lost - Mr Theil was a merchant banker who made a lot of money and lost it all again.  The house was specially built for his collection of Scandinavian paintings and when he lost his money he offered the house and paintings to the nation.... who took up his offer.  Of all the lovely stuff I found, Larsson and otherwise, I was struck by this small pen, ink and watercolour sketch for a full sized portrait of the second Mrs Theil.  Larsson's portrait of her is about 7 ft tall and meant to be imposing;  this is just a little 18 inch x 12 inch sketch for it.  But this is the better piece.  Glorious, every pen stroke can be seen, and it's a little gem, seldom mentioned.  The whole gallery was interesting, mostly paintings, but a few pieces of original furniture displayed on modern rugs, which worked really well. Nice cafe here too.  By the way, Djurgarten is a lovely island, sort of the city's play area, loads of lovely walks, some cafes, the ABBA Museum (no, we didn't), loads of grass and trees, theatre, lovely views of the city just across the water, and just a great place to be.  Easily reachable by tram. 

Back to the hotel, have a chat with the guy behind the desk who told us about this gallery, and then off again on the Stockholm Express to the airport, flying off to Copenhagen so that John can drive that bridge.

30 April
And we're here! We are staying two nights in a room with it's own front door and bathroom, and upstairs our host has two small children.  On both mornings it is lovely to lay in bed and hear them running through their home full of the joys of life.  The house is just a short way from the airport (say 7 minutes by car or a ten minute walk to the metro and 2 stops).  This bit of the trip is for John, but we both have a lovely day out.  We hire a car and take the road for THE BRIDGE.  The Oresund Bridge is really two things.  A tunnel first, out into the channel between Denmark and Sweden, coming up into a man made island, and then the bridge itself.  16 kilometres from Copenhagen airport to the Swedish side, and after paying the hefty toll (around £50 but if you have 4 in the car not bad at all) we arrive back in Sweden in Wallander's stamping ground, the county of Skane.  Don't let's turn round and go straight back!  Let's stay a while.
himself on the bridge
We bypass Malmo, keeping on the motorway until we spot a sign for a town called Lund.  We don't know it, but we take the slip road and find ourselves in a charming little town on a sunny afternoon, and decide that this will do nicely.  We walk across the cobbled market square.  There is a little fountain, people are lunching outside, the staff in the tourist office are charming, and on one side of the market square is a food hall....
 It's like all those covered markets you find in Europe, but it's very small.  Not too small to squeeze in several restaurants, a Konditori (yes we did!), a butcher, a baker, a farm shop, a rotisserie chicken stand (the best chicken we have ever tasted) and a couple of chocolatiers.  Upstairs in the attic, the alcohol shop.  On your left, in the square, that little red car is the one we hired for the day.  Bloody awful gearbox.
And probably the oldest building in town, which now forms part of a restaurant.  If you look careful you will spot four lovely blondes, out for an afternoon cocktail.  Much flicking of hair, and all of them very very attractive.  The kind of blondes John dreamt about back in the day.

We love this little town.  But now it's time to switch the sat nav back on and head for the bridge again to get our money's worth (you don't pay on the way back).  It's fun, the sun is shining and it's a great end to a lovely holiday.  We'll definitely come back, and we never saw Denmark at all.... We missed the plane on the way out and so only stayed overnight near the airport before flying to Stockholm, and our only full day on the way back was spent in Lund.  So we need a Danish trip now - although we are definitely going to do Sweden again.

Here are the final shots of the bridge......

We go back to our little room, repack for home and get a good night's sleep.  We leave in sunshine, arrive back in the UK to torrential rain and cold, cold, cold.  Great trip.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 7 - And more!

27 April
Up, breakfast and out!  Out on the metro to Globen, and a short walk to the Ericson Globe for a ride in the pod.  Even though we are early, we have to wait an hour for "our" turn.  Each pod will take 15 people, and there are only two pods.  So we get the tickets, and then go for a drink.  Coffee for John, hot chocolate for me.  "large or small?"  I don't know why chains ask you this question, because even small is so large we both have to leave half of it in the mug.  Such a waste - grrrrrrrr!

It's time.  We are the first in the queue and we are shown into a small cinema for a film about the Globe and the adjacent arena and public spaces.  Not riveting, but there you are.  And then, on round the corner and into the pod.
 This is the view up through the roof of the pod so that you can see the curve.  This is not the ride of a lifetime, but if you like engineering, and views, it's worth a look.  The views across the city are there for the taking of course!  Below is a view as we get to the top.  Disappointed to find that it doesn't actually go right over and down the other side..... just up to the top and a stop for the views, and then back down again.  Of course, thinking about it, if it went over the other side and down, the riders would be standing on their heads, and so it would be a more complicated mechanism to turn the pod over.
 I can't solve that one, and presumably neither could the designer!  Fun ride though and I am sure that kids would love it.  Everyone in our pod did.  And if like me, you are not that keen on looking down from a great height, there is a seat in the middle so that you don't see the ground.  Anyway, here is Stockholm from the top!  We see a little box on the handrail near us inside the pod and quickly realise that it is a tiny "go pro" camera, the kind cyclists and adventurers use.  A guy has taken it out of the strap and perched it on the hand rail so that it takes a movie of the entire journey without a wobble!  Great stuff.  Mr Mac now thinks this kind of camera might be a very good idea. Mmmmmm.

We pre-planned our route for the day, and the next place to have a look at is SoFo, lauded in the guide books as an area with a Soho (London) feel.  Sadly not.  It is about 6 blocks in an area that in recent years has been taken over by trendies, but frankly, we walk a lot and find little.  There's a street market, and some food on offer, and every so often a second hand shop (whichis right on trend now in Stockholm);  and sometimes an art gallery but those were closed.  The oddest thing we find is that every so often there is a stall manned by a person or a family with personal things to sell - the equivalent to a boot sale (UK) or a yard sale (US).  We press on, seen enough and now hungry and stop when a delicious smell crosses our path.  It's a greek restaurant and we go in.  Nice food, but oddly, no humous?!  Home made bread comes to the table with a dish of pink stuff - Taramasalata? Now that I don't eat, so I ask the waitress to take that away and replace it with humous.  "We don't do humous, sorry".  Well!  so I tell her I don't like fish and she says "But it's cheese!".  Each to his own, but for us, far too salty and so we left that.  Good food, and pleasant staff.

Next stop Gamla Stan  or The Old Town.  Island of it's own, cobbled streets, the royal palace, probably the place most tourists want to see.  Interesting, couple of gift shops with not too much tat which is a pleasant surprise, and people everywhere (of course!)  In this picture some of the oldest buildings (and probably the most photographed) in Stockholm in the old town square.   We press on and find ourselves at the back gate of the royal palace just at changing of the guard. A bit of senendipity!  It's just as much a ceremony  as it is at Buckingham palace, but on a teeny weeny scale, because they change just 3 guards.  And as they march away, out of the back gate and right past us, I smile to myself as one of them is short, and is..... a woman! Yay!  equality despite height!

So, we have seen enough now, and my legs ache, so we make our way slowly back to our hotel.  In one of the back streets nearby, I spot this clock over an arch.  Odd I think, because it's on the wall of the arch which is the entry into a quite ordinary building, and I don't think it is as old as it looks.  But I rather like it.

  We stop on the way for a beer and a juice (always the equivalent of £10 in Stockholm and I guess even more in classy places), and then that's it for today.  Tomorrow, my quest for Carl Larsson may reap a result, as a wonderful bloke at hotel reception tells me there is a gallery on one of the islands that has around 24 of his watercolours permanently on show.  We can just about fit that in I think before we fly off tomorrow to Copenhagen in Denmark.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 6 - More Stockholm!

27 April
After breakfast, we test out the Stockholm Pass, and take the one of the metro lines out to the very end and come back again.  Testing, testing, 123 testing.  We note that the stop for a ride on the Ericson Globe is actually called "Globen", so that's easy to remember.  Mr Mac is looking forward to that so we'll do it first thing tomorrow.  Today is about being in town and inside shops.  We spend some time in a big department store and more particularly it's watch department.  There Mr Mac dribbles over expensive watches that could grace his wrist if we win the lottery any time soon.  For me, most of them are overdecorated and overpriced, but - horses for courses.  

And then, as we are leaving we see the most extraordinary thing.  A queue.  A queue for a bog-standard choc-ice on a stick - but with a difference.

This is a queue to get yourself a hand built Magnum.  WHAT?????  Yes sirreebob!  a hand built Magnum by Walls Ice Cream.  It gets a special coating, and then artistes decorate it with stuff.  And the stuff is so normal.  Marshmallows, chocolate buttons, sprinkles, etc.  Gawd, I could do that!  But the artistes have special uniforms, special gloves and they take a huge amount of time to produce this ...... Just. For. You.

Come ON!  Someone is taking the mickey, surely?  But no, as you can see from the queue, people really are wanting a fancy dressed choc ice and paying over the odds for it too.  This is a two month special here in Stockholm, so I guess other Capital Cities will be seeing this phenomenon shortly.  Hahahaha!  Coming from the West Country, where speciality ice creams and sorbets are in abundance, why would I want a decorated Magnum from Walls Ice Cream?  Well obviously not me, but someone does.  What a brilliant sales pitch, eh?

It's a bit of an exciting day all round, what with the hand built ice cream and all, because very soon we are standing at a pedestrian crossing and we hear an explosion.  A bomb?  A gun?  A split second of fear and then there is another, and another..... and it's a 21 gun salute because it's the naming day for the latest Swedish royal baby!  And round the corner comes the mounted silver band, tootling and drumming away on their way to the palace.
I snap a few interesting things as we walk down to the water and to the State Museum, where there are some paintings I want to see.  Closed for restoration, and no sign on the website of where they have sent the collections.  With only a few days here I cannot go to every museum searching out Larssons, so may have to come back sometime.  So here are just a few shots of Stockholm.  Very random.

 Long day, interesting, legs hurt!  More tomorrow for our last full day when it's a ride up the Ericson Globe for starters.

The Return of Captain John Emmett - Elizabeth Speller

This was Speller's first book, and a good one too.  An amateur detective, some red herrings, and a friend who rates Mrs Christie (Agatha) highly was only part of the joy I discovered between the sadness of the story.  Laurence Bartram escaped death in WW1, and several years later finds himself with a lot of time on his hands, and a book to write.  A book about ancient churches of England.  The manuscript is not finished, and sits under a layer of dust in his small flat in London, whilst he stares out of the window, thinking about his past. A past which includes the death of his wife and child, bravery in the war, a book to write and somehow nothing to urge him on.   Until, that is, a letter from the sister of an old schoolfriend arrives, and he is asked to find out why that friend committed suicide.                                                                                                                                                    
When he gets to re-meet Mary Emmett she asks if he could possibly find out for her.  He remembers John Emmett fondly because of a great kindness when he was a young teen.  He remembers Mary Emmett from that time, and marvels that she is still the attractive woman he remembers from his teens.  He agrees to make a few enquiries and in modern parlance, that's when the can of worms is opened.  What he uncovers is a dreadful perversion of justice, much cruelty and a great deal of revenge.

There are descriptions of some of the horrors of war, but not such much the death and destruction caused by the battlefield, but a good deal about those soldiers "shot at dawn" - meaning that they were sentenced to death because of extreme cowardice or desertion.  In fact over 300 servicemen were executed in WW1, although over 3,000 death sentences were issued, most were commuted.  Only three officers suffered the same fate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This was a book I couldn't put down, and Speller has a lovely style.  Some good read herrings make the final reveal a bit of a gasper,  and it is then that all the loose ends are knitted together - including a rather shocking epilogue which must not be ignored.  And does Laurence get the girl?  for that is the side story in this book.  He is attracted, but does not think it seemly at first.  She seems to like him but there are mysteries about Mary.  You'll find out.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 5 - Off to Stockholm

25, 26 April
Well, now - this is our last evening in Ulla's lovely little house, and we spend some time over cups of tea discussing Larsson, world politics, other guests, my guests back home in Dorset, her life, our life, and life in general including British tea (cups of).   The following morning after our eggy breakfast, we are off to drive across to Stockholm, leave the car at the airport, and take the train into the city and our hotel.

It's very rainy in the morning, and we don't want to go but we have to, having hired the car for 5 days only.  We take mostly major roads, and when coffee calls we slip off into a small town (Heby) and look for somewhere to park.  What joy then, with the heavens pouring water like a waterfall down on the inhabitants, I spot two things at the same time.  A parking space on a side road, and right opposite, the word Konditori ..... and as you know, we understand what that means.  We have coffee and cake and get back on the road, and it seems in no time at all we are dropping the car off.  It's been fun, not least of which because we now know that all IKEA products are names of Swedish towns and villages - or that is how it seems to us.  We certainly drove through several small towns that were definitely the names of IKEA furniture!

Church steeple seen from the car, pouring with rain, windows covered in raindrops... but got it.  It's black - an oddity for us but just an example really of the strangeness of countries that are not your own.  See, just a few more trees, too!!!

Catching the bus back to the airport, we decide to go for the Stockholm Express, a non-stop train taking us straight to Stockholm's central station.  Bit of a shock at the price when we pay for the tickets on board, but if you decide to take this train, please note that tickets are cheaper in advance, and you get a great reduction if you are travelling as a pair.  Station to hotel is as it says on the website - 7 minutes walk.  Not a cheap option, but a great one because of it's position.  Frey's Hotel.  The rooms are small, the bathrooms lovely, the breakfast choices are huge (I mean you could eat yourself silly if you had a mind to and the cost is included).

We have a wander around the station (We like stations!) plenty of shops, plenty of life and we know we have 3 nights and 2 whole days in Stockholm, so after breakfast tomorrow we are gong to have to do some walking and looking!  But we do get a 72 hour Stockholm Pass from the info office in the station, and that allows us unlimited travel on the entire Stockholm transport system - trains, trams buses, and boats.  A good bargain - they come in 24 and 48 hour versions too.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 4

25 April
Today is full of sunshine!  If it lasts the whole day what a treat that will be. (It did).  Ulla, our host, who arrived last night with another cat in tow, feeds us well for breakfast, and tells us about a nice drive to a lake - and so we go exploring.  The lake is called Siljan, up north-west of Borlange and, after consulting the map, it looks as though we have plenty of time to drive round the whole lake, which we do, taking our time, enjoying the drive and views.

I love maps.   Sat-nav is a great tool but a map will tell you lots more.  We get to the head of the lake and then start on our homeward journey, where we are going to a place where there is a great view.  But look!  What is that on the map?  An island on the lake with, guess what? a bridge to get there!  Mr Mac loves driving bridges - long bridges.  The sign for the island comes up and here we go, over the bridge to Solleron Island. It's obviously a holiday place, a huge camp site hidden in the trees is the first thing we see.  Driving on round we pass tiny houses, with gardens bursting with flower and growth at this time of the year.  I am so enchanted, I forget that I have my camera in my bag....... Duh. We spend about 30 minutes driving around this lovely island, and then we are off across the bridge and on to our next stop.

Siljanas is the place that Ulla told us not to miss, and once off the island we head for that.  We know we have to climb upwards on a twisty road,  and when we get to the top, we have a view of the church and lake.  In the viewing area, there is a sign that says "No camping, no picnicing", so I guess this is a very popular spot in the summer but today - it's just us! 
Just outside a holiday camp down the road we spot three little boys, smiling and waving at us.  We do the same.  They are not Swedes;  their middle-eastern looks make us think they are probably Syrians, as we have heard that holiday camps in Sweden are being used as temporary homes for refugees.  As we drive down through the village, we spot a woman, again of middle-eastern appearance, who smiles as we smile, walking up the hill back to her temporary home.  How extraordinary to see them, so far from home, in such a strange (for them) environment.  How cold and different it's going to be in winter.  This is what war does to the world and it's always been that way, but at least for these refugees they have a roof over their heads and a place away from the noise, terror and death that has overtaken their country. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 3

 24 April 2016
Apparently I slept though the longest loudest thunderstorm last night, and torrential rain, too!  It's all this fresh air.  And today, we are visiting Carl Larsson-Garden. That's not garden as we know it.  It means the Carl Larsson Estate. The painting below is not in the Sundborn House, but it was painted there.  This is Larson's oldest daughter painting her own room in her father's style.  It's called "Suzanne and Another" because of the workman outside.  If you are observant, you will wonder why it isn't called Suzanne and Two Others (look at the shoes at the other window), but there you are!  This was a room of her own at Sundborn, added on especially for her.

CARL LARSSON, "SUZANNE OCH EN ANN' ", 1901 It's in private hands and a few years ago it went for nearly half a million pounds at auction, so I am unlikely ever to see it in the life.  I love it though.

I bought two huge books about Larsson and his painting whilst here... and found out some interesting facts too.  But the one that struck me most was about German Soldiers in WW1.  When going off to war, they carried their Army instruction book so that they got things right.  They carried a bible, so that God was with them.  And many of them also took one of Larsson's books - "Home" - which is a book of paintings of this house and his family...... because home is was what they were fighting for.  Odd but true fact, this little book sold over half a million in Germany when first published.  A hell of a lot of books back then.

When we arrive at the village, we can't see the house, but we find a car park.  In it there is a coach and one car (ours), so it seems a quiet morning and we may get time to look at everything a bit longer.  Only a couple of signs to follow and eventually we find another car park (8 cars this time), and walk round the fence and in through the gate.  I'm here!  OH!  It's 10.00 am and the next tour is 11.00.  So I settle in for a look at everything in the shop, buy our tickets, and generally get excited.

Eventually our guide tells us it's time.  She's dressed in an overall like the girl in the painting above, but hers is grey and white stripe.  We walk round the side and in through that porch on the left and we're in!

No pictures can be taken inside the house, but that's OK, my brain is taking a dozen a second and we have a guide book in English to help us out as this particular tour is in Swedish.  She knows we are English so every so often she tells us something if we look puzzled and answers any questions we have.

The Verandah - Carl Larsson

 Here is the same door we entered by, but painted by himself.  We found out that the Larssons were forever changing the layout of the house by adding rooms on in an ad hoc fashion.  He started with a small studio here, but eventually added a much bigger one, with huge windows for lots more light.  Here it is below.  You can see a couple of paintings on the door there - he painted on all the doors, and lots of other bits of the house too.

After the house, we came out into the garden and although it was a damp grey day, we had a good look round.  Here's a little bridge over a cutting which allowed boats right up into the garden (presumably to be put away in winter?  Or perhaps to load a picnic?)

This is a wonderful little building that you might think was a folly.  But no - it was built simply to hide the well and the pump for safety.  This way it could be locked and the children would have no accidents falling down the well.

As you can see from the pictures, a little too early for much to be in flower, but they liked big colour;  the garden had peonies, iris, Siberian poppies amongst other plantings, and certainly this is still replicated now.  We see everything growing well, so it will be ablaze in another 3 - 6 weeks. Again the apple trees and the lilac.   We have a lovely lunch in the restaurant on site, and then back to the gift shop (well, I may never get there again!). In the village there is an old building which has recently opened with an exhibition about Larsson, including the fact that his father didn't like him as much as his brother,  Strindberg seemed to detest him because of all those "sunny pictures", and he was prone to depression in later life.  A good exhibition, in an interesting building.  All in all a lovely day so back to the little red house loaded with three very large books about him and his paintings, some postcards and bookmarks and in my head, lots of memories.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 2

23 May 2016
We travel onwards south west, cross country, away from the traffic, away from everywhere!  More trees!  Getting used to them now.  Driving on roads where the only traffic we come across are trucks loaded with logs, and it was then that we decide the world will never be short of matches, or IKEA short of pine for furniture!!  We stop to stretch our legs at a small town on the mouth of a river, we glimpse lakes between the trees, camping grounds on the lake shores, and people in the camping grounds.  Lake swimming is B I G here.  It's been sunny all morning, but it gets overcast as we get to Nor Amsberg, a small traditional village near the city of Berlange where we are staying bed and breakfast at quite the most eccentric house I think I have ever been inside.  Nothing matches anything at all!  There is a two person sauna inside the bathroom!  The wall in our bedroom is dark red, the same as the outside of the house itself. The bed is wide and comfortable.  In the garden are two caravans, a little wooden house that will sleep three, and apple and lilac trees.  Lilac was everywhere in gardens in this area, like the apples.  I think they are both loved because they bring Spring in with a shout after Winter.  Lilac used to be everywhere in my own town when I was small - sadly it seems to have gone out of fashion these days, but I think I will invest in one or two - I have the room in my own garden.  Back to the house.  We have a bedroom with one double bed and two singles, but of course, only us in it.  The one next door has one double and four singles.  Swedes seem to like collective living on holidays, and this house is often full of winter cross country skiers.  It's not for us reserved Brits, but obviously they love it because looking at houses for holidays on the internet there is a lot of it about.  And often with only one or two bathrooms between a lot of bedrooms!  The house is warm, clean and cosy, and we meet a friend of the host, a Finn who lives in one of the caravans when he is visiting.  He was there for a few days with his lady friend, prior to a week's holiday in Finland.

And here is the house.

 All the houses bar one in this village ( and that looked really out of place, the colour of vanilla ice cream), plus the church and bell tower were painted this red.  It's actually red oxide and has to be applied quickly or it dries into the wood before you even remove the paintbrush.  There's the ubiquitous apple tree behind the hedge.... there was actually more than one in the garden.  On the right is the separate bell tower and below is the church.

The owner of the little house has an apartment in Stockholm.  We are staying at her summer house, which has been loved since her child was small. In the room she uses for herself (a large sitting room), I glimpse one of those beautiful floor to ceiling stoves - all white tiles.  I'll bet that is lovely when the logs are in and alight in the winter.   She comes up in the winter when she has bookings, and then sometime in Spring comes and stays for most of the good months, bringing her two cats and settling in for a quiet time with long evenings.  Even at this level - about a third of the way up the country, you might wake at 1 or 2 am and find a gray light in the sky, never dark with stars whilst we were there, so at high Summer it must be odd.

And here, in the same village, I spot this delicious little summer house, right bang in the middle of the front lawn. Cute, eh?  Love this style of fencing which we saw all over this area -made of silver birch - the width of the pole the entire trunk of the tree as they grow so tall and spindly in amongst the pines.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast .... well I had a boiled egg and toast and John had ham and toast - but that was such a small taste of what we were offered and could actually have eaten;  we set off for Carl Larsson's House.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Swedish Adenture 2016 - Part 1

22 April 2016
 Gavle.  North of Stockholm.  Journey of mostly motorway and so many, many trees!  mostly pines and silver birches, but mile after mile after mile of trees.  So different from the UK, you just knew you were in a different country!  We stayed just one night in a little apartment which we could have joyfully lived in. Picture below on the right is a small hall and you can just see the kitchen beyond. All that timber is the original walls, with dried moss still intact, stuffing the cracks between logs. (Not the 18th century moss I don't suppose, but you know what I mean!!)

Bread oven in chimney breast
Corner of living room - lots of pre-loved stuff here and it was charming.


Replacement bridge - so near the house
Apple tree in full bloom, right outside
Gavle was almost totally destroyed by fire in the mid 18th Century, and only the destruction of a bridge across the river saved some of the houses, one of which we stayed in. This part of the building was divided into several different living accommodations, and ours came with a little sitting out area to catch the afternoon sun.  Smart and tidy from the street, you enter through a high gate, and here you are in the higgledy-piggledy yard and garden, right above the river.   There are just a few of the old houses on this side of the river, and you can see from the position of the bridge how lucky it was  that the old bridge was cut down to save the fire "jumping" across.   It was indeed a lovely spot  and if we had not had to move on with our itinerary, we'd have liked several days here.  At this time of year, (end of May) all the apple trees are in blossom, and everyone seems to have at least one somewhere in their garden!

In the morning we decide to deviate a bit from our route and continue northwards heading for a small town called Soderhamn, picked entirely at random on the map.  A good decision, a sunny morning, and a yearning for a cup of coffee take us to a little shopping street opposite a park and when you spot locals having a coffee outside in the sun, usually that's the place you want to be too!    And the final good decision is going in.  It's a Konditori, which is the Swedish version of Patisserie..... sort of.  On our travels we discover that like the Brits, there is a stock selection of buns and cakes.  We have doughnuts, chelsea buns, eccles cakes, custard slices, danish.  They have doughnuts, buns which are light and fluffy, chewy biscuits (which must be where America gets cookies) and other cakes which appear in every Konditori we saw, including something for parties or similar called a "Princess" which is a green dome with sponge and cream of some kind inside.  Fascinating!  Anyway, the coffee is delicious, and so is the selected sweetmeat - so delicious in fact that we say same again and have another coffee and select another bun!!  Every Konditori also seems to serve lunchtime rolls, packed with fillings.  But after the double bun session we decide that there is absolutely no need for lunch now.  Just before we leave we spot a wonderful little building up on the hill.
It's Oskarsborg, a tower built in 1895 on the top of a hill close to the town centre.Wikipedia 
We didn't want to visit that day, but at least we know what it is now, and we'll give it a go if we are in the area again (because we need to go to that particular Konditori again, of course!!).  And off we go, cross country, heading for a large town called Borlange, chosen because it's in the area where we will visit Carl Larsson's summer house at Sundborn.

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