From Götenborg to Riksgränsen
Before the snow has disappeared, everything is already in bloom
From Riksgränsen in Lapland descending to Oslo one passes by countless fjords, lined with wooden houses, sometimes built on poles in the water. Rivers plunge with deafening noise into the sea via waterfalls, high bridges span straits, codfish, suspended on racks are drying to become stockfish and traffic signs warn you for crossing elks and reindeer.
Travelogue & photos: Mariet Arts
After a 14 hour crossing by boat from Kiel (Germany) to Götenborg, we drive in the morning on road 40 in the province of Västergötland in eastern direction. The sky is blue with here and there a couliflower cloud. There are lots of lupines on the road sides.
We pass by winter resort Hindås and Borås, an old textile industry town on the river Viskan. We drive in a hilly landscape with woods, fields and pastures, many of which are surrounded by little walls of piled up stones. Along the road are fences to keep the game away. Red wooden houses and characteristic yellow mansions are hidden behind the green.
We approach the hamlet Torhult in the province of Småland. Near Bottnaryd we take a right turn. Via road 26 we reach Norra Unnaryd on the river Nissan near eco camping site 'Naturens Bästa'. Some of the stuga's (wooden vacation homes) sit directly on the river.
Red wooden churches, rivers, lakes and lupines
The director of the camping site, Staffan, accompanies us next day for a forest tour. Taking his advice, we use lots of djungel ölja (mosquito oil). We follow the meandering river in northern direction. The water is so clear, that we can see trout just above the bottom of the river, in the shade of overhanging branches.
We stalk through the woods and every time we hear a sound Staffan makes us stop and explains what made the noise, even if we can't see anything. Hij knows both the Latin and the Swedish names of all flowers, plants and animals we encounter during our tour.
When we reach an old Swedish house in the middle of the woods, we notice that the door is ajar. Staffan leads us inside and meanwhile tells us that the woman who has lived there all here life, died awhile ago. Underneath the chimney, in the fireplace, a black pan with dried-out food hangs on a hook. There is no gas, water or electricity.
When I reach the attic via wooden stairs, mice scuttle away in every direction. A beam of sunlight shines through a hole in the roof. A little later we're outside again and Staffan points to the roof, which is made of flattened oil barrels.
Next morning it is bright. We take a tour of the area. In Mulseryd we visit Anita's studio; she is famous for her Sten Katter (stone cats). On round stones red, black and grey cats are painted. They seem happy as they look at us with their big round eyes.
Via a bridge over the canal, which is connected to Lake Vättern we reach Jönköpping, the capital of Småland. The bridge is decorated with containers of yellow and purple violets.
We park the car near the harbour and walk to the center. There not a person in sight. In a shop window we see the famous Smålands Orrefors glass. The School for Culture seems abandoned.
A little later we are in front of the Tändsticks museum which unfortunately is also closed. The matchstick museum is situated in the old factory where the matches were produced for the first time in 1845. On a poster we see the famous matches with the label "Säkerhets Tändstickor."
We leave Västra Storgatan and return to the harbor. A little later we drive out of town in southern direction toward Taberg.
In Taberg, where in the past ore was mined, we climb a mountain and enjoy a magnificent view of the surroundings at 343 m. We have lunch in een Vårdshus and via villages, red wooden churches, rivers and lakes, but mostly lots of lupines we return in the evening to our stuga.
The skerry coast of the Baltic Sea
Rocks with trees, grass, flowers and succulents
After three days we leave Norra Unneryd. Staffan gives me cards with pictures of trolls in the forest, drawn by the Swedish artist John Bauer (1882-1918.)
We return to road 40 and via Jönköpping we reach road 31, direction Nässjö, the highest lying city of South Sweden, at 300 meter. It's pouring when we drive in eastern direction on road 33.
A short while later, in Vimmerby, we are in "The World of Astrid Lindgren" which is also the place of birth of this Swedish writer. Children can get acquainted with Pippi Longstocking in surroundings that are exactly like they are described in the books. The park is open every day from May to the end of August.
Late in the afternoon we arrive in Västervik-Lysabadet on the skerry coast of the Baltic Sea. It's pouring. After leaving our luggage in a stuga, we go a nearby restaurant and order "Västerviks fiske rätter": different kinds of fish with sauces, toast and boiled potatoes with dill and a glass of white wine.
After a night of windstorm, rain and thunderstorm it is dry this morning. A watery sun is shining. We want to take a look at the many islands (skerries) that we see on our map and which form the so-called "skerry garden of Västervik.
From the park we reach - via a wooden walk bridge on which two boys are fishing - the first island. At the other side of the island is a bridge to the next island and in this way many islands are connected by bridges. Not all of them, there are thousands. Most islands are no more than rocks, overgrown with trees, grass, flowers and succulents.
Lysabadet is a huge summer park in which during the months of June, July and August live 15,000 people, but which is uninhabited in the winter. It lies next to Västervik.
In the afternoon we take a stroll in Västervik, a modern city with wooden houses in different colors. Gamleby (the old city), consists of narrow streets and wooden houses. Everywhere are containers with flowers.
Behind the windows of the houses are lace curtains and on some of the window sills cats are sleeping. The tiny gardens with vegetables and flowers look well-kept.
Gysinge en Älvkarleby
Een betonnen paard van 13 meter hoog
After three days we leave and take the E22 north. We drive through Norrköping on the Bråviken, a deep bay of the Baltic in Östergotland. Signs show the way to Kolmården where the largest Djurpark (zoo) of Scandinavia is.
Because we have been here already, we continue on our way to Avesta in the valley of the river Dalälven, on the border between the provinces of Västmanland and Dalarna.
We take the exit to Åsbo where we see the Dalahäst already from a great distance. The 36 ton concrete horse is 13 m high and 12 m long. The little colorful wooden Dalarna horses are the symbol of Dalarna province.
Next morning we drive downstream along the river Nedre-Dalälven and visit Gysinge where in the past the biggest iron plant of Gästrikland province was, biggest in terms of production as well as the number of employees. The workers lived in stugas with a patch of land where they could grow vegetables as well as a stable for a cow and a pig. Their salaries were mainly paid in kind. Nowadays, the village is a tourist attraction.
Huge clumps of purple fackelblomster and golden-yellow videört (purple loosestrife and lysimachia vulgaris) grow on the road sides and along the water. Bees and bumblebees buzz.
A Common Blue (butterfly) sits on a geranium phaeum, warming itself in the sunlight. A rune stone tells the story of the travels of the Viking to eastern countries. A little before the estuary of the Nedre-Dalälven river on the Baltic is Älvkarleby.
It's crowded by the historical wooden Carl XIII bridge, built in 1816 and named after King Carl XIII (1808-1818) of Sweden. It is one of the prettiest wooden bridges in Sweden. In 1955 the bridge was restored and reinforced with iron and concrete, without harming the wooden front. It can only be used by pedestrians nowadays.
gnawed-down trees, that must be the work of beavers
On road 76 we drive along the coast to Gävle, the biggest and oldest city in Norrland. The Gavleå river flows through the city to the Gulf of Bothnia.
The smell of freshly baked bread greets us when we pass by department store Domus. Near the entrance is a bakery where people stand in line waiting for their turn. Small square rolls that smell nice are sold by the tens. On a bench at the bank of the Gävleå we eat our fresh rolls.
After this we leave by way of the E4 in northern direction. Just past Tönnebro we take road 83, where common tansy grows in the roadsides, to Bollnäs on the Varpen.
'Här börjar Hälsingland' ("You're entering Hälsingland") read a sign by a billy goat who is standing on his hind legs on the side of the road.
We drive through a forest of pines and white birches to Järvso. There we take a right turn and drive on a sand road through thick woods for hours until we arrive in Delsbo. Another 40 km on a dirt road, past Norra and Södra Dellen and then finally we arrive at our destination: the old post office of Skån which is in use as a vacation home.
The living quarters where the postmaster used to live with his family and the post office with teller are still in their original state.
Skån lies between lakes and we don't have to walk far next morning to get into our rowing boat. Rowing, we pass by nests where water fowl is brooding; the males fly screaming over our heads. Freshly gnawed trees lie half in the water. That must be the work of beavers.
Later we explore the area by foot. We pick berries and flowers and visit the artist Bror-Erik Bergqvist. We visit typical Hälsinglandish castle farms and enjoy beautiful views from panorama points.
Over 75% is covered with trees
When we leave in northern direction after three days, we leave the key in the door; that is normal here. Via Hassela, where a group of artists lives in an old factory, we arrive in Medelpad province.
Over 75% of Medelpad is covered with trees. Forestry is big here. Near the village Vigge on the Viggesjön we take a right turn. Near Matfors we take the E14 to Sundvall.
We pass by factories and sawmills where planks are being kept wet by sprinklers. It smells bad.
In the past felled trees were transported to the sawmills on the river. Nowadays they are brought over land. De wild-flowing rivers are used to produce electricity.
In Härnösand we walk from the train station via the Tingshus through Nybrogatan over the bridge to the Harnön peninsula. The town hall (1791) with its circular colonnade, designed by Tempelmann is one of the most beautiful structures in this town.
Opposite the town hall is the Art Hall. There is a cathedral and there are remarkably many schools in this part of town. Later on, we read that Härnösand is the center of education of North Sweden.
We visit the old port where fisher cottages and sheds are being renovated. On higher ground, we enjoy the view of the Gulf of Bothnia.
Toward the evening we drive to Älandsbro, to the Värdshus (inn), which was built in 1852. On the wall in the dining room hang embroidered pictures of Swedish scenes and proverbs. For dinner we order reindeer goulash.
The land still rises 8 mm per year
After breakfast next morning we drive to one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It is 1810 m long and is suspended between two 180 m high towers. Ships up to 40 m high can pass through it.
This is also where Höga Kusten (High Coasts) begins, one of thirteen monuments on the World Heritage list of Unesco in Sweden.
Since the last receding of the ice, 9600 years ago at the beginning of the holocene, the land has risen 285 meters and it still is rising by 8 mm per year. This phenomenon is called isostasis: because of the weight of the ice the earth's crust was pushed down. Now that the land ice has melted, the earth's crust slowly bounces back.
We follow the Höga Kustenväg in the direction of Örnsköldsvik. Signs indicate the we are close to the Skuleskogen National Park zijn. Along the road to the Park we see summer cottages with pretty gardens. Many Swedes have second homes where they spend the summers.
After we have passed by the town of Käl we arrive at the south entrance of the park. We park our car and take a path to the right that brings us to the Kälaviken. The water is so blue and the view so spectacular that we sit down and stay there instead of taking a walk in the park.
A few hours later we drive back to the E4 and continue our trip northward. We take the exit Örnsköldvik to get gas. Next to the gas station is a huge supermarket: we have lunch there and buy some fruit for on the road.
From Örnsköldvik on the Gulf of Bothnia one can take the Sagavägen (590 km) to Brønnøysund on the Atlantic coast in Norway. This route is often called "Fra kyst till kust" (from coast to coast).
Past Umeå in Västerbotten province we drive in a sparsely populated area. The landscape is somewhat hilly. In grain fields and pastures are mysterious looking sheds.
In Lövånger lies next to the church an 18th century Kyrkstad ("church city") with 117 red-brown cottages. Because of the great distances in the past it was impossible for people to go to church and return home on the same day. So people spent the night in the "church city."
The stay in the church city was also used to attend to business and buying provisions. Because of this the church villages developed into business centers.
The typical wooden houses are World Heritage
Meanwhile we have arrived in Norrbotten, the most northern province of Sweden. In Luleå we follow the signs to Gammelstad's Kyrkstad, 8 km outside the town center.
We park near the white church, which dates from the 14th century. It is made of stone and has high, star-shaped vaults. The Baroque pulpit (1709) is illuminated by a spotlight, which gives it a special shine. The crucifix which hangs high between the vaults is medieval. The triptych altar with a gilded middle panel, is from Antwerp, Belgium.
The church village Gammelstad is on the World Heritage list of the Unesco. The 250 cottages are made of wood and built in typical Scandinavian styles.
We take the E4 to the exit Bondersbyn. Here we cross the Kalixälv river and drive northward. We pass by Forshaga and arrive just after noon in Mariaberg where we will stay for a few days in Mariebergs Viltfarm & Fritidsby (game farm and recreation village).
We can choose between a room in the wooden Lappland hotel or a stuga (cabin). We take the stuga.
In the yard are old military vehicles and all wheel drives. On the other side of the road are military planes, caterpillar vehicles and tanks. Later we find out that this is to become a military open air museum.
In a pasture reindeer are walking. They immediately come to us, hoping we brought them snacks. On a fenced-in patch of ground wild boar are rooting.
A group of students is spending the weekend in Marieberg to celebrate the Midsommarfest, the longest day of the year. It is celebrated in the weekend closest to June 21.
We join them for a Viking afternoon in the woods. Amidst general hilarity the real heroes try who can stand on a floating log the longest. We practice target with axes which we throw at a block of wood. The axe should stand in the wood. We also try to shoot with bow and arrow.
When the evening falls, a nice straight tree is felled (the Meistången) and decorated with two wreaths of birch leaves and flowers. Later in the evening we will dance around it, singing Swedish songs.
It stays light all night. One looses every sense of time. During the clear northern summer social life in Scandinavia takes places mostly outdoors. People hardly seem to sleep at all. We adapt.
Luckily there aren't many mosquitos tonight, but we are bothered by the knott, a small midge (1-4 mm)that looks like a fly and that has a mean bite. By four in the morning the sun is already high in the sky.
During a tour in the surroundings I end up in Morjärv, where I visit Pia, a botanist who experiments with plants from all over the world. She also gets plants, seeds and bulbs from Holland. She has to plant the Dutch bulbs in August already, before it starts snowing and freezing.
Pia tells me that when in spring the temperature rises fast, the daffodils and tulips blossom before the snow has melted completely. She shows pictures where the colored flower heads stick out just above the snow.
The garden is currently all color. Extraordinary is the Primula Vialii from China which has a red-purple ear. The subtle flowers at the base of the ear look like little orchids.
But the Blå Vallmo (Welsh poppy) attracts my attention most because of its extraordinary color. It is a forest plant from the Himalayas.
In the evening we drive to Bränna Mountain where on clear days one can see the midnight sun. Unfortunately the sky is overcast tonight.
On the estuary of the Kalixälv river is the city Kalix. We park on a large square with stores, benches and the huge Valhall hotel. The church, near the Kalixälv, dates from 1500 and was restored in 1992. It is built in Bothnic style even as the clock tower next to it.
We pass the Polar Circle without noticing
After 5 days we continue our trip and follow the Kalixälv river on the E10 in northern direction. The river has many rapids and waterfalls which are rich in fish. The first one is the Kamlungefors. 20 km further north is the Räktfors near the lake with the same name.
We pass by Overkalix (5600 inhabitants)which to its south is flanked by the Lapp Mountain and the Bränna Mountain. A little later we stop in Vippabacken at a house full of antiques, curiosities and souvenirs. In a corner in one of the rooms is a table with cups and saucers and some pots of coffee. On a plate are the well-known heart-shaped Swedish våfflor (waffles). Next to it a bowl of jam and one filled with whipped cream. It's self-service, later when you're at the check-out, you say what you have had and pay.
Without noticing, we have passed the Polar Circle and arrive at the Jockfall, the largest waterfall in the Kalixälv river. Fishermen in Norrbotten know this as the spot to catch salmon. Next to the waterfall are salmon stairs, where you can see the fish.
In Antinrova, the end of road 394, we take a left turn and follow the Torneälv river on road 395. When we reach Masugnsbyn, we are in the province of Lappland, the country of the Polar Circle.
The largest part of Lappland is above the Polar Circle at 66º33' north latitude. It is with its surface of 120.000 square km the biggest province of Sweden.
Lappland consists mainly of forests, which get thinner the farther north and west you go. Eventually there are only small birch trees and the landscape becomes a tundra.
We drive through forests, along lakes and villages whose houses are hidden between flowers. WE stop to let some reindeer cross the road. We enjoy the lonely, rugged landscape.
At Vittangi we take road 45 to Svappavaraa where we take the E10 towards Kiruna. But first we visit the Samen village Jukkasjärvi.
In Jukkasjärvi every year the largest ice hotel in the world is built out of 30.000 tons snow and ice. In the hotel is a chapel, an art gallery, a sauna and a bar. Guests sleep on reindeer hides under down duvets.
In Kiruna we spend the night in Yellow House, a youth hostel near the center. We drop our luggage in the simple but neat room.
We go into town immediately. In different places we see big white stone flellripan (ptarmigans). Kiruna is derived from the Saami word giron which means fjellripa and it is the biggest rural district in Sweden.
We visit the church, an architectural experiment designed in the style of Saami goahti (turf huts) and with an altar painting by Prince Eugen. The town hall, designed by the Swede Artur von Schalensee, won a architecture prize for the most beautiful public building.
Next morning we leave in a melancholy mood. Just outside the city we clim Luossavaara mountain to enjoy the view of Kiruna and surroundings from a height of 574 m.
We take the E10 and drive along a 71 km long and 164 m deep picturesque blue mountain lake: Torneträsk. Winding roads and beautiful views keep us from speeding.
The Nissuntjårro and the Tjuonatjåkka (1562 m) east of it make up the U-shaped passage "Lapporten": the entrance gate to Lappland.
To our left are the national parks Muddus, Padjelanta, Sarek and Stora Sjöfallet, the nature reserves Sjaunja and Stubba and the protected nature areas Rapadeltat, Sultielma and Tjuoltadalen. Together they form Laponia, which has a surface of 9400 km². It is on the World Heritage list of Unesco because of its great natural and culture-historical value. The Sami have lived here since pre-historic times; that also is a reason to keep the area in its current state and to protect it.
Amongt the mountains in the west of Lapland are Sweden's highest peaks, the Kebnekaise (2111 m) and the Sarek (2090 m). These mountains are among the most rugged of Sweden.
In Stora Sjöfallets National Park is Mount Akka (2016 m). The white goose Akka who in Selma Lagerlöf's famous book "The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson" carries Nils on her back to Lappland, was named after this mountain.
The woods get thinner and the trees smaller, several times reindeer cross our path. The surroundings, a mountainous polar landscape with valleys and lakes, is so stunning that we hardly pay attention to the road. It feels like being on a different planet.
The Abisko Turiststation (Tourist Information) in Nationalpark Abisko is the starting point of the famous Kungsleden, or King's Path, a 393 hiking trail where thousand hike during midsummer. It goes southward, through the mountains of Laplandse to Hemavan on the E12. It has mountain posts and cabins to spend the night.
We arrive in the village Riksgränsen, a historical place between Sweden and Norway. This border town has meanwhile developed into a winter resort that is still growing. Because of the certainty of snow skiing is possible until June.
We approach the border. I turn to see this beautiful, unspoiled country one more time. Then we cross the border into Norway.