Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Sweden.... flat and boring?? Think again.

Everyone says Sweden is flat and boring. No, really they do. Everyone. Well we just had to go and see for ourselves. One thing we did notice very quickly was how CHEAP Sweden is - when compared to Norway. Petrol in Norway was between £1.60 and £1.80 a litre. In Sweden it's £1.45. Food in the supermarkets in Norway was at least one and a half, if not twice, as expensive as the UK. In Sweden it's only a little more than the UK.

And after nearly two weeks of fjords and twisty roads it was almost exciting to be on reasonably straight road again. And I wouldn't say it was boring, not when you've reindeer to look out for.

There should be photos of reindeer now but we only actually saw them twice and didn't get the camera out on either occasion. Tracy did manage to buy part of one to sit on...

Near Kiruna we went to 'The Ice Hotel'. The world's first, it's been around for 20 years although, of course, it's different ice every year. They harvest the ice in the winter, store it in a big fridge, cut it and create the hotel every October. Come April they just let it melt.

Blocks of ice in a -5C warehouse

Cutting machine

Frozen time

No comment

They even had a motorcycle in ice!


South to Jokkmokk (great name isn't it) and the wonderfully informative Sami Museum where we learnt everything we would ever need to know about the Sami people and reindeer.

And then on to the coast and the Baltic Sea. We hit the coast at Lulea and visited 'Gammelstad' (once we could find it – but that's another story). Unesco World Heritage listed, this place was the centre of Northern Sweden in the Middle Ages. (I have to tell my students that they didn't call it the Middle Ages during the Middle Ages. They just called it 'now'.)

Incidentally, we stayed in a hostel in Lulea. £50 a night and it looked like this, just in case you were interested in what a Scandinavian hostel looks like.

Room cost £50

Well stocked kitchen - even had a TV!

Just us and a dozen Estonian labourers. Tracy turned the microwave on and the TV came on. It was the first time we'd seen a TV in our whole trip, just over a month. It was quite weird really to be travelling in western Europe but not to see TV for so long. In other parts of the world a TV comes as obligatory in every hotel/motel/hospedaje. Anyway, back to Gammlstad.

The stone church (1492), 424 wooden houses and six church stables remain. This is an authentic Scandinavian church village. Due to the weather, climate and terrain it was hard for peasants in outlying areas to attend church every week so they built a village which would accommodate churchgoers. People came to the village and stayed in the houses over the weekend. On Mondays they went back to their villages (a medium sized medieval Swedish village was said to be home to maybe 60 souls) and the red houses in Gammelstad remained empty until Friday.

A photo of a photo but the best way to see what I mean

The other interesting thing about this place was that it used to be on the coast. Now it isn't. This is due to post-glacial uplift. 20,000 years ago – our last ice age – Britain was under 500 metres of ice. This part of Scandinavia was under 3,000 metres. That weight of ice depressed the earth. By the time the ice finally vanished, 10,000 years ago, the crust had already risen 500 metres back towards its original elevation and it's still rising. At first the uplift was fast but now it has slowed to about 8mm a year. Gammelstad is now 10 metres higher than it was 1,000 years ago. And in 2,000 years a land bridge may well have formed across the Baltic to Finland.

Oh and I nearly forgot. We walked round the place at 10 am. No problem, no one else around. But as we were leaving a few police and security started turning up. The Swedish King and Queen were due at 2 pm. We couldn't quite believe the LACK of security. In the UK if the Queen visits somewhere bins are taken away, manhole covers are sealed days beforehand.

Further south this has created what is know as Hoga Kusten, 'The High Coast'. Apparently the world's highest shoreline at 286 metres above sea level. We went to take a look.

It certainly was strange to be stood on top of a 300 metre hill and realise that we were in fact stood on what was a small island 10,000 years ago. 8 mm a year might not sound much but it equates to nearly 40 cm in my lifetime. Pretty fast geologically speaking.

That small island only 'appeared' a thousand years ago.

Tracy contemplating the wonder that is Geology.

Oh, and we crossed the Arctic circle.


I hadn't been aware that the cirlce actually moves. Over a 40,000 year period it moves 180KM (I think) Something like that anyway.

South a bit more took us on nice undulating (not flat and boring) roads to Umea.

Uninteresting in itself we checked in to a rather expensive campsite which was little more than a car park next to the coast. The evening was nice and warm but clouds were brewing and it looked like it was going to rain....


I don't like waking up in a tent to the sound of rain. It started at 6 a.m. And didn't look like it was going to stop. Tracy's theory is, “If you wake up and it's raining, go back to sleep until it isn't.” I tried but it just got heavier.

At 9 am there was a knock on the tent (if such a thing is possible). Alfio, the Italian campsite owner who also ran the bakery next door was inviting us into his bakery for breakfast!

Alfio gave us bread and coffee and showed us around his bakery. He'd moved from Sicily to Sweden in 1969 and told us his life story in his warm, dry kitchenette as it continued to rain outside. He wouldn't let us go until it had nearly stopped, continually checking the weather updates on his phone. It was a wonderfully kind gesture of his, to look after two wet campers on a cold rainy Saturday morning. We left Umea at midday, dry and fed and happy, it could have been so different.

Just north of Stockholm we stopped at Gamla Upsalla. Large burial mounds mark the graves of....well, nobody knows. Sixth century cremated remains have been found in the middle of the mounds but beyond that it's all conjecture. Pre-Viking kings? Local chieftains? Or perhaps (suggested by a 17th century professor) bizarrely the ancient 
sunken city of Atlantis???


The signs said "In order to preserve the mounds please don't walk on the paths" so Tracy is trying to walk down the mound without using the path. Harder than it sounds.

And so we wended our way down to Stockholm. Sweden isn't flat or boring. Granted it isn't as twisty and mountainous as Norway but then again it isn't as rainy or expensive as Norway. It might not make my list of top ten countries to visit but there's something there if you take a look. I'd never have thought we'd have been to the world's highest coastline and I didn't even know what a Swedish church village was a week ago. And that, my friend, is what travelling should be about.

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