Wintry weekend in June

Friday, 5. June

At 16:00 I’m at the southern entrance of the University Hospital of Umeå to fetch Annika from work. We go for a weekend tour that we’ve planned for months. We want to drive the vildmarksvägen on the day of it’s opening. Most of this tourist route is open the whole year, but a part is closed more than half the year due to heavy snow.

Today’s destination: the small town Gäddede, where we have hired a tiny cabin on the campsite. The weather is grey but all birch leaves glow intensely. The Swedish weather forecast issued a level 2 warning for high flow but to our astonishment there is very little water in many lakes we pass. We pass even some reindeers, three moose and some black grouses.

Saturday, 6. June

After breakfast we drive along the lakes Kycklingsvattnet, Stor-Jorm and Lill-Jorm. The lakes are open and everything is green. In the distance there are snow covered mountains.

Ten minutes later it looks like this:

What happened? Time travel? No, we are just 200 metres higher than before and although its only 600 metres above sea level the conditions are still wintry here. From now on we travel between the seasons. Sometimes still winter, sometimes already spring. The small brooks and streams carry a lot of water, but most of the lakes are quite empty.

We leave the vildmarksvägen and turn left to pay the Norwegian border a short visit. Of course we are not allowed to cross it due to corona. So we turn our car back to the vildmarksvägen. We travel along some lakes, first partly frozen, then still ice covered until we come to a sudden stop.

A long line of cars, motor cycles and camper vans waits in front of us. They all wait for the opening of the closed passage. We leave our car and walk to the barrier, that will be opened at 12 o’clock.

After half an hour of waiting the barrier opens and the long line of cars starts to move. The next hours there’s a lot of stop-and-go, because people are just stopping and parking anywhere to take pictures making the vildmarksvägen a single file road. But nobody seems to be impatient or even angry, they all have come to see the large snow walls beside the road that tell a lot about last winters snow falls.

Annika and I climb up one of the walls to have a look to an old concrete hut marked with a red cross. We peek inside where we find first aid equipment. Is it still in use? Well, perhaps not, the dressing bandages were fabricated 1957.

And outside: winter landscapes with metre-high snow. We really regret that we have forgot to take our skis with us. Some others are smarter than we and ski through the white. Well,maybe next time …

After driving a bit back and forth we finally take the obligatory snow wall photos.

Sunday, 7. June

After an overnight stay in the rainy Saxnäs we head back home. While there is some old snow left in Saxnäs the Swedish inland is free of snow. As on the trip there some of the lakes have very low water levels. I could stroll there for hours but we want to arrive early home in Obbola und so I only take two shorter strolls to take some pictures.

After some hours of driving, a lunch break in Lycksele and another two hours of driving we arrive home in Obbola in the afternoon. Thank you Annika for a fantastic weekend trip.

Starting my winter journey – Solberget

I have stopped counting how often I’ve been at the wilderness retreat Solberget in Swedish lapland. First of all it’s a nice place with great people, then it’s the week of the winter market in Jokkmokk, which is round 90 km away. Finally I just had to make a stopover here since my stove that I need for a ski tour was stored here.

Wednesday – a small ski tour

On the top of the hill Solberget I get to know Steffen who has spent some days in the mountain hut. It’s his last day and we ski down together. The way back is not long and so we extend our tour. Do we stand on a small bog or a frozen lake, when I make this photo? I don’t know.

Thursday – winter market in Jokkmokk

I’ve been here several times. This time I only stroll over the market and hardly make any photos. The only exception: The artist Yana Mangi, who gave a phantastic concert in the small old church in Jokkmokk.

Older photos from the winter market for example here, here and here.

Friday – ski tour on the Vihtukkajankka

It’s been long since I’ve been on the Vihtukkajankka. Together with Steffen I make a ski tour onto this mountain. First it’s cloudy but soon it clears up. Skiing through the snowy forest is sometime like visiting an art exhibition.

And here I have slept the last days:

Saturday – a foggy day

Acually I just wanted to be lazy but the fog was so beautiful that I skied down to the large bog Päivävuoma/Solmyran to make some “bog fog” photos.

This is my favourite photo from that day:

I close this article with a small riddle. The next photo is no photomontage but a single shot. Where am I?

Lighthouse day on Gåsören

Gåsören is probably my favourite island in the small archipelago off Skelleftehamns coast. It has two lighthouses, the old house-like built 1879–81, and the new tower-like built in 1921. The latter one is still in service. Yesterday was fyrens dag – lighthouse day – on Gåsören. Annika and I wanted to go but beside of my kayak I don’t a boat. How good that Mats – active both in the jazz club and the boat club – gave us a lift from the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan. The wind had weakened but the sea was still choppy and Mats had to drive slowly against the waves. Gåsören however is not far away and soon we dock the boat in the small harbour.

There were not many people on the island yet, more were expected for 21 o’clock. Tommy, who has a summer cottage on the island lit a cosy fire, while I went around and took pictures of the lighthouses and the brick-built cellar, that I’ve never been in before.

Round 21 o’clock the new lighthouse was lit automatically. The summer days of eternal daylight is history for 2019. The flag of the Swedish Cruising Association fluttered in the wind.

Round 21:30 Tommy lights the bulb of the old lighthouse and welcomes the guests. More than expected had come – round 30–40 people.

I take the opportunity to take some pictures from the top of the old lighthouse, where you can climb outside through a little wooden door. In the west it’s the industry of Rönnskär that gives light, in the east it’s the moon.

The people started to leave. Some of them have come by the booked tour boat, other by their own boat. Soon only a few people were left. Those who would stay in their summer cottages (there are only two on the island) plus Mats, Annika and me.

Round 23 o’clock we leave the island. Hopefully I’ll have some more opportunities to visit Gåsören this year.

From Haparanda to Tromsø through the bus window

Four pairs of looking-through-the-window photos and a bonus proof photo

I’m sitting on my bed of room 223 in the Clarion Hotel “The Edge” in Tromsø. I’m here to join the Barents Press International Media Conference that will take place tomorrow and the day after. We from Skellefteå took a car to Haparanda at the Swedish-Finnish border already yesterday. Today we took the bus to Tromsø.

I took photos through the bus window, all with my Nikon D750 and an old 70-210mm/ƒ4.0 lens.

Pair 1 – along the river Torneälven

The Torneälven is the border river between Sweden and Finland. We drive on the Finnish side of the river. Almost all snow has melted and the river is ice free now. Sometimes large walls of ice floes lie along the riverbank.

Pair 2 – moorlands

We already have crossed the Arctic Circle. The coniferous forests are behind us and large moorland frame the road. It’s windy and temperatures are hardly above zero. From time to time it snows.

Pair 3 – winterland

The more up north we travel the snowier and more wintry the landscape becomes. We pass Kilpisjärvi and are in Norway now.

Pair 4 – fjords and mountains

Fjords and mountains – both are typical for Norway. And both can be seen from the bus. A lot of other participants have never been here before and the Oh-s and Ah-s do not stop. And they are right, the landscape is both beautiful and impressive. (… and quite unphotographable from a driving bus.)

Bonus photo

At 7 o’clock we departed in Haparanda, at 17 o’clock we arrive in Tromsø. Later I make some pictures from the roof terrace of our hotel. A Hurtigruten ship with the ishavskatedralen in the background. Take it as a proof, that I’m really in Tromsø.

Closing ceremony of the Ice Swimming World Championship 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

This evening we gather on the Площадь Пять Углов, the Five Corners Square in Murmansk. We want to join the closing ceremony of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship. The event has started already and we are not alone.

And it’s a big, long show with loud music. And I mean really, really loud! Never ever will I travel to Russia again without ear protection. Right after some children dances the flag parade that was rehearsed some days ago starts. Loud playback music: A male voice sings a very patriotic sounding song. The only words I understand: “Murmansk! Murmansk!”. To this song flag bearers are marching on the elevated walkway and onto the stage. One group in some kind of winter uniform bears the flag of the event, others clad in black uniforms carry the flags of the participating nations. “Murmansk! Murmansk!” The final country is Russia and of course it gets the biggest applause.

 

Now the Russian regions whose swimmers participated were presented, and these are a lot. Russia is divided into 55 oblasts and krais, 22 republics and 8 other regions. Not all of them were involved in this World Championship, but many were.

Alexandr Brylin, the guy who swam with the flags yesterday comes for example from the Amur Oblast which is north of China. Альметьевск/Almetyevsk – the town presented in the photo below – is much nearer, just 2500 km by car. Russia is huge!

Everything is accompanied by music, fireworks and flames. An enormous and perfectly staged spectacle.

After that a singer enters the scene accompanied by girls in metallic dresses. The singer is dancing, acting, jumping and gesticulating all the time and finishes his number with a big jump from the winner’s podium.

Finally the award ceremony starts and with that the swimmers enter the scene. They are welcomed by a speaker that stands near the mixer unit in the darkness of the night. TO be able to read the names he wears a headlight. Many people stand around the fenced area, others stand a bit back in the snow that covers the flowerbeds. One child however seems to be longing for a quieter place. It rests a while on some kind of box before it has loaded its batteries and jumps back to its family.

The rest of the evening? A delicious dinner in the restaurant Terrasa with the other participants of Redex 2019 including translator Anna and journalist Dmitry.

We return to the hotel quite early, because tomorrow we will travel back to Luleå in Sweden and already leave at 6:30 local time, that’s 4:30 Swedish time! The journey back will turn out to be relaxed and without any problems. 15 hours later I’ll be home in Skelleftehamn again.

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.

The 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship 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.

The main reason for us to visit Murmansk just this week was the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship and the 1st Ice Swimming Arctic Cup 2019. There were 7 individual distances/styles and 2 relay distances/styles, all from 50 m butterfly to 1000 m (!) freestyle. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate.

Friday, 15 March

After breakfast we meet Dmitry, a local journalist at the hotel lobby and then take the trolley bus to the ice swimming pool, which is located in the freshwater lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye, 5 km from the centre. We arrive there to see the opening ceremony at 11:30 but due to the many starts the competitions already have begun in the morning. As usual we have to show our press badge to be able to enter the arena.

I’ve been on several winter swimming championships before: in Joensuu and Rovaniemi in Finland and of course several times in Skellefteå.

The first thing I notice are the many people wearing robust drysuits. There were two for each lane, all secured with ropes, plus additional divers. They belong to EMERCOM,  the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

The next thing are the restrictions for the press. We have got a plan with the marked areas where we are allowed to stand, but even there we sometimes are shooed away because we block the audience’s view. We are not allowed to go too near to the ice. Security first! The area behind the pool was open for a short time and then closed for the rest of the competitions.

When we arrive the 500 m freestyle competition is in full swing. A total of 47 swimmers compete in this distance. Some people are so exhausted after the swimming that they have to be helped out of the water. Some of them are even lad to the hot tub where they are able to warm up, but most people can walk by theirselves.

The opening ceremony starts with a flag parade in groups of three, one for each country: a boy presenting a sign with the name of the country, a cadet holding the country’s flag and a swimmer of that country. Here we meet again Mongolian swimmer Davaadorj Shagdarsuren.

Then a line of women walk along the green walkway. They are clad in white and blue dresses and hold traditional Russian welcome gifts in their hands: bread and salt. They walk around the pool and present these gifts to the guests from all countries that stand there in one line.

Finally the championship is opened by the outstanding Russian ice swimmer Alexandr Brylin who swims 25 meter holding two flags in his hands.

The next hours I take various pictures: Of the two mascots dancing around, of the swimming itself, or of the Chinese people having fun with the Russian women.

I have a lot to watch and I reflect on similarities and differences of this ice swimming event compared to others. While Skellefteå is partly a fun event with short distances and a funny cap competition, this competition is a 100% serious sport competition. On the other side the opening and closing ceremonies (we got a sneak preview two days before) in Murmansk are colossally enormous. Nevertheless the championships in Skellefteå have a larger public, partly because it’s in the middle of the city, partly because in Skellefteå you can compete in 25 m, too and many locals do this.

The scenery has its contrasts, too: snow – cold ice – open water – people with warm clothes – women wearing fur – swimmers in bathing suits – colourful flags everywhere – grey concrete buildings in the distance.

I take the freedom to loosely quote Tim, who helped organising Redex 2019: Russia will always surprise you!

Saturday, 16 March

Today it’s the day of the 1000 m freestyle competitions. To be allowed to participate you have to proof that you are able to cope being in the ice water for at least 25 minutes. Nothing for the average leisure swimmer. We arrive to heat number 2, where among others Ren Feng Wang from China participates. Just before swimming all participants get a medical exam and another after the swim.

The start commando: all others swim crawling while Ren Feng Wang breaststrokes. At the end of the competition he will be slowest of all with a time of 24:05:04. For me this would be worth an extra medal for being able to cope the icy water such a long time.

Winner of heat 4, men is the German Martin Kuchenmeister, a professional ice swimmer with a time of 16:56:94.

In the same heat a swimmer has to give up. He is helped out at the other side of the pool by the people of EMERCOM.

Some more photos:

Again, it’s the contrasts that fascinate me. The competition, the concrete buildings and the white Russian orthodox church Savior on Waters.

When you watch the championship you hardly realise that there is a lot of life on the Lake Semyonovskoye outside of the fenced area. People are walking, skiing or ice fishing and some of them stand outside the fence and watch the championship as well. After a while I leave the temporary arena and walk across the lake to make some non-swimming photos.

At the end of the day there are two winners of the 1000 m run:

For the men: Petar Stoychev from Bulgaria with 12:10:81. For the women: Alisa Fatum from Germany with 13:02:39. Chapeau!

Links

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.

Midsummer impressions 2018

The last night the weather was fantastic, as you can see on the photos. Today the Swedish weather service unfortunately was completely right with its forecast: It rained, rained and it rained at temperatures around 10 °C. Not very comfortable.

Rain however is never an obstacle when it comes to celebrating midsommar – one of Sweden’s most important feast days. Use any clothes you like, but don’t stay home! As you can see a lot of people were celebrating midsummer in Bonnstan, the old Church Town of Skellefteå. And of course the song of the little frogs was sung and danced, this time not only with frogs and pigs (the normal one’s) but with elephants and lions as well.

Some impressions:

Some hours later: Annika and I enjoy our midsummer meal. The rain patters on the plastic roof of the winter garten. The place is dry but has no heating so that the temperature is only 13 °C. Annika has put on a light down jacket, I myself a warm fleece. But it’s so cozy to sit there, enjoying potatoes, salmon, eggs with roe, pickled herring and strawberry cake. Yummy!