COPENHAGEN to SWEDEN
For a period during the 1980/90s Bev and I belonged to AFS, an international exchange student organization. In that time we hosted exchange students from all over the world for both short and long term periods. The reason we joined was so our two boys (aged ten and twelve at the time) could be exposed to other cultures, religious beliefs and generally become worldly. Students who stayed with us came from Thailand, Ecuador, USA, Japan, Norway and Sweden, our destination today. Bev and I have become very close to our Swedish exchange student, Sara, who we now call ‘our daughter’. Three of the exchange students we accommodated, from Thailand, Switzerland and Sweden, are now married and have children who are like grandchildren to us.
According to the experts zinc oxide is one of the safest ingredients for protecting the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. UV rays penetrate the skin thus speeding up the ageing process and drying out the skin. Because the daily UV index in Australia is often in the high to extreme range the fair-skinned Scandinavians need to slap on plenty of sunscreen when out in the Aussie sun. In Sweden the UV index hovers around 5 whereas in Australia it often goes to as high as 11, the highest rating on the scale. The constant low UV reading in Sweden is demonstrated by the clear complexions of much of the population. There is a lack of wrinkles and ageing skins.
William was also an AFS exchange student in Australia and although we didn’t meet him during Sara’s stay we knew he was on the scene. William has a Master of Science degree and works for the Ericsson company. Sara trained in human resources and works for the Swedish Social Insurance office. For the moment she is being a mum.
Filippa is very artistic and in the above photograph she is working on a sketch of our shack, a resthouse for weary travellers, on our property just out of Tamworth.
Sara and her parents, Lars and Agneta, looked after us during our two week stay. The bonus of hosting students is establishing connections with family members and friends and when travelling in their country we are shown wonderful hospitality. Young people who go on exchange, leaving the security of their home country and experiencing new lands, cultures and lifestyles, return home changed. They mature and usually have direction, something parents are grateful for.
Leaving Copenhagen was difficult and I think it was because of the biking culture there. Denmark presents itself as an almost Utopian country where things are near picture-perfect. I have often said I prefer countries a little rough on the corners but we enjoyed our stay in Denmark just the same.
The train trip from Copenhagen to Gothenburg (Sweden) where we had to change trains was no ordinary train trip as it involved crossing the Oresund/Drogen Sund (strait) via the Oresund Bridge and the four kilometre long Drogen Tunnel. The bridge is 16.4 kilometres long and is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe.
It was not easy to photograph the bridge over which the train ran so I have borrowed two images from the internet: one by Koosha Paridel and the other by Soferm.
Once in Sweden the train turned north and arrived at Gothenburg where we had to leave the Danish train and join a Swedish one for our journey to Karlstadt where Sara’s parents were waiting for us.
Prior to leaving Copenhagen I was informed that Swedish trains have no provision for carrying bikes so we knew well beforehand that we would have to fold our bikes before boarding the train to Karlstadt. Leaving the Danish train we walked our bikes to the main concourse. Having an hour to wait for the connection we perched ourselves, with bikes close by, in a café and had morning tea. Whilst waiting, a stranger passed by and photographed us. I asked him why he was taking a photograph and his reply was ‘I want a photo before the gods get you’! We had no idea what he meant.
With the gods on our mind we walked our bikes to the train platform where I questioned a local about who the gods were and he told me the gods were the railway police. During our conversation one of the ‘gods’ arrived and in no uncertain terms told us we couldn’t take our bikes on the train. It was with some satisfaction I was able to say ‘Don’t panic, mate. We are going to fold them up’.
The reason Swedish rail does not cater for bike transport is because it was privatized some years ago and the new owners decided they would not carry bikes. Prior to privatization trains carried bikes. Sweden is otherwise very bike friendly with good bike tracks and respectful car drivers.
Bev and I have a friend at home whose nickname is Have-a-Chat, who was a rural mail delivery man and he took hours more than normal to do his delivery as he stopped and chatted to people waiting at their mailboxes for mail, hence his nickname. Today Have-a-Chat would have been proud of me as I chatted to a number of travellers on the train, including Fovad from Algeria.
Fovad is an English/French teacher in his home country so it stands to reason that he enjoys travel and communicating in languages other than his own. Unfortunately Fovad is a little perplexed as to why members of his family do not fully understand his need to travel. We chatted to Fovad for almost the whole of the journey and at the end of the trip he paid me the compliment by saying, ‘I wish I could talk to my father like I have to you today’. After bidding Fovad farewell and encouraging him to try and understand his family’s thinking we met with Sara’s father, Lars, who whisked us off to the island of Javeron on Lake Vanern where the family have a summerhouse.
Our little house while on the island is the one closest to the water on the left hand side. The jetty is not just for mooring a boat alongside. It is also used as an outdoor dining area.
Our visit with Lars and Agneta coincided with the Swedish traditional crayfish feast. There are many things the Swedish are good at and one is eating well.
This visit to the summerhouse is not our first. Bev and I were here last in the winter of 2006 and at that time the lake was frozen. Rather than take the ferry, which followed an ice-free channel, we walked across the frozen lake. When walking across frozen lakes in Sweden it is obligatory to have ice picks and a whistle close at hand. The reason for carrying these items is that if you break through the ice you can claw your way out of the water using the ice picks whilst blowing your whistle to attract attention. Somehow I think I would be frozen stiff by the time I dragged myself out.
In 2006 when we sledded across the lake I got to thinking about how thick ice needed to be to walk, skate or drive a car across. I was advised by a man with a crow bar (long steel sharp pointed bar) slung over his shoulder, heading for a frozen lake to test the ice thickness prior to his daughter going skating, that 125mm thick for walking and skating and 250mm thick for driving a car on are the safe thicknesses.
This September visit to Javeron Island is exactly the opposite weather to when we were here in January 2006. There is no doubt that summer is much more colourful and alive than in winter but regardless of the season, Javeron is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Following are a few images showing the nature of the island.
There are well over one hundred species of sphagnum moss in the world and the island of Javeron has a number of them. Walking through the sphagnum moss forests of Javeron I sensed ‘plant power’. I have experienced this ‘plant power’ on two previous occasions, one on Coopers Creek at Innamincka in South Australia and the other in the wilderness of South West Tasmania.
Aristotle consigned plants to the bottom rung of his ‘ladder of life’ but now researchers are challenging this view. They are making a case for taking plants more seriously; they are finding plants have a sophisticated awareness of their environment and of each other.
Decayed, dried sphagnum moss is known as peat moss. It is used as insulating material in the Arctic regions; it was used as a dressing for wounds through WW1 as it is extremely acidic so inhibits the growth of bacteria. All in all, a pretty useful plant. The sphagnum moss colonies on Javeron were threatened a few years back as it was proposed to flatten a portion of the island and build an airport on it. Fortunately the airport never went ahead so for now the island sleeps quietly. I expect those who are fortunate enough to have access to a little plot on Javeron are very appreciative of the fact. The locals harvest plant foods from the island, mainly blueberries, lingon berries and mushrooms. Bev and I went harvesting and what a learning experience it was. Following are a few images of the bounty of Javeron.
WARNING: The following images of mushrooms are not intended as a guide as to what mushrooms are edible on the island of Javeron. At some future date I will get a positive identification of the edible ones and I will add the information to this post when it comes to hand.
There is not a lot of effort picking mushrooms. The work comes later with cleaning and preparation for cooking.
The question is, are mushrooms good for you? Mushrooms are neither a fruit nor vegetable and therefore they have unusual nutritional value. They have a small amount of vitamin B12, generate vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and are a good source of iron.
As many are aware, not all mushrooms are edible. Some are deadly, and if not deadly they can make you troppo. The one I know of, (not that I have tried it), is the Magic Mushroom which causes hallucinations and feelings of transcendence. Experts warn that one strong dose of the Magic Mushroom can cause permanent personality changes, not necessarily to the good.
Us older Aussies really only know two mushrooms that are edible and they are the horse and field mushrooms. There are many more but I am not conversant with their physical features so when wandering the Australian glens I pick the two aforementioned only.
THE BIG NO-NO TO EAT IN AUSTRALIA and other countries where it grows is the Death Cap mushroom. It is considered to be the most poisonous in the world and one is enough to kill an adult. At least six people have died in Australia over the past decade from eating this deadly fungi.
The Death Cap mushroom origins lay in Europe and North Africa and arrived on Australian shores, probably in timber imports. The Death Cap has a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. Next time you arrive in Australia from foreign lands and the customs officials ask if you have any timber products you know the reason why. We need no more nasties like this one coming into the country.
In summer the Swedes invade the forests, not only to collect mushrooms but berries as well. In days gone by forest berries such as blueberries and lingon berries were the main source of vitamins and minerals. After wandering the forests on Javeron and eating berries straight off the bush I realised that we are disadvantaged by not having blueberries growing wild in Australia. There are of course many edible berries but most of them are known only to the indigenous folk and are in some ways difficult to access. Many of the blueberries eaten in Australia are imported from China. Recently a number of people were afflicted by Hepatitis A as a result of eating Chinese imported berries, so it’s a case of buyer beware when eating foodstuffs imported from some Asian countries.
It was our intention to gather the berries so Agneta could make jam but the urge to eat them off the bush was far more appealing. My favourite Swedish tucker is mixed grain porridge with blueberries in syrup.
Javeron is near Karlstad and on a visit to the town our hosts took us to a gallery with the paintings of artist Lars Lerin. If I ever break away from drawing and painting maps I would like to paint like he does. The soft gentle lines of Lars Lerin’s work soothes one’s soul.
Many painting experts agree that to render a reflection realistically is one of the most difficult things to do because the water surface is not static, it is ever-changing. Mastering the painting of reflections takes years of practice and although the painting aficionados say it is best to paint from life, it is considered acceptable to have a photo reference due to the changeability of reflections.
My ‘letting it happen’ means wetting the card, applying the paint, holding the breath and watching where the paint flows. The clouds in the above image can only be described as stunning and when up and coming artists reach this standard they can safely say they have ‘arrived’.
Our two sons have hybrid dingoes as pets and both dogs are truly unique. We have yet to study the traits of the recently acquired Striker but Lady, who lives on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait has some unusual attributes. When we catch a fish and pull it to the beach she proceeds to bury it and come loo time she goes off into the bush….no dumping in the backyard or people’s front lawns.
In Australia the law varies from state to state with regards the ownership of dingoes and hybrid dingoes as pets. The dingo was probably introduced to Australia by Asian seafarers about four thousand years ago. In retrospect, it may not have been a good thing as I’m sure many of Australia’s small mammals were driven to extinction when the dingo arrived.
Karlstad is situated on Lake Vanern, which is one of 90 000 lakes in Sweden. A number of the lakes, including Lake Vanern, are joined by a series of canals and locks and one of the most famous canals is the Gota. The canal allows large vessels and pleasure craft to travel from Gothenburg to the Baltic Sea. The canal is one hundred and ninety kilometres long and the width varies from seven to fourteen meters wide. It has fifty-eight locks and was built by Thomas Telford of Scottish Caledonian Canal fame.
The Gota Canal is known as ‘Sweden’s Blue Ribbon’ or ‘The Divorce Ditch’, so nicknamed because cruising couples negotiating the locks often get into argument as to how rafting up with other yachts or boats should be done when passing through the locks. There are lock keepers to safely guide cruisers through and reduce the divorce rate.
The idea for building a canal across Sweden was first mooted in the 16th century but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that work began. Lock fees are approximately $2000 to travel the canal and when one considers the cost and effort of sailing/motoring from Gothenburg to Stockholm via the open sea along the southern route, it’s not too bad.
For those who may not be able to access a cruiser or yacht there is other potential for adventure. Kayaking and cycling along the route are just two ways. The scope for adventure is unlimited; even mid winter when the canals and lakes are frozen, one could skate its length.
Exchange student daughter Sara and her family live north of Stockholm in Uppsala, home of Sweden’s oldest university (est.1477). Naturally, in and around the town there were many historic places to visit. One of the most impressive is the Uppsala Cathedral: you are probably thinking, ‘not another cathedral’, but this one was very special as on the day we visited, an exhibition titled ‘Heaven is Here’ was being staged.
The exhibition in the cathedral was staged to celebrate the Uppsala archdiocese being in the business of spreading the word for the past eight hundred and fifty years. Eight hundred and fifty years of religious evolution has meant Sweden now boasts one of the world’s largest collections of mediaeval church art and the exhibition has, according to church authorities, rekindled enthusiasm for preserving, restoring and spreading awareness of Sweden’s religious cultural heritage. It was all encompassing but of particular interest to me was the collection of sculptures I am calling ‘Jesus at Crucifixion’. The life-sized triumphal crosses dated back to the 1200s. I tried to imagine the creators at work and whether they were pleased with the outcome.
Close examination of the image above might lead one to believe his executioners were being considerate by providing a footrest, therefore taking the weight off his nailed hands. But having a footrest meant the crucified suffered longer as the victim was able to breath and death was more likely to be a result of starvation, heart failure or slow blood loss through the hands and feet wounds. Death came quicker if there was no footrest as hanging from the hands affected the victim’s ability to breath and death would have resulted sooner as a result of asphyxiation.
In some countries crucifixion-style executions are still carried out, making one think if humanity has actually made any progress towards becoming more humane
A point of note in the previous image is that Jesus, in both cases, is undernourished; his ribs are showing because it was not ethically correct to show Jesus in a healthy condition when the masses in the 16th century were unable to get sufficient food for survival.
The exhibition of the triumphal crosses showed the depiction of crucifixion from the 13th through to the 16th centuries.
The sculpture of Jesus in the above image shows Jesus with eight or nine ribs, a little short of the usual number. There is an urban myth that females have one more rib than their male counterpart, About 1 in around 300 people have an additional rib and of those, females dominate. The rib number myth probably stems from the fact that the Bible says so. ‘And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.’ (Genesis 2:21:22).
This biblical statement was, and probably still is, innocently recited to children at Sunday schools to prove the Bible is true. I am convinced that it is stories like this is the reason I used to wag Sunday school when I was a child. I couldn’t make sense of it all.
This four metre long neon sign is the work of Swedish artist Mats Hjelm and represents a particular interpretation of the holy Eucharist: the offering of flesh and blood. For those who have little knowledge of, or are not interested in, the Eucharist, it may have many interpretations. For example where there is love there is hate. Where there is poverty there is wealth. Where there is life there is death…this list goes on.
In one of the aisles stood a very life-like sculpture of the Virgin Mary, so life-like that a tingling feeling shot up my spine. Was this a message from the spirit world, a message from God, or my hypothalamus (the emotional centre of the brain) converting an emotional feeling into a physical response?
One could easily spend a month or two in Uppsala. Around every corner is a discovery to be made. We visited an old farmstead and what fascinated me was the primitive architectural style at the time it was built.
The buildings in the previous two photographs are not all that grand but what is interesting is the detail and I will now take you through some of the detail that appealed to me.
Sod or turf roof: The sod roof, also called Green Roof, is a traditional Scandinavian type and comprises soil over several layers of birch bark on gently sloping boards. The disadvantage of such roofs is the difficulty of collecting rainwater run-off, most likely not a problem in Sweden, but the advantage is it is low maintenance. To keep it neat and tidy all the farmer had to do was put a goat on the roof and its munching kept the roof in trim.
Thatch as a roofing material was and still is popular in most European countries. There are more thatched roofs in the United Kingdom than any other European country. Good quality straw can last up to fifty years if applied correctly. In the 1980s I was invited by a thatcher onto a roof he was repairing and I came to realise that thatching is no simple task. In some cases, bundles (a stoop) of straw are placed over the top of the old roof. The new stoops were attached to the under timbers by twisted chestnut stakes and the ends of the newly placed stoops were trimmed using hand shears. Some thatched roofs are so old that they are up to two metres thick and many are covered with wire netting in an attempt to keep birds from nesting within.
Thatched roofs were never popular in Australia, even during the days of early settlement, because authorities were worried about the roofs catching fire. They didn’t want a London-style fire sweeping through Sydney. Thatched roof advocates suggest there is no danger from fire as well packed thatch burns slowly, like an old book.
Thatch was obtained from tall-stemmed wheat varieties, however these varieties are hard to come by these days as there is an EU law that prohibits the growing of this type of wheat.
The birch bark slabs are placed on a timber underlay and held in position by logs and rocks. The vertical peg holding the longitudinal pole and rock in the above photograph has a serious responsibility as if it were to break the pole and rock would tumble earthward. It would be hoped that there was no-one standing underneath.
The detail is in the way the footer plate (the lower wall timber) has been shaped to fit the uneven dry stone foundations. I see the builder delicately adzing the shape which, although not difficult, requires patience and perseverance. I suspect that maybe a template made from birch bark was first cut to the required shape and the profile marked onto the footer, maybe using a piece of charcoal as a marker.
The adze dates back to the Stone Age and is similar to an axe but the head is set at right angles to the handle. There are short and long handle models; the long handle model looks similar to a ground-digging mattock. When Bev and I first started building our house there were few power tools and what ones there were we couldn’t afford to buy so I mastered the adze for squaring timbers. The old carpenter who taught me to adze suggested I stand in two buckets to avoid injury to my ankles. Using an adze brings muscles into play that you didn’t know you had. My father-in-law used my razor sharp adze as a mattock one day so I hid it from that day on.
Ironbark is a hard Australian eucalypt. Millions of ironbark tress were felled during the 20th century and used as railway sleepers. These days we value ironbark as a furniture timber and the adzed the plank above I used as a bookshelf.
Another farmstead building that caught my eye was the multi holer composting toilet (shown in the following image). From my observations everything is just about perfect in Sweden; every aspect of daily life has been thought through for efficiency, accuracy and functionality. Attention to detail is amazing. However the attention to detail with regards the hole in the toilet seat here is lacking. If a toilet hole is circular, blokes find it difficult to adjust. Holes should have a point at the front. The following sketch shows how to set out a dunny seat hole.
Firstly, scribe an arc around 140mm radius. Secondly, relocate the compass point and scribe an arc 165mm radius the result is a point at the front of the hole. If the seat was made from one slab of timber the piece cut out could be used as a breadboard. If workers used the seat it was a good idea not to make it too smooth as they would get too comfortable and stay longer than needed.
Multi holers were once the fashion, and in some cases users sat next to each other. Sometimes the reason for the multiple holes was so users could move to the next hole when the first hole filled. Of course eventually the pit underneath had to be dug out or the whole building had to be moved to another location, a smelly job and something the most hardened shied away from. Some years ago I found a thirty-six holer toilet near Sydney at a girls’ boarding school.
My interest in the historical aspects of the loo has brought me into contact with many famous people. One was Australian artist Pro Hart. The late Pro Hart MBE lived in Broken Hill, western NSW, and when Bev and I visited him he was so impressed with my tales of the loo he traded me one of his paintings for one of my ceramic reproductions. Pro is considered to be the father of the Australian Outback painting movement and his works are widely admired and sought after as they capture the true spirit of the vast outback.
I have some knowledge about the good old down-the-back (outside loo) and it’s because I have made an extensive study of the subject. I have been reproducing Australian bush architecture in clay and the outhouse is part of the landscape. In the 1980/90s I published two books on the subject, Down the Back and Further Down the Back. Following the publication of the books I became known as a ‘privyologist’, one who takes a deep scientific interest in the finer workings of the loo, and the ‘dunny confessor’ because people told me stories about tricks they played on users of the outside toilet.
Other traditional Swedish buildings we visited were in Orebro’s old town. The old wooden buildings gave an insight into how people lived within their homes.
The wall timbers in these buildings would have been squared using an adze and broad axe. A broad axe is similar to a conventional axe except it has a much wider blade and is sharpened on one edge only.
The reason the house on the left hand side in the above image has a lean is there was no cross bracing employed, the builders erroneously relied on the mass weight of the walls to keep it vertical.
It would be easy to live in a house with a kitchen like this…no complications, no electricity bills to pay, no kitchen gadgets or trappings of the modern era. Looking at this kitchen brings out the Luddite in me.
Hanging vertically on edge at the top of the window are a number of disc-shaped objects: they are Swedish crispbread wheels or in the local lingo, ‘Knackebrod’.
The Swedes have been making crispbread for more than five hundred years so they have perfected the technique. Traditionally bubbles were introduced into the dough by mixing snow or powdered ice into the dough, which evaporated during baking.
Near Uppsala is Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) where there are ancient burial mounds. As far back as the 3rd century AD Gamla Uppsala was an important religious and political centre and was known throughout Europe as the place of Swedish kings.
Scientist Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702) gathered evidence that Gamla Uppsala was the mythical lost city of Atlantis but it is now believed that his theory is no more than myth. The burial mounds, which number around three hundred, date from the 6th to 12th centuries. According to legend the earliest and most impressive mound houses the bodies of pre-Viking kings.
Uppsala has many claims to fame and one is the university. The research University of Uppsala is the oldest university in Sweden and was founded 1477. It ranks amongst the best in Northern Europe and has about 24 000 full-time and 2 400 doctoral students. On the staff are 1 800 part-time and full-time teachers out of a total 6 500 employees. All these facts and figures do not mean much but the numbers make me think how big the wages bill must be each week!
It is interesting to note that 25% of the 674 professors at the university are women. The university has a long history of active women participation.
Within the grounds and perched on top of the main university buildings is an unusual cupola, it houses an anatomical theatre.
Anatomical theatres were usually amphitheatrically in shape. In the centre was a table on which dissections of human bodies took place. In the case of the Uppsala theatre, dissections were only carried out on the bodies of hanged criminals. The students stood close to the lecturer so they could directly examine the body being dissected. They could touch, smell and sometimes taste, the body under the professor’s scalpel. I can’t think of any reason why students would want to taste component parts of a dead body.
Dissections became major events and were observed not only by medical students, but also by university employees and prominent invited guests from outside the academy.
The body on the table is not a dummy. This gentleman jumped the barrier and if you will excuse the pun ‘lay dead still’ whilst a friend took his photograph: perhaps he is a medical student contemplating Memento mori (‘remember you have to die’ in Latin). Memento mori involves reflecting on mortality and consideration of the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. All of us should ponder this every day and think just how short a time we actually have on the planet: no time at all really.
The observation accommodation is very narrow and the closeness of the balustrades meant support to those who might faint during dissections.
Throughout this post you will have noticed in the photographs a proliferation of red-coloured buildings and before finishing this post I will reveal why this is so.
The red-coloured paint known as Falun Red comprises oxides of iron, copper and zinc. The compounds when mixed with water, rye flour and linseed oil make it an inexpensive paint with remarkable adherence and preservative qualities.
Falun red derived its name from the fact that the main colouring ingredients were tailings from the Swedish Falun copper mines. The paint recipe was developed in the 15th century and it was only used by the wealthy and thus it became a status symbol. Commoners did not gain access to the paint until the 1800s. Today it is used extensively by one and all and is used on houses, fences, bell towers and farm buildings throughout Sweden.
That’s the end of another Encountering the Past Part 2 post. Thanks to all our old and new friends in Sweden for showing us again your beautiful country.
In closing I have to say: there is one thing I would like to see changed in Sweden. The railway owners should allow bicycles on trains as every other European country does. It’s time Sweden came into line.
The next post will relate to the most boring map in the world and our flight from Stockholm to Sydney, nothing frightfully exciting you might think but for me it is one of the most interesting of the one hundred and forty posts to date.
Remember: if you go to Sweden in winter be prepared for a spot of cold weather, the following photograph taken during our 2006 visit shows what I mean.