A new blog

Hello. I am Olaf Schneider, a German jazz musician, web developer and photographer having been living in Northern Sweden since April 2010.

It’s September 2014 and I just started a new blog. The main focus will be the great outdoors in Northern Scandinavia: about travelling, landscape, nature, weather and being outside afoot, with skis or kayak, but probably there’ll be many other articles, too: about swedish culture, events, photography, cute kittens and other bits and pieces. And a lot of pictures because I love outdoor photography!

I hope you’ll enjoy way up north. I’m looking forward to your numerous comments.

Have fun!
/Olaf

For nordwärts readers: why another blog?

Some of you might already know me in person or my German blog nordwärts, where I wrote more than 800 articles and published more than 3500 photos You’ll may ask “Why another blog?”

1. The language

nordwärts is German. There’re many Swedes that can speak a bit of German and understand more than they would admit. But only few of them can read it quite fluently. So I thought about writing nordwärts in German and Swedish. But beside of the increased time exposure writing bilingual I got more and more contact to people that neither speak Swedish or German whether they are from Finland or Dubai. Therefore I decided to write in English. (Yes, I’ll definitely make many mistakes.)

2. The topics

Four and a half years ago my new life in Northern Sweden was all amazingly new and exotic to me: The first snow in October, the Swedish language and culture, the reindeers on the inland roads. But many things got quite normal now. Still I adore my life in Northern Sweden, but it’s not new to me longer. I started writing about playing music on nordwärts or other things that are not at all Sweden-related. Should I write a public diary for the rest of my life? Probably not. Therefore I decided to shift focus away from “my (not so) new life in Sweden” to other topics as mentioned above.

3. Change

I love change. That’s all me!

About the technique

Just a short note about the technique. I have to admit that I was a bit lazy with testing the new blog. It should work quite well but there are a lot of untested combinations. If you find a bug or a glitch or have other problems with the blog please drop me a line. I’ll try to fix the problem if it’s not linked to Internet Exporer 6 or 7.

Thank you.
/Olaf

“Nordkalotten 2015” – The plan

I know it’s not true. But sometimes I have the impression that I travelled more in Northern Scandinavia when I lived in Germany than now where it’s right on my doorstep. I know it’s not true but at times it feels like it would be.

This year in spring I got the idea of travelling around in winter for a longer time, two month perhaps or even three. When I just talked about this idea with my employer, I directly got the answer: Great idea! Do it! That’s why you moved to Sweden! Well – that was kind of easy! And gave me another reason why I love working for Hello Future!

Then summer came and the dreams of snow and winter melted away while we had one of the hottest summers for many a long year. But now it’s September, 24 hours daylight are past and today in the morning the thermometer showed only 1.5 °C. Time to start planning my winter tour which I call “Nordkalotten 2015”. Nordkalotten is the Swedish word for “Cap of the North”, which is the European region around and north of the Arctic Circle.

You see the red ribbon on the map? That’s more or less the Arctic Circle and a bit of the Finnish-Russian border. My plan is to travel north and west of the ribbon and I already have many ideas of places to visit, for example Abisko, Gällivare, Honningsvåg, Jokkmokk, Karesuando, Kautokeino, Kebnekaise, Kirkenes, Kiruna, Lofoten, Nikkaluokta, Rovaniemi, Senja, Sodankylä, Solberget, Tromsø, Vesterålen, Værøy …

Whoa, Olaf, take it easy! The Cap of the North is huge! How many thousand kilometres of winter roads do you want to drive? You won’t see all places in only ten weeks if you want to leave your car sometimes.

So true! Well, as a matter of fact I hardly have any plans at all at present. I want to visit some friends for sure. And then I’ll try to do at least one ski tour, hopefully not alone. The rest? I’m not sure yet.

This is where you get into the game: Do you have any ideas? Know secret places? Have other tipps? Or even a place to stay? You’re more than welcome to write a comment (or if you want to keep it private to drop me a line by email).

I’m looking forward to your ideas.

More planning

I never ever travelled for more than three weeks, two weeks in the winter. Now I’m planning for two month. And beside of which places I want to visit I have a lot of questions in my mind:

  • What do I need for the car in winter?
  • Will the petrol stove work?
  • How much water and food rations shall I have with me in case that I get stuck in the middle of nowhere?
  • How can I keep the laptop warm, when I leave the car for some days?
  • Which equipment do I have to buy that I don’t already have?
  • When will the Samyang 12mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS fisheye arrive in the shops and how much will it cost?
  • Do I need snow chains or are the spiked tyres sufficient?
  • Should I buy a bigger light than my normal headlamp?

And last but not least:

  • How will it be to travel for a long time in winter, partly alone? Just great or will I be longing home to my own bed and my grand piano?

Well, I’ll see.

Two snaps in the autumn morning

German Version on nordwärts / deutsche Version auf nordwärts >

Last night we had a clear and starry night above Skelleftehamn. You could even see polar light, a large bow in the northern sky, but it was quite pale and quickly faded away.

Temperature dropped down to -5 °C, the coldest night since springtime. I woke up half past six – just a few minutes too late to catch the sunrise, but I went outdoors anyway. It was still chilly this morning and sky was clear.

To my big surprise there was no ice at all on even the tiniest water puddles. I guess the ground is still too warm to let the water freeze over night. However, when I’m outside I want to take pictures. Two of the todays snapshots:

Photographers comment: Contrasts are quite extreme on these against-the-light-shots, that’s why the sky it white instead of coloured. I should have taken my gradient filters with me for better exposure.

Two early shots at the seaside

When I wake up earlier than necessary I have two choices. Either to stay in bed, turn on the other side and continue sleeping, or to get out of bed and – if weather is fine – make some photos. Today I chose the latter of the two and drove to the “lotsstation”, the nearest of my favourite places which is just two and a half kilometres away, and waited for the sun rise.

Two shots of this morning, the 1st day in October:

Swedish sports?

Swedish triathlon?I guess we all know those signs “No diving”. But today I spotted a sign on the peninsula Örviken, that surprised me. It said “Dykning (med eller utan cykel) förbjudet” which means “Diving (with or without bicycle) prohibited.

I try to imagine what happened at that place? Flocks of Swedish teens cycling like mad right into the water? Maybe, for it definitely was an extraordinary warm summer this year and I would believe many things the Swedes could do, if it’s only holidays, warm summer and twenty-four hours of daylight.

Autumn colours round the corner

Sunset in Skelleftehamn is 17:55 today. Therefore I didn’t have much time to shoot an after-job autumn photo today. But just some hundred meters away there’s a small boat harbour and I managed to capture the last sun beams on the coloured trees before the sun disappeared behind the opposite line of trees.

Probably not the best motive, but I love the autumn colours. As every autumn I have the impression that I soak up those bright colours like a sponge. Soon the trees will shed their leaves and even the first snow may fall in October or early November.

Étude – making photos at the rocky shore

There’s nice autumn weather with blue sky and there’s today, a windy day with a clouded sky, but at least no rain. I took a tour to the rocky shore at Långhällan, one of my favourite places nearby. My plan was to practise. The musical pieces that provide you with practising material are called étude. That’s why I’ll call it “étude” when I practise photography.

Todays topic: Long time exposure which filters at daylight to blur the waves. I’ll show you the unedited snapshots of two motifs at the coast. That’s how it looks like, if you just do “click”.

Ok, that’s the motifs. They show some kind of chaos, because the windy weather created quite big waves (at least for the bottenviken – the most northern part of the Baltic Sea) and it’s hard to distinguish between the waves and the rocks. There’re several way to improve the photos. One: Wait for better weather. Two: Work with filters.

In the following images I used the Big Stopper, a filter that takes away 99.9% of the incoming light and forces you to exposure 1000 times longer than usual. Instead of 1/20 of a second for example you would expose 50 seconds, long enough to blur all the moving objects as the waves, but to keep the sharpness of the stable objects as the rocks. Additionally I used a graduated filter to avoid overexposure of the sky. And that’s the first motif with the filters, edited in Lightroom.

The long exposure transforms the waves in some kind of a foggy layer, making the photo look like flying over cloudy mountains. I’m not so happy with the shot. Waves are too high blurring bigger parts of the rocks and the sky is quite dull making the photo almost looking like black-white.

By way of comparison a photo of the same motif I made last year which I prefer instead of the todays shot:

The next photo I like much better. The rocks are looking rougher and the tuft of grass is a nice eye catcher giving the photo both a focus and a story. It will be the first image of my series “one”.

What do you need beside of the filters to make these photos: First of all a stable tripod, it’s a must. A remote release is quite handy to avoid shaky images. And last not least, warm and water proof clothes. I had chest waders to get to the big rock through knee deep water and to kneel without getting wet.

Some vocabularies for my German readers:

exposure – Belichtung
expose – belichten
blur – weichzeichnen, verwackeln, verwischen
tripod – Stativ
remote release – Fernauslöser
chest waders – Wathose

Last not least, just another photo from today, perhaps my favourite:

Looking through the window

Heavy rain fall today in Skelleftehamn and quite windy with temperatures dropping to 5 °C. More and more leaves – still bright yellow – cover the streets or are flushed away into the next drain. Soon the trees will be leafless and golden October will turn into grey.

This is the season where I start longing for snow and for wintry calmness. Even if I love all seasons, winter remains my favourite one.

Fly agaric

I thought it would be too late for fly agarics and other mushrooms since it got quite cold the last days, but nope, I was wrong. On my short yesterdays afternoon walk through the woods I found this nice couple: One older and sun bleeched, the other just sprouting. A patch of red in the more and more brownish landscape.

For my German readers:

Fly agaric – Fliegenpilz

Autumnal kayak tour

Today morning weather was calm with a grey sky, but later it brightened up a bit and I decided to take a kayak trip. Summer kayaking with just a life vest over your t-shirt are definitely past for this year, since both air and water where chilly. It always takes a bit of time before I finally sit in the kayak: Emptying the kayak from this weeks rain fall, dressing, fixing map and compass as well as the camera and finally dragging the boat into the water.

Minutes later I paddled round the northwest point of the island Storgrundet which lies off the coast of Skelleftehamn. The birches on the island where almost completely leafless, only the rowan trees still wear their many-coloured leaves and bright red berries.

On the outer side of Storgrundet the sea was a bit wavy and I tried to make pictures of the waves flooding the bow of my kayak. But I wasn’t lucky because when bigger waves came I felt safer with the paddle in both hands.  I landed on the small island Brottören, hardly more than a flat pile of stones, some birches, rowan trees and a shallow pond. On one of the bigger rocks I found a twig with rowan berries and I wondered if a human or a bird laid it onto this stone.

I continued in calmer sea between Brottören and Storgrundet where I had a nice view on the Island Norrskär with many coloured trees. Alas the sun hid behind clouds again.

Since weather was a bit dull I didn’t continue to other island but returned to the tiny sandy beach where my kayak has been laying since summer. The sharp tracks of the keel where the only tracks I left today.

Protected against wind and waterTo protected against wind and weather and – much more important – I use a dry suit. I bought it second hand, it is too big and not at all breathable. This could be a problem on longer tours since you start sweeting and getting means getting cold. The head was protected by a balaclava – there may be prettier things – because on the open sea it’s always a bit windy and chilly. And even if I love cold and even rough weather, I don’t like to freeze.

On my wish list: A neoprene balaclava – much better when it gets wet, and a better dry suit for kayaking, but those are extremely expensive and cost up to 1000 Euros.

Two cloud shots in the morning.

Living near the coast was a bit disappointing the last days when it came to making photos. Snow in the inland – for example 15 cm in Malå on Sunday? We got just twenty snow flakes on Monday morning melting directly on the wet ground. Polar lights last night? Yes, in many places of Norway, in Abisko, even in Kusfors which is just 70 km away. But we in Skelleftehamn had overcast sky the whole night probably due to the near Baltic Sea.

Therefore I neither got photos of fresh snow-covered landscapes nor of any polar lights this week. I have to wait, you, too.

But when it comes to clouds I have to admit that they can look quite nice in the morning. The following two photos showing the island Gåsören I made at the Lotsstation today.

Freezing over

Last night temperature was below zero, but not too cold. To my big surprise it was cold enough to let the small duck pond in Skelleftehamn freeze over completely anyway. The yellow-brownish leaves lay on, in and under the thin new ice. The rudtjärnen – a lake perhaps twenty times as big – was completely open by contrast. I had a look at the rocky landscape nearby and most of the puddles were frozen over with 3mm ice, too, but not all of them. I guess, there must be some warmer spots in some places even if the sun is hardly shining.

The first ice on the Baltic sea

After a clear and starry night temperatures dropped to -6 °C. I was quite curious if there would be ice on the Baltic Sea already and drove to the beach of Storgrundet. Of course the sea is still open in the midst of October, but in some protected bays the first thin sea ice starts covering the water. While I looked around the sun rose and instantly changed the colours of the scenery showing a nice contrast between the bluish ice in the shadowy and the warm colours in the sunlit parts.

Even if it’s cold, some bluebells are still blooming. I guess there’re quite tough. They really look nice with the tiny hoar frost crystals on their blue petals. (I guessed I looked quite funny while taking this picture from below with my head lower than my feet …)

The sun rose higher while it was still quite cold. A small outboard motorboat with two people in bright red thermal suits and fur caps went by. I took another photo of the first motif, just ten seconds before the tiny bow waves of the boat reached the thin ice and crushed it into pieces. That was the time when I realised that it’s friday, no weekend yet and I definitely should start working. So I drove home and took the bus at 9:30. Still -5 °C – the first day where a down jacket came quite handy.

Now its a quarter to eight, -5 °C again and I want to go paddling tomorrow morning. But I’m still unsure how to dress. I’m not too experienced in cold weather paddling.

Some vocabularies for my German readers:

starry – sternenklar
Baltic Sea – Ostsee
bluebell – Glockenblume
hoar frost – Raureif
petal – Blütenblatt
outboard – Außenborder
bow wave – Bugwelle

Faint polar lights

I wake up at 1:50 and stood up to drink a little bit and directly continue sleeping, but I made a mistake. I looked out of the window! Quite clear and colourful polar lights glowed on the northern sky.

Aurora photographers question number one: Shall I go out? Or continue sleeping?

Guess which ten minutes were the best of all? Right, those ten minutes in the beginning, where I put on winter clothes for a cold October night, got camera bag, flashlight and tripod, spend valuable minutes with scraping the ice from my windscreen and drove to the nearby beach. At the tiny beach of Storgrundet, same place where I took pictures of the first sea ice last morning I sat more than an hour on the frozen sand and looked at the faint and pale polar lights, that increased for some hopeful seconds just to fade again.

Aurora photographers question number two: Shall I go in again? Or continue waiting?

What did I do, while waiting for the polar light to become stronger? I took photos. It’s always a small challenge with night shots, but I think it’s fun, even if I’m tired and both motifs and results are mediocre. When it comes to polar light I normally try to catch as much scenery as possible by using a wide angle lens. This time I used a telephoto lens to go more into details. A new trick I learned tonight when polar lights where pail and formless.

I got frost (- 7°C), ice and Northern Lights. Now I’m looking forward to the first snow. It could come on Sunday or be long in coming. Stay tuned for the first photos of snowy landscapes.

Breaking the ice

6:15 rang my iPhone alarm and woke me up, far too early for a Saturday, but I made up a plan yesterday when I took pictures from the ice: I want to see the sunrise. From my kayak! I took a short breakfast, packed my camera, water, a snack and my immersion suit and drove to the small Storgrundet beach again. Half of the sea between the island and land was covered with ice.

immersion-suitSome minutes later I sat in my kayak and started my trip. It was harder to get ahead than expected. Even if ice was just three to five millimetres thick you could easily lay down the paddle without braking it. And so I had to prick the blade through the ice to force me forward. The cracking sounds of the ice smashed by my kayak reminded me on the tour with the “Arctic Explorer”, an ice breaker in Piteå. But I’m not sure if I would break as little as a single centimetre with the blade of my paddle. The immersion suit that I wore for protection in case of flipping over or falling into the icy water is quite alike the survival suits on the Arctic Explorer, too. You can lie in ice water for quite a long time without even freezing. But moving in it is hard because the neoprene is quite thick and stiff and the attached gloves are not very comfortable.

The sky was mostly clear, just some clouds in the east gleamed in warm early pre-sunrise colours. And far afield just over the horizon you could see a big wall of grey clouds. The locals call this clouds vinterväggen (The winter wall), since this is a typical cloud pattern in the winter months. It was awesome to be out, feeling the chilly air in the face, listening to the cracking sounds of the fresh ice and watching the changing sunrise colours reflecting on the icy surface.

But the ice gave me a quite hard time and so I decided after a while not to round another island but to head back to the beach and perhaps take another nap after the short last night. Therefore I turned my kayak and paddled back. I could see the channels of open water that the boat cut into the ice on my way there. I tried to use these channels to make paddling simpler, but it hardly help. Not the boat is the problem but the blade. Finally I went ashore again after one of the shortest kayak trips ever. But it was completely worth it!

Sunday rain and wet snow

That’s how it looked like today morning when I went out into the heavy rain.

And that’s how it looked like some hours later on my way to the bastu – the sauna – in Kågehamn.

Even the footwear differed.

The illusion of winter

No, no, it’s not winter yet, it’s October. Yes, it snowed a bit in Skellefteå last weekend. Yes, some frozen snow is left. Yes, the maximum temperature in Skelleftehamn was only + 0.2 °C yesterday. Yes, we even have snow storm this night (snow warning: 5 – 15 cm until tomorrow morning).

But after the snow storm it will get warm. And rainy! 4 °C at lunchtime and 6 °C in the evening. With wind gusts up to 60 km/h. Probably the streets will be full of wet slush tomorrow and I won’t leave the house without rubber boots. But, as I mentioned above, it’s not winter, it’s just plain old October.

Anyway, the snow covering the houses, the gardens and the streets and lighting up the whole nocturnal scenery gives a perfect illusion of winter, even if it’s only for a night and half a day.

Some photos made in the forest two hours before the snow arrived:

And some photos I made in Skelleftehamn just now, between ten and eleven o’clock:

 

Bog colors

The illusion of winter is past. The snow that fell two nights ago melted the next day and made place for warmer weather with a grey-white, cloudy sky and some rain.

For me the colours of early autumn are the yellow and red leaves, but the colours of late autumn, that’s all these shades of brown found in bogs and swamps. Today I made a short tour in a bog nearby to catch these colours. Large parts of the bog were frozen and you could walk quite easily, other parts were wet and muddy. Therefore I left by big camera home and took my waterproof Nikon AW1 instead. A good choice, even if the quality of the photos is a bit poorer.

The last image shows the forest way I took, which was partly covered with soft ice. I was a bit nervous when driving, because I still have summer tyres on my car, but it was much easier to drive than I thought. When I was home I washed my muddy clothes and – luxury! – took a hot bath after this chilly and wet bog walk.