August 2 - 5, 2009
We enjoyed a lazy morning, just sitting drinking our coffee on the shore of the lake that we had camped on. Yesterday we followed a short track into the trees and ended up at a great little clearing that looked as if someone was planning to build on but had changed their mind. Their loss and our gain. We also decided to go in search of the blueberries that we had finally identified at the museum yesterday. Luck was with us and we found a huge patch of berries! We got so carried away with our harvest that by the time we ended we had collected enough berries to fill one of our small pots - and that's not including all of the berries we had already eaten. What a wonderful discovery. So we immediately went back to the Fuso and made a batch of fresh blueberry pancakes!
The rest of the day wasn't nearly as exciting or as fun. We did find a grocery store where we could spend our money and stock up on lots of things that we had used up while in Norway. In most instances, the cost of an item was nearly 20% less than the comparable item in Norway. We felt that we could splurge and refill our fridge and freezer. In addition, fuel was also cheaper but we couldn't pay in cash. Strange but most of the fuel stations were unattended and we had to prepay through a machine, most of which only accepted credit cards. Lucky for us, the machines accepted our cards - which are different from most European credit cards which have some type of "chip" embedded in them.
A side benefit of heading back south meant that we would cross the Arctic Circle for the second time during the Expedition. In Finland the Arctic Circle is a big to do, a real tourist attraction. At the Arctic Circle the Fins have built a big complex that is Santa Claus Village. A highlight would be meeting Santa Claus, but this time of year he isn't around and must be taking his vacation like most of the other workers. We did send off a couple of postcards to family from the official Santa Claus Post Office.
At the end of the day, we arrived in the region's largest city, Rovaniemi. We followed our map to the local library where we found a free wifi connection that we could access from inside the Fuso. We were so busy that we stayed online well past the time of the library's closure, they must leave their computer system on at night so it worked well for us. When we finished, we visited the local campground and were surprised to find that our cost information from the guidebook was WAY out of date. That is a big problem with guide books, it takes a year to finish the research, then another year to print the book, and then the book may not be updated again for another three or four years. So sometimes the prices are way off. We ended up making camp at a nice spot that was the parking area for the local sailing club and was on the lake overlooking town.
Getting on the road in the morning we were disappointed to hear our truck making loud noises. After a few more miles the steering wheel started to vibrate and we knew that we had a problem. Although by this time we were already 25 miles from town, we decided that the best decision was to retrace our steps and to find a mechanic. Luckily, we found not one but two mechanics to fix us up. The first rebalanced our front tires - these were the ones that we rotated from the rear, the second mechanic completed an alignment of both our front and rear axles. Getting back on the road it felt that the repairs worked out, but time will tell.
Yet again, we found a great little night stop at a small lake. Some locals came by to do a quick swim - but oh that water was cold.
When we looked out our window in the morning, we saw that sometime last night a solo bicyclist joined us and made camp. We invited him to join us for breakfast. In this way we met Tomy, who was from Japan and had been traveling for three years. He had only bought his bike a month earlier so that he could pedal to the tip of Norway from Germany. After eating we said our goodbyes and headed off in different directions, Tomy to the north and us into Sweden.
August 6 - 13, 2009
|Heading south we were surprised to find that there was only one road to take, the highway. We did manage to find one road that took a loop out to a nature preserve on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia which we were able to explore on our bicycles and then we found a small track that lead to a hut with a big firepit overlooking the water. The park even provided free firewood, so we enjoyed our first campfire on this journey.|
Taking the highway we sped along until we arrived at Lulea where we detoured to explore the old town and UNESCO site of Gammelstaden. What makes this old town remarkable is that it is one of the best preserved Church Towns in Sweden and dating back to the 15th century. Church Towns are also unique to Sweden and were once widespread throughout the north of the country. The cottages served as overnight stops for parishioners who lived too far away to make the journey to the church and back in one day. At its centre is an early 15th century stone church surrounded by 424 wood-built houses. Even today no one is permitted to live in the cottages during the week. The towns were not only used for religious purposes but were used for social occasions allowing people from the country to see their friends and for young people to meet potential partners. Gammelstad has the country’s largest and best preserved church town.
We finally got a chance to get off the highway and to follow some of the back roads. We stopped at one small town, Burtrask, home of Västerbotten cheese, the tangy hard cheese known in Sweden as the Emperor of Cheeses. It's the one thing the town has going for itself so they do their best at marketing this "fact". They even have a small cheese museum. We stopped and had lunch at the cheese factory - local food like moose lasagna and a cheese pie.
The next night we stayed at a real campsite so that we could accomplish menial tasks like laundry. We also filled up with water (in the rain). We got a big kick in meeting some our neighbors, they were classic car buffs - classic American cars. There were three cars there, an Edsel, a big Chevrolet and a Thunderbird. They were in town to take part in "cruise night" with other classic American vehicles. It is really funny, but we have seen tons of old American vehicle throughout Scandinavia. The cars are very popular and there are American Clubs all over.
The next day, we decided to move across the river from the campsite to a small yacht club that we could see from our parking spot. This turned out great, it was just as quiet as the campsite, right on the water, and it was free. Even better, it was just nice to take a day off from the road. Lately it seems that we have been doing more driving than normal as there have been less interesting sites to explore.
Moving south again, we stopped at Sweden's 4th largest city, Uppsala, where we splurged on a nice lunch out then visited the city's 15th century cathedral where we lucked out and were treated to a concert on the church's pipe organ.
After lunch we pushed on and stopped for the night in Norrkiping. In the morning we visited the local library where we were able to get free wifi so that we could do some research and catch up on our emails. Afterwards we wandered through the pedestrian only center and explored the rich building left over from the 19th century when the city was wealthy as a result of its textile mills. Interestingly, the dams on the river that once provided power to the mills, now serve as an attraction as the water flows through a series of canals, locks and over man-made waterfalls.
|We reached Oland Island which turned out to be our final destination in Sweden and Scandinavia. The island of Oland is connected to the mainland by a 6km long bridge. The lower half of the island is a UNESCO listed site, due to its unique landscape and that humans have lived here since prehistoric times - at least 5,000 years. We explored old burial areas with burial mounds designed like viking ships (actually only an outline of rocks that were ship-like if you used your imagination), and several of the 400 or so windmills. The island is also an important stop for migratory birds heading north and south, but at this time of year we saw only a handful of birds.|
|But we started having troubles with the Fuso again, maybe our front brakes are out of adjustment but it might be worse. After tracking down a mechanic who sent us to another mechanic, who sent us to another mechanic who can't even look at our problem for another day, so off to another mechanic who agreed that it is the brakes but declined to do the service since the problem is with our front axle and they don't feel comfortable working on the axles with the locking 4x4 hubs. So after searching the internet and finding that there are NO Mitsubishi dealers in Sweden (it appears that no other dealers or mechanics are willing to help us) we decided to make a beeline for the ferry to Germany and to get ourselves to Hamburg where there is a dealer we hope can fix our Fuso.|
It is a disappointing way to conclude an expedition, but we completely enjoyed the Scandinavian Region. The highlight was without a doubt Norway with its thousand miles of mountains, fjords, coastlines, glaciers, fishing villages and its ancient rock art. Thanks for joining us once again. See you back again next spring.