Link Clubs joint meeting in Sweden 2016
"Highly recommended, 5 star, the best ever ....... " Often when expectations are high - events disappoint. May be the reverse is true.
I suspect in Taunton we underestimated the programme for the 2016 international exchange in Sweden. But for me, and I think for the other Taunton Vale Rotarians who attended, it was a highly enjoyable weekend; well worth the effort of getting there and back. A chance to rekindle old friendships and, equally important, to make new ones.
Nykvarn is a small town and a small club but small can be beautiful and they were big on effort and welcome. Karin (a new Rotarian) and Thorbjorn Wallin could not have been more hospitable towards Margaret and me; their lakeside home was beautifully furnished and had a stunning location.
It is hard in a few words to convey atmosphere and empathy. An hour spent in tri-country teams solving clues from Lego to literature may not sound like fun - but actually it was a great idea creating much laughter and happy rivalry; and the after dinner entertainment - a group of 11 musicians from 9 different countries - was both a delight and an example of what "international" is all about.
What we did:
After an early Ryanair flight from Stansted, our host Karin, was waiting to meet us at Skavsta airport. Following a short drive she took us for lunch at a canal-side town which translated means 'knickers' and, as is often the case, was very pretty. (I won't pursue this line further as I see a deep hole and a shovel looming!)
After lunch we ambled round looking at the old buildings and shops before a further drive (on the country route) to our host's home at Sandvyk, about 6 kilometres outside Nykvarn. We had an hour or so to relax before it was time to change in time for pre-dinner drinks and then a twenty minute drive around the lake to Taxinge Slott. Nykvarn Rotary club hold their regular meetings in the library of this historic manor house which during the day is a cafe serving a huge selection of cakes and pies. During the year it is said that you can choose from over 5,000 different recipes. Unsurprisingly - cakes were served for dessert (very melt in the mouth).
Saturday morning saw us assembling in the centre of Nykvarn to join a coach for the 30 minute drive to Stockholm. Once there we were given a tour of the main city sites including the famous city hall, royal palace, parliament, opera house and national theatre. Stockholm is a beautiful city, often dubbed the Venice of the north. Then it was on a short distance to the recently opened Abba museum. This interactive experience has been created in a huge under-ground space which somehow adds to the night-club atmosphere and is so much more than a collection of pop memorabilia. Next was lunch in a nearby restaurant before a short walk to Waldemarsudde, a Royal Park notable for its gardens and range of sculpture ranging from Rodin to modern(ish) Swedish works. For added entertainment a young stag (probably startled by seeing so many Rotarians) leapt into the water and attempted to swim across the 3/4 mile harbour entrance dodging freighters and pleasure craft. Luckily it was spotted by the crew of a police RIB and given a blue light escort back to dry land and safety.
After coffee (and more cakes) the coach was waiting to take us back through the now busy centre of Stockholm and on to Nykvarn. Again there was just over an hour to relax before the evening's surprise dining (for us at the home of Katarina and Mats Ingemarson) - another evening of delightful food and company.
Sunday allowed us a much needed lie-in with a leisurely breakfast not served until 9 30. Late morning saw us departing for the historic town of Mariefred with its ancient church, castle and historic steam railway.
Then it was on to Sodertuna Castle/Manor, an early 18th century building on a 13th century site which has recently been converted to a high class spar and conference centre. After a substantial tea, there were conducted tours of the building and an update presentation of the Solvatten solar powered clean water project in Tanzania supported in recent years by the three clubs.
While we were enjoying the tour and presentation, Nykvarn members had been setting up an international quiz with clues spread round the extensive grounds. Teams of UK, French and Swedish members then competed to find and solve the questions and attempt an impossible Swedish game of Kubb which can be summed up as throwing sticks at sticks while avoiding other sticks.
Dinner was in one of the banqueting suites, a lovely meal with excellent wines. Nykvarn president, Paul Tamm, welcomed us, mentioned some of recent the collaborations between Nykvarn and other Swedish clubs and talked about the value of international exchanges. Redon has lost a number of members over the past year by deaths, people leaving the area and one resignation. President Georges Migaud explained that his club is having to work hard to attract new members. He sees working in and with the local community as important for this. The challenge of declining numbers, also faced by Rotary in much of the UK, was the theme of Paul Hughes speech. He said we must adapt almost everything about Rotary if we are to prosper in the 21st Century.
Then for half an hour we were entranced by a group of a group of 11 people, all now living in a small town not too far from Nykvarn, but made up of musicians from 9 different countries. The music was at times haunting, unusual and atmospheric, reflecting mainly Africa, the Middle East and central Europe. Per head of population, Sweden has more people born outside of its borders than any other European country. The leader of 'the orchestra', a Swede who had spent more than 20 years living in Italy, said, "This is what we must do." "If every ethnic group just lives, works and plays within its own community there will be serious problems. We must live and work and enjoy ourselves and share our sorrows together. Then we can make a good future." It was a fitting, musical summary for our weekend.
Over coffee, more cakes and night caps it was time to start our goodbyes. Some had to make early starts either to travel to France or England or just home to be ready for work the following morning (it is not unusual for Swedes to be at work for 7 a.m.). We were among the lucky few who stayed overnight at the castle and could enjoy a sumptuous breakfast on the balcony in the morning sunshine, overlooking yet another lake.
Thank you Nykvarn - we hope to see many of you in Taunton next year.