A Travellerspoint blog

Hywel, Huga Kusten and an accident of fate.

When I got stranded.


Very short, this one. Hywel came a-visiting and we drove to the high coast, in the mid north of Sweden. We drove offroad and camped rough in the woods by the sea, where Bill Bailey serenaded us to sleep (I had come straight from work and had my laptop). The next day we woke, drove to a national park, visited a gorge - superb views - and climbed the highest mountain to have been under a glacier. Oooh. Then drove home to Borlange, via a misty, beautiful lake, and the ever popular lake Siljan.

Climed onto the roof and admired Borlange.

Hywel then ingloriously left me all alone. Until Libby returned from her weekend of drunken debauchery. We went to Stockholm this weekend, where I wanted to visit the icebar... we might yet, as we've missed the last train home and have nowhere ELSE to go. I've bought new shirt, trousers, and visited the historical museum.

I feel inexplicably sad. It makes sense to rant about that in my travel blog.

Posted by urchinjoe 09:09 Archived in Sweden Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Stockholm, Tallinn and Helsinki

I liked Tallinn more than I liked Helsinki.

all seasons in one day
View Summer of the midnight sun on urchinjoe's travel map.

Joe: "Hi. can you help us find a hotel, or a youth hostel or somewhere to stay?"
Tourist information: "There are no hotels. Why not try some other city?"
But I'll come back to that in a while.

While I'm living in Sweden, it seems sensible to try to visit some more of Scandinavia. On the way here we travelled through Denmark - a thoroughly unsatisfactory visit to a country where, I have heard, if you are not full at the end of a meal you are not expected to pay for it. And at the end of July, we leave mainland Europe via Norway. So, this weekend, near the midpoint of our stay in Sweden, we travelled East, to Tallinn (the capital city of Estonia) and Helsinki (the capital city of Finland). Planning was kept to a minimum: we booked ferries to from Stockholm to Tallinn and Helsinki to Stockholm, as these routes required cabins. We also pre booked one youth hostel, the Hostel Alure in Tallinn. The trains, ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki and accomodation in Finland, we left to chance.

We departed on Saturday (14th June), taking a morning train to Stockholm. A stylish, modern and allegedly safe city (in which Libby was physically assaulted twice last weekend). I wanted to quickly glance around the centre, in case I don't get a chance to return. Then we asked tourist information (Stockholm) for advice on how to reach the ferry terminal. The response was a disinterested wave of the arm. Helpful. Not the worst tourist information of the weekend though. In the end we found the ferry (by way of another tourist information point, and a wrong terminal), and hoped on board a fantastically tacky ferry, festooned with brass. On board entertainment comprised German satellite tv (which I watched for a while. Video game reviews) or a Bulgarian band called Joyride (who weren't terrible, but did perform a rendition of "Hey baby" which left me feeling decidedly seasick). Duty free didn't sell Milka (what?), but as we headed into the Baltic there were some really pretty islands, sometimes as little as an outcrop of rock, on which people had enterprisingly build little wooden houses. What do they do out there (fish, I assume). Slept in the deep dark of the ship, as on the inside deck, without portholes, it got darker than we have become used to. Next morning (15th June) we breakfasted on an all you can eat buffet (I got my money's worth) and struck out into Tallinn.

Tallinn is a small capital city, with a population of around half a million people. The main draws are: it is much cheaper to buy alcohol in Tallinn than in Finland, and, as a result, the port is surrounded by alcohol stockists and drunks - apparantly ten a.m. is not too early. The other draw is its medieval town centre, retaining much of its original wall, and a smattering of streets from the medieval period (and several other historical sites). Checked into our hostel - room was huge, and empty, and wooden, and curiously free of curtains. A man slept near the door. The shower bore a sign which read "do not try to turn the upper handle" - which happened to be that which turned on the shower. We left for town. First port of call - Oleviste Church, formerly the world's tallest building. I climbed the steep, winding stairs. Its bloody tall. The observation platform is all of 2 feet wide, and circles the church roof. At the corners, the wind hit me hard enought to unbalance me (and I'm hugely enormous). Descend. Look inside (quite dull, but a concert of sorts seemed to be in full swing). Then I visited the Museum of Occupation and Struggle for Freedom. Its small, but rather good, if you're interested in Soviet history. Well hidden though - from town, climb up to the Cathedral, then head South. The museum entrance is cunninly hidden behind two wings of the building, and signed in small, pale letters on a large metal door. Visited the Cathedral. Decided to head out to a park / palace, and while reading the map discovered a street called, simply, Joe. Not Joe street, road or avenue. Joe. I had to go there. And it was just about the best street I've ever had named after me. Went to the park - by way of a really surly shop - and relaxed by the gulf of Finland, and then headed to the palace - closed. Back to town, where we ate in a medieval themed restaurant - Olde Hansa. Tallinn really loves medieval, and most people seem to own a costume of one kind or another. I feasted well, for I was possessed of a great hunger. I ate meat soup, followed by bear, elk and boar sausages, served with various medieval vegetables (turnip. berries. horseradish). The sausages were satisfyingly olde worlde, and full of animals. I feel bear is probably not the tastiest meat, seemed quite sweet, meaty, strange. Washed it down with a litre of strong, dark herbal ale in a massive pottery mug. Finished with saffron pudding. Expensive, very expensive, but also very good. Headed home in high spirits, checked out some medieval streets, the only gothic town hall in Northern Europe, and a suspicious event: two black Audis, waiting outside a building, flanked by men in military uniforms. Somewhere nearby, the KGB headquarters loomed into our minds. Slept (badly).

Awoke on Monday (16th June) early. Really early. Headed to the port and booked onto the next ferry to Helsinki. Basically a floating casino. Arrived in Helsinki, and sought out rooms. Found a hostel rapidly - no rooms. Bon Jovi is playing the stadium, and "some people are actually willing to pay to see him". Tried tourist information, who, most helpfully, told us to try another city. We left. The train station is pretty cool, very art deco and great statues at the entrance, but also very grey and plain and labyrinthine and unremarkable. Not as good as Kyoto station... not many PLACES are, though. Headed out to Turku - the oldest city in Finland, found rooms and visited a quite good castle. Full - FULL - of dead moomins. Wandered back up the road, bought the most Finnish food I could find (pasties) and visited the Cathedral, where we saw a travel agency called "nevatravel". Great name! Walked home along the river, which was disappoiningly lined with industry, while I had hoped for an old town. Slept.

Tuesday 17th June. Woke early again and hit Helsinki. I've wanted to visit this city for years. It has the reputation, like Stockholm, of being cool, and sleek, but also slightly alien, influenced by Russia and long winter nights. Finland itself has always struck me as a rather fantastic country on the map - crater marked with lakes and empty landscapes, a place where moomins might concievably breed and flourish. I had a short list of activities for Helsinki - take a sauna, and drink Finnish vodka somewhere cool. All the saunas I tried were closed - one, ostensively the only remaining wood fired sauna in Helsinki, appeared to be gone for good, replaced by a cluster of Thai massage parlours. We ate cake and sandwiches at Ekburg, which was good. I checked out three churches - including one hewn into the rock, an orthodox Cathedral and a Lutheran Cathedral. Then I felt dissapointed. This lifted when I bought great chocolate at the market hall, and a huge plate of Baltic herring and potatoes at an outdoor market. It rained and we left. I resolved to return to Finland in the future to better explore it, and if I can, to Denmark to eat meat and be a Viking. The ferry was insane, a huge and mighty fun fair casino, official carrier of moomins, with numerous overpriced eateries, shows, a nightclub and two saunas. I took one, despite their attempts to send me to the swimming pool deck, and struck up a conversation with a man in there (actually he did, in Swedish, and I revived it in English). I felt clean and happy after this. I should mention that Scandinavian saunas are taken in the nude - try this back home and there will be trouble, I do not doubt. But I didn't want to leave Finland, where they invented the sauna, without public nudity.

Wednesday 18th June we returned to Stockholm. My trousers had developed a hole in the groin, so I needed to buy new ones. This suited me fine, as I'd had my fill of churches and castles and wanted to trawl the modern city of Stockholm. In the end I bought two pairs of trousers from what, to me, were unusually fashionable retailers, and a pretty great shirt. In the meantime, Libby's bank had, very helpfully, cancelled her credit cards - fortunately, it was a temporary bar on their use and she lifted it. Then I bought a patch for my bag and ate at the oldest restaurant in Stockholm - Zum Franziskaner. It was founded by German monks. I ate traditional Swedish husmanskost (house man's food, I believe), consiting of smoked fish, and meats and potatoes and eggs. The we left, bought brownies in a mall, visited a museum (of medieval Sweden, where we played chess on a great big board), and wandered. Returned to Borlange, mostly happy, having had some great times, but a little disappointed. I am sure that Finland has a LOT more to offer, and I will go and seek it out... although probably not this year.

Posted by urchinjoe 08:44 Archived in Sweden Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Some stuff that went horribly wrong on my way to the arctic

all seasons in one day
View Summer of the midnight sun on urchinjoe's travel map.

This weekend I went to Kiruna the northernmost town in Sweden, about 100km North of the arctic circle. I've wanted to come here for a while. A couple of years ago I read a brochure, produced by the tourist office, which singularly failed to make the place sound interesting in any way, despite the above superlatives.

I set off on Thursday (5th June), at half past four. Train to Gavle (Yar-vluh), no incidents. At Gavle my connecting train was not on the board, nor was there any sign to denote it had been cancelled. As it was after 6pm, the station staff had gone home. After about an hour, I found a man who spoke sufficiently good English - and who knew the line well enough - to tell me that a big rail accident had closed the line, and that my only options were to go home, go elsewhere, or take the train to Sundsvall, catch the night bus to Lulea and then the train to Kiruna. I'd like to thank him. I chose the third option.

Train to Sundsvall - no incidents. Arrived in Sundsvall after the last bus had left. In a temper, I stomped off through town, around a hill, through a wood and back into town. Sundsvall is interesting. It is a port city, with a lively atmosphere. Reminded me of Newcastle because everyone was drunk or drinking. There are painted dragons throughout the town, and they played a mix of jazz and muzac in the underpasses. I arrived back at the station at midnight - it was still fairly light outside - and was promptly ejected from the station for vagrancy. Sat on the bench for an hour and a half reading New Scientist, talking to other vagrants and revelers of the night, and getting damn cold. I caved in, and set out looking for a hotel. In the end I chose "First Hotel", because it was posh, there and open. They offered me a 50% discount because it was so incredibly late and I was clearly poor. Even so, it came to about 60 quid. Not cheap. Slept the night and left.

Bus to Lulea (6th June) - one incident. Saw a reindeer by the side of the road, licking itself. Train to Kiruna - several more reindeer sightings. I had not been sure that the first was not just a cow or horse or goat, but I definately saw several on the way to Kiruna, including a happy go lucky family of adult male, adult female and juvenile of indeterminate sex. Or it might have been a male chasing down two females of different size and build. Also of note, the landscape changed as I went North, from Swedish verdant forest to arctic desaturated browns and greys. Bleakly beautiful. I liked it up there.

Arrived in Kiruna and went to the hostel - closed, but I made a noise and they admitted me. And undercharged me, which I later corrected due to my honest nature. Ate noodles at a Thai take away, where they were helpful and served hot noodles. Slept fitfully due to the loud snores of my dorm mates, a thousand curses be upon them.

Awoke on Saturday (7th June) and set off on my travels. I wanted to find a mountain, and, from Kiruna, there are many visable. From the town centre you can see the Kebnekaise (highest mountain in Sweden) masif (I'm not sure exactly which mountain was the big one). It was snowy on the hills, and the view accross the lake to the white mountains was really pretty. The South of town is dominated by the iron mine - its huge - the North side by a small mountain - maybe 300m. I set off North, following the lakeshore and railway. I figured that I could turn West at the Northern edge of the lake and cross country to the mountains, the nearest of which didn't look too far away. As it tuned out, I missed the best turn left and continued for many miles North, always on the road and by the railway. Eventually I came to a junction and ate my sandwiches, drank some orange fizz and looked at reindeer. Headed into the village and then sharply turned offroad. It wasn't a field, it was a bog. I, being me, hiked through the swamp for about an hour, up to my knees in water. Bloody foolish, but I was always quite close to the village and a lot of the time there was a dirt track. Until the river, swolen by meltwater from the mountains, cut my route off, and I headed dejectedly home. After drying my shoes (they're actually still wet) I went out to get some food, and splurged in the City Hotel restaurant, on reindeer steak, which was delicious, but accompanied by some pretty ordinary vegetables, and home made ice cream in an ice bowl, with cloudberry soup. It was great. Then I went back out, climbed the mountain in town, and watched the sun not setting until 11pm, when I got freezing cold (exposure, maybe. I was burrowed down in the plants but people kept disturbing me), and headed down. The view from the top was stunning though, mile after mile of marsh, plain, lake and desolation, heemed in by the mountains and topped off with a heavy grey cloudy sky. At midnight, or thereabouts, I arrived back at the hostel, and it was still daylight. Awesome.

Sunday (8th June). Everything was closed, and the bus I'd intended to take to Jukkasjarvi was cancelled inexplicably. I wandered the streets, malls and lakeside trying to keep warm (success) and checked out Kiruna church - the most beautiful in Sweden, I hear. Its shaped like a sami hut, pyramidical and red, with great doors and carvings and an alter painted by Prince Eugene. Worth a look. Left town via the night train, which is always good fun. This time especially so, as my cabin buddy had brought DVDs and a laptop. We watched two movies, one good, one inane, and then I slept. Sleeping on trains is good. This one especially so, because the bed was actually as long as me.

Woke up on monday morning (9th June), and, via accursed Gavle, returned to Falun.

The verdict: Kiruna was great if you like wilderness, mountains and doom. I do. That everything was closed on Sunday made the end a little anticlimatic, but that everything went wrong added to my fun. I had a good weekend.

Posted by urchinjoe 14:55 Archived in Sweden Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

More Borlänge

Some time spent doing virtually nothing

View Summer of the midnight sun on urchinjoe's travel map.

I've done nnothing of note for ages now. Just watching American TV shows, judo, and meandering around. This weekend my top achievement was eating 2 kilograms of ice cream and 1 kilogram of yogurt. I also went a wandering around Borlänge.

It is insanely hot in our house. I am sleeping badly as a result of this. I have a fan which helps. But my face constantly feels hot and weird.

I intend to visit Kiruna this weekend, and to get on top of my studies. The lengthy train journeys might facilitate this.

No other news.

Posted by urchinjoe 05:37 Archived in Sweden Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Gothenburg and Borlange

Museums and sexual harassment


I'm not going anywhere this weekend as I've "work" to do. But I didn't write anything about Gothenburg day 3 yet. Long story short, we awoke late and visited the Natural History Museum - quite dated and some odd smells, but a good collection of whales (including one with a tea room inside, out of use sadly) and other animals, including some awesome hedgehogs and the freakiest mammal I've ever seen, complete with goggley eyes. Then we went to the Stadmuseum (city museum) which has Sweden's only Viking ship. Text is 50% in English, and no photography is allowed - despite the shop selling bugger all by way of postcards.

Back in Borlange, mainly working this week. On Wednesday, one of the few days I didn't need to use the library, a female friend of mine who wishes anonymity went there alone. Safe and fine you'd assume, it being in Sweden and also a library. But a "creepy guy" followed her around, kept touching her hair and propositioning her for sex, insisting no one needed to know. So stay alert if you're in Borlange library, as there is a resident sex pest.


Posted by urchinjoe 16:46 Archived in Sweden Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

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