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My stay in Stockholm – 1 September 17, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Life experience, music, travel.
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Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

I had thought I would cover my Stockholm visit in one blog post. But as I went along in my long-winded way, I realized I needed to split it up. There will be one or two more pieces.

I spent a day and a half in Stockholm before my trip to Lapland and one more day when I came back. Here is Stockholm in a nutshell, for purposes of tourism: beautiful, walkable, sophisticated, cultured, expensive.

Everything seemed 1.5 to 2.0 times more costly than what I would have expected at home. But then again, everything seemed so clean, nicely presented, picturesque. On such a short visit, of course, I stayed within the major tourist areas. But as I walked around, one thing seemed odd: I would have expected to see a least a few beggars, a few homeless people. I saw only a handful of gypsies, and they were not begging. The usual line is that they don’t beg, they steal, working in pairs and using diversionary tactics. This is a controversial subject, and I am not in a position to judge.

In conversations with people on the Lapland trip, I learned that Sweden has a big income gap between rich and poor. Stockholm’s poor include many immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe, and they live in the outlying neighborhoods—not where the tourists go, of course.

A high percentage of Stockholm residents work in service industries. There is no heavy industry there—which is why it is rated as one of the cleanest European cities. I felt relieved in some strange way when we passed through the steel mill town of Lulea in northern Sweden, on the way to Lapland. Actually, I already knew about Svenskt Stal AB, from days when I was working for the Financial Times and used to talk with SSAB’s coal buyer about the prices, sources, and tonnages of his supply. As we neared the Arctic Circle, our passenger train passed a freight train with car after car of iron ore pellets, to me an impressive sight.

And you just wanted to hear about nice places in Stockholm! Don’t worry, we’ll soon come to that. I am not promoting any political message here. I’m only expressing something about myself as a contrarian: that when everything looks so pretty and nice—and all the people look so healthy and smartly dressed—I can’t help wondering about the other parts of the picture.

So I got into Arlanda Airport around 7 :30 in the morning. As on many other international journeys, I found the airport completely lacking any local identity until I used the ladies room. Ah, European plumbing! Now things looked different—the door handles, the toilets.

I easily figured out the airport bus and soon arrived downtown at the central bus terminal, near the train station and also near the hotel I’d selected on Vasagatan, the appropriately named Central Hotel. They were kind enough to let me check in five or six hours ahead of time. The place was small and stylish. My room featured a large photographic mural over the bed.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

There was also, interestingly enough, a set of free weights to keep my arm muscles in trim during my stay.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Soon I set out and somewhat randomly headed east. Along the way I passed a large map store. Perfect! I had planned to look for a map of Sarek National Park better than the one I’d printed out from a website. I got a lovely detailed topographic map which I featured in my recent series on Sarek. The reverse side had all sorts of helpful information—all in Swedish. However, I could somewhat catch the drift. One photo featured a very determined person using a pole to help him cross a swift-moving stream; another showed a woman happily aligning a compass with a map; and a third showed a party of glacier climbers peering anxiously into a crevasse. Now I was ready for Lapland.

I continued east and eventually found myself in Kungstradgarden, the King’s Garden. It was full of fountains, statues, and flowers.

A rectangular pool in the King's Garden.

A rectangular pool in the King’s Garden.

Fountain with statues of swans.

Fountain with statues of swans dribbling water from their beaks.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

St. Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

I walked past the church and noticed a sign board that told of free concerts in the church on Thursdays at 12 noon. Well, it was 10:30 on a Thursday. I would go! To fill the time until the concert, I found an outdoor cafe and had juice and a pastry. I was a bit jet-lagged, and it was good to sit in the shade.

The Lunchkonsert turned out just lovely. A pianist-composer named Joakim Andersson played three pieces. One was a lively work of his own composition called “Feux de follets.” Next came “Valse triste opus 44″ by Sibelius, and the concluding work was by Selim Palmgren, sometimes called the “Finnish Chopin.” The work was his “Piano Sonata in D Minor.” It didn’t sound anything like Chopin, so I think that label for him is just one of those simple-minded epithets—he wrote compositions for the piano, as Chopin did, and he was Finnish. This piece was full of interesting textures, and I think he deserves to be better known.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

As  I listened to the music, I basked in the atmosphere of the church. Like many of the best churches in Europe, it was built over a very long period of time, thus featuring a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, all blended harmoniously.

Next: Gamla Stan, happy folk dancers, more boats, and the Modern Art Museum.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

Sarek National Park—Conclusion September 8, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
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This is the last picture I took on the trip.

This is the last picture I took on the trip.

Now I have bad news to share: my backup camera battery didn’t work.

Same brand, same size as my other battery. Fit into the camera fine… it was fully charged… but my camera gave me a message: “Battery cannot be used.”  I finally figured it out when I studied the fine print. My old battery was 3.6V 940mAh 3.4Wh. The one I purchased three years later was 3.6V 1100mAh 4.0Wh.

It was the morning of Day Seven. We stopped for a rest beside the Bierikjavvre lake. As we snacked and had some water, a group of 20 or so reindeer wandered over and paused to graze just a few yards away. This was the best viewing of reindeer we’d had on the whole trip! And of course that’s when my battery died. No problem! Insert backup…

Very sad.

 Bierikjavvre Lake.

Bierikjavvre Lake.

Friendly reindeer.

Friendly reindeer.

Days seven and eight featured travel over the longest distances of the trip. We proceeded northeast along a chain of lakes and crossed the boundary out of Sarek at a bridge, entering Stora Sjöfallets National Park. In the map below, you see a green boundary line and a place where we had to detour from our general heading to make use of a bridge.

The blue X's mark our route.

The blue X’s mark our route.  We went the length of the Pietsaure lake in boats.

It was as we approached the bridge that Christian gave us our test in navigation. The bridge was off in the distance, beyond big patches of marshy ground and several good-sized streams. In fact, I could not even see the bridge—I ‘d had my vision tested shortly before the trip and was due for a new pair of glasses. They’d been ordered but not arrived at the time I departed. So I was forced to just follow the others.

It was not a test in compass work but a test in judging the terrain and picking the best route. As it turned out, I think I could have found a good route even without seeing the bridge. It was a matter of picking up faint paths that led in that direction, and I am very experienced in spotting traces of human footprints.

We waded across wide, gravelly streams—these weren’t as difficult as some of the others—and crossed the churning Guhkesvagge River on the bridge. A water fowl was perched on a rock just below the bridge, waiting for a tasty fish to swim past. We walked another hour and reached our campsite for the night. I made a silly mistake when it came time to fetch some water for cooking, walking in the wrong direction for what seemed like a very long time until I came to a stream. There was another stream right on the other side of our campsite!

The next morning we had to cross a lot of boggy ground that was thick with scrubby willows. I was wearing shorts that day, and I began to realize long pants would given me better protection as we pushed through the scratchy     willows. The mucky ground was another problem. It  nearly sucked the boots off our feet! But pleasant conversation helped to take our minds off the conditions. That was the day that I had a long discussion about the Beatles with Ulf, who is very knowledgeable about music. At lunch I got into another fun conversation about “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad, ” both of which are quite well known in Sweden.

We had a sharp deadline to meet that day. We needed to connect at 6:00 with Sami people who would take us in boats to their village, at the eastern end of the lake.  After lunch we crossed another stream, this one featuring a relaxed, slow current and a deep swimming hole. Several of the group took advantage of the swimming hole, diving into the refreshing water. It was sunniest, hottest day of the whole trip.

We crossed a high pass beside a distinctive conical mountain called Slugga and worked our way down to the lake, staying to the highest ground to avoid extensive bogs. It was here that friendly Bjorn presented me with an especially nice reindeer antler and insisted that I carry it on top of my pack.

The antler is proudly displayed in my living room.

The antler is proudly displayed in my living room.

We met the boatmen and had a chilly ride down the lake. By the time we  reached the far end, I was damp with the spray that came over the sides. But we had a warm supper waiting for us: a traditional Sami meal of smoked fish and potatoes. The fish was Arctic char, served whole. I noticed my tentmate Jarl, a lover of seafood, expertly dealing with the bones.

After dinner we had more walking to do, up over a pass. We stopped to camp in a meadow, where a gusty wind picked up as we were pitching our tents. But at any rate we all had excellent tent-pitching skills by now.

In the morning we had just a short walk down to the Saltaluoka mountain hostel operated by STF, the Swedish outdoor group. We took advantage of the showers and sauna and enjoyed a buffet lunch. Back in civilization!

We took a boat across the lake to Kebnats, where we caught the bus back to Gallivare. How different everything seemed now. When I’d taken the bus coming in, as I’ve described, I was consumed by worry over being two hours late, not realizing that other people on the bus were part of my group. Now I had made fifteen new friends. Gradually we parted company. Inge, who lives in Ritsem, said goodbye when we got on our bus. Others went different ways at Gallivare. Still, a good number of us rode the same overnight train toward Stockholm. We shared a table in the dining car and enjoyed more conversation.

Once again, endless forests glided past the windows, and I listened to the peculiar sound made by the cables of the electric train. The journey of 16 hours seemed interminable at times, but I had a good book—Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, which I had read every evening in the tent for a short while until sleep overcame me. But I could not sleep in the train—I never sleep well unless I can stretch out, and the problem was compounded because the woman sitting next to me had unfortunately doused herself in strong perfume. Nevertheless, we finally arrived in Stockholm, and the last glimpse I had of any of my companions was of Jonas, running down the stairs at Stockholm Central.

I will describe Stockholm in my next post.

I will describe Stockholm in my next post.

 

Sarek National Park—Day Six September 3, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, photography, travel.
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14 comments
Finally! We get up into the talus fields and gullies!

Finally! We get up into the talus fields and gullies!

This was the different day of the hike—we were not trying to march a certain distance across the park, we were climbing to the top of a mountain. Its name is Låddebakte. I should say that I had a lot of trouble with names of places on this trip. There were Swedish versions of names and Sami (Lapp) versions. I would have thought that with Swedish being a simple Germanic language it would be easy at least in that version. That was not the case.

This mountain had a relatively easy name—just four syllables, compared with eight or nine syllables for some places—but here it was the vowel sound that got me.

When we talked about our goal that day, I kept hearing what sounded something like “Lodebakkte.” Then I looked at my map, and I could not find it. I saw something that looked like it should be pronounced “Lahdebakkte.” I didn’t realize that the letter å was pronounced like a short “o”  in English. You’d think I’d realize it was the same place.

The problem was, as is the case with many problems in life, a lack of focus. The name didn’t quite make sense to me, so I let it go off in a blur and didn’t figure out the problem or ask people about it. It wasn’t until I studied the map later that I figured it out.

By the way, the Sami people have a much more colorful way of describing places than the Europeans. We were very fortunate to have a Sami woman, Inge, in our group. She was a wonderful, good-natured person (also strong and agile!) who lived in the area (in Ritsem), and she had been given the gift of participation in this group trip by one of her sons. I noticed that she and Christian had a lot of conversations about place names. Although I do not understand Swedish, I could still figure that out. At one point I asked about place names. She told us that we were going toward “Idiot Mountain” and “The Mountain Where the Woman Killed her Child.” Hah! An honest description, no political correctness.

All right, enough about names. Now we climb the mountain.

We left our campsite and crossed four or five small streams, then climbed up into a narrow pass. The “normal route” in the valley climbed up to the valley of Snavvajavvre, and continued around the east end of a chain of lakes to descend into the famous Rapadalen valley at Skåkistugan. (You aren’t having any problem with these names, by any chance?)

We would climb over that narrow pass, descend into the outlet stream of this long narrow glacial lake, cross over, and climb the mountain—not on the “normal route.”

The red "X" marks our objective. We started from the easternmost of the blue "X"s, and returned to the same point.

The red “X” marks our objective. We started from the easternmost of the blue “X”s, and returned to the same point.

We got up high enough to see a lovely view of one of these classic “braided rivers.” If you have ever touched on the subject of geomorphology, you will understand that this is a standard feature of glacial landscapes. I am a lover of landscapes, and I had read about these places, but I had never been there before. It was wonderful.

I could look at this all day.

I could look at this all day.

We reached a very nice vantage point and looked toward the mountain we planned to climb. It was shrouded in cloud.

It looked iffy as to whether it would be worth going to the top.

It looked iffy as to whether it would be worth going to the top.

The place we stopped for a rest had a nice little monolith.

Perhaps the makers of Stonehenge placed this here.

Perhaps the makers of Stonehenge placed this here.

We passed big swathes of flowers as we proceeded through the valley.

Big swathes of color.

Big swathes of color.

For a nice contrast with the color and life of the valleys, we had the silent, powerful ice of the glaciers.

Two realms next to each other.

Two realms next to each other.

The weather was very unstable. That made it fun and interesting.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

We saw a rainbow.

You may need to click to enlarge the image and see the rainbow.

You may need to click to enlarge the image and see the rainbow.

The mountain was basically a rubble heap of broken rock. I was more comfortable with this sort of difficulty than with the stream crossings, though it ended up being pretty tough. Some of the rocks were strangely slimy, so you had to pick your way pretty carefully.

Our summit is the high point along the distant ridge, not a dramatic Matterhorn-type mountain.

Our summit is the high point along the distant ridge, not a dramatic Matterhorn-type mountain.

We stopped for lunch close to the gully you see in the top photo. I had brought my full backpack, stove, and fuel. I had known before we started that we’d have a one-day trip to the top of a mountain, so I had brought along a lightweight daypack. But on the morning of our outing, I learned that a few people would need to bring stoves, so that we could join together for our customary hot soup. For some reason I felt unable to leave the heavy carrying to others, so I brought my pack and my stove. I cursed myself for doing that as we climbed the steep talus fields.

Christian had a pattern of moving the group along fairly quickly but also stopping frequently for rest breaks. My personal preference would have been to move more slowly and stop less frequently. This is simply because I get chilled quickly when we stop, have to put on a layer, and then take it off again when we get moving. Other people don’t drop and fall so quickly in temperature as I do, so this is a personal quirk. But I was so happy to be in  this group that this slight discomfort meant very little to me.

After our lunch break of the usual hot soup, Wasa bread, and anonymous paste spread on the crackers, we proceeded indomitably again toward the summit. We would conquer this mountain!

The reason Christian thought it important for us to come here was to see down into the famous Rapadalen valley, described as one of the most beautiful valleys in Europe. In fact, I think it can’t really be compared to European valleys, only to Arctic valleys. It has little in common even with valleys of the Alps, having been shaped by the intensive, violent movements of giant glaciers.

We finally reached the western lip of the mountain, where we could see down into this incredible valley.

 

It's like a kind of fluid script that the rivers are writing in the valley.

It’s like a kind of fluid script that the rivers are writing in the valley.

We reached the summit cairn. Hurray!

We have conquered the mountain!

We have conquered the mountain!

The Rapadalen is really beyond description.

The Rapadalen is really beyond description.

I looked downriver toward a mountain that looked like a giant fortress.

Guardian of the river valley.

Guardian of the river valley.

The landscape was so complicated, so intricate, I could have gazed at it forever.

River, lake, peaks.

River, lake, peaks.  Shadows.

No fear of heights!

No fear of heights!

Our descent of the mountain turned out to be quite long and difficult. Christian had said we would go by way of the most frequently used ridge route, but some of us—about half of the group, including me—saw what looked like an easier route off to the side and went down that way. We didn’t clearly communicate with each other about what we were doing, and I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. I found myself scrambling down an endless talus field that had a lot of slippery rock, and I became very tired. Yet I think the way our part of the group went actually turned out easier than the way the other half went. I moved at a slow pace, and every now and then Ulf, who was moving at about the same pace, said, “Let’s rest for a while.” At first I continued on without stopping but after doing this for a bit I recognized his wisdom.

I had a sudden fear of getting separated from the rest of my half-group as I went down, and I called out, “We need to stay together!” I think they already understood that, and a couple of guys asked me if I would like them to help me with “my luggage.” Their command of English was nearly perfect, but I had to laugh at this slightly odd usage of the word “luggage.” To them it meant my backpack with its stove and so on, but to me it means a suitcase that you would carry through the airport. I pictured myself rolling a suitcase through this steep talus field, and the humor of that helped me to get down to the lake at the bottom.

You see the endless talus field in the foreground. There was no moment that wasn't effortful!

You see the endless talus field in the foreground. No moment wasn’t effortful!

Finally we got down to the lake, and there we finally managed to connect with the other half of our group. They had descended via a very difficult route. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was around 8:00 in the evening before we connected. I tried to ease the experience for my companions by telling them about times I have been caught out after dark on hikes. In this place north of the Arctic Circle, the sun would dip below the horizon, but it would never get really dark.

Once the two halves of the group reconnected, we still had quite a long and challenging walk back to the campsite. I was, I would have to say, exhausted by the time we got back. I didn’t even bother trying to rockhop the small streams at the end—I just trudged my way through. But it was very much worth it.

Low angle of light where we waited for the rest of the group.

Low angle of light where we waited for the rest of the group.

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