land of trees, lakes .... and more trees
Leaving Vaeroy by ferry, we spent the night in Bodo on the mainland in a crummy hotel. We were missing the homeliness of the previous 5 days with our host family on the island but managed to find a lovely café the next morning with friendly ladies for breakfast which redressed the balance.
Then it was onto a bus heading for Sweden. The journey south-east took us into Swedish Lapland. It was much flatter than Norway, with mile upon mile of long straight roads and hardly any traffic. After a 7 hour journey, we stayed the night in Arvidsjaur. The town was undergoing a facelift with the main street a hive of activity as workmen resurfaced the road and replaced the street furniture with stylish street lamps, seats and bicycle stands every 10 metres. No sign of Council cut-backs here. It must be where all the heavy taxation on alcohol goes.
Hard to believe, in warm sunshine and not a speck of snow in sight, that the landscape will be completely transformed within the next 3 months or so. Arvidsjaur is a winter sports centre and also a magnet for motor manufacturers testing out the handling of new models on the frozen lakes. In their wake come the media hoping to catch sight of the next yet-to-be-unveiled, heavily-disguised Lamborghini Testosteroni. Sounds awful. Imagine all the Jeremy Clarkson types from all over the world descending on the town all at once.
All the cars around here appear to have at least 3 huge driving lamps fitted to the front. Presumably this is for finding the way through the long winter nights and avoiding elk and reindeer which might be sharing the roads. Despite the aggressive-looking appearance, cars proceed at a sedate 20mph around town and not a lot faster on the open roads. Everything seems relaxed and unhurried.
We stayed in a quirky hostel called Lappluggan which means Lapland Owl. It was run by a Laplander who was obviously passionate about his heritage and culture. He greeted us wearing a pair of fetching black shiny leather shorts and spoke with a voice which reminded us of North American Indians. There was all sorts of old paraphernalia scattered around the courtyard outside the cabin-like rooms - work tools, sledges, elk skulls, wood carvings. In the evening, he lit a fire outside and provided coffee for people to sit around talking. Sounds corny, I know, but it was a glimpse of how life used to be and still is for the Sami people, most of whom inhabit the most northerly parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland managing herds of reindeer.
"Anyone seen my nuts?"
Our main reason for heading this way was to join the Inlandsbannen Railway going south. Completed in the 1920s, it runs for hundreds of miles like a spine down the middle of Sweden. In its time, it was a lifeline for hundreds of isolated communities. Navvies built the tracks over rivers, lakes and swampy marshland which roads had not at that time penetrated. Nowadays, it is mainly a tourist attraction for a few months in the summer. The trains are manned by volunteers on a busman’s holiday from the Swedish national rail network who obviously take pleasure in the opportunity of driving through the spectacular scenery and nature. Our driver had to slow down several times and toot his horn to warn wandering elk off the tracks. The history of the places we passed through was explained by an enthusiastic stewardess. At one station stop, she set up an impromptu picnic on the platform with coffee and cinnamon cakes for sale. When we got to the region of Jamtland where she was from, she explained that it was a republic of Sweden with its own President and National Anthem which she proceeded to sing for us beautifully. Has Portland ever considered going that way, I wondered.
Tell that squirrel we've found them
Gosh - there’s a lot of trees in Sweden. Before we fell asleep, we counted 536,374,671,997,738,476 - and that was just to the left-hand side of the train. Although much of the scenery was repetitive, it was very calming and relaxing watching the birch and pine forests pass by the window, a bit like having a Badidas bath. The Swedes seem to enjoy the simple things of life, spending the relatively short summer months in holiday homes or cabins next to the lakes and rivers, fishing, enjoying nature or generally relaxing in preparation for the harsh winter ahead.
After the success of last month’s “Spot the Difference” competition (winner: Dr I Lloyd, Cardiff; number of entries: 1), you’ll be pleased to hear that there is another competition for August. This time you are asked to suggest ideas for the problem posed in the picture below, taken of an advertisement in a hairdresser’s window. Post your ideas in the “Comments” section of this blog by 31/8/09. The person with the most original idea will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to a paint-drying factory in Siberia. No time-wasters please.