Category Archives: Sweden

Week 46 – Vilhelmina to Sundsvall


Only six more of these posts to go and we will be home. We’ve already served the section 21 notice on our tenants asking them to vacate the property. Sending a formal legal letter threatening a Court order if we don’t get possession by the agreed date did feel a tad heavy handed. We’ve been very lucky to have good tenants – rent always paid on time and no indication they’d any plans to outstay their one year lease.   Nonetheless the property agent tells us that this particular legal step has to be ticked to ensure a smooth return to our home.

So normal life is now six weeks away and, if we count the home stretch,  six countries are left to see including Norway, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland, Germany and Holland.

This week we finished our Swedish stint, continuing our travels round the Wilderness Road …..

…and ending up at the brilliant First Aid Kit concert in Sundsvall. We’d seen the Swedish sisters who play country ‘n western at the Green Man festival in Wales a few years back so when we saw they were playing sort of near where we planned to travel,  we rejigged our journey to  fit round the concert.

Heading up from Gaddade, there was the promise of excellent fishing at Stora Blajon.

We stopped for a couple of nights at a campsite where Stuart paid 5 krone for the fishing licence and 20 krone for a motorboat and set out for a relaxing, if ultimately fishless, day on the water.


Meanwhile I stayed behind in the van doing important stuff like finding a new storage spot for the cooking utensils. Here’s their new home….


……wedged behind the bungee cord which ties two trays and some mountain tea to the ceiling.

So now no more ferreting in the cupboard for the fish slice. In quality of van-life terms, this is, indeed,  a momentous innovation and I believe more than makes up for the near fire I caused by plonking a tea towel on top of a flaming gas ring and then closing the hob lid on top of it.

Luckily Stuart’s reasonable question ‘where’s that smoke coming from?’ just before we pulled off from the campsite alerted us to the flame darting out from the cooker. Thankfully the only casualty was said tea towel. Memo to self – before inserting tea towel between hob and lid to muffle annoying rattle when driving first turn off the gas.



Fishing trip over, we were back on the road and heading for the highest point of the Wilderness Road, the Stekenjokk pass which in winter is impassable because of snow. This year it opened for the summer on 2 June and there were still drifts of snow in fields evident around us as we crossed the plateau, now finally above the tree line.

The landscape is still scarred from the 12 years of mining ore, copper and gold which finished in 1988.

We got a kick from seeing this sign…


…Lapland or Lappland, however you spell it, it felt pretty good to be here. Just a few months back we were in the Sahara. Now we had reached where Santa lives and were less than 100 miles from the Arctic Circle.

We then headed back down into the trees and steadily worked our way through the rest of the highlighted attractions on the Wilderness Road. It was a mixed bag.

The church town at Fatomakke has been a gathering place for Sami people for hundreds of years and was well worth a stop.

We had a peek into the simply decorated Lutheran church…..

…and a wander among the kota (huts) used by the Sami as accommodation when coming to stay in the village for births, deaths and marriages or for other celebrations like midsummer.

Here’s a Sami gathering at Fattomakke in 1918.


Most of the huts are still in use today by the Sami families and were padlocked from our prying eyes.



We had seen one of these elevated grain stores in the Skanes folk park in Stockholm but this was the real deal…


We carried on, calling in to the Ricklundgarden art gallery in the beautiful house created in the 1940’s by art patrons Emma and Folke Ricklund and…

…had fika in the attached cafe which has been rented for the summer by music student Markus.

Here he is whistling while he works and treating us to a medley of Irish jigs and Swedish folk tunes.

Next was a Kodak moment at the Trappstegsforsen rapids …

….and then a longer stop in Vilhelmina where we learned a bit more about Sami culture from chatting to this shop owner who is Norwegian Sami.  She sang her individual ‘yoik’ traditional song for us and talked us through the symbols embroidered on her traditional dress.


And then it was time to carry on the trail to Dorotea where – is that the sound of a barrel being scraped? – we visited the Polar caravan museum.

Yes, it’s also featured as an attraction on the Wilderness Road though it felt like the marketing bods were now running out of steam, or wilderness, at this point.

Well, we’d ticked that particular touristy box and now set off to find some real wilderness.

We just about managed it in Björnlandet national park. But for the boardwalk that takes you across soggy land and into the forest….

…and the fabulous wooden shelter complete with fire pit and free fire wood, it did feel like we were really out in the wilds.

We parked up for the night, built a fire and watched the sun go down.


On the way to Umea next day, we were back on the tourist trail when we stopped off at Älgens Hus, an elk farm and said ‘hello’ to Oscar the Moose…


…an impressive beast up close.

Arriving into the outskirts of Umea, we stopped off at the Umedalen Skulpturpark set in the grounds of what was once a psychiatric hospital.

Among the 40 or so pieces on display ….


Selfie with Sean Henry’s Trajan’s Shadow

…it was this work called  ‘A Path’  by Finnish artist Kaarina Raikkonen which stood out. It’s a simple idea, 160 men’s jackets strung out between the trees but there was something disturbing and unsettling about it.



‘A Path’  by Kaarina Kaikkonen


Out for the night in Umea, we ended up spending the evening chatting to locals Anders and Rita in the pub about all sorts …Martin’s moose hunting, Rita’s art (works by Rita Henriksson are on display in the Riverside Gallery in Barnes) and how there’s such thing as a Swedish mile (= 10km).

We had a great evening with them both….


Anders and Rita

…and were feeling a bit jaded as we drove to Sundsvall next day, passing so many cars with these enormous headlights…


…that we decided the dark country roads must be alive with leapng reindeer and moose. Shame we hadn’t seen any yet.

And we passed so many more of the handwritten signs for ‘loppis’ that finally when we saw a sign for ‘megaloppis’, we pulled in to have a look.  Whatever loppis is, there was going to be loads of it in here.


Mystery solved …loppis is like a car boot sale and this was a giant warehouse where lots of people had rented shelves to sell off house clearance. We heard later that if we’d followed one of the smaller roadside ones, it would have led us to someone’s garage where there would be a table laid out with bric a brac and an honesty box.

There’s a whole separate holiday itinerary right there.

Finally, we reached the waterfront park where the concert was being staged. We passed yet another big American car….the Swedes clearly love ’em. …



…and met another van just like ours. In 10 months, we’ve barely seen another VW T25. Now in Sweden, they are everywhere!

And we ended up having a great time chatting to fellow T25 owners Karin and Peter. Twas they who explained to us that at a Swedish concert, you are not allowed take your drink outside of the bar area.

And this is the man enforcing that particular rule.

We decided not to argue and drank up.

First Aid Kit were great….

…here’s a blast of them.

After the concert, we met Martin, another friendly Swede who was happy to demonstrate the snus habit which had intrigued us ever since we’d seen a woman in a Stockholm bar take a pinch of the moist tobacco from the tin and rub it under her top lip.



And then it was time to leave Sweden. We were coming close to the border with Norway when coming towards us we saw this pair….reindeer! At last..


And then there were more and more of them…a very Swedish traffic jam.


Even if they were on a retainer from the Swedish Tourist Board to give departing tourists a thrill, it was very special to see them.

Week 45 – Tierp to South Lapland

On Sweden’s Wilderness Road in south Lapland


This week we headed northwards out of Stockholm and it wasn’t long before we started coming across more of the same moose crossing signs we’d seen in Finland.

We live in hope that eventually a moose will cross our path during our travels in Scandinavia but so far this is the closest we’ve come to one …..

… served at a foodstall in Helsinki’s harbour market.

We stopped for a night at a campsite on the edge of the pretty University town of Uppsala and walked into the centre along the river path.

Stuart gazes wistfully over the bridge and considers all those artistic shots he could have taken, the shadow dappled lily leaves or indeed, his favoured centro historico number ‘late afternoon sun through archway’. Shame the camera he’d lugged into town had a flat battery.

So instead here’s a bit of Uppsala as seen through the lens of a Samsung phone.

We stopped off for a mosey round the Linnaeus museum.

I confess that as a virtual stranger to the natural world I’d never heard of the scientist Carl Linnaeus but for the former forestry student Stuart, he’s the man who in the 1700’s created the universally adopted binary system for naming plants. ‘Homo sapiens’ is also a Linnaeus category. Clever stuff.


We had a stroll through the museum garden, past the boxes where  Mr Linneaus used to keep his pet monkeys on a chain….


….and then back along the river to confirm that Uppsala gets our award for best park bench of the trip so far. The award categories are a bit random I agree.

Before leaving we decided we’d visit another Swedish institution – the state-owned liquor shop. We’d read somewhere about the experience of buying booze in Sweden and the image was conjured up of a dark dingy store with a grumpy elderly lady on the counter who looks disapprovingly at you while reluctantly handing over the hooch.

It must have been a very old guidebook. The reality was this smart store….

…which is one of more than 400+ branches of System Bolaget (or Systemet as it’s called for short). The government-owned chain is the only retail store allowed to sell alcoholic beverages containing more than 3.5% alcohol by volume in Sweden.

It’s very smart inside and the range of stock, especially the beers, was extensive. We bought two bottles of vinho verde (a taste acquired since our travels in Portugal) and three bottles of craft beer from the very cheery woman on the cash till. It cost £20 so not the scary prices we were expecting.

Then it was back on the road. Surrounded by golden wheat fields dotted with farmhouses and barns painted in the traditional red colour, it felt like we were driving through a Hopper landscape.


…apart from the fields dotted with the giant marshmallows.

We arrived in Tierp and headed to the arena….


…where we planned two days at a VW Bug Run. This was our chance to meet fellow V-dubbers, watch some V-dub racing and later in the bar have hours of fun with Sven and our other new best friends exchanging hilarious anecdotes about faulty radiators and, um, other Vdub engine thingys.

Except it didn’t quite work out like that.

We found our pitch….

…..then headed over to the arena track and managed to see some bug racing in the one hour of sunshine.


This one was a pretty spectacular …

…but all too soon it was over.

The heavens opened and unfortunately never closed. The rain was so torrential that day two of the race meet had to be cancelled. And as for our jolly night’s socialising, that never happened either. There was no central meeting place like a bar so unless we knocked on another van door (which would have been beyond sad), there wasn’t really an opportunity to meet anyone.

So here we are Billy No Mates in the soggy field….

….no invite to the sauna on wheels…..

…and no hilarious nights with Sven and his mates.

Our nearly new best friends did wave to us as they powered past us on the road out of Tierp so I guess that was sort of sociable.

Yeah, yeah, we know you’re fast but do you have a speeding ticket from Morocco?  I think not.

Ah well, we wanted to get to at least one VW event on our year’s trip so it was worth having a go even if it didn’t work out to plan.

We reached Sundsvall and checked in to another campsite and the sign at reception was more evidence that we are now in what is dubbed the most cashless society on the planet.

We will soon see if this drive to do away with physical cash has reached the Wilderness Road which we are travelling on for the next few days.

This route or the ..

…is like the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, one of those tourism marketing projects where you take some existing roads, towns and attractions and pull them together under an umbrella brand and voila, a new packaged up tourist trail.

The Wilderness Road is a 500 km loop which starts at Strömsund in Northern Jämtland, heads northwest through a mountain pass which, due to snowdrifts, only opens in  mid June each year, on into the South of Lapland and then curves back southwards to Strömsund.

The loop idea sounded perfect for us as we’re booked to go to a concert back in Sundsvall on 12 August and even better, the road promises to take you ‘above the tree line’ – definitely a good thing when travelling in Scandinavia.

We set off on the road from Stromsund to Gaddede. We read that it is an area with the world’s densest brown bear population which was reassuring and probably meant they wouldn’t be able to unlock the van door should we bump into one.

So far we haven’t quite hit wilderness….

….or risen above the tree line.

It’s pretty gorgeous scenery though……

….with so many lakes which are picturesque by day…


…and night.

Just before reaching Gaddede, we took a detour to see the 43 metre waterfall at Hallingsafallet.

We followed the riverside trail…..

…and here it is…


Now we are back on the Wilderness Road, heading for Lapland and hopefully a chance to meet some dense bears and the odd moose.

Week 44 – the Aland Islands to Stockholm

We decided to travel the slow route to Sweden rather than take a direct ferry from Turku to Stockholm, as our harbourside neighbours were doing.

Here they are the night before departure showing just how hard it is to wild camp inconspicuously when your bed is on your van roof.

We went along the south west coast and drove into the Turku Archipelago, going by road as far as could and when the road ran out….


….by the free ferry the rest of the way to the island of Nagu.

We planned to spend one night wild camping there but the island wasn’t quite what we expected. The coastline was mostly hidden by trees …..

…and Galtby, the spot which on the map looked like it could be idyllic, was right beside a military zone.


…so not what we envisaged for a relaxing night’s camping.

On the spur of the moment, we decided to skip the Turku archipelago altogether and move on to the Aland islands a day earlier than we’d booked – if we could that is.  The only ferry off the island that day was full. We watched as all those with reservations boarded…

….and thanks to a ‘no show’ got the last space on the crossing to Kokar, one of the smallest of the 6,700 Aland Islands which lie between Finland and Sweden. The islands are a part of Finland – though the relationship with the mother country is a bit complicated-  but the first language is Swedish and the islands have their own government, flag and postal service.

Kokar was exactly what we’d hoped for… a bit scrubby and rocky but not hidden by dense forest.


And the campsite beside a little harbour was probably the nicest we’d ever stayed in..there was something very chilled out and relaxed about the place. We spent a couple of days there, one day exploring on foot…


…and the next day..


…by bike…which took a few attempts to capture on film.

Nope, too far…

…eh, wrong way….


And we achieved our aim of having a sauna where you cool off in the sea. No shots from inside the sauna (thankfully!) but here’s our view along the boardwalk into the the Baltic.

Get chewing the hat Susan – the water was wonderful!  Cold but not icy so it was bracingly refreshing.

We were sorry to leave the little island of Kokar but it was time to move on to the biggest of the Aland islands and to its main (only!) town Mairehamn.

We boarded another ferry….

…and by staying at least one night on the smaller island saved ourselves around 400 euro thanks to a fare structure designed to encourage the spread of tourism.

In Mariehamn, we visited the excellent Maritime Museum where you can walk into the luxurious captain’s saloon from the Herzogin Cecile , the barque which mysteriously ran aground off the Devon coast in 1936.  Here’s the actual room…..

.. complete with maple panelling and skylight, as salvaged from the ship before it sank under the waves.



The captain’s wife Pamela recounts her experience of the wreck and salvage in her book ‘The Duchess’ which I bought at the museum and look forward to reading to find out more about this intriguing story.


We spent our afternoon at this….


….along with Viking children….


…listening to a Viking rock band….

….watching Viking fire lighting…

….and some Vikings fighting….


…but some things were for Viking eyes only.

Next day the market over, it was back to reality for those vikings. No longboat for the two hour crossing to Stockholm, just a car ferry along with the rest of us civilians.


And before leaving the Aland Islands, we had some local fare…three types of fish, salmon, herring, mackerel and potato salad served with black rye bread.


So hello Sweden and hello Stockholm….


…where, of course, our first stop had to be the ABBA Museum.

Before delving into the group’s story there was a chance to relive some magical Eurovision history…

…ah, good man yourself Johnny…

…and how did I forget that it was Eurovision that gave Celine Dion her big break?

In the museum proper, we saw the costumes ABBA wore for ‘Waterloo’ in the Eurovision at Brighton…


 …had numerous cheesey photo ops which, of course, could not be resisted……

And I had the honour of my life – the opportunity to sing on stage alongside Agnetha, Frieda, Benny and Bjorn.

‘And I say thank you for the music……’ I think it’s going well but maybe throw in some dance moves for the big finish….


Yes, it was a privilege to sing with these legends. I never in my wildest dreams expected this would happen on our trip…….

‘Holograms?  What do you mean? Don’t crush my dreams people!

Up the road from the Abba Museum, we headed to Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. It was dotted with farmsteads and grand homes from the different regions of Sweden and dating back to different periods of Swedish history.



And there were a few specimens of the local wildlife too.

….and the most famous of all ….the moose.


Our first impression was that it was all a bit Disneyland-ish what with the costumed guides and numerous retail opportunities with ye olde chip and pin machine (we are finding Sweden to be virtually cashless).

But it’s more authentic – the farmsteads have been moved timber by numbered timber from their original locations so we were walking round the original buildings albeit now in a new location.

And the guides were really interesting and happy to chat about the lifestyle of the families …..


…and very happy to indulge in the happy snapping.

About to leave the park, we followed the sounds of jazz where this great trio were making great music and were happy to indulge an audience member in some Sinatra crooning…



…so we stayed on to listen and in the queue for more drinks heard there was another jazz concert that evening on the park’s main stage.

If at the Positivus music festival in Latvia, we were the oldest by, say, 20 years, well here we were practically youngsters. It was like stepping on to the set of ‘Cocoon’ though the coolest Cocoon ever.. ..Judging by this audience, Swedish  people do old age very, very well.

And from the hill at Skansen, there was a great view over Stockholm…

…though the best views came when we took the Hop On Hop Off boat and travelled between the city’s islands along the river…

..very happy to look at the funfair rides from a safe distance…

Up close we strolled around the old town which is pretty splendid….

…and did as the locals do and had fika  – a small word which somehow summarises the Swedish custom of meeting friends for a coffee, chat and a cake…just like these ones cardamon flavoured bath buns.



At beer o’clock, we found plenty of options for good ale so Stuart can carry on his Beer Gallery research …

…and then it was dinner time where we felt we couldn’t leave Stockholm without trying a plateful of meatballs with lingonberries….

Stockholm is in festive mode preparing for the Pride parade later in the week but we will be missing it….

…and we will also be missing this event so will never find out what ‘very British things’ will be on sale. …

….as we are heading northwards up the coast of Sweden to join a VW rally.