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My stay in Stockholm – 2 September 22, 2014

Posted by Jenny in art, Life experience, travel.
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Stockholm is a city of islands and bridges.

After enjoying the Lunchkonsert, I walked over to Gamla Stan—the Old City. I crossed on the Strombon bridge.

Looking toward Gamla Stan.

Looking toward the Royal Palace.

Looking west from the bridge.

Looking west from the bridge.

Rijksdaghuset (Parliament Building).

Rijksdaghuset (Parliament Building).

Streets of Gamla Stan .

Streets of Gamla Stan.

You notice that people are wearing clothing for hot weather. Stockholm was experiencing a heat wave—the temperature was in the upper 20s Celsius (mid 80s Fahrenheit), far higher than the summer average high of around 22  C (71 F).  The sky shone like a burnished piece of blue metal, utterly cloudless; the low humidity made the sun seem very bright and unrelenting. Everyone sought out patches of shade. I was glad to have a hat to shade my eyes.

Gamla Stan is the location of the Royal Palace, an enormous complex which has been divided into ten different attractions for public viewing, ranging from the Royal Apartments to the Hall of State, the Royal Chapel, and the Treasury. I decided not to tackle it this day. I was not in the mood for crowds and standing in line.  Even the streets of Gamla Stan seemed crowded and touristy to me, its store windows packed with souvenirs.

I recognized that I needed to retreat to my hotel for a short nap. I made my way back along busy streets. Once back there, I noticed something for the first time: although the common areas of the hotel were air-conditioned, the rooms were not. But I lay down and did get a bit of sleep.

I went back  out and walked around. I passed the modern  sculpture at Sergels Torg.

Sergels Torg.

Sergels Torg.

I found myself gravitating back to the grassy surfaces and refreshing pools of the Kungstradgarden. I picked out a restaurant at the northern end of the garden for dinner and sat outside under a canvas awning.  After eating I wandered into the garden and saw that once again free music was on offer—this time at a pavilion  in the park. A couple of musicians were playing what sounded like traditional Swedish folk tunes.

Musicians in the park.

Musicians in the park.

But for me the real attraction was not the music but the dancers. I could see that people came here to dance as a regular routine, and most of them were quite skilled. A couple of young girls  romped around, and the rest—of all ages—moved in a circular pattern, twirling and spinning each other expertly.

Dancers of all ages.

Dancers of all ages.

I found the sight strangely moving and stayed watching quite a while. The couples seemed so happy; they were clearly enjoying both the dancing itself and the bond that it created. I saw how some of the more athletic dancers put in extra little spins and variations.

Happy couple. How lucky they are!

Happy couple. How lucky they are!

I went back to my hotel and explored the TV channels a bit before going to sleep. The Swedish channels featured nature programs and documentaries. I watched BBC—a lot of news about the WWI centenary.

In the morning I decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art. I thought about the Royal Palace, but modern art appealed to me more than a lot of ornate chambers crammed with rococo or baroque knickknacks. I walked to the museum, which is on an island called Skeppsholmen.

Boats everywhere!

Boats everywhere!

I believe this is the boat that serves as a youth  hostel.

I believe this is the boat that serves as a youth hostel.

I knew I was close to the art museum when I spotted these curious sculptures.

A whimsical sculpture garden.

A whimsical sculpture garden.

When I reached the museum, I found that the current special exhibit featured a painter named Nils Dardel, with whom I was not familiar. I was in for a treat! He is as impossible to categorize as Paul Klee. His paintings feature bizarre dreamlike scenes, but they don’t resemble the polished canvases of Surrealists like Dali, Magritte, or di Chirico. His style is both naive and humorous.

Nils Dardel (1888-1943).

Nils Dardel (1888-1943).

His most famous painting is titled “Death of a Dandy.”

"Death of a Dandy," 1918.

“Death of a Dandy,” 1918.

Such a strange combination of feelings here! The dandy looks quite satisfied to have died!

"Dreams," 1922.

“Dreams,” 1922.

"Cocktail Party," 1930.

“Cocktail Party,” 1930.

I saw the museum’s permanent collection as well, then repaired to the restaurant for lunch. I had a lovely table with views of the waterfront. Then I visited the other museum at the site, the Architecture Museum, and wandered over to the little island next to Skeppsholmen, called Kastellholmen. I had views of the amusement park.

Amusement park.

I walked along the edge of the islands, admiring the many pleasure boats moored there.

By now it was getting time to think about catching my train to Lapland, known as the Arctic Circle train. Departure time was supposed to be 6:17 p.m, but train service across much of Sweden was nearly paralyzed by an electrical problem, and the train departed quite late. I have told this story in my post “Sarek National Park: Day One.”

Those of you  who have read my series about Sarek also know that on Day Seven of the nine-day expedition, I discovered that my backup camera battery didn’t work. Therefore I took no pictures when I returned to Stockholm. I arrived sleep-deprived after not having caught more than a few winks on the overnight train ride. I felt tired anyway from the long backpack, I had strained my knee toward the end of the trip, and I had gotten a pretty bad sunburn on the next-to-last day. So I was not in the best shape that day. I decided, more out of a sense of duty than anything else, that I would “do” the Royal Palace.  The unusually warm weather had continued, and many rooms of the palace were absolutely stifling—except for the few areas that were below ground, such as the Treasury.

I toughed it out until afternoon, had lunch at a Thai buffet, and went to my hotel (the same one I’d stayed at before). I slept for three hours before venturing out for dinner. The next morning I got up very early to catch the airport bus.

So my stay in Sweden ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but I was buoyed up by my memories of Lapland, an incredible experience that will always stay with me.

The skies---the  snow---the peaks---the rivers---a place I will never forget.

The skies—the snow—the peaks—the rivers—a place I will never forget.

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—Day One August 13, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
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Western side of Ahkka massif.   The cables in the foreground are part of a bridge.

Western side of Ahkka massif. The cables in the foreground are part of a bridge.

In the days before my trip, I spent much time studying the equipment list sent to me by Nature Travels, the UK-based company through whom I booked the trip. Like most Americans, I am metrically impaired and had to convert all their kilograms to pounds. For a backpacking trip of eight nights and nine days—far longer than my previous longest of five days in the California Sierra—they said, “The backpack does not need to weigh more than 18-20kg including tent and food.” 40 to 44 pounds! I certainly hoped not!

We would divide into two-person teams to share tent and stove. I wondered how that would work—whether for instance I would share with someone who snored, or bother my partner by snoring myself. And would I disturb that person unduly if I had to get up to pee in the night—under an eternal Arctic sun, above treeline, no place to hide? (In fact, I was so pleasantly tired every night, I never had to get up in the middle of the night.)

As tents, food, stove, and fuel were to be provided at the starting point (adding 6-8kg, or 13-17lbs.), I set 25lbs. as my maximum weight for the pack at home. I had a lot of the gear already, but needed to acquire some items, such as a mosquito face net and a rain cover for my pack. Would it be rainy and buggy the whole time?  I re-read Internet information. “Sarek is one of the rainiest areas of Sweden.” I hadn’t noticed that detail before!

My trip featured logistical challenges. For instance: I would arrive at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport at 7:50 a.m. July 24. My hotel had a check-in time of 3:00 p.m. Could I leave my luggage at the hotel that day? Should I find a luggage locker at the train station? For the air travel, I had a giant red duffle with roller wheels, the backpack encased inside it together with clothes suitable for the couple of days I’d spend in the city. I was packing for two identities, my “wilderness” self and my “urban” self, one nested inside the other.

The real challenge was that I had to emerge from the 19-hour train/bus trip from Stockholm to Lapland with only what I would carry on my back for nine days.

My stay in the city worked out well. My hotel, the Central Hotel on Vasagatan a few blocks from the train station, gave me a room when I arrived at reception six hours ahead of check-in time. Soon I set off to explore around town. The only negative: Stockholm was experiencing a heat wave of 28-29 degrees C (in the mid-80s F). The sun blazed down from a metallic-looking blue sky, and I found myself searching for shady spots. My hotel was not air-conditioned.

I will share pictures of Stockholm and describe my experience in a separate post when I complete my account of Sarek.

On the 25th, my train was scheduled to depart 5:17 p.m. It left the station nearly an hour late, and I had a connection to make at Hudiksvall with a 27-minute layover. This was the start of a journey that proved stressful. I had little room for error at the destination: it all depended on catching a certain bus that would be met by our group leader at a little place called Ritsem, just north of the Arctic Circle.

It happened that Sweden’s SJ rail system experienced a major electrical problem that evening affecting all  northbound traffic.  I made my connection (the train I connected with was even later than the one I started with), but by the time I arrived at Gallivare for the transfer to bus, the train was three hours behind schedule.

To make a long story short, I arrived at Ritsem thinking I was on my own and too late to join the trip. I asked other bus passengers if they were in fact with the “Nature Travels” group, but they all said no. I didn’t realize that they were going on the same trip, but they had booked it through STF, the Swedish outdoor adventure organization.  To compound the problem, I’d gotten off the bus one stop too early, at Ritsem’s boat dock rather than the buildings up the hill.

The handful of other passengers who disembarked at the dock quickly dispersed, moving off purposefully.  I decided that all the Nature Travels people must have somehow arrived earlier and already taken the boat across the Ahkkajaure lake to the start point of the hike. It looked as though I’d have to return to Stockholm—my trip an utter failure. I sat down in the bus shelter to wait two hours for the next bus—after 22 nearly sleepless hours of travel from Stockholm. I’d have to talk the bus driver in letting me on without the appropriate ticket, and the same for the train ride back. I stared across the lake toward cloud-shrouded mountains with white splotches of glaciers. I took a picture, but my hands were shaking and it came out blurry.

Then our trip leader, Christian Heimroth, pulled up in his truck. I was rescued!  One of the bus passengers had noticed that an English-speaking woman with a backpack had gotten off at the dock—Christian was missing one person from his list—maybe I was that person.  What a relief!

Members of the group organize gear at Ritsem.

Members of the group organize gear at Ritsem.

We drove up the hill, and I discovered a beehive of activity as members of the group organized their gear and enjoyed a hot meal. I was introduced to everybody, and received my food bag, stove, and fuel. I was to partner with a man, a very nice fellow named Jarl. Somehow, pairing with someone of the opposite sex—potentially awkward—never became a problem.  We quickly established routines around our tent, and Jarl proved to be an interesting person to talk to and a good partner.

My food bag seemed extremely heavy. I got everything into my pack and, with some difficulty, hoisted it onto my back to test it out. Had I added only the stated 6-8kg, or was it more? I will never know. I can only say that I have never done a trip before with a pack I could barely manage to get onto my back. And I wasn’t satisfied with my arrangement for putting things in the pack or strapping them on—this was partly because it was a new pack of a different style than my old one, and my old system didn’t work.

 

Christian's truck loaded with our packs.

Christian’s truck loaded with our packs.

So we walked back down to the dock while Christian drove our gear down. I wish I could tell you what time it was. Between my own travel fatigue/disorientation and the very different angles of sun at that latitude, I  can’t tell you. What I came to learn about the sun angles: somewhere between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, the sun dropped below the horizon, but it wasn’t dark. It was an eternal, beautiful dusk that lasted until about 6:00 in the morning. I quickly adapted to sun below horizon/ sun above horizon instead of my usual sunset/ sunrise times.

We collected our gear from the truck and climbed onto the boat. I had not yet adjusted to my heavy pack and felt very clumsy. I was embarrassed that I needed to take a helping hand getting on the boat. This theme would continue for quite a while.

Boat departure point on Ahkkajaure.

Boat departure point on Ahkkajaure.

We crossed the giant lake that is like a scar across Lapland, somewhat like the Great Glen in Scotland. Unfortunately the detailed map I purchased in  Stockholm depicts an area just a tad too far to the south to show the lake. It shows the landing point on the southwest shore of Ahkkajare, marked with an  “X”. You will see two blue “X”es on the map, our starting point and where we camped, after a surrealistic journey through stunted, twisted birches and across bridges over angry, ranting rivers.

Sorry, the best I can do. The "X" further to the north shows where we landed after crossing Ahkkajaure.  The other "X" shows the approximate location of our first campsite.

Sorry, the best I can do. The “X” further to the north shows where we landed after crossing Ahkkajaure. The other “X” shows the approximate location of our first campsite.  Click for zoom.

We would soon leave all trees behind, but this dreamlike twisted birch forest and lush groundcover were beautiful.

The angle of light made it even stranger for a mid-latitude  person.

The angle of light made it even stranger for a mid-latitude person.

We soon started crossing the Vuajatadno river and its many side streams and tributaries. Glaciers generally send their water down in complicated paths.

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We climb the approach to the first major bridge.

I felt very top-heavy with my pack, but this section was all in Padjelanta National Park which, unlike Sarek, has level, maintained paths and bridges. By the time we got to Sarek, I had become more accustomed to my high center of gravity.

It was a good thing a bridge existed here.

Look at that foaming water!

Look at that foaming water!

The theme for the next section was the raging water and how we were able to negotiate it with the civilized bridges of Padjelanta. Eventually we would have no bridges.

You may think it is beautiful---and indeed it is---but I always think in terms of how difficult it would be to cross.

You may think it is beautiful—and indeed it is—but I always think in terms of how difficult it would be to cross.

We climbed above the Vuotadjano valley and looked at the river from a more forgiving perspective.

I love the shapes and the colors, the sandbars and the different strands.

I love the shapes and the colors, the sandbars and the different strands.

Finally we reached our first campsite. I had long since lost all sense of time, so I can’t tell you what time it was. We set up camp and had a dinner of reindeer meat fried in butter. I coordinated with my new partner. The butter was in my food bag, not in his, and we used about 1/16th of it for this dinner. I contemplated the total 1/2 lb. or more that I had in my bag. I must say, the folks who prepared the food bags leaned toward heavy supplies, but I adjusted. Still, we never used even a small portion of that butter.

First campsite.

First campsite.