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 latter 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!

The ice road in Avan

Today I had a meeting in Norrbotten, Sweden’s northernmost län (county). It was the annual general meeting of Barents Press International, a joint network of journalists in the Barents Region. I joined this organisation a few weeks ago and took the meeting as an opportunity to meet members of Barents Press in real live.

The projects presented at the meeting were really impressing. In addition to that the people were both very friendly and extremely interesting.

The meeting was in Avan near Luleå, 150 km from here or as the Swedes say: 15 miles. The name Avan rang a bell, but it took a look on the map to remember that it’s the place where Annika and I had used the ferry to cross the river Luleälven in May 2015. And later that day we had been forced to wait before a bridge, where people tried to get out a ship with a crane. (It didn’t work.) After a long time of waiting we had been able to continue the tour.

But back to today. It’s 2 February, -18 °C and the Luleälven had been frozen for many weeks.

I had left the E4 and drove the road to Avan. It was picture-perfect weather. Everything was covered with soft snow. It was snowing gently and since it was quite early, the snow looked still a bit blueish.

Some hours later – we had finished the meeting and went upstairs to have fika. This Swedish coffee break took at least twice the time of the official meeting, but fika is anything between 15-30 minutes (most common) and open end …

While we were holding fika and it was still snowing the sun came out. The sunlight made the scenery look even more beautiful. What a gorgeous view the house owners have!

Half past twelve I thanked the hosts and left Avan. I had got an idea: I remembered that there was an ice road crossing the river in wintertime. I was not sure if it was open but it was not far away. I drove there and right, the ice road over the Luleälven was open.

It had stopped snowing and the sun was shining. I parked the car and took some pictures (and was annoyed with myself that I only took the small camera with me).

I saw other cars using the ice road, otherwise I wouldn’t have dared to cross the river, which still is a river with water under the ice. Flowing water. Ok, let’s go …

And so I have got my ice road premiere today. Check ✔︎. I took some photos on the other side and decided to drive back again because I prefer the southern road which I came from.

It was still sunny but clouds had started gathering in the south. While I drove back south it got more and more cloudy. When I made a stopover at my favourite Thai restaurant in Skellefteå it was quite windy and my mobile phone displayed a message:

Warning class 1 snowfall Västerbottens … Snowfall which from Sunday morning to night to Monday can give 20-30 cm. In coastal areas in combination with fresh northeast wind. Snowfall contin…

Later there were the first snow showers. Let’s see, what will happen tomorrow.

A special place in the Highlands of Iceland

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

Thursday, 30 August

When Annika and I were in Hveravellir waiting for the bus back to Reykjavík, we met Matti whom we got to know some days ago. We gladly accepted his invitation not to take the bus but to follow him and his friend by car.

First Matti followed the very same way that the bus would have taken, but soon he turned in another gravel road that led us up a slope. The path got worse and worse and I was glad that Matti has an old Nissan Patrol and knows how to handle it when crossing a ford or driving through deep clay mud. The gravel track ended in a parking place with a tiny toilet. From this point we had to walk.

I stood at the rim of the parking place and was stunned by the iconic view.

I could see coloured mountains everywhere as in the Landmannalaugar, many of them covered with old snow fields or small glaciers. The scenery was partly covered with steam that emerged from fumaroles as in Hveravellir, but here were hundreds of them.

We followed the path and descended the clayey slope on some ridiculously steep looking steps. This geothermic area is very active and constantly changing. Sometimes a fumarole is less than a footstep away. We crossed a bridge, partly hidden in the steam emitted by boiling water pools, were Matti cooked some eggs.

We continued our hike and ascended another clay hill. From here we could see many other hills and stairs leading up and down.

We came nearer and nearer to an old snow field. Here the normal path came to it’s end.

One path led up the slope over the snow. We continued another path that led to the top of a slope. From here we could see huge snow blocks that had slid down the clayey slope. Matti, his friend and I went down that slope. The ground was extremely slippery and when I arrived down in the valley my rain pants were completely covered with wet clay. The weather worsened: First it drizzled, then it even snowed a bit and in addition of that the steam of the fumaroles was everywhere. The following photos of the snowy ice blocks were the last ones before I gave up making pictures, because camera and lenses became too wet and muddy.

It took I while until I managed to crawl up the slippery clay slope again. We started heading back. The wind had increased and on the last crest-like hilltops it was really stormy. Luckily the storm was not strong enough to blow us over. Anyway I was glad to be in the shelter of the car again.

This place is really special. Not too easy to hike when it’s wet, but both interesting, varying and extremely beautiful. Of course other people know this place as well but at least there are no commercially guided tours yet. To keep it that way, I promised not to reveal the location of that place although Iceland experts probably have recognised it already.

Thank you, Matti for this experience, the long drive back to Reykjavík and the lift to our guesthouse!

Icelandic letters

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

While the latin alphabet has 26 letters, the Icelandic alphabet has 32. C, W, Q and Z are not included. So the Icelandic alphabet has ten extra letters that are not part of the latin alphabet.

The first 6 letters are vowels with an accent that changes the pronunciation. It’s ÁÉÍÓÚ, and Ý. Two others are vowels, too: Æ/æ and Ö/ö. The letter Æ is also used in Danish and Norwegian, while Ö is used in e.g. the Swedish and German language.

There are two letters however, that are a bit special: Ð/ð and Þ/þ. The letter Рis called eth and its pronunciation resembles the th in that. The letter Þ comes from the runic alphabet Elder Fuþark and is called thorn. It is pronounced like the th in thing.

When Annika and I took the bus to Landmannalaugar some days ago I spotted a sign on front of a house. It contains 5 of the special letters: The Ö, the Æ, the Ð, the Þ and the Ó.

What does the word Lögfræðiþjónusta mean? Lögfræð means law and þjónusta means service, so the whole world means “legal services”.

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:

 

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!

 

 

Lazy sightseeing in Visby

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

After four days of cycling and driving Annika and I use the Friday to take it easy and stroll through the old town of Visby, including sightseeing and visiting restaurants. It is our last day on Gotland, tomorrow we’ll fly back.

We have fallen in love with Gotland a bit, both with the varying landscape and with the beautiful old town. We were incredible lucky with the weather: Sun from morning to night and day temperatures between 20 and 24 °C.

I won’t tell much more about Visby, I just show some photos, all made on Friday:

Sunday afternoon, 13 May: I’m back in Skelleftehamn. No snow is left in my garden and the Baltic Sea before Skelleftehamn is completely free of ice. And finally the birch trees have got fresh green leaves. That’s more spring than one year ago!

Some thoughts about e-bikes

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

It was interesting to try out e-bikes for two days. Even though they have advantages I have to admit that I didn’t become a fan of riding e-bike, at least not on the model we used.

The e-bikes we rented have three gears and a motor, that supports cycling in three levels. The motor has a range of 50 km and the supported speed is limited to 24 km/h. The motor switches off as soon one stops pedalling. An e-bike is not a moped that moves by its own.

Pros and cons of our e-bikes:

Pros:

  • the feeling of freedom. We chose many side paths just to have a look. If we would be tired we could use the motor.
  • you get good support when you cycle against the wind
  • you get very good support when the road goes up
  • you can accelerate faster in many cases
  • the range is larger than 50 km since you don’t use the motor the whole time

Cons:

  • Our bikes only had three gears. Too little for the terrain on Gotland when cycling without motor
  • The bikes are heavy and hard to carry over obstacles. One is bound to good ways
  • Each “motor gear” is made for a certain speed. It’s hard to vary that speed
  • For this reason it’s hard to drive next to each other
  • It’s hard to find a rhythm. The harder you pedal the less support you get
  • It feels strange however to pedal without using any strength
  • When you’re speed is round 24 km/h, the motor will switch on and off due to the speed limit
  • And last not least: the training effect of course is almost zero

I played a lot with the different combinations of gear and motor support and sometimes my lazy self was glad about the motor. My bicycle self however was glad when I switched off the motor and used the e-bike just as an ordinary bicycle, even though three gears were too few.

Next week I want to start cycling to work. That’s 2×19 kilometres a day. I guess I will curse when cycling against the wind. But hey, that’s part of the story when you use a bicycle.

Three bicycle tours on Gotland – Wednesday

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

A bicycle tour in seven scenes

1. To Ihre by bus

It’s Wednesday. As yesterday we’ve planned a bicycle tour, this time north from Visby again. Today we want to try to take the bus and cycle back. We have to get up early, the bus leaves at 7:55. As we hoped, the bus driver will transport our bikes. The way however is a bit unexpected: Two bus drivers lift the heavy bikes on a transport rack attached to the back of the bus. It doesn’t look very stable. The bus driver however observes the back camera to check the bikes and it works, we arrive in Ihre without any problems.

2. The beach at Irevik

This stone beach is one of the beaches, where you can find fossils, e.g. Rugosa. There are so many fossils that I find them though hardly looking. (I found fossils however on almost every beach in Gotland.) As a child I collected fossils and it would have been almost impossible to remove my from these beaches. Now I love to look at the white swans as well, but I have many stones in my pockets.

3. Lickershamn

Probably the highlight of the day: Lickershamn, a cute old fishing town where you can buy both smoked fish and ice cream (a good combination if not eaten simultaneously!). We sit outside, it is warm as if it were summer and we enjoy the smoked salmon pieces and the shrimp salad.

4. Raukar near Lickershamn

We saw them already on the way to the sea: The raukar near Lickershamn. A rauk or sea stack is a steep rock formation formed by wave erosion. Due to the post-glacial rebound these rauks are quite far away from the Baltic Sea that formed them.

5. Lickershamn fornborg

Quite near there lies a fornborg, an ancient refuge castle. If you are not into archeology it’s hard to find the leftovers from the iron age in the forest. So I decided to take a picture of the blue flowers that bloomed everywhere in the light pine forest.

6. Ungemiss gård

We pass a farm, now café and art atelier, too. A chicken comes closer curiously. We however want to reach the Krusmyntagården before the kitchen closes and do not take a longer break.

7. Krusmyntagården

We’ve been there two days ago; Krusmyntagården is a wonderful place with great food, even though Annika and I do not fall in love with the saffron pancakes, a speciality from Gotland. It’s really nice to sit outside, have an ice cream, a lemonade and relaxing.

Extra: Brissund bathing place

Next stop: the near sandy beach in Brissund. The water feels much colder than the day before and is hardly more than knee deep. Refreshing however since the air is so warm.

After the bath we head home, first along the main road, then along the beach promenade, then through the old town. The dinner (taken on the roof terrace of our apartment): green asparagus with ham and potatoes.