blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Free concerts

If you choose carefully and take advantage of good luck, Ottawa can provide cultural experiences that cost very little. I went to two free concerts last week.

The first one (June 5th) was a Wednesday noon concert, an hour and a half long, in the eclectic Doors Open for Music noon hour series at Southminster United Church near Lansdowne Park. This was maybe the best DOMS concert I have ever attended there, and I've been in their audiences for several years. They say it's free but you are encouraged to make a "free will offering" to help the musicians and organisers, so it's best not to bring a completely empty purse. This time the musicians were a cellist and pianist, the latter (Michel-Alexandre Broekaert of Montreal) a former university pal of Roland Graham, the artistic director. The girl, playing the cello, was Noémie Raymond-Friset, also of Montreal. The name of the team is Duo Cavatine. The pianist came in carrying a spare instrument for Noémie, saying, "Don't worry, you won't hear me on the cello today."

She began by playing her Baroque cello, with authentic gut strings, but she told us they were wrapped with metal for more resonance, which was cheating, really. The cello had no spike so she had to hold it between her knees with a masterful grip. She used a Baroque bow, too, wider than the modern bow and held further up the stick than at the frog. The bow appeared slightly convex. I must say the instrument played thus made a beautiful sound. She performed the 5th Cello Suite in C minor by J S Bach which is less frequently heard than some of his other suites (in April I'd heard Suite No. 3 performed on the viola, not yet described in this blog). The movements are the same in all the Suites: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gavottes 1 and 2, and a Gigue, in that order. I always look forward to the Sarabande and this one didn't disappoint, a very slow and simple piece, sad but serene. Here is a recording of Yo-Yo Ma playing it:


The last two movements were executed with nice variations in the dynamics as well as the melody lines.

This girl was particularly good at the attack when she began to play each section or each variation on a theme and this was noticeable in the rest of the concert too. The middle item on the programme was Beethoven's Sonata No. 2 in G minor, composed when he was young, and according to the performers, "full of humour and light," before his life became tragic. The Adagio opening was melodic, like something by Schubert, and then it changed to "allegro molto piu tosto presto" (= soon speeding up a lot more?) in the first movement, with a rondo to follow in the second. No more movements. Apparently this was one of the first sonatas where the two instruments were given equal prominence.

Alfred Schnittke
The last piece was one of the cellist's favourite works: the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 by Alfred Schnittke, a German Jew who lived in Russia in the 20th century, so had a tough life. It had been dedicated to a woman. Schnittke's wife was a pianist. There was no pause between the movements, but the difference between Largo, Presto and Largo was fairly obvious. The middle section was "angry" music.

For Thursday evening, I had a ticket to a symphony orchestra concert at the NAC, with a seat on the 3rd row, which I had acquired for free by participating in the annual Musical Lunch arranged by the CFUW. (This is where I heard the viola performance mentioned above.) Mary Partington, who sees to the musical component of that lunch, liaises with the NAC who contribute by helping her to find a young performer and giving vouchers for free NAC concert tickets to everyone who comes along. We don't get a choice of concert, mind, and this year's offering was not to everyone's taste (although I personally appreciate this sort of challenge): from the Vanguard Series of the NAC Orchestra's season: Leila Josefowicz playing her violin in a very modern violin concerto, with another highly energetic young woman conducting, Joana Carneiro of Portugal. The featured violin concerto was the last of four items on the programme and was composed by Thomas Adès, British, written in 2005. It was an exciting piece.

The other three items were also British and also exciting. "Rewind" by Anna Clyne, that started the concert, only lasted 6 minutes; it began with glissandi and a lot of bangs.


"Secret Psalm" (1990) by Oliver Knussen that began the second half of the concert, also lasted 6 minutes, a seemingly very accomplished "meditation" based on something romantic that I failed to identify.


The other item was a fascinating but puzzling longer piece of music (half an hour long) by the Scottish composer James MacMillan, that was meant to represent the "Woman Of The Apocalypse" from Revelation in the Bible, but I couldn't follow the references so easily. I appreciated the title of the section called "The Great Battle", very noisy, especially the brass. I may have been sitting rather too close to the front for this. There was an ethereal moment in the music where the leading string players became an "ecstatic"--- as it says in the programme notes --- string quartet, before the "violent surging" by the rest of the orchestra resumed. Its "relentless, pounding conclusion" generated enthusiastic applause.

Tomorrow I'll be attending a free concert of a different sort, when I attend the end of year performance by the Orkidstra's youngsters. Am greatly looking forward to that one. Again, donations are expected from the audience!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Experiencing Norway's National Day

Mostly written on the 17th of May, Syttende Mai, Norway's Constitution Day, in Oslo.

We are in Oslo at a fortunate moment, without having planned it. When we arrived yesterday evening (three hours late on the train from Arvika, but that is another story) we didn't know that today was going to be Norway's Constitution Day. We found out about it before going to bed, having happened to see a notice in the window of the (closed) tourist information office at the station. I noted that it would involve a procession of children through the city to the Royal Palace where the King would wave at them from his balcony, but I never imagined the scale of this parade.

It involves something like 100,000 people, most of whom arrive in red busses, carefully organised and lined up to pick them up in groups again when they need to leave. The organisation is impressive!

I'd been apprehensive about the day because, being small, I find crowds claustrophobic or intimidating sometimes, especially when they're rowdy, and I have a painful back just now from too much physical exertion in Karlstad, Sweden, so thought the standing and watching might get overwhelming, but I needn't have worried. As soon as we came downstairs to the door of our hotel this morning, we saw the people and the bands of children arriving, making their way to the muster point for the start of the celebration. Chris and I perched on bar stools nicely positioned by the coffee shop window where we had our breakfast to watch. Two ladies wearing their provincial costumes came in, looking proud and happy to be in Oslo, and allowed me to take a photo of them, there and then.

We followed the costumed people for a few blocks, since they were all heading in the same direction, and found a vantage point for what appeared to be the start of the parade. It may have been only one wing of the parade, for we later saw that streams of people, mostly children, were merging and converging on the roads that led to the Royal Palace. This was where the King and his family would come out and wave to them. What heartened me most about seeing these thousands of people go by was how diverse they were. Admittedly the majority were blond and blue-eyed, many of the girls wearing plaits in their hair, but there were many newcomers to Sweden among them, obviously, the whole spectrum of skin colours and racial types, handicapped children too, everyone cheerful, everyone feeling extremely patriotic today. It gave an impression similar to the impression we get on Canada Day, although the difference here was that most participants in the celebrations were very smartly dressed, the men and boys wearing jackets and ties. Some men wore hats too. Nearly every woman in Oslo wore her long national dress, adorned with a silver belt or necklace, carrying an embroidered purse. Some had matching jackets or capes.








Another remarkable thing about the children was the number of competent musicians among them: flute, clarinet, bugle, drum players all keeping time and playing in tune, even the little ones. Weeks of practice must have gone into this.

What impressed us as much as the disciplined children was the organisation of the parade. There seemed to be no muddle in the placement of these tens of thousands. Busses were mustered to pick them up at a certain time, in a certain order, at the bottom of the hill by the harbour. Sections of the town had been fenced off to accommodate the busses and the patiently waiting children. I saw no fractious behaviour, although it must have been such a long morning for them. I don't know what the children got to eat; we didn't see them eating. Extraneous people (us, for instance) were kept well away from the school parties.

Chris and I were lucky to find the last seats available at the fish market restaurant that day and had a meal of freshly caught haddock, with chips. (The following day we saw the boats bringing in and selling the fish.) Some National Day gatherings were taking place on board boats in the harbour. After lunch we walked a little further: into the Royal Palace part of the city where we found that we could go into the palace park, a pleasant place to recover from the excitement and watch families greet one another and play on the grass.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Changing trains in Arvika





We'd had a change of room at the Good Morning Hotel in Karlstad, due to resurfacing operations just below our original room at bedtime. It was actually quite interesting to watch the modern construction vehicles, the scraper truck equipped with a cockpit-like cabin including two computer screens and many switches and levers. But noisy, even in the quieter room at the back of the building, and we could smell the tar.

On the 16th of May, we were going to take an after breakfast train from Karlstad to Arvika, spend a couple of hours looking round this last of the Swedish towns on our itinerary and then catch the lunch hour express from there to Oslo across the border, arriving mid-afternoon. It promised to be a sunny day.

The first part of the day went according to plan, although I limped to the station with my back hurting, leaning on my suitcase.

Edane, view from the station
We had lovely views on the ride, on a train that stopped by blue, sparkling lakes, at Edane for example, before we reached Arvika. The Värmland province is Sweden's cottage country, doubtless a magnet to wealthy Stockholmers when the summer season starts. The scenery wasn't as flat as it had been further east, and Arvika is built on a hill overlooking a fairly large lake, Sweden's only inland fjord. On our arrival, we crossed the tracks and went to sit beside the lake first, I not being up to much walking. Then on the other side of the tracks across the station square we found a first rate Espresso House where we bought a light lunch. The little town was peaceful on that day. It's the kind of town where arts and music festivals take place. There's a music college here. Pedestrian streets of course, with trees. One of the older buildings had an eye-catching mural.

Espresso House, Arvika

Kommunhuset, Arvika


Returning to the station for our connecting train coming in from Stockholm we were at first dismayed to discover it was delayed (labelled fel tåg = faulty train ... fel means error, failure, etc.) by a couple of hours. In case we'd misunderstood the announcement on the board, I looked for an information office where we could make sure, only finding an AVIS car rental desk, but that was good enough. The AVIS lady was able to look up the train's status and confirmed the delay. I asked if there was somewhere where we could leave our luggage—she told us to go to the taxi office at the other side of the building, where for a fee they took care of it. Everyone speaks English, no problem.

Trefaldighetskyrkan, outside
Panel on the pulpit
So now we had more time to explore Arvika, not a great disappointment. Maybe it would have been better for me to sit still and rest my back, but curiosity got the better of me. I made it up the hill to the yellow walled school (Solbergagymnasiet) and the Trefaldighetskyrkan (built 1911), the Trinity Church: a pretty, whitewashed one with a spire. Inside, the National Romantic style of its artwork was worth seeing. Chris stayed on a bench outside in the blazing sun, getting sunburnt and listening to the birds, while I discovered the domed altar, surrounded with frescoes painted by an artist called Björn Ahlgrensson. Paintings were on the sides of the pulpit too, telling mysterious, ecumenical, didactic tales.

Trefaldighetskyrkan, inside


Back to the station, via another very attractive tea and coffee place, to see if the Oslo train announcement had altered. In fact the delay had lengthened, so we wandered back to the city park (Stadsparken) we'd found at the bottom of the hill, with its large pond and fountain, a miniature "train" going round it. We sat on a bench in the shade for ages, watching a pair of Arctic terns seemingly enjoying their aerobatics, screeching and plunging beak first into the water, dive-bombing the fish.

Stadsparken, Arvika
At last the train arrived. A young woman with her mother, a lap dog and a baby had put bags on our reserved seats so, not wanting to disturb her, we sat in empty, backward facing ones across the aisle. The baby behaved very well. On this two hour stretch of the journey the windows were grubby, so I took no photos but still appreciated the views of hilly fields and forests and read my book (The Bone People, about peculiar New Zealanders). We went through tunnels crossed the border with absolutely no hint of formality other than a "Velkommen til Norge!" announcement over the speakers, no passport check, and then we were following an impressively wide river, the Glomma, round its bends to the southwest. Logs used to be floated down it, as on the Canadian rivers. We reached Oslo three hours late.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

In Karlstad

As I write this from our hotel room (the hotel's called Good Morning Karlstad), we have two and a half more days to go in Sweden, then we'll be in Norway for the rest of our trip. Today we took a morning train from Örebro to Katrinehamn (not to be confused with Katrineholm where we were on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning), via Hallsberg, Hasselfors, Degerfors and other such small stations, expecting to stay on this train all the way to Karlstad, our destination of today, but part of the track ahead was undergoing repairs, so we had to get off. I'm ashamed to say that Chris understood the Swedish message about this when I did not. Then a member of the railway staff came into our carriage to tell us in English about the replacement bus, confirming what Chris had worked out. The bus too went via intermediate stops on the railway line, but there was nobody waiting to climb in. Most of the way we rode along the E18, the main highway from Stockholm to Oslo, passing lakes, rocky woods, fields with grazing cows, red farm buildings.

At Karlstad we retrieved our luggage from the bottom of the bus and trundled it through the city towards our hotel, down the Järgsgatan. I had printed a screen shot of the map before leaving Ottawa so knew which direction to take. On the way we had a light lunch at one of the many coffee shops here, as in other Swedish cities. Also typical, I now realise, are the obligatory places on the map labelled Stora Torget, Radhuset, Drottninggatan, Kungsgatan, Trädgarden, Domkyrkan and so on, the cobbled traffic free areas, the riverside walks, the magnolias in the parks. Sweden is thoroughly growing on me. Every kind of person rides a bike, both in Örebro and here, such a pleasurable habit --- in the spring particularly. People have happy looks on their faces. Before we entered the waiting area at Örebro station this morning I took a photo of the hundreds of parked bikes outside it, so obviously the same thing happens there. This afternoon we sat on a bench by the river beside the Opera house in Karlstad, watching the passing cyclists, old, young, helmeted, unhelmeted, for a long time. Further along on our walk we saw an off-road digital counter making a tally of the walkers and cyclists passing by (and incidentally giving the time, date and current air temperature). The number of bikes counted today was approaching 1000.

This afternoon's wanderings took us down to the docks (new residential and commercial developments here, as in Västeras. As we set off beside the inner harbour, inre hamn, a cruise boat, the Stella Polaris, was pulling in. We walked from there to the end of a jetty from which we could see the industrial part of this port with its cargo ships, at the northern end of Lake Vänern, the largest lake in Sweden and in the EU. Having explored some of the waterfront and sat on a bench by the reeds, we walked back to the city centre through an underpass which gives the latitude and longitude of this point, N 59° 22' 11", E13° 30' 44". For the sake of comparison Chris searched on his smartphone for the Ottawa co-ordinates, which are N45°24'40", W75°41'53". In other words, we are 1551 km north of Ottawa, or only just south of Whitehorse, in the Yukon. Karlstad lies on the river Klarälven which originates in Norway.

Karlstad is one of the sunniest places in Sweden and today (13 May 2019) has been no exception. A sculpture by the bridge, the Västrabron, is of a 17th century waitress whose nickname was Sola i Karlstad (the Sun in Karlstad) because of "her sunny disposition". The tourist leaflet we picked up says that the Sandgrundsparken, on a pointed spit of land between inlets, is "a park with sloping waves and green valleys surrounded on both sides by one of the longest rivers in Sweden, the Klarälven." I was puzzled by that description, but when I saw it, I understood what the writer meant:


We had supper outdoors at a restaurant in the Stora Torget: grilled beef with bearnaise sauce and chips, delicious. The Fredsmonument in the middle of Karlstad's central square, celebrating "the peaceful dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905" shows a female figure, Peace, stomping on the head of War (baring his horrible teeth) to do him in. Chris says she's a formidable woman, and we both like the concept!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A weekend in Örebro

Here we are in the First Hotel on Storgatan, in Örebro. It bears some resemblance to the other First Hotel we stayed in, the one in Eskilstuna, in that its old lift (hiss), the only one in the hotel, is very small and has problematic doors that prevent it from working unless its passengers shut them properly. Our room is on the fifth floor and from our window we can look down onto the hotel terrace.

There is no need for Chris or me to wear a fitbit or whatever to count the number of steps we do per day when we're exploring new places. I'm sure we double the daily requisite; our legs and feet ache accordingly. Yesterday was a lovely day, even so. The sun was shining and after our morning hike along the Katrineholm trails, as described in my last post, and a pleasant journey here by rail, changing trains at Halsberg, we then had all afternoon and evening to explore Örebro. So, more walking.

Slottet and King Karl's pedestal at sunset

Wedding guests by the river, Örebro
Our hotel is more or less at the hub of the city, near the old castle, slottet, 700 years old in parts but "restored" multiple times, so that it looks not quite genuine, a restoration stone edifice with medieval foundations and nineteenth and twentieth century enhancements, sitting in the middle of the Svartaån river, at a point where there are weirs and bridges. Behind the castle, beyond the bus-stops and a statue of King Karl on a tall pedestal, is a square with fountain jets for children to play in. Our street, its extension beyond the river, and the streets at right angles to it, comprise an area prohibited to all traffic except for the the local busses (running on biogas), bikes, wheelchairs and pedestrians. At the moment, early May, the cherry trees on the river banks are in full flower, making this spot all the more attractive. We observed a very smart wedding taking place at the castle, the girls in silky, long dresses of pastel shades, the men in black and white, wearing military medals. They mingled in picturesque groups under the trees.


The other architecture in town seems a mixture of large late nineteenth century buildings and mid- to late-twentieth century block structures. There's a long market square (Stortorget) and below it, for it slopes slightly downhill, is a green space with hillocks and daffodil beds, called Oskarsparken. A little further on we were delighted to find the Stadsträdgården, an extensive park, playground and formal garden with ornamental ponds; it is full of flowers and singing birds---blackbirds and thrushes. They sing in counterpoint from separate trees, one answering the other. At the end of the park furthest from the town centre is one of those old resurrected village installations / open air museums that they do so well in this country: Wadköping. It is well and thoroughly done. The walls are all stained red and stand at crooked angles. The courtyards are cobbled, an old cart parked in one of them. Ancient washing hangs on ropes slung between the fences and the trees. There is grass growing on the roofs and you hear the sound of clopping hooves or the beaten irons in the smithy as you enter the gateways.





All these open air museums are free with permanent public access; I wondered who pays for their upkeep, and Chris says they may pay for themselves through the small shops and cafés on their premises. However I also discovered that, according to an agreement between the Green Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Centre Party and the Liberals, the current minority government promises to allocate 80 million Kroner to making Sweden's museums accessible to everyone:
"The free admission reform is important in opening up our state-owned museums to more people. There is so much knowledge gathered in our museums, and this must not only benefit those who can afford it,” says Minister for Culture and Democracy Amanda Lind.

We came back through the park and along the riverbank this morning, via the Wadköping village, walking as far as a marina where boats are tied up on return from excursions to the lake into which the river flows, Lake Svartån. We didn't walk as far as the edge of the lake; it was too far off. On the way back we saw the miniature train doing laps of the Stora Holmen, the big island in the river downstream from the elegant mansions on the bank opposite the park.

Stopping at Katrineholm

The second stop on our journey from Stockholm to Oslo was Katrineholm, less than an hour's train-ride southwest of Eskilstuna. I wasn't convinced there'd be much of interest here, because this is quite a small town, but was pleasantly surprised. We stayed at the Best Western's "Hotel Statt" or "Stadt" as is written (German spelling) on its awnings, just visible through the gap behind the station buildings in this photo.

There are woods with walking trails all around the edge of the town, blueberry shrubs coming into flower under the trees and pine needles underfoot. It was grey weather when we arrived on Friday, but luckily for us, yesterday was a gorgeous spring day. The immediate scenery is hilly, strewn with pink granite rocks like the ones in the Gatineau Park north of Ottawa. There's a brick built water tower (1907) on a hill to the north of the railway tracks, 59m tall. The town centre, with its pollarded trees, small fountains, and traffic free zones, seemed quiet on Friday night, slightly busier on Saturday morning with the political parties canvassing for votes in the European elections.

Yesterday morning, after breakfast at the Best Western, we set off for a walk to a little hill called the Gatstuberg, apparently the home of "a notorious troll" although the vistors' guide didn't give an example of his notoriety and we didn't see him. Someone had left some graffiti and cigarette butts on the rocks, mind. From the summit of the hill we could see the Djulösjön, a local lake, beyond the canola fields. Given the time available, it was a bit too far to walk to the lakeshore, so we ambled back the way we'd come, detouring through the pine filled cemetery and past its "forest chapel" (skogskyrka), coming across an extraordinary art work on the way: miniature wooden huts on stilts, vandrande Husen.



Prinsessan, by Stina Wollter
Back in the town centre, Chris boldly entered a barber's shop and bought a haircut and beard trim, while I made a second visit to the little art gallery (Konsthall) in the town library, to take another look at the exhibition featuring the recent paintings, photos and charcoal drawings of Stina Wollter. This artist depicts what touches her, ("Det rör mig"). As I interpret it, she tries to show what we keep hidden within ourselves, our pain and our memories, upsetting, nasty memories as well as the comforting ones, all the people who get under our skin or could not be forgotten. Some of her images have gentle connotations, like the ones shown in my photos here, but others seem very dark.


Lisa

Hennes frihet

Further impressions of Eskilstuna

I found Eskilstuna interesting enough to stay there for the rest of the week, not making any more excursions to other towns.

St. Elkis, the 11th century monk after whom this town was named, was an 11th century missionary, allegedly stoned or axed to death for disrupting a native pagan ritual. He was buried at the monastery he'd founded, where the Fors Kyrka stands today. A few centuries later, the town was reformed to become protestant, under King Gustav Vasa.

When I finally entered the old church after two failed attempts (it doesn't open its doors until 11 a.m. and not at all on Mondays and Tuesdays) I liked its simple style and the voice of a young woman practising a solo in the organ loft with the organist accompanying. An elderly man sitting in the front pew glared at me; maybe he was waiting for a service to begin and thought my wandering around obtrusive. I found a row of old carvings on the wall there. The other church of note is the big one on the other side of the river, the brick-built Klosters Kyrka. I went inside that one too and marvelled at its size (accommodates 600 people) and symmetry.

In the 17th century, Eskilstuna was known for its forges; Rademacher, a master smith from Riga, with encouragement from the royal family, created the Rademachersmedjorna Manufakturiet (forge and factory), now reconstructed in the town centre as a cluster of red-coloured wooden huts: a free, open air museum. The townspeople had workshops there, mostly making artillery, but also knives, awls, locks, needles, wrought iron, candlesticks, bridles and other such useful things. It's now a very tranquil part of town, especially if the museum is closed (on Mondays and Tuesdays). Only 50% of the people who lived and worked here in the mid-17th century were actually Swedish; the other 50% were Germans, Finns or Walloons. They baked their own bread and brewed their own beer. In the museum, various personalities are "brought to life" by means of life-sized photos of actors, their stories based on a study of old court records. In the 19th century Eskilstuna became unofficially known as Stålstaden ("The City of Steel"). I came across some derelict steel works by the river, beyond which there's a modern power station (Kraftvärmeverk).

Nowadays it is Volvo who have revived the area, with their construction equipment factory to the west of town, developed around the house originally owned by Johan Theofron Munktell in the 1830s, famous for engineering tractors and the like. The house is still there, serving as their conference centre.

I had a shrimp salad for lunch at the library café, overlooking a square where there was a fountain, a street chess set and magnolia trees, blooming with pink flowers. This is a good time of year to come here, the parks full of cherry blossom, apple blossom and colourful flower beds. I found a rusty iron sculpture representing a beehive; the plaque said that these parks are the home of 50,000 bees (honungsbin). Sparrows there were gathering nest-material in their beaks. The riverside parks featured striking sculptures and flowerbeds. I discovered a stylish tearoom / coffee shop by one of the bridges, and a gula villa, a yellow house, further on.



And so back up the spiral staircase to our room in the hotel where we're staying. The lift (hiss), encased in its wrought iron frame on the right, is the oldest lift in town!

*****
Chris finished what he needed to do by Thursday evening so had an extra day off work on Friday. I had been to the Konst Museet (the free art gallery) and felt it was worth revisiting with Chris along. As I'd expected, he too was impressed by it. Like several other museums in the vicinity---a science museum, city museum, Munktellmuseet, as well as a large swimming pool, gym, school and sports arena--- this spacious art gallery is housed in a former factory workshop. Rather than tear down these substantial industrial buildings, the town has repurposed them. It looks as though the several high schools dotted around the town in old premises are going to be amalgamated into one big glass-fronted school by the river, once the substantial construction work is completed. Because of this, several blocks of the town are closed to traffic at present.

By Maria Nordin
In the art museum, I learned some more Swedish---utan titel, självporträtt, reliefsskulptur, vinterlandskap---for which I didn't need a translation tool. I had to look up "Björknäs": the title of a circular 3-D abstract, painted in reds, that span clockwise; that meant "broken nose"! They had a good collection of Swedish Modernismen from the early 20th century and a good deal of contemporary art. The special exhibition at the far end of the gallery was of large scale (larger-than-life) watercolours by Maria Nordin. A film about her was running; she is a very physical creator, sitting on the floor on top of her paintings, drying them with a hairdryer. In the remainder of the museum were images grouped according to themes, such as self-portraits or small sculptures, old and new together. One very disturbing painting had been done on an old sail for a canvas: Destination Unknown---Destination Okänd.


We lingered till after lunch then collected our luggage and caught a crowded train to Katrineholm, less than an hour away. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Klev på fel tåg!

Setting off

That means "got on the wrong train" and it happened in Västerås. My ticket printout said Eskilstuna C - Västerås C eller omvänt ..., meaning Estkilstuna Central to Västerås or vice versa, ...1 Pensionär, senior, which I thought would be easy to manage. My outbound journey was fine, no problem.

At Västerås Central station
The return trains left from platform 5, but so did the trains to Örebrö and places west; I boarded one of those instead, without paying attention, and headed rapidly off in the wrong direction. A friendly ticket collector called Lena put me right, scribbling Klev på fel tåg on my ticket in case of trouble, and telling me to get out at the next stop (Köping), take the Stockholm-bound train back to Västerås from the other side of the platform, and start again an hour later. Don't get on the wrong train again! she said, laughing at me. I didn't have to pay an extra fee for my mistake and it was a pretty ride all the way, the scenery through the windows familiarly northern.





Exploring Västerås

Variety filled the day, especially as regards the sky, which changed from moment to moment, heavy, black rain clouds sweeping dramatically through the Lake Mälaren region with vivid white cumulus in a bright blue sky between. The wet foliage, spring flowers, rocks and man-made surfaces gleaming in the sun added to the appeal of Västerås, a city in the midst of redevelopment, it seems. The docklands are full of new buildings; I'll come to that later.

Sculpture in Stora Torget

Getting off the stopping train from Eskilstuna (having come through familiarly northern scenery: pine trees, lakeside wharfs, islands, cottages), I walked through a park and Bauhaus style town hall to the concrete town centre that looked like any other town at first with its kebab shops, MacDonald's, shopping malls, H & M store, abstract sculptures, and bought a latte at the Espresso House to watch the biogas-bussar going by. Further on though, it became more interesting. A number of spacious squares give the town some individuality. The market square where nobody was bothering to shop at the fruit and flower stalls because of the cold weather had a notable sculpture on a wall, a line of men on bikes from the old days half a century ago, busily cycling to work. Beyond this square (Stora Torget---the -et suffix in Swedish means "the", so I learned the other day) I could see some of the old town and the cathedral spire, so I headed that way down cobbled streets shiny with rain and more of those red stained wooden walls and fences.

Djäkenberget
Chris sent me a text message to say his Swedish trainees had told him this was the coldest May here since records began. By that point I had crossed the river bridge and climbed, out of curiosity, up the hill called the Djäkenberget, a park established in 1862, with lookout points and shelters. It was obviously a paradise for children, groups of little ones being herded along in colourful raincoats by their supervisors. There were mossy rocks to climb on with irresistible pathways through the pines. I followed some of these myself. Standing stones were inscribed (in the 19th century) with quotations from poems. Lawns, ponds and flowering trees enhanced the charm of the place, and the local birds (tree creepers, great tits, robins, fieldfares, chaffinches, jackdaws, etc. were much in evidence). At the bottom of the hill swathes of daffodils were still in bloom.

Djäkenberget

The district on the cathedral side of the river is all about a bishop who lived in the 17th century, called Johannes Rudbekius, and his wife Malin. This enlightened couple, inspired by Martin Luther and his wife, it seems, were bold and determined enough to establish a sort of welfare state in this part of Sweden and their influence still lives on. This is enthusiastically documented in the interior of the domkyrka, in both Swedish and English. Rudbekius founded a free school for boys where Theology, Physics, Mathematics, Latin, Logic, Politics and Hebrew were the subjects taught, and his wife ran an equivalent school for girls, the first in Sweden, teaching her protégées Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, the Catechism, Housekeeping and Needlework---true Enlightenment still had a way to go in those days, but it was a start. The couple established city hospitals too, in an age when the plague and other epidemics were rampant.

Bok, beech.
Behind the cathedral was a small botanical garden with all the plants labelled in Linnaeus' fashion with their Latin and Swedish (common) names.

Back in town I found a cafeteria serving vegetarian lasagne with a buffet salad. I made my way back toward the station via the tourist info centre where perhaps I should have started. The girl there did a good job introducing me to Västerås, selling me a couple of little dala horses to take home as gifts and encouraging me to look through the virtual reality headset at scenes from a zoo with local animals and from the concert hall where I was suddenly part of the local symphony orchestra playing Mendelssohn's Hebridean Overture. I asked the girl if it was worth my while going to look at the docklands the other side of the railway tracks and she said, "Oh yes."

So with an hour or so to spare, that's where I went next. I was strongly reminded of Malmö where we last year, although because of the weather the crowds were missing. The docks are being reclaimed as a desirable and probably quite expensive residential area decorated with boardwalks, gardens, shallow ponds. A metal bridge leads to the lake shore from which you can see boats ferrying people across to islands in Lake Mälaren, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Sweden, 120 km from west to east; it drains into the sea at Stockholm. A sculpture of an osprey stands at the waterfront in Västerås; those birds are common here. I saw a pair of Canada geese avoiding the waves; it was a windy day under those livid clouds. I also walked across to the ferry docks passing some large, brightly painted, privately owned vessels named Bore and Anna, fishing boats probably. And a red tug whose name was Stora Le, Big Smile---I did like that one!