Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

I set out to avoid the Olympics in London, where I spend much of the week. All the edicts about what you could and couldn’t do, say or print had been annoying me so much in the run-up to the opening ceremony. A Swedish friend of mine suggested a house swap way back in February and I leapt at the idea. Ironically, I ended up watching loads of track and field events during the second week on TV in Sweden and grew quite addicted to keeping up with the ever-growing British medal tally. Now I’m looking forward to the Paralympics.

We swapped pets as well as houses and looked after the wonderful Doglas, a Bernese Sennenhund, a breed I’d never heard of. Related to St Bernards, he had been shorn of much of his thick coat for the summer so that he wasn’t too hot but, even so, he spent a fair amount of time lying in the bathroom, the coolest room in the house. He is the best dog, not retaliating when he’s barked at by yappy little terriers, or running off to herd up the cows we encountered on this walk, even though that’s what is in his genes. We quickly became bilingual in Swedish dogspeak, which is not difficult as it’s fot, pronounced ‘foot’ for ‘heel’ and sitta for ‘sit’ but barely needed to tell him to behave.

I’ve been to this part of Sweden many times before over the last 15 years or so and this was one of the first times the weather had been pretty poor throughout but we still enjoyed many long walks, good food and the quiet, gentility of a largish seaside village in the summertime.

We managed a couple of dips in the freezing sea (an early morning and evening tradition with locals, who wander or ride their bikes down to the beach in their bathrobes) – mine on a particularly seaweedy, squally day, quite unlike the sunnier day that dawned when I took the picture above.

This is Hovs Hallar, quite close to where we were staying. You can see the Danish coast across the Kattegat, depending on which way you look.

You make your way down to the beach through quiet, silvery woods and knee-high heather.When you arrive, the beach is pebbly and sown with random grasses and yet more heather.And the purity of the air is evident in the rich lichens growing on the stones along the shore.

We were even treated to a 4.4 magnitude earthquake on our second night, which is relatively unusual for the region, which has tremors roughly every decade or so. I woke up and thought it was thunder followed by the dog bumping into my bed.

It was also lovely to unexpectedly have the Boy with us before he heads off for a year in Australia. Of course we squabbled (this is real life, after all), the tension of a long separation that I’m none too keen on rubbing our emotions raw at times. But these are some of the impressions that will keep me going over the months of grey wet pavements ahead.

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Strindberg Museum

Last week, on a very cold day I visited the Strindberg Museum in Stockholm, desperate to get inside out of the cold. It was billed as an exhibition of August Strindberg‘s life presented in his apartment. I thought it would be interesting to see where he lived but it was a bit disappointing. The exhibition was just literally in his apartment – no attempt had been made to furnish the rooms or give any idea of what it would have looked like as a home, which wasn’t the impression I got from the description. However…

On my way out, I decided to walk down the stairs rather than take the little old lift. I’m so glad that I did. The house, which he called ‘the little blue tower’, was a total gem. I hadn’t really taken in the building on my way up. When you get indoors after hours in sub zero temperatures, stamping snow off your boots, grappling with gloves, hat, umpteen bags and guide book, the first thing you’re thinking about is generally not the architecture.

In a quarter of Stockholm which is filled with mainly art nouveau buildings (this lovely building below was just around the corner), the Strindberg house was a really great example, although quite plain on the outside.

The building, on the corner of a busy shopping street, is still lived in by private people, while some of the apartments given over to organisations, mostly related to Strindberg or drama.

I don’t think I’d mind living somewhere like this.

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It probably doesn’t take a genius to work out that I’ve been away. Somewhere very much colder than the UK. Somewhere the recession hasn’t touched. Somewhere buzzing with confidence and style.

I have never happily tramped so many miles dressed in so many clothes.

Or been so surprised by so much wonderful, art nouveau architecture

or so many beautiful baroque buildings in a city that manages simultaneously to exist so vibrantly in the present day.

A place where people shovel snow from the roofs of buildings, so that it doesn’t spontaneously avalanche off and kill passers by.

Where can it be?

It’s Stockholm. I’ll be telling more stories about it soon. But now it’s time to catch up on some well-earned rest.

 

 

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Even iPhone photos can produce good results.

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Torekov from the water

Torekov is a little seaside town in the southern Swedish province of Skåne (roughly pronounced ‘skornay’) or Scania in English. It’s a place I feel very at home and of which I have happy holiday memories.

map of Bjärehalvon

If you’ve watched any of the various Wallander series on TV or read Henning Mankell‘s books, Skåne is the part of Sweden where the stories are set and filmed, although that takes place further south than Torekov, which is at the tip of a rocky promontary called Bjärehalvon. Quite different from the more mountainous north, Skåne is gently undulating, not to say flat in parts, inland, with both rocky and sandy beaches along the coast.

anchors

A former fishing village, with just  a vestige of its old industry left, Torekov is now a very upmarket place, full of rich Swedes based in Stockholm, who pretty much have the monopoly on all most expensive houses.

I’ve always been fortunate to stay with friends or rent locally, so I am happy to leave these tiny, picturesque 18th century fishermen’s cottages to those wealthy enough to afford £600k for a holiday home. But the fact that these places still exist and are beautifully maintained, make Torekov an extremely pretty and pleasant to visit.

Old houses in Sweden

On a similar latitude to Edinburgh, this part of Sweden has a slightly milder climate, protected from the cold North Sea by Denmark. It can be fiercely hot, and wet and windy in the same week. We had both during my short trip but even when it is bleakly windy and wet, it is atmospheric. Although, the protected waters come with a smelly cost, as, with so little tide there can, at times, be a rather pervasive smell of seaweed.

seaside view

Torekov is filled with bicycles like my heavy Pashley, which make me happy, as at home I feel like a freak surrounded by speedy Lycra clad chaps racing to their desks. Although in the years since my last visit there has been a marked decrease in the number of ex-army Kronan bikes, which I loved.

bikes

It is a place where you are likely to encounter people in bathrobes in the supermarket, en route to or from their daily dip in the chilly waters of the Kattegat – the stretch of water which runs between Sweden and Denmark –

morgons bryggen

or cycling back afterwards.

And further along the coast is the marvellous rocky scenery of Hovs Hallar, where we had a good walk and a picnic on the beach. We narrowly missed sitting near a rotting seal which had washed up on the rocks but did have the pleasure of watching a few cormorants drying their wings on the rocks in the water. They stood there like this for ages.

And, as I have to get something garden-related in – I saw many of my favourite geraniums, as Sweden is the home of Pelargonium Mårbacka, which I’ve written about before. I’m always in a frenzy of annoyance about the fact that you can’t get these in the UK, so if anyone knows of a source, please let me know. The closest I’ve found is a salmon pink variety with variegated leaves that has failed to grow properly this summer and has remained about 20 centimetres high.

pelargonium marbacka

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A quick thank you to all the people who have visited the Spring Cottage blog over the last year that it’s been public – over 11,000 hits, which is amazing! Lovely people I’ve met and things I’ve learned.

Here’s to another year, which will start with a post about my trip to Sweden, soon…

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I’ve just started getting the first signs of excitement about going to Sweden for a long weekend.

Torekov

When they were little, my children and I spent many of our summer holidays in a coastal village in southern Sweden. We once also spent a magical new year there too. beach huts in Sweden

Now, after several years of absence, I’ve got the chance to go back. I’m really looking forward to it. There will be old haunts, good friends, lovely Swedish scenery and people I haven’t seen in years. It’s a place I dream about and which feels really idyllic to me.

children on a beach

In fact, it’s true to say that I think about it every day, as the picture below is the wallpaper on my computer. Yes, it really is as lovely as it looks!

Sunset over the sea

And even though I’ve been to Ystad and Malmö, I’ve not yet found it’s quite the murder capital of Europe that all those wonderful crime writers would have us believe.

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I often find little pieces of broken china or pottery when I’m gardening and wonder what to do with them, not quite wanting to throw them away, and I now have food for thought.

I came across Ida Överby and her blog – it’s in Swedish and  best viewed in the Google Chrome browser which can translate automatically – recently. Ida makes all kinds of things out of shards of china and other items that might otherwise be considered past their best, and sells them on her website Creme de la Creme.

Aside from making wonderful, inventive cake stands like this one above, she also makes little hanging ornaments out of just such bits and pieces of crockery.

Unfortunately most of the ones on the site are sold but there’s always the hope that she’ll make more and there are still a few unsold items left. And, of course, you could always have a go at making your own.

I certainly feel inspired by the picture frames which Ida fills with shards of pottery. In my cottage I have a shelf by the front door, where I put things that I find in the garden or on a walk as I come in the house. One day, it struck me that these things were actually rather lovely, so I photographed them. Now I want to frame them and hang the picture instead.

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As autumn arrives, bulb catalogues plop onto the doormat. Frustrated at how impossible it is to source my favourite Swedish geranium, Pelargonium Mårbacka , in the UK, I found what I hope will be a suitable substitute from the rather wonderful Vernon Geranium Nursery.

Looks like Pelargonium MarbackaHowever, I wasn’t very well prepared for the arrival of the plant plugs, during an unusually busy week at work. So when the sprogs, and their companions that just happened to find their way into my online shopping basket – six lavandula blue star plugs – arrived, I had no wherewithall to plant them up. London cellar, which usually abounds with empty plastic plant pots, has suffered a recent decluttering, due to an infestation of Girl’s cast-off A-level and GCSE notes, and winter shoes.

sad baby plantsResult (taken by the fun free Pudding Camera app on my iPhone in vignette fantasy mode): rather floppy-looking baby geraniums, which look unlikely to survive and need rewatering every five minutes. And I can’t even get this sorted out at the weekend, as said daughter needs transporting back to university – an almost 500-mile round trip unlikely to involve a garden centre.

It pains me to see them looking pale and wan on the kitchen windowsill, but I hope that somehow they will survive to see spring at the cottage after all.

Postscript: I can’t make up my mind if I like the blurred image or if it makes me feel like I have an eye infection.

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