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29 August 2008

My Garden Visitors

I never told you guys about my garden visitors. Very remiss of me. Well about 2 weeks ago I was doing some weeding and heard some rustling that wasn't caused by me under a bush beneath my kitchen window. It was very difficult to see what was making the noise but eventually I saw a hedgehog curled up in the leaf litter. As I looked a couple of tiny heads appeared. The babies were trying to suckle which was what was causing the noise. I didn't disturb them but left some food out for them overnight. The next morning most of the food had gone and they were tightly curled up asleep. When I took Brac out for his walk just before lunch I again heard the rustling from the bush. I looked in and saw all the babies were on walk-about while mum was still trying to get some sleep. I counted 6 but it was hard to see for sure if that was all because of the dense foliage they were under. They seemed totally unconcerned about me so I picked this little chappie or chapess up to get a photo.
After I returned from my walk I checked in on them again. They were all back in the nest deeply asleep again.
They were about 1/3rd grown at this time.
After about 4 or 5 days they suddenly disappeared. I had no idea where they went but hoped they were safe and hadn't got themselves run over which is the normal hedgehog demise. Then, last night I was watching TV when I heard some very odd noises in the garden. Brac got concerned too so I switched of the telly and listened. The noises stopped. I continued watching telly and they started up again. I went to the French windows and turned the lights on the patio. There was mum hedgehog and she was making the most peculiar noise. It was loud and the effort she was putting into it made her look like she was convulsing. I opened the door and stepped out. She stopped the noise and frose. I took a few photos and then went looking for the babies who from the rustling noises seemed to be at the other side of the lawn. I located two. when I returned to mum she had resumed her chorus. I recorded some of it and you can hear this by going to my Utube site here Audio of hedgehog calling
Here is mum rolled up in a ball. My hand is there to give you some idea of her size.
Here is one of the babies. Grown a little in the last couple of weeks.

22 August 2008

Our Return Home

Stockholm was harder to leave than we imagined. We were originally informed that there would be no aircraft movements before 10am on a Sunday and as Biggin Hill (our home airfield) closes at 8pm on Sundays we didn't have a lot of spare time. As it turned out Stockholm had since changed to time to no aircraft movements before noon. We were stuffed especially as there was an extremely strong headwind all the way home. We were going to have to stop somewhere on route for another night. We settled on Groningen in the Netherlands. I shot this windmill on the approach to the airfield as it is so far the only windmill I have ever seen in this country!
By the time we had booked into a hotel and got a bus into Groningen town centre it was getting quite late, and, being a Sunday night the town was very quiet. In fact, there were more gulls and crows in the precinct than people. The town centre was a typical mix of old and modern but apart from searching out a restaurant we had little time to look around.
Back home to Dartford and the weather was awful. Before our decent we had flown through a thick snow shower at 7000' at the mouth of the Thames estuary. Come on, it doesn't snow in July! Our landing at Biggin was uneventful, thankfully, but as we transferred our luggage to our car the heavens opened and it rained. What a wonderful homecoming. Hey Ho!

21 August 2008

A Slow Meander Back

Outside the Vasa museum was a tram stop but when we asked where it went we discovered it didn't actually go anywhere useful as it was just run for the tourists!!! Hey ho. We were two tourists that did want to go somewhere so we decided it was easier to walk.
Our walk back from the museum took us through one of the many parks. The laws were busy being grazed by a flock of barnacle geese many of whom had chicks. The chicks varied in size from newly hatched to almost fledging.
We walked around the harbour along Raoul Wallenbergs torg. This particular quay was popular with vintage vessels which were moored often two or three abreast. I love these old boats, they are so full of character I could spend hours taking photos.Finally we left the waterside and headed back through the town to our hotel wishing we had a few more days in Stockholm.

20 August 2008

Vasa Museum, Stockholm

After visiting the Palace we left the tour and made our way to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was commissioned by the King of Sweden in 1626. It was to be a ship like no other at the time with two gun decks instead of one. It was launched on 10th august 1628 from her ship yard in Stockholm and sank after the first mile. seems she was top heavy. She sank into the mud and although attempts were made to try and raise her at the time that is where she stayed until 1961 when a recovery team successfully refloated her and set about her restoration. She is the most complete ship of her time with over 90% of her original timbers intact. Apart from the rigging here what you see here is all original.
This is a scale model showing the Vasa in her original colours and discovered from tiny paint fragments still surviving on the wood.
As the ship set sail on it's maiden voyage it only had half it's sails set. Despite this as it caught the wind it keeled over too far. The water rushed in through the gun ports and it sank like a stone. Archaeologists have studied the ship and discovered the area where the ballast was placed was not big enough and so even though it was full it was not heavy enough to hold the ship upright under sail.
Waxwork of a seaman from the Vasa. Many of those who would have been on the deck survived the sinking but those trapped below decks had no time to escape. This waxwork was reconstructed from studying the bone structure of one of those who died and clothing fragments found on the ship. They do not know who he was.
Apart from the fact that the Vasa settled in the soft mud where there was little oxygen to start the rotting process the other main reason why she is in such good condition is because she sank in brackish water rather than the salt water of the sea. Most wooden wrecks are eaten away by something called ship worms which live in salt water. The brackish water around the Vasa could not support these worms so her timbers remained intact. As I said, 90% of the ship original timbers were recovered more of less in one piece. In the restoration missing timbers have been replaced but these have been polished smooth and left light in colour so you can clearly see what is original. In this shot you can see the bowsprit is new is the rail and some of the treads on the steps on the star port side. All the rigging and ropes are obviously also new.Here you can see most of the top deck. The boards here have all largely been replaced, you might notice they are paler and very smooth.
When they recovered the ship her hull was in such good condition that by simply plugging the gun ports with pieces of wood they were able to pump the water out of her hull and float her into dock. OK, it was all far more complicated than that but in essence, that is what they did.

17 August 2008

The Royal Palace, Stockholm

After coffee we walked around the corner to see the royal Palace. Architecturally speaking I found this building to be the least interesting in the Old Town from the outside anyway. It appears as a square block with a square courtyard and hardly any garden. OK it's not actually square but it has a flat appearance that just gives me the impression of a cube. I am sure there are loads of people that would hold their hands up in despair to read this but as Palaces from this era go, this has got to be the dullest. I'm sure inside it would be a different story but we didn't have time to go in. The building in it's current state was commissioned in 1997 by Charles XII but it virtually bankrupted the Royal family of the time and as a result the completion 30 years while funds were scraped together and by then a new king had taken the throne. Now, royalty live mainly outside of Stockholm. Probably for a bit of peace and quiet.
Beyond the Palace you can see the main Stockholm church where many of the Royal weddings have been held.
The garden is not open to the public however, having said that, this is all there is to it which you can see easily from the gate. Considering the size of the building this is just a postage stamp. Clearly King Frederick I (ruler when the building was finished) wasn't into horticulture.

13 August 2008

Stockholm on foot

Back in the old town and we are shown around some of the quieter areas away from the main streets. Everywhere we turned there were cobbled streets lined with tell terraced houses all painted in warm earthy tones. when the sun shone they glowed and when they were in the shade they took on a cosy feel. Above them there was an azure blue sky. This place was idyllic.

Around another corner and we were surprised by a large statue of St George. Seems old St George got around a bit.Here was me thinking he was England's patron saint but it turns our we share him. Seems there are just not enough saints to go around.
I loved the detail in this statue, it is quite a flight of fancy but the one thing I think lets it down is that it has no passion. St George looks more like he is in a trance than fighting for his life and is gazing off into the distance. Perhaps that is the essence of being a saint, to be calm in the face of adversity.
The time came for a coffee break so our guide ushered us all along another narrow street. suddenly it opened out into a very handsome square with and extremely ornate water pump in the centre. The buildings huddled together in three sides with the National Academy building making up the forth. There were plenty of coffee shops but we settled for this terracotta coloured place where we sat outside and watched the world go bye.

12 August 2008

A Nobel Venture

This was our second day in Stockholm and a tour has been laid on for us. First stop was the city hall. Not just any city hall but the building where the annual Nobel dinner and awards take place.
This building was commissioned in 1907. It is built in the Venetian style as a result of a competition and took 12 years to complete. The bricks were all specially made as they are twice the size of normal bricks. Money, as ever, became a problem as the costs of the building spiralled so changes to the original design were made as it progressed. There are however, still some wonderful details to be discovered like the relief of an artist figure on one of the columns see here. He appears to be carrying a small child. Unfortunately I have no idea who he was meant to be.

10 August 2008

Stockholm continued

Back on dry land and one of the first things that greets us is an equine statue of King Carlos II (or was it III?). One of the Swedish Kings. His imposing statue looks down on the main quay area as if he is saying to all the visitors who alight here "This is my country".
We wandered back through the old town along different streets. The warm colours of the buildings really impressed me. They were all different but all blended so well. Apparently the planing regulations are extremely strict here and everything the is done to any of these buildings has to be approved and only traditional materials can be used. It sounds a bit like the grade 1 listed building status in the UK but here it applies to the whole town.

The lion is used as an heraldic symbol of Sweden just as it is for England. But in Sweden it is mainly the head of the lion that is used as in this beautiful knocker. I saw many of these as I wandered around. Not just door knockers either. There were lion head mooring rings and similar for tethering your horse. This symbol also appeared on flags.

The main church towers over the old town in Stockholm allowing tantalising glimpses of it's bell tower between the narrow streets. Despite it's size it is not a cathedral. It is located next to the Royal palace and has been the site of many royal weddings.

09 August 2008

Chramed by Stockholm

Stockholm old town was totally charming. OK so it was busy with tourists but apart from them I doubt it had changed much for a couple centuries. The main street was narrow by modern standards but the side street were pencil thin. These were havens of quiet as no one seemed to notice them yet alone wander in their cool shadows. All the houses were painted in these warm earthy tones which just glowed when the sun hit them. Even in the shade, the colours just gave the place a cosy feel.

That first afternoon we were just following our nose and before long we had walked through the old town and were now standing at the quay. Well, one of many quays actually as Stockholm is built on several islands in an archipelago so it is surrounded by water everywhere. We were not done with the old town by far and I'll be taking you back there but for now, with tired legs, we thought we would get on a water taxi and take a trip around the archipelago.
This ship had millions spent on its restoration and is now a floating youth hostel. This has got to be the most interesting youth hostel I've ever seen.
One of the islands had a pleasure park on it that opened in the afternoons and through the night. Apparently this is a popular place with the locals in the evenings but didn't get the opportunity to visit it this time, there were simply too many other things to see in the short time of our stay.

08 August 2008

Onwards to Stockholm

The next day we prepare to leave for Stockholm, but before I tell you about that I must just mention Malms airport. This was the original airport for Helsinki and doesn't appear to have changed much since it was built. It is a perfect Art Deco building. The departure lounge is circular and all the original Art Deco fittings are still there. Not quite as beautiful as Shoreham airport on the UK's south coast but a good contender non the less.
The weather for our flight to Stockholm was perfect (CAVOK) so I flew that leg. When we landed we needed fuel and as the fuel pump was being temperamental we soon ended up in yet another queue. I don't think the refuelling went smoothly at any airport we landed at during the trip.
That afternoon, after we had settled into out hotel, we walked into the town to explore. As we walked down the main shopping street in Stockholm towards the old town the first thing that hit me was how busy it was. There were so many people it was like walking down Oxford Street in London. Then we reached the start of the old town which is situated on it's own island. The impression I got then was that Stockholm was grand. As you walk over the bridge to the island you are confronted by the parliament building and chancery which are joined by a triumphant arch. You know that you are in for something special as you approach. To be continued...

07 August 2008


I have to say that I didn't find Helsinki overly inspiring. That's not the say it was dull, far from it but the beauty had to be hunted for. It had a lot of Art Deco architecture but the detail was quite minimalist so could be easily missed. The main religion is Lutheran so even the churches are simple in design. This is the main Lutheran church. A large white Romanesque building not too dissimilar to the White House in Washington. It's lines are clean and very geometric. The interior very Spartan. Nothing to clutter the mind or distract from worship. It has a simple beauty.
I wandered around the harbour and I stumbled across a small pier with just old sailing ships moored. I'm not sure I was supposed to wandering around there but as the signs were in Finnish and I only understand English I used that as an excuse to take a closer look. Most of the ships were being worked on. I think in hind sight they might have been being made ready for the tall ships race that was due to start in a few weeks from the UK. I took quite a few photos but eventually I seemed to be attracting too much interest so thought I would leave before I was removed. I'll upload a few more later.

03 August 2008

Day 5 - Helsinki or bust!

It's the morning of day 5 of our trip and we are heading off into the blue again. This time we are leaving Norway for Helsinki, Finland. We were also leaving behind this wonderful blue sky because before long we were dodging thunderstorms.
When I originally saw dozens of lightning strikes on our storm scope all perfectly aligned on our route I started to believe it was a computer error until I saw this beasty. It was emitting constant bolts of lightning every few seconds from the same place on its far right edge. We got permission to divert to the west by air traffic control. It was a long way around but flying through active thunderstorms is something even the big boys avoid.
Our diversion took us down the west coast of Finland. Well, in truth I guess they only have one coast. Despite this being a sea coast it looked more like the coast of a large lake. There was no evidence of any sandy beaches just hundreds of tiny islands.
The detour added an extra 40 minutes to our flight but it kept us reasonable safe so well worth it. Eventually we arrived at Malms airport, Helsinky and had a chance to swap tales with the rest of the group. No one, it seemed, had had a boring flight :-)

02 August 2008

Work in progress

As there was only this one road linking the villages along the coast it had to be kept open even during major road widening work. I felt like I was driving through a building site, which I guess I was. These machines look very big when you are squeezing between them. :-)The coast on the other side of the fiord was totally different. Here the breeze was roughing up the water and the light was in the wrong direction to provide the superb reflections seen on the other side. Despite this it had its own beauty.
That evening we went on foot in search of catching a view of the midnight sun. We had had to return the hired car so were restricted to finding a view on foot. That limited us as Alta was on the wrong side of some high ground but we had to try. another down side was that it was cloudy. This ended up being as near as we could get to capturing the moment. This photo actually looks like it was quite dark but that is just my little point and shoot, that I was carrying at the time, trying to cope with the brightness of the sky.
By the time we got back to our hotel and turned in for the 'night' it was 1am. It was still quite warm and as our airconditioning didn't work we had our windows open. There was a kid in the car park below on a skateboard. I can't begin to explain how strange that felt trying to sleep in virtually full daylight with the sounds of children playing outside.