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  • 30

    It is still snowing. Snow snow snow. Our three nights at the camp-site where very pleasant. We went skiing every day though, braveing the wind and the snow. Our main goal of being able to set off from our van and ski all the way back to it was met. As the falling snow and weather made the avalanche forecast pretty high we did not get a chance to explore the mountains. We stayed safely below the tree line, but had a good play about.

    It feels a little strange being up here with all this snow, when we get reports of spring from down south. Plants being re-potted and coffee in the sunshine. Almost makes us a little home-sick. There is another month and a half of our adventure and I am starting to look forward to when we turn south again. Spring in Scandinavia is such a lovely season!

    The snow has also made the driving conditions pretty horrible. It is difficult to see the edge of the road, and the windscreen wipers only work so well. Eventually we had to give up and pull into a petrol station for the night. The perks of having your home on wheels, you can stop wherever you like!

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  • 29.

    Being stopped for a few days feels rather nice. As you remember by that last, far too lengthy blogpost, we got into Norway too early. We therefore decided that stopping at a campsite for a few days was just the ticket. Bad weather was forecasted as well so having proper access to electricity and toilets seemed like a pleasant way to pass the bad days. There is something nice about being able to leave stuff out, knowing you will not have to pack them away again tomorrow morning to set off.

    Now, stopping at a campsite might seem like an easy peasy thing to do. In real life it turns out that it is not. First of all, 70% of the campsites are closed during winter. Secondly, we are really far north and the campsites are not really sprinkled about. So if one is closed, there is a fair drive to be had before you reach the next one. Luckily though, after phoning one campsite found on the internet just to be told they were closed we saw a road sign pointing to another camp site. On a whim we decided to turn left and follow said sign. It turned out to be a very good decision. 

    Unfortunately the camp site was at the end of a hill. We are driving a 3.5 ton front-wheel-drive beast of a thing. What we have feared all along happened; we did not make it up the hill (I was driving, and yes there might have been some panic at the wheel when I realised 2nd gear was just not enough to make it up). We were so close it was ridiculous, only another two metres and we would have made it. Our endeavour to make it up was spectated by an old man in a tractor, who turned out to be the camp-site owner. Not only did he have a tractor that could pull us up that final 2 metres he also jumped into the van and drove it straight into the correct spot on the site. The best welcome so far at a camp site? 

    To air out our cobwebs we headed out for a quick ski tour in the mountain behind us. When back home we used the camp-site luxuriousness and had another shower. We are now tucked safely in our little home with the bad weather crashing down on us. Wind and rain make us very happy to be dry and inside. I do not foresee us going out much tomorrow…

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  • 28.

    This is the story about how we ended up in Norway four days early with a 450 g bag of crisps. It is also a rather lengthy blogpost.

    As mentioned in my previous posts we have been trundling on doing roughly 100 km a day. A little more than the minimum of 70 km we had to drive every day to make it on time to Tromsö. A few days we even drove a little more. This is how we found ourselves outside of Kiruna slightly earlier than expected. We had originally planned to stop in Kiruna to have a wander around. Kiruna is situated next to/on top of a mine and it has been discovered that the ground has been so hollowed out that Kiruna is in danger of collapsing. The town will therefore be moved entirely in the near foreseeable future. Pretty cool stuff.

    When we were getting closer to the city we realised that it was the first clear day we had had in a while. We looked into the northern light forecast and saw a slim chance of spotting them. After a quick deliberation we decided to skip the town entirely and head out to somewhere with a little less light pollution. As we passed the outskirts of town and spotted a supermarket I suggested we stock up with food before we leave civilisation behind. As the car parked looked moderately busy Keith refused to drive into it (yes, maybe being on our own for too long have made us a little scared of crowds. To be worked on when we get back to reality).

    This is how we ended up with very limited amounts of food in the van. Something we had solely promised never would happen. It only took us 10 days to break that promise. We had enough for a few meals though so we were not too worried. Little did we know. The northern lights were out, even though weak and we were very pleased with our decision to just head on. After a smaller lunch of our very last food reserves we got in to drive a little bit. As we knew we were rather before schedule we only wanted to drive for 50 km to Abisko, a little town in the furthermost northern parts of Sweden. It has lovely mountains and lots of trekking in the summer. As we were driving on I realised my hangry was developing. I was hungry which lead to an immense grump. Luckily we had googled and knew a food store would be found at Abisko. cooking inside van

    Arriving we realised that the food store was not so much a food store as a giant store of sweets. And some crisps. Keith claims that it is one of this journeys greatest losses that he did not have his camera handy to photograph my face when I realised that my only food options were crisps or chocolates. I suspect a divorce would have been near if he had indeed taken a photo. Out we came after much walking about with 450 grams of crisps, of which neither of us really like and 250 grams of chocolate. The smallest bar they stocked. I luckily also found a loaf of bread and could get rid of my grump with cheese sandwhiches. 

    A new google told us that the food store was not in Abisko as we had though, but 50 km further away, right on the Sweden-Norway border. As we literally had no food we had no choice but to drive on. Well there, after having stocked up with essentials, we discovered that Riksgränsen was just a ski-resort. With no car park. There was absolutely nowhere for us to spend the night. The nearest campsite was 30 km back the way. Our only options (following the rule of ‘never-turning-back’) was to keep on. The two days we had planned to explore the area turned into two hours. Across the border to Norway we went, three days before schedule. At least Keith nephew will be pleased to know that we will indeed be on time to pick him up. He will be fed nothing more than crisps. We have a surplus.

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  • 27.

    The original aim of this trip was to ski as much as we could all of winter. For obvious reasons this has changed. My first (failed) attempt at cross country skiing (see post 25) reinforced the idea that skiing should possibly not be our (or at least mine) first priority. We tried shifting our mind-set to more of a enjoying the journey and the scenery type.  

    However, we just so happened to turn off the main road to go to Dundret, one of the bigger ski resorts in the area and the home of a few Swedish ski stars. We parked the van in the back corner of the car park to spend the night. After a little soul searching I decided that it would not hurt to give the easier slopes a go in the morning. If that was all I could ski I should be happy with that. If I could not make it down safely I would be happy with that as well. As we are well known to say in my family; if you do not try you do not know!

    Finding our ski gear and getting sorted were of similar faff levels as a normal start of the season. It felt good wedging our feet into the very tight ski boots though. Off we went. And it turned out I could ski just fine! On any slope! (The wider ski and stiffer boot made for a much more stable experience than a XC ski set up. Go figure). I even managed to fall without hurting myself. It also turned out that my almost three months of inactivity meant that I had absolutely no cardio. After one hour of skiing I was absolutely shattered and had to almost be lifted into the campervan.

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  • 26.

    We have trundled on up north, driving around 100 km or so a day. This new more relaxed pace has let us stop and enjoy some of the sights along the way as well. Our first mile-stone was hitting Lapland (yes those of you with a sense of Swedish geography will say that Arvidsjaur is in Lapland, were you not there a week ago? Well, yes we were, so no, these little posts about our journey are not in a strict chronological order). I have never been to Lapland before. (Before you guys start, everyone knows (or should know) that Santa lives on the North Pole, not Lapland).
    View of the road  The second mile-stone was crossing the arctic circle. We even got so excited about this that we decided to stop there for the night. We were a little disappointed when the information sign told us that the arctic circle does in fact move roughly 10 metres every year and we were not actually spending the night on the it. The current circle lay a few more kilometres north. Here is a link for anyone interested in learning a little more about it (No, I will not be offended if you do not).  In short, we just had to make do with the sign…

    The arctic circle!

    We also spend half a day in Jokkmokk, where Sweden’s oldest market is held. It was started in 1605 and have kept on (more or less) since then. It is also one of the Same centres of Sweden. To fully immerse in the culture of the north we visited the Same museum as well as had a typical lunch of “palt”. Palt is basically a northen Swedish/Finnish version of dumpling. It is rather heavy and we suffered a severe food coma for the rest of the day.

    Swedish dumplings aka "palt"

    Our latest sightseeing was to stop by the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi. I desperately tried to get Keith to agree to spending a night in there. He refused. Completely and utterly refused. Muttering something about us just turning off the gas if I wanted to sleep in an ice hotel. After having spent some time wandering around the hotel looking into the rooms I sort of see his point. It was freezing in there!

    Ice hotel Jukkasjärvi

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  • 25.

    When you look at a map Arvidsjaur feels really far away. I remember as a kid reading a children’s book about farmers in Arvidsjaur and looking it up on the map. It felt so very exotic. Possibly also because the book was set in the late 1800’s and showed the farmers celebrating Christmas and how women went to the toilet ‘in those days’ (a child’s memory is clearly selective). My point is that Arvidsjaur has always had this exotic ring to it for me, and being here feels very cool.  Arvidsjaur statue!

    It is a fairly small town. Not so surprisingly very town like, with a mixture of new and older types of buildings. Every other house has a barking hunting dog in a kennel outside and their snowmobiles lined up next to the cars. It is surrounded by lakes and, you guessed it, trees. Arvidsjaur will keep its feel of exotic-ness for me, just for the northern location. (I have grown up enough to no longer be amazed by peeing or Christmas).

    Pretty fence

    Arvidsjaur also have three (!) cross country ski areas. We tested the one closest to the camp site. It had a very nice but poorly sign-posted 5K loop, which led to going the wrong way twice… Keith followed up with more XC ski drills on the camp-site the following day. (Someone has signed up for Vasaloppet next year, and has already started his training program). I am staying still today, as I may or may not have fallen on my almost healed fractured rib on the ski adventure. It was not so pleasant, but should be sorted with a few days of inactivity.

    Snowy shoes

    Looking at a map we are very far up north (I know, I keep going on about it, but I am struggling to understand it myself). It is the furthest north Keith has ever been (a new record every day!) and it amazes me that we are only half way. The goal is to reach Tromsö before the end of March to pick up Keith’s nephew at the airport for his Easter holidays. Let us all hope that we make it for his sake!

    Toot toot, on route!

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  • 24.

    The cold night also meant that our car battery was flat again. See post 4. Great. During our time away we had invested in a generator, which should give us a little power boost now and again mainly to charge electronics. It theory it should also help boosting the car battery of the van so that these things (i.e. dead batteries) stopped happening to us.

    As cold as it looks  It turned out that in reality not so much. The battery was supremely dead after our very cold night. Even after taken our prescribed morning hour of fresh air letting the generator run at full speed the battery was flatter than flat. We were parked 5 minutes away from any main road, and had seen no one for a good 12 hours. Nothing more to do than take our pride in our hands and wander into the village to ask for help.

    Waiting for generator to charge up battery

    I luckily spotted a farm nearby together with the resident farmer. The older gentleman was more than happy to help us get us van started. I suspect nothing much happens in the village so a few stranded tourists (phew, do they never learn?!) make for good petrol station gossip… He also told us where we could find a new battery not too far away. Unfortunately, the petrol station he indicated had sold their two car batteries just the previous day. The owner told us that our two options were to wait one night or drive on 80 km to the next town. We decided to drive on…

    K changing battery

    After another hour on the road we reached car battery central (Arvidsjaur…). We had decided that taking in on a camp site so we could plug the van in was the safest option in case the temperatures dropped again. On the plus side we got to take our first shower in 6 days. The following day we walked into town, and came back out with a new and shiny battery! (Keith’s back was less happy after having carried 30 kg in a backpack. The perks of having a not-so-broken-anymore sternum, avoiding carrying heavy load!). It was installed without much grump and we are now nervously awaiting the first cold night to see if it will actually work…

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  • 23.

    The first few nights we just motored on as much as we could. Our goal was to reach Umeå as fast as possible to then turn inland. It took us two days, which I think was fairly well done. I wish I could say that the scenery changed dramatically when we turned east, but it did not really. If we have discovered nothing else on our journey, at least we have confirmed that Sweden really is just full of trees… 

    The landscape here is very pretty though if not spectacular, lakes and rivers break up the monotony of the trees. Little villages pop up now and again. The further north we drive the whiter and deeper the snow gets. The abundance of snow mobile tracks also increases with increasing latitude, as well as the amount of actual snow mobile sightings. K now has a new savings goal, his very own snow mobile…

    Heading north also means a drop in temperature. Which we paid little mind to if I am to be honest. The temperature has been steady around 5° our whole way up, so it was not something we thought of much. Until we one morning woke up at 5 am, looked at our thermometer and realised it was 2° inside our van and -16° outside. In hindsight, when we woke up at 3 am and saw that the gas had run out we probably should have done something about it rather than just going back to sleep…  After swopping gas bottles around we stayed huddled up in bed until the van had warmed up to the tropical temperature of 10°.

    Trees trees trees

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  • 22.

    Getting back into camper van life was definitely smoother the second time around. Our period of getting on each other’s nerves distinctively shorter. It probably also helps that the weather was pretty good and we have had quite a few days of sunny skies.

    we had lunch outside

    It has been more of a struggle getting used to being without the dogs. We have both on several occasions forgotten that they are not with us anymore, believing we had to hurry back to the van to take care of them. Good things of travelling without dogs are that you do not have to worry about them jumping up on the counter… Flipping your basin of dirty dishes over to chew/break all your items. Or chew on practically everything they can find. The floors are also kept drier as there are no big hairy goofballs bringing snow in, or turning over their water bowl. The camper van is much messier though as we do not have to keep everything obsessively tidy and out of doggie chew-access.

    Trees trees trees

    As we are no longer forced outside for 2+ hours a day to burn off dog energy we found that we are really bad at actually going outside. Staying inside the camper van is so nice, warm and cosy. We are trying to change this with a new morning outside activity rule… Fresh air is supposedly good for us. So far the rule has been semi-successful. Our over-night stays have not really been that inspiring for long runs or walks. Not inspiring as in the walkable road ending after a 5 minute stroll. The downsides of campervaning in winter. A 50 cm snow-cover makes everything a little less accessible…

    fresh air with no dogs...

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  • 21.

    We are on the road again. After returning from the Far East we pottered about (K had to go to UK and Norway for work, I had to go to Belgium for fun), but after two weeks we managed to pick up our home from where it was stored. I have to admit being a little apprehensive on what we were going to find. When we first put it away we thought it was for two weeks… We have visited it once after to pick some things up, get rid of all the doggie items and move storage locations. That clear out was a rather rush job though so I had vivid images of what we could possibly discover when we gave it a deep clean. Jump start needed!

    All in all, it was not as bad as I thought (the perks of having good imagination!). In no order of importance, we found the following;

    1. One very rotten and disgusting avocado. In the spice rack. We are still debating a. who would put an avocado in with the spices and b. who would forget to eat said avocado.
    2. Some traces of dampness. The van was left with all our windows and vents insulated and did possibly not have enough airflow during its time in storage. I spent good time scrubbing all the affected areas and it is now spick and span again.
    3. That a little someone had used our home when we were away. I named him Oscar. Keith tried to kill him with a mouse trap (such a hater I say). Our storage place over the Christmas period was on a farm. Who can blame a little mouse for taking refuge in our very comfortable home? Keith was a tad on the grumpy side when he discovered that his XC ski boot had been used for food storage and was full of barley. I think I was worse off though as Oscar had used one of my knitted scarves for bedding (sorry Teresa….). We think (hope) Oscar was not in the van when it was driven from the farm to the second storage place, as we have not seen or heard him at all.

    cooking inside van

    We set off north on a Tuesday morning, after saying good-bye to my parents and the dogs. There may or may not have been a plan to kidnap one of them to come with us. My father sneakily took them both to work that morning unfortunately. The plan is to drive all the way up to Tromsö. I recommend looking at a map to find out how far north that is. Very far. So far I am finding it difficult to grasp. Luckily for us we do not really have to understand we just have to follow the sat nav. So far so good!

    Pine tree en route