In August 2009 I moved back to Stockholm after having lived in Brussels for more than ten years. This blog describes my fresh impressions from the agreeable landscape surrounding my new apartment in Hammarby Sjöstad, so easy to catch on camera from my kitchen window.
Today is Christmas Eve, good folks, if you happen to have forgotten. I forced myself out of bed at 8 AM to start the day on a good swing. The reward was an uncluttered blanket of snow-covered ice sweeping Hammarby Sound, except where the ferries labour across already in early morning. This is the coldest Christmas Eve in my lifetime, if not for 100 years and more, in case you haven't noticed. Temperatures passed the minus thirties the night before last and this morning, when I took my usual hike along the sound after breadkfast, they certainly must have lingered below 20 Degrees (Celsius). Fortunately, the air was still and dry, so the exercise proved to be pure pleasure.
At temperatures as low as this, you get a lot of traction under your feet when walking, as well as a cosy sound well remembered from childhood. It is the sound of ice crystals being crunched, without melting, underfoot your busy shoes. This "swish-swish" you can't help noticing has different names in different tongues, all trying to replicate it in an accurate manner. In my mother-tongue it is called "Knirschen", and in Swedish "Knarra". In English, I don't think there is a good onomatopoeic word for it, but maybe "Crunching" or "Grating" would come close. In any case, this sound is childhood reborn, such a delight to hear for us old-timers!
I would like to take this occasion to wish you all, dear readers of my humble blog postings, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let's hope to find each other again on many happy occasions, on internet, as well as under more analogue circumstances!
To round this up on an international note, please take a look at this: Carillon music from my favorite institute of learning!
Can you see the ice covering Hammarby Sound? No? Neither can I! This morning at 10 AM the world was completely hidden by a shroud-like fog, dampening sound as well as sight. Looking out my window it felt like venturing, on a spaceship completely smothered by the milky void, far out into a surrealistic universe.
Of course, these strange conditions did not prevent me from my regular morning walk around the sound. This time the promenade felt like wading in a fog that only hesitantly gave way to let my shoes find save ground to tread on. My face was constantly bothered by small icy flakes and humid cold penetrated almost to the bones.
Whilst hastening my steps I pondered on the cause of such strange weather in early December. For some days now, unusually harsh cold air is hovering over Stockholm. Still, the air was clear until today and the sun shining, with barely a breeze disturbing the cool air. Last night, there must have been a breeze blowing towards us from the East. As brackish water farther out in shallow bays and sounds is freezing up, it is releasing humid warmth into the breeze above. This warmer air must have been met by freezing cold as the breeze approached the outer limits of the town, like Hammarby Sound. Towards the morning the breeze stopped and the air was getting completely still hereabouts. A myriad of icicle flakes must have formed in the air, kept suspended in this total stillness.
Just a few hours later, the sun managed to force its way through the shroud and conditions went back to normal. You do not believe that Hammarby Sound is already frozen? Well the picture below is proving it. It was taken yesterday at 8 AM. What a difference a day makes!
Winter has arrived with a vengeance. Snow falling since three days back and temperatures falling all the way down to the minus tens at night and keeping well below the minus fives in day time.
It is getting more difficult by the day to get up early in the morning. But this is Advent Sunday, so I forced myself out of bed at 7.30 to have an early timid glance at Hammarby Sound. The Nordic winter night is keeping its frigid claws firmly hooked on this scenery in blue. But neighbors opposite my balcony are fighting a winning battle against the dark with Xmas decorations in full bloom. In the dark winter season, you really appreciate these beacons of hope.
The picture below was taken yesterday afternoon, shortly before 4 PM. Dusk had already briskly established itself at this early hour!
This morning was a bonus event. Awaking slowly around 8 AM I slouched into the living room to start brewing my breakfast coffee, when it dawned on me that I actually was an early riser. I had managed to get up at 7 AM wintertime! To celebrate the hour gained, a picture was taken from my balcony as usually.
At our Northern altitude dawn is ever encroaching on the day. Soon it will be dark when rising at this time in the morning. Furthermore, if the weather is mild and the wind slow, late autumn is ”blessing” us by covering the sky with a foggy veil, announcing the impending winter with grey days that seem to last forever. This nice day of Halloween is no exception to the rule. The morning was starting in grey and the sun will not be allowed to show itself for another day or two.
To finish this post on a more positive note, last week a relative of mine paid me a visit. Upon entering the apartment she took a look at the scenery below my windows and exclaimed: “Emil, you have to take a picture of the view immediately!” Of course, I hastened to oblige her and you can see the result below. I have to compliment Maj’s photographic eye. A pity she doesn’t have a camera to embody her visions.
Life here in Stockholm is full of surprises! Today I woke late and sat down by my laptop immediately to deal with some urgent e-mails. One thing led to another and it was almost 10 AM before I closed my trusted MacBook Pro and started to get ready for another day.
A big surprise awaited me in the living room and made me rush for my Nikon immediately. Outside, the wind was howling around the building, snow was slushing onto the windows and an ice-cold stream of air almost threw me back when I opened the door to the balcony. This did, of course, not prevent me from venturing outside and firing off some quick shots of Hammarby Sound. If the picture above looks a bit unsharp to you, this is due to the snow gushing by the lens in the near distance, trying to garble the view of the distant scenery.
You may recall that I had predicted some serious autumn storms, expected to round up a year of climatic excesses. No storm in sight yet, I am afraid. Instead, we got this early snow tempest in late October! Fortunately, this calamity did not last for long. By mid-day, most of the snow had already melted away and the clear October weather re-inforced itself. In late afternoon, the pre-mature winter interlude was all but forgotten, letting the autumn foliage present its splendour once again, maybe for the last time this year.
Yesterday I was back from a two weeks' sailing trip to Dalmatia. I won't bore you with details, suffice it to say that it was like sailing in Swedish summer weather, with temperatures around 25 degrees and the water just about as warm as it is around our Stockholm islands when we are being blessed by the sun. Back home I was pleased to note that my television now had access to a multitude of new channels, so I spent almost all of my first night at home with eyes glued to the screen. No morning pictures from me this time, I am afraid! A late brunch was all I could master after this night of excesses. A refreshing walk to regain vigour seemed in order. Whilst ambling along the shores, the sky got darker and darker, closing its windows against the sun as if longing for an early evening. I rushed back home early, fearing that a downpour was imminent.
As always, I hastened to document my views with the camera for your benefit. So here you have it: a sky at noon so dark that it is almost black, punctured by sharp sunrays burnishing the quay on the opposite side of Hammarby Sound. Doesn't it look as if a storm is imminent? Well you are as wrong as me in thinking so, just three hours later, the sky is lifting and the sun is spreading its benign glow over a cosy autumn landscape. This gets me thinking: we are living a year of climatic excesses here in Stockholm; the coldest winter since 30 years back and the warmest early summer ever. Will the excesses continue into autumn? If so, I am afraid that we are sliding into a period of terrible autumn storms. Let's hope that my apartment building will survive the onslaught. Last time it happened, way back in the 'seventies, my neighbourhood was completely devastated by the storm. Most roofs sailed away into an early demise and one 9-floor building got its southern wall sucked away by the storm, with balconies and all, leaving a meter of open air for the storm to howl through in peoples' living room. You may think that I am too pessimistic about this; you are probably right, but, as a former central banker, I abide by the rule to always prepare for the worst, whilst hoping for the best.
This picture looks a bit over the top, I know. But I can’t help it, this is how Hammarby Sound is performing for us on this first morning of September at 6.30. It is late in the season and the sun is shining at a low angle long into the morning; warming the first ferry boat, crossing the sound, with its indirect light; and blazing its rays at the boats anchored on the quay opposite to mine.
Looking at the ferry, steadily treading its course, gets me to thinking about the economic situation in the Western world. There are some similarities here: our economy is like a boat striving to reach the shore of renewed vigour and appears to be puffing forward at the moment, after a period’s hiatus. But can we be sure that it will reach this shore, when looking at it from afar, like the ferry boat in Hammarby Sound? I fear not! In fact, the ship is full of holes in its bottom and being kept afloat only through a steady pumping of new moneys into the system. The holes are getting bigger and the pumping getting slower. Soon we will see whether the ship will get stuck in the marches, or will succeed in making a good landing after all. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Our pension benefits are depending on a good finish!
As usual, the sound of the first boat trafficking Hammarby Sound woke me up from an uneasy sleep at 5.45 this morning. No use prolonging my turning around in bed; instead, I saluted a rare sunrise morning after several days of rain and dusk. When treading out to the balcony, I turned away from the usual sight, photographed so many times already, to let my back benefit from the sun for a while. But how delighted i was at seeing the low sun bathing the Skanstull bridges and lock with its golden shine. Amazingly, the reflections of glass facades in the water shone much clearer than the facades themselves. An effect of the sun's angle on the horizon, no doubt.
Above it all throned a full moon, the August moon so adored by the Swedes! It signals the start of the crayfish party season, with much drinking and frolicking, a remainder from heathen times and their ancient sacrifices to thank the goods for a good harvest and prolong the memories of a mellow summer.
Since we are looking at Hammarby Sound from a new angle this time, let me finish by showing you another view. This picture was taken yesterday around 14.30, at a rare intermission in the steady raining of that day.
Early this morning, I languished in a troublesome dream. Dragons were pursuing me with terrible screeches, flapping their wings and flashing their teeth. Gradually I turned awake, glad for the return of rational perceptions. But the screeching went on unabated! I rushed to the living room windows and had a quick look outside. It was still rather dark, at 4.30 in the morning. But I still was able to discern a flock of sizable sea gulls gushing around our building and disturbing the neighbourhood with their loud grating voices, as if complaining about lack of food in the “canyons” of our apartment block that they surely perceive as a cliff on the seaside. Soon the flock went on to awaken other residents further off and I stepped out to the balcony to savour the early morning views.
Standing at the balcony rails I was surprised at the relative darkness of the hour. But I should not be! It is almost two months after midsummer now and the white nights are gone. Instead we can again benefit from the beautiful blue haze that is welcoming us early risers as compensation for getting up too early. Best to savour this atmosphere whilst there is still summer, with its promise of a healthy sunrise just a short while later. In a couple of months, the blueness will prevail well into the morning and stay with us even when venturing outside to our daily working venues.
Those of us already longing for the return of the white nights may wish to look at the picture below. It shows the same view a month ago, AND AS EARLY AS 3 AM. What a difference a month makes!
Yesterday was one of those days; rain falling from morning to evening, sometimes mitigated down to drizzle, but never relenting and continuing well into the night. This of course invited a preponed sleep-in, with the sound of steady dripping drowning other evening sounds and creating a somnolent atmosphere. But, around 5.15 AM, I was suddenly awake, wondering where the steady dripping had gone to. The rain had stopped and a serene quiet reigned over Hammarby Sound (Hammarby Sjö). Still half asleep, I sneaked out to the balcony for a check of weather prospects for the newly born day. Well, there was not much I could see. The warmth of the early sun rise had created, in the humidity after the rain, a lofty blanket of fog that enveloped the Sound with its airy cotton, allowing just glimpses of boats and quay in the near distance.
We are now experiencing the normal Swedish High Summer, with rainy days occasionally interspersed by sunny interludes. The continent is heating up, especially in its Eastern ranges far into Russia. Out there in the Northern Atlantic, the water is also getting warm, with corresponding influences on the air above. The front between these two masses of warming air is building Lows that typically migrate over Scandinavia, with Sweden being the final recipient. The result is cloudy days and rain, lasting until the clouds have fully disbursed their watery burden; whereupon there is a brief respite, with a few sunny days, until there are new clouds filled with moisture to disburse. This battle front of air masses striving for supremacy is governing the Swedish summer well into August. First when temperatures are starting to abate on the continent, is there hope for a new sunny period, albeit shorter and later in the season.
Two days ago, I rose late from a good night's sleep. The weather had cooled off the day before for the first time after a long lasting heat wave and this did me a lot of good during the night. The morning was clear and agreeable and I munshed my breakfast on the balcony. As I was sipping my coffee, I could not help noticing that a long string of boats was huffing and puffing seawards. So I rushed to get my camera to document this nice event for your benefit.
The boats trafficking below my windows usually come in batches like this. Just 500 meters to the left of my apartment, Lake Mälar (Mälaren) empties itself into the Baltic. At this precise spot there is a pound lock located under the three Skanstull bridges, which opens only once an hour or so, forcing the boats into an orderly queue when sailing towards the sea. One has to admire these hardy sailors who have to spend many hours of drudging through the inner archipelago of Stockholm before seeing, at long last, some open bays and beautiful skerries further out in the Baltic. But this does not detain robust Swedes who entertain a life long love affair with the sea and spend their free time, either, on a boat among the skerries or, more sedately, in a summer house out there somewhere.
This is a year of climate excesses, at least in Sweden. You may recall last winter, so harsh and snowy that Stockholm was shrouded in white from December to March ("Midwinter-night cold is harsh"). We now are approaching the opposite end of the scale, with summer heat reaching record values of 35 degrees and above, unheard of since at least 15 years back.
Yesterday I returned by train from Scania in Southern Sweden, where I visited some friends at their summer cottage. The trip normally takes about 6 hours (Sweden is a big country). But due to the heat, fires on the track and loss of power on the rails, the train was just standing at a station for four hours, awaiting the signal to proceed. Fortunately there was air conditioning on board. Eventually we got moving again and I arrived back home in Hammarby Sjöstad around midnight. The trip took as long as my trip home from Chicago a month ago!
After a couple hours of uneasy sleep the sun found its way through the curtains and touched my cheeks, reminding me that another long sunny day was in the making. When I went out to the balcony, at 4.30 in the morning, Hammarby Sound (Hammarby Sjö) lay completely quiet in the golden glow of early sunshine. The water was subdued and acted as a mirror for the yellow gleam of heaven. The heat was still bearable, but already above 20 degrees and rising. Another glaring day in the making, a treat for the sun-loving Swedes!
The picture you are looking at shows Sophia Church (Sofia Kyrka), just opposite, and due north of, my apartment in Stockholm. As you can see from the church clock, it is precisely midnight. I arrived back home, after 12 weeks of travel, on the evening of 22 June, just some twenty minutes before taking this photo. For you, dear readers, not familiar with Sweden and its peculiarities, you are witnessing the famous white night of the Nordic midsummer.
All was quiet on this blessed occasion. The sun had, of course, already set, but was ambling along, slowly but surely, just a wee bit below the horizon, keeping the northern sky full of light, against which the church tower stood as an enticing silhouette. Suddenly, birds started to twitter, as if being confused between dusk and dawn. And right they were in being confused, since dusk merged with dawn without an intermittent period of dark. Soon the zone of lightness would pass the church and amble towards the right, getting more brilliant along its way until, an hour later, the first golden colours of the sun would start colouring its lower fringe, announcing the newly borne day. But at midnight, Hammarby Sound (Hammarby Sjö) to the right of the church was still spared the sun, being bathed instead by the vermillion of predawn.
I usually sleep with my window open. Yesterday morning, my nose and ears felt a bit numb. No wonder, the temperature had fallen well below the minus twenties during a clear night, passing into a beautiful morning. As I was eating my breakfast, around 7.30, all was quiet as the first rays of the sun started to illuminate house roofs. Soon I heard the first ferryboat laboring, with a crunching sound, through the ice across Hammarby Sound (Hammarby Sjö). Gradually tug boats started to join in, going towards Lake Mälar (Mälaren). A larger one, pushing a snowy barge ahead of it, parted in the opposite direction towards the sea.
Rarely do we experience such a harsh winter in Stockholm nowadays. It started to snow when I returned from the Canaries on 19 December and it has snowed off and on ever since. We have to go back twenty years in time to recall similar hardships. So I put the marvelous scene on record, not sure whether I would experience it again in my lifetime.
PS: The comments below are actually responses to an e-mail I sent to family and friends February last, with the picture and text I have replicated in the present post. DS