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.

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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!

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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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