ICROSS

I walk along a forest path. The snow has become too deep for the car. In the right hand I carry a large waterproof bag, in the left hand my bright red neoprene drysuit. On the back I have an ICROSS.

A what?

Let’s quote the ICROSS websiteWhat is ICROSS? – ICROSS® is a new type of watercraft. It resembles a float tube, but has many characteristics of a kayak.

My friend Hans Brettschneider bought two ICROSS for his camping ground In Bureå and invited my to test them today. We want to paddle over the Baltic Sea to the near island Björkön. According to Hans the Baltic Sea is still open.

When I arrive in Bureå Hans already had started inflating the ICROSS with a motor-driven air pump. We put the rafts into his car and drive to a place near the beach where we manually inflate them until they are filled to the brim.

(You see the rectangular patch free of snow on the ICROSS? That’s where Hans’ iPad was before I took it away for the photo. Hans uses it as a camera and takes it into the snow, the hot sauna, just everywhere)

On the back of the ICROSS there are D-rings where you can attach belts to carry the ICROSS as a backpack. That’s what I do in the first photo. We start carrying the ICROSS until one of the plastic hooks of the belt breaks. We then realise that it is much easier to drag the raft behind like a sledge. It’s winter!

After 800 metres walk through the forest I arrive at the coast. I must laugh. The Baltic Sea is far beyond from being open. It is covered with ice and snow to the horizon! Is it just slush or solid ice? I put on my drysuit and life jacket and enter the sea ice. I splash through sludge but underneath there is ice thick enough to carry my weight.

Time to change plans.

Instead of paddling (or walking) to Björkön we take fika here at the coast. There’s even a table with benches. Hans has coffee and sandwiches while I have tea and a pretzel. It snows.

Hans however has a plan B in mind. Right beside his fantastic camping ground, just behind the sauna there’s the river Bureälven. And this stream is still open. After fika we walk to the car and take it to his camping ground. There we trudge through the snow to the sauna by the river.

Again we put on waterproof clothes and put the ICROSSes into water. We have to rearrange the belts that hold the seat to improve the balance, then it’s fun to paddle to and fro. While my touring kayak is long and keeps direction, the ICROSS is easy to turn and very agile. Anyway I wouldn’t use it for longer paddle trips. Too exhausting.

(Do you see what Hans has in his hands on the last photo? I told you that he takes his iPad everywhere.)

After a while of testing and taking pictures we go ashore. Did I mention the sauna? Hans had fired it before our winter paddling experiment. It is not hot, only 30 °C, but it’s nice to sit there and relax a bit. I go into the river again, this time for winter bathing. Then a bit of sauna again until we call it a day.

Tack for turen, Hans – thank you for the tour. And thanks for your photos, which I cropped and edited for this blog article.

30 cm snow

This week finally it snows. There is 30 cm of snow in my backyard and if the forecasts are right, it’ll be 45–50 cm at the end of the week. At last it looks wintry, even though the open Baltic Sea is still free of ice.

After taking the photo above I took the car to Tjuvkiskan, another place by the sea. The gravel road was covered with snowdrifts that became higher when I approached the sea. I could easily drive through the first ones but finally I was stuck in a half-metre-high and several metre long snowdrift. My Subaru was grounded and even with the “X-Mode” program I could neither continue nor put back the car. Fortunately it took only some minutes to shovel away the snow round the tires and then I was able to back the car out of the snow drift. The last metres to Tjuvkistan I walked …

When I looked at the photo above I realised how big the tyres are. It’s really half a metre of snow around my car.

Enough about cars – I wanted to enjoy winter and be outdoors.

There’s a very nice cross-country ski run in Skelleftehamn. It hadn’t been prepared this year due to the warm and rainy weather. Now snow had come and the snow on the track will be compacted but not yet prepared for cross-country as long it continues snowing.

Yesterday I took my fjällski – my “mountain skis” and made a tour through 10-15 cm deep snow. I was really slow and it was quite exhausting.

Today I took my fjällski again and now the snow was packed. I was faster and although the tour was longer it was less exhausting. And the descents were more fun. The last kilometre the wind increased and it started snowing again.

Temperature -6 °C. Wind. Snow. Fur hood. Woollen mittens. Ski boots. Almost like winter.

 

A wintry weekend in Saxnäs

If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.

While the coastal weather has still much too warm (last night it rained again onto the icy roads) you can still seek winter in the Swedish mountains. Annika and I used the long weekend to visit Saxnäs (and my piano tuner who owns a house there). Some days ago it had rained even there but fortunately it snowed afterwards and everything was white when we arrived there Friday evening.

Seven impressions of Saxnäs

1 – wind and snow

The night and the first day in Saadteskenjuana/Saxnäs was very windy with squalls round 20 m/s. That’s why we chose the car to look around, not the skies. The bay Faepmienloekte/Fatmomakkeviken, part of the large lake Gåaltoe/Kultsjön was partly open. Maybe because of the current of the stream Jeanoe/Ransarån, maybe because of the stormy wind and the warm weather. In the back the wind blew the new snow over the ice and highly into the air. It was not cold, but windproof clothes were necessary to feel comfortable.

A comment on the naming of the locations: The first part is the Sámi name, the second the Swedish name. The headlines and repetitions have only the Swedish names to keep it short.

2 – Fatmomakke

Faepmie/Fatmomakke is an old Sámi meeting point. In 1781 the Swedes erected a first chapel. Both Sámi and Swedish people lived here. Since 2014 it is a “kulturreservat” – an area to protect the culture of that place. I loved the old wooden houses by the lake Gåaltoe/Kultsjön.

3 – lake and mountains

When we drove back we still could see snow blowing over the lake. Above the whirling snow dust the risen sun had started to illuminate the mountains of the Marsfjäll.

Step by step we drove back to Saxnäs and I used every parking place to take pictures.

4 – polar stratospheric clouds

A rare phenomenon had been observed the last days: polar stratospheric clouds. I already could see some the days before on my way from Skelleftehamn to Umeå. Now in Saxnäs they were spread over half the afternoon sky. If they are near the sun the light is diffracted and the clouds are very colourful. I have seen such clouds before but never as intense and colourful as that day.

5 – skiing through the dark

In 2005 I bought my first fjällskidor – backcountry skis with steel edges. I had used them on many tours – from short half-day trips to multi-day winter tours with pulka and tent. They had become quite worn and battered, therefore I bought a new pair some weeks ago, including new boots. Now it was time to test them.

The test went very well, but the ski track around the lake we didn’t find. So we went cross-country and returned after a while. The way back was much faster because we could follow our own tracks and didn’t have to navigate.

6 – cross country skiing

The next day was grey but quite calm. We took the car to the Bagarstugan, starting point of the ski tracks in Saxnäs. The ski tracks weren’t prepared yet but some minutes later we met a man that was about to start the preparation. The classical tracks are prepared by snow mobile, the broader skating tracks by snowcat. So finally we were lucky to have our cross country ski premiere on a freshly cut track. Great!

7 – Saxnäs by night

Annika invited me to dinner and we decided to walk the 2 km from my piano tuner’s house to the hotel. Good to have some motion before and after dinner. We passed the closed village shop and soon approached the hotel. Urgently recommended: reflex vests to be seen by the cars.

Beside of the employees we were completely alone in the large hotel restaurant. It’s still pre-season.

Now I’m back in Skelleftehamn. The road is icy and wet from last night’s rain. The average of the max temperature forecast for the next 9 days: +1.3 °C. Come on, winter, where are you!?

Translation:

EnglishGerman
polar stratospheric cloudPerlmuttwolke

Day 3 – a day in Turku

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

10 July, Turku

Our second (and last) Finnish stay is Turku, about 300 km south of Majors, our last stay. Here we meet Karen and Family. Karen is an active blog author and it’s the first time that we meet her in real life.

Annika and I arrive in the afternoon and have a nice and relaxed evening. The only thing we have to do is to put up our tent in the garden. The garden is small but our tent fits.

Karen and the children have summer holidays, but the daughter is away. Her husband has to work, so it’s Karen and her two sons with whom we spend the next day.

After breakfast we take the vesibussi – the water bus, part of the public transport system. We take the normal bus into town and walk along the river Aura until we reach the pier for the small boat.

I love to explore a new town by boat or ship. The weather is warm and sunny and Turku looks beautiful which its combination of new houses and old castle – old sailing ship, restaurant raft and modern racing yachts.

We take the boat to the island Runsala were we take a long walk. We cannot access the whole island because of a music festival a week ago. The area is still fenced, but there are many other ways and paths leading back to the boat stop. I really admire the tall leaf trees with their huge barky trunks, especially the oak trees. We do not have such home in Västerbotten.

We take the boat back to town and the bus to the china restaurant Yangtze. Great, delicious food and some dishes I never tasted before. Recommendation!

Later that day we take the car to Vähä-Joumo, a nice bathing place with a sandy beach, a bathing raft and – most important of all – a Finnish sauna. Countless times we jump into the water, swim to the platform and back or warm up in the sauna.

It is quite late when we finally return to our host’s home, where we eat dinner – fresh bread with a huuuge bowl of salad – and talk until Annika and I crawl into the tent again were we quickly fall asleep.

Thank you Karen, Vidal and children for a nice stay! It was great meeting you and you’re warmly welcome in Västerbotten on the other side of the Baltic Sea.

Karen’s blog: Suomalainen Päiväkirja | Live aus Turku (German)

Winterly Tromsø in May

I’m sitting in the bus somewhere in Northern Finland. We just passed the sign “Tornio 410 km”. Are we there, it’s only some more minutes to Haparanda from where a car ride of another 270 km awaits us. Then I’m home.

Home from the incredible interesting and inspiring but also exhausting Barents Press International Media Conference that took place in Tromsø for two days. Great speakers, great talks! Here are some of the topics:

  • EU and the struggle against fake news
  • How to make your climate change story into a click-blockbuster
  • #Barents #Beingyounghere: Official book release
  • Norwegian spy scandal in Russia: A close friend’s story

At the same time winter had come back to Northern Scandinavia and so to Tromsø. I used the mornings and evenings to walk round or just visit the roof terrace of our hotel to make some pictures of Tromsø.

Thursday 2 May – the weather is quite nice. I’m glad to walk around after the long bus trip there.

Friday 3 May – the morning is windy. First it’s dry but then snow showers rack over Tromsø for the rest of the day. Some of them are quite intense.

Saturday 4 May – Tromsø is covered with fresh snow. The air is cold but the ground is warm and so the snow is partly melting again. In the evening some very intense snow showers cover Tromsø with more snow.

Sunday 5 May – partly cloudy, partly blue sky that reflects in the sea water. And so do the ships.

Although I enjoyed the conference it was a bit of a pity that I didn’t have more time to take pictures and explore the city. On the other side I’ve been in Tromsø several time and probably will be there again.

I would love to work there for some months but the tax rules of the non-EU-member Norway would make that quite complicated because then I had to declare taxes both in Sweden and in Norway.

 

All articles about Tromsø >

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.

March snow in Skelleftehamn

For yesterday, the day we drove back from Murmansk, the weather service issued a snow warning. I had parked my car in Bjässviken at the house of B., another participant and it was covered with 10-15 cm of snow. B. fetched a broom helped me to free my car.

When I came home, even the minor streets had been cleared of snow. On the one hand this is great for driving, on the other hand it meant I couldn’t park my car on my property. I first had to remove the plogkanten, the wall of snow that the snow plough had pushed aside in front of all the garage driveways. I was tired after almost 15 hours of travelling, but clearing the plogkanten didn’t take much time and after that I could park my car beside the house.

When I woke up, it had stopped snowing, but another 10 cm of snow had fallen over night. Again the street had been cleared already. So another plogkanten blocked the way for the car. With temperatures slightly above zero this snow was wet and heavy and it was much more exhausting to move away this snow, especially because my “private snow dump” in my front yard is getting larger and larger.

Taking a break I stomped through the deep wet snow taking some pictures. I measured 77 cm of snow in my backyard – that’s something for the midst of March.

Perhaps I should buy a new car. Yesterday I saw a nice one at the petrol station in Алакуртти/Alakurtti. The advantage: I probably never have to clear snow again. The disadvantage: beside of being slow the topic of petrol consumption should be avoided …

By the way: While I wrote this article it had started snowing again.

Redex 2019 – side dishes

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

The first two days of Redex 2019 and therefore half the time in Murmansk is already over. Yesterday was very intense, today was more relaxed.

Yesterday we met trainer Erika of Fizkult, a gym for people with special needs such as medical rehabilitation. We met trainer and director of the bandy team Murman. We were shown the hockey stadium, the most northern ice rink in the world and the bandy arena. We met Irina Andreeva, leader of the municipal Sport Committee in her office. By good luck we met Davaadorj, ice swimmer from Mongolia while visiting the sport swimming pool. We watched a rehearsal of a flag parade, part of the closing ceremony of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship and we had dinner in the Sumakh restaurant in the Volna shopping mall.

To come to all these places we walked sometimes but mostly we took the trolleybus. There’s always a ticket collector in the bus and you have to pay cash. A trip costs 32 Rubel, that’s round 0.45 Euro.

Here I won’t tell all the stories about all the interesting people we met. I’ll just show some images that I made yesterday. That’s why I called the article “side dishes”.

Today we took a trolleybus to the sport complex Долина Уюта/Dolina Uyuta where there was a huge cross country skiing competition of school kids. It was interesting to see all the kids and teens warming up and the communication with their trainers. Looks like a great place to ski, even though I cannot skate but only ski classical style (on a very low level).

After that we went to the press conference of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship, the main event in Murmansk that will start tomorrow. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will compete in ice swimming with distances up to 1000 metres. But that’s another story.

Just two other snapshots photos from today: