Four days in Österbotten

Last Monday Annika and I travelled to one of Umeå’s nearest neighbouring cities: Vasa. Vasa is located in Finland and the fastest and easiest way to get there from Umeå is by ferry. Taking the car round Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea – would be more than 800 km.

2. April – sunny Islands, cormorants and bad roads

The forecast promised sunny weather and I wanted to flee the town of Vasa (round 68000 inhabitants). Our plan was to explore some of the large islands of the Kvarken Archipelago which consists of several thousands of islands and islets.

We left Vasa municipality and entered Korsholm municipality. In Alskat we left the Finnish mainland, took a bridge to the island Fjärdskäret and then the large bridge Replot bron – more than a kilometre long – to the Björkö skärgård.

We made a short stop at the church in Björköby, the main village of Björkö. To our surprise the church wasn’t locked and we could enter. Probably it was only open for the handyman working there. I even went up to the organ but I didn’t dare to climb the clock tower without asking.

From Björköby it’s not far to Svedjehamn, a boat harbour. The coastal sea was still covered with ice and no boat could be seen. Probably many of the boats were in the red boathouses, that were everywhere.

We looked around, then we followed a path to the large observation tower, which is dark and almost 20 metres high. An eye-catching landmark. Beside of some ice fishers that parked their cars at the coast, we were completely alone. Only seabirds could be heard, mostly the typical honking call of the Whooper Swans.

From the tower we had a nice view both over land and sea. The land was framed with ice, but further out the sea was open. Birds flew around, mostly Whooper Swans and small flocks of ducks (being shooed away by other birds). Suddenly a group of dark birds passed our tower, it was a flock of cormorants.

After a while of amateur bird watching we descended the tower and went back to the parked car. We were hungry and took the way back to the Replot Bridge, where we got a delicious lunch at Berny’s Café and Restaurant.

After that we headed for another island in the north. This was quite challenging to drive because larger parts of the way were covered with ice with deep ruts. I had to drive quite slow to keep on the way. In Köklot I made the photo of the only boat in the fishing port, later I just had to photograph the small red hovercraft. I would love to have such a vehicle that can access the sea the whole year round.

I followed the bad road for a while but finally I had to turn because all turnouts were closed. It took a long time to drive back and when we arrived in Vasa we both were tired.

Later this day: A dinner with Asian food, a small coastal walk in Vasa and a bit of luxury: Our flat had a tiny sauna.

3. April – history lessons, old Vasa and Indian food

Already the day before we had decided that we wanted to stay two other nights in the region of Österbotten. We had given Couchsurfing another try. We contacted K.D. that lives in the Korsholm municipality but he didn’t have any place for us. He suggested however that we could meet in the city. So Annika and I went to the monument on the market square where we met K.D.

We got an extremely interesting history lesson about Finland in General und Vasa, while we slowly walked through the city. I didn’t make a single photo, I was too eager listening. After some hours K.D. had to leave but he invited us to the museum Stundars for the next day.

Later we took the car to Gamla Vasa, the old town that burned down in 1852. Some walls, among others of the old church from the 15th century are still there.

Later this day: Indian food and another sauna session.

4. April – a meteorite, two museums and welcoming hosts

Already before the journey we learned about Söderfjärden, a large plain which is an impact crater of a meteorite impact 520 million years ago. The plain lies south of Vasa and we took the car there.

The exhibition at the crate’s centre was closed but outside there’s a model of our solar system. I never walked from the sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – here it was possible.

We only had limited time, so we took the car to Uranus and Neptune – two small blue-green orbs. Then we changed our perspective back to here and now. We saw the first cranes of the year, more geese and more whooper swans.

From Söderfjärden we drove to the museum Stundars, which is quite nearby. We met K.D. again who had opened the “Smedens stuga” – the cabin of the smith – together with a colleague. We thanked for the day before and had an interesting talk about history and now.

We couldn’t stay for long because we had another appointment. When we had stood on the deck of the ferry three days ago we got in contact with S.. He gave us his phone number and this day we met him in Malax where he opened the Kvarkens Båtmuseum and gave us a private guided tour.

I was deeply impressed by the boat that was used for seal hunting. The hunters lived on the ice for several months with nothing but their boat to live in. We do not talk about the middle age, we talk about the 20th century. The last time this boat was used for seal hunting was in 1963, only five years before I was born!

Through Couchsurfing Annika got in contact with A. and M. who live in Västerhankmo, north from Vasa. We were welcome to live with them for two days, although they had other guests and one of the sons would return from Australia the very same day. We felt honoured that we could stay anyway. We drove to their house, where we were shown a huge couch to sleep over and got in contact with the residents – both human and feline.

Later this day: z-z-z-z

5. April – cloudy weather and a bilingual car trip

The weather was cloudy and we were quite lazy. We had seen a lot the last days and we learned a lot. We learned especially a lot about the Finland-Swedes, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Although their nationality is Finnish they have Swedish as a first language. Österbotten is one of the regions in Finland with a lot of Finland-Swedes. In Vasa 25% have Swedish as a first language, in the neighbour municipality Korsholm it is 72%. All people mentioned above are Finland-Swedes and have Swedish as a first language.

The children grow up with Swedish and go to Swedish schools, where they will learn Finnish as a secondary language.

Even the culture is different. When Annika asked for (Finnish) tango events she was told that this would be more a Finnish thing and therefore not easy to find in Österbotten.

It is said, that “the” Finns are much more direct then “the” Swedes who try to avoid any conflict, when possible. I experienced the Finland-Swedes as more to the point than the Swedes and I have to admit, that I enjoyed it because of my own quite direct personality.

Back to 5. April. We took the car and travelled around, first to some other islands.

In Isokyrö we stopped for the old stone church, built between 1513 and 1533.

Temperatures were above zero and everything looked grey and dull. The leftover snow was wet and the gravel roads were muddy. When we returned to our overnight place my car looked really dirty – but in their special way the dirt patterns were beautiful anyway.

Later this day: Having a good time with M., A., and family including a very tasty meat soup with homemade bread and petting the cute cat

6. April – with the Ferry to Umeå

6:40: the alarm rings – 7:05: we sneak out of the house (we said goodbye the evening before) – 7:45: we roll on board of the ferry – 9:00: the ferry starts its journey back to Sweden – 12:30 (Swedish time): we arrive in Holmsund, 20 km from Umeå.

Thank you, K.D, thank you S. “för trevlig sällskap” – for nice company!

Thank you, M., A. and family – for your hospitality and “för trevlig sällskap” as well!

Later this day: The first flowers of the year:

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.

Back home

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Ski tour Vindelfjällen”.

Back home from Mo i Rana. I drove the first half from Mo i Rana to Storuman, Annika the second half to Skelleftehamn including the power-parking into 20-25 cm deep fresh snow that had fallen since last night.

First we will buy some food for tomorrow’s breakfast, then it’s pizza time!

More about the ski tour in the Vindelfjäll will come. Stay tuned …

Sjona, Helgelandkysten

Some photos from today’s small road trip with Annika from Mo i Rana to the fjord Sjona, Norway.

Why we are in Mo I Rana? Because Annika and I just finished a four days ski tour in the Vindelfjäll mountains. We had left our car in Hemavan and from Hemavan it’s only 100 km to Mo I Rana, where we’re visiting D. and C., friends of Annika.

Travelling to Kirkenes and back

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

I’m sitting in the bus from Umeå to Skellefteå. There I’ll take another bus to Skelleftehamn, walk some minutes through the ice cold wind, then I’m home again from a journey to Kirkenes.

The journey took less than two weeks but was round about 4000 km long.

Click on the image to open the interactive Google map.

Legend: overnight stays |  car | ship | train | bus

 

Travelling to Bjørnevatn

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

After visiting me home in Skelleftehamn Chris and I continued to Jokkmokk on Thursday. We visited the winter market and then drove to Solberget, where we stayed overnight.

The next day we started a long drive with her car. Chris lives in Bjørnevatn near Kirkenes and we planned to arrive there the very same day. At 7:10 we started our journey that would lead us through Sweden, Finland and Norway.

First the sky was cloudy but the visibility was good. Then it started to get a bit foggy.

Normally that’s no problem. This icy fog however started to cover the windscreen more and more and we had to stop often to scrape of the ice.

In Gällivare we stopped at the gas station and had some breakfast. We also bought a bottle with de-icer for the windscreen and continued our trip.

The de-icer didn’t help, we had to stop many times to scrape away the ice from the freezing fog. We were not the only ones. The headlights and the number plate were covered with several millimetres of ice, too. I never had experiences something like this before.

Only the bottom 15 cm of the windscreen were free of ice. While Chris crouched into the seat to be able to see I gave up taking pictures from the road and photographed sideways.

We approached the Swedish town Karesuando. This small town is located directly on the Muonio älv, which also forms a natural border with Finland. On the other side the town is named Karesuvanto where we took another break.

Strangely the ice problems stopped right after the Finnish border. We continued to Palojoensuu without any problems. There we turned left onto the road 93. An hour later we were at the Norwegian border.

After being stopped by the customs and assuring them that we have neither alcohol nor cigarettes with us, we continued driving through the snowy plains. Next stop: Kautokeino, where most inhabitants are Sámi. Here we ate a hamburger with chips, a typical meal if you travel through Northern Norway.

Until now, Chris had driven a car. Now it was my turn to drive to give her at least a short rest. The first time I drove a diesel.

Round two hours later we arrived in Karasjok. What I already had suspected, confirmed here: It was cold outside: -30 °C.  Time for another break.

Back in the car, Chris was driving again. It was dark, it was cold, we were tired and still more than four hours to go.

I started to get bored and played around with my camera.

A pale green stripe appeared above the street. A northern light. The next hour we got quite nice northern lights, mostly directly in front of us. Though being tired we got at least entertainment. The photos are awful, northern lights are not made for being photographed free-handed from a car on a bumpy road.

Finally we came to Tana, where we crossed the river of the same name. A quarter hour later we arrived in the small town Varangerbotn, were we took the last stop of our long trip.

Now we drove along the fjord Varangerfjorden. Anyway, beside of some street lights and the weakened aurora it was pitch black and I couldn’t see the fjord. Beside of that I just longed for a bed.

But finally we arrived at Chris’ home in Berg near Bjørnevatn. Arrival time 23:40, 16½ hours after we started in Solberget.

Here I’ll spend the next days.

Link to the route on Google Maps

 

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.

Snow in Skelleftehamn

After a snowy car ride from Umeå I arrived in Skelleftehamn. Partly the E4, the main road was completely white and the visibility was quite poor, especially when a huge truck passed by. In this case a lot of snörök – snow smoke – whirled to the air and reduced the sight almost to zero for some seconds. Driving through snow and darkness is exhausting and I’m glad I’m home.

At home there are no huge amounts of fresh snow, “only” 15 – 20 cm. This is however the largest amount of fresh snow I experienced this winter. Nice and a good start! And since I was to lazy to shovel snow at 21:00 I just drove my car onto the driveway. I guess, tomorrow I’ll get some outdoor exercising.

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.

 

Early winter Holmön III

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

It’s Monday, a quarter to seven in the morning. I turned out of bed half an hour ago. Not because I have to go to work, but because I’m a morning person. It’s Annika’s and my fourth day on the island Holmön. Tomorrow we will take the evening ferry back to the mainland.

We were lucky, when we walked back from our Saturday evening Christmas dinner two days ago. It snowed all the time. It looked very beautiful and it was quite bright outside because of the fresh snow cover. When we lay in our comfortable double bed at Berguddens fyr we could still see the snow flakes whirl through the window pane.

When we woke up yesterday the snow had turned into rain. We planned a car trip to the southern tip of the island Ängesön which is separated from Holmön by the sound Gäddbäckssundet. The gravel road from Bergudden to the main road apparently had already be cleared of snow and it was easy to drive. I turned right and headed south. We drove first past pastures and farms and than along Gäddbäckssundet, until we came to the turnout to Ängesön. This road was snow covered and probably isn’t used in winter time. The snow wasn’t deep and I decided to give it a try. We crossed the small sound on the only bridge and followed the snowy road.

It was harder to drive than expected, because the snow was so wet that it filled all the space round the tyres. My studded winter tyres are excellent for ice but less good for such mud-like conditions.

The landscape around looked bleak and cheerless, especially the lakes and ponds that were covered with brownish wet ice. It looked a bit like a film where an evil wizard had casted a spell on the landscape to take away all its beauty.

I had to drive very slowly and it would take us at at least 30 minutes to the south tip of the island, although it’s only 9 km. After 1 km I decided to turn.

We drove to the village of Holmön and made a stop at the church. The graveyard was still covered with snow and so it looked much more friendly than the landscape on Ängesön. As most protestant churches this church was locked and we couldn’t take a look inside.

We drove to the shop, bought food and ice-cream and headed back to our accommodation.

And would do you do, when you go on beach vacation? Of course you take a bath in the sea. And so did we even though it was a short one.

Back to Monday. I still sit in the kitchen and it’s still dark outside. The fridge has turned out and I can hear the surf splashing ashore. The lighthouse Berguddens fyr sends out its three-coloured beams of light but most of the snow had melted away and when I look through the window I can only see my mirrored face and the reflected laptop. It will take another hour, until it starts to get light.