Waitangi Day – 6th February 2020

waitangi day

It has not been often in the last 30 years of living abroad that I have been home at the same time as my homeland of New Zealand celebrates its National Day, Waitangi Day on the 6th of February.  I can only think of a handful of times.  When I make my biennial summer visits, I have usually left NZ before then for Australia and have thus probably participated in Straya Day (Australia’s National) on the 26th of January more times than Waitangi Day.  On this visit Waitangi Day was right in the middle of all the flood chaos and slid by without much celebration.

So why is NZ’s National day called Waitangi Day and celebrated on the 6th of February?  Many wonder why we don’t call it New Zealand Day.  Quite simply, it was the day the British Crown signed a treaty between the indigenous Maori folk of Aotearoa (NZ) at a place called Waitangi on the 6th of February 1840.  The document received the name the Waitangi Treaty (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) and hence the name given to our National Day.  It is considered the founding document of our nation.  For most it is an extra day off in late summer before the reality of winter arrives.

The Treaty was written at a time when NZ was being settled by the British and when some Māori leaders were seeking protection from the British against incursions by the French trying to establish a colony.  It was drafted with the intention of establishing a British Governor of New Zealand; recognising Māori ownership of their lands, forests and other possessions; and, giving Māori the rights of British subjects.  Approximately 530 Māori chiefs (at least 13 of them women) signed the Māori language version of the Treaty, despite some Māori leaders in the Waikato cautioning against it.  An immediate result of the Treaty was that Queen Victoria’s government gained the sole right to purchase land.  In total there are nine signed copies of the Treaty of Waitangi, including the sheet signed on 6 February 1840 at Waitangi.

The text of the Treaty includes three articles:

  • Article one of the Māori text grants governance rights to the Crown while the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown.
  • Article two of the Māori text establishes that Māori will retain full chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures while the English text establishes the continued ownership of the Māori over their lands and establishes the exclusive right of purchase of the Crown.
  • Article three gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects.

It is bilingual, with the Māori text inaccurately translated from the English.  The Māori text and the English text differ in meaning significantly, particularly in relation to the meaning of having and ceding sovereignty.  These discrepancies led to disagreements in the decades following the signing, eventually contributing to the New Zealand Land Wars of 1845 to 1872.

During the second half of the 19th century Māori generally lost control of much of the land they had owned, sometimes through legitimate sale, but often due to unfair land-deals, settlers occupying land that had not been sold, or through outright confiscations in the aftermath of the New Zealand Land Wars.  In the period following the Land Wars, the New Zealand Government mostly ignored the Treaty, and a court-case judgement in 1877 declared it to be “a simple nullity”.  Beginning in the 1950s, Māori increasingly sought to use the Treaty as a platform for claiming back rights to sovereignty and to reclaim lost land, and governments in the 1960s and 1970s responded to these arguments, giving the Treaty an increasingly central role in the interpretation of land rights and relations between Māori people and the state.  In 1975 the New Zealand Parliament passed the Treaty of Waitangi Act, establishing the Waitangi Tribunal as a permanent commission of inquiry tasked with interpreting the Treaty, researching breaches of the Treaty by the Crown or its agents, and suggesting means of redress.  In most cases, recommendations of the Tribunal are not binding on the Crown, but settlements totaling almost $1 billion have been awarded to various Māori groups. Various legislation passed in the latter part of the 20th century has made reference to the Treaty, but the Treaty has never been ratified and made part of New Zealand municipal law.  Nonetheless, the Treaty has become widely regarded as the founding document of New Zealand.

The day is usually celebrated with Maori and European activities on the Marae (Maori meeting grounds) and on the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi with representatives for Maori, the Government and the Crown participating.  It begins at dawn with Maori welcoming the guests onto the Marae, then later moves down on to the Treaty Grounds in front of the house where the treaty was signed in 1840.  This is followed by the arrival of the great whakas (Maori canoes holding up to 80 persons) and the NZ Navy.  Once again Maori challenges and speeches by the Government and the Crown are given to mark the occasion.  At the conclusion of formalities it usually turns into a day in the sun with lots of food.  For the average New Zealander, it can be a day at the beach followed by a good old Kiwi BBQ.

My celebration this year was drying out from the floods and enjoying some home grown fresh fruit – apricots, peaches, cherries, & nectarines.

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Water, water and more water!

With a few days of recovery under the belt from the flights from one side of the world to the other in 40 hours, the family decided to assemble for my first weekend home and have a reunion.  Mum, all 5 children and their partners, 8 of the 9 grand children and 3 of the 6 great grand children managed to make it, 22 in all.  Those first few days home were warm and pleasant however the day after the reunion it began to rain and it did not stop.  It continued for another 4 days.  Rain like I had not seen outside the tropics, with 110mm in one day.  It seemed ridiculous to be getting this much rain at a time when 90% of New Zealand was baking under extreme temperatures and suffering droughts.  In the far north they had even run out of water in one council area and were having to ship it in.

My home town of Gore is a rural service town of approximately 13 000 on the plains of the southern most province of New Zealand, Southland.  Gore is best known as the Capital of New Zealand Country Music and the site of illicit whiskey distilling in the surrounding Hokonui hills (Hokonui Whiskey) from the 1870s until as late as the 1950s during prohibition.  It straddles one of the major Southland rivers, the mighty Mataura.  The river dissects the town into 2 halves with my mother, one of my brothers and one of my sisters on eastern side (East Gore), and my other sister on the western side (Gore Main).

Gore fish

We began to suspect on the 3rd day of rain that things were beginning to look a little dicey.  That night one of the smaller rivers, the Waikaka River, feeding into the Mataura just south of Gore burst its banks and began to flood an industrial area of the town.  My sister’s partner’s workplace went under within a few hours.  Later on that Wednesday night the first civil defence alarm went off around 9 pm (exactly a week after my arrival).  The alarm asked us to pack & prepare for evacuation.  Where we were at my younger sister’s, we were up on the side of the hill so there was no risk of flooding but there was a risk of getting cut off from everything else.  The main arterial route through New Zealand, State Highway 1 was cut off just north of the town so things were going from bad to worse.  We immediately began storing water, finding all the necessary articles, batteries, gas bottles etc. before heading off to bed.

The first I heard was my sister being called out at 4.15 in the morning.  She manages a local supermarket and the Civil Defence Authority were wanting to collect all the fresh bread, milk and other necessities for the evacuation centres they were beginning to build up.  Then at 6.14 my telephone began screaming an emergency message to evacuate.  A decision was made to move to my mother’s & brother’s who were high up on a terrace overlooking the river where we would have access to my brothers emergency generators and gas barbecue.  My sister arrived home about that time to get clothes and necessities.  Her supermarket was on the other side of the river to us and there was a risk if the river continued to rise they would close the bridge and she would be stranded on the other side.  She also informed me, my other sister & her husband on the lower side of Gore had been evacuated as the river was at risk of breaching its banks and they were in the flood zone if it went.  The floods of 1978 and 1987 had inundated that area.

Having moved to my mother’s, I went through her emergency gear and for the most part we were well prepared with the exception of having no means to cook.  At around 8.30am we were informed they would be closing the bridge between the two sides of the town and the power & water supplies would be switched off to protect the generators & pumps.  Unfortunately, we had gone for a walk to see how high the waters had arisen around the terrace we were on and had failed to boil water and put in thermoses for coffee & tea.  Fortunately, my brother lived only a hundred metres away and had a gas BBQ so we could heat water and cook if needed.

Here are two links to videos of the flood water (just click on the link):

Flood 1    Flood 2

As we wandered the perimeter of the terrace above the river where my mother lives, it became apparent that the volume of water surrounding us and the speed at which it was moving was going to equate to the floods of 1978 & 1987, if not worse.  The first day I was home I had wandered along the flood bank (levee) of the river in the beautiful sunshine and commented on how low the river was and that you could almost walk across it.  I happened to take a panoramic picture of the river on that first day so I continued take a series of panoramic pics from the same spot over the coming 36 hours as the river rose and then fell.  Here they are.

pan01pan02pan03pan04pan05

While standing on the flood bank I could compare the water levels on one side to the ground level on the other.  At one point the water level of the river was 2-3 metres higher than the ground level on the other side the flood bank.  If the flood bank didn’t hold the houses on the other side would be gone in a tsunami of water.  It was of considerable concern to the emergency organisation as this flood bank was on a corner in the river and was taking the brunt of the upstream pressure of the flood waters.  Here are pictures of the houses behind the flood bank.

At one point the town centre on the other side was at risk of flooding as the flood waters from the river were beginning to back up through the storm water system and pop the manhole covers in the streets.  Immediately, they began sandbagging the shops and businesses to prevent flooding.  My sister was evacuated out of the supermarket to higher ground as they were concerned the water levels could overwhelm them in minutes if the banks went.  All the meanwhile helicopters were flying backwards and forwards over the town.  Some part of the emergency teams and others part of the news crews.  The views they were sending back to the ground were both spectacular and scary.  The red area on the map went under first.  The green and orange areas were evacuated but did not flood, while the rest of the area flooded.  The little plateau above the red area was the terrace we were on.  At the bottom tip of that terrace is the bridge across the river.

Other parts of the southern region were also hammered with Fiordland in the west taking the brunt of it.  Fiordland is where the headwaters of most of the Southland rivers originated including the Matarua running through Gore.  The main road into one of our major tourist attractions, Milford Sound, suffered badly and will probably be out with only limited access until after the winter.  The devastation can be witnessed in the photos below.  The force of the water must have been tremendous to rip the road like that.

About 12 kilometres south of Gore along the Mataura river is the township of Mataura with its meat works and old paper mills on the banks of the river at what is called the Mataura falls, where the river drops vertically about 10 metres.  When it flooded the falls disappeared and the water lapped the walls of these factories.  Housed inside the old paper mills was toxic dross from the local aluminum smelter further south.  A one point they emergency services were extremely concerned that the factory would be flooded.  If the dross was to get wet it would release toxic ammonia fumes and would be a deadly risk for all those in the vicinity.  At one point my nephew was in the building sandbagging the wall against the river to strengthen it. Crazy!  The photos below show the river in normal flow and when it was in flood.  The red brick building is the old paper mill.

As the river heads south it eventually reaches the estuary on the southern coast at Fortrose.  This is a tidal estuary where the water levels can rise and fall 2-3 metres with each tide.  The volume of water flowing in the river meets this estuary and if the tide is on the way out it flows out to sea.  But if the tide is on the way in, it backs the water up acting like a damn and causes it to spill out over the low lying farmland in the area of Wyndham.  With the sea tides on a 12 hour cycle between high tides it meant that under the 36 hours the river was in high flood that it pushed to water out over the low lying farmlands at least 3 times.

flood 3

Thirty six hours after the chaos began, the rain stopped, the rivers dropped and the sun came out.  Now was there was a massive clean up to take care of.  The best thing was the flood bank below us held and the houses behind it were saved.  As the flood waters receded the damage to the roads, buildings and businesses became apparent.  Then began the big clean up that would take days, weeks and in some places months to complete.  I spent the next couple of days helping my sister cook and deliver food to those doing the clean up.

My brother works with water systems for local farmers.  We made visits to several farms to inspect damage to their pumping systems which are usually located on the river banks transferring water from the river out over the farm.  There were not many places we visited where the pumps and their electrical systems had not been under water, and in some places under several metres of water.  Even the roads at some points were washed out or piled high with river gravel.

The Gore and Mataura River areas will be cleaning up and recovering from this over the next few months.  It will be remember as one of the big floods just like the 1978 and 1987 floods which I remember well.

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Biannual Pilgrimage Home

That time has come around again for the biannual pilgrimage to the homeland to visit family and friends.  I was home in June & July of 2017, a winter visit which had only occurred because of a wedding.  I try to visit in the summer months down under (January or February) in order to catch 3 summers in a row.  The planned itinerary for this trip was as follows.  Little did I know of the events that would unfold during this trip that would make it one to remember.

Itinerary

  • 27th-29th January – Malmö-Copenhagen-London-Hong Kong- Auckland-Dunedin
  • 29th January-15th February – Gore
  • 15th-21st February – Gore-Dunedin-Oamaru-Ashburton-Christchurch-Auckland
  • 23rd-26th February – Hamilton-Auckland-Sydney
  • 26th Febraury-1st March – Sydney
  • 1st-5th March – Brisbane
  • 5th March – Brisbane-Hong Kong-London-Copenhagen-Malmö

Monday the 27th of January duly arrived and it was time to depart Malmö by early morning train for Copenhagen airport.  As I crossed the bridge in the fog from Sweden to Denmark, I was contemplating what was in front of me.  Relief from the depths of winter, lots of sunshine, plenty of warmth, however this was tempered quickly by the realization of the 41 hours of travel I had in front on me.  The first stretch was from Copenhagen to London to catch my flight to Hong Kong & NZ.  I would have a 5 hour layover in London before boarding the onward flight.  It seemed strange to fly 2 hours to London just to turn around and fly back over Copenhagen on my way to Hong Kong 7 hours later.  Very environmentally friendly???

All checked in.  Next time I’d see my bags would be in Auckland.  The flight to London was almost like a short bus ride compared to the coming flights.  You were barely in the air before it was time to land again.  As we approached the UK our flight route and descent into London took us in over the Thames Estuary and along the Thames River at Tilbury.  Tilbury was where Elisabeth I mounted her land defenses ready for the arrival of the Spanish armada in 1588, which never arrived and was sunk by her navy in a storm at sea.

The reason I make reference to our flight path into London Heathrow is associated with some TV I saw the night before leaving.  Having completed my packing and putting the apartment in order, I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea before heading to bed.  I stumbled onto a documentary about the Maunsell Sea Forts guarding the mouth of the Thames River and low & behold I saw them as we flew in over the coast.

The Maunsell Forts were armed towers built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries during the Second World War to help defend the United Kingdom. They were operated by the Royal Navy to deter and report German air raids using the river Thames to find their way to London, and to prevent attempts to lay mines by aircraft in this important shipping channel.  This artificial naval installation is similar in some respects to early “fixed” offshore oil platforms.  A concrete pontoon with a bunker in it was sunk on to the sea floor and 5 to 7 metal towers were mounted on this pontoon containing accommodation, work spaces, magazines, search lights, gun and radar platforms.  They were abandoned after the war but due to there strong construction many are still standing.  The construction technology was later employed in the construction of offshore drilling platforms.  We were treated to a beautiful view of them as we flew in.

Duly on the ground it was time to change terminals from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3.  To give you an idea of the size of Heathrow it takes about 20 minutes between terminals by bus.  Once security clearance was completed, I made use of the 5 hour lay over to browse the duty free for potential purchases on the way back.  I found two new Game of Thrones Johnnie Walker whiskeys – A Song of Ice & A Song of Fire, which will be picked up on the way back to add to my collection.   I also took the opportunity to visit WH Smith’s bookshop for some English reading material (a rarity to find English literature in Sweden, mostly have to buy online).  Suitably stocked with reading material I decided to do a few laps of the terminal to stretch the legs, for once I started on my intercontinental flights there would be little opportunity to get some exercise.  From the gates at one end of the terminal to the other is almost a kilometre so a single lap is a good 2 km walk.  Exercise done, time to find the Cathay Pacific Business lounge and enjoy the free hospitality.  It had been renovated within the last year and provided a very fresh and inviting environment with great beverage & food service, a tea house, relax rooms & showers, and great view out over the southern runways.  I indulged in a late lunch of dim sums, a glass of chardonnay and settle into an armchair in front of the window and started into some of my recently purchased reading material (“Dissolution by C.J. Sansom).  After a few hours of slumming it and total engrossment in my new book I found my flight being called and made the 0.5 km trip to gate 32 for my 17.50 departure.  Priority boarding allows plenty of time to settle in, unpack and enjoy a glass of champagne while the remainder of the passengers board.  Hong Kong in 11 hours.

The business class cabin in both the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 I would be flying on the route to New Zealand, are in a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 pattern (economy is a 3-3-3 pattern).  This allows each seat access to the isle and gives plenty of privacy while sleeping.  I had the luxury of a window seat which is a single seat with 2 windows.  All the seats in business class glide down into flat beds.  The addition of a mattress and a duvet makes for a comfortable bed of 190 x 65 cm.  Massive.  Plenty of space for me to curl up.  The overall service onboard is fantastic with staff using surf pads to send your orders to the galley and within a few minutes arriving to your seat.  A pre-dinner G&T followed by a resplendent dinner of 4 courses with matching wines.  The Asian airlines really know how to do service.  With the blood sugars up and feeling sleepy, time to test the bed.  It wasn’t long before I was counting sheep and six hours later I was woken for breakfast service prior to landing in Hong Kong.

Arrival into Hong Kong was a bit of a chock.  We were channeled through body scanners and had our temperatures taken before being allowed into the transit area.  This was the first contact with the reality and consequences of that virus we would all being talking about and suffering the consequences of in a few weeks.  Prior to leaving Sweden I had been discussing with my travel agent the risks of flying via Hong Kong because of the democracy riots where twice the protestors had invaded the Hong Kong airport and managed to shut it down.  The word Coronavirus had barely been mentioned prior to my departure and now I was being confronted directly by it.  As of the 28th of January it was still confined to China so hadn’t really made news anywhere.  The transit time was relatively short with just enough time to visit The Wing Business Class lounge for a shower and a chance to change into more summery clothes for my arrival into New Zealand, then it was time to board CX 199 for my 12 hour flight Airbus A350 to New Zealand.  No protesters just a virus!  Time to seat back and enjoy a glass of champagne while waiting for push back.

Twelve hour later after lots of sleep on the flight we touched down in Auckland.  I had spectacular views of our approach into the land of the long white cloud (Aotearoa) over breakfast.  Home to summer 🙂 As we taxied off the runway, we all received a little vision of what was too come worldwide in a few weeks.  The captain duly announced we would not be docking with the terminal, and that quarantine would be boarding the aircraft to examine one of the passengers.  The aircraft was parked short of the gangway and surrounded by HAZMAT vehicles who began docking with the plane.  Onboard came personnel in full HAZMAT kit.  Which cabin did they decide to enter – business class, and where was the passenger sitting?  Two seats behind me :O  There was little one could do but sit and wait.  Full medical examinations were made of the child and her family onboard.  As I was so close I could here what was being said.  It was clear the child was very sick and its sibling was showing signs too however it was determined it was abdominal and not respiratory.  With the children and family disembarked to ambulances, the plane was drawn forward to the landing gate and we were allowed to disembark after almost 2 hours.

Originally I had a 5 hour layover in Auckland but that had been shorten considerably and meant it wasn’t to hard to fill in the time.  It was just nice to be out in the sun and warmth after the northern winter.  There is a very special light in New Zealand, everything seems brighter and more vivid.  The direct flight from Auckland to Dunedin seemed like a hop skip and a jump and then we were there, compared to the previous 18,000 km I had just done.  Family were there to greet me and all that was left was the one and half hour road trip to Gore.  Let my holiday begin.

 

 

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SIDE NOTE: Culture Night, Stockholm April 2017

I never managed to make a blog post regarding the first Kulturnatten (Culture Night) I visited in Stockholm in 2017, but in writing about my visit in 2019, I was prompted to make a side note of the visit in 2017.  This visit in 2017 inspired me to make return visits each year to this annual event.  The highlight of that visit in 2017 was realising a dream of standing in the Blå Hallen (Blue Hall) of Stockholm’s Stadhus (Town Hall).  Why?  Well that will become apparent for 2 very good reasons, so read on.

Stadshus - Stockholm Town Hall

This beautiful building dominates the island Kungsholmen upon which it sits and has commanding views of Riddarfjärden on Lake Mälaren.  Taking 15 years to build between 1908 & 1923, the architect Ragnar Östberg was inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice and combined influences from Italian renaissance, Nordic Gothic and Islamic art to create his own style.  At a time when art nouveau was the style and dominating Europe aesthetics, it places well with its counterparts.  The building consists of nearly eight million dark red bricks, called “munktegel” (monks’s brick) and its towers boasts a height of 106 metres.

Within the building, it houses several well known rooms with names such as Blå hallen (the Blue Hall; 50m long x 30m wide x 22 m high), Gyllene salen (the Golden Hall; decorated by golden mosaics) and Prinsens galleri (the Prince’s Gallery; with Prince Eugén’s paintings).  A large number of well known national artists and designers have contributed to the decoration of the building – the brothers Aron och Gustaf Sandberg, Carl Eldh, Christian Eriksson, HRH Prince Eugén, Axel Törneman, Einar Forseth, Axel Wallert and Carl Malmsten. Stockholm’s Town Hall has become a masterwork of modern architecture & design.  A favourite of mine.

So why all this raving about this particular building apart for the wonderful design.  My first reason for this side note.  Well here on the 10th of December every year is the Nobel Banquet to celebrate the Nobel Laureates.  The banquet of banquets!  The pinnacle of all academia celebrations.  A happening unrivaled in splendor, dignity, decorum and decadence.  Men in tails and women in fantastic ball gown creations adorned with tiaras, jewels, orders och medals.  Only 1200 guests can attend and after all the Laureates & family, members of the academies, academics and dignitaries have their places there are a few seats every year for the general public which are balloted for.  Unfortunately, my name has not come up yet, however, our Faculty does receive a few invitations and in 1999 it looked like I might get one of them but the Dean had to withdraw the offer for another more prominent guest.  Ah well, next time.

After the ceremony takes place at the Concert House, the guests are bused to the Town Hall.  They enter the Blue Hall draped in flowers sent every year by the city of San Remo, Italy (the city where Alfred Nobel died).  It is fantastically lit by candle light and upon the tables is the beautiful Nobel Dinner Service (produced for the 90th anniversary of the Nobel prize) with gold trimmed glass & porcelain in the colours of each of the Nobel prizes, and cutlery in gold and silver.  I received for my 50th birthday collectively from family, friends, workmates & members of different societies I am a member of, parts to make up a complete Nobel Dinner service for 6 persons.  Since then I have chased pieces at auction over the years to built the set out for 12 persons.

Nobel Dinner Service

Following the dinner the Royals, Laureates and families retire to the Prince’s Gallery while the rest retire to the Golden Hall for the dance.  The sun often appears before the night is over.  The Golden Hall is adorned with golden mosaic tiles with the Queen of Mälaren (nickname for Stockholm) presiding over the room.  In one corner of the Golden Hall, there is a small mosaic of a distant Swedish relative – John Ericsson – known for the invention of the screw prop propeller and for the building of the famous Civil War ship, the USS Monitor.  He was half brother to my maternal great great grandfather Johan Fredrik Ericsson who immigrated to New Zealand in 1840.

Wandering these hallowed halls on Culture Night you could almost imagine you were there at the festivities so what better than to take a glass of champagne and soak up the atmosphere in the Golden Hall.  Cheers Patrik & Stefan!

Leaving the Nobel festivities behind us we continued our wanderings through the building visiting the beautiful Prince’s Gallery and the magnificent City Council chamber.  We also passed through a little room called the “Oval” where the civil marriages of Stockholm are performed.  The room is draped in french tapestries from the 1690s.  Little did any of us know that with in 7 weeks Patrik & Stefan would be standing in this very room saying their “I do’s”.  Not even they knew.  My 2nd reason for this side note.

Stefan apart from being a friend, is actually a professional guide in Stockholm so don’t hesitate to contact him if you are looking for a guide when in Stockholm via his website: https://www.guidebognas.com/en/

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Culture Night in Stockholm, April 2019

In April, I made a weekend trip to Stockholm to visit Patrik & Stefan and to attend what is now becoming a regular yearly event – Kulturnatten (Culture Night).  Culture night in Stockholm is an evening when cultural institutions, galleries, theaters, museums, libraries and more, open their doors to the public free of charge between 6pm & midnight.  Thousands flood the streets traversing the city and taking the opportunity to see what they may not normally take the time to see.  For some institutions it is the only time of the year they are open to the public.  I attended Culture Night for the first time in 2017 when the highlight of the visit was visiting Stockholm’s Stadshuset (Town Hall) where the Nobel Banquet is held each year.  If you want to read more about that click on this link.

GettyImages-521770691-5ba8e0ae46e0fb00259635cf

This year we had decided to concentrate ourselves to the areas around the island of Djurgården and Gamla Stan (Old City) visiting Skansen, the Nordic Museum, Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) and Stockholm Palace.  We would be joined this year by Stefan’s sister Anita and her husband Rikard.  An added bonus was that during 2019 Stefan qualified as a certified Stockholm Guide so we would have our own personal guide for the evening.  The evening started with an early dinner before hitting the streets with all the others, negotiating the crowds on the trains and boats before we arrived at our first destination Skansen.  For being the month of April it was an exceedingly warm and pleasant evening to be wandering the city.

Skansen is an open-air museum and zoo located on the island Djurgården.  It was opened in 1891 to show the lifestyles of the different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial revolution.  The 19th century was a period of great change throughout the world, and Sweden was no exception.  Its rural way of life was rapidly giving way to an industrialised society and many feared that the country’s many traditional customs and occupations might be lost forever.  Skansen became the model for early open-air museums in Scandinavia and elsewhere.  Around 150 houses from all over the Swede were shipped piece by piece to the museum, where they were rebuilt to provide a unique picture of traditional Sweden.  All of the buildings are open to visitors and show the full range of Swedish life from the Skogaholm Manor house built in 1680 to the 16th century Älvros farmhouses.  Skansen occupies an area of 75 acres (30 ha) including a full replica of an average 19th-century town, in which craftsmen in traditional dress such as tanners, shoemakers, silversmiths, bakers and glass-blowers demonstrate their skills in period surroundings.  There is also an open-air zoo containing a wide range of Scandinavian animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, grey seal, lynx, otter, reindeer, wolf, and wolverine.  There are also farmsteads where rare breeds of farm animals are raised.  This was the first time Skansen was open for Kulturnatten as it is normally closed until the summer months.  While the park was open not all of the exhibits were open but it was pleasant wandering around in the setting sun and there were a few places you could come in and spend some time listening to a storyteller by the fire.  I have some how managed to miss this place on my previous visits to Stockholm but I plan to return during the summer months to enjoy it more fully.

The Nordic Museum (Nordiska museet) is a museum located close to Skansen dedicated to the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden from the 1500s to the present day.  The building was completed in 1907 after 19-years of construction.  Originally, it was intended to be a national monument housing the material inheritance of the nation.  However, it was only half-completed for the Stockholm Exposition in 1897 and as a result lost that status and remained uncompleted.  It takes its style from Dutch-influenced Danish Renaissance architecture such as Frederiksborg Palace in Hillerød, Denmark.  The core of the “cathedralesque” building is taken up by a huge main hall (126 meters long) passing through all the floors up to the roof and the hall is dominated by the enormous sculpture of King Gustav Vasa, considered the father of the nation.  Impressive building.  A stop was made to the exhibition showing fashions of the 1970s, 80s & 90s.

Stefan’s sister Anita and her husband Rikard spend about 6 months of the year onboard their boat sailing the Baltic waters of Sweden.  This year they were starting their summer in Stockholm and had sailed up for Kulturnatten.  They had anchoured their boat in the harbour close to the museum and it just happened to be next to the ferry we would be taking over to Gamla Stan (Old City) for rest of the evening.  They kindly invited us for a liquid refreshment pit stop to quench the thirst generated by all this cultural entertainment.  Suitably lubricated we were now ready for part two of our evening.  Onto the ferry and over to Gamla Stan.

Our goals for the evening in Gamla stan were a visit to Storkyrkan – officially named the Church of St. Nicholas and informally called Stockholm Cathedral.  It is located next to the palace and we had been promised an LGBT-oriented guiding of the Cathedral by Stefan.  Storkyrkan was first mentioned in 1279 and according to sources was originally built by Birger Jarl, the founder of the Stockholm city itself.  For nearly four hundred years it was the only parish church in the city and it became a Lutheran Protestant church in 1527, and later gained cathedral status in 1942.  Because of its convenient size and its proximity to the earlier royal castle and the present royal palace it has frequently been the site of major events in Swedish history, such as coronations, royal weddings and major funerals.  The last Swedish King to be crowned here was Oscar II in 1873.  Crown Princess Victoria, oldest daughter of the current King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, was married here on 19th June 2010.  Glad to be getting a chance to visit it as it normally costs a fortune to go in.

The first tidbit of information gleamed from Stefan’s guiding was how the church expanded from a little parish chapel to the magnificent cathedral we see today in the 14th century.  It was due to Queen Blanka the wife of the King Magnus Eriksson.  Her husband was ruler of the largest empire in Europe at the time stretching to Greenland in the west, to Karelia in the east, and to Poland & Germany in the South.  His constant need to defend his borders especially against the Danish meant he had little time for his wife.  She devoted herself to her religion and the expansion of the church in Stockholm turning the local parish chapel into a magnificent church.  When inside the church you can see the older church on the right hand side with the painted vaulted ceiling.  Queen Blanka had a beloved personal advisor Birgitta Birgersdotter in all matters of religion who later become Saint Birgitta.  The King had generously endowed her with an Abbey and financed her religious order which she had founded.  She would later become the royal couple’s worst critic.

Magnus was the longest reigning Swedish monarch until 2018 when the current king surpassed his reign of almost 45 years.  Few Swedish regents have suffered so much gossip mongering and misinformation as Magnus Eriksson.  Saint Birgitta was the source of most of it.  She had been receiving holy visions since the age of 10 and had been advising the royal couple in matters of religion.  Later she began to strongly disagreed with the way the King run his kingdom and how he divided it between his sons.  She strongly critised the relationship between the King and Queen and that they spent so much time apart.  In some of her holy visions,  she said the king was identified as “the son of disobedience”, ruled by devilish counsel, and the queen was likened to “a peeled apple core”, ugly and bitter.  Birgitta believed that this was due to “a new and cool heat” between Magnus and Blanka, which had expressed itself in “a senseless love forest”.  She claimed in her pamphlet Libellus de Magno Erici rege, that the King of Sweden loved men more than anything else.  In the mid-14th century, there was an attempt to remove Magnus as King of Norway, Sweden and Skåne from his throne.  Plotting in true Game of Thrones-style, noblemen defamed him, and continued spreading the rumors that he was gay, particularly because he favoured one of his noblemen Bengt Algotsson with titles normally reserved for royalty.  It forever earned him the nickname as “Magnus the Caresser.”  Considering the magnificent generosity the royal couple had shown to Saint Birgitta, it seems she showed rather ungrateful behaviour towards the couple when the King chose political policies which she did not agree with.

The cathedral contains some magnificent treasures with the most famous being the dramatic wooden statue of Saint George and the Dragon attributed to the gothic artist Bernt Notke (1489).  The statue was commissioned to commemorate the Battle of Brunkeberg (1471) where the Swedes beat the Danes.  It also serves as a reliquary, containing relics supposedly of Saint George and six other saints – Saint Blasius, Saint Germanus, Saint Leo, Saint Martinus, Saint Donatus and Saint Cyriacus.  The Saint George statue is said to be a symbolic representation the Swedes defeating the Danes with Sten Sture as St. George, the dragon as the Danish King Christian I, and the Princess as representing Sweden.  The statue has several times been removed through the back wall of the cathedral to various hiding places when the Stockholm was under siege before being once again returning to the cathedral by the same route.  The last time was in 1939 before returning in 1947.

The church also contains a copy of the oldest known image of Stockholm, the painting Vädersolstavlan (“The Sun Dog Painting”), a 1632 copy of a lost original from 1535.  The painting was commissioned by the scholar and reformer Olaus Petri.  It depicts a halo display around the sun (so called “sun dogs”) produced by light interacting with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, which gives the painting its name.  In the 16th century, the “sun dogs” were interpreted as a sign or warning of an impending event.

The monumental pulpit is the work of Burchard Precht in 1698-1702 and is in a French Baroque style.  It became the model for a number of other large pulpits in Sweden. From the rear of its lofty sounding board issues widely billowing drapery, in front of which hover two large winged guardian angels on either side of a radiant sun bearing the Hebrew letters “יהוה” (Yahweh).  Beneath the pulpit and surrounded by an iron railing lies the worn gravestone of Olaus Petri.  Now he was an interesting man.  He was a clergyman, writer, judge and major contributor to the Protestant Reformation in Sweden.  During his upbringing he studied in Germany in Wittenberg where he meet the main players of the reformation, Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther.  He returned home and became a driving force in persuading the King to abandon the Catholic church and adopt Lutheranism.  He also translated the Bible from Latin to Swedish for the common man.  His original Swedish name was Olof Pettersson but he latinised his name when he became chaplain of the church of St Nikolas (Storkyrkan).  He was also know by the nickname “Olle i hinken” (Olle in a barrel) for when he was spreading his Lutheran message he often had no podium to preach from so he was hauled up in a barrel above the crowd.  While we were visiting the church there was an actual play taking place of the arguments between Olaus Petri and the King regarding Lutheranism (you can see the actor playing Olaus Petri in the pulpit).

The view down the central aisle of the church is dominated on either side by the Royal Pews, one facing the other on either side of the central aisle.  Each consists of a large enclosed box with heavily decorated sides and back.  High above each of the Royal Pews is a large royal crown forming a canopy above it, supported by two guardian angels in flowing mantles, and from which billow sculptured hangings behind the royal seat.  The royal seats are themselves upholstered in blue velvet with rich applied embroidery.

The main altar – “The Silver Altar” – is a wooden triptych with an ebony veneer covered in sculptured reliefs in silver in ascending order of the Last Supper; a large depiction of the Crucifixion of Christ (between silver statues of Moses and John the Baptist); of the Burial of Christ (between silver statues of the evangelists Matthew and Mark); of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell (between statues of the evangelists John and Luke); and on the pediment at top of the triptych, a silver statue of the Risen Christ between two reclining soldiers.  On either side of the Silver Altar is a sculpture holding a candle, one of St. Nicholas (the patron of the church) and the other of St. Peter.  The Silver Altar and the rose window above it fill the wall space formerly occupied by the apse of the medieval chancel removed by King Gustav Vasa when he expanded the fortifications of the Tre Kronor Royal Castle (which later burnt down).

After having spent a memorable hour or so in the Cathedral we turned our attention to the Royal Palace alongside.  The Stockholm Palace is one of Europe’s largest and most dynamic palaces.  The Palace is His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf’s official residence and setting for most of the monarchy’s official receptions (their private home is Drottningholm Palace outside Stockholm).  The Stockholm Palace is combination of royal residence, workplace and cultural & historical monument.  The palace is built in the Baroque style by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger in the form of a Roman palace on the site of the old 13th century Tre Kronor Castle which burnt down in 1697.  The palace has more than 600 rooms divided between eleven floors with a state apartments facing the city and smaller living rooms facing the inner courtyard.  There are two floors with elaborate apartments for official receptions – the Bernadotte Apartments on the 1st floor and the State Apartments on the 2nd floor.  Only the Bernadotte apartments were open tonight.

The time was nearing 11pm and we suspected they may not be letting visitors in with only an hour to go but we were in luck and made it in time to be admitted.  We entered via the Hall of State (Rikssalen) which was previously the seat of the Swedish parliament until the 1830s.  A magnificent rococo room decorated in white and pale yellow marble and draped in blue velvet adorned by the golden crown of Sweden.  The room is dominated by the fantastic Silver Throne made for Queen Christina’s coronation in 1650 and used subsequently by the Swedish monarchs at coronations and accessions to the throne.  From there you pass through the chambers for the various Royals Orders of Sweden – Seraphim, Sword, Polar Star & Vasa before arriving to the Bernadotte Apartments.

The Bernadotte Apartments were the apartments of the Sovereign from 1754 until 1907.  At that time, the new King Gustav V chose not to use the Bernadotte Apartments upon his accession.  The Bernadotte Apartments are now used occasionally for State functions as well as private affairs.

Included in the Bernadotte Apartments are:

  • The Pillar Hall — this was originally King Adolf Fredrik’s dining room, situated on the northeast corner of the apartments. Its name comes from the pillars which flank all four walls of the room.
  • The Victoria Salon — named for the statue of Victoria, goddess of victory, which previously stood in the room
  • The East and West Octagonal Cabinets — often used for ambassadors presenting their credentials to The King and other official presentations
  • The Bernadotte Gallery — contains portraits of many of the Bernadotte rulers of Sweden and their families
  • The Carl XVI Gustaf Jubilee Room — recently done in honor of the King’s 40th Jubilee
  • Queen Louisa Ulrika’s Audience Room
  • Queen Louisa Ulrika’s Dining Room

Upon leaving the Bernadotte Apartments, you descend the staircase and arrive out into the central courtyard surrounded on all 4 sides by the palace.  As we exited the courtyard we passed through the southern portal where we had entered the Hall of State.  We took the opportunity to take a quick peak at the Royal Chapel opposite the Hall of State as the time was already after midnight and things were beginning to close.  The Royal Chapel has been in use since the Palace was built in 1754.  It is the third chapel, the first going back to the late 1200s.  The second was in the northern wing of the Tre Kroner Palace which was destroyed by fire in 1697.  Many of the fittings, including some of the benches and silver-work were saved from the fire, were used to furnish it.  The chapel is used as a parish church for members of the Royal Court and their families.  The chapel is supposed to represent divine power of the king in its worldly form.  It is impressive in its green and white marble, with its golden pulpit and ceiling fresco of the Ascension in to heaven.

With the hour growing late and the thirst for a night cap growing, we headed home to some happy dogs, delighted with what we had achieved in one evening of culture in Stockholm (why we wait for one night of the year, I don’t know 🙂 ).  Thanks Stefan & Patrik, Anita & Rikard, and Lufsen & Snobben.  Will be back for Kulturnatten 2020!

Stefan apart from being a friend, is actually a professional guide in Stockholm so don’t hesitate to contact him if you are looking for a guide when in Stockholm via his website: https://www.guidebognas.com/en/

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The Christmas adventure continues, London 2018

Saturday we awoke to a sunny but cold London winter morning.  The plan was to walk into the City of London and find some brunch along the way.  Breakfast got a bit way laid as we stumbled onto some of the iconic architecture of the City.  The first was the architectural icon – the Gherkin (or more correctly named 30 St Mary Axe) in the centre of the financial district.  Its unique shape and 41 floors at a height 180 metres makes an imposing impression on the London skyline.

Close by to the Gherkin is the Leadenhall Markets.  The market dates from the 14th century and contains fresh food vendors such as cheesemongers, butchers and florists.  Originally a meat, game and poultry market, it stands on what was the centre of Roman London.  The ornate roof structure, painted green, maroon and cream, and cobbled floors are from 1881 by Sir Horace Jones.  It has featured in many films such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), where it was used to represent the area of London near the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley.  Leadenhall Market also formed part of the marathon course of the 2012 Olympic Games with runners passed through the market.  It is stunning piece of 19th century architecture in sharp contrast to the 21st century Gherkin.

From there it was onto breakfast in the financial district followed by a wander around Bank (refers to the Bank of England) & Monument (refers to the Monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666) areas before catching a tube to Covent Gardens.  The name Covent Garden is probably most associated with opera and the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens.  But the name actually refers to the 13th century walled kitchen garden and orchards of Westminster Abbey and as London grew the gardens disappeared and in the 17th century it became a fruit, flower & vegetable market.  By the 19th century the area had begun to fall into disrepute, as taverns, theatres, coffee-houses and brothels opened up.  Some of those theatres still remain today such as the famous Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  The original market has been covered by roofs & buildings, and shops & restaurants have replaced the fruit & vege stalls.  The Christmas decorations in the Apple Market make quite a display – silver balls and mistletoe lights.  I stood under the mistletoe for and hour but nobody kissed me 😦 😦 😦

It was about this time the rain arrived.  Just as we began to make the one & half kilometre dash to Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals in Fitzrovia for drinks & lunch.  We had actually booked a table for Friday night but had somehow mixed up our days and missed it.  Fortunately they could fit us in for lunch today.  Now Mr Fogg’s bars are a concept based on a collection of adventurous bars around London transporting you back to the Victorian era of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg.  There are five locations – a Tavern, a Gin Palour, a Bar in a Victorian Train (Society of Exploration) and a Dockside distillery.  The one we were visiting was suppose to represent the house where Philaes Fogg and Passepartout kept their collection of plants gathered on their trip around the world.  I must say the evirons were top notch and authentic with even the staff dressed in period costume.  The cocktails were divine however the food was just mediocre pub fair.  Good thing was the staff took the critic with a positive attitude and informed us that a review of the menus was underway.  A recommended visit if just for the environs and drinks.  I did hear a rumor that their high afternoon teas are not to be missed.  Refueled and lubed up it was back out into the rain again.

From there we hit the Christmas Shopping on Oxford Street.  It was still pelting down with rain.  Miserable!  Oxford Street was beautifully decorated but congested and unpleasant in inclement weather.  Patrik managed to snag some deals on some Christmas sweaters and a new winter jacket while my extravagance knew no bounds and extended to buying some Christmas sweets.  Big spender! 🙂

To escape the crowds we headed to Notting Hill & Portabello Road to meet with friends for a drink & dinner, however not before another wander down memory lane.  Patrik lived in this area when he lived and worked in London in the 90’s.  We couldn’t visit here without going down Portabello Road on Saturday afternoon, its biggest market day.  Portabello Road Market is divided into five sections: second-hand goods, clothing & fashion, household essentials, fruit, vegetables & other food, and antiques.  It is the world’s largest antiques market with over 1,000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectible.  Just off Portabello Rd. on Kensington Park Rd is the Biscuiteers Boutique.  A quaint little shop & cafe selling iced ginger biscuits decorated in a variety of motifs, and at this time of year the theme was predominately Christmas.  So what does one do, but buy some 🙂

By now I was truly sick of feeling cold and wet.  The rain hadn’t let up since we arrived in Covent Garden about 6 hours ago.  We had decided to meet up with friends Mats & Erik for a drink & dinner.  After some confusion about times, inability to find one another and the genuine misery of the weather we finally stumbled in to Sun in Splendor Pub to recuperate.  What was meant to be just a stop for a drink before dinner turned into an evening of many pints, lots of chatter and some fantastic pub grub.  I warmly recommend this place.  Atmosphere is fantastic, the staff are great and the food & drink some of the best pub stuff I have had.  Hearts, stomachs, bodies & souls reconditioned from the horrible weather and an evening spent with great friends it was time to head across London to our hotel.  Upon arriving at Notting Hill tube station we were confronted with the news that the District Line was out of action meaning we were going to have difficulty reaching Whitechapel and our hotel.  But with Mats & Erik’s help and the amazing London tube system (which I think Londoners complain too much about), we found we could travel two stops in the opposite direction to catch the Circle Line to Liverpool St station, then the Central Line to Mile End (two stops passed Whitechapel) and then return on the Hammersmith & City Line to Whitechapel.  I just love the London Tube 🙂  Most other places or cities you have one travel option and if that stops then you proverbially stuffed. Nighty night.

 

SUNDAY

Last day in London and thank god the rain has disappeared.  First order of business – brunch!  We found a fantastic restaurant in East Algate – Amber Restaurant, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant serving wonderful Lebanese style food.  Warmly recommended with good food and pleasant staff.  Popular.

Fuel onboard we made our last visit to the inner city.  This time Leicester Square and the Christmas markets.  Leicester Square was created out of fields (outside Westminster) in 1670 by the Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester when he built his London residence.  The square has had some prestigious residents over the decades including Frederick, Prince of Wales and artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds.  The area has always been associated with entertainment and is the centre of the cinema district in London hosting many of Britain’s film premiers at the Odeon or the Empire.  Here can you usually purchase your tickets to any West End show you wish to see.  At the North end of the square is the Swiss Clock.  It brought back memories of my first visit to London in July 1990 as I made my journey to re-settle in Sweden.  When planing to meets friends in the city, it was always under the Swiss Clock and 30 years on it is still serving that function.  I have used it as a meeting point on numerous visits and sometimes you will be surprised who you find there.  While planning to meet another friend at the clock, I run into another acquaintance who I hadn’t send in 10 years and the last I knew they were living in Australia.  That chance meeting under the clock all those years ago lead to the renewal of friendship which has been ongoing since then for the last 20 years.  After a circuit of the Christmas Markets it was time to make tracks back to the hotel, collect our bags and catch the train to Gatwick.

A trip to London would not be complete without stocking up on food items that reminded me of home or are unavailable in Sweden.  So a trip to Tescos during the visit was inevitable to stock up and get some Christmas goodies among other things.  A picture speaks a thousand words 😛 😛

With some time to kill at the airport, a chance for one last meal together at Jamie’s before we parted ways and to stock up on some duty free.  Low and behold look what I found.  Game of Throne’s whiskey – The White Walker.  One friend would later comment on it when I returned to Sweden.  What is it? Whiskey with a taste of Tipex 😀 😀 Witty! Not!

Thanks for the trip down memory lane Patrik. ❤

Merry Christmas to one and all.

 

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A Little Christmas Feeling in London 2018

Good friend Patrik, come up with the idea to spend a weekend in London leading up to Christmas.  A bit of quality time together.  It took a bit of planning to coordinate our flights to land at Gatwick as close as possible to one another with him arriving from Stockholm and I from Copenhagen.  Accommodation was booked in a part of London I had never visited.  The East End or more specifically Whitechapel (yes, the 2nd stop on the Monopoly board).  We had booked the Whitechapel Hotel.  A nice modern reasonably priced hotel close to the London tube.  After a 40 minute train trip from Gatwick to Blackfriars and a switch to the tube to Whitechapel, we arrived at the the hotel.  Great room although while having its own bathroom it was amusing to find the hand-basin was actually in the room.

Time to load up on some fuel, we headed off to find a pub for lunch.  We stumbled into the Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Rd.  Unbeknownst to us we were stepping into a bit of local history which I had seen on TV and in film (“Legend” and “The Rise & Fall of the Krays”).  Mats would later fill us in on where we had unwittingly been.  The pub was the site of a gruesome killing by Ronnie Kray of George Cornell of the Richardsson gang.  The bullet hole still remain in the bar.  Ronnie & Reggie Kray were a pair of identical twins who terrorised the East End of London during the 1950s & 60s with their gang “The Firm”.  They rose from nothing to the top of the East End and Soho underworlds by gruesome intimidation and murderous methods.  They were genuinely feared.  Reggie was the brains and the calmer of the two while Ronnie was a mad homicidal paranoid schizophrenic homosexual.  The murder of a George Cornell at the Blind Beggar lead to the undoing of the Krays as the barmaid refused to be intimidate and testified against them.  It was the beginning of the end.  Great Pub, good selection of ales and fantastic “dog” menu.

Whitechapel is an area in the East End of London just outside what they call “The City”.  The borough designated as the City of London was the site where Londinium was established by the Romans 1800 years ago.  The borough is now known for being the site of the financial district, the Old Bailey, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s.  Whitechapel Rd. was the old Roman road from the east into the Old City of London.  As accommodation was scarce in the old city, coach stops and guesthouses grew up along the road.  By the late 16th century, the suburb of Whitechapel and the surrounding area had started becoming ‘the other half’ of London.  The name Whitechapel probably arose from the church of St Mary Matfelon (the church no longer exists as it was destroyed during the blitz in WWII).  Whitechapel being located outside the City Walls and beyond official controls, it attracted the less fragrant activities of the city, particularly tanneries, breweries, slaughterhouses and foundries (including the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which cast USA’s Liberty Bell and London’s Big Ben).  As the city expanded it saw the rise of slum areas which evolved into the classic Dickensian London, with problems of poverty and overcrowding.  Whitechapel’s warrens of small dark streets contained the greatest suffering, filth, danger, gin parlours and prostitution.  Having once sung the role of Fagin in Dickens’s Oliver Twist, I found out one of Fagin’s dens was located in Whitechapel and Fagin himself, was possibly based on a notorious local ‘fence’ named Ikey Solomon.

However, Whitechapel is probably most famously known for the activities of the “Whitechapel Murderer” in 1888 or as we more commonly know him – “Jack the Ripper”.  Attacks ascribed to Jack the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations.  The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer had some anatomical or surgical knowledge.  The name “Jack the Ripper” originated in a letter written by someone claiming to be the murderer.  The public became more increasingly convinced that the murders were by a single serial killer mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal nature of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events.  Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper, and the legend solidified.  A police investigation into a series of eleven brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888.  Five victims—Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly—are known as the “canonical five” and their murders between 31 August and 9 November 1888 are often considered the most likely to be linked. The murders were never solved, and the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory.  The term “ripperology” was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases.  There are now over one hundred hypotheses about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired many works of fiction.  The 3rd victim Elisabeth Stride was actually a Swede by the name of Elisabeth Gustafsdotter and was murdered not far from our hotel.

With lunch under our belt it was time to get ready for an evening on the town visiting old haunts, dinner & a show.  I just love the London Tube.  It is so efficient although if you asked a Londoner you would only here complaints.  First stop Leicester Square and from there to Rupert Street & The Yard bars.  It is amazing how after so many years you can lose your sense of direction in a city you know so well.  I have a pretty good sense of direction but the crowds made it difficult at times.  Finally, having found The Yard we discovered how much it has changed since Patrik and I haunted the place.  While maintaining its unique outdoor style, the atmosphere had changed some what to one of suits and Kardashian wannabes.  Fortunately, the Rupert Street bar was right opposite and the atmosphere there hadn’t changed a bit.  Suitably refreshed and memories re-lived it was off to Chinatown in Soho for Dim Sum at the Dumplings Legend.

Dinner done, time for a show.  A must when in London.  We chose to check out a 2 man show which had received top ratings from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – “Hot Gay Time Machine” at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.  Studio 2 is an intimate 90 seat theatre where you are no more than 3 rows from the stage and drinking is allowed 🙂  The show involved much audience participation.  Thank god neither of us were dragged on stage.  After much frivolity and musical hilarity, we decided to stop off once again for a drink on the way home at Rupert Street.  Looking forward to tomorrow.

HGTM

 

 

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Reflections – Summer in Austria & Bavaria

To finish the posts of the summer of 2018, I thought I would leave you with some of the impressions & thoughts from the trip.

There was certainly a lot of driving done in those 10 days.  Nearly 3,200 km of it.  Four of the 10 days were at least 6-7 hours in the car to cover distances of 600-700 km.  The autobahns may make it easy to cover large distances in a short time at speeds which a kiwi is seldom used to, but it is at a cost of being left with views of very little other than asphalted concrete and traffic.  Audio-books helped and sometimes I just enjoyed the silence to think.  Names & places I had heard of turned up on signage along the journey and it was tempting to stop and take a look but it meant I would either never reach my friends in Austria in time or take a week just to get home.  I thought I had planned the trip well in advance with the help of virtual maps but even so I was still surprised when something turned up on a motorway sign that I had missed.  Just means I have more to see next time.

Austria and Salzburg were a dream destination after discovering Mozart’s music and Baroque architecture many moons ago.  It didn’t disappoint although I would have like more of a musical interlude in the trip.  Two films come to mind – Amadeus from the 80s and the Sound of Music I first saw in the 60s.  To wander in the scenery at Berchtesgarden where the Sound of Music was filmed softened the darkness surrounding the Obersalzburg.  Next time Vienna and the Salzkammergut.

I had heard, read & seen much of the history WWII, and met men who took part in it.  It is not until you stand on some of the sights that it is brought home to you in full force of what had occurred (similarly WWI when I was in Passchendaele in 2017).  The madness of a man who tried to conquer the world.  His isolation from reality as seen in Berchtesgaden and the repercussions of that madness in the atrocities committed in Dachau.  As we say on ANZAC Day on the 25th of April, “Lest we forget.”  Having stood in the gas chamber at Dachau, you can never forget!  A poignant reminder today as the right wing populist rhetoric abounds in European politics and even here in Sweden.

A King persecuted for being different.  Denied the right to be himself and eventually died for it at the hands of narrow-minded power hungry men who couldn’t accept someone who was different.  Today he would be hailed for his intellect, his support of the arts and his inspired architectural visions.  His legacy will wow generations to come.  A true rainbow hero.

The ability to renew and refresh old friendships.  No matter time and distance friendships of the heart never fade.  They are still full of fun, conversation and memories and a chance to create new ones, even with the next generation.

 

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Day 10 – Homeward bound as fast as I can.

Awoke in this morning and feeling not much better.  Had been a rough night.  Thankfully next to the hotel was a Shell Petrol station so while I was filling up with petrol I was able to buy some more paracetamol and fill myself up.  I decided that I would take a look around Göttingen to allow the drugs to take affect and decide on whether to head home or not.  After an hour in the town I felt well enough to push on.  It would be a 621 km drive taking about 7 hours with 1 hour on a ferry crossing between Germany and Denmark.  Worst case scenario I would put some kilometres under my belt and check into another hotel closer to home if needed.

Göttingen to Malmö

Göttingen is famous for its old university (Georg-August-Universität), which was founded in 1734 by George II, who was king of Great Britain and Ireland and Prince-elector of Hanover.  It would become one of the most visited universities in Europe.  Its alumni include some well-known historical figures: the Brothers Grimm, Max Planck, and the German Chancellors Otto von Bismarck and Gerhard Schröder.  Some of the most famous mathematicians in history, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Bernhard Riemann and David Hilbert, were Professors here.  Like other university towns, Göttingen developed its own quaint traditions.  On the day they are awarded their doctoral degrees, PhD students are drawn in handcarts from the Great Hall at the university to the Gänseliesel-Fountain in front of the Old Town Hall.  There they have to climb the fountain and kiss the statue of the Gänseliesel (the goose girl).  This practice is actually forbidden, but the law is not enforced.  The statue is considered the most kissed girl in the world.  During the 1930s, Göttingen housed the top math-physics faculty in the world, led by eight men, almost all Jews, who became known as the “Göttingen eight”.  Their members included Leó Szilárd and Edward Teller.  The faculty was despised by the Third Reich, and as a result the University of Göttingen suffered greatly at their hands.  The Göttingen eight were expelled, and these men were forced to emigrate to the West in 1938.  Szilárd and Teller went on to become key members of the Manhattan Project team (the project that built the atom bombs used on Japan).  Ironically, the Nazi insistence on a “German physics” prevented German scientists from applying Albert Einstein’s breakthrough insights into physics, a policy which stifled the further development of physics in Germany and the German’s A-bomb efforts.  Göttingen was mostly untouched by Allied bombing in World War II due to the fact it was a hospital city for war wounded and was not of industrial or transport significance.

Having made it into the city centre, it was a chance to take a walk around and assess how I was feeling and plan how the day would develop.  Meandering the streets gave me a chance to take in the beautiful 15th & 16th century cross timber houses which lined almost every street.  All were original having being spared the bombing of WWII.  My wanderings eventually lead me to the town square and the famed Gänseliesel-Fountain (Goose-Girl) but I didn’t bother to climb up and kiss her as I took my PhD 28 years ago so probably a bit late.  From the town square I headed over to the Wilhelmplatz and the Great Assembly Hall of Göttingen University.  Time for a decision – go or stay?  I was definitely feeling better but I suspect that was the paracetamol talking.  Decision made, I’ll go.  After a quick stop at the supermarket to stock up on fluids, I navigated the car out of town and 2 hours north towards Hanover and the next assessment point.

As Hanover approached I was still feeling up to driving so I ploughed on towards Hamburg.  As I approached Hamburg, I made the decision to leave the autobahn and head across country on smaller roads to avoid the traffic jams on the motorway ring around the city.  This was the result of a bad experience last year when returning from Belgium where it took me an hour on the ring to do just 10 km.  A good decision as the GPS started warning of traffic delays about 30 km out.  It may have been a little slower travelling but I kept moving north without any stop and got to enjoy the pleasant German countryside away from the monotony of the autobahn.

After 4 hours I reached Burg just outside Puttgarden where I would catch the ferry over to Denmark.  Before leaving Sweden 10 days ago, I had pre-ordered some alcoholic supplies for the summer at Calles border shop.  I was glad I did as I wasn’t feeling up to running around the store getting what I wanted.  All I had to do was just back in and load up.  All done in 10 minutes.  It was also good to take a break from driving and fill up on some paracetamol as the last hour I had begun to feel crap again.  I decided I would push on as I was now only 3 hours from home and one hour of that would be resting on the ferry.  I arrived at the ferry terminal about 3 hours before my original booking and hoped I could get on if there was a vacancy.  At check-in I was told the earliest I ferry I could take was 90 minutes before my original booking.  Thankfully there was a very kind German lady in the booth and when I explained I was sick and just wanted to get home, she took pity on my and let me go earlier.

The remaining 3 hours of the trip flew by.  The ability to rest for an hour on the ferry and let the pills work made all the difference and the final run home flew by quickly.  It was nice to see home as I crossed the bridge between Denmark & Sweden.  I cruised into my parking just after 5.30 pm.  I grabbed what was necessary and the valuables from the car and headed to the apartment.  The rest could wait until tomorrow.  I think it took less than an hour and I was in bed.  I arrived home on a Wednesday and was supposed to return to work the next day but ended up confined to my bed for the next 2 days.  Just as well I pushed hard to get home for the next couple of days as I was much worse than I had been when I left Göttingen.  By the weekend I was feeling better and made the move to the summer house in Ystad for 2 months over the summer.  It would prove to be a record warm summer and gave the opportunity to swim everyday for 6 weeks.  I worked most of the summer as we had a shortage of staff due to sick leave & parental leave, so commuted everyday the 55 km by train.  This would prove to be a challenge as there was chaos on the rail system due to buckled rails as a result of the heat.  Several times I got stranded in the middle of nowhere when the trains had to stop.  Got good at finding alternative means of travel and became well acquainted with alternative routes.  On more than one occasion I was rescued by kind friends and their cars.  I did managed to enjoy a couple of weeks off in August and so here ends the summer of 2018.

 

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Day 9 – On the trail of the Grand Tour

Awoke to a lovely sunny morning and over breakfast faced the fact that in an hour I would have to say bye to my friends from NZ and head north (first sad thing of the day).  The start of a list of several things that would take the edge off the day.  Nine o’clock sharp it was hugs all round before climbing into the car for a 670 km trip to tonight’s stop in Göttingen.  As they faded in the rear-vision mirror, next stop would be in Würzburg for lunch in 4 hours.  The Swiss, however, were not finished with trying to extract money out of me before passing over the borders out of their country.  One of those things with a flash went off as I headed out of Lucerne.  I was not sure if it was me or the guy in the vehicle beside me which tripped it, but it went off.  It had me cursing for the next 20 km muttering about how much that was going to cost me in a few weeks when the fine arrived (second depressing thing of the day).  Good news – after a few sweaty weeks the fine never arrived so it must have been the guy in the other car or they decided not to follow it up with a Swedish vehicle.  If so, it was a little revenge for extorting a year’s road taxes out of me yesterday.

Lucerne to Göttingen

The route north would take me around the outskirts of Zurich, crossing the border at the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen and heading north past Stuttgart before arriving in Würzburg.  The first break came an hour and half after I left Lucerne just before the German border at the Rhine falls.  A major stop on the Grand Tours of Europe for the rich and famous in the 1800s.  Arriving by car these days is probably much more comfortable than arriving by horse and carriage back then.  The Rhine Falls are the largest waterfall in Europe, a 150 metres wide and 23 metres high.  The Schloss Wörth (Water Castle; b. 1348) is built on a small island in the Rhine river and on the opposite side on the cliff is the Schloss Laufen (Laufen Castle; b. 858).  Both acted as custom houses for the shipping on the Rhine.  The falls can not be climbed by fish, however eels are able to worm their way up over the rocks.  Tourists have been awed by the Rhine Falls for centuries.  There are several viewing platforms above and under the falls.  It is even possible to take a boat out and climb to the top of the pinnacle rock in the middle of the falls.  In the 19th century, the famous English painter J. M. W. Turner made several studies and larger paintings of the falls, and the poet Eduard Mörike wrote of the falls:

“Hold your heart, oh traveller, tightly in mighty hands!
Mine nearly collapsed, shivering with pleasure.
Restlessly thundering masses thrown upon thundering masses,
Ear and eye, whither can they save themselves in such an uproar?”

 

After a short break at the falls it was back onto Highway 81 and on to Würzburg.  I would have liked to stop in the historical towns of Ludwigsburg or Tübingen along the way but I had to put some kilometres behind me if I was to have time in Würzburg and make my goal in reasonable time tonight.  Another time maybe.  I arrived into Würzburg in time for a late lunch and having found a parking house under one of the squares right in the centre of the town it was off to explore the town.  The name Würzburg comes from the German word Würze meaning “herb or spice” and the name was even Latinized as Herbipolis in the medieval period.  Würzburg was occupied by Celts, Alamini, Franks and Merovingians through until the 7th century when it was Christianised by the Irish missionaries St. Kilian, St. Coleman and St. Totnan.  Later, the bishops of Würzburg created a secular fiefdom where they not only tended to the religious needs of their flocks but also governed them as Prince-Bishops.  The citizens of the city revolted several times against the Prince-Bishops depending on how they were treated.  The first church in the city was built as early as 788 and consecrated by Europe’s father Charlemagne.

Würzburg received a notorious reputation during the period 1626 to 1631 for its famous witch trials.  They are one of the largest peace-time mass trials ever.  Under Prince-Bishop Philip Adolf an estimated 600 to 900 alleged witches were burnt.  In 1631, the Swedish King Gustaf Adolf (here he is again; named in earlier posts) invaded the town and plundered the castle.  In 1720, the foundations of the Würzburg Residence were laid by the then Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn.  From the late 1700’s a large number of military incursions took place in and around Würzburg (including the Battle of Würzburg) with the city losing its status as religious principality and passing into the Kingdom of Bavaria.  At this time many Imperial Estates, ecclesiastical principalities, free imperial cities, secular principalities, and other minor self-ruling entities of the Holy Roman Empire lost their independent status as the Empire collapsed and dissolved.

The University of Würzburg was founded in 1402 and it was here at the Institute of Physics that Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-Rays in 1895.  In the early 1930s, there were around 2,000 Jews in the city and by June 1943 they were all gone having been sent to the Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe.  It was not the first time Jews in this city had been persecuted, with massacres having taken place earlier in 1147 and 1298.  On 16 March 1945, about 90% of the city was destroyed in 17 minutes by fire bombing from 225 British Lancaster bombers during a World War II air raid.  Würzburg became a target for its role as a traffic hub for Nazi logistics.  All of the city’s churches, cathedrals, and other monuments were heavily damaged or destroyed.  The city centre, which mostly dated from medieval times, was totally destroyed in the firestorm.  Over the next 20 years, the buildings of historical importance were painstakingly and accurately reconstructed.  The citizens who rebuilt the city immediately after the end of the war were mostly women – Trümmerfrauen (“rubble women”) – because the men were either dead or still prisoners of war.  On a relative scale, Würzburg was destroyed to a larger extent than Dresden was in a firebombing the previous month.

I emerged from the subterranean car park onto the Unterer Markt (Lower Market Square) outside the Marienkapelle (Maria Chapel), a magnificent 14th century Gothic Church in red and white stone.  It was started in 1377 on the site of a synagogue which was destroyed in the pogrom in 1349.  There are conflicting reports about whether the building of a chapel dedicated to Mary was intended as atonement for the murder of the local Jews or as atonement for having earlier tolerated the presence of Christ-killers (as the Jews were called).  From there I headed east on to the Oberer Markt (Upper Market Square) and to the Falkenhaus (Falcon House), an iconic building in downtown Würzburg with a bright yellow rococo facade.  It was built in 1629 and served as a guest house and later as Würzburg’s only concert and dance hall.  From there it was south past the Neumünster (New Minster: b. 1065) before turning west onto the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge).

The bridge was built in 1473–1543 over the Main River.  In the 1730’s, the bridge was adorned with twelve 4.5 metre high statues of saints and historically important figures such as John of Nepomuk, Mary and Saint Joseph, Charlemagne and Pepin the Short.  It reminded me of the Charles Bridge in Prague but on a smaller scale.  The bridge was damaged by explosives in the final days of World War II.  US troops threw the original Pepin statue into the river to make way for an anti-aircraft gun.  Cultural illiterates.

From the bridge you get a great view of the Festung Marienberg.  It is a fortress on Marienberg hill to the west of the city centre and overlooks the whole area.  It served as the home of the local Prince-Bishops for nearly five centuries.  It also doubled as a military fortress for the Prince-Bishops when being attacked by foreign armies or citizen’s revolts.  Most of the fortress’s current structures date to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but the foundations of the chapel go back to the 8th century.  It has impressive fortifications which stayed many an attack but succumb to the Swedish King Gustav Adolph when he conquered the area in 1631 during the Thirty Years’ War (here he is yet again).  The fortress was plundered by the Swedish troops and most of the well-known library was carried off to Uppsala in Sweden where it still resides today.  The fortress was held by the Swedish and their allies until 1635 when the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was signed (see earlier post on Münster).  In 1720 the Prince-Bishops moved across the river to the Würzburg Residenz and the fortress became solely a military fortification.  It was occupied by Napoleon’s forces between 1806 & 1813 with Napoleon himself visiting prior to his Russian campaign.  It was used as a barracks in both World Wars and was heavily bombed by the RAF in 1945.

Perched on a hill facing the fortress is the Käppele, a small Baroque/Rococo chapel with its onion domed towers.  The Käppele (‘Little Chapel’) is the commonly used name for the Wallfahrtskirche Mariä Heimsuchung (Pilgrimage Church of the Visitation of Mary).  It was built following plans by Balthasar Neumann in the mid-18th century in the Rococo style.  Until 2014 it was run by members of the Capuchin Order of Friars. Originally, a local fisherman erected a statue of Mary holding the dying Christ in what was then a vineyard in 1640.  About ten years later, four miracle cures were reported in connection with the statue and this lead to a chapel being built around the statue, and then this large church later on.  Together with some other reported phenomena, the cures began to attract pilgrims to the site.

The east side of the river done, I headed back across the bridge to the west side past the Cathedral up to a place my friend Martin said I must see if I was in Würzburg.  The Würzburg Residenz.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, commissioned by two brothers who were Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn and Friedrich Karl von Schönborn.  The place is massive as you approach it across the square in front of it.  The building was reportedly called the “largest parsonage in Europe” by Napoleon.  It was started in 1720 and finished in 1744 and is best known for the following features:

  • Hofkirche: The church whose interior is richly decorated with paintings, sculptures and stucco ornaments. The altars were painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
  • Treppenhaus: A magnificent marble staircase created by Balthasar Neumann (who designed the Käppele) and painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo who created the largest fresco in the world adorning the vault over the staircase.  A work of architectural uniqueness & beauty I had read about and wanted to visit.
  • Kaisersaal: The “Imperial Hall”, the centerpiece of the palace which illustrates the close relationship between Würzburg and the Holy Roman Empire.

The Residenz has had many prominent guests: Napoleon in 1806 and Queen Victoria & Prince Albert in 1845 stayed here on their way to Schloss Rosenau, in Coburg.  The palace suffered severe damage in the British bombing of March 1945, but has been completely rebuilt.  Having wandered the gardens and grounds of the Residenz it was time to head back to the car.  It was nearing 4 pm and I still had just under 3 hours to Göttingen.

From Würzburg it was back onto the A7 and 2.5 hours north to Göttingen.  It was at this point the third depressing thing of the day reared its head.  Already, when I left the Rhine Falls I noticed I was feeling a little sluggish and a little off.  By the time I left Würzburg I was no better and as I drove to Göttingen I began to go down hill rapidly.  As I arrived at the hotel about 7 pm I was not feeling good at all.  I just skipped dinner and dosed up on paracetamol and hit the hay.  Things got pretty bad in the night and I was already thinking if I was not better by morning I would not be capable of driving any further.  Lets hope I can stay another night if needed.  Night, night.

 

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