Thaw

After spending Christmas in Southern Germany I started travelling back to Skelleftehamn in several stages.

28.12. – Augsburg—Bremen

First a local train to Ingolstadt, then a 1st class seat to Bremen, where I spent the night. In the North German Plain it was really foggy.

Both trains were in time and the journey was comfortable. Sorry folks, no Deutsche Bahn bashing.

29.12. – Bremen—Mölndal

The next day my friend Delle picked me up by car. He wanted to visit me in Skelleftehamn and I took the opportunity for getting a lift home. The first day we travelled to Flensburg, through Denmark and then to Mölndal near Gothenburg, where we took a hotel room.

30.12. – Mölndal—Umeå

Why Mölndal? There is a tyre dealer where you can hire winter tyres with spikes. After breakfast we drove to the garage and Delle’s car got spiked tyres. Then we headed east to Gävle and then north to Umeå which took the whole day.

Did we need the tyres? Not yet – the temperatures were extremely high. 10.5 °C in Vesterås and 6.5 °C in Sundsvall. Especially the first half of the journey was quite boring. Trees to the left, trees to the right. A house. A bus stop and again. Trees to the left, trees to the right. Later there was more to see – even in the darkness.

I think it was 22:30 when we arrived in Umeå, but I’m not sure. I was soo tired!

31.12. – Umeå

Finally a nice day with sun and even a bit of frost! First Annika, Delle and I bought some side dishes for the lamb chops that Delle brought from home. Then we took a short tour to catch some wintry impressions before it would get warm again.

And then: New Year’s Eve – A happy new year to you all!

1.1. – Umeå—Skelleftehamn

The last stage of the journey was short – just 130 km and I was home again after eleven days with seven different overnight stays. I’m very glad about being home again but also disappointed.

The weather is just awful. It is warm and grey, last night it rained. The roads are extremely icy and slippery. Today I took a bend on a minor road and the car just slid sideways despite the four-wheel-drive and the “Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9” – one of the best spiked winter tyres you can buy. Luckily nothing happened to the car since I took the bend quite slow (but apparently still too fast).

The whole of Scandinavia is much too warm – up to 16 °C warmer than normal and Norway broke several warmth records. It was warmest in Åndalsnes with 18.6 °C! Even though it will become a bit colder there is no stable cold winter weather in sight.

We know that the man-made climate change will lead to much warmer winter weather in Scandinavia. Maybe we have already started to witness the effects. It might be only the beginning of more drastic changes in the future.

Addendum (3.1.)

Another record: 19 °C were measured in Sunndalsøra, Norway yesterday. This is the highest winter temperature ever measured in all of Scandinavia.

12 + 31 + 29 + 31 + 13

Exactly five years ago I posted an article called “108 free days”. I was still working as an employer but I was on leave for a while with the result of having 108 days on vacation – almost the whole winter!

Yesterday was the last day of a quite tough project I was working on since early August. Today is my first free day and – if I do not change my mind – the start of en even longer period of free time. 116 days I have time for travelling, taking pictures and – finally – writing and publishing an online shop for my photo website.

Hopefully the weather will improve. Instead of the forecasted 6 cm of new snow we had freezing fog today and the last weeks were hardly better.

This weather makes it easier to say goodbye. Today Annika and I will take the night train to Stockholm Arlanda and then fly to Munich where it’s for sure that we won’t have a white Christmas. But after the holidays, when I’m back and want to travel through Northern Norway, Swedish and Finnish Lapland I hope for better weather. And snow more like this:

I’m sitting in the bus to Umeå and the fog has turned into rain. But I don’t care the weather. (Hopefully the bus driver and other car drivers do!) Now it’s visiting family and friends that matters!

Since I probably won’t post anything anymore this year I’ll wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

See you next year – in 2020!

Cycling home

At time I have a project which is located at Solbacken, Skellefteå’s shopping centre outside the city. Normally I take the car because the public transport is quite poor. Yesterday however I took the bicycle. On the way there I chose the straight way. That’s 16.8 km, which took me 54 minutes.

On the way back I chose a longer and slower route. As forecasted the weather was warm and sunny, round 26 °C.

In short:

+++ unlock the bicycle +++ pass the recycling yard (Yuck, it stinks!) +++ follow the forest road +++ gaze at the first autumn colours +++ notice the crossing ski track +++ slow down on b-bum-bumpy passages +++ feel a bit lost +++ look at the map +++ realise that I’ve come longer than thought +++ pass the go-kart ground +++ follow the asphalt road leading away +++ know the sandy shortcut +++  approach the stugområde (area with summer cottages) +++ observe the largeness of some these cottages +++ spot a bathing place +++ take a bath in the Baltic Sea +++ drink +++ continue the gravel road +++ cycle along the small, winding forest path +++ pass Harrbäckssand +++ do not take a bath there (too shallow and too muddy) +++ follow my lengthening shadow +++ push the bike down the bumpy, sandy slope +++ follow the forest path +++ see the barbecue hut +++ realise that I’m in Skelleftehamn and almost home +++ taking a final “spurt” +++ home +++

This way was only 3 km longer, but took more than 30 extra minutes to cycle due to the bumpy roads. Beautiful anyway, but not the route I’ll choose regularly.

 

Another kayaking

On Friday came a lot of rain, but yesterday on Saturday the weather was forecasted to be nice – and so it was. Time for a longer tour with my kayak, that I hardly used this year. A quarter past 9 I was on the water.

Soon after I passed the near-shore island Storgrundet the sea became quite wavy. Still no dangerously large waves but enough to keep me busy instead of photographing. Shortly before the island Medgrundet I came into the lee of the island and the water calmed down. There I could take photos again and it was easy to go ashore.

Do you see the brown stuff covering the stones? It guess it was some kind of algae washed ashore. Phew – the smell was awful! On the island I saw probably the last blooming circumpolar pea for this year. Other plants were already bearing bean pods. It was end of August and you could see autumn approaching.

In opposite to most other islands nearby, there are no summer cottages or other buildings on Medgrundet. I went through the forest to the other side of the island, which is hardly wider than 200 m at its widest point. There are some beautiful trees in the small forest, a nice contrast to the many commercial forests in Northern Sweden. From the other side I could spot my next two paddle destinations for today: Snusan and Kågnäshällan. On my way back I accidentally found a shelter amidst the forest. Maybe it’s new, I’ve never seen it before but probably it’s Medgrundet’s first building.

When I approached Snusan I scared away an eagle. It rose into the air to the big dislike of a seagull that tried to shoo the raptor away. The eagle hardly noticed the seabird but spiralled higher and higher into the air. I observed it only en passant, I had to focus on the waves.

Again I approached the island from the lee side. While Medgrundet is covered with a forest – mostly pines – Snusan is quite bleak and looks more like a huge flat rock. Probably it’s quite young, an old map from 1926 shows that it had been much smaller then.

On the north side of the island I could see the island Kågnäshällan, but also the breaking waves, that I already had heard a while before going ashore.

Parts of the island were very wet with a lot of water puddles, inhabited by small fishes and aquatic insects of the family Corixidae. Other parts of the island were very dry and many of the rowan looked dried up. Probably there’s hardly any soil that can store water for a longer time.

I continued paddling. First I had to cross some quite large waves then the sea was much calmer so that I could take a picture of the next island to visit: Kågnäshällan.

The calmness however was only temporary, because I kayaked along the outer coast of Kågnäshällan, where there are a lot of rocks and shallow areas – invitations for the waves to break. I went round the island, just focussing on the waves to come until I reached the sheltered bay on the land-facing side. On the outside I could hear the roar of a water scooter, at the horizon I could spot a white sail of a sailing boat – two very different ways to travel on water. My preference however is still the kayak.

After a yoghurt as a snack and remembering the last time I’ve been here six month ago I continued my kayak tour. To Kågnäshällan I had paddled quite directly over open sea, now I would follow the coast until I would be back again.

I passed Kågnäsudden, a fishing village, and a lot of summer cottages. Some people were working (mostly involving tools or vehicles with a motor), some were just sitting in front of their houses enjoying the warm and sunny weather. And warm it was, although some clouds were gathering. Since I left Kågnäshällan the sea was much calmer and I could take pictures from the kayak.

That made paddling much easier but also a bit more boring. It’s nice to have waves as long as you feel safe. Part of my safety was the drysuit that I put on when starting the tour. And a life vest of course, but that’s common sense and hardly mentionable.

Now I looked for the beach I use to bath sometimes but I just hopped over that very bay. What a pity! Anyway I found a nice replacement, a small and shallow sandy beach.

Lunchtime! The menu: Västerbotten cheese on crisp bread garnished with grapes. One of the ants liked the cheese, too and robbed a large piece. It dragged it over the beach that still was wet from last days rain until it got stuck.

After lunch break I continued paddling, passed the beach Harrbäckssand, the island Björkskär and then I could see on of the summer cottages, where my kayak uses to lie in summertime. One longer final spurt and I was back again, very glad that I could make this extraordinary fine summer kayak tour. Hopefully not the last for this season.

Appendices

I Paddling

More and more I start to enjoy paddling in the waves. I guess I should learn how to use a kayak sometimes. Perhaps next year?

II Tour stats

17.5 km / 3 hours 40 minutes plus a lot of breaks. That’s less than 5 km/h. It’s more leisure than sports.

According to my tracking app the elevation gain (and loss) was 287 meter. The waves?

III Wildlife photography

I saw the eagle, I had a camera, but I didn’t take a photo. Why? Well, there’s a rule set for that, the Eagle’s legals:

(1) When you see me – the eagle – you will not have a camera with you (I had)
(2) But if you have, then you will not have the telephoto lens with you (I had)
(3) But if you have, then you will not have it mounted on the camera (that’s right)
(4) But if you have, then you will be busy with other things until I’m long away (true, I was struggling with the waves)

IV A riddle

I found this shell of a cockle on the island Snusan. It lay on the rock. There are no cockles in the Bothnian Bay, this part of the Baltic Sea. The next place where you can find them is in Norway, 400 km away. How does this shell come to this place? I know that seagulls use to take shells in their beaks and let them fall down on rocks to crack the shell and get to the meat. But would a seagull transport it such a long distance? How? And why? A riddle that probably remains unsolved.

Day 23 – travelling north again

This article is part of the series “2019-07: Southern Sweden”.

July 30 – Falun—Grövelsjön

Yesterday morning a guest room in Vetlanda in the forestal Småland – today evening a tenting place in Grövelsjön in Dalarna’s fells. We are travelling north again.

Yesterday we travelled from Vetlanda to Hosjö/Falun where we met Alex in real life the first time. It was just an overnight stay because we wanted to take a detour on our journey home that would take a bit of time.

Tuesday, seven o’clock. We say goodbye to Alex who has to leave for work. I take a bath in the lake Hösjön nearby. After breakfast Annika and I pack our things together and leave Alex’ cosy house behind.

As Alex recommended we follow tiny roads through Dalarna County – a county I’ve never visited before. As parts of Småland the scenery is extremely charming and looks a bit like “Sweden in a nutshell”.

In Leksand we reach the Siljan, Sweden’s seventh largest lake. We take the southern road to Mora via Sollerön, an island in the Siljan. Although the road is near to the lake it leads mostly through forest so that we can see the lake only from time to time. That’s quite typical for Swedish roads.

In Åsen we take a short stop to take pictures of the wooden chapel.

We follow the road 70 to Idre and turn right in the road to Grövelsjön. The trees become smaller and the mountains on the horizon higher. I’m glad to approach the fjäll, my favourite Swedish landscape. We make a last stopover at the church …

… then we arrive at our destination for today: Grövelsjön Fjällstation. This mountain station is operated by the STF – the Swedish Tourist Association. As we already have expected there are no rooms left, but we have a tent with us, that we set up in a sparse birch forest in the middle of other colourful tents. After dinner – pasta with pesto cooked in the common kitchen – Annika goes into the sauna while I take a short hike up the mountain. I do not reach the top of the Jakobshöjden, but at least the kalfjäll above the treeline.

There are no mountains home in Skelleftehamn, but after the sandy beaches of Österlen in Skåne and the mixed woodlands of Småland I feel home again when I see these landscapes. It’s still more than 630 km to Umeå and 750 to Skelleftehamn. But we do not plan to drive home yet – au contraire! Tomorrow we will travel to Norway.

 

Day 5 – Götaland

This article is part of the series “2019-07: Southern Sweden”.

12 July, Jogersö—Gränna—Bjärnum

It always seems to be the third night in a tent, when I got used to the camping mat and sleep very well. Nevertheless I’m looking forward to a real bed. Annika and I dry the sleeping bags and the tent in the sun and have breakfast. Half past nine we start our journey farther south. We have to drive 413 km, mostly on the E4, the very same European route, that connects UmeåSkellefteå, Piteå and Luleå.

Here it connects Nyköping, Norrköping, Linköping and Jönköping. While å stands for river, köping means market town.

We stop in Gränna, a town by the lake Vättern which is Sweden’s second largest lake. Here’s a large campsite, a lovingly designed minigolf course, a ferry to the island Visingsö and – most important for us now: several restaurants and ice cream shops. Children are wading in the water, grown up are sunbathing on the public benches, the place is touristic but not crowded.

There are nice bathing places along the coast of the Vättern, so we bath twice, first in Röttle, then near Sjöbergen. Since the Vättern is so large you can think that you bath in the North Sea or Baltic Sea – until you taste the water. It’s fresh, not brackish or salty.

Röttle has another attraction besides its bathing place: there were severals water mills. Here we stroll around for a while.

After our long break we continue our car trip southwards. We cross the border to Skåne, the southernmost part of Sweden. In the evening we arrive in Bjärnum.

You see the light behind the front window of the house? That’s our place for the next days.

A word to the title of the article: Sweden is divided into three parts: Norrland in the north, Svealand in the middle and Götaland in the south. The population density in Götaland and Svealand is more than ten times as high as in Norrland.

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:

By ferry to Vaasa

It’s true what some friends say: I travelled a lot this winter. It wasn’t the one long journey but several small ones. To Kirkenes, to Trondheim by Hurtigruten, the ski tour with Annika and last not least the journey to Murmansk.

On Monday Annika and I started another journey, this time to one of Umeå’s neighbour towns. This town is in the east and you have to cross the Baltic Sea. I’m talking about Vaasa in Finland. How good, that there’s a ferry from Umeå’s seaport Holmsund.

After I parked the car in the ship we went on the upper deck. To my disappointment the whole Baltic Sea was free of ice.

At 12 o’clock the ferry started its journey across the Baltic Sea to Finland. First along some skerries and islets. Even Holmön, where we have been last December was visible on the horizon.

Then we reached the open sea. Nothing much to see and a good time to have lunch. Quite expensive but especially the starters were delicious.

After a while I could spot the Finnish coastline. It seemed to be surrounded by ice – and so it was. One minute the ship drove through open water, the next minute through ice floes.

Now there was a lot more to see – at least for winter and ice lovers. There was ice to both sides and behind the stern of the boat you could watch the open water closing within a minute.

The structures and textures of the ice changed every minute.

We passed a ship that was surrounded by ice. First it looked like it could have been there for months, but there was an open waterway, probably it hadn’t been there for long.

The Finnish coast came nearer and nearer. Harbour and industrial plants came into view. Some last photos, than we had to enter the car. The ferry docked and we left it.

Finland – another country, another time zone and a language that is completely unknowable to most non-Finnish people.

3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk – preparations

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.

Thursday, 14 March

Tomorrow, 15 Mars 2019 the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship will start. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate in this competition and will swim distances up to 1000 metres. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk.

The first contact to this event we got yesterday, 13 March in the swimming bath. We met Davaadorj Shagdarsuren, a professional swimmer from Mongolia and only participator of his country. His traditional clothes were really eye-catching and according to himself much too warm for Murmansk. He’s more used to winter temperatures between -35 °C and -50 °C.

Later we had an appointment with Irina Andreeva, leader of the municipal Sport Committee and member of the organising committee. She gave us interesting details about the ice swimming championship and the organisation.

When we went back we passed the Five Corners Square we heard loud music. There a rehearsal for the closing ceremony was in full swing. Heroic music sounded from the PA system and young people were marching to it with huge flags. Half of them in some kind of winter uniforms and flags with the logos of the IISA, the city of Murmansk and Аспол, the association of polar explorers. The others with the national flags of all participants. A nice gesture to all countries. I have however to admit that such kind of parade looks quite odd from my German-Swedish perspective. I’m not used to marching and parading.

Today at 1 o’clock was the press conference for the championship. It hold place in the hotel Azimut. 13 officials talked a bit about the event and invited the journalists to ask questions. Since there came hardly any question they started to ask each other instead. Quite funny situation.

After that we got our press accreditations. Now I have a press badge and I’m quite curious how freely I’m allowed to move the next two days to take pictures of this event.

Links

A trip to Murmansk with Barents Press

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

Last year a friend of mine told me he would travel to Murmansk and asked me if I wanted to follow. The friend finally did not have the time, bit I got the opportunity of a Murmansk trip thanks to Barents Press, a journalist network in the Barents Region. I became a member as a photographer this year.

The project called Redex 2019 has a strong focus on sport journalism and sport events in Murmansk. People who know me may know that I do not care about sport competitions. In this case however there’s a large sport event I’m interested in: the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship. I’m very glad that I was invited to travel and my thanks go to Barents Press for the invitation, for taking all the costs and for the great organisation.

Monday 11 March, 7:00. I just finished my breakfast in a hotel in the Comfort Hotel Arctic in Luleå and we are ready to travel to Murmansk. We, that is five journalists, me, and Sergei, our Russian chauffeur. He came from Murmansk with a Mercedes 15 seater minibus the day before. Good to have a bit of comfort, for we will travel about 840 km which will take the whole day.

Off we go. To Finland it’s only 130 km.

And – swoosh, are we in Finland. You hardly realise that you just crossed a border.

There are different ways to Murmansk. We will take the way via Salla. We make a lunch break in Kemijärvi where we got an extraordinary delicious lunch at Mestarin Kievari with a lot of salat and side dishes and even two different desserts.

At 15:30 Finish time (1 hour ahead) we arrive at the Finnish side of the Finnish-Russian border. Sergei has to make some paperwork and we have to wait, then we all show our passports before we enter the bus again to drive to the near Russian border.

The first check is before we exit the bus: A Russian official gets on the bus, counts us and checks our visas. Then we drive to the custom office where we leave the bus and have to fill out a form, that we have to keep with our passport the whole stay in Russia. It takes some time to fill the form, especially since it’s so tiny.

Then we go through the control, one by one. I’m first. There’s a minor problem with my form but Tim who speaks Russian can help. I wait on the other side where there’s a small exhibition of war memorials found at the border. I say one of the few sentences I know in Russian: Можно фотографировать? Yes, I may take pictures.

Then we are i Russia. Another check of the officials, that we are complete and have our stamps on the forms and in the passports. 20 other km and we have travelled half the distance. The Russian roads and landscapes are very similar to the Finish ones. It’s not easy to take landscape photographs from a bus driving on a bumpy road with a lot of windows reflecting the light. I start to doze.

We stop in Алакуртти/Alakurtti to refuel the bus. We have to wait, because the gas station itself is being refuelled and that takes some time. Anyway it feels good to stretch my legs and to get some fresh air.

After half an hour we continue our trip. We make a short stopover at a petrol station in Кандалакша/Kandalaksha, then we drive on.

It starts getting dark and I try to sleep a bit. It’s still 250 km to Murmansk and our trip takes some more hours, but finally we approach the city.

On the sign stands: “Murmansk, Hero City”, an honorary title from the Soviet times for outstanding heroism during WWII.

Just before 22:00 local time (+ 2 hours) i enter room 838 at the Park Inn Hotel, where I’ll stay the next five nights. So the whole ride took almost 13 hours and I’m really tired. But before going to bed we meet at the lobby and go to a restaurant nearby to get a late dinner. (I remember the food was tasty, but I’m not sure because my brain already had turned on the autopilot.)

The whole route: LuleåHaparanda/TornioRovaniemiKemijärviSallaКандалакша/KandalakshaМурманск/Murmansk.