Month: January 2014

Back to Loka

One of the houses at Loka Brunn, with the yellow house “Finnhyttan” behind.

I’m here for the second time this year, but this time at a two day diabetes conference. It’s still winter, the snow is deep, the air crisp and icy, but the days are thankfully getting longer. Its evening and I am sitting in my room, one of 150 (Loka Brunn can house up to 300 guests) hotel rooms in the scattered buildings of this old spa resort. The building that contains my room bears the name Finnhyttan, and is a big old yellow wooden house dating back to the 19th century. But the history of Loka Brunn goes much further back, at least to the 1600s. Even in mediaeval times the springs of Loka were a much appreciated resting place for pilgrims travelling to the holy shrine of St Olaf in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the most important pilgrimage site in Northern Europe.

Loka really took off as as a health spa in the 1760s, when the king of Sweden, Adolf Fredrik, came to drink the waters. The king had long suffered from migraines which were cured after a two week stay at Loka following a prescription of 4-6 liters intake of spring water per day, as well as mud baths and cold water bathing. Massage was added later as part of the standard treatment regime.

The area grew into a little colony of houses during the 18th and 19th centuries, and new buildings were added throughout the twentieth, so that there are now over 50 buildings her, one of which is the spa centre or “Water Salon”. Although contemporary medical treatment is far removed from the treatments of the 1600s, Loka is still linked closely with health care through its use by the Örebro Health Authority for conferences and educational events, like the conference which I am currently attending.

And there are the added attractions of a relaxing spa or massage in the evening, and an excellent restaurant which serves gourmet meals, to look forward to after a long day of lectures and discussion.

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Loka Brunn

Back in November I wrote a blog about conference centres in Sweden. A week or so ago I stayed overnight at one of the centres I mentioned in that blog. I drove out to Loka Brunn in driving snow, in the darkness of the evening. Loka Brunn is located in a valley between forested ridges. There is a lake on each side, but the water was frozen and the lakes were just wide expanses of snow. The centre has a rather newly built spa centre, but people have been coming here to “take the waters” for over a hundred years. In summer, of course, you can swim in the lakes, but it seems that every time I have been to Loka since my first visit around 5 years ago it has been winter. Loka feels to me a bit like the Narnia depicted in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – a place where it is always winter. The local health authority, which is my employer, often uses Loka Brunn for its educational events. It is a lovely place to spend a few days. But I have not had time to take advantage of the skiing tracks, or even the spa, on recent visits. I did manage a quick stroll around the grounds this time, and got a few pictures of the beautiful surroundings. The house above was the one in which my room was located, with one of the lakes beyond.

Woodstack

Winter has been slow in coming this year. After a “green Christmas” and a New Year marked by darkness and rain, but not especially cold, the mercury has finally started to dip below freezing. Stacking wood is an artform in Sweden, not one that we have perfected, but today we moved the two cubic metres (that Maria’s brother delivered to us yesterday) into its place. Ready now for whatever the rest of the winter may throw at us. If the snow keeps up who knows, we may even get som skiing in…

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Epiphany

Today is a public holiday in Sweden. Epiphany. Most Australians have no idea what Epiphany is, but here in Sweden the common name for this day is Trettondagen – “thirteenth day” – so people realise it is somehow related to Christmas. It is, in other words, a religious high day, and even non-Christian Swedes, at least the older generation, know that it is the day when the arrival of the wise men is believed to have happened.

But why should it be a holiday? I suppose it harks back to the days when Sweden saw itself as a Christian nation, and notable Christian days were marked on the calendar as times for rest and reflection. Nowadays it is just a day of rest, but reflection on the nativity and the wise men is possibly not a major focus for the majority. Holidays are taken very seriously in Sweden, as they are in Australia. But here we have 6 days off during the Christmas season – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day and Epiphany – whereas in Australia there are only 3 – Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.

It is notable that there are still so many public holidays in Sweden that are Christian festivals. As well as Epiphany there are the Easter Days, and also Ascension Day. Until recently there was also Pentecost, but it was replaced by Swedish National Day. Many were upset about the removal of Pentecost from the holiday calendar, but not, I suspect, for religious reasons. Sweden is surely one of the most secular “Christian” countries in the world, and certainly sees itself as the most modern. Apparently a recent survey of a large sample of young people in Sweden showed that only 10% believed that faith was important in life. 45% believed that faith was irrelevant, not important at all. Another survey that someone mentioned to me the other day showed that 20% of people in Sweden don’t know why we celebrate Christmas.

But both believers and non-believers were off work today, at least as many as could be spared from the essential services that keep the nation running. Our whole family had the day off too. We went for a walk in the early afternoon. The ground was bare and the branches black against the sky. The winter has been too warm for snow to stay around more than a day or two – I have been thinking of it as our English winter, because it reminds me of my childhood winters in England. Many days have been foggy and damp, but for the few hours of daylight today the sky was blue. We wandered through the forest and down to the university, then back up the hill and home again.

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