Summer at last

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Kåfalla herrgård

Last weekend we had a meeting and conference for the Swedish Christian Medical Fellowship, which has the unlikely initials of KLM – Kristna läkare och medcinstudenter. It was held at a conference centre called Kåfalla Manor some 50 minutes north of Örebro, among the forests and farms east of Lindesberg. The program was packed but when it was all over I had the chance to wander around the lake and through the forest with some friends. Here is the website for Kåfalla (in Swedish). And here are some of my own photos:

Old bridge

Old bridge

Forest walk

Forest walk

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Reflections

Skiing in Sweden

Sweden may not be the first place people think of when skiing in Europe comes into the conversation, though I have noticed a tendency for Australians to get mixed up between Sweden with Switzerland, the latter of which is really mountainous. Sweden doesn’t really have "alps" – indeed Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise (2097m), is not even as high as Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko (2228m) – though some of its mountains are very impressive. But the massive ski resorts of Switzerland, Austria and France dwarf Sweden’s more modest skiing areas of Åre, Idré, Sälen and the like.

We have not even been to Sweden’s big resorts, but usually spend some days at Orsa-Grönklitt in Dalarna during the kids annual "sport holiday" in February, as we did this year. Grönklitt is perfect for relative beginners like us, but the ski runs are a bit short. Yesterday we spent the day at a ski area nearer home, Romme, also in Dalarna, but just south of Borlänge. We can drive up there in a few hours, so a day trip is possible. Romme has chairlifts, which is a treat for us, since Grönklitt only has T-bars and pommas, and the ski runs are longer and more numerous. Yesterday was lots of fun.

Until I managed to have a fall, that is, which has left me with a fracture of my shoulder, more specifically a non displaced fracture of the greater tuberosity of the humerus. I skied all day, but it was a painful experience and today I have spent the day at the hospital having X-rays, CT scans and doctors visits and I’ve got advice to remain off work for the next few weeks.

But Romme was beautiful, it was sunny and warm (max zero), and there was almost no wind. Perfect Spring skiing.

Malcolm Munthe and the Norwegian Resistance

My awareness of the Munthe family began last summer when we visited an old house in Leksand called Munthes Hildasholm. I had seen the house advertised in tourist brochures for years and thought it would be an interesting outing sometime. However, it wasn’t until our cycle tour around Siljan last July that we first saw the old house. It is an imposing edifice, massive and white with red-framed windows, rather unlike the typical red and white log houses one sees in Dalarna. The house’s location on the heights above the shore of Lake Siljan is spectacular.

We cycled past on a grey and stormy day, stopping only briefly to peer through the big white gates before continuing to the Leksand city centre. Some weeks later we came back to Hildasholm with family from Australia who were visiting. We took a guided tour, and as we wandered through the big dark rooms I heard for the first time the story of the rather unusual family who had lived here, the family of Axel Munthe, physician to the Swedish royal family, and his wife, Hilda Pennington, an English society lady whom he met and married early in the 1900s. Munthe was much older than his wife and was also something of a philanderer and I gather that Hilda raised their two sons largely on her own. She lived with them in London and used the house, which her husband built for her (hence the name), as a summer residence. Axel owned numerous houses around Europe and Hilda also came from a wealthy family. After they were both dead their estate was sold off apart from four of the properties, two in the UK, the house in Sweden, and a fourth in Italy. The houses were administered by a trust and were opened to the public.

Axel Munthe was a colourful character, a doctor and writer, whose story is told in his own books but also a recent biography by Bengt Jangfeldt (Axel Munthe. The Road to San Michele). Both the sons, Peter and Malcolm, were officers in the British army in the Second World War. Malcolm was rather eccentric in later life. Often working as a tour guide in the various family houses, he movied from one to another according to the respective tourist seasons, but interestingly he seldom revelaed his identity to the public or mentioned that the stories he was telling were the stories of his own childhood and family. He died in the 1990s.

Something about Malcolm Munthe caught my interest and I resolved to find out more about him. I have recently finished reading a book he wrote in the late 1940s after the end of the Second World War. It has the arresting title, Sweet is War… for them that know it not. In that book he tells the story of his life during WWII as a British army officer. With a knowledge of Scandinavia and the ability to speak Swedish ( he spoke several languages other than English) he found himself initially posted to Finland where he was engaged in the Finnish-Russian war which broke out shortly after the invasion of Poland by Germany. After the fall of Finland to the Russians Munthe made his way to Norway, where he found himself trapped shortly after the German invasion in May 1940. As a British soldier he was waiting for forces promised by Britain to assist the beleaguered Norwegians – forces that never eventuated. He was stuck, injured, in Bergen, determined to escape back to the UK, logically across the North Sea to Scotland. One attempt after another was frustrated and he eventually made his way on foot slowly and painfully across the whole of Norway and into Sweden, where he got unofficially (and illegally) involved in assisting the Norwegian resistance movement, spawning the so called Operation Red Horse.

I have been fascinated by stories of Norwegian resistance against their German occupiers in WWII since I read as a child Escape Alone, by David Howarth, a book that was first published under the name We Die Alone. A conversation that I had with my good friend Hamish recently after he had returned from a trip to the Shetland Islands reignited my interest. He mentioned “the Shetland Bus”, an operation based in the Shetlands during WWII to ferry escaping Norwegians and returning Norwegian spies and saboteurs. I subsequently read a book, also by David Howarth, entitled The Shetland Bus, which devotes one chapter to the story told in We Die Alone. Munthe’s book provided a glimpse into Norwegian resistance from the Swedish side of Norway. I have also started reading a new book in Swedish, De glömda agenterna (The forgotten agents), by Anders Johansson, which is about Swedes who were involved (also illegally) in assisting Norwegian refugees to became resistance fighters and re-enter their country to assist in the struggle against their Nazi oppressors.

My latest excursion into this fascinating era of history is a book about a BBC TV series called The Real Heroes of Telemark, by Ray Mears, which is the exciting tale of a British-Norwegian mission to destroy Germany’s supply of “heavy water” from a Norwegian power station in the remote mountain wilderness of the Hardangervidda. Heavy water was a vital ingredient in the development of the atomic bomb, and the allies were desperate to hinder that development. This meant interrupting the supply of heavy water, an operation that could only be carried out under the most adverse of circumstances. Major Malcolm Munthe gets a passing mention in this book too.
Norway is a apparently a very different country to Sweden, despite its geographical closeness and the similarity of the languages. Perhaps one day I will have the chance to see some of these places that have become familiar through reading. It has been fascinating nevertheless to begin to understand the cooperation that occurred between Britain, Sweden and Norway during the Second World War, and the part that a British soldier with an English mother and Swedish father had to play in it.
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Stockholm

I went to book seats to Australia earlier this week and discovered that it was impossible without all of the passport details for the family. However, much to our dismay we discovered only a few weeks ago that all the kids Swedish passports have expired and also Isak’s Australian passport. The Swedish ones were no problem and they are already waiting at the police station for us to pick them up. But we need Isak’s Australian passport before we can book and getting an Australian passport in Sweden is less than straightforward.

So we dutifully filled in the forms and today Maria and I drove to the Australian Embassy in Stockholm to deliver them along with all the original documentation that is required. Needless to say there was one thing missing, which we sent in the post after we arrived home this evening. But it will still be a few weeks before we get the passport back again and can do the bookings. All a bit stressful, as we see our departure date looming ever closer without tickets in hand.

In the five years we have been in Sweden we have hardly been in Stockholm at all. The last time for me was November 2009 when I attended a Mercy Ships presentation at an Alcon eye nurse conference. The time before that was when we went to the Australian Embassy to renew Hanna and Samuel’s passports. That was over two years ago, yet the girl in the Embassy today recognised us. Either she has a very good memory or there are not many Australian families in Sweden who renew their passports at the Embassy.

Stockholm is lovely in summer. The streets were crowded today and flags were flying everywhere. It is Victoria the crown princess’s birthday today. She was probably not in town, but there were marching bands on the streets anyway. There were lots of tourists. We had lunch at Rosendal trädgårds cafe and went for a stroll around Rosendal slott afterward, before driving back to Örebro this afternoon.

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