#escapism – an overnight stay on an icebound raft

Thanks to Facebook I saw yesterday afternoon, that my mate Hans planned to have a sauna in the evening. I took the opportunity to invite myself. Hans answered I should take a sleeping bag with me when I wanted to stay over.

Half an hour I had packed sleeping bag, warm clothes, camera and food and took the car to Bureå. Here in the bay of the marina Hans has parked his rafts. Two rafts are equipped with a cosy cabin with two beds each, the third raft has a toilet and the sauna. In summer the rafts are floating freely and you need a boat to get there. Now it’s possible to cross the ice. When I arrived Hans already had fired the sauna. But first we took an ice bath.

We warmed bread and grilled sausages directly on the sauna oven, the only source of heat. After our third ice bath we warmed up in the sauna and then went in the left cabin. Soon we wrapped up ourselves in our sleeping bags because it was quite chilly. Outside -5 °C, inside only slightly warmer.

I slept well although I woke up several times because the ice cracked loudly. Either it was the frost expanding the ice or the rising water level. Already at 5 o’clock it was so light that I went out to take some photos. Brrr, -10 °C! I could hear the ice crack and the hooting of the whooper swans. Far away some of them swam in the water of one of the few ice-free places.

When I came back it was still early morning and Hans was sleeping. I thought that looked like a good idea, went into my sleeping bag and slept another hour.

When we stood up I was curious about my food for breakfast. The water in my large plastic bottle was partly frozen but still drinkable. To my surprise my yoghurt hadn’t turned into ice over night. Cheese and bread neither. Since it was almost warmer outside than inside we had an outdoor breakfast under the blue morning sky.

After breakfast we called it a day, crossed the ice to our parked cars, said hejdå and left this nice place. Tack så mycket, Hans – thank you, Hans for a relaxed evening and a wonderful spontaneous experience.

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:

Just a short walk to the seaside of Storgrundet

I had been inside most of the day. Finally I just had to go out to enjoy the nice blue sky, at least for a short time. I parked my car at Storgrundet, crossed the ice to the island of the same name and went to the seaside of the island. There I spotted moose tracks on the sea ice that went criss-cross and led to another island.

I was walking without snowshoes and it had been exhausting to cross the narrow island. The snow had been more than knee deep, easy to sink in, still pretty firm and hard to get out. It was much easier to go on the snow covered ice on the Baltic Sea although the snow was very wet sometimes. Rubber boots are a good choice in this season.

The Baltic Sea behind the island however looked like winter would be eternal. Just a snowy layer as far as the eye could see.

 

Going by snowcat

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

It’s dark outside. I’m in the cozy house, where Chris and Ørjan live and reading. But what’s that blinking orange light outside? I peek through the door and what I see is a snowcat.

Ørjan is about to start a tour to prepare trails, both for his employer, the Snowhotel Kirkenes and for the local skiers. Preparing trails for the letter is a dugnad, that means voluntary work. Dugnad is very popular in Norway.

I ask Ørjan if I could join him on the tour and I am allowed to. Time to take some handheld pictures.

It’s fun to go by snowcat through the dark. I looks quite easy to operate and I would like to have my own snowcat. But neither do I need one nor could I pay it.

Takk for turen, Ørjan!

Where is the pack ice?

Today I wanted to take more photos of the pack ice covering the Baltic Sea, this time in sunlight. Unfortunately the weather didn’t follow the forecast. (Yes, this happens!) Instead of the predicted sun and clear sky it was cloudy.

When I was brushing by teeth I noticed a light in the west. A huge honey yellow full moon hung in the western sky and shone into my bathroom. Apparently western winds had started to blow the cloud layer eastward.

I took my camera equipment and my winter parka and drove to the beach to take pictures from the full moon. Here’s one of those pictures:

To be honest, I think this is a boring picture. It says more about the pros and cons of my telephoto lens than showing an interesting scenery. The photo could have been taken anywhere. Everywhere where there are power lines and a bit of sky.

I took the car and headed for another place. Hopefully I would find a better motive. To make a long story short: I didn’t. Even the photo with the three islands (two of them are seen above the horizon) looks pale and featureless.

Suddenly I heard birdcalls. Three white whooper swans flew along the coast, heading south. Looks like a good idea, because when the Baltic Sea is frozen they will have hard times finding food. I was lucky: camera at hand, telephoto lens mounted, time to increase ISO and activate the VR. Click!

I continued to Näsgrundet, the place where I photoed the pack ice two nights ago. The ice however was gone! Probably the very same wind that pushed the clouds to the east blew also the ice floes into the open sea. Beside of some grounded ice floes the sea was open again. I decided to continue using my telephoto lens, both for motives farther away and quite near.

I got attracted by a rock covered with a humpback ice pattern. Looking at the results I’m quite content with the lens for this type of motive. I cannot decide which of the two photos I prefer, the first one showing the whole rock or the second one that focuses more on the icy details. What do you think?

When I was home, the temperature had dropped from -9.5 °C to -14 °C.

Some hours later: The sun is setting. The air is chilly but the colours are warm. The Baltic Sea is steaming with cold. One wide-angle photo, taken at 13:07 at the same place.

Home again the sun has set but it’s still light. I decide to go for a jog. It’s fun to hear the snow crunching under the studded soles of my new running shoes. And I do not need my headlights because the sunset is so slow. The air is cold, round -15 °C. My fitness it not the best and I have to breath a lot to keep my pace. Good to have a buff for warming up the cold air a bit.

Two photos from today: (1) me photographing, (2) me jogging. Keep in mind, that it was warmer on the first photo.

P.S.: When I look at the whole blog article I’m more content with the photo of the full moon. The isolated photo may be pointless but in the article it has its place.

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.

Hveravellir

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Wednesday, 29 August – Thursday, 30 August

After our long bus tour we arrived in Hveravellir in the Highlands of Iceland. Hveravellir lies 650 metres above sea-level and here you can find geothermal areas, where fumaroles emit hot gas, mostly water, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The latter one is responsible for the smell of rotten eggs.

We went along the wooden path (don’t leave it, the crust is thin and boiling hot!) and looked at the fumaroles. Then we continued a path westwards.

The landscape scenery changed. The path led mostly through lava rock, only sparsely covered with soil, moss, grass and some flowers.

Some sheep were grassing here and there. They preferred the grassy parts of the desertlike surrounding.

The willows however had to cope with the soil that they had got and even more with the weather. There were flat and crouching on the ground to avoid exposure to the wind.

The way we chose is no circular track so after a time we had to return to Hveravellir, where we had booked an overnight stay. We used to wooden bridge to cross a small stream. You have to be careful, the water is hot!

“Home” again we cooked tortellini for dinner and bathed in the hot tub that was located right beside of our mountain hut. While Annika stayed in the hut after that I took another walk and enjoyed the evening light. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. (And I thought, it would only rain on Iceland!) The motives? Smoking fumaroles against the light · glaciers and snow covered mountains far away · sheep nearby.

I slept very well but woke up quite early. Time for another walk, this time enjoying the sunrise.

The night has been cold and ice crystals covered flowers and leaves. The wet parts of the ground were covered with hoarfrost that looked hairlike.

The fumaroles enveloped the geothermal areas in steam. I can do without the sulphuric smell, but the look is very impressing, especially with the warm sunrise colours.

After my early morning walk Annika and I had breakfast and then packed our stuff. The bus back to Reykjavík wouldn’t leave before 12, so we had time for a two-hour walk together, this time heading south. One of the things that make Iceland unique for me is the colours, not only the colourful mountains in Landmannalaugar, but even the moss and the grass looks special. And the volcanic lava rock is so sharp that the photos look oversharpened.

Round 11 o’clock we had returned to the parking place waiting for the bus. But we spontaneously changed plans when we met Matti whom we got to know in Reykjavík some days ago. He was here by car and invited us to join him and his friend. They wanted to drive to another place, hike around then return to Reykjavík. We happily agreed and had a great time, but that’s another story …

 

 

Landmannalaugar

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Sunday, 26 August – Monday, 27 August

There are only a few roads leading across the Highlands of Iceland. Most of them are only open for cars with four-wheel drive because it is necessary to ford rivers. Even though the road to the Landmannalaugar, our destination for Sunday, is not the toughest, we decided not to hire such a car. They are expensive, we don’t have any experience in fording and there are busses making such trips as well.

Sunday morning we entered the bus to the Landmannalaugar. The whole trip takes round about four hours and goes mostly on normal asphalt roads: through Reykjavík, along the Ring Road that runs around the island, then along a minor road. Finally we reached the junction where the gravel road starts and the bus ride became a bit jumpy. We met some other cars, some of them huge jeeps, some of them small SUVs. After a while we approached the first ford, where a small Dacia Duster crossed the water, followed by our bus.

The other two fords are within sight of the Landmannalaugar mountain hut. There were deeper and many of the drivers with smaller cars decided to use the parking place nearby instead of fording. The bus however splashed through the water and brought us to the mountain hut, where we had booked two places to sleep.

After we unpacked our sleeping bags and put them on two of the narrow mattresses we put on our jackets and boots and started a hike through the amazing landscape. Annika has been in Iceland before several times and told me about the almost unbelievable colours and shades of the mountains and she was true. Some of the mountains were orange, some brown or yellow, some green and one of them red. The lava rocks were black, partly covered with white-green moss and the higher mountains had white snow fields on their colourful slopes. Take a look by yourself:

Iceland has a lot of tourists, last year more than 2 millions. To protect the sensitive environment and avoid destroying the flora you mustn’t leave the trail. There’s another reason for sticking to the trails: Iceland has many geothermal areas where you could break through the thin crust into bubbling mud or boiling sulphuric acid. Some of these spots are visible, they smoke and you smell the sulphur compounds.

After some hours hiking (including an ascent of a mountain) we returned to Landmannalaugar. There’s not only the mountain hut providing 75 beds and a camp ground with place for at least hundred tents, there’s also the Mountain Mall, an old bus where you can buy food.

We enjoyed a rest with two cokes before we headed to the next attraction: A warm bath in the river. Because of the geothermal activity the ground is partly hot and heats up the water to temperatures between round 30 °C and 42 °C. We were not the only ones bathing, but there was enough place for all. You could even decide how warm you wanted your bath by just moving another metre. Great!

After a saturating dinner with spaghetti and pasta I took another walk and some more photos. Then I went to our room and got to bed.

Amazing! Although more than 15 people had slept in the room and the mattresses were so narrow that we could hardly turn around Annika and I slept very well. It was very quiet, hardly any snoring, no talking, no rustling with plastic bags. I experienced much worse when I had spent nights  in alpine mountain huts in Germany or Austria.

After breakfast we took another bath and then another hiking tour. I hardly made any photos due to the drizzle and the strong winds. At least I could take some pictures of the sheep grassing on the plain.

Drizzle became stronger and turned into rain. We went to the ford and looked at the cars crossing. This time I had my waterproof camera with me. Look at the snorkel of the white jeep, I guess this car could almost dive!

The rain got stronger and stronger and when we entered the bus our rain clothes were soaking wet. I looked through the rain-wept window for a while, tried to make same photos, but the autofocus couldn’t handle the situation. After a while I fell asleep.

Conclusion: A great experience! Yes, Landmannalaugar is touristic and crowed, but for good reasons. It’s absolutely worth a visit. Here you can even start a four-day hiking trip but you have to reserve the mountain huts years before. I’m quite eager to do this trail, perhaps in 2020 …?