2012-08-10

La route se poursuit sans fin

I’ve often remarked on the beauty of the landscape between Aachen and Lüttich (or Aix-la-Chapelle and Liège) (or Aken and Luik) and Honeybuns got very excited by the idea of hiking on foot in this region, so once we finally had gotten our holiday applications cleared (which is a story in itself, though not to be told here), we started planning. Our approaches to travelling and the necessity of planning ahead are somewhat different, but I insisted on being sure of sleeping under a roof each night, so I planned an itinerary with the invaluable help of Google Maps and booking.com, did the necessary reservations, and, hallelujah!, got hold of a person at SJ who actually knew how to operate their booking system, so I eventually had a thick folder of tickets, hotel reservations and maps to help find the hotels. Honeydad lent me a backpack (complete with pine needles) and I stuffed it with changes of underware, a couple of books to read, blister bandages, and other travel necessities. I debated for a while whether to bring the laptop along but decided against it, the backpack was heavy enough as it was. Then, off we went.

Day 1, Swedish to German

The usual 12:15 train from Stockholm C towards Copenhagen. I get motion sick as usual and Honeybuns forbids me to read. We get to Copenhagen on time and in fact could easily have taken an earlier train to Hamburg, but we have no seat reservations and the platform is pretty crowded, so we decide to have a late lunch instead. Our usual Shawarma House has disappeared and eventually we end up in O’Learys. The food is adequate and the big screens are showing Olympic sports—the Swedish handball team making mincemeat of the British team. I allow myself a moment of patriotic pride, whereas Honeybuns thinks sports are all stupid.

The continued journey towards Hamburg is uneventful and we are far enough south that it is already dark when we arrive. I don’t know why, but I always get disoriented in this station, so we first go out the wrong exit before we manage to get our bearings. The hotel is very near the station and, err, not in the best part of town. We feel rather vulnerable but we are in fact not accosted and indeed nobody even bothers giving us a second glance. Then—our hotel is closed for the night. There is however a notice stating that in the evenings, check-ins are to be made at Hotel Phoenix just down the street. But which street? I call the proferred number and get an answer immediately.
“Hullo, I’m at Hotel Condor, but I should go to Hotel Phoenix?”
”Yes.”
”So, in which direction should I go?”
“Yes.”

After a few more exchanges in the same vein I give up and we strike down a likely street and indeed Hotel Phoenix turns out to be just around the corner. We get our keys, return to Condor and our room looks quite OK, especially after a long day. We drop off to sleep.

Day 2, German

We get up early and have breakfast. We note that there are several families with children there. They must have come in earlier than us. Indeed, when we eventually get out on the street the area is as clean and calm as anything.

We have to change in Cologne and get sandwiches for lunch there. Honeybuns is disgusted to find hers is enhanced with Hollandaise sauce. The final stretch to Aachen is on a local double-decker train. It has a huge ramp for wheelchairs and prams, of which several get on and off. We manage to get seats on the top floor and enjoy the view. When we arrive, our hotel turns out to be just across the street from the railway station. (This is not a coincidence, I have booked hotels near the local stations, on the assumption they should be easy to get to.) However, it is closed. It, too, has a notice to please check in in the hotel next over. This, fortunately, is literally the next building, so is no problem to find. Here we are greeted by a very friendly receptionist who gives us our key, a map of the city and explains where to find all interesting sights. In spite of his speaking German we have no problems following his exposition.

As soon as we have dumped our bags we strike out to explore the Old Town of Aachen. The weather is warm, not to say hot, which is rather a change from the rest of this summer. You may or may not remember that Aachen was the capital of Charlemagne, but Aachen remembers this very well. We have a look-see in the Cathedral. It does not seem very large, though very tall. Looking at it from some distance one can see that the nave itself is relatively small but the chancel at least as large, giving the church rather peculiar proportions.

We have cold drinks at the Elisabethbrunn. I have some difficulty explaining I do not want vanilla ice cream (Eis), but just ordinary water ice (Eis) in my drink. We inspect the local toy store and wander around the old town.


So maybe the toilet paper works as a head rest, but requires quite a bit of dexterity to reach when needed for other purposes.

The Virgin Mary apparently also had a ventriloquist career.

The public lavatory next to the Cathedral. I get a feeling there is not actually any certification required in order to claim to be wheel-chair accessible.

These steps on the other hand, are clearly well-adapted for wheel-chairs, but actually a bit tricky to just walk down.

Towards evening we locate a nice-looking restaurant on a square and order dinner. Our waiter is a charmingly eager young man, quite possibly on his first employment ever. Honeybuns treats him like a labrador puppy and even I can’t help but feel paternal when he gets introduced to the mysteries of payment by credit card in the course of the evening. To my joy I find they stock a very wide selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including my favourite: banana juice (Honeybuns thinks the mere idea is about as disgusting as Hollandaise sauce). As the evening goes on I even get „Ki-Ba“, namely cherry juice layered on top of banana juice (different densities, see). Absolutely delightful and I’m very pleased with life.

On the way back to the hotel we stock up on provisions for the day ahead in a local supermarket. As mentioned, it is very warm, so we sleep with the window open. This is when we are reminded there’s a restaurant just across. One of the patrons has a very loud and distinctive laugh and is drunk enough to laugh at absolutely everything his friends say. When the restaurant finally closes, a few people think it’s too early to go home and spend the rest of the night on the doorstep of the hotel talking and smashing bottles. Around four in the morning they run out of bottles. We’re impressed by the stock they must have started with, especially if they emptied them themselves.

Day 3, German to French

The next day is not as hot, thankfully, since this is our first walking day. We pack our packs, gird our loins and set off down Lagerhausstraße. We walk through the city until we get to the Westfriedhof. We cut across this, enjoying the calm and looking at the graves. It seems that in the mid-1980s, the gravestone manufacturer(s) went computerised and made lots of new fancy fonts available to customers—you remember what desktop publishing looked like in those days, now imagine gravestones like that. (Honeybuns decreed we should spare the concerned families the embarrassment and not show any pictures.)

On the other side of the cemetery we exited right into a maize field. I had no idea maize could even be grown at this latitude. Following the road we passed a riding school. When Honeybuns walked by the paddock all the horses came up to the fence to be petted by her. The cows in the barn however did not seem to care.

We walked through a forest and quite soon we found ourselves by our first target: Dreigrenzenpunkt/Drielandenpunt/Trois bornes. We noted that this coincided with the highest point of the Netherlands (199.7 m). Treriksröset between Sweden, Norway, and Finland is a pretty desolate affair, in the middle of a lake, in fact, but this, being in a densely populated area, was a tourist attraction, complete with a number of shops and restaurants and other entertainments. Interestingly enough it seemed, at least to me, that there was not much rotation between the segments: on the Dutch side everybody spoke Dutch only, the Germans kept on the German side, and on the Belgian side French was the order of the day. We milled around a bit and then decided to eat on the Dutch side. This may or may not have been a good idea, as they fulfilled my prejudices: huge portions with absolutely no seasoning. We bravely ate, but in the end had to concede defeat. Well, we probably wouldn’t need to eat more that day.

Then, the Labyrinth!

The centre of the labyrinth is in fact a disconnected component, so the standard labyrinth solving method cannot be used (but it will at least get you safely out). Furthermore, the paths contain fountains that will suddenly blast water at you unless you jump at just the right moment—or figure out how they are triggered, but beware, they do not all use the same logic! (We met an old man in a wheelchair who apparently had been hit full blast, but he took it in good humour. It should have been more difficult for him to ascend the steps to and from the bridges, though.)

Eventually we did find the centre of the labyrinth and could continue. Honeybuns wanted to ascend the Baudoin tower on the Belgian side:
“The tower, the tower! Let’s go up the tower!”
“OK.”
[lift up]
“Uh, I just remembered I’m scared of heights.”
“OK.”
[lift down]

In the tourist shop I found something which looked as if it would be useful: a map of footpaths in the three countries region. Then, down on the Belgian side, following our new map. It was in fact a rather steep descent; we met groups of grim-faced bicyclists struggling uphill. At the bottom of the hill, we ended up in a residential area, passed through various villages and then we decided to take a shortcut on a smaller road through fields. This may sound ominous, and indeed I wasn’t too certain we were on the right road, but eventually we found ourselves back on the main road, leading to our B&B for the night. This last bit was tiring me, it was a long slow rise along a straight road. It was getting to be evening but *bam*, there it was: a farmstead surrounded by fields a bit off from the main road. Honeybuns wondered whether we’d get to sleep in the stable, but our room turned out to be an immaculately furnished room that could have been taken from an issue of Beautiful Home, and a bathroom to match. We hit the shower and were much refreshed. When I got out I was a bit confused by the bed seeming to have a lot more bedding at the footend than I remembered. After a while the mystery was resolved when I lifted away my backpack and found it had been resting against the remote control for the bed. Then I had to spend a couple of minutes coaxing the bed into the best position for relaxing in.

When our feet had recuperated a bit, we went for a walk. We found something I suspected was an old railway embankment, but now had a foot path along it. It also had a sign pointing towards « Ravel ». We’d seen signs like these before, but I hadn‘t been able to find a Ravel on the map. Very curious. While pondering this, we looked at the cows in the field, congregating to walk home for the night. And so did we.


A foot path on the way towards the tripoint.

There was no obvious place to store bags, so we had to negotiate the labyrinth with backpacks on.

Coming down Mount Vaals.

Plaisir d´être, fulfilling all promises.

Day 4, French to German

In the morning we were served the second part of the B&B and much excellent it was with fresh-made fruit salad, what I took to be locally-produced eggs and ham, fresh bread and so on. Today’s walk was to take us to Eupen. Our hostess had never heard of this town; finally we figured out that in French-speaking Belgium [ˈɔʏpən] does not exist, but [øpɛn] was not very far away.

We said our goodbyes and started off on the road. The map implied that we could get on a path through a forest in Hombourg, but eventually we found ourselves on the other side of Hombourg without having seen this path. (Further later, we realised we should have turned left at the chemist’s—it just didn’t look like a road into any forest.) Should we turn back? I thought we might as well continue, the road we were on would take us to Henri-Chapelle, where we could get lunch. So we trudged along the road, but found it increasingly unpleasant. Not that the surroundings were anything but beautiful, but there was no pavement and the local drivers seemed to operate on the principle “Hidden curves should be traversed at the highest possible speed in order to minimise the time available for accidents.”, so Honeybuns scoured the map for possible crosspaths up to our intended path up on the ridge we were walking along, but all paths marked seemed now to be fenced off. Finally we found a way up, and got ourselves onto a nice shady path, continuing along the ridge. On the next ridge over we could see the American War Cemetery. I had originally thought we could take a detour around it, but had realised that would, at the very least, add two or three hours to our walk. Some other time. Along our path I could see on trees and posts various coloured symbols that I’d seen the day before as well, but they didn’t match anything on our map.

Finally we were getting to the end of the ridge, so we should get to Henri-Chapelle. Strangely enough we seemed to be walking on a counter-course to our earlier path. Carefully study of the map. Hm, probably we had gotten on the path to Montzen. Ah, we’d have to turn back. Finally we found ourselves on a path bisecting a golf course, which path we couldn’t match with anything on our map. Neither could we work out what the residential area we got to was. But Honeybuns could work out the directions from the sun and we eventually got on a major road. We stopped at a bus stop to eat a bit, get our bearings and for me to rest my feet. Hm, we had actually already passed Henri-Chapelle, and in spite of fork-and-knives symbols on the map there didn’t seem to be anywhere to get anything edible around here. Maybe we should then continue to Welkenraedt? Next to us was the big road to Welkenraedt and Eupen, but the map indicated there would be a good foot path there if we retraced our steps a bit. We walked back and found what had to be the path, even if it was actually a road. We followed it and after a while found an information post with a map confirming that there was a path there. We passed fields and meadows in a pleasant countryside and finally ended up on a square in Welkenraedt. We ordered a late lunch at a café, nothing remarkable, but we felt strengthened.

Now then for the last leg to Eupen. Honeybuns suggested a path that would start by the railway and then cut across fields to bring us to Eupen. We started off and found a shady path by the railway that we followed until we realised the railway had forked off and we were following the wrong fork. Back up. Now we got into a residential area from where we were supposed to get into the fields, but try as we might, there just was no way out—either there were houses in the way, or there was barbed wire. Closer study of the map gave away that it had last been updated in 1995 and clearly this area could have been “developed” since then. In the end there was nothing else to do but return to the big road and wait for a bus for Eupen. It didn’t take many minutes until we were at the bus station in Eupen. Now just to find our hotel. It turned out to be somewhat farther away than expected, not least because Eupen is, like Lincoln, built on two levels, and our hotel was down in the Unterstadt, but we eventually found it. And ah, how wonderful, a proper four-star hotel with minibar and stuff. We also had a room with a balcony commanding a nice view of the immediate surroundings. Here we saw our first sample of something that seemed to be all the rage in the district: a piece of ancient machinery in the middle of a roundabout. We eventually decided it must be a way of celebrating the technical traditions of the cities.

After a shower and some resting of feet we looked around a bit for a nice place to eat, but in the immediate vicinity it seemed the best eatery in fact was the hotel. Could we eat outside on the terrace by the river? Absolutely. A table was procured for us and there we sat in the evening, me experimenting with the local tradition of mustard sauces.


On the wrong track already, we should have turned left about a hundred metres before this point.

Back on track up on the ridge, the marble arcade of the War Cemetery visible in the distance.

A thoughtful building in Welkenraedt

Descending into the Unterstadt, our hotel should be near that church tower.

Day 5, German

The next day I felt it was unlikely I would be able to walk the entire way to Monschau, but looking in the local tourist information folders I thought it should be possible to shorten the journey a bit by taking the bus to the nature centre at Ternell, which would be about halfway, then walk through the nature park, and, if necessary, take the bus again at the other end. Conveniently enough, the bus stop was just outside the hotel. So, off we went. At the Nature Centre we were greeted by a very enthusiastic lady who told us all about the High Fens (of course, that’s what Hohes Venn/Hautes Fagnes means!) and equipped us with maps, folders, and as much other information as we could carry.

We strolled around the grounds a bit and looked at the deer and the pocket cows they kept there. Then a whooshing sound announced a rain coming in our direction, so we stepped into the restaurant and had lunch. When we got out, it had almost stopped raining and we set off into the forest. The map we now had did have a listing of all symbols used on the paths in the area, so we only had to follow the markers to get where we wanted. As Honeybuns had proven to be the best interpreter of the map, she led the way. (And also because she walked faster than I.) The first hour or so we followed what was basically a road through the forest, but then we got to the actual fen part, where we got to walk on footbridges. We saw a few lizards, but other than that animal life seemed to keep well away from the path.

Eventually we returned to the big road, but missed the last bus to Monschau. Well, it wasn’t all that far and there was a pedestrian path along the road. Soon we crossed the border into Germany with no great fanfare. Honeybuns located a shortcut on the map, we stepped off the suburban road and were soon on another path along a brook through the forest. I had trouble stumbling downhill, but eventually we came to the bottom of the valley and continued along something that looked suspiciously like a railway embankment. Then another hill and time for my high-resolution Google map. Where were we really and where was our B&B? It looked to me as if we would have to negotiate another valley, but Honeybuns disagreed. To sort out the question we walked down the residential road we were on and to my disbelief found Pension Dunkel just hundred metres down the road. Relieved I rang the bell and immediately Frau Dunkel popped out and in an uninterrupted stream of German explained that we had been double-booked, but not to worry, because we would get accommodation with Frau Brune two houses away instead. In no time at all we were installed at the Hasenstübchen and washing the day’s grime away. Eventually we felt we should try to get dinner. I had noticed another house nearby had had a „Restaurant“ sign post, so we walked over. This turned out to be Hotel Hubertusklause. They were really full, but they wouldn’t turn hungry wanderers down and soon we were devouring gourmet dinners, inventively prepared by the cook who came out to greet us. As we returned to our pension, we realised that almost all the houses in the area seemed to be pensions, restaurants or offered other touristy activities. Curious.


Tributaries to the Weser/Vesdre

It’s the High Fens, without hyphens.

Don’t be fooled, this is actually in a residential area of Monschau…

…where they don’t believe in colour coordination.

Day 6, German to French

The next morning we were treated to another delightful breakfast, I suspected the eggs had been laid minutes before by the hens in the garden. Our plan had been to proceed with the museum steam train from Monschau to Malmédy, and the station should be nearby, but we hadn’t seen it the day before and asked Frau Brune for directions. Alas, the Vennbahn is now but a memory and has instead been turned into a bicycle path, inaugurated just a couple of weeks earlier. We’d better go downtown to the Tourist Office to find out how to get to Malmédy. So, we paid our bills, strapped on our back packs, and followed the sign pointing down along the steep Bergstraße: „Altstadt“. The residential area we were in was relatively recently-built, some house actually still being in the process of being built, but as we descended we first saw some obviously 1950s public buildings in concrete, and then! A little mediæval town, complete with fortress up on a hill. We realised that Monschau clearly was a major tourist attraction, with various events and exhibitions all summer and accordingly had a well-equipped tourist office. Indeed, no trains for us. In fact, there were no busses either to take us to Malmédy, so what we’d have to do was to return to Eupen, change to a bus to Verviers and change again to a bus to Malmédy. Disappointment, but neither of us was all that keen on walking along the bicycle path all the way to Malmédy, in particular not I, as my feet were still aching since the day before; Honeybuns thought it would be horribly boring to walk on a well-prepared asphalt road. However, we did get a map of the bicycle path, which was declared to be a part of the large Ravel network of bicycle paths. Aha, so that was what the signs we’d seen earlier meant to say!

We had a bit of time before our bus would leave, so we climbed up to the fortress and looked at the scenery in all directions. Then we had to get down again and locate the bus stop, by a more modern parking house at the border of the old town. We were soon back in Eupen, where our next bus was due to leave in a few minutes, though the bus driver first had to discuss a great many things with his colleagues before he saw fit to board the bus. The bus route followed the railroad and we were passing through the exact landscape of hills and little towns I had seen on my journeys. Looking at them closer, it seemed this was an area which had seen better times.

We arrived at the central station in Verviers and had about an hour before our connection. We decided to check out the toilet at the station. The big station was all but deserted, but we soon found the desired facilities. According to the sign on the door they were supposedly open daily, yet the door would not budge. Looking around it seemed the only place to get information was the single person sitting at a ticket window. I explained the issue in my best French, whereupon he demanded ID. I thought this a bit peculiar but handed over my card. In exchange I got the key to the loo. OK, the stratagem seemed to work, the toilet was clean and functional and I could soon return the key and get my ID card back. Planning ahead, I asked him if he had an overview of the bus routes in the area. I don’t know if I was misunderstood, or if there simply was no single map, as he disappeared into a cupboard and returned with a stack of timetables for thirty or so different busses. I packed them anyway, for later perusal.

Soon it was time to board our bus. At the last second, as the bus was already pulling out, we were joined by a young couple who were valiantly, but ultimately unsuccessfully, trying to manage two small children, one very pregnant belly, a pram, and a huge suitcase on wheels. In fact we were somewhat impressed by their ineptitude, one would think that rearing two children would have brought home that screaming one-year-olds simply do not respond well to “We’ll be there soon.”, no matter how patiently or often it is repeated. After 45 minutes or so, the mother finally hit on the idea of picking up the baby and feeding it, which worked miracles. If the trip had continued an hour or so longer they might perhaps also have figured out how to keep their suitcase from falling over in the bus aisle every time the bus turned.

In the meanwhile, as we were travelling up and down steep hills, a torrential rain had started and I hoped that the bus brakes were subject to frequent controls. On the other hand, natural selection should keep only the busses with good brakes in circulation. The rain let up just as we arrived in Malmédy and our hotel was just across the street from the bus stop. Or so we thought. It turned out that they had screwed up our booking. First they blamed us for it, but looking up their records realised it was their fault and were very confused. Nevertheless, they did not have a free room for us. Instead, they recommended another hotel across the square. They did indeed have a room for us—number 1, to be precise. It turned out to be the room on the ground floor, spatious and reasonably clean, but, at least in the current weather, rather damp and clammy. Well, beggars can’t be choosy, so we moved in.

We checked out the tourist office, just next to the bus stop. Oh, the little family was still there, the children running around playing and the parents looking a bit forlorn. The tourist office netted us a useful map for next day’s excursion and a bunch of various other tourist information. Honeybuns, who’d been exhibiting increasingly more serious withdrawal symptoms, finally got to check her email on the public PC. Then it was time for a little walk around the town, checking out the cathedral, the oldest house in town, ducks in the river, and other such to finally return to the big square for a very late lunch/early dinner at one of the eateries. As we were wolfing down our food, the rain started anew. We were sitting under large parasols, yet the rain was so intense that we were splashed with water rebounding from the ground. We moved further in under cover until the rain relented enough that we could pay and quickly return to our hotel room. And there we stayed the rest of the evening as the rain went on, so therefore no pictures from Malmédy. During the night I skooshed several insects I suspect were cockroaches.


It looked as if the houses of Monschau had settled a bit over the centuries.

All along our route we had seen doors with this inscription. Googling revealed that it is a Catholic benediction.

The railway station in Verviers has apparently seen grander days, now it was all but deserted.

Across from the railway station was this Persian restaurant, which had me giggling until we left. I have extremely childish humour.

Day 7, French

In the morning the rain had stopped, and though the sky looked not too promising, we decided that we should chance walking anyway. There were no good paths out of town that we were able to locate on our map, but we could take the bus to nearby Francorchamps and then walk along various paths to Spa and take the bus to Verviers from there. Along the way, I noticed with interest how the bus driver would greet acquaintances getting on the bus, and friends that happened to be around would come over and have a chat at the bus stops—clearly this was an area where most people knew each other. As I had indicated uncertainty of our target, co-passengers suggested the best place to get off in Francorchamps. There, we soon found the path, starting behind the school house, passing some farms and then entering the forest. This was an area with deep cuts with brooks at the bottom, the path serpentining up and down the steep inclines. We moved steadily upwards. Even though we were in the forest, one could clearly hear the engine roars from the F1 track, not far away. We met a gentleman out exercising his rambunctious dog and exchanged a few words. He was much impressed with our plan to walk to Spa.

We continued up the hill. Rain-swelled streams crossed the muddy path and suddenly Honeybuns slipped and fell sideways into the grass. *splunch* The grass had hidden the ditch that ran along the path and Honeybuns’ map arm disappeared in mud up to her armpit. We had to backtrack a bit to one of the streams for her to wash herself—and the map, which fortunately survived the treatment.

The path continued to criss-cross up the hill. Finally we got up to the top of the hill. Now it would be down-hill the rest of the way. But first we had to find the way. We tried to match our map to the surroundings and set out over various fields, in none of which we found the path markers we were looking for. Finally we got the idea of going around the very large and very secret military installation with the little sign that said it was not to be photographed, and there we found our path going into the thickets. We walked through the forest for a while and eventually we emerged by Spa aerodrome. I was more than happy to have some rest and refreshments in the air field restaurant and snapped some pictures of the Mirage V and Thunderflash gate guardians. Groups of parachutists were being taken up in a Cessna Grand Caravan with the congenial registration OO-SPA, and I followed it with my gaze as we returned into the forest, starting along a long and straight road. I knew there was an RAF memorial further into the forest, but my feet felt like they should get themselves to Spa as soon as possible, so I did not propose a detour to go look at the memorial. Eventually we found the path that would take us to Spa. A little brook ran by the side of the path. As we continued downwards the brook grew larger and eventually it was no longer the brook that followed the path, but the path wound by the stream. At one point the bridge across the stream had been swept away (and presumably also carefully cleaned away, as no debris apart from the concrete supports was to be seen) and we had to negotiate a ford. Eventually the slope flattened out and we found ourselves skirting a suburban area. We checked our map and were soon in the city centre. Finding the bus stop was a bit of an effort, as various repairs were underway and the locals were not quite clear over where the busses had been redirected, but eventually we located it just outside the Spa Casino.

The bus ride back to Verviers was uneventful. As we’d noticed previously, Verviers seemed a bit the worse for wear and the walk to our hotel went through a rather decrepit area, but the hotel itself turned out to be a huge former railway magazine that had been fairly recently turned into a hotel and looked very spic and span. We presented outselves at the reception with our reservation. The receptionist did the usual fiddling at her computer and then informed us that they regrettably had only a single room left: a business suite, could we manage with that? Considering our reservation guaranteed us a fixed price, we certainly could! The suite turned out to be quite roomy, with separate lavatory and bathroom, the latter equipped with both a tub and a shower; thick bathrobes and slippers lay wrapped on the bed, and there was a well-stocked minibar, which Honeybuns to her chagrin only afterwards realised was free.

I made a beeline for the shower where I quickly realised that design purity had trumped common sense—there was no door, drape or anything, which meant that quite a bit of water splashed out on the bathroom floor, which in turn completely lacked a drain, so when I had finished showering there was a sizable puddle by the sink, which later required a bit of dexterity during teeth-brushing preparations, but before that we had an excellent dinner in the hotel restaurant followed by trying out the jacuzzi.


We found a dead mole on the path.

Completely unexpectedly, a fire hydrant in the forest.

Downstream.

Day 8, French

The next morning we checked out in good spirits and started by getting directions to the local tourist office in order to plan the path for the day. Here we finally found the volume that we should have had all along, the book of all walking and bicycle paths in France and Belgium. Finally we got the explanation for the red-white markers we’d seen throughout our journey: they indicate the nation-wide rambling network. With the kind help of the staff we worked out that the best way to proceed to Liège/Luik/Lüttich was to take the bus to Pepinster and get on the foot path there. We got copies of the relevant pages in the thick rambling book.

Now, we had finally gotten to the part of our excursion that I originally had seen from the train window, hilly country with the occasional farm yards and a little châlet. We walked along our old friend the Vesdre, deep down in the valley. After a while we realised that there were quite a few tributary brooks to the river, which meant a large number of ravines crossing our path, necessitating quite a bit of zig-zagging to locate suitable fording places and then get back on the path along the river valley. At one point as we were crossing a little stream I pushed aside what I took to be a hazel, but on touch realised was a huge nettle. I bent to soothe my hand in the cool stream and BRATSH, the entire crotch seam of my trousers split. That is the problem with favorite clothes, they get used up much faster than the others. A quick change of clothes was executed.

The terrain got ever steeper, and at times the colour bars that identified the path were painted directly on the rock, rather than on the trees next to the path. I was flagging, even though when I heard a Belgian Air Force F-16 above the leaf canopy, I quickly scrabbled up the hill to get a glimpse of it.

Finally, I gave up the struggle by the railway station in Fraipont, when my feet just couldn’t take it anymore. Honeybuns was annoyed, as she’d been happy to continue far longer. The train, when it arrived, took us to Liège in just a couple of minutes. From there we continued on to Bruxelles/Brussel/Brüssel. It was strange to see how the hilly landscapes we had been walking through the last week suddenly became flat as a table as soon as we were west of Liège. As we rode through the pancake (now without getting lost) I noted how the electronic signs on the train automatically switched language as we alternately passed through Dutch- and French-speaking regions.

We arrived at Bruxelles Nord/Brussel Noord, which, as I’ve noted before, lies just next to a red-light district, which we had to pass through to get to our hotel. Honeybuns was not well pleased, especially as we had to take a couple of rounds around the block before we found the hotel. It was definitely the seediest we’d been on this trip, but at least the room showed no evidence of larger arthropod life. We apparently shared the hotel with an Eastern European wrestling team, that turned up in the lobby with big trunks and arms, legs, and necks also like tree trunks. We went out to find somewhere to have dinner and ended up in a little bar. Honeybuns looked suspiciously around the surroundings, but it turned out to be a quite decent place and the meal perfectly good. (You can get bad food in Belgium, but usually you have to make an effort.)

Day 9, French

The next day was set aside for sight-seeing in Brussels. Our hotel was near the Botanical Gardens, so we went there and looked at the tortoises. Then we travelled out to the World Fair area, as neither of us had been to Atomium. It turned out to require quite a bit of queueing, but eventually we got up into the first atom, which contained a very nice exhibition on the World Fair itself and the construction of Atomium. We continued through the other atoms that were open (not all were, I don’t know what the closed-off ones contain, possibly conference facilities. One of the atoms had teaching facilities for children as well as sleeping pods so that they could stay the night, which I thought must be a perfectly exciting excursion. The other major exhibition was one on water and its importance for the environment, but while professionally produced, it was so bland it aroused no particular excitement on our part. Finally we decided it was time for lunch and where better to have it than in the restaurant at the top? However, you can’t get from here to there–we had to descend to the ground floor and then stand in another queue to get up to the restaurant.

The restaurant had carefully retained their original modernistic furniture and, of course, had a fantastic view over Brussels. The food turned out to be excellent, quite surprisingly for such an obvious tourist trap location. (Kaknästornet, are you listening?) Well-sated, we rode the lift down and picked up a few postcards in the exit shop. Honeybuns looked longingly at candy and pastries, but forewent them for the moment.

From the restaurant we had seen something that looked like a huge model landscape just next to Atomium, so we decided to go there and see what it was. It was Mini-Europe, displaying 1:25 scale models of characteristic buldings from each of the EU member countries. We got a slightly bad taste in our mouths—the outspoken intention was to build EU patriotism, supported by multi-lingual placards extolling all the specifically European virtues, jarringly managing to praise both Christianity and secularity. The models themselves were of quite varying quality: Grand’place/Grote Markt in Brussels was a super-detailed masterpiece, whereas Dover Castle just looked like a plastic toy from Britains. Sweden was represented by a so-so model of Stockholm City Hall, just next to a model of Olavinlinna that represented Finland. One wonders how the subjects had been chosen.

We left by tram and ended up near the city centre where we found a large comic book store that we browsed for a while. There’s still a genre of aviation comics, but I felt that they all suffer from lifelessness and stiff mannerisms. While they never drew aviation comics as such, I’ve always felt that Franquin and Janry are among the comics artists who best understood how to draw aircraft, not least how to draw aircraft caricatures.

A short walk later we were at Grand’Place, where we found more comic-themed shops that we looked through. Now Honeybuns felt the pressure to purchase presents for friends and relatives and raided several of the chocolate purveyors around the square for their best delicacies. Laden with sweets bags we made the short train ride to Bruxelles Midi/Brussel Zuid from where our train homewards would leave. Honeybuns got another lack-of-presents-anxiety attack and spent our last Euros in yet another chocolate store at the station.

Then we got on our train for Cologne, where we had a short stop until we got on the night train for Copenhagen.


Those buildings don’t look small just because we’re high up.

The representation of Luxembourg: a traffic jam.

Grand’Place in 1:25

1:1

Day 9, Danish

We arrived in Copenhagen in the late afternoon and got on the train to Stockholm without further events and then finally returned home.

2012-08-01

At sea

My Mid-atlantic English sometimes plays tricks on me. I have been looking all around YouTube in the hope of finding this clip, but I was using “shopping cart” as the search term, rather than “shopping trolley”. I probably only found it now because someone at Google extended their thesaurus.

2012-07-30

Two similar

Somw while back my mobile operator decreed that I, for unclear reasons, needed a new SIM card. This of course required me to reconstruct my phonebook. At the time I did not make the connection, but it was at about then that Troll, trusty member of the Posse, went incommunicado. My texts were not responded to and I only got a voice-mail prompt when calling. After a couple of months we started to get worried—what could be wrong?
Eventually I had a brainwave and googled up her office phone number. She answered immediately with her usual cheery “Helloo!” It turned out that her mother not only lives on the same street but has the exact same extremely uncommon name. Apparently she had been utterly consternated by the barrage of invitations to various mysterious activities by an unknown man. Ah well, that should be suitable punishment for the lack of name imagination. And we have Troll among us again.

2012-07-27

Veckans ord: flottbas

Marinens mat är extremt fet eftersom den är tillagad på flottbas.

2012-07-23

Stupid Westerner

Working in a multi-national corporation, half of my work team is located in Asia. One should of course be culturally sensitive, but the thing is, that no culture is homogeneous, even among brown-skinned people in a faraway land. So, the other day I made a point of noting that Ramadan would start the next day and asked if they would celebrate it somehow. “Some people fast, scepticals don’t.”
The next day we were trying to figure out some code and I realised I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed: “Hm, I’ll have to look this up, it could take a while.”
“Is it OK if I go for lunch in the meantime?”
D'oh! Yeah, I don’t fast during Lent either.

2012-07-22

Tell me more about it

Dagens Nyheter reports that a group of four men have been arrested, suspected of attempted kidnapping and it’s quite interesting to see how closely tracked they were by the police:
“The Swedish police were tipped off in May by Polish colleagues that four men planned to kidnap a rich businessman in Huddinge”
“When they arrived in Nynäshamn with the ferry from Gdansk the police watched the men and tapped their phones. When they got off the ferry the customs had also received advanced warning. Customs officers searched through their car and found a can of pepper spray, a can of tear gas, a truncheon, and a switchblade. [Presumably these were confiscated.]
The men still decided to proceed preparing the kidnapping.
They went to K-Rauta in Huddinge and bought cable ties, duct tape and two pairs of gloves: The police have pictures of this and copies of the purchases from the cash registers.”
“They were apprehended on May 25th. One of the accused had ’strips of duct tape ready on his trousers’, according to the indictment.”
“…the men had photographs and a map of the businessman’s house and the placement of his safe in the garage.
The business man and his son had on several occasions seen the men move about outside their home.”
“The four men deny having planned any crime.”

Honeybuns comments: “I really want to hear those guys’ explanation.”

2012-07-15

In the pits

Honeybuns had been so excited about our previous visit to Sala silver mine and wanted to show this magic place to her brother. I brought along the OBS and off we went. We were still a bit shagged out after the excursion to the Siarö fort the day before, so we dozed most of the way. When we got to the mine area, Honeybuns decided to explore the big curio shop by the road. The proprietors were busy polishing thousands of cut-glass goblets. I presume they have to start all over once they’ve finished. Honeybuns sighed over all the cut-glass chandeliers, but we didn’t buy any, at least not today. I was fascinated by an entire section devoted to portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Indeed, an icon of our age. The barn next over was filled with old furniture and also, a bit incongruously, an R/C model of a Canadair CL-215 suspended from the ceiling.

Then we checked in at the visitors’ reception and told to wait outside for the tour, which would start in a few minutes. Soon we were descending into the dark. When we arrived at the view into Queen Christina’s Shaft I tried to record video of the falling mist glittering in the dark, but even with the new camera it was impossible to get anything but a dark blur. I guess I would have to set up more lighting and things to get anything sensible.

You’re in a maze of twisty little passages, all different.

From the 60 m level, where we were last year, we descended by lift to the 155 m level. While deeper, this level has been prepared a bit more for visitors and was supposedly even wheel-chair accessible (I’m not too sure about that, but presumably they have tested this). Among other amenities there is a heated concert hall with mosaics subtly blending into the natural rock. Our guide demonstrated the acoustics for us by singing an old miner’s chorale, quite beautifully. Then we had a snack in the anteroom to the Mine Suite. This was equipped with heating and a dehumidifer as well as a tiled floor, but still retained the rock ceiling.

Then we continued to the shafts where we could peer into the submerged parts of the mine. A pool filled a huge chamber with a little boat moored to a little jetty. “Gollum’s boat!” exclaimed the OBS and I in chorus.

There were more shafts from which water fell to fill the depths, but nothing would get caught on video. How remarkably light sensitive human eyes are, after all.

Finally we ascended to the surface, but what had looked like sunlight to my dark-accommodated eyes turned out to be an overcast sky that soon turned into a heavy rain. The local restaurant had nothing vegetarian to offer, so we milled about a bit in the area and went through the Police Museum. The exhibition on the Sala gang resonated with other more recent killers who also have coolly executed carefully planned acts of madness. The Sala gang’s head Thurneman did end up in a maximum-security mental hospital, but was eventually released efter 32 years and spent the last years of his life as a well-reputed Sanskrit translator.

As the rain showed no signs of letting up we had to give in and started walking to town. When we arrived, we were thoroughly soaked (except for the OBS, who had prepared with a nice lightweight rain jacket—I have to get one of those) and very hungry. We found a pizza place on the main square and as soon as we had gotten in and ordered, the rain stopped…

When I finally got home a couple of hours later, I hung my clothes up to dry and had a hot shower. When the final collapse of civilization arrives, I will miss hot showers most of all. (Well, maybe food, too.)

2012-07-14

Guarding the ramparts

One of the prominent features of the Siarö fort is that it’s not actually located on Siarö, but Sjöbris knows how to get to the right place, so we jumped ashore on Kyrkogårdsön. It was one of the few sunny days this summer, so I insisted we start with a walk around the island. We soon found ourselves in a rock-and-concrete trench with two smallish guns on tracks at each end. Little concrete machine gun nests that somehow had been rendered in the same reddish tone as the granite were strewn all over the hillside.


A staircase led up to what turned out to be the huge concrete cap over the actual fort. It looked for all the world like a huge skateboard park, but with two 152 mm gun turrets. The entire thing was surrounded by more slit trenches, from which any landing of marines would be repelled.


The forest was filled with old and rusting barbed wire and I wondered how often deer or elk would get trapped in it—not even in its active period was the fort manned more than intermittently.

Beyond the fort lay the cholera churchyard for which the island was named, now just a lush meadow. We continued down to the café for lunch. (Note: both the cafeteria and the boat had only been able to offer pancakes in the way of vegetarian food. There is a limit to how many pancake meals one can have in a day.) Fortified, we were ready to tackle the insides of the fort. The entrance consisted of one of those one-person-at-a-time revolving doors, to make sure nobody would get in without a ticket.

Inside it was quite cold and damp and it turned out that the military had soon realised the premises were too unhealthy to keep even conscripts in, so in spite of the carefully marked sleeping quarters for officers, NCOs and privates, the garrison had actually spent most of their time in what eventually became the hostel we had just visited. However, one of the rooms had been furnished with an industrial-grade de-humidifier and heating to serve as a lecture hall. As soon as we entered, a projection screen rolled down from the ceiling and a showing of military archive films started. I noted with professional interest that sea waves apparently did not compress well in whatever digital format had been chosen and ended up as a mess of artefacts. On the other hand, the pedagogical trick of indicating cut-away drawings with an animated knife actually cutting away bits was absolutely brilliant.

The washing facilities for the conscripts. I presume the faucets have been removed to keep people from testing if they work, not that an overflowing sink would make any difference whatsoever here.

I climbed up into one of the lookout hoods and found I had a most excellent view of the fairway, but I still wonder what kind of damage the mounted guns would have been able to inflict on 1940s warships.

It was a relief to return out into the sunshine.

2012-07-08

Travelling through Roslagen

Few things are as deserted as Stockholm City on a summer Sunday, especially if it is raining, but you have to be out early to catch the boat. We sailed through a misty archipelago, islands appearing and disappearing in the murk. At Östanå färjeläge we got off and continued on foot. We would have missed Wira Bruk if it hadn’t been for the signs–the buildings lay in a depression hidden behind the summer greenery. While
there would be a performance of Wiraspelen in the evening, it wasn’t our plan to attend and the recurrent rain made it an unattractive proposition anyway. Instead we walked around the little village, split by the skipping brook that used to drive the waterwheels of the smithies.


We snacked in the little café, I restrained Honeybuns from buying some horridly expensive chandeliers in the iron craft exhibition and then we continued on our way. We caught the bus to Norrtälje, riding past some potential future excursion targets.

By now we were pretty hungry, so we wandered through the Old Town of Norrtälje, looking for somewhere to eat. Apparently most people agreed with us on what places looked nice, as they were full, but finally we ended up by the harbour and S/S Norrtelje. We had a quite pleasant late lunch which we finished just in time to have time to peek in the curio shop by the quay. Honeybuns spotted something that might become our new kitchen table if we can figure out how to transport it. In the meantime she bought a stack of bargain books. Then we got to the bus terminal just as the bus to Stockholm pulled in.

2012-06-24

Outing

As has become a tradition by now, we went out to Utö over the Midsummer weekend. We boarded the morning boat from Strömkajen in a light but cool drizzle, which continued on and off during our journey. As we arrived, we took a little stroll long the main street, thinking perhaps we should eat down in the village, when the restaurant there turned on their music machine and blasted the area with the current hits, so we quickly went up the hill to the inn. We didn’t recognise any of the staff and we even got directed to a table diagonally off from our usual one, but the food was, as usual, excellent. Then we withdrew to our room and dropped off for a nap in spite of the bass thumping from the village restaurant being clearly audible. Before going for dinner I caught an episode of Riverside Cottage on the telly. Sustainable veggie cooking. Good stuff.

At dinner a group of male friends arrived, managing to still look hung over from, presumably, the midsummer celebrations the day before. The food was good and varied. As we exited, a police patrol appeared at the door, doing the rounds. No violent crime in progress at the inn, though.

Sunday morning was sunny, even though there were clouds rolling by in the distance. We decided to go for a long walk after breakfast.

Summer skies

Räfstavik, looking out towards the open sea.

There were pools up on the rocks, full with little fishes that presumably had been splashed up there as spawn. I was very concerned for their sake—eventually they’d have to return to the sea. Would they figure out how to jump and in which direction?

Walking back through the forest.

After lunch we took the boat to Årsta. When we got to the train station, the rain started to fall again.

2012-06-10

Boating


For my birthday Honeybuns had given me a boat trip on Gustafsberg VII, and now it was time to cash in on it. The weather wasn’t the best, but we might have to wait for ever for that the way this summer has been going, so now was as good a time as any.

As usual we were a bit late in the start, so had to run a bit, but made the boat in time. There were not particularly many other travellers, so we got good seats at the front. As we got under steam, we found that we had a tour guide, pointing out the usual landmarks long the way. I think it must have been the guide’s first trip, or at least I hope it was, as the exposition was less than smooth, with, odd pauses, and the English translation was clumpy. In particular century numbers were difficult—they are one off from the way you say the years, but is it one lower or one higher? We got both variants.

Still, the archipelago is as it is and it was nice to glide through it. In Gustavsberg we had a couple of hours and decided to eat as a first priority. The restaurant that I had been to on my one previous visit to Gustavsberg was gone, but we found another one. It looked like any random pizza place, but they turned out to serve huge portions of quite well-prepared food.

Before returning to the boat I located birthday presents for the sisterly children in the factory outlet. On the way back we sat in the aft saloon in very comfortable easy chairs.

2012-06-06

Prometheus

Prometheus had gotten pretty good reviews, so we decided go see it. Oh, but were we let down… So the special effects were pretty good and the 3D wasn’t too awful, but talk about plot holes you can drive spaceships through.
The main problem was that absolutely nothing seemed to have any consequences whatsoever: A discovery that overturns absolutely everything we know of history and biology? No matter, that won’t change measurement methods, technology or anything. You need a crack scientific team to explore a hugely important issue? Just gather random people with all the discrimination of a charter trip to Mallorca. You’re travelling through the galaxy, space and supplies at such a premium that people have to be put into hypersleep? Well, once they wake up, they’ll have all the amenities of a five-star spa hotel. Somebody tries to lock you up, so you had to beat them up and steal the use of expensive and prohibited equipment, leaving it all bloody and infested with parasites? No worries, nobody cares a whit. You have just have major abdominal surgery? No worries, a couple of painkillers will keep the wound from ripping open even if you keep hitting your tummy with every available object on the planet.

Still, the most egregious problem is the lack of understanding of biology. I forget how many films I’ve seen where they analyse the “DNA” of alien creatures. How likely is it that alien life should be DNA-based to begin with? Somehow people seem to have the idea that life is necessarily based on DNA, and once you have DNA, yeah, well, obviously you can combine it any way you see fit to make human-alien hybrids. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the proposal that alien life would come to Earth and start making jellyfish-alien hybrids, or fern-alien hybrids, though that would make at least as much sense, for some infinitesimal value of sense.

There is also a bizarre scene where the archaeologist protagonist starts inserting electrodes into a magically preserved alien head in order to…well, turn it alive again, as far as we can tell. She does it as a routine matter, which makes one wonder how archaeology is performed in the future. I would presume there would be even more protests from indigenous populations not only having their graves robbed but their ancestors turned into reanimated zombies. She then proceeds to put “50 amps” into the head. 50 A! No wonder it explodes.

In the end one was left wondering whether the positive reviews were simply due to Noomi Rapace being in the film, which seems a bit unfair.

2012-06-03

Nor glom of nit

The weather didn’t look very promising, so I thought it best to call J and check:
“Are you on?”
“Of course I am!”
Well then! Soon we were on the train to Linköping, J nodding off and I reading. As we arrived in Linköpingand looked for our bus, we were greeted by staff from the local public transport who showed us to the bus to Malmslätt and quickly instructed us how to buy SMS tickets. The entrance to the airfield was through the museum (where I had to briefly stop to photograph the Tp 85 that had appeared outside the museum since our last visit). And there it was: The Swedish Armed Forces Air Show 2012.

The weather had gotten worse, which not only affected the aerial displays, some of which—like paradrops and replica pioneer aircraft—had to be cancelled due to the high winds. I realised exactly how inadequately I had dressed as a horizontal rain started. J calmly dug out a wind- and water-proof ski suit for himself from his bat pack. He offered me an umbrella, but it threatened to be shredded by the wind, so back it went into the pack. Instead he took out a plastic bag for me to cover my camera with, as he was concerned it wouldn’t take well to the rain. At least my hearing protectors doubled nicely as ear muffs.


Not so much a picture of the 6-group Sk 60, but of the cloud formations that day.

The Saab Historic Flight, Gripen leading, followed by Sk 60 (which has never had a proper name), Tunnan and Lansen, finally flanked by Viggen and Draken. Teared eyes all over the airfield.

The flight on the ground, augmented by a Hunter.

I’ve always been fond of the MU-2, here in a target tug version.

No airshow is complete without a Spitfire.

But well, an airshow is an airshow, so even though my teeth occasionally chattered, we had a good time. We threaded a weaving path about the airfield, as I tend to be mostly interested in the static displays, where you actually have a chance to see the aircraft close up, whereas J didn’t want to miss any of the aerial displays, so wanted to be close to the flightline. I for my part tend to be a bit blasé about aerobatics and wasn’t all that impressed until the performance by the Baltic Bees, which had the right components for an aerial display: fast jets and a well-trained group. They had been preceded by the Swiss PC-7 team, which, while doing a nice display, had a speaker who had me groaning as he repeated for every manœuvre that it was executed with Swiss precision (well yes, but we got it the first time) and managed to mention the team’s web site probably eight times during the display.

Then of course, it was this was a PR event for the Armed Forces and the speakers, while knowledgeable about their subject (not necessarily a requirement at some Swedish air days I have been to), underscored what a great job it was to be a military pilot, or military anything, really, especially as you got to protect Freedom, Democracy, and all that in faraway countries. I did not appreciate the demonstration of a helicopter-supported attack on a terrorist holdout, heavy machine guns rattling off blanks into the audience during the entire display. (Yeah, I know, but we’ve talked about the cognitive dissonance thing before.)

Finally the day wound down and I decided it was time to have a look at the stand selling model kits. As I stood there going through the stacks (eventually going for RS Model’s brand new D-3800) the Saab Historic Flight started their engines one by one in the enclosure I was standing next to, in preparation for leaving. Hot exhaust washed over me. I was warmed in all respects though grateful I still had my ear protectors on. And then, with great roars they returned to their lair, and so did we.

The people from the bus company were standing by the bus stop, requesting extra busses according to need. I chatted a bit with the guy, who demonstrated that Linköping indeed is Air City, as he had initiated comments not only on the day’s display but also of aviation in the city in his youth. He also had some acerbic comments about Saab putting on a big show, but not having the courtesy of hiring coaches, instead letting the bus company cover the bill for that.

2012-05-21

Swiss precision

When I was a kid, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo was rebroadcast in an edited version on Swedish Television and I watched it religiously. I have been fond of bagpipes ever since. Now, I haven’t seen it for many years, but then this YouTube clip turned up. No bagpipes, but good enough. Watch it to the end!

2012-05-20

A certain amount of vacuum

The School of Computer Science and Engineering has produced some extremely well-done spexes, but it’s been almost a decade since last. So I was quite happy to see that they’d now joined forces with the School of Media Technology and produced an all-new spex. Clearly I had to go see it.

So, this Friday I found myself in one of the off-S:t Eriksplan cellar theatres with an excited crowd of what apparently was mainly friends and parents. The audience was very pleased with the show, but, alas, I must say this must have been the same kind of pleasure proud parents feel at Lucia shows at day care.

The actors certainly knew their lines, but they completely lacked in timing on stage. Then again, the dialogue was wooden enough that it really didn’t make much of a difference. With delicious irony, the finale was a version of “With a little help from my friends” and the actors certainly could have needed a bit of help trying not to sing out of key.

That said, it was not all bad. Actually, I’d say that the choreography made up for much of the other deficits and there was a “One office and five drummers” that was quite excellent. There were a few clever restarts as well, one involving doing “bullet time” dodging—live on stage.

Still, I found myself thinking back to the glory days of D spexes. I hope a new generation of witty and creative script writers will soon be born.

2012-05-19

A matter of perspective

Anders J Thor recently passed away. I found out from an obituary written by members of the home-owners’ association to which he belonged. They mentioned in passing that he had worked at KTH as well as ISO, but clearly the main part of his life had been spent tirelessly working for the home-owners’ association. I struggle to draw a moral from this.

Muslims love their children too

“Russians” is my favourite example of Sting’s ability to put cerebral lyrics to music. The Cold War may be over, but the message “we are all humans” remains as important to remember as ever.

2012-05-18

Arrangements

In preparation for the sale of my flat, a photographer has been booked to take selling pictures of it. Home photographers are infamous, but hopefully this won’t turn my home into a Catalog Living horror.

H/t Charger.

2012-05-17

We band of brothers

Some ambitious fellows had arranged for a modelling weekend at the Swedish Military Vehicle Museum. I haven't built an armour model for surely 35 years, but a weekend devoted to modelling is to be cherished.

I carefully packed my kit on Friday evening, so that I wouldn’t have to panic-pack in the morning. I decided to take along Italeri’s Sd.Kfz. 234/2 Puma, Airfix’ R.A.F. Refuelling set, and Tamiya’s Porsche 911 GT2. (The latter aren’t exactly armour, but at least surface vehicles.)

I got to the train just in time and as the early Saturday tour was quite uncrowded I managed to get a nice seat on the top floor. With Svealandsbanan, the trip to Strängnäs doesn’t even take an hour, but I’d have to wait about as long again for the bus to take me the last bit to the museum. At least it was sunny. I had but sat down at the bus stop as I heard an ”Oi!” from behind. There was Olle in his car. “I thought I’d find you here, let’s go.” An anonymous sign pointed at the “VEHICLE MUSEUM”, a functional-looking barn. We were greeted by the guys who’d arrived the day before and had already laid out the tables, lights, compressors and such on the mezzanine floor, with an excellent view of the exhibits.

The museum had a very special smell of oil and metal, many of the exhibits are kept in running shape, so now and then the public are given the full experience of 50 Mg chunks of roaring, clanking, smoking (though not firing) metal rolling about on the meadow outside the museum.

More modellers arrived from all corners of Sweden, until we were some 20+, laying out our models and gear on the tables. Ordinary museum visitors also turned up, some curiously asking us about our esoteric activities, and receiving enthusiastic explanations.

I started on the Puma, though didn’t get that far before it was seminar time.

Later in the afternoon we were invited to a private showing of the museum exhibits. After a while the curator got a bit concerned we wouldn’t get through them all before nightfall, what with the constant barrage of questions and comments from both people with deep knowledge about the subject and the rest of us, while not very knowledgeable, still intensely interested. We weren’t in any hurry, though and the curator indulged us. I have discussed the authenticity of preserved aircraft before, and the curator was happy to point out that many of the exhibits were not in original shape, having been modified, and then possibly unmodified again, repainted in whatever paints had been around at various points in their history, and that some simply were one-shot test examples that were unrepresentive of their type. “Photographs show what things looked like at one point, but there’s no telling what happened ten minutes before, or ten minutes after.”

When we had gone through the exhibition, now long after closing time, a question was timidly put forward: “Could I sit in the Trabant, just for a bit?” “Uh well, OK, but don’t hurt yourself.” The dams broke: People scattered like dropped marbles and were soon crawling all over the vehicles, cameras clicking away; everywhere was happy laughter and smiling heads poking out of hatches, guns were traversed and every bolt, pin, and attachment point scrutinised and documented. Most congregated around the celebrities: T-34, Marder, Sherman, but some connoiseurs preferred to explore Soviet amphibians or, as noted, East German bucket cars. (You will notice that I haven’t made any mention of Swedish vehicles so far—they tend to be fairly uncharismatic, possibly with the exception of the ”S” tank, and were accordingly mostly ignored.) The curator watched the proceedings with a beatific smile, most pleased with visitors who really appreciated the museum.


A view from the mezzanine onto early WWII Swedish armour.

Some armour of my own.

Down the hatch!

The driver’s seat in a Universal Carrier. A particularly nice touch is the bolt in the middle of the steering wheel—just made for crushing your sternum. Note also the footprint on the shelf where I stepped to get into the vehicle.


Finally I felt that I, too, had to try something and clambered into the driver’s seat of a Universal Carrier. I found it utterly lacking in any comfort or human factors thinking. The steering wheel was mere centimetres from my sternum, the brake pedal was located where it was quite convenient for the passenger to reach, I found a set of instruments on a panel by my right shoulder where my aging eyes couldn’t even focus on them and the front armour extended just to my eyebrows. I presume any road accident would have lead to instant death or major injury.

Eventually people felt that it started to get late and we profusely thanked the museum staff for their forebearance. Then a car convoy took off for Strängnäs and the pizza place that had been recommended as the most priceworthy by the locals. The quiet Saturday evening was suddenly shattered by laughing, talking, and hungry modellers. After dinner we continued to the youth hostel where some of us were staying the night. Others decided to keep us company for a while before they returned to their sleeping places. I realised I was but an amateur as everybody else pulled out modelling gear and started working in the kitchen. For my part I loaded a documentary on strategic bombing in my laptop. So the evening proceeded in happy intercourse. I decided to withdraw to bed before midnight and feel contentedly asleep to the sound of peals of laughter in the kitchen.

Next morning. An early rise and quick ablutions before we returned to the museum from where a new convoy took off and soon turned onto a small gravel road, at the end of which was the former mobilisation stores where the museum now kept the items they did not have on current display. ”Some 3–400 vehicles, depending on how you count.” Obviously we could not study them all, but we got extensive samples. The sheds were packed with armour, trucks, engines, guns, bicycles, but also more unexpectedly cradles, looms, sleds and a mysterious object that looked like a huge champagne cork in fabric. As densely as they were stored, it was soon obvious that the easiest way of moving about was to mount a tank and then proceed stepping from one to the next. The air was filled with joyous laughter as discoveries were made and people tried to seat themselves in the vehicles. My attempts confirmed that tanks evidently are made for short, very short, and thin people, and even they should expect to have their craniums banged about by various corners and edges. I dare not imagine the noise from shooting with large-calibre guns in those enclosed spaces.


A nondescript façade.
More camouflagey things to crawl about on.

The thing with amphibious vehicles is that you can only get in at the top and for some reason they never have ladders.

A very realistically weathered lorry.

Eventually we returned to the museum for more seminars, or should I say, intensely interactive discussions between skilled modellers. Towards the end of the day I set up for painting some Porsche parts. The Humbrol metallic colours are pretty temperamental when airbrushed and have a tendency to clog the nozzle. High pressure is indicated. This was really my only opportunity for aggravation during the entire weekend.

Cleaning up was quickly done with all hands on deck and then we all went our separate ways with happy smiles, new friendships having been forged and promises of future events exchanged.