Some stuff that went horribly wrong on my way to the arctic
05.06.2008 - 09.06.2008
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.