Four days in Österbotten

Last Monday Annika and I travelled to one of Umeå’s nearest neighbouring cities: Vasa. Vasa is located in Finland and the fastest and easiest way to get there from Umeå is by ferry. Taking the car round Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea – would be more than 800 km.

2. April – sunny Islands, cormorants and bad roads

The forecast promised sunny weather and I wanted to flee the town of Vasa (round 68000 inhabitants). Our plan was to explore some of the large islands of the Kvarken Archipelago which consists of several thousands of islands and islets.

We left Vasa municipality and entered Korsholm municipality. In Alskat we left the Finnish mainland, took a bridge to the island Fjärdskäret and then the large bridge Replot bron – more than a kilometre long – to the Björkö skärgård.

We made a short stop at the church in Björköby, the main village of Björkö. To our surprise the church wasn’t locked and we could enter. Probably it was only open for the handyman working there. I even went up to the organ but I didn’t dare to climb the clock tower without asking.

From Björköby it’s not far to Svedjehamn, a boat harbour. The coastal sea was still covered with ice and no boat could be seen. Probably many of the boats were in the red boathouses, that were everywhere.

We looked around, then we followed a path to the large observation tower, which is dark and almost 20 metres high. An eye-catching landmark. Beside of some ice fishers that parked their cars at the coast, we were completely alone. Only seabirds could be heard, mostly the typical honking call of the Whooper Swans.

From the tower we had a nice view both over land and sea. The land was framed with ice, but further out the sea was open. Birds flew around, mostly Whooper Swans and small flocks of ducks (being shooed away by other birds). Suddenly a group of dark birds passed our tower, it was a flock of cormorants.

After a while of amateur bird watching we descended the tower and went back to the parked car. We were hungry and took the way back to the Replot Bridge, where we got a delicious lunch at Berny’s Café and Restaurant.

After that we headed for another island in the north. This was quite challenging to drive because larger parts of the way were covered with ice with deep ruts. I had to drive quite slow to keep on the way. In Köklot I made the photo of the only boat in the fishing port, later I just had to photograph the small red hovercraft. I would love to have such a vehicle that can access the sea the whole year round.

I followed the bad road for a while but finally I had to turn because all turnouts were closed. It took a long time to drive back and when we arrived in Vasa we both were tired.

Later this day: A dinner with Asian food, a small coastal walk in Vasa and a bit of luxury: Our flat had a tiny sauna.

3. April – history lessons, old Vasa and Indian food

Already the day before we had decided that we wanted to stay two other nights in the region of Österbotten. We had given Couchsurfing another try. We contacted K.D. that lives in the Korsholm municipality but he didn’t have any place for us. He suggested however that we could meet in the city. So Annika and I went to the monument on the market square where we met K.D.

We got an extremely interesting history lesson about Finland in General und Vasa, while we slowly walked through the city. I didn’t make a single photo, I was too eager listening. After some hours K.D. had to leave but he invited us to the museum Stundars for the next day.

Later we took the car to Gamla Vasa, the old town that burned down in 1852. Some walls, among others of the old church from the 15th century are still there.

Later this day: Indian food and another sauna session.

4. April – a meteorite, two museums and welcoming hosts

Already before the journey we learned about Söderfjärden, a large plain which is an impact crater of a meteorite impact 520 million years ago. The plain lies south of Vasa and we took the car there.

The exhibition at the crate’s centre was closed but outside there’s a model of our solar system. I never walked from the sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – here it was possible.

We only had limited time, so we took the car to Uranus and Neptune – two small blue-green orbs. Then we changed our perspective back to here and now. We saw the first cranes of the year, more geese and more whooper swans.

From Söderfjärden we drove to the museum Stundars, which is quite nearby. We met K.D. again who had opened the “Smedens stuga” – the cabin of the smith – together with a colleague. We thanked for the day before and had an interesting talk about history and now.

We couldn’t stay for long because we had another appointment. When we had stood on the deck of the ferry three days ago we got in contact with S.. He gave us his phone number and this day we met him in Malax where he opened the Kvarkens Båtmuseum and gave us a private guided tour.

I was deeply impressed by the boat that was used for seal hunting. The hunters lived on the ice for several months with nothing but their boat to live in. We do not talk about the middle age, we talk about the 20th century. The last time this boat was used for seal hunting was in 1963, only five years before I was born!

Through Couchsurfing Annika got in contact with A. and M. who live in Västerhankmo, north from Vasa. We were welcome to live with them for two days, although they had other guests and one of the sons would return from Australia the very same day. We felt honoured that we could stay anyway. We drove to their house, where we were shown a huge couch to sleep over and got in contact with the residents – both human and feline.

Later this day: z-z-z-z

5. April – cloudy weather and a bilingual car trip

The weather was cloudy and we were quite lazy. We had seen a lot the last days and we learned a lot. We learned especially a lot about the Finland-Swedes, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Although their nationality is Finnish they have Swedish as a first language. Österbotten is one of the regions in Finland with a lot of Finland-Swedes. In Vasa 25% have Swedish as a first language, in the neighbour municipality Korsholm it is 72%. All people mentioned above are Finland-Swedes and have Swedish as a first language.

The children grow up with Swedish and go to Swedish schools, where they will learn Finnish as a secondary language.

Even the culture is different. When Annika asked for (Finnish) tango events she was told that this would be more a Finnish thing and therefore not easy to find in Österbotten.

It is said, that “the” Finns are much more direct then “the” Swedes who try to avoid any conflict, when possible. I experienced the Finland-Swedes as more to the point than the Swedes and I have to admit, that I enjoyed it because of my own quite direct personality.

Back to 5. April. We took the car and travelled around, first to some other islands.

In Isokyrö we stopped for the old stone church, built between 1513 and 1533.

Temperatures were above zero and everything looked grey and dull. The leftover snow was wet and the gravel roads were muddy. When we returned to our overnight place my car looked really dirty – but in their special way the dirt patterns were beautiful anyway.

Later this day: Having a good time with M., A., and family including a very tasty meat soup with homemade bread and petting the cute cat

6. April – with the Ferry to Umeå

6:40: the alarm rings – 7:05: we sneak out of the house (we said goodbye the evening before) – 7:45: we roll on board of the ferry – 9:00: the ferry starts its journey back to Sweden – 12:30 (Swedish time): we arrive in Holmsund, 20 km from Umeå.

Thank you, K.D, thank you S. “för trevlig sällskap” – for nice company!

Thank you, M., A. and family – for your hospitality and “för trevlig sällskap” as well!

Later this day: The first flowers of the year:

The lake Semyonovskoye in Murmansk

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

Saturday, 16 March

While swimmers still compete in 1000 m of ice swimming as part of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk I leave the spot and start to go back to our Hotel Park Inn. That’s round 5 km to go.

In Summer I would have to go round the lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye. Now it’s winter and I can simply go across. The ice is at least 50–60 cm thick as the huge ice cuboids along the way show. In the heap of these ice blocks kids were playing. One of them probably will become next generation’s polar explorer.

On the other side of the lake I can spot grey concrete buildings – as cuboid as the ice blocks – and the Russian orthodox church Спас на водах/Saviour on Waters. They have been the background scenery of the championship, too.

And I see people everywhere. The lake is not crowded, but used of many people for different activities. Some of them are sitting on folding stools and doing ice fishing. Others are going for a walk or doing cross country skiing. The nice thing: some of the skiers are quite athletic and fast, others are do not have any technique and are quite slow. But they ski anyway. And all of them seem to enjoy being outside.

These funny “motor-bananas” probably only exist during the ice swimming: The vehicles consist of three parts. In the middle there’s the “chauffeur” standing in a sledge-like plastic tub. At the rear a banana-shaped inflatable rubber thingy is attached on which people can ride. The whole thing is driven by a small caterpillar attached to the front of the plastic tub and operated by the man in the middle.

I start to cross the lake. I pass a snowman and admire his artful face. He looks however too serious to be my namesake Olaf from the film Frozen.

The lake is not so big and soon I reach the other side. Here’s the winter bathing place I already heard of before. I’m angry with myself that I didn’t take swimming trunks and towel with me because the cold water looks inviting. But no swimwear, no bath.

Here I have to leave the Lake Semyonovskoye and I start following the main road Улица Челюскинцев/Ulitsa Chelyuskintsev back to the hotel. Temperature is above zero and the snow is soft, brown and greasy, but it’s easier to walk on that than on blank ice. At the branch Улица Туристов (“Tourists Street”) a woman comes my way. She bears skis with an old-fashioned binding system. I’m sure she wants to go to the place I just left: the Lake Semyonovskoye.

Travelling to Bjørnevatn

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

After visiting me home in Skelleftehamn Chris and I continued to Jokkmokk on Thursday. We visited the winter market and then drove to Solberget, where we stayed overnight.

The next day we started a long drive with her car. Chris lives in Bjørnevatn near Kirkenes and we planned to arrive there the very same day. At 7:10 we started our journey that would lead us through Sweden, Finland and Norway.

First the sky was cloudy but the visibility was good. Then it started to get a bit foggy.

Normally that’s no problem. This icy fog however started to cover the windscreen more and more and we had to stop often to scrape of the ice.

In Gällivare we stopped at the gas station and had some breakfast. We also bought a bottle with de-icer for the windscreen and continued our trip.

The de-icer didn’t help, we had to stop many times to scrape away the ice from the freezing fog. We were not the only ones. The headlights and the number plate were covered with several millimetres of ice, too. I never had experiences something like this before.

Only the bottom 15 cm of the windscreen were free of ice. While Chris crouched into the seat to be able to see I gave up taking pictures from the road and photographed sideways.

We approached the Swedish town Karesuando. This small town is located directly on the Muonio älv, which also forms a natural border with Finland. On the other side the town is named Karesuvanto where we took another break.

Strangely the ice problems stopped right after the Finnish border. We continued to Palojoensuu without any problems. There we turned left onto the road 93. An hour later we were at the Norwegian border.

After being stopped by the customs and assuring them that we have neither alcohol nor cigarettes with us, we continued driving through the snowy plains. Next stop: Kautokeino, where most inhabitants are Sámi. Here we ate a hamburger with chips, a typical meal if you travel through Northern Norway.

Until now, Chris had driven a car. Now it was my turn to drive to give her at least a short rest. The first time I drove a diesel.

Round two hours later we arrived in Karasjok. What I already had suspected, confirmed here: It was cold outside: -30 °C.  Time for another break.

Back in the car, Chris was driving again. It was dark, it was cold, we were tired and still more than four hours to go.

I started to get bored and played around with my camera.

A pale green stripe appeared above the street. A northern light. The next hour we got quite nice northern lights, mostly directly in front of us. Though being tired we got at least entertainment. The photos are awful, northern lights are not made for being photographed free-handed from a car on a bumpy road.

Finally we came to Tana, where we crossed the river of the same name. A quarter hour later we arrived in the small town Varangerbotn, were we took the last stop of our long trip.

Now we drove along the fjord Varangerfjorden. Anyway, beside of some street lights and the weakened aurora it was pitch black and I couldn’t see the fjord. Beside of that I just longed for a bed.

But finally we arrived at Chris’ home in Berg near Bjørnevatn. Arrival time 23:40, 16½ hours after we started in Solberget.

Here I’ll spend the next days.

Link to the route on Google Maps

 

Early winter Holmön III

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

It’s Monday, a quarter to seven in the morning. I turned out of bed half an hour ago. Not because I have to go to work, but because I’m a morning person. It’s Annika’s and my fourth day on the island Holmön. Tomorrow we will take the evening ferry back to the mainland.

We were lucky, when we walked back from our Saturday evening Christmas dinner two days ago. It snowed all the time. It looked very beautiful and it was quite bright outside because of the fresh snow cover. When we lay in our comfortable double bed at Berguddens fyr we could still see the snow flakes whirl through the window pane.

When we woke up yesterday the snow had turned into rain. We planned a car trip to the southern tip of the island Ängesön which is separated from Holmön by the sound Gäddbäckssundet. The gravel road from Bergudden to the main road apparently had already be cleared of snow and it was easy to drive. I turned right and headed south. We drove first past pastures and farms and than along Gäddbäckssundet, until we came to the turnout to Ängesön. This road was snow covered and probably isn’t used in winter time. The snow wasn’t deep and I decided to give it a try. We crossed the small sound on the only bridge and followed the snowy road.

It was harder to drive than expected, because the snow was so wet that it filled all the space round the tyres. My studded winter tyres are excellent for ice but less good for such mud-like conditions.

The landscape around looked bleak and cheerless, especially the lakes and ponds that were covered with brownish wet ice. It looked a bit like a film where an evil wizard had casted a spell on the landscape to take away all its beauty.

I had to drive very slowly and it would take us at at least 30 minutes to the south tip of the island, although it’s only 9 km. After 1 km I decided to turn.

We drove to the village of Holmön and made a stop at the church. The graveyard was still covered with snow and so it looked much more friendly than the landscape on Ängesön. As most protestant churches this church was locked and we couldn’t take a look inside.

We drove to the shop, bought food and ice-cream and headed back to our accommodation.

And would do you do, when you go on beach vacation? Of course you take a bath in the sea. And so did we even though it was a short one.

Back to Monday. I still sit in the kitchen and it’s still dark outside. The fridge has turned out and I can hear the surf splashing ashore. The lighthouse Berguddens fyr sends out its three-coloured beams of light but most of the snow had melted away and when I look through the window I can only see my mirrored face and the reflected laptop. It will take another hour, until it starts to get light.

Opening the bicycle saison in Skellefteå

Today it was the first day where I used the bicycle from home to Skellefteå. That’s about 19 km per direction and I want to use the bicycle at least twice a week on my way to the job. Let’s see if I can do it. At least a first beginning is made.

Skelleftehamn – Skellefteå:

Skellefteå – Skelleftehamn:

Tour rules: Use a complete different way back to Skelleftehamn.

Photo rules: Take only photos from the bike, cycling or standing. Do not crop any photo. Use only basic corrections.

Lazy sightseeing in Visby

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

After four days of cycling and driving Annika and I use the Friday to take it easy and stroll through the old town of Visby, including sightseeing and visiting restaurants. It is our last day on Gotland, tomorrow we’ll fly back.

We have fallen in love with Gotland a bit, both with the varying landscape and with the beautiful old town. We were incredible lucky with the weather: Sun from morning to night and day temperatures between 20 and 24 °C.

I won’t tell much more about Visby, I just show some photos, all made on Friday:

Sunday afternoon, 13 May: I’m back in Skelleftehamn. No snow is left in my garden and the Baltic Sea before Skelleftehamn is completely free of ice. And finally the birch trees have got fresh green leaves. That’s more spring than one year ago!

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.

Båtsfjord – Ørnes by Hurtigruten

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Days 41 to 44 of my winter journey 2018

13 March at 19:45 the Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge docked in Båtsfjord. Annika went on board with all our luggage that we would need the next days, while I drove the car into the elevator. The next 59 hours we would travel many miles but stay in the same cabin. Cabin number 305. Kind of luxury. We would even get breakfast because of a campaign. On 16 March round 7:00 we would leave the ship in Ørnes and drive home.

I will not write much about this part of the winter journey but showing photos from the Hurtigruten trip with some comments.

13 March 20:30 – finally on the Hurtigruten. Shop, reception, restaurant and people cruising.

13 March 22:00 Berlevåg – the westernmost of the four Hurtigruten stops Vadsø, Vardø, Båtsfjord and Berlevåg. Some days ago we stood on the breakwater to see the ships coming in, now I stand outside on the bow of the ship to see the very same breakwater passing as we approached the peer.

14 March 05:25 – very early and quite cold in the wind. I’m the only one outside beside of people working.

14 March 05:40 – approaching Honningsvåg on the island Magerøya. Main attraction of that island: the North Cape.

14 March 06:35 – I stay outside and look at the constantly changing weather.

14 March 08:25 – two ships pass. First a smaller boat, twenty minutes later the Hurtigruten ship Kong Harald. It’s snowing.

14 March 11:15 – we approach Hammerfest. Normally the ship will lie there for two hours, but today the ship is late.

14 March 15:45 – I’m outside for some hours and enjoy the view at the landscape. Everything is constantly changing: The mountains, the perspective, the light.

14 March 20:15 – strong polar lights cover the sky. Many people are outside and so are we. I already showed some photos in the article Aurora on the Hurtigruten.

14 March 23:45 – we approach Tromsø. Annika and I are already in our cabin and ready for sleep, but I can see the Tromsø Cathedral through our porthole. (We booked a cabin with limited view to save money and our porthole is more like a tube.)

15 March 07:30 – it’s not cold but very windy on the bow of the ship. My advise for such a winter journey: take the warmest jacket you have.

15 March 07:35 – we approach Harstad.

15 March 10:20 – we reach Risøyrenna – the Risøy Channel, build between 1911 and 1922 to enable bigger ships pass between the islands Andøya and Hinnøya. Only seven meters deep.

15 March 17:00 – we approach the quite famous Trollfjord. In winter however the Hurtigruten ships do not enter it.

15 March 18:30 – we arrive in Svolvær, largest town on the Lofoten. It’s a longer stop and Annika and I leave the boat for looking around.

16 March 06:00 – the alarm clock rings. At 7 o’clock we will arrive in Ørnes, leave the ferry and drive to Skelleftehamn. 583 km by car then I’ll be home again after more than six weeks of travelling.

Ekkerøy and Nesseby

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 34 and 35 of my winter journey 2018

After some days in Ytre Kiberg Annika and I travelled to the next place: Ekkerøy. This village, 50 km southwest from Kiberg lies on the peninsula Ekkerøya that is connected to land by a natural dam with sandy beaches on each side. We already had taken a short walk at one of the beaches last week, where we had met H., one of the locals.

We arrived in Ekkerøy three days ago. The day before yesterday I took a morning promenade with my camera. I made some photos, but the light was a bit dull.

After breakfast Annika and I started a tour round the island, partly with snowshoes, partly on foot. There’s a cliff at the southern shore that looks quite impressive. At the eastern tip there’s an old wooden sea mark. The northern shore is quite flat and was more snowy. Outgoing tide already had started so we walked the last meters on the beach until we came to our wonderful house, that we’ve rented for four days.

As you might have noticed almost all photos shown in this blog have a landscape format. I have a project however that might involve having portrait format photos as well. Therefore I walked to the beach yesterday morning to find a motif fitting portrait format, not too easy in a landscape that’s extensive and mainly quite flat. It was almost high tide and it was quite cold – -12 °C and very windy. The water at the beach was almost of a slushy consistency and each wave flushed new liquid slush to the beach where it froze to a wavy line of ice. That motif went quite well in portrait format, I just have to practise my view.

(I have to think over the design of my blog, these portrait format images are way too large.)

It cleared up more and more and the sun shone from a blue sky. We took the car to Nesseby, 50 km away, where I planned to make some photos of the Nesseby Church. The more we came to the more sheltered parts of the fjord, the colder it got and the open water of the Barents Sea smoked. This phenomenon is called sea smoke and happens, when cold air lies over the open sea.

From the harbour Nesseby Church could be seen through the foggy sea smoke. It is located quite exposed at the thinnest part of a peninsula and can be spotted from long, when weather is good. After looking from the harbour we continued to the church and had a closer look.

We took a short detour to Varangerbotn. There it was even colder with -19 °C but fair weather and hardly any wind.

It’s fascinating to have a look at the fjord of the same name. At the end it’s completely frozen with many icy humps, but on the way back (and north again) it opened and sea smoke appeared again.

In Vadsø I took a promenade on the island Vadsøya to have a look at the airship mast. Since I’ve been a child I’m a huge fan of balloons and airships and it was interesting to see this mast, built in 1926 and only used twice: by Umberto Nobile and Roald Amundsen for their expedition over the North Pole with the airship Norge in the same year and on Nobile’s flight with the airship Italia two years later.

Home again we remembered that H. who we’d met the week before had asked us in for coffee some day. At 4 o’clock we knocked at the door of her house and met her husband T. who directly invited us to come in. H. was visiting a friend and would join us later. We talked and talked, about languages, life in Northern Norway in general and Ekkerøy in special and we had a good time (and got coffee, cakes, cheese, grapes and red wine). When we left H. and T. – two of the round twenty permanent residents in Ekkerøy – it was already 9 pm and sky was dark … beside of a beautiful aurora dancing above the northern shore.

It took some minutes to walk home, put on warmer clothes, get camera and tripod and the aurora already had weakened a lot when I took the photo below. So it is with northern lights: intensity can change very fast, often within seconds.

Today we have another day in Ekkerøy. Our plans so far: not any. That’s nice, too!