No, it’s not winter yet, but …

No, it’s not winter yet. It’s autumn. Look at the coloured trees that I photographed in Skelleftehamn yesterday morning.

No, it’s not winter yet. Well, it snowed in Lövånger – 40 km south – some days before. Yes, in the shadow of the forests there are still patches of snow. Ok, the shallow parts of the lake Gårdefjärden had started to freeze over, but it’s not winter yet.

No, it’s not winter yet. But it’s dark. And when it’s dark, there could be polar lights. Annika rang me at 19:40 and told me that strong polar lights covered the sky. And so it was. I took my camera, hopped into the car and drove to the beach Storgrundet. First mistake: no memory card in the camera – good to have a spare one. Second mistake: en empty battery – good to have a spare one. When I was ready to take pictures, the most impressive polar lights already had gone but I made some pictures anyway.

No, it’s not winter yet. But the winter will come with frost and snow – sooner or later. And hopefully with a lot of sunny days. And more polar lights.

A two-day journey to Stora Fjäderägg

There are so many wonderful and special locations to stay overnight in Northern Scandinavia. Many of them are quite far away as e.g. Låktatjåkko (590 km) or Kjølnes Fyr (970 km). Others are quite near.

Two days ago Annika and I started a two-day journey to such a place, unknown to both of us. Already the journey was interesting, since you cannot reach the destination by land. We started in Umeå and drove to Norrfjärden, where we parked the car and waited for the 8 o’clock ferry to the island Holmön. This ferry is operated by the Trafikverket (Swedish Transport Administration) and free of charge.

We had four hours to explore this island, part of the island group Holmöarna, that have 75 year-round inhabitants. The small village Byviken, where we arrived has a boat museum and a small shop, that is open all year. We went for a walk and discovered a nice place: Bergudden. There’s a lighthouse and you can rent rooms, on request even in wintertime.

We arrived back in time to wait for the departure of our next vehicle: Holmöslupen.

Holmöslupen is a chalupa, an old cutter-like sail boat which is a reconstruction of an old boat type as commonly used 100 years ago. It takes up to 12 passengers and you are allowed (and asked) to help with e.g. hoisting the sails. Life vests available, sailing experience not needed. This boat would bring us to our final destination.

The wind was so weak, that we sailed only a part and mostly used the motor. Otherwise the trip (planned to take 40 to 60 minutes) would have taken several hours. We passed the islands Trappskär and Lill-Fjäderägg before we arrived at our travel destination Stora Fjäderägg, an island of 1.8 km × 1.3 km.  Here’s a hostel driven by the STF (Swedish Tourist Association). The story of this hostel is worth to tell:

After people of the boat museum were done with the building the Holmöslupen they asked themselves what to do with such a fine and seaworthy ship. It was them who had the idea to install a hostel on the uninhabited island Stora Fjäderägg just to give the chalupa a purpose. That’s why there is a hostel on a desert island in the Northern Baltic Sea and a wooden boat that transport the guests.

Some images of the island:

There is electricity on the island, there is mobile internet and there is drinking water. The latter comes from a well and especially this year you have to be economical with it due to the long period of dryness. Luckily it rained some days ago and the rain barrels were filled to the brim. The rain water is used for washing oneself and for the dishes. The hostel has a fully equipped kitchen, but you have to bring all food with you.

Annika and I had decided for one of the all-time travel dinners: spaghetti with pesto and parmesan cheese. It was very warm but not too hot to sit outside. We enjoyed our meal and watched the barn swallow feeding its six children that begged for food with open beaks. They seemed to be almost grown-up and hardly fitted into the small nest any more.

We were told, that there are many seals round Stora Fjäderägg and where to find them. Together with Annika I doubtfully followed the tiny path through the heath – I’ve never seen a single seal in the Swedish Baltic Sea since I moved here eight years ago. The ground became rocky and we had a view of the sea. First I saw a black spot on top of a grey spot. A seal on a rock? Then we saw round black spots floating back and forth – definitely seals, I never heard of swimming rocks … . I used a small tree for cover and creeped nearer. The back spot was a seal too and other seals were lying along a headland a bit farther away.

I took the camera, ducked and tried to creep nearer to a large boulder to hide behind. The seal however saw me and *splash* jumped into the water and dived away. I waited behind the rock and I was lucky. After some minutes a seal approached the same rock and crawled onto it. I was so near that I could hear the flippers splashing.

After having taken these photos I returned to Annika and the seal – seeing me – dived again. This rock kept empty for the next time but along the headland more and more seals appeared and seemed to cover the rocks completely. Next time I’ll definitely will take my huge tele photo lens with me.

We both sat there for a while – on a big rock, both listening and watching. The sun had already set, zillions of small insects hummed and buzzed around and we watched the many grey seals, at least 40 of them. Finally we decided to walk back as long it was light. Some of the small paths are not easy to walk on. On our way back I stopped because I saw something moving. It was a young hare. No, it was two of them. No, even more.

Three young hares were hopping around, eating a bit of grass and completely ignoring us. I was able to get close to three meters and still they didn’t seem to be frightened at all. I increased the ISO of my camera to 3200 and took some photos of these cute furry animals. (Don’t ask me what they do in photo 3 and 4, I’m not a hare expert.)

When we arrived at the hostel nightfall had intensified. Frog hopped around everywhere and the blue hour invited for taking more pictures. I however was tired and only took a photo of the old lighthouse before going to bed.

The next day: After a nice outside breakfast Annika and I took another walk over the island. Stora Fjäderägg has a lot of historical places, anything between the not-so-old lighthouse and ancient heaps of stones only readable for archeologists. Here are some of them:

Again it was warm or even hot at midday. Passing the lighthouse we returned to the hostel longing for water to drink.

Apropos lighthouse: We were ten people on the island that had stayed overnight: The host family (3), Annika and I (2), a family from Örnsköldsvik (4) and a man that had bought that old lighthouse. He showed Annika and me around and told us about his plans to renovate the lighthouse and to build a flat into it. A great project that probably will take some years, because it’s just a summer project.

We already had packed our backpacks and cleaned our rooms, now we were ready to go back to the small harbour waiting for the Holmöslupen. This time we were lucky, we could use both mainsail and foresail to sail back to Holmön.

Step by step we came back to civilisation: Holmön – the grocery shop (ice cream!) – the ferry to the mainland – the parked car – driving the E4 to Umeå – a Thai restaurant – home at Annika.

Conclusion: Absolutely worth it! I’m sure it wasn’t the last time, that Annika and I travelled to this very special place.

More info:

 

Ships on the horizon

Two ships on the horizon. Blueish and blurred, far away from shore. The internet reveals: To the left it’s the Rolldock Sky, to the right it’s the Tian Jian. Both vessels are on the way to Piteå, the next town in the north with a larger port.

The ships make me dream a bit. Where will they continue next? To another Swedish town? To Finland or the Netherlands? To China? Where will they travel? It’s a tempting thought to travel onboard of such a ship with loads of books and loads of time.

Tian Jian has hardly move since yesterday. Perhaps it waits for the next job. The Rolldock Sky however has arrived in Piteå. I will follow the ships over the next weeks on MarineTraffic. I’m too curious what the next destinations may be and how long it will take the ships to go there.

The first paddling 2018

At last – the first paddling of the season! The sea ice came early this winter and remained until late April. In early May Annika and I visited Gotland for a week and when we came back spring had arrived in Västerbotten. Since then I was either working or it was too windy or I was too lazy.

Despite to problems with my elbow I decided to kayak today. It was mostly sunny and hardly any wind – good conditions for a start. As many times I started at the beach of Storgrundet which is 1.6 km to go. I used the waistbelt of my pulka and a cord for dragging the kayak behind on its cart without using my hands. Quite comfortable!

At the beach I put the cart aside, put on my life jacket and started the tour, that took me first round Storgrundet and then along the outside of the islands Storgrundet,  Norrskär and Bredskär.

I took it quite easy to avoid overstressing my elbow. The first kilometre the elbow still hurted but became gradually better. I watched the blue sky, the approaching cirrus clouds, the ripples on the water and was glad to be on the Baltic Sea again.  Last time I was walking …

When you paddle along the outside of Bredskär you only see forest and a stony beach. The summer cottages are on the other side. One of the cottages belongs L. and S., my neighbours. I went ashore and was welcomed by S., who invited me to fried herring, caught by net just the day before. Delicious! We sat outside and talked about everything while I deepened the friendship with dog Dolly.

Finally I left the island and continued my tour, slowly heading home. Thank you S. for the herring and nice company!

I arrived at Storgrundet round two o’clock but it took an hour until I was home. First I just had to take a refreshing bath. Yes, it’s definitely refreshing with a water temperature round 15 °C. My tight back however loves the cold water. Then I met another acquaintance and we had a longer talk. Finally I walked my kayak home where I arrived six hours after departure.

The island Fårö

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

It’s Thursday, our 4th full day on Gotland. Today we want to hire a car, meet Ingrid again and explore Fårö, an island northeast from Gotland.

We return our e-bikes, that we used the last two days and walk to Mickes biluthyrning, where we rent a VW Passat from 1995. Annika drives. We fill up the car and drive to Lärbro, where we meet Ingrid. She has been living on Gotland for a year and will guide us around.

In Fårösund we drive on the free ferry; the ferry crossing takes only 8 minutes. Then we are on Fårö.

First stop: Fårö kyrka. Beside this church used to be a tourist information, but it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not a big problem, since Ingrid knows all these places she wants to show us.

The next stop however is a request of Annika and me: a real bakery! With a few exceptions, there are no bakeries in Northern Sweden and we enjoy visiting this one. We buy bread and cake and take a break to eat the latter.

We drive through the landscapes of Fårö, which are as varied as Gotland’s landscapes. Sometimes you think, you are in Spain or Greece, sometimes you believe being in Northern Germany and (only) sometimes in Sweden. Now I understand the Swedish people better, who say that Gotland is not Sweden.

Next stop Fårö Fyr, the lighthouse of Fårö, located at the easternmost point of Fårö. There’s a beautiful rock coast, but we do not stay very long, there’s a lot to see.

Next stop Skärsändan, a beautiful sandy beach that is several kilometres long. Annika and I take a bath (the water is quite shallow) and then Ingrid, Annika and I walk barefooted along the beach.

After a longer promenade we continue our Fårö exploration trip. On the way to Langhammars Raukar we make a stopover. Here we find many things typical for Gotland and Fårö: grey sheep, windmills, thatched houses, braided fences and dry stone walls.

Next stop is Langhammars Raukar, one of the famous spots with rauks – steep limestone formations formed by the waves of the sea. On of them reminds me on the stone statues of the Easter Island.

We continue to another fascinating spot, three kilometres away: Helgumannen, an old abandoned fishing village. This group of tiny wooden houses located on a rocky beach that seems to be endless looks really remote and I ask myself what kind of live the inhabitants had.

The last stop on Fårö for today: Gamle Hamn, another spot well-known for raukar. The last photo shows the “coffee pot”. Personally it reminds me more of Buckbeak, the hippogriff in Harry Potter.

I has become late, we are hungry and a bit tired. Ingrid drives the way back to the ferry and soon we are on Gotland again. Here we take the first restaurant and get something to eat, before we drive back to Lärbro and say goodbye to Ingrid.

Tusen takk, Ingrid for a wonderful day!

When Annika and I arrive in Visby it’s so late that the sun sets and the ice cream shop is already closed.

Three bicycle tours on Gotland – Wednesday

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

A bicycle tour in seven scenes

1. To Ihre by bus

It’s Wednesday. As yesterday we’ve planned a bicycle tour, this time north from Visby again. Today we want to try to take the bus and cycle back. We have to get up early, the bus leaves at 7:55. As we hoped, the bus driver will transport our bikes. The way however is a bit unexpected: Two bus drivers lift the heavy bikes on a transport rack attached to the back of the bus. It doesn’t look very stable. The bus driver however observes the back camera to check the bikes and it works, we arrive in Ihre without any problems.

2. The beach at Irevik

This stone beach is one of the beaches, where you can find fossils, e.g. Rugosa. There are so many fossils that I find them though hardly looking. (I found fossils however on almost every beach in Gotland.) As a child I collected fossils and it would have been almost impossible to remove my from these beaches. Now I love to look at the white swans as well, but I have many stones in my pockets.

3. Lickershamn

Probably the highlight of the day: Lickershamn, a cute old fishing town where you can buy both smoked fish and ice cream (a good combination if not eaten simultaneously!). We sit outside, it is warm as if it were summer and we enjoy the smoked salmon pieces and the shrimp salad.

4. Raukar near Lickershamn

We saw them already on the way to the sea: The raukar near Lickershamn. A rauk or sea stack is a steep rock formation formed by wave erosion. Due to the post-glacial rebound these rauks are quite far away from the Baltic Sea that formed them.

5. Lickershamn fornborg

Quite near there lies a fornborg, an ancient refuge castle. If you are not into archeology it’s hard to find the leftovers from the iron age in the forest. So I decided to take a picture of the blue flowers that bloomed everywhere in the light pine forest.

6. Ungemiss gård

We pass a farm, now café and art atelier, too. A chicken comes closer curiously. We however want to reach the Krusmyntagården before the kitchen closes and do not take a longer break.

7. Krusmyntagården

We’ve been there two days ago; Krusmyntagården is a wonderful place with great food, even though Annika and I do not fall in love with the saffron pancakes, a speciality from Gotland. It’s really nice to sit outside, have an ice cream, a lemonade and relaxing.

Extra: Brissund bathing place

Next stop: the near sandy beach in Brissund. The water feels much colder than the day before and is hardly more than knee deep. Refreshing however since the air is so warm.

After the bath we head home, first along the main road, then along the beach promenade, then through the old town. The dinner (taken on the roof terrace of our apartment): green asparagus with ham and potatoes.

Three bicycle tours on Gotland – Monday

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

It is Monday. Yesterday Annika and I arrived in Visby,  Gotland and planned to explore the island mostly by bicycle. It is warm and sunny already in the morning and we have breakfast on the roof terrace of our fantastic apartment, that we’ll have for a almost a week.

After that we pack our backpacks and walk through the old town of Visby to a bike rental outside the city walls.

It is almost 9 o’clock and the bike rental should open soon. There is however a small paper attached to the door, that the rental is closed today. Fortunately it’s not the only one in Visby. We walk again through the beautiful old town to another bike rental at the harbour.

This bike rental is open. Annika and I want to try out e-bikes, partly for curiosity, partly because of “holiday laziness”. Just this day all e-bikes have been rented to passengers of the large cruise ship that we saw on our way there. We decide to rent normal bikes and to reserve e-bikes for the next day. And off we go.

We ride along the sea. We pass the jetty were people use to bath even though the water is shallow.

Then we follow a bicycle path that leads to the beach promenade. It’s the first time in the year that I sit on a bike after the long winter and I enjoy the warmth of the sun. Just t-shirts, zip-off pants and sandals, that’s enough. We want to be as near to the coast as possible. And it is possible even though the path becomes smaller and smaller. We are cycling round stones and over tree roots crossing the narrow path. I have to stop for a photo of the marsh marigold flowers at the beach – one of my favourite flowers.

Sometime there are so many stones that we have to walk our bicycles. And suddenly the way goes up. Many stone steps lead up along a steep slope and we have to carry our bikes. Now we’re quite glad that we don’t have e-bikes which are certainly much heavier than ours.

A bit later: We have found better and larger ways, mostly minor roads and arrived in Själö hamn where we make a rest. We don’t have anything to eat with us, we trust in the open cafés along the roads. Själö hamn however has neither café nor kiosk. No problem, we just started the tour.

We continue northwards, partly on roads, partly along the beaches (walking the bikes) till we arrive at Krusmyntagården (spearmint farm). Here’s a restaurant and a shop where you can buy herbs and other products. We sit outside and eat the first ice cream of the day.

Annika rings Ingrid, a facebook friend. We make an appointment at the parking place of the Lummelundagrottan – a limestone cave – in an hour. This time we follow “real” roads and soon we arrive at the parking place where we wait for Ingrid . A bit later she arrives and we get to know each other in “real life”.

Ingrid shows us around Lummelunds bruk. In older times there was a water mill and the creek and pond are still left. The ground under the tree is covered with wood anemones and wild garlic.

A bit later we arrive at the huge main building of Lummelunds bruk. Beside of it there’s a tourist shop that among others sells local fossils. I already found two fossils at the beach and learned that it is solitary corals, called tomteluva (gnome hood) because of the form.

We return to the parking place and decide to drive to Krusmyntagården again, Ingrid by car, Annika and I by bike. There we sit outside, eat the delicious food of the restaurant and talk and talk and talk. What a fantastic afternoon: great food, great weather, and great company.

It is already in the evening when Annika and I say farewell to Ingrid and start cycling home. We follow the main road 149 that has a bicycle path. It’s still warm and sunny.

The next day we want to cycle again, this time south.

Breaking the spring ice

This morning I saw not only the ice fishermen, but also the icebreaker Baus clearing the ice in the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn. In the afternoon I remembered, that I had come into contact with K., one of the crew members on Facebook some weeks ago. I had asked if it was possible to go with the Baus to take photos sometime. K. had answered that I should just go there and ask the people. And so I did today.

I met a guy who works on the icebreaker and learned that it’s hard to make some kind of appointment. In winter no one knows exactly, when ships will arrive or depart due to the weather and the ice conditions and therefore neither when the Baus would start. But they would actually leave in twenty minutes to clear the ice for the ship Ice Star and I was allowed to join …

Sixteen minutes later I was at the dock again, this time with better clothes and my camera equipment that I got from home. How good that I live so close.

I was allowed to enter the Baus and say hello to the captain on the bridge.

He welcomed me, showed me some of the controls to steer the boat and allowed me just to go round everywhere to take photos. I didn’t want to disturb him, because he had to focus on his work and my plan was to make photos, not to interview the crew. At first I went up onto the top deck.

The water was completely covered with crushed ice. Some of the ice floes were at least half a metre thick. Slowly the Baus departed from the dock and I went down to the bottom deck to be closer to the icy sea.

While the Baus was slowly moving back and forth I went on every possible deck. I really enjoyed that freedom that you never can have on bigger ships as e.g. the Hurtigruten ships.

After some time of waiting and some time of moving around the way was clear for the Ice Star. Slowly it departed and followed the cleared channels between the solid ice where it with increasing speed left “Skellefteå Hamn”, the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn.

While my eyes followed the Ice Star I spotted something blue at the horizon. Water! Somewhere behind the island Gåsören the ice had started to break and now open water covered the Baltic Sea behind Gåsören. Maybe the next paddle tour is closer than I think.

The Baus already had started to turn around (the previous photo shows the funnel at the rear) and return to the dock. I enjoyed watching the different types of ice.

Until now, the trip was extremely calm, now it started to get more rumbling, because Baus now went through packed ice – crushed ice that had frozen together and now was split into large irregular chunks. Great channel-like cracks developed in the ice, which soon closed again.

After some more minutes the Baus arrived and after thanking the captain for the opportunity to follow I left the icebreaker. The whole trip took less than 90 minutes, but felt much longer. I’ve been living in Skelleftehamn for almost eight years and it was a great experience to see my place of residence from a completely new perspective.

Thanks a lot, crew of icebreaker Baus!

Seeing the blue open water was a welcome spring sign. I saw two others today:

The first butterfly of the season, a small tortoiseshell that fluttered around the top deck of the Baus and (perhaps less romantic) the first teenager in shorts in front of ICA, the grocery store. I’m still waiting however for the first wild spring flower in Skelleftehamn.

Period of fine weather

I guess, this week has been the ice fisher’s delight. Nightly temperatures between round -8 °C (good for the ice), afternoon temperatures round +8 °C, hardly any wind and no clouds hiding the sun (good for oneself).

It’s really hard for me to focus on my work when weather is as nice as it has been the last weeks. I would prefer having holidays in the mountains enjoying the fabulous late winter weather. I guess however that there are times when I have to earn money, too …

Already at 8 o’clock I saw five ice fishers standing, sitting or lying on the ice with their tiny plastic fishing rods. Although it was -6 °C it was warm in the sun. In the background the icebreaker Baus circuited around to break the ice for the next ship to come.

I knelt on the ice to make the photos above and heard it cracking. Was it thin ice? Not at all, it is still thick and safe. I guess it was the waves caused by the Baus that made the ice swing and crack. A strange experience. Good to now however that the water is quite shallow where I went.

But now I have to continue my work …

Addendum

I didn’t work much more today, sometimes there are spontaneous opportunities to seize  …