Hejdå home office

Hejdå home office – hejdå Obbola – hejdå Sweden.

This picture is from yesterday, my last day in home-home office. One “home” is for not being in the office, another “home” for working from home in Obbola, not in Tromsø.

This room was my home office for eight months.

In normal times you meet colleagues in real life and have landscape photos on your computer monitor as a desktop background. The last eight months it was the opposite: I met my colleagues digitally but the view of the Baltic Sea was real. And so were the sail boats, the screeching sea birds and the roe deer passing by.

While I write this Annika and I sit in the train to Riksgränsen that departed in Umeå at 2:08(!). In Riksgränsen we’ll get a private lift to Narvik crossing the Norwegian border and then take the bus to Tromsø. If everything works well we’ll arrive there this evening. After a week Annika will return home while I’ll stay in Tromsø to continue my work for the Norwegian Polar Institute on-site.

Eight months Annika and I had together in Obbola. I appreciated every single day of this unexpected gift caused by the COVID-19 restrictions and I’ll keep this time in my heart.

What the future brings? Too early to say.

Gratulerer med dagen from abroad

Today is syttende mai (17th of May), the Norwegian national day. On 17 May 1814 the The Constitution of Norway that declared Norway to be an independent kingdom was signed. That’s why Norway turns 207 years today. Gratulerer med dagen – Happy birthday!

The first time that I was in Norway was the turn of the year 2003/04 together with a friend. Although the weather was really miserable – storm and rain – I was so fascinated by that country, that I travelled there one month later again to find a job as a developer.

Well, I didn’t find a job. I couldn’t speak Norwegian, didn’t have much programming experience and the dot-com bubble was still present.

2005, one and a half year later I visited Tromsø for the first time of my life after a week of hiking on the Hardangervidda. I had less than two days to discover this town but since then it has been my favourite town in Scandinavia.

Anyhow I didn’t think about moving there. The same year I had been in Northern Sweden twice and preferred the colder winters there. In addition to that I was a bit scared of mørketiden – the seven weeks in winter, where the sun stays below the horizon. Five years later I moved to Sweden.

This year however I was sure that I will be in Norway for syttende mai, since I’ve been working in Tromsø since last October.

Well, at least on the papers. Due to Covid 19 we were strongly advised to work from home, which I can better in our house in Obbola/Sweden than in my tiny room in Tromsø. On 22 November 2020 I took the plane to Oslo, another one to Stockholm and a third to Umeå. Since then I’ve been working and living home in Obbola. In five days I’ll have been here for half a year.

It feels a bit like a dream. Did I really work in the office of the Norsk Polarinstitutt in Tromsø? Together with others? Walked the 1.7 km from my shared flat? Enjoyed the first snow in the mountains? Took a kayak course?

Only when I miss my down sleeping bag (in Tromsø), my macro lens (in Tromsø), my rain parka (in Tromsø) I realise that I still have my flat there. And of course when I have to pay the monthly rent. And that’s a lot because it is ridiculously expensive to live there.

At time I’m forbidden to travel to Norway even though I have a job and a shared flat there. It’s unclear when I’ll be allowed there again. Until then I have the blog articles as memory of my two months in Tromsø to remember, the knowledge that I’ll be there again but most of all a wonderful time home.

Breakfast to go

About transporting breakfast in a wheelbarrow and hunting kayaks by the sea.

Some of you may remember the picture taken three weeks ago:

Martin’s answer in the comment was right: We have two kayaks now! Annika bought hers three weeks ago, a new, bright yellow one. Since then it has snowed several times – last time six days ago but today the weather promised to be calm and sunny. Because of Ascension Day Annika and I had a free day today and as usual we started it with a breakfast. Almost …

We didn’t put the breakfast on the terrace table, but in a wheelbarrow. In addition to food and drink there was a camping mat, clogs, sun glasses, caps, my camera and a sponge. While I pushed the wheelbarrow to the shore, Annika took two paddles, for today we would kayak to a beach on the island Bredskär and take our breakfast there.

The air was warm but the sea is still icy cold, so we both were dressed in drysuits. Gloves and such however was not needed any longer.

We paddled counterclockwise along the island Bredskär. Wind as sea were calm and the sun warmed us. We circled a small stony cape and then we turned sharp left to enter a small bay with a sandy beach. There we got out of our kayaks and dragged them up the beach.

Almost 11 o’clock. Both of us were hungry and eager to start breakfast – or better said brunch. We carried the food up the rocky cliff of the cape that we just had gone around by kayak. Time to roll out the camping mat, pour orange juice into the plastic cups and start our brunch.

After eating bread with cheese, egg or herring in mustard sauce and some chocolate (Marabu with salted almonds) we just sat there and enjoyed. We watched the agile terns fly, we spotted three tiny sail boats leaving the shore. We heard a loud HOOOO! from the air horn of a ship, but we couldn’t spot it. The three sailing boats headed for the open sea getting smaller and smaller. And finally we saw the cause of the air horn: The Wasa ferry to Finland that at time docks in the industry port and has a bit of longer way to the sea. Slowly it approached and passed our observation spot.

The waves of the Wasaline ferry came nearer and nearer. No problem – we sit on land.

I cannot remember whether I heard the waves running into the sandy bay or if I saw them. Anyhow, I turned my head and could watch the waves that had reached our kayaks and started to pull them into the sea. I climbed down the cliff with my cheap plastic clogs as fast as I could, ran over the sand and waded into the water to fetch the first kayak I could reach. It was mine. Now I was a bit more relaxed. We could use my kayak to fetch Annika’s that already has been pulled out into deeper water. Annika however had still her drysuit on and waded to her kayak until she could grab it. Now the waves had started pushing her kayak back and soon both were on dry land again.

2 people: ✔︎ / 2 kayaks: ✔︎ / 2 paddles: ✔︎ – good luck!

To our learning for today: Even when the sea is calm – put your kayak on land properly! Now with the kayaks being save again we returned to the cliff, we sat down onto the camping mat again and watched the ferry on its journey to behind the horizon.

There we sat for a while, but then we put our things together, entered the kayaks and paddled home. After less then 2km of paddling we landed at the shore in front of our house where the wheelbarrow waited for that food that we hadn’t eaten. I still feel being extremely privileged, that I may live at such an outstanding place together with Annika.

Later that day we were in town where we got the warmest day yet: Up to 23 °C (or 24? I don’t remember) were shown by the car thermometer and when we bathed in the lake Stocksjön it was no winter bath any longer. Yes, there is still snow in the forest and even a larger patch of it beside the house but this will not last long.

Springtime!

Farewell Skelleftehamn

Sweden. Somewhere in the north. A little town called Skelleftehamn. A small street called Tallvägen. Street number 35. My house, that I named flygelvillan. The large living room. The left half with the grand piano and the computer. That has been a central place to me for many years.

At this place I wrote most of the blog articles of way-up-north.com. I worked. I planned my travels. I communicated. I looked out of the window when it snowed. I played on my grand piano. I rehearsed with a jazz trio and an opera singer. I composed and arranged for big band and chamber choir.

A central place.

Two days ago, on 15 May 2020 I left my house for good. It’s still mine but I’ll sell it this year.

Two days ago at 8 o’clock the large moving lorry arrived and five people started to carry all my belongings into the large car. First some furniture, then more than 150 boxes, pulka, kayak, skis and large bags with sleeping bags and down jackets. And finally my Yamaha grand piano.

The whole move took less than eight hours. Then my grand piano stood erected in the living room of Annika’s and my new house by the sea.

Shall I be sad because I left Skelleftehamn? Perhaps I should, but I’m not. The positive feelings about living together with Annika and having found such an extraordinary place to live dominate. I really have been looking forward to this new life and now it has become reality.

Past – present – future

About ten years in Sweden and what will happen next

← Past

Have a look at this photo. It’s a special one:

This photo I took the morning of 23 April 2010, exactly ten years ago. It was the very first day of a new chapter in my life: Living in Sweden.

So today it’s my tenth Sweden anniversary. What a great life I’ve had all those years!

I’m especially grateful that I got to know Martine and Lasse right from the beginning. It was the balcony of their former house in Skellefteå where I took this photo from. Lasse and Martine not only gave me a room to stay for the first weeks but much more. They introduced me to many great people and showed me the surroundings, among others Skelleftehamn.

When I took these photos on 24 April 2010 I didn’t know that I would buy a house in Skelleftehamn only a month later and move there in summer 2010.

☉Present

The month of April uses to be the month between winter and spring. It still may snow intensely but the snow won’t last. And so it is this year, too. The rivers are mostly open and only the lakes are still covered with old ice.

But this April is special. Although the weather is really fine I’m inside quite a lot. It’s not because of corona or work but …

… because I pack my things. I’m moving. I’ll leave Skelleftehamn after almost ten years! The removal van will come in three weeks and I have a lot of stuff. The 35 banana boxes on the photo are filled with books and I didn’t even start to pack my winter equipment. Down jackets, sleeping bags, pulka, skies, winter boots …

→ Future

I’m going to move 148 km south. Annika and I have bought a house in Obbola near Umeå, the largest town in Northern Sweden. In two weeks Annika and I will finally become sambor. Sambo (sam = together-, bo = to live) – is the common Swedish term for people in a relationship living together without being married. Oh, how I’m looking forward to live together with Annika after years of a weekend relationship with many car rides on the boring E4 between Skelleftehamn and Umeå.

I’m also looking forward to something else. The house is located by the Baltic Sea. It’s only sixty metres from our terrace to the shore and I’ll be able to see the sea from my “office room”. There will be no excuse why I shouldn’t take a ten minute kayak trip before breakfast, when the weather is nice.

It’s hard to make photos from the future. The photos below I made three weeks ago.

The photo I couldn’t take three weeks ago was of the mink strolling along the shore. Wrong lens …

Closing the bathing season in Skelleftehamn?

7 o’clock. The sun was still below the horizon but already colourised sky and sea at Storgrundet.

Some minutes later – looking into the opposite direction revealed another colour impression.

There was thin ice on this bay. It was partially broken. You may already guess, why. I’ll tell you.

I love bathing in the sea and this bay is my favourite beach and bathing place. In mid-August the water temperature had been 18 °C, in September it had fallen below 10 °C and this morning it was only around 0.7 °C.

Anyhow, time for another bath.

I undressed and started wading through the ice. First I stalked like a stork, than the water got deeper and thinner and I just walked normally, breaking the ice with my thighs.

Soon I reached both open water and swimming depth. I love bathing in cold water and think it’s invigorating and refreshing. Bathing before sunrise with these beautiful morning colours is an extra bonus.

Ouchie ;-)After a bit of bathing and some swimming strokes I waded back to the beach. I already had expected cutting my legs at the sharp thin ice and so I did.

As long as the skin is cold, you hardly feel such scratches.

Being still wet I started freezing because the air was not warm neither. -9 °C the car thermometer had shown. Then the great moment came where I realised, that I had forgot to take a towel with me!

I dried myself a bit with my hands and slipped – wet as I was – into my clothes. And warm clothes it was!

This worked much better than expected and I decided to drive to the office directly. Arriving there only the tips of the socks felt a bit damp, the rest (outdoor pants and woollen sweater) felt warm and dry again.

Since the ice will get thicker and thicker every day I guess that this was the end of my bathing season 2019. At least at Storgrundet.

Some random comments

  • It has been quite cold for late October the last days. In some parts of Finnish lapland temperatures had dropped below -25 °C.
  • Later this morning I realised that I had got many more cuts and scratches from the ice than excepted.
  • The definition of a winter bath is a bath in water colder than 10 °C. According this definition I took my first winter bath this season on 9 September. But it was today that I took my first ice bath of the season.
  • While I am writing this blog article I realise that I had a roll of kitchen paper in my car. So I could have dried myself this morning.

Open house day at Polarforskningssekretariatet

When I was a child I wanted to become a researcher. Of course I hadn’t the slightest idea, what a researcher really does. I assumed he would travel around the world looking for insects or collecting fossils – both passions of mine. Then my interests for maths and computer science as well as for jazz and playing piano grew more and more and my childhood dreams of beetles and trilobites faded into the background. To make a long story short: 1992 I started studying jazz piano and then worked as a musician; in 2002 I had started working with programming, which still is my main profession. I really like my job and the freedom that it gives me, but …

There are jobs that I would take instantly if I only had the chance.

Today was open day at the Polarforskningssekretariatet – the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat in Luleå. The Polarforskningssekretariatet “promotes the conditions for and coordinates Swedish research and development in the polar regions.”¹ It was really interesting and inspiring both to look around and to talk to the people working there.

If you know me, you also know about my passion for the Arctic regions, even though I only have visited a really tiny part. What you probably do not know is that I had contact with the Polarforskningssekretariatet some months ago. There had just published a job ad for a forskningsstödsamordnare – a research support coordinator – for the ship based expeditions to the Arctic. I applied for that job, although I guessed that without any fundamental experience within leading large international projects and especially research I wouldn’t have a chance. And I hadn’t. Today I learned that 80–100 people applied for that job.

I’m not disappointed, but a bit pensive. That would have been a job to my taste. Transforming needs into plans, working with international teams, travelling to Greenland or the North pole, but most of all: doing a meaningful job in times where climatical research is more and more crucial to humankind.

There are several lives I could have chosen. I could have become a mathematician, a composer or – following my childhood dreams – a scientist. It’s easy to say that I should have made other choices. If I were a scientist today I would miss my time as a jazz pianist. Life is just too short to squeeze in all the different interests. But just today I would have loved to become a part of the polar research in Sweden.

¹ quote taken from the English website.

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.

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.

Breaking the spring ice

This morning I saw not only the ice fishermen, but also the icebreaker Baus clearing the ice in the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn. In the afternoon I remembered, that I had come into contact with K., one of the crew members on Facebook some weeks ago. I had asked if it was possible to go with the Baus to take photos sometime. K. had answered that I should just go there and ask the people. And so I did today.

I met a guy who works on the icebreaker and learned that it’s hard to make some kind of appointment. In winter no one knows exactly, when ships will arrive or depart due to the weather and the ice conditions and therefore neither when the Baus would start. But they would actually leave in twenty minutes to clear the ice for the ship Ice Star and I was allowed to join …

Sixteen minutes later I was at the dock again, this time with better clothes and my camera equipment that I got from home. How good that I live so close.

I was allowed to enter the Baus and say hello to the captain on the bridge.

He welcomed me, showed me some of the controls to steer the boat and allowed me just to go round everywhere to take photos. I didn’t want to disturb him, because he had to focus on his work and my plan was to make photos, not to interview the crew. At first I went up onto the top deck.

The water was completely covered with crushed ice. Some of the ice floes were at least half a metre thick. Slowly the Baus departed from the dock and I went down to the bottom deck to be closer to the icy sea.

While the Baus was slowly moving back and forth I went on every possible deck. I really enjoyed that freedom that you never can have on bigger ships as e.g. the Hurtigruten ships.

After some time of waiting and some time of moving around the way was clear for the Ice Star. Slowly it departed and followed the cleared channels between the solid ice where it with increasing speed left “Skellefteå Hamn”, the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn.

While my eyes followed the Ice Star I spotted something blue at the horizon. Water! Somewhere behind the island Gåsören the ice had started to break and now open water covered the Baltic Sea behind Gåsören. Maybe the next paddle tour is closer than I think.

The Baus already had started to turn around (the previous photo shows the funnel at the rear) and return to the dock. I enjoyed watching the different types of ice.

Until now, the trip was extremely calm, now it started to get more rumbling, because Baus now went through packed ice – crushed ice that had frozen together and now was split into large irregular chunks. Great channel-like cracks developed in the ice, which soon closed again.

After some more minutes the Baus arrived and after thanking the captain for the opportunity to follow I left the icebreaker. The whole trip took less than 90 minutes, but felt much longer. I’ve been living in Skelleftehamn for almost eight years and it was a great experience to see my place of residence from a completely new perspective.

Thanks a lot, crew of icebreaker Baus!

Seeing the blue open water was a welcome spring sign. I saw two others today:

The first butterfly of the season, a small tortoiseshell that fluttered around the top deck of the Baus and (perhaps less romantic) the first teenager in shorts in front of ICA, the grocery store. I’m still waiting however for the first wild spring flower in Skelleftehamn.