Back home

After almost four weeks of travelling in southern Scandinavia I’m back home in Skelleftehamn again. Yesterday afternoon Annika and I arrived in Umeå, Annika’s residence. Before I drove back to Skelleftehamn today we hiked round the lake Grössjön which is just some kilometres southeast from Umeå. The circular track is very beautiful and leads through pine forests and bogs. A wonderful place, that gives me a stronger “Sweden-feeling” and makes me much more home than many places we travelled the last weeks.

Today the Swedish proverb “borta bra men hemma bäst” feels right. It’s literal translation is: “(being) away good, but (being) home best.”

It’s still summer but some things have changed since I drove away from Skelleftehamn four weeks ago. It gets dark again in the night. Now – at 23:15 – I can go out, look up into the sky and see the star Vega in the constellation of Lyra. And it gets cool again in the night. Just now it’s 5 °C. So that the house can cool down. Good for a person like me who prefers temperatures below -25 °C to those above +25 °C.

Day 15–18 – Meanwhile in Sparsör …

This article is part of the series “2019-07: Southern Sweden”.

22–25 July – Sparsör, Öresjö and Borås

It’s already Friday, Annika and I have been in Sparsör near Borås since Sunday afternoon and I have been extraordinary lazy. Today it’s going to be the hottest day yet with temperatures round 30 °C or above, so my laziness will definitely continue and the most exhausting action will be going to the bath place nearby.

23 July – hiking round the Öresjö

The weather is still cloudy and not so warm. Perfect hiking weather. When we have to climb the hill Örekullen we sweet anyway. The way is steep. We meet sheep in a forest by the lake and a sow with her two piglets. When we are at the south tip, we have some lunch and take a bath in the bay of Almenäs.

Later this day we drive to the city Borås and eat extremely delicious tapas and dessert in the fantastic restaurant La Copita.

25 July – a very warm day

-40 ° C I seek, +40 °C i flee. Luckily it’s not as hot as in Germany¹, but even temperatures round 30 °C are too warm for me to feel comfortable. Fortunately there are many bathing places around, one of them in walking distance. I am bathing and snorkelling. I see schools of fish and hundreds of river mussels underwater, but also a half meter long pike. Anyway the pike is much too fast to be photographed.

Later the evening we drive to Borås another time. A vivid town, especially when there’s a live concert on the town square and a dance band (far away from playing live …) playing in the city park. The air is cooler, but still round 25 °C and even the statues seem to seek refreshment in the water of the river Viskan.

¹ 42.6 °C were measured in Lingen yesterday, the hottest temperature in Germany ever measured. Even though a single hot day is no proof for the ongoing climate shift it is one of the many, many signs.

Early winter Holmön IV

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

It is Monday. It has rained the whole night and it still rains. Most of the snow is history and everything is wet. After breakfast we decide to give the road to the southern tip of Ängesön another try. Indeed, it is almost free of snow and soon we are at the southern tip of the island where we walk along the coast. The clouds are grey and so is the sea. Some water areas are still covered with wet, brownish ice but the sea itself is open.

There are some marked hiking paths on Ängesön that we want to give a try. The guide book recommended “tåliga skor” – that means tough, durable shoes – due to the wet ground. The first path to the east has many deep water puddles and flooded parts. Partly the path is supported by wooden planks, but mostly not. The path leads through a quite old forest as we can see by the many lichens that cover the pine, spruce and birch trees. Snowless and wet as it is, it looks more like mid-October than December.

We try the other trail that leads to a shelter at the western coast of Ängesön. This trail is less wet and easier to follow than the other one. It is however not too easy to reach the rocky coast because of the marshland between forest and coast. It still drizzles and rains and everything is damp.

The hiking paths are nice but I would strongly recommend high rubber boots if you want to keep your feet dry.

After our “three course hiking” we return to our accommodation at Berguddens fyr. We’re still the only people, the place – as beautiful it is – seems less popular in winter time as the guest book tells us. While Annika prepares a warm lunch it starts to get dark outside. Grey clouds still cover the sky and it continues drizzling. The lighthouse starts sending its light beams over the Västra Kvarken, part of the Baltic Sea between Holmön and mainland.

Today day we leave Berguddens fyr. We were lucky to be change the booking for the ferry from 19 o’clock to 9 o’clock to avoid another rainy day – partly in darkness. At 8:20 we sit in the small waiting room, because it’s very windy outside. Waves break at the quay wall and after some the small ferry arrives and wobbles into the small harbour.

I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when I learned I have to back the car onto the ferry. The man however that pilots me onto the ship is fantastic and guides me much better than every rear camera. I am relieved, but get nervous again when I watch the man securing the car with belts. Is it so stormy? Will the belts hold?

First the boat trip is quite but soon the ferry starts to roll and pitch more and more. I stay in the inside of the boat where I feel safer. While Annika and I are hoping the best for the car, the other two passengers do not pay any attention to the rough weather. Probably they live on the island Holmön and they are used to something like that.

45 Minutes later we arrive in Norrfjärden. My car has survived this unsteady trip without any problems.The ferry needs several attempts to dock, but finally I can leave the ferry with the car. Annika, who already went ashore gets into the car and we drive to her home in Umeå. This drive takes only 30 minutes – less than the ferry passage.

It’s fantastic to have such an interesting and special place nearby. We’ll come again, hopefully with better weather.

 

Hveravellir

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

Wednesday, 29 August – Thursday, 30 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Landmannalaugar

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

Sunday, 26 August – Monday, 27 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mountain tour in Arvidsjaur

Yesterday I used my new car to drive to Vittjåkk, a small skiing area near Arvidsjaur, two hours away from home. Annika and I were there in wintertime and made a showshoe tour up the hills. I lived in Munich for six years and do not call these hills real mountains, but at least they reach above the treeline.

I parked again at the same parking lot and ascended the first hill that seems to be nameless. The sky was free of clouds, it was quite warm and I was completely alone.

Soon I was on top of the first hill. I wasn’t alone anymore. Some horseflies tried to make friends with me or at least with my blood. I descended the first hill and went up the Vittjåkk.

From the top I had a wide view over large forests, lakes and a higher mountain range.

Beside of taking pictures I didn’t rest because the horseflies really loved me. So I continued downhill again and was a bit flabbergasted that the whole hike took hardly more than 90 minutes. The hut village was completely abandoned, only a snowmobile showed that this place is only used in wintertime. And other signs showed that too …

Four typical observations in Northern Sweden’s inland in summer, when you go by car

One: construction sites. Almost all major roads are under constant repair each summer. It takes a lot of time to travel. Sometimes you have to wait for a traffic light becoming green or a follow-me car. Sometimes you follow an expencive camper whose driver doesn’t dare to drive more than 20 km/h on the gravelly sections. And this may go on for miles. Swedish miles! (A Swedish mile is 10 km.)

Two: lupins. Many roadsides are overgrown with lupins. They are beautiful, but they are invasive and threaten biodiversity. The Swedish Transport Agency has started to fight theses flowers.

Three: reindeers. Most reindeers are in the mountains but there are always reindeers left in the inland. Keep attention when driving! When you see one reindeer you can be quite sure that others are around, too.

Four: bilingual town signs. On many place in Northern Sweden you are in two countries at the same time. Sweden, the official nation and Sápmi, the region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people. Therefore many places have (at least) two names, a Swedish and a Sami one.

I drove a lot yesterday: 535 km in total. But as a result I know the new Subaru Outback much better and got used both to the automatic gearbox as the electronic systems. I’m very satisfied with the car that is much more comfortable than the old one. The only drawback, it might be the white colour: The horseflies just love the car. When I return to the car it is mostly surrounded by some dozens of this pests and they will even try to follow when I set off. (They manage round 25 km/h.)

 

Beginning of spring 2018

According to the meteorologists spring already had started on 1 March. They love to calculate in whole months. Astronomically the beginning of spring is just today.

Well, kind of …

Today I didn’t work but enjoyed the marvellous weather. Bright blue sky and sun, a good day to go to the beach.

Well kind of …

The temperatures were between -10 °C and -5 °C and the Baltic Sea is still covered with a thick layer of ice up to the horizon. Sometimes it’s solid ice, sometimes it’s packed ice. No open water is in sight and therefore no sea birds neither. Just snow and ice and the blue sky.

I left the mainland at the boat harbour Tjuvkistan and crossed the ice to the islands Norrskär and Bredskär. Now I walk along the eastern shore of Bredskär and then to the island Gråsidan.

At the eastern shore there’s a long wall of ice, up to two meters high.

I walk along the shore and look at the fantastical landscape of ice and snow. Sometimes I feel like being in an open air museum. I call the exhibitions “below zero, above sea”. Here’s one of my favourite exhibits:

I go round half the island and then cross it. Although the snow feels solid – like that green floral foam used for flower arranging – I mostly sink knee deep into it. I walk back along the western shore and then cross the ice to the southern edge of Bredskär. The island has a ice wall at the eastern shore as well, partly up to four meters high. Where shall I go? Right beside of the ice wall there are snow drifts, knee deep or even deeper. A bit farther there’s water between the solid ice and the covering layer of snow. Good to have rubber boots.

I cannot decide for the best way to go. So I’m walking king of zig-zag, constantly watching the ice edge. Sometimes there’s a long line of icicles …

… and once there’s even a quite large ice cave. A pity that it will melt within the next weeks (or months?).

I continue my walk, sometimes plunging through deep snow, sometimes just walking on solid ice, sometimes breaking through the snow into water and slush (don’t worry, there’s always a thick layer of ice beneath). I cross the natural gravel bank between the islands Bredskär and Norrskär and talk the same way back to Tjuvkistan.

Today I walked only round seven kilometres, but it was good to be outside, breathing air, letting my eyes wander, catching some sun and the colours of the sky. At 12:30 I reach the car. It’s very warm in the sun and I’m dressed too warm, but the air temperature is still -5 °C. It’s a season between winter and spring which is called vårvinter – spring-winter. A suitable name.

And here comes my favourite picture of today’s exhibition-expedition. I call it “layers of ice”.

Side note: did you notice the huge rubber boots I’m wearing on the first photo? I bought them in Murmansk a month ago. They are made for ice fishing and they are lightweight, comfortable, very warm and of course waterproof. And they were quite cheap. The only drawback: They have spikes that do the opposite of what they are made for. Instead of improving the grip the spikes just slide on the ice making the boots incredibly slippery on ice. I have to check if I can remove the spikes.