Our adventures in Germany begin…

Our German adventures started from Frankfurt. We arrived without incident at 5:30 am German time, waited three hours for Andrea and Lionel to arrive, rented our car and intrepidly ventured out. Our first destination was Bacharach, an old town in the Rhine Valley. We got out of Frankfurt fairly easily and only got misdirected once due to construction in Mainz. Thank goodness for GPS that speaks English. We arrived in Bacharach shortly after noon and turned off the highway, drove through the 11th century opening in the old city wall, and immediately found our hotel one cobblestoned street in. We parked and learned that we would not be moving the car again until Monday. Our plan was to spend Saturday walking through the town and recovering from our jet lag. Our plan for Sunday was to take a Rhine River cruise and explore castles. It was just as well because on Sunday the highway into and out of the Rhine Valley on both sides of the river were closed to anything other than bicycles.

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The town gate ahead and our hotel on the right.

We had lunch at an outside café and planned our exploration of the town. Bacharach is a small community that exists for wine and tourism. It is in a strategic part of the Rhine and appears to have seen its fair share of trouble. The city walls are still evident high on the steep river banks. Stone towers built almost one thousand years ago comingle with “new” half-timbered buildings with dates from 1592 and 1379. There were also modern buildings, like our hotel, that date to 1887.

There are three church structures in the town. One catholic, one protestant and one chapel ruin. The ruin has a horrible history that resonates with modern tensions. The chapel was built over a 140 year period beginning in 1294. A young boy had been sexually abused and killed in Bacharach. The Jews were accused of the crime and it was alleged that they used the boy’s blood in their ceremonies. The boy became known as a saint and his chapel attracted a large number of pilgrims. The story has since been disproved. A lot can be said for marketing and the strategic use of “creating other” on purpose.

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In St. Peter’s Church’s shadow.

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The vineyard that supplied our wine

We became particularly aware of the Church of St. Peter, built between 1100 and 1400 AD, as we sat in its shadow for dinner. We arranged to meet at the restaurant in Marktstrasse recommended by our host (his restaurant was closed for two days for some reason). His cousin ran the restaurant he referred us to. The set menu looked good and affordable so we made reservations for 6 pm. We now know that we will likely find a place after 7 pm tomorrow. The bell ringing began at 6 pm. It was delightful and somehow fit with the old world nuance of the town. At 6:10 we felt that the bells were quaint and it was interesting that the bell ringing went on for so long. We delayed any thought of conversation until the bells finished. They were too loud  to talk over. We drank wine from the vintner whose vineyards flourished on the south side of the town walls and absorbed the ambiance. At 6:30 the bells seemed to slow down and giving us hope that we could actually finish our meal in peace. When the bells finally ended at 6:55, just in time to give a bit of separation so that when the clock tower chimed seven times to signal 7 pm, you would know the time.

After supper we again wandered the town for an hour before calling it a day at nine pm. Jet lag was setting in and sleep was calling. Getting to sleep was easy. Staying asleep was more difficult. We had to make a choice. Either sleep in a quiet, overly warm, non-air conditioned room or sleep with the windows open and accept the sound of the trains going by. Little did we know that the trains actually increased their frequency at night. |t one point I started to think of the whooshing sounds that the train made as it roared through, just outside the wall, parallel to our 3rd floor room, was akin to waves breaking on a sea shore. My jet lagged brain bought the reframe and let me sleep again until 5:30 am. Then, wide awake, it seemed a good time to start this first edition of my blog from Germany.

Grӓnna, Visingsӧ and Rӧttle By

the oak forest

the oak forest

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After a late breakfast we headed off to Grӓnna, a small community near Jӧnkӧpping. The community is famous for two things – Polka Grisar (yeah, like is looks, Polka Pigs) and a being the home of a failed explorer. Polka Grisar are candy sticks. The story goes that a Amelia Erikson was widowed and needed to support herself and her daughter. She figured out that if she mixed flavouring, sugar, water and vinegar and made it into candy, she could sell it to people passing on the highway. She was one of Sweden’s first female entrepreneurs. The entire community is now candy focused. The original candies were mint but now there are as many flavours made as you can imagine. We bought a few different kinds to try.

The creator of Polka Grisarna

The creator of Polka Grisarna

The second castle - ruined by Russian prisoners of war in the late 1700's

The second castle – ruined by Russian prisoners of war in the late 1700’s


Our second stop was the island of Visingsӧ. The twenty minute boat ride was wonderful. Our first choice was to take a horse drawn carriage ride of the island. The whole island was 14km long and 3km wide. It was too big to walk around and see everything. The carriage ride was the most efficient way to get a great overview of the island. The driver took us through an oak forest that was planted in the early 1800’s and was amazingly beautiful. The little girl beside me asked her mom if the woods had trolls in them. This was the place where John Bauer, the artist I wrote about previously, visited. John Bauer died in a boat accident on the lake that surrounded the island. The trail ride took us by a beautiful herb garden and through the older communities. The kings of Sweden lived on this island for a while in the 1200’s. To Dale’s dismay we didn’t get to see the oldest castle but we did explore an old church and the second oldest castle ruins. The old church was converted into an observatory by a famous, wealthy geek named Per Brahme. He was a relative of a famous astronomer. The family thing led him to cut the belfry off so his students could look at the stars. We went up the incredibly narrow staircase to the very top to get the best view. The stairs were a) steep and b) narrow. The opening from the stone stairs into the wooden landing required us to enter sideways as it was so narrow. The view was worth the ever so scary decent!
the staircase to the observatory

the staircase to the observatory

the Observatory

the Observatory

We returned to the mainland and toured through the museum. Grӓnna’s second most famous person was an explorer who, in 1897, attempted to fly a helium filled balloon to the North Pole. His attempt did not go well and he and his team died. No one found him for 30 years. They recreated the balloon and his gear in the museum display. A third of the museum was connected to the ill-fated journey.
After lunch we decided to fit one more thing in before we returned to our hotel. We went to Rӧttle By, a hamlet and went on a hike along the Rӧttle Path. The people who live in the hamlet rebuilt the path to take people on a hike through an old mill community. It was beautiful and peaceful. The river was fast moving and wove its way through the forest. It was a great way to end our time in this community. Tomorrow we are off to Stockholm again.

The mill in the woods

The mill in the woods

Where trolls live!

Where trolls live!

Homecoming

Ulriceham town hall

Carola & I

Carola & I

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the main square of Ulricehamn

the main square of Ulricehamn

the old town of Ulricehamn

the old town of Ulricehamn

Today we went to Ulricehamn. Dale and I wandered around my old school for a bit. It looked really different. They have added a number of outbuildings and a whole second story. Times have changed. We went by the house I used to live in and I appreciated how “uphill” everything was. The town is built on the side of a hill. The bottom of town starts at the lake and moves up with the train station, shopping streets and houses and the school is at the top. The woods that were behind the school are now houses. We were lucky enough to connect with Carola Ӧstmark, the mother of the family I stayed with. She had been in Stockholm until today and was going to be in meetings for the rest of the week. It was good to see her. Bengt, the father of the family, died of cancer 5 years ago. They had moved out of Ulricehamn to a small acreage nearby shortly after their youngest daughter graduated high school. They lived in their new house for almost 25 years until they decided to move back into a condo in town. They had just finished building the apartment style condo and were preparing to move in when Bengt died. Carola had sold her antique store after only a few years to work in the tourism centre as a director and guide. She worked there for 15 years before retiring. She is now 80 and appears to be going strong. She still gardens in a communal plot and consults with the tourism board about local historical sites. She is busy with her 7 grandchildren. Henrik, the eldest, lives in Stockholm and is a technical physicist who is an explosives expert working for the Swedish Defense agency. He is a world expert on things that can blow up. Anders lives near the family’s summer house in a community near Stockholm. He is a software engineering for Bombardier train systems. Ingela, who was an exchange student in the states when I was in Sweden, lives with her family in Gӧteborg and is the Deputy Director of Investigations for Swedish Customs. It was great to catch up with Carola and learn what has happened in the past 33 years.

We left Carola to go and wander the main shopping street of Ulricehamn and then to meet Monica for supper. We had a great visit and a lovely meal by the lake. We then returned to Jӧnkӧpping after our walks down memory lane.

Encounters with Ann

We sadly said goodbye to Elizabeth on Monday morning. We set off for Jӧnkӧpping, the town where Ann lives. We found our hotel despite our GPS trying to repeatedly send us into the lake. The Stora Hotel is beautiful and all that separates us from its rocky shore is a road and the railway tracks. We went for a bit of a walk and explored the local museum. They had a John Bauer exhibition. John Bauer was a favourite of mine. He painted fantasy pictures of trolls and fairy tale figures. We wandered around the old city and came back in time for Ann to pick us up for an evening together.
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Ann is a school high school teacher and her husband is the sports editor of the local newspaper and together they run the ice cream kiosk/restaurant at the Jӧnkӧpping zoo and state park. We had dinner there with them and to my dismay; I can’t post pictures of what we saw because they have disappeared off my camera disk. You will have to take my word for it that the place is great! We couldn’t spend a lot of time with Ann because her and her husband were taking off on a trip to Turkey and had lots to do. It was great to have the time together.

More about the Rock Art

Tanum

Tanum

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I realized that I didn’t add any of the pictures to my post the other day when I wrote about the rock art. These stone carvings were phenomenal! they have been there for 3500 years and tell some kind of story. There is no way to confirm what that story is. The archeologists have ideas of what the drawings mean but they don’t know for sure and some of the drawings make no sense to anyone. I appreciated that the archeologists painted the carvings because it made them so much easier to see. It also preserves them because people aren’t tempted to walk on them to get a better look. One of my favourite carvings was the blue whale. there was another that looked like a giant sea turtle. Then there were the obligatory human figures with spears and lots of boats.

A class reunion – Re-posted

Hillevi, Monica, Ann Marie & Elizabeth 2013

Hillevi, Monica, Ann Marie & Elizabeth 2013

classmates in 1980

classmates in 1980

Graduation day 1980 in Ulricehamn

Graduation day 1980 in Ulricehamn

The most wonderful thing of this trip has been my reunions with my old friends. I can not express how wonderful the women I met 33 years ago were to my 18 year old self. Imagine never having been anywhere other than where family live. Then you get on a plane and end up in somewhere where you know no one and can’t speak the language. the only way I survived my year in Sweden was through the generosity of spirit of my friends. Elizabeth, Ann, Hillevy, Monica, Ditte, and my other classmates were wonderful. They did all the important things. They sat with me when I felt alone. They included me when activities were happening and made sure that I understood what was going on. They challenged me to learn and rise to occasions. These wonderful women were supportive when they didn’t have to and they were compassionate when they could. I was so lucky. The biggest blessing I had was the acceptance and support of Ann and Elizabeth. They were relentless in helping me learn to speak Swedish and they were supportive through true friendship. It was wonderful being back here again and relearning to speak Swedish. I loved that both Ann and Elizabeth fell so easily back into correcting my grammar and vocabulary. I realized after a few days that I was thinking in Swedish again and not translating from English. My experience affirms how strong their support was in that formative year.

My year in Sweden was so influential on my development as a person. I have constantly referenced my Swedish experiences over the years and the proof is that Dale actually knew some Swedish words before we got here. He was so supportive during this holiday as he listened to me get my language back and was so patient as he listened to what was going on despite understanding very little. I have been so blessed in the people who have chosen to care about me.

Elizabeth invited my classmates to a garden party on Sunday and we had a great day together. Ditte was sick and couldn’t come and I was sad to miss her. It was great to see Hillevi and Monica again. The reality of how small this world is was affirmed when Hillevi and I realized that we had both studied the work of Max van Mannen, a phenomenologist form Edmonton who is known worldwide. I studied with Prof. van Mannen and attended his lectures and struggled to understand what he meant. I was in awe of Hillevi for understanding what he was talking about in her second language. She is truly gifted.

A race, a fortress and rock carvings

Saturday was a full day of time travel. We started off at Marstrand, and took a ferry to the Carlsten Fortress on the Atlantic coast of Sweden. The fortress was the backdrop for an international yacht race. We watched to boats do tight manoeuvers while we climbed up to the castle. We spent the next two and a half hours climbing every tower Dale could find. The views from the towers were spectacular. There was even a secret passage! The castle was known as the most secure prison in Sweden. There were experiments done on some of the inmates as they were serving their time. For example, one prisoner was only spoken with once per year. He was so distressed; he drew wall pictures of a man on a horse that he believed would rescue him – in his own blood. Four inmates charged with the same theft. One of them was allowed to throw a dice to decide which of them was to be executed. The remaining inmates were to “run the gauntlet” nine times. All of the people in the village would have to hit the men running down the avenue and if they didn’t hit hard enough, they might have to join the inmates in their run. It was not a death sentence exactly, but people often didn’t survive the gauntlet. Another inmate spent so much time looking out the window that he wore the stone away with his fingers. The most famous inmate was Lasse-Maja. He had once been an inmate at the Ӧrrebro castle prison we visited last week and was transferred to Carlsten prison. He was known for dressing in drag and committing his crimes. He escaped several times by dressing as a woman and convincing a guard that he did not belong in the prison. The entire fortress was interesting and it was only due to hunger that we shut down our tour. We had lunch sitting on the Quay next to the coach of the Swedish National Hockey Team.

We then made our way through the crowds to the ferry and took off for Tanum, a world heritage site. We didn’t get to enter the museum after getting there at 6:05 and because it closed at 6:00pm. But, we were lucky that all the rock carving sites we wanted to see were actually outside and we could still see them. They were fabulous. The archeologists painted the rock carvings either red or white so we could see them clearly. A couple of sites were left unpainted so we could experience what it looked like to figure out what the figures looked like when they were found. We went to several sites to see the different carvings. The rock carvings were far inland but were likely on islands or near the shore when they were carved 3500 years ago. We weren’t always sure what the pictures meant but they were fascinating.

We came home at 10 pm after a wonderful day. We crashed shortly thereafter completely satisfied after a great day with good friends.

Stena Match Cup 2013, next stop Chicago!

Stena Match Cup 2013, next stop Chicago!


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A day of hiking and fishing

On Friday we struck out to see some of the country side with Elizabeth. We first went to an open air museum in Lӧdӧse. This museum showed the archeology and history of the area near the Gӧte river. Lӧdӧse was an important medieval town in Sweden. The displays were very interesting.
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We then came back to Trollhӓtten in time for lunch by the canal. We then got to witness the waterfall that occurs every day in July. The town harnesses the water and diverts it into power plants. The waterfall is beautiful as they open the gates from the river in three different places. And then it simply stops. It sounds pretty artificial to have a waterfall start and stop, but the movement of the water was beautiful and it was clear how powerful the water was. We went on a bit of a hike around the waterfalls and up a huge hill on the other side of the river so we could overlook the town, river and canals.

We headed back to Elizabeth’s and picked up Jan and Erik and then headed off fishing. It was a great evening. We headed off to a lake about an hour away. We were able to fish, have a fire, and roast some sausages for supper. Erik caught two trout and Elizabeth caught one. It was wonderfully relaxing. Imagine being in the forest until after 10:30 at night and still having full light.
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Hos Elizabeth in Trollhӓtten

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2013-07-03 001 2013-07-03 010It has been several days since I added to my blog. We arrived at my friend Elizabeth’s place on July 5. We drove for just over two hours, stopping only for a bit of Fika (coffee and pastry) on the way. Elizabeth welcomed us warmly and it was wonderful to see her for the first time in 33 years. We settled into our space here and took a tour of her yard. It is a beautiful place in a village called Valandra. It is on the outskirts of Trollhӓtten, the town where Elizabeth works. Her husband, Jan was at work in Gӧteborg when we arrived so Elizabeth took us into Trollhӓtten for a bit of a tour of the locks. The locks at Trollhӓtten are part of the Gӧte Canal system.

There is a 45 meter drop in elevation between the nearby Lake Vӓtten and Gӧteborg so the canals make it possible for the rivers to be used for transporting goods and people. We had a great walk around the locks and then returned for an evening of getting reacquainted. Elizabeth and Jan have three children. We initially met Erik (15) who is still at home, and then we met Johanna (21) who returned from Olso the next day. Johanna, like many youth in Sweden had a difficult time finding work in her home area and went to Oslo for work. Oslo is booming and has lots of job opportunities. The main employer in Trollhӓtten was the SAAB factory that recently put 3500 people out of work when it went bankrupt. Jan worked for SAAB for many years as an engineer before moving into the more private sector in Gӧteborg. He is hoping for the SAAB factory to have a refitting and a reopening so he can return to working in Trollhӓtten.

We had a great evening of getting reacquainted and called it an early night. Ready for more sightseeing the next day.

Visiting our second Swedish castle

Orebro Castle

Orebro Castle

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Our drive today took us through beautiful forests, lakes and pastoral scenes. The beautiful red houses were everywhere. There were several small villages where all the houses were red. We learned that the red colour came from the slag from producing silver at the mind in Falun, a town in the area.

We arrived in Örebro around 1 pm and we found our hotel without a hitch, it was across the street from the Castle! We delayed gratification for our trip through the castle until after we had lunch at a quaint restaurant across the canal from the castle. The food was good (Salmon meal #4) and the beer delightful after the long drive. We checked out the castle only to learn that you could only get in on a tour and the next (and only) English tour was at 4:30 pm. So we walked down to the Wadköping open-air museum (http://www.orebro.se/5998.html). It was a delightful park – the Swedish equivalent of Fort Edmonton Park!

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There was a huge amount of art in the city – we loved these guys in the moat!

We watched a wood carver work for a while and delighted in his skill with a lathe and chisel. We got back to the castle in time and had a great interpretive tour of the castle. This castle was famous for being part of the shift in power from one Swedish royal dynasty to another. There was a whole lot of jockeying for power around the time that Napoleon I was in power – the Swedes lost Finland to the Russians around that time and blamed their king for the loss. They deposed him and invited (a loose description of events) a French general to be adopted as King Carl XIII’s son and heir. The general Bernadotte promised (8 million Kronor from Napoleon and the return of Finland or, we also heard that he had a plan to annex Norway). Neither promise was kept but the French general became King Carl XIV. The deal was put into effect at Örebro in 1810. Thus began the reign of the current royal family. I probably got lots of that wrong – but it is a fun story.

After the castle visit, we wandered the old town and happened upon the 35th anniversary tour of band ToTo in the Church square. We heard a little of the blaring tunes before they took a break. Good and loud music. We weren’t sure why people were buying tickets – we heard it all from the street. Then off to find a restaurant that proved more difficult than usual due to the concert. We finally settled into a place and had genuine Swedish Mexican food.

We are off again tomorrow to Western Sweden. We will be reuniting with my high school friend Elizabeth. I am soooo excited!