MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM IN SWEDEN

June 27, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (3)

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Horse drawn cart ride at Pershyttan

Midsummer dining
26 June 2010 – Celebrations from the past

I sit on the deck, gazing at a family of Canada geese sail down our river, over dark water – fresh and pure.  We are surrounded by the forests and hills of Kilsbergen – the Kilsberg hills (pronounced Sheils berry) .

It is a day after midsummer, as officially decreed this year in Sweden. The last weekend, closer to the midsummer solstice, was claimed by the Royal Wedding when Victoria married her Daniel.

We escaped to the countryside as most people do at midsummer, leaving a deserted Stockholm. Midsummer eve is the deadest day of the year in the capital city.

This is the time friends and families get together away from the city and celebrate often with music and dancing dating back who knows how many hundreds of years.  Every village arranges a get together round the “midsommarstång” (a Maypole named midsummer pole). It never fails to move me that a rational, highly industrial nation can still nurture these ancient rituals and traditions.

Traditional midsummer dancing

Afternoon of Midsummer eve we took a sprightly 88 year old to the midsummer thing at Pershyttan.  The pole is raised as part of the ceremony and is wound with birch twigs and wild flowers picked in the meadows. Players in traditional dress including knickerbockers play accordions and fiddles. 

From mother to daughter - old traditions

Mothers, fathers and grandparents hold hands with children and tiny tots, ring the pole and dance around miming actions to the old playful songs, passing on rituals from generation to generation. Teenagers are usually too “wanna-be cool” to even be there, but people of all ages sit around on the grass, licking Nora glass (ices).

This is followed by the spelmän (music makers) and a little troupe of country dancers. The dancers seem through the years to diminish in number – but I pray Sweden will never let this tradition die.

For us the grand finale at Pershyttan was to hop on a wagon drawn by Ardennes horses and take a  free trip through the leafy village of red and white houses. We passed wooden buildings that relate to the small-scale iron industry that began here in the 1500s and ended five decades ago. These are museums now –  graceful remnants of a muted industrial revolution along the rushing brook that brought it power. Aleah was invited to drive the wagon on this little tour.  Perhyttan is a horsey area and the owners of our wagon run courses in carriage driving (what is it called?).

Steam train Nora to Pershyttan

Its other claim to fame is a beautiful steam train that arrives pulling wooden coaches a few times a day in the summer. The train comes from Nora, which also offers train rides to other town in Bergslagen.  I should add that the Pershyttan” station” is a well-liked restaurant housed in empty train carriages and at open air tables.

Night brought a private midsummer eve’s party in Ramshyttan in the jaktstuga, built 1736 – and a monument to hunters past and animals shot and stuffed or rememberd for their horns. It has huge beams and solid wooden floors, plus a long table the owner inherited from times past. The long table held some 30 diners and many glasses of wine. A big lamb had been grilled all day over a fire, and was dismembered into a cardboard box, for lack of a larger receptacle. A feast for Vikings – though perhaps they would have used a stone receptacle for their meaty desires.

Midsummer dining Ramshyttan 2010

Wednesday – Animal kingdom

 The sun has been with us for 7 days despite competition from the clouds to do the usual Swedish midsummer washout. Warm days will never cease…or so you believe sitting on the deck and staring at the twinkle and glisten of the water  surrounded by the froth and exuberance of deciduous trees and a jagged fringe of firs at the far end of the small lake.

Animals have brought another dimension to nature this midsummer break. A beaver swam  right by the us as we crossed the bridge over the weir on midsummer eve and made an almighty huge splash with his tail. Three families of Canada geese sail over the water or waddle up the pathway (annually they find Sågdammen from far away in Egypt). An adder hissed at the cat and was kindly relocated in the forest. A new foal was born a week ago to a fairy tale Friesian mare with long mane and tail at Ramshyttan’s horse farm. Cuckoo calls float over the forests. A flashy red bird we have never seen in Sweden before  flies in as if lured by our warm weather. We are lucky to be here.

The new Fresian foal at Ramshyttan

This is a superb part of the world, despite the ever present threat of the giant deforesting machines (more about that later) and a neighbour’s new (glaringly raw and yellowish) wooden  stairs sprawling down the bank like an arthropod with various joints and different widths and angles over to a pier that now intrudes into the soft quietness of the pure and timeless river. Industrial builders meet nature and try hard.

 Contraption intruding among trees and water

Day 5 – Whale watching off Tenerife

June 20, 2010 in Spain | Comments (52)

We skimmed over gentle waves looking out to sea for the tell-tale blow fountains of whales. It took only 30 minutes and we found them – pilot whales.

Pilot whales communing with our yacht

The waters between the Costa Adeje and the neighbouring island of La Gomera are really FULL of pilot whales, and they offer a 100% guarantee you will see one. We saw a big family of them – the family of a nice 7-m-long guy dubbed India by the state-sponsored marine conservation effort that is trying to study and restore balance in the ocean along the tourist areas. (They have a project where you can help them.)

India’s family became our delight and our friends. They came rather lovingly up to the boat as it were a fine aquatic mammal, and floated by it tenderly, drifting in their whaley way, and doing things like floating upside down with whale tail sticking out. A mum with babe floated by too, just below the surface.

Our pilot whale friend does whaley things

The bronzed, sea-grizzled captain of our catamaran Eden told us about these wonderful creatures – after we had seen them.

The male whales live 40 years and the females 65, he told us. The male lives are shortened by deep-sea diving. They go down to 1000 metres deep to catch deep-sea squid, whom they kill by dragging them up to 800 m where they explode…They are cut into bits for the family including the  “toddlers” with teeth.

Later bottle nose dolphins came and played around us – too quick to make the loving contact we did with the whales.

Wonderful. The water IS real off Costa Adeje, uplifting the Canaries over many Med destinations…


Day 4 – Discovery tour of Tenerife

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From desert to forest, from coast to coast


We drive from the dry and sunny Costa Adeje over extraordinary mountains reaching to 3700 metres in Teide National Park and descend to the northern coast which is greener – and is where the local people really live.

On this triangular island the Southern coast is dry and deserty, and is where the tourists are assured of what they most want – sun. This is where hotels stretch along a 14 km string of volcanic beaches from serene La Caleta to Playa des Americas (where you find McDonalds) and beyond to quieter beaches, slow dining and exclusive shopping.

Looked at from afar, parts of Costa Adeje are elegant or showy and parts have a fast building feel with lots of new apartment blocks, some stretching up the brown slopes of the mountains that rise dramatically behind.

But today we will discover Tenerife. Beyond the beaches and hotels…to the uplifting experience of Teide National Park.

Up – and up – the winding road heads towards ridiculously pointed peaks – almost fantasy mountains in blue haze. You feel a quiver of anticipation or is it trepidation?

It turns out to be a beautiful drive; as we leave behind the dry crumbling slopes of the eroded semi desert, the prickly pears get thicker and entwine with other fleshy leaved species (xerophytes), creating a denser green. Now we see the first pines.

These are endemic/found only on Tenerife. They have extraordinary long roots into the volcanic soil and extraordinarily long needles to get moisture from the clouds that the trade winds drive against the mountain barrier. This is explained by our excellent tour guide as our bus trundles up the slopes.

It is a pity we cannot stop in this big bus. For now we are in these thick and luminously green pine forests – and one sees that picnickers are in there under the graceful, unusual pines.

But now we are getting up towards Mount Teide and other volcanoes – and we stop to see lava fields dotted with smaller pines … stretching over to a sea of cloud from which emerge two peaks of the distant island La Palma.

Lava flow and the distant sea of clouds

The Teide National Park was an uplifting, soul-stirring experience though a little dense with tourist buses near the famous outcrops that once adorned a Spanish peseta note.

Mt Teide 3718 m - and a rocky outcrop

I loved the vegetation, the sweep of greens and greys, and the flowers in pink, yellow and white. It grows on a dry volcanic earth, and has a special something, a feel of wild untarnished spaces, if you walk just 50 paces or so away from the other tourists.

After a short stop we met at the Parador (state owned restaurant) and continued our journey.

We drove into the caldera, a tumble of volcanic rocks and plains of pumice, ringed by mountains.

Our guide explained there is a cable way up to the peak of Mount Teide. Walking up it is a popular activity these days. But once up the view is a little flat our guide confessed – as it is so high the view resembles that from plane – height causes flattening. He recommends reaching the top at sunset or sunrise – for then the view is wonderful. To do that you can overnight at 3500 m from where there is a 200 m climb to the top for the sunrise.

Walkers in this area have to be aware that distances and heights are distorted in this strange landscape – this alien place.

Now our bus continuing north was descending again into pine forests – and a layer of cloud called the “sea of cloud”. Vapour brought by the trade winds forms clouds that lie like a lake with one side meeting the mountain.

This is the source of horizontal rain. Water condenses on the vegetation – hence the extra long pine needles – and condenses and drips down into the earth.

Richly green, unusual pines - and the sea of cloud

As we got further down we wound into rainforest-like vegetation, facing North (and the stray cyconic weathers from Europe?).

La Orótava

The bus parked at the town square of this delightful old town on the slopes facing north to the sea. Every town in the Canaries has  a little square like this, where people meet, our guide explained.

Orótava was a world away from the intense modern buildup of hotels and apartments on the sunnier southern coasts. The St Augustin church near the square had a very Mexican look – as did the whole picturesque town. Our guide, born and raised in Tenerife, said that much of the Central and Southern American colonial architecture seen on the Canary islands was not a copy, but had been tried first on these Spanish islands.

San Augustin church Orotava - a Mexican feel

Our walk was steep – and took us past bright flower beds and views.

Next stop was Monje winery. There was one cellar with a very old feel and oak barrels 40 to 200 years old. Then one of these moe boring spoltess ones with stainless steep vats. Then deeper to a gallery, that was part of the entrepeneurial develpment including a wine club, conference faciliteis and restaurant for groups – created by the dashing Mr Monje and his “hard working companion” (as she was called in a coffee table book on display).

We got to taste the wine – which reminded me somehow of wine on Cyprus. Very enjoyable but perhaps lacking a few of the flavours of my South American and South African favourites. I should add I am no connoisseur of wine.

All these activities took so long that when we got to our planned hotel inpsection and  lunch stop at Hotel Botanico it was more like evening than lunch time.  I was ravenous. It was a very leisurely lunch. We got dessert after the first course – but then came the next course. Of course that was not really dessert explained Jill from Belgium – it was for degustion to´”make a gap”.

This little degustion finesse was sorbet and chocolate. It is usually not chocolate she explained. Yes, I said – the problem is the chocolate filled the gap (rahter than made it) – but I guess that was better than being ravenous as before.

Hotel Botanico was built in the 1970s and has the architecture of that era – a big lobby with traditional feel. They have tried to combine a classical hotel with Thai touches. The spa certainly kept up the theme with little carved elephants by the goldfish pond at the entrance. The spa has won awards and is completely separate with own pool and gardens.

This hotel for all its old style, 70s thing, gets a huge number of VIPs to stay. So they have a large number of special suites. Apart from 32 Junior Suites they have  8 Senator suites, ambassador suites, 4 Penthouse suites (173 sqm), 2 Presidential (200 sqm) and at the very top a suite named Bill Clinton (580 sqm).

The drive back along the motorway was (and will always be) rather boring.

But soon we had the free night when I planned to do my blog.

However, I and a Swedish travel agent linked up with the sunny happy go-lucky Italians Daniela and Melissa (my earlier comments about Italians being snappy was quite unjustified in the light of these charming creatures). In addition we had the mysterious, independent and fascinating Gloria among us. An Italian Swiss, who lived in Oz, Bombay, Kerala, Goa – and now lives in Rome with her Ozzie husband. She talks multi languages.

This was our second night in the Sheraton’s Spanish restaurant. The food was reasonable the others thought, but mine was not five star. I left before midnight, sleeping with balcony door open, bringing the gift of balmy air. What a privileged climate!

LUXURY IMPRESSIONS IN TENERIFE

The glorious year-round warmth of Tenerife has not just nurtured charter beach holidays. It has proved fertile sunny ground for luxury too. There are 20 five star hotels on Tenerife – more than there are in Barcelona.

See my later post.

At the top the group felt was Abama…This is top luxury, far from the madding crowds…


Day 3 – Luxury hotels in Tenerife

June 19, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

Tenerife has 20 five star hotels –  more than Barcelona.  We will see 9 of them.

My room at Sheraton La Caleta featured (or starred shall we say) in day 1 and day 2 of this blog on Tenerife. Last night we were shown a couple of suites at Sheraton La Caleta and then had dinner with the group of tour operators in the Spanish restaurant. We were in a cosy cellar-like room with shelves of wine and Spanish country touches.

The Sheraton Premium suite was adventurously built on the rooftop. The terrace sprawled up and down stairs with a view of the sea and gardens, and the chimneys and blue sky. There was a little roofed relax spot, somehow eccentric and cute.

On Saturday we were given a feast of site inspections. The impressions were overwhelming, so it has taken days for me to translate my notes to blog.

I sum up these impressions in a later post.

 

 

Presidential Bahia Del Duque


Day 2 – Tenerife with pools and palms

June 18, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

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FRIDAY 18 JUNE

The pool dazzles. The palms shift their slightly sea-singed tassles in the breeze. It is a perfect day; sky a gentle embrace of blue.

If the meaning of life is pleasant moments, I have found enlightenment in this one.  The luxury of a totally free day as all our activities on this SELECT PARTNER FAM TRIP only start tomorrow.

The heated pool

I managed to get coffee as I wish it, a latte macchiato. I slept like heaven in my (Sheraton) bed with perfect pillows, and a little breeze from my slightly open balcony door. Even the child-friendly aspect of Sheraton Caleta has not proved adult-hostile. Kids are spread out among various pools and activities. Breakfast turned out good in the end, though I approached from the wrong side coming from my room and danced along the edge of the pool around a barrier to get in. Three separate marble buffet (or four) islands presented everything I desire.

The only negative was that the coffee came from a corporate machine. Big corporate companies are making big machines (rationally to save time)(possibly money/time is money) for corporate hotels and other corporates. So the little guy who likes very hot coffee gets it lukewarm. But I managed to ask a correct though not enthusiastic man to make it hotter (in the microwave).

My room is really a pleasant place to be. My balcony compared with those looking over the pool is small, and its protective wall no doubt cuts out some of my share of sun. But it is so MINE, surrounded by the ochre-ginger walls and balcony garden with real soil, and perfect sea view.

The terraces overlooking the pool are immense, and the sleeping area bigger. My room’s total area is spread out into the generous long hallway, opening by wide mirror doors into the big marble bathroom with glass shower cabinet, bath, and separate toilet. Just how a bathroom should be.

So why was I told this place does not have five stars? Yet to find out if it is true or isn’t.

Last night one of our party on the SELECT PARTNER FAM TRIP invited me to join him at a fish restaurant he had researched in chats with the lady in the phone shop (where he bought a phone plus calls 19 euro including calls up to 11 euro (phone cost only8 Euros). A short taxi ride got us there to La Caleta village, and round a corner was this little gem of a place. See photo.

LUNCH TIME

Morning drinking coffee by the Sheraton pool, gorgeous day …

But now I have agreed to pay 15 Euros for omelets – which does seem extreme.

AFTERNOON

I changed my order to Caesar Salad without the chicken – or prawns etc. Simple and nice – only 9 euro. Last bite tasted quite dreadful – though – I think some old bacon had got mixed up in there…

But now on the front terraces I marvel at the space and peace. Everyone is down at the pools or on the lawns by the pools.

I do not see a single person on this sunny ochre terrace, which fills my heart with joy – as if all this luxury is just for me. Blue sky, palms waving, and a sweep of the gingery ochre walls. I realize that Sheraton La Caleta is a Moorish inspiration, harking to Saharan deserts, created with playful modernity. I love this place today. The walls of the flowerbeds, the same desert singing colour, curve and weave around their flowers, and I admire the architect too for his earthy fantasy and caring.

I don’t understand why some reviews have been so lukewarm. Could be that they too got something bad in their salad? I will forgive them for that slip with the salad, because of this beauty, some of it given by the heavens – which are blue now again, as if sunshine will never cease.


Day 1 – And peace comes dropping slow…

June 17, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

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The seawater pool near the shore

THURSDAY 17 JUNE

On the Spanish island of Tenerife –and loving it.

I like Spain, on my third visit in a year. I like the calm, slow friendly ways, the space. Less dazzle, snap and go (compared with Italy). Less tantrums and vivacious charm (compared with France). Less warm nosiness than Turkey. To name a few countries I have visited in the last couple of months.

But they are rather bad at English even here on the Southern coast of Tenerife –  Costa Adeje, where the luxury hotels line the seafront with palms and pools, restaurants and marble lobbies.

Sheraton La Caleta is charming – far more pleasant than I dreamt the day I used the internet to write some text for our brochure.

I was always a little stunned by its intense orange or salmon colour in the photos. Its colour is indeed intense, but it is more of a desert hue. The colour and design remind me of North Africa, some kind of fantasy castle in the desert. Palms wave against the ginger ochre walls which curve like a fortress around a treasure of pools and gardens, affording balconies for all. Vast public spaces bring a sense of freedom and peace – I sit on a vast terrace with no one in sight.

To get here we flew over the ocean from Barcelona. Approaching Tenerife you think – “wow where will we land?”, as you look out at bony dry mountains. But we curved in over a city where rich ochres and mystic green on flat roof houses make an exotic geometric pattern, and on to flat land where Tenerife North airport lies.

And then the 45 minute drive on a smooth motorway over a crumpled, withered landscape, occasionally blazing with billboards offering coke and other not very original messages.

I was by now anxious with hunger, after the dreadful lack of alternatives on Spanair. So all I could think about was asking reception when I could eat.

I rushed up to my room to deposit my laptop, see my room and powder the nose, so to speak. When I opened the door  I  could not get the lights on, cautiously (too cautiously) sticking my card in the slot.

In the dark I felt my way along the wall into the bathroom, felt bath. Felt more bath…felt…basin…went back…tried light. No.

Must use loo. Back in again. Felt walls, felt glass door… shower cabinet. At last another door…ah…now a bidet. At last the loo…

Suddenly the light came on. The porter has arrived.

I came out to the bathroom door.

Do you like your room? He asked.

“I haven’t seen it yet” I said acidly, as I stepped into the marble hallway.

But then I saw it. Yes I said. I really like it. The décor was classically nice – king bed, table adorned with fruit and mineral water, with cosy chairs. But it was the balcony that was so special. Totally enfolded by gingery ochre walls with flower beds and real earth and total privacy. Looking out over pools and palms to the sea.

Bathers on Duque beach

Here on Costa Adeje the one really genuine thing is the sea. There is something so appealing about turquoise water on dark volcanic sand and rock. It glints in a richly elegant and non-postcardy way, hinting at magic for those who get to know it.

The other thing about Costa Adeje is that everyone here is on holiday – low pace, slow pace holiday, lying by the pool. Standing or loping along the promenade that runs from the Sheraton up to the Plaza and Duque beach. Dining with view of the sea. At this serene end of the Costa Adeje you find no disco. No markets waving plastic. Modestly tucked away boutiques in a little shopping centre offer  chic designs in genuine fabrics, and actually, made in Europe (wow). A little breather away from made in China.

Costa Adeje  is  a place just to be for no practical purpose but just to be.

I like the warmth, warm air smelling of sea and pool water, even under a grey sky as today, all is bright. And there are flowers.

PARIS SHOPPING CENTRE

In a little café watching France and Mexico in the world cup, with the swarm-of-bees sound of the public in South Africa reaching us in the balmy air of Tenerife.

Waiting for my Tortilla Spanish omelette. I think he had to go to buy eggs. I am a little afraid it might get dark.

But it’s so nice being here. Warm glow of sun emerging from cloud. The ancient feel of a beautifully created stone wall fringes the lane, and palms.

And the TV with its bee sound reminds the world is caught in a net of shared experience.

And now the omelet. I try to discard the lovely fresh roll and eat the omelet, while the bee sound swarms in the background and the balmy air of Tenerife breathes around me.

The guy at the bar/the cook/the whatever is pleased I like the omelet. He is glad Spain lost. Why? They were too full of themselves he explained. I am from Uruguay….but I have a Swedish girl friend. I want to go and live in Sweden. She likes living here in Tenerife…its warm…


TENERIFE DISCOVERY

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I am on a fam trip organized bySpanish  tourist authorities. We are going to see a whole bunch of luxury hotels. But more than that. We are going to see and feel what else Tenerife can offer…

So that is my personal mission too.  

Does it offer luxury. Does it offer more than luxury? And what really is luxury to the human soul…

ah…