Trip to see penpal of 40 years

Carl and Maxine in Poznan, Poland.
Maxine with Fredrick and Blazenka Scheuer (formerly of Gisborne) in Lund, Sweden.
Maxine and Carl with the Cribb Family in the French Alps.
Maxine souvenir hunting in Stockholm with her penpal of many decades, Ritva.
Sea kayaking in Stockholm.

THIS story started about 40 years ago (and made print in January 2016), when my Finnish penpal and her family came to visit me and my family after 40 years of keeping in contact. We had kept in contact first by pen and paper and later, by email and Facebook.

My penpal’s name is Ritva Helberg, and she now lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her husband and the youngest of her three children.

When Ritva and her family came to visit us for Christmas in 2015, I promised to repay her effort by going to see her one day.

My husband Carl and I also saw it as an opportunity to visit the countries of our origins and visit friends and family in Europe and England.

I have a Danish connection through my father’s side, and Carl has both Danish and Polish heritage.

Like a lot of Kiwis do when heading to Europe, we went to London first (via Korea), and that was where our adventure started, catching up with two Gisborne expats who had been living there for the past 20 years.

After spending time in London, we flew to Spain and spent a week in a great little out-of-the-way place called Zurgena, where we were hosted by an English family who have Gisborne connections.

Zurgena, in Almeria Province, has a very Mexican feel to it and was used as the backdrop of some famous Spaghetti Westerns.

It is desert-like and the local architecture ranges from basic La Casa-style dwellings through to whitewashed, multi-room apartments built into the side of cliffs, similar to what is seen in Santorini, Greece.

From there, we flew to Stockholm to catch up with Ritva and her husband, Stefan.

They live approximately 40km out of Stockholm in a picturesque setting within a forest on the shores of the Stockholm Archipelago.

Beautiful city

Stockholm would have to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, consisting of 14 main islands and 24,000 minor islands.

While staying with Ritva, we experienced most of what Sweden has to offer in food and culture, including an afternoon of Abba and eating Surstromming (fermented Baltic sea herring — which only needs to be experienced once!)

During our time in Stockholm, we sailed to Helsinki in Finland to spend a day with Ritva’s mother.

We then travelled to the south of Sweden to the university city of Lund, where we caught up with another Swedish contact who had briefly worked in Gisborne in 2015, at a local GP practice, and whose children went to Wainui School.

We found Sweden to be a beautiful place with an amazing history, which dates back to the last ice age.

We drove from Lund across the famous Oresund bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark. In Denmark, we stayed with Carl’s family in Aarhus. Carl’s Danish uncle was married to a former Gisborne woman (Carl’s mother’s sister).

In Aarhus, we experienced both art and natural history in two of the amazing museums in that area.

From Aarhus, we took the train through Hamburg and Berlin to Poznan in Poland. This was a special moment for Carl, having a Polish surname and being the first in his family to return to Poland after his great-grandfather, August Niesterowski, left the country in the 1870s.

Posnan's old town

Poznan is a pretty city with an outstanding old town. People were friendly and welcoming and would recommend it as an Eastern European destination.

From Poznan, we travelled south to Krakow where we experienced Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, which was very moving and an education, to say the least. Krakow’s Old Town Square appears to be in festival mode every evening and it was a place we fell in love with.

From Poland, we crossed the border into the Czech Republic and spent some time hanging out in the tourist trap of Prague. This is another beautiful city with the ‘wow factor’ everywhere you look.

Then it was off to Geneva in Switzerland, where we stumbled across many people from Arab nations enjoying the Festival of Lights, which Geneva puts on in the first two weeks of August.

With all the negative publicity people from Arab nations can receive, it was refreshing to see families from that part of the world enjoying themselves without the turmoil they face in their regions.

It is only a short train trip to the French Alps, and that is where we caught up with another former Gisbornite who had made that part of the world his home. While in the French Alps, we got to witness the extreme sport of ski jumping, which at that time of the year, is done on an artificial surface. It was a world cup event, with the world record holder Stefan Kraft competing.

Cycling France to Italy

Carl also got to cycle one of the mountain passes from France into Italy, which is sometimes used in the Tour de France. For those who enjoy cycling, this is an absolute fantastic place to experience real high-altitude cycling.

From the Alps, we took a train further into the mainland of France to the city of Lyon, France’s second-largest city. We found Lyon very pleasant and wished we could have spent more time there. It too has a beautiful old town and a fantastic cathedral overlooking the city.

But we then headed back to England, where we spent a week exploring the Cotswolds.

This included boating on the upper Thames, experiencing the famous Gifford Circus and visiting Winston Churchill’s home, Blenheim Palace. We were again hosted by the English family with Gisborne connections.

Then we headed back home to Gisborne, having had a great time away.

THIS story started about 40 years ago (and made print in January 2016), when my Finnish penpal and her family came to visit me and my family after 40 years of keeping in contact. We had kept in contact first by pen and paper and later, by email and Facebook.

My penpal’s name is Ritva Helberg, and she now lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her husband and the youngest of her three children.

When Ritva and her family came to visit us for Christmas in 2015, I promised to repay her effort by going to see her one day.

My husband Carl and I also saw it as an opportunity to visit the countries of our origins and visit friends and family in Europe and England.

I have a Danish connection through my father’s side, and Carl has both Danish and Polish heritage.

Like a lot of Kiwis do when heading to Europe, we went to London first (via Korea), and that was where our adventure started, catching up with two Gisborne expats who had been living there for the past 20 years.

After spending time in London, we flew to Spain and spent a week in a great little out-of-the-way place called Zurgena, where we were hosted by an English family who have Gisborne connections.

Zurgena, in Almeria Province, has a very Mexican feel to it and was used as the backdrop of some famous Spaghetti Westerns.

It is desert-like and the local architecture ranges from basic La Casa-style dwellings through to whitewashed, multi-room apartments built into the side of cliffs, similar to what is seen in Santorini, Greece.

From there, we flew to Stockholm to catch up with Ritva and her husband, Stefan.

They live approximately 40km out of Stockholm in a picturesque setting within a forest on the shores of the Stockholm Archipelago.

Beautiful city

Stockholm would have to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, consisting of 14 main islands and 24,000 minor islands.

While staying with Ritva, we experienced most of what Sweden has to offer in food and culture, including an afternoon of Abba and eating Surstromming (fermented Baltic sea herring — which only needs to be experienced once!)

During our time in Stockholm, we sailed to Helsinki in Finland to spend a day with Ritva’s mother.

We then travelled to the south of Sweden to the university city of Lund, where we caught up with another Swedish contact who had briefly worked in Gisborne in 2015, at a local GP practice, and whose children went to Wainui School.

We found Sweden to be a beautiful place with an amazing history, which dates back to the last ice age.

We drove from Lund across the famous Oresund bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark. In Denmark, we stayed with Carl’s family in Aarhus. Carl’s Danish uncle was married to a former Gisborne woman (Carl’s mother’s sister).

In Aarhus, we experienced both art and natural history in two of the amazing museums in that area.

From Aarhus, we took the train through Hamburg and Berlin to Poznan in Poland. This was a special moment for Carl, having a Polish surname and being the first in his family to return to Poland after his great-grandfather, August Niesterowski, left the country in the 1870s.

Posnan's old town

Poznan is a pretty city with an outstanding old town. People were friendly and welcoming and would recommend it as an Eastern European destination.

From Poznan, we travelled south to Krakow where we experienced Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, which was very moving and an education, to say the least. Krakow’s Old Town Square appears to be in festival mode every evening and it was a place we fell in love with.

From Poland, we crossed the border into the Czech Republic and spent some time hanging out in the tourist trap of Prague. This is another beautiful city with the ‘wow factor’ everywhere you look.

Then it was off to Geneva in Switzerland, where we stumbled across many people from Arab nations enjoying the Festival of Lights, which Geneva puts on in the first two weeks of August.

With all the negative publicity people from Arab nations can receive, it was refreshing to see families from that part of the world enjoying themselves without the turmoil they face in their regions.

It is only a short train trip to the French Alps, and that is where we caught up with another former Gisbornite who had made that part of the world his home. While in the French Alps, we got to witness the extreme sport of ski jumping, which at that time of the year, is done on an artificial surface. It was a world cup event, with the world record holder Stefan Kraft competing.

Cycling France to Italy

Carl also got to cycle one of the mountain passes from France into Italy, which is sometimes used in the Tour de France. For those who enjoy cycling, this is an absolute fantastic place to experience real high-altitude cycling.

From the Alps, we took a train further into the mainland of France to the city of Lyon, France’s second-largest city. We found Lyon very pleasant and wished we could have spent more time there. It too has a beautiful old town and a fantastic cathedral overlooking the city.

But we then headed back to England, where we spent a week exploring the Cotswolds.

This included boating on the upper Thames, experiencing the famous Gifford Circus and visiting Winston Churchill’s home, Blenheim Palace. We were again hosted by the English family with Gisborne connections.

Then we headed back home to Gisborne, having had a great time away.

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