Sweden – Kiruna & The Kiirunavaara Iron Ore Mountain

Kiruna

The last Northern-most town of Sweden, the stronghold of the North and the place where life is governed by the pulse of the World’s largest iron ore mine.

  • The town “belongs” to LKAB – Swedish state-owned mining conglomerate. (State owned!!!)
  • Opened in 1898 and will exist for another 70 years or so until the mine’s iron deposits are fully depleted.
  • The mine is the world’s largest of its kind with highest concentration of iron in its ore.
  • Originally discovered by Sami people… and then kindly repossessed by the Swedes in the 19th century

 

Welcome to the frozen streets of Kiruna. The town that owes everything it is to the Kiirunavaara iron ore deposits. LKAB – the state-owned mining company that does everything from mining to research and development in the industry. They developed a type of a hydraulic drill and even sell it to other companies which need deep drilling. But let’s talk first about the town.

The Old Town

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Kiruna’s old town is an amazing collection of old wooden buildings, I would say this is by far a better looking town compared to anything you’d see at the Bothnian coast. It really is worth spending at least a week here! And it certainly is worth the trip so far North. If you are ever as far as Jokkmokk, make sure you book extra week to see Kiruna… in fact, don’t even stop at Jokkmokk – go straight to Kiruna!

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But make sure you’ve got enough board games and books with you and God forbid you’re travelling alone because you’d be bored here, especially if it rains – everything closes at 4pm and good places are hard to find, the locals don’t socialise at all probably drinking at home with friends so your best chance would be staying at a hotel lobby waiting for the rain to stop and if it started to rain you can be sure it will rain for at least a day.

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“Royal” – the only night club in Kiruna I could find… and it was always closed

 

The only club in town is open on Friday and Saturday nights and I doubt you’d meet anyone interesting there – the locals will be at home sipping illegal moonshine.

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Midnight Sun gives “colours like no other” (c)

 

But once the skies cleared out, take a walk through the orange-lit streets of Kiruna. The beautiful and very different houses lit by the midnight sun! Some form alleys build during the foundation times, some streets seem to have houses wealthier citizens where all houses are different.

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But there are of course new builds and they are horrendous. The town got a European prise for a model settlement and I suspect this coincides with building the uglier part of the town. Well, EU is what the EU is.

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They tried to bake new-builds look nice but it actually gets a lot worse than this.

So really, look around and you will find an old Gentlemen’s club, just like those you’d often see in England, it’s an old building worth seeing and maybe visiting if you are lucky.

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Old Gentlemen’s club in Kiruna. Founded by mine workers.

I discovered a local… THE local swimming pool and it has quickly become the place I was looking forward to go to, do my kilometre and then enjoy the sauna. It is the cleanest swimming pool in the world, has four or five sections for all ages so you will rarely have to share a lane.

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Middle-class in Kiruna

Did I mention the town lacked good cafes? Well, it more than makes up for that with this place. I’m not food critic but I would suggest you put this place first on the list of places to eat in Kiruna.

The Empes

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Empes – July 2016

Empes is a small diner which has been in existence since 1945. It is like a traditional small diner in a big city which managed to survive waves of property buyouts, demolitions, repossessions and fires. Walk into the small balcony and look out for pictures of it in the 4os, queues of people (those ash-blond Swedes of the past)

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Empes – 1945

Seven Euros will buy you a burger, a kebap or Swedish special – a wrap with a sausage, mash potato and shrimp mayonnaise which is  a hell of a mix, I spent the rest of the day causing global warming through greenhouse gasses… it was really bad but taste-wise it was interesting:)

My favourite was the kebap which you can get with mash potato, that’s THE combination to have, I don’t know why the rest of Europe won’t follow:)

And – you get served by Swedish ladies who will tell you everything you need to know about their culture. Such a great place this is – definitely go there!

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The Mine

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But Kiruna is of course not a town known for its sunset-lit wooden architecture. In the heart of the town is a giant mine industry which dwarfs almost every other Swedish export including Defence and the Telecom.

Kiruna mine is the largest of its kind in the world and while Brasil mines more in absolute quantities, concentration of iron in Kuruna’s ore at 68% make is the biggest source of this ferrous metal in the world. The Swedes also heavily use the process of creating pellets which help smelters save on energy costs as the pellets contain a mineral that creates extra heat when pellets are molten…. bla bla bla… this is hi-tech shit as far as iron ore mining goes:)

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The mine dominates Kiruna’s scenery everywhere you look

I bought a tour to the mine which now for me rates at the top three ways to waste money in Sweden! For just a few coins south of 400SEK. For this incredible amount of money you’re taken on a couch and driven to the mine. I was twiddling my thumbs hoping for a tour through piles or rock watching heavy machinery clear the path… no way. What you will be shown is a designated area with a lot of wall posters and a 15-minutes commercial about how great LKAB are… this is a client video rather than anything to do with the mine itself! And I’m not a client, I just paid 400 SEK to see the mine!

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The tour gets worse and worse as you realise it could all be done in the warmth of a conference hall up in Kiruna’s tourist office. Everything you’ll see is basically not real, the lightning, the machinery is not live… they could just keep it on the surface, why they had to do it underground is a mystery! Ah, the cookies at the canteen were good.

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This little piece of rusty rock is what it’s all about.

 

But while you’re in Kiruna you need to do one thing: set your alarm for 1am and wait. Somewhere between 1am and 2am they set off underground explosion, be awake for that. You will feel the ground oscillate, it is not shaking it really is oscillation, you can feel it wobble underneath your feet! This is a great experience well worth of you being awake at 1am.

And the best place to feel the ground shake will be the old Kiruna hotel, it is stood next to an old road and an old train station which have been shut because land there sunk and destroyed the road and the train line. The hotel is still there and looks magnificent in the evening sun. From the rooms facing the mine you will see evening sun and hear the sounds of train cars loaded with iron ore pellets destined to  become nearly everything we make of steel in Europe.

 

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(Serge Fog, July 12-24 2016)

 

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Sweden – Kebnekeise, The Magnificent Kebnekeise

If in doubt – climb a mountain, you will either have the answer by the time you come back or the question will no longer matter because you will have exposed yourself to something far greater!



Kebnekeise – the highest peak of Sweden and a magnificent adventure for a city-bound hiker! A “return” trip will take you in the region of 12 to 16 hours, “piece of cake” so I thought… I was wrong, very wrong!

Take a trip to a village called Nikkaluokta which owes its entire existence to Kebnekeise, it is an important transition hub where you can park your car (for free!) for a few days while you’ll be walking to the summit and back. Here you can use a toilet, fill your water flask, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a 17km sprint to the base camp.

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Nikkaluokta… most of it

Living in central Europe makes you unaware of things like having to walk 17km, there is always a train, a bus of some sort but not in Northern Sweden and I think it’s great! I do not understand why they have built a train line on top of one of the mountains in Britain, Snowdon, I believe it is. They have destroyed the whole idea of hiking to the highest peak of England and for what? So that a few fat tourists can get their asses up the hill and buy in ice-cream at the top?

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Some won’t make it.

 

Nah, forget about that, you’re going to walk the whole mile here!

You can get a 5km boat ride somewhere half-way but that’s a waste of money, you’d still need to walk another 6km and spending 35Euro on the boat is hardly worth it, it the grand schema of things it’s not going to make you walk less, you’re looking at 50km in 3 days anyway so bite the bullet and keep walking:)

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Wave a goodbye to the pussies taking the boat, you can do better than that!

The route takes you the the base camp which is a hectic amalgamation of a commercialised base with cabins, guided tours to the summit and a restaurant.

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Kebnekeise Basecamp

I really struggled getting my head around living in a tent cooking my own food and yet passing by a restaurant on my way to water springs… there is something not quite right about it. I think it should be one or the other, the restaurant should definitely be there but it’d be nice if it was somewhat away from the base camp. And the “base camp” is basically wherever tents are, they stretch over 5 kilometres, the base camp does not have definitive borders, there are people camping as far as 5 kilometres before the base buildings as well as right by the foot of the mountain.

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There is no “base camp” as far as tents go, you’ll see them all around the valley

 

Spend a night at the base camp and start your ascent. Some people set off at 2am which is no problem in July given it’s the midnight sun time and it never gets dark.

My adventure began at 7am.

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This guy thinks that 16 hours hike in a designer t-shirt is a piece of cake… oh no!

I thought it’d be a piece of cake and with me I had a small backpack with a couple pieces of warm clothing, a gas stove and pasta with a tin of salmon for lunch, and and three Mars bars which proved to be life-saving and I massively underestimated how tough of a journey the magnificent Kebnekeise had for me as a gift. In the next two and a half days I realised how high the price of poor mission planning may be. You know how greatest Arctic expeditions failed and people died because of little things that weren’t planned properly? That’s what I fully realised during this trip!

I was dressed in a designer t-shirt, light hiking trousers I bought at Decathlon for 3Euro and a pair of cheap Columbia hiking boots which must have been made for anything BUT hiking! But at the time I thought “they’re cheaper than The North Face-s, I’m sure they can’t be much worse. Ah no – if you wanna do proper activities – buy proper stuff! Anything 1000 miles away from a gay bar and a vegan cafe is likely to be one!

In the beginning things went well, first 5km of walking were tough, I was thinking of years I spent working in an office, I dreamt of that corporate swimming pool with a sauna… and not much else.

We crossed a river and followed a trail up, the first big ascent. My feet were slipping of rocks, the soles were bendy and my feet started to hurt. I was two hours in being overtaken by couples in their 50s and families with 7 year old kids… things were not looking good.

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And here came the thought. I was thinking of the choice we can make in regards to our lifestyles, about people who don’t have to go to a corporate gym three times a week and they still won’t die of a heart attack. You know those people… those 50 year olds were fitter than most of my friends in London who think that a 40-minute morning jog is an achievement.

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You can drink water from streams but once you get high enough you’ll need to start melting snow, this takes time and energy.

Then were those families with kids and dogs… I mean if I hiked this kind of mountains since I was 5… I probably would have a completely different life! These people are fit and I believe many Swedes are.

Things started to really hurt when we arrived to a local height, it was 4 hours away from the base camp and I knew there were two more before I’d see the summit… but I could not see it. That meant we had to descend three or 400 meters and then go back up… and then more.

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The summit is hidden in the clouds and whoever was there at a time probably endured horrendous weather and little view.

That was a place where some people turned back. I took out my first Mars bar. Boom! I’m strong and happy once again! Like pop-eye the sailor!:)

A steep path down and then… do you know what it feel like having to hike back to the very height you’ve just been to… ahhhh. But then there was just as much left…

And then where magic starts to happen. Your brain tunes into a special frequency and starts milling through the problems that you have in life, finding solutions and dismissing the ones which aren’t worth the worry! This is why people climb mountains, this lets you tap into an alternative universe where things follow different laws of physics, different logic. I, for instance finally came up with a name for my company!

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The point at which I was so exhausted I did not know how I’d make it… I knew I’d have to but I did not know how.

And while I was going through years of my thoughts I started to arrive to the top. First thing was an old shelter.

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An old shelter cabin

Then another one and another one:) All abandoned, I don’t even know why they keep building them:) I borrowed a hat at a builder’s tent a few hundred meters below the summit, left my backpack, took a deep breath and after scrambling up the icy slope passed guys wearing snow cramp-ons I finally set my foot on the snow of the Kebnekeise’s summit!

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What a feeling! Gone are the sores and tiredness, all that exists now is the view of which you can’t get enough! I looked down the North Face and thought that it’d be nice to do it one day, sipped brandy from my little hip flask and thanks the Mountain for letting me climb it.

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It was time to embrace the path all the way back. I knew it was going to take at least 5 hours and those SEVEN hours were the worst to come!

Guys, it was so bad I won’t even describe it. It felt like it took ages (and it did), Columbia are great at marketing and not so good in making hiking shoes so I could not walk for almost two days after I was back, my legs were burning, one of the knees hurt as hell, the back still aches… but was it worth it? Absolutely!

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Part of the 17km path back to Nikkaluokta

I arrived to the base camp, used what was left of my brandy to disinfect my feet which were completely wrecked… and the next day I endured on a 17 kilometre walk back to Nikkaluokta and no, I did not take the boat this time!

Thanks to Kebnekeise that allowed me on its summit and although I can’t say we will meet again, who knows, I hope there will be more summits and I will be more careful and responsible and won’t go unprepared thinking that my glorious city past and courage will deliver me to the peak. These things just don’t work this way.

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The tastiest Mars bar is the one which’d spent three months in your pocket but helped you get where you wanted to be!

(Serge Fog, 21-23 July 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Adibera – My Island!

 

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My name is Serge Fog and welcome to my island! There rules are simple – you must be a renegade to be here!

I discovered this piece of dry soil while rowing across a lake near Storgatan! After a quick walk around I noticed that there were no traces of humans here – no fire place and no paths. I therefore declare myself a pirate and colonise the land!

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I built a fire pit on one of the stones submerged in water around the island and brought wood for the fire from the mainland. It was so much fun… no, it wasn’t “fun” it was a genuinely exciting adventure!

 

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Fuck the lyrics, I can now understand the British that colonised ¾ of the world! The excitement of discovery, the feeling of setting your foot on land previously not known in your world, understanding the place, its features and limitations, planning the build of a base settlement, all of this can be scaled to my little island! But playing with my little island really lead to to thinking that the UK must have been the best place to live… ever! But that era is now long gone.

It’s such a shame we live in the world where there is so little left to discover!

So yes, Adibera – the name stands for the Russian “Adinokaya Beryoza” – “A Lone Birch” because it only had one birch tree and 8 or so pines but you know, I have that one birch tree and you don’t 😉

I demand a world-wide revolution! People willing to be the renegades – reach out to me! I want your hearts and minds to unite and topple to world over so we can re-discover it! We need our islands, cities and archipelagos! We need to be able to be keen again! Waking up in the morning looking forward to the coming day! Do you remember this feeling? Me neither! Let’s make it happen!

I heard this song on German radio and Swedish radio is so horrible that not only it does not inspire me, I started shopping for CDs at charity shops – this is how bad Swedish radio is. But listen to this – we need to change this world and clear up some space for the new generation of people willing to do important things!

And once we’re done with that – come to Adibera where I will be happy to see you, we shall scavenge for wood in the nearby forests, row the amazing little dingy boats bringing supplies to the island and enjoy endless summer sunsets while the rest of the world burns trying to reestablish its monetary values sacrificing white collars to the fire of the globalised corporate inquisition!

And to make sure you know this story I’ve scribbled some important facts on a dog pan, this is temporary before I have armed forces of my own and the political support needed to claim the island’s long-needed independence!

 

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Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

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(Serge Fog, Jul 12 2016)

Sweden – Jokkmokk – Enter the Arctics

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This whole trip would be worth it just to see midnight sun-lit clouds reflected in a lake!

I knew that! I knew I should not have listened to Liz who said I should go to Asia, I knew I should not have listened to my mate Konstantine who suggested India! I did not know that but I am happy I did not go to Siberia but chose to see Sweden, and not just fly to Stockholm for a cup of coffee and a one night stand but see the real Sweden and believe me, you don’t know this country until you’ve not crossed the Arctic circle, met Sami people, almost ran over a reindeer and have sen the sun above the horizon at 1am!

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I do not know why the North is so magic to me, maybe because it’s a harsh environment and few people live here, maybe because I simply personally belong here I do not know but I would choose Lapland over the jade waters of the Mediterranean! Don’t get me wrong, a warm sea is nice, here it is 12 degrees in July but it is here… here is where the legends are born, not in the South of France. It is here where massive ice-age stones in the forests sleep and whisper at night telling each other stories of the ice!

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2016-07-16 19_55_11-Umeå to Jokkmokk, Sweden - Google MapsEnter Swedish Lapland and the town of Jokkmokk. You’d probably say it’s a tiny town but you’d be wrong because I barely made it after a night-long drive through the midnight sun I almost ran out of fuel! A town at these latitudes does not necessarily have a petrol station… or a supermarket and if it does it’d be closing at 6pm!

Despite seemingly endless days my life has shrunk to just a few active hours a day. The points of interest are open 11 to 6 and this is pretty much the time frame where you can meet people and you can ONLY meet locals at shops because they don’t do cafes! They don’t do bars! And they do not do cocktail bars! I basically don’t know how you can meet someone with this setup. God forbid you turn 20 and are still single because you’d never meet anyone:)

Another problem is that I really find driving during polar night a lot more pleasurable but of course shall you stop somewhere and want to buy something it’d be closed and if you want a cup of coffee.. well, that’s what you need to do:

  1. Make a fire, this is to keep warm but most importantly keep mosquitoes out
  2. Go to a nearby river or a lake to get water (keep the bottled water in case you stop somewhere where water isn’t there.
  3. Make your tea (coffee is too complicated)
  4. Only takes an hour and a half!

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And do not for a minute forget what shall greet you in the Arctics – it’s mosquitoes! Vicious, aggressive war devils that don’t mess about like its little southern cousins – these bad boys know no words of love and there will be no foreplay, no flying ’round you buzzing, giving you a chance to come face to face with the flying vampire, no, these fly straight into you! And it does not land on you as such it pierces your skin straight away! My body is so bitten that I stopped noticing new bites! Anti-mosquito spray? Sure, it will work just fine for the first 10 minutes, I’m not even sure these things are even bothered with that kind of stuff. No, they are certainly not the gay European mosquitoes I used to know!

 

The Trip Up North.

I knew that the Bothnian coast of Sweden was deceiving, I could see in in their towns, I could feel that something amazing was lurking behind the corner, the next twist of the Swedish gravel road but I could not see it. I knew I had to leave the coast, there was nothing there despite what the guide book was saying.

I filled the tank and started piercing the mainland from the coastline E4 to the mid-country E45 which seemed a just a couple hundred kilometres away… “just”…, the speeds dropped to 80 and I’d still be doing 150 if not for one observation I made a an hour or so into the journey – the “Anti-Elk” fence was gone. All I could see was endless pine forests left and right off the road. And in those forests must have been… Elks. right?

Right! I saw my first elk at 2am that day, he was large, dark, floppy, disproportional and yet so beautiful, he crossed the road to the sound of my car trying to grab on every pebble in the tarmac and everything at the back flying forward… when I finally stopped just meters in front of him, he still stood there looking at me with little interest! I opened the window to take a photo and it’s then when he for some reason decided to run! This encounter like no other road sign made me realise that 80 means 80! This was also a beginning of my Arctic adventure.

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This is all the Elk left me with

I walked around the car having an imaginary cigarette (now I know why people smoke after having had sex) and I saw the irresistible beauty of the nature around me! The bloody sunrise (or the sunset), the ancient and yet thin pine trees of the North all covered in moss, the endless road ahead of me pointing right into where the sun was.

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The last drops of fuel brought me to a town called Jokkmokk. The town just North of the Arctic circle and with three petrol stations and two supermarkets that work until 22:00. You know what we call these supermarkets in the UK… they are more like TESCO Metro – the smaller form and they don’t sell sandwiches and condoms, what people really need here are tractor parts, garden tools, water and fuel cans… the really important stuff! (I later realised that those tiny supermarkets were huge with vast selections of food and stuff compared to what I encountered on my way further up North)

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A short evening walk through central Jokkmokk revealed the true size of it – a dozen or so pretty buildings, a church, a school and a market where descendants of Sami people sell reindeer skins and antlers.

For the boys.

If you are interested in knives you must have a look at the ones made by Sami people. Forged from high-carbon steel the blade is a basic Scandinavian shape similar to what you can see on a bog standard Mora knife but the handle is a hand-crafted piece of a deer antler. The blade slots into the antler and the rest of the knife is held by snugly-fit leather.

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Traditional Sami Knife (of Sweden)

When I first saw a Sami knife I did not understand it. From the central-European perspective they are too strange, the odd shape of the reindeer horn sheath… the odd carving on the knife’s handle. The price… a good piece will cost you North of 500 Euro and in many cases you’d pay 800 but I would highly recommend you get one, you won’t have another chance. Just bite the bullet and buy the knife.

Buy the knife!!!

Ten Days of Quietness – Jokkmokk

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We’re loosing him! Charge… bzzzzz… clear…. Bang! ——— (long beep)

Sebastian (My Audi) has broken down just as I was planning to depart towards Sami mountains and believe me having to have your car fixed isn’t something you wanna be struck with at a small place like Jokkmokk although I should feel lucky it happened to me here and not in the middle of a forest in Norway.

I was on my way out of Town just passing the centre and bang – an alarming beeeeeep pierces the cabin air, all hands on the speedo point into nils and I see that there is no voltage in the system, the gearbox goes into what I presume was designed into “safe mode” which is more like the panic mode in reality shaking the body every time a gear changes….

The generator went and as such it isn’t a big deal especially on a diesel car where there are no spark plugs to drive, but it’s a modern car so everything is running off electricity: the gear box, the computer that controls the engine and the gear box, the climate system which immediately started draining the dying battery. I was quick to realise the end of days and drove straight into a local garage where they immediately priced the repair at 1000 Euro+ where the Plus stands for anything goes wrong while we’re unbolting/bolting the thing in place and we will charge you extra. You don’t wanna break down in Sweden.

The absence of a car gave me time to get to know Jokkmokk better. And think about my dream of living in a small town, being married to a local girl having kids and doing gardening…

The Dull Side of Jokkmokk

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No, the can’t print your photo at this place… but you can buy a vase!

First things first – small towns are depressingly quiet. People find refuge in being with nature so they have no need for live music or a cocktail bar and as much as I like being out in nature I like socializing too and would very much like to have this opportunity once or twice a week. Things like live music come to Jokkmokk rarely and irregularly. I witnessed a band play for 70+ years olds and that was not cool… sorry folks.

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And even if I could go out who would I meet. Single people in Jokkmokk are under 22, you would be running out of chances to meet anyone single passed that age. How they meet each other I don’t know as they seemingly don’t go out at all.

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This is a cafe… the best in town and I’ve only seen it open ONCE!

And above all I am not sure there is a way to change things. That’s just how people roll here and I think that maybe it will always be like that.

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The Nice Jokkmokk

… and then, I started to like Jokkmokk and its lifestyle, I no longer needed to be anywhere in the vicinity of a cocktail bar to have a good time, I spent my time walking in the forest foraging for mushrooms and missed my rifle each time I saw a deer, I fished and ate fish from a local lake, discovered the endless Sami lands, especially during long walks to Jokkmokk from the camp site (that’s where I found most mushrooms!)

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I also absolutely fell in love with rowing boats provided at the camp site! I would take one and spend two hours rowing around the local lake discovering its banks, semi-islands and one day I discovered an island which lead me to something I’ve not ever done in my life.

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Thinking of how much money I flushed down the drain at the bars and pubs of London and none of that made me as happy as this little dingy!

 

And sure thing I enjoyed fishing!

At this point I started understand the people of Jokkmokk who arrived there from much bigger places, there were two girls from Stockholm and I was told about a lady who moved there all the way from St Petersburg, Russia. These people arrived not for the money, they arrived in search of something bigger than cash.

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What they found here is nature, the last untouched piece of wilderness in the whole of Europe and in my opinion it was probably worth it.

I also met my first Sámi! He was walking around telling stories in Swedish and if not for a lady from Goteborg who re-told them to me I’d never know how much these people struggled against the Swedes constantly loosing their lands, the ability to speak or learn their language. It looks like they’ve been recognised since 1987… but this is only because they have nothing left that Sweden did not take. Their forests are now free sources of timber, harbour steel and silver mines… their rivers have been blocked and lands flooded to make way to power dams. Ah, Jokkmokk provides the whole region with “green” power but this power is not “green” it really is cherry red built on the lands of people the Swedes have pushed into oblivion giving them fake recognition and alcohol in return and now that  the Sámis have thing else to give they have been recognised and given a museum or two… so sad!

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Good luck to you, Sami man, good luck in your fight for your people!

And if you think Swedes are bad, this is no different to what any other colonial nation has done anywhere else in the world.

End of the Little Urlaub

And came Thursday the 14th of July – the day when my car was ready. I arrived to Meca where Tube gave me the keys back in return for an equivalent of a 1000 Euro bill. But that’s not the biggest issue, the biggest and saddest discovery of the day was that having the car back in an instant destroyed the magic of the commute from the camp site to Jokkmokk.

Do you know that when Columbus discovered Americas the price of Gold in Europe plunged? That happened because all of a sudden they started bringing ships loaded with the yellow metal to Europe and it devolved anything made of Gold to date.

Same happened to me when I received Sebastian back. By this day I remembered every corner of the 30-miute long walk. The walk I planned for each day, I knew why I had to take it, what I needed to buy in the town.  I measured my path from camping not by distance but by time and reference points: here is the power line, the horses, the wild meat shop, the village and finally Jokkmokk. I remembered places where I found mushrooms, where I noticed there was fire wood, all these little details have been destroyed in the blink of an eye when I received the car back.

Also, the car is a very unhealthy way to travel. You basically sit in a chair at all times and you only get fatter. I do not know how to mitigate that but I feel like the years when I should have done this road trip are over, I need a new solution, a new way to travel and maybe that requires more money. I thought that it’d be nice to travel the world without a car.

Travelling by bike is amazing and is to much more enlightening than going by car… but that is a sacrifice at a different level, you carry your whole like in 3-4 bags attached to your bike, that is primordial living. I especially liked how they ate – carbohydrates which white collar people would not come close to are the main source of energy, a cycle tourer will mainly be eating pasta with a little protein. They can’t eat enough! The biggest problem of a true bicycle tourer is being able to eat enough food, his biggest issue is that the body can not physically accept enough pasta:)

The day was coming to an end and before I went further up North I had to put the not so carefully engraved dog food bowl onto my newly-claimed island and this is a story for tomorrow.

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(Serge Fog, July 4-14 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

Sweden – the Bothnian Coast

There is something with me. Every time I go where the Lonely Planet or the Eyewitness Travel suggest I must be, I find the place uninteresting. I also noticed that everyone around me is at least twice as old and this can only mean one thing – young people don’t travel in Europe. They have hobbies, do things like hiking and kayaking but I feel that a young person in Europe does not travel much across Europe itself… on average. So I can just as well burn my travel guides as they mostly give me information that I’d find interesting in 30 years or so.

This is what happened with me when I went along Swedish east coast. Many sources said it’s amazing and I set my sail towards the town of Sundsvall but before I arrived there I had to spend a night by a lake and what a night it was!

 

Sundsvall

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Sundsvall is the place to go if you live up North and would like to enjoy the views you’d only get in Stockholm. Maybe not all the views you get in Stockholm but there are a few streets with untypically large five storey stone houses otherwise only see in Stockholm. The reason for it is because in 1888 (a magic year in Europe around which many cities burned to ashes). The fire was so devastating that 9000 people lost their homes. They used insurance pay-out to rebuild the town and invited architects and stone masons who build Stockholm and here is the result – little Stockholm in the middle of Sweden.

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I actually mostly liked places which were not in central town. There is a watch tower on a hill North of the town from which you can see the whole town including the nearby Alnon island. I really enjoyed spending hours at the tower! Such a great idea!

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Right where the tower is there is a fantastic open-air museum where you can see traditional Swedish buildings and some manual professions recreated, they have these lovely installations there which made me remember the Dala region!

I made this timelapse just because I could, I don’t know why this trip becomes the trip of timelapses, I had the app for a long time and rarely used it.

 

The other nice place is the Alnon island itself. It’s a great place to see how the middle class live. The extraordinary thing about the island is that it has no pub! There is a kebap shop and a pizza place, one ICA supermarket and that’s it. For an island the size of the nearby town this is something! I don’t know how they socialise there and given how “anti drink-driving” Swedes are… how are they getting back home if they can only go out on the mainland across the bridge?;)

 

The Lighthouse Hostel

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My next stop was a tiny island with a light house on it which also doubles up as a hostel. Not just your average hostel! It’s also not your average hostel in a light house. It is the most expensive hostel I have ever… ever stayed in! Add food and bed linen and you’d be spending 100 Euro a day there! One Hundred Euro! For a hostel! Well, at least you get the views!

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And when it rains… you don’t:)

 

 

A little ferry brings you to the island three times a day and I can assure you, London Thames speed boats are children toys compared to this beast. I don’t know how you describe naval speeds but this thing goes like a racing boat! Well worth the money:)

 

 

When I arrived to the island the man who was with me through the journey has shown me the “ski-lift”-like wire lift that he used to get supplies to the island. You can also transport yourself if “no one can see you do that”;)

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The light house is a lovely building sitting near to a cliff’s edge and I had the view through one of the windows facing the sea.

 

Boy did it rain there. The wind sweeps you off your feet, the rain drops travel at a 90 degree level and blow underneath everything! And you will see the aftermath of this weather if you take the trail that goes around the island across the tectonic crack that runs across it with loads of moss it looks like you’re in the forests of Amazon!

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I was so exhausted I decided to continue travelling up North immediately and the final straw in my Bothnian Coast cocktail was town Umea.

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Umeå is a small town which greeted me with… yes, old American cars. You can see them everywhere in Sweden, I think Hollywood should really move their filming here as the houses and the cars are already so 50s America, they only need to swap flags! There was a kind of an American heritage festival and I spent the rest of the day and night dancing to American 50s music, shon shon!

And… this is it, despite what they say in the guide book there isn’t much to do in Umea, there are practically two bars which also double as clubs and which charge you 12 Euro for the entry and which in my view did not worth it so I went to bed to wake up and drive to a completely different part of Sweden.

(Serge Fog, June 29 – July 04 2016)

 

Sweden – Lake Siljan

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See that police car? – it’s the only police car in town and if you get caught the policeman is likely to know your parents so you’d better be a good boy;)

I arrived to Leksand – a small holiday town near the lake of Siljan without any cash, with a locked debit card having spent 4 hours on the phone fighting with my bank’s Indian call centre. What this taught me is how dependant we are on the Banking industry. You don’t think about it much, watch the news and see Switzerland block some dodgy Russian oligarch’s bank account, flick the channel to see Cannes lions advertising festival instead but what you don’t realise is just how effective the measures that the banking system can impose on you are.

I am writing these lines form a cafe with no access to cash and I feel lucky because I can still use my credit card… and because they know what a credit card is in Sweden, my story would be completely different if I were somewhere in Germany, away from larger cities – there live the people who still think it’s 1937 and all is ruled by cash… and maybe gold ingots!

What I also thought about is just how lazy we are, how much we rely on having money available in our bank accounts. You go to an office, stay there for 10 hours a day and what you get in return in not money as such – it is the “trouble-free life”.

There is little doubt that this incident will change the way I see my financial independence, I used to thing of risks being yobs in the streets but the world is way more complex than that. The institution that created you and gave you means to live a trouble-free life may in a flick of a switch turn against you.

Leksand

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Leksand is a lovely little town, they are among the places people go for a mid-summer celebration in Sweden so I went to the region to check it out.

The most interesting thing about Leksand is that it has a Christian community.Come to the place if you wanna see the poser of religion. Religion is not just people’s connection to God – it is a powerful and wealthy club. In Leksand you see if for real.

Go down a city street and see tidy Scandinavian houses:

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All is nice and neat just as you’d expect it but cross the road and enter the religious part of the town and you will see things change:

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Back is the red timber! Back are detached building with beautiful balconies facing the setting sun! Hey, tell me now that being religious does not pay social dividends;)

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Ah, and they do have a volleyball pitch and you don’t;)

That made me think a great deal about the importance of religion as a social entity. I am not talking about faith here, I am only saying that it may be that being part of a religious group may make you financially and emotionally better off. The question of why is it that the state can not do the same for all of its citizens and why is it that social coherence seems to be of crucial importance for local prosperity is something you may wanna think about next time you’re choosing a golf club to join.

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The day ended in a drunken haze at a bar with the guys you see play volleyball on the photo above who were not member of the Christian community but they were not in the habit of asking for a permission to “come and play” either;)

They immersed me into the life of a real citizen. The life without a detached house, without a balcony facing sunset but they were lovely people, people that yet again make me think that money is not a silver bullet for being a good man.

I was invited to spend an evening in Rättvik which despite being a less famous and posh town compared to Leksand was very “alive” and full of young people. But the highlight of the night was the trip from Leksand to Rättvik.

Kalle, a local sea-man, iconically drunk and courageous took me through a cluster of local villages and it would not be so nice if not for the sunset. I seem to be chasing sunsets on this trip:)

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I also saw what in Russia they call a “house on chicken feet” 🙂 Here it’s called Härbre and is used to store… stuff:)

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There are so many unique things about Sweden. I have been told about the red paint and that it comes from copper mines and that you can on;y use this paint if you want a red-timber house!

The Gravel Road to Mora

The next day I went to Mora which reminded me of a mid-sized English seaside town. On the way there I took the country roads and that was a much better idea than seeing Mora itself:)

I raced my car along the gravel roads surrounding the Siljan lake, the child of Germany was helpless with all it’s horse power and 4WD… the “Allroad” badge and a hefty price tag does not mean you can overtake a Swede in his 1992 ford Scorpio:) This world truly belongs to brave boys racing their battered cars with massive Hella lights bolted in front! And when they row up… well, cars may change but the boys don’t;)

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These gravel roads made me think of a completely different ideology of a Swede as a driver. It’s not the Autobahns where Swedes see themselves liberated, it’s these unregulated forest roads with no road signs, no police and no nanny telling you how dangerous life can be.

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And you’d wonder why these seem to exist forever without a single hole… yeah, sure, that’s because guys like this one come with a mother of all grader trucks and make it this way:)

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In the end the road brought me to a holiday boat rental place which was not open yet and it’s there where I enjoyed this excellent office view!

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In your face, Investment Banks! Tell me again about your canteen and free water for tea and coffee – I have the whole lake free to myself here! maybe that’s why you blocked my card…

This night I closed my eyes thinking I could go to the village and ask if I could chop wood for some cash…

(Jun 21-22 2016)