No, it’s not winter yet, but …

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

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

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

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

A two-day journey to Stora Fjäderägg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some images of the island:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More info:

 

#escapism – kayaking to Gåsören

This article is part of the series #escapism. It’s about being outdoors and leaving civilisation behind in excursions that take less than 24 hours. Everyone should have time for such!

Yesterday I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and decided to make a kayak trip to the island Gåsören. I planned for an overnight stay and that means packing a lot of things:

Anything on the photo beside of the empty plastic box came with me. From left to right: Dry suit, life jacket, food and stove, camping map, spare clothes, tent, camera equipment, water bottle, book, sleeping bag, neoprene boots, 5 litre water canister. It’s almost miracle that everything fits into the kayak. Since it was quite warm I only wore pants and a t-shirt and of course the life jacket, that’s a matter of security and therefore principle.

I paddled between the islands Storgrundet and Brambärsgrundet, passed Vorrgrundet and then headed to Klubben and Flottgrundet. Here I left the islands behind and continued to Gåsören. The weather was nice and the sea was calm. Already 50 minutes later I arrived. I dragged the kayak ashore, took all baggage and went to my favourite campground (and one of the few placed not completely covered with pebbles and rocks) where I put up the tent.

After “cooking” and eating I visited two friends that own one of the two summer cottages on Gåsören. It’s really a beautiful place they have. We talked about paddling, hiking, skiing and much more. It was late when I want back to my tent and the sun started to set.

I didn’t go to sleep directly but watched the sun going down and the many fluffy but extremely clumsy seagull chicks walking around. They cannot fly yet and use to stumble over every other stone. What a contrast to the elegant flight of the grown ups.

It was much brighter than it looks like on these backlit photographs. It doesn’t get dark in the night  and I found it hard to sleep, not only due to the bright night but also to the increasing wind and the constantly screeching seagulls. I put on a woollen cap. It was not cold at all but it helped to block the direct light (though not the shrieks of the gulls).

At half past five I gave up and started to finish a book I’d been reading for a while. That took some hours. At half past eight I took a frugal breakfast: Toast with cheese.

Then I packed everything together. Clouds had started approaching and I wanted to have everything stowed in the kayak before the rain. The sky above was still blue but the sea started to get choppy.

I stopped by my friends again to say farewell. They have their cottage on the lee side of the island and we enjoyed the last hour of sun before the clouds started to cover it.

I dragged the kayak into the shallow water. It was hard to start against the wind, because the kayak was constantly turned parallel to the approaching waves. Wrong direction and quite unstable. But after some tries I managed to leave the island behind. It was exhausting but easy to paddle against the wind. Anyway I wouldn’t have dared to cross the open sea in these conditions without wearing a dry suit even if it’s only 600 metres. The water is still very cold and in case of the kayak capsizing I wanted to be completely sure to be able to reach the shore without hypothermia.

It took twice the time than the day before. The sky was grey and cloudy and it had started to rain. It may not sound like that, but it was real fun paddling through wind and waves. The hardest part was going round Vorrgrundet where I had to go parallel to the short waves. Here I had to be fully focussed to keep my balance. As soon as I reached Storgrundet I was in the lee of that island again and the water was much calmer. Soon I arrived at yesterday’s starting point.

The whole trip took less than 20 hours and is therefore a candidate for the series #escapism.

Finally, two selfies, one sunny from yesterday and one rainy from today (made in the lee of a small island).

 

Valborgsmässoafton 2018

30 April

Valborgsmässoafton is the last day of April. On this days many people set fire to big bonfires, partly as an event being celebrated with friends, partly for burning last years gardening rubbish (and more …).

This year I was invited by A. and M. who I’d got to know exactly eight years ago on another valborgsmässoafton. They are among my oldest friends in Sweden and I’m very happy that they exist. Their stuga – or summer cottage – is located in Bygdeträsk south of Skellefteå.

This time I come from Umeå, where I spent the weekend. I try to avoid the larger roads and prefer the small gravel roads. Mostly they are in good conditions, only some parts are quite muddy and have deep ruts in the clayey ground. Less and less snow can be seem, but there’s still snow left.

There is still ice on the lakes as well, but it looks soft and grey and near the shore there are more and more open patches. You can still see the snowmobile tracks, a vague reminder of the winter.

Some hours later: I’ve arrived in Bygdeträsk and with the help of A. I manage to park my car without getting stuck in the soft clay of the property (which happened to a craftsman recently). The other guests have arrived, too and – of course – the bonfire is burning!

But what about the hot tub? Wouldn’t it be nice to take a hot bath outside later in the evening? That of course needs some preparations. While M. cautiously tries to split the thick ice block in the hot tub with an axe I put on chest waders to wade a bit into the lake with a long hose attached to the water pump. First I thought I had to chop away ice, but near the shore the lake is just filled with knee-deep slush. Soon the pump starts to fill the hot tub with ice cold water heated by the wood stove.

To make a long story short: it will take eight hours until the water is hot enough for a relaxing bath and I will have fallen fast asleep when the only two people still being awake will start their bath.

Anyway, there are other things to do as e.g. watching the whooper swans on the ice and in the water.

Then there is a lot of eating (M. is a great cook and grandmaster of barbecuing) and talking and playing games. Every half an hour someone goes out, adds wood to the oven and checks the water temperature, that sloooowly increases. I become more and more tired but I want to have a bath. At 1 o’clock in the night however I give up. I’m just too tired! I pump up my camping mat in the workshop, unroll the sleeping bag and soon I’m fast asleep.

1 May 2018

After a late breakfast I say thank you and goodbye to the others, jump into the car and head home, again with many detours. I see some cranes, some reindeers and a black grouse (called orre in Swedish) that flies away before I can slow down the car for taking a picture.

Many gravel paths lead through forests. Left and right are old walls of snow that the sun has not melted yet. Leftovers from last winter’s snow clearing.

Again some patches are rutted, some are wet and muddy but no problem, until …

Luckily I see this obstacle in time and manage to drive around this hole in the street. (My car is the red one in the background.) One of the rare opportunities where I’m glad to have a car with all wheel drive.

One hour later I’m home again and I hardly can believe my eyes. Five days ago my backyard was still covered with 30 centimetres of snow, now the snow on the lawn is almost gone and beside of some small white patches brown grass is everywhere! Even though I’ve been living in Sweden for eight years I’m astonished again how fast snow melts in springtime.

Two hours later heavy raining is pouring down. Hej då, vinter!

Spring birds and spring flowers

Two days ago I took the car to Umeå, 130 km south from Skellefteå. Last time I was there in January and it was winter. This time it was springtime. Nevertheless, more than half of the ground was still snow covered in Skelleftehamn and Bureå. But while I was driving southwards the scenery slowly changed. More and more snow free meadows and grasslands showed up. The grass is still brown and huge water puddles cover the lower parts.

In Lövånger I saw a lot of birds on the meadows and made a short stop to photo some of them. No great shots but it shows some of the most common migratory birds that already had arrived here.

(click on the images to see the bird’s names in English, Swedish, and German.)

South from Lövånger there was hardly any snow left, it remained only in ditches, in the shadow of forests and on some northern slopes – everywhere where there’s less sun. Still the landscape looked a bit dull, for nor the birches neither the other plants had got leaves.

Some hours later. Annika has ended her working day and we walk along the river Umeälven, which is free of ice. Only some small ice floes drift on the surface that mirrors the blue sky.

On the other side of the way along the river there’s a southwards slope. And here many spring flowers, not only tussilago are blooming. I counted six different flower types on the walk into the center of Umeå. Here they come:

(again, click on the images to see the flower names. Hopefully there are correct)

White-tailed eagle

It’s not often that I see eagles in Skelleftehamn as near as today. it’s even rarer that I have my camera with mounted telephoto lens with me. And it was poor luck, when the eagle decides to wheel an extra round, so that I can take another shot when the first one is out of focus.

Today was such a day.

White-tailed eagle · havsörn · Seeadler · Haliaeetus albicilla

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.

A day in Båtsfjord

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

Day 41 of my winter journey 2018

After a difficult car ride over through gale and snow Annika and I arrived in Båtsfjord, where we stayed overnight.

As usual I woke up early. I got out of bed and took a first look at this town. Although a lot of snow had come the day before all roads and streets were already cleared. Some houses and fences however were still snowed in. Perhaps the houses were not in use or the owner was travelling, too.

And here a look at one of the harbours.

After breakfast Annika and I got a guided tour through Båtsfjord by our landlord. He comes from Finland and came to this town in 1999. He showed us round and told us a lot about this town whose main economical sector still is fishing. The fishing port is one of the biggest in the Finnmark with around 10000 boat arrivals per year.

He drove us to a place at the harbour where you can watch two species: (1) the king eider, a large sea duck and (2) the bird-watcher, a subspecies of the human being. Four of these bird-watchers lay in a huge box in the water and were spotting the king eiders. Mostly you couldn’t see the bird-watchers themselves but only their huge tele lenses.

Thank you, landlord from Finland whose name I forgot for this interesting guided tour!

Some other images of Båtsfjord I made over the day:

Later that day we sat in the waiting room and waited for the Hurtigruten to come. Our two-week stay on the Varanger Peninsula would end today and we slowly would travel home again. But instead of directly heading home by car (943 km) we would take the Hurtigruten ship to Ørnes and drive home there. Well, that spares us only 360 km and takes almost 60 hours, but it’s nice to travel by Hurtigruten, especially after visiting so many different places by car.

At 19:45 the Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge arrived and the next stage of the journey began.

 

 

The first cold and sunny days

It became colder the last days. Yesterday temperatures were between -10 °C and -6 °C. Today it was warmer but still below zero the whole day. Especially the night before last was cold: coldest in Nattavaara with -23.8 °C but even in Åliden, just 33 km west, temperatures lay round -17 °C the whole night.

This morning I took the car to the bridge Sundgrundsbron that leads over the river Skellefteälven and pleasured in the wonderful sunrise colours. The sky in the east was coloured of warm shades of bright orange, while the sky in the west was more blue and purple, looking much colder.

Due to the stream parts of the Skellefteälven were still open but many parts were already covered with ice. Noises of cracking and clicking echoed through the air, clearly indicating that the ice was still fresh and quite thin.

A family of mute swans paddled over the river. Did they decide to stay or will they fly south? I hope they’ll cope the cold weather in case of staying.

If you look closer at the first photo you see a layer of clouds hovering above the horizon. The locals call this phenomenon “vinterväggen”, meaning “the winter wall”. It’s quite typical for this season and sometimes the whole eastern horizon is covered by a thick layer of clouds. According to a neighbour it’s this type kind of clouds that brings snow.

But according to the weather forecast tomorrow’s precipitation will come more as rain than snow.

The cranes gather

The weather felt quite autumn-like the last days: Much rain, hardly any sun and temperatures between 5 °C and 12 °C. But most birch trees still bear green leaves and it will take some more weeks until leaf coloration is in full swing.

The common cranes and whooper swans however have started to gather.  Delle, who is visiting me and I saw some hundred of them on the fields between Kusmark and Drängsmark yesterday. I guess they will fly southwards soon.

Translations:

EnglishGermanSwedishLatin
Common craneKranichTranaGrus grus
Whooper swanSingschwanSångsvanCygnus cygnus