After spending just a week at home to catch up on some work following our Finland/Estonia roadtrip, we once again packed the trusty VW Sharan and headed South on the E6 down the Norwegian coast – destination Sweden. When we decided to move our family to Norway, one of the main things we wanted to do was explore Scandinavia. We were not originally planning on doing most of it this first summer, but once we realized that no one really works in the summer and those in charge actually encourage others to also not work in order to take Ferie (Holiday), we agreed that we should join the Norwegian cultural norm. So, with 3 Baltic capitals under our belts (Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tallinn), we decided to head for Sweden. The fact that Aunt Alli was in Uppsala just north of Stockholm AND it was to be her birthday were definitely big factors in our second Grand Roadtrip Adventure of the summer.
We left midday on Friday and drove South along the Norwegian coastline. This beautiful and rugged landscape is known to have some of the slowest and worst roads in Scandinavia. The fact that there is really very little room to make a straight or flat road due to the mountains and the sea in close proximity to each other may explain at least part of the bad roads. Either way, it was a looooooong day and night of driving. The 24 hour sun allows for 24 hours of travel without having to battle driving in the dark, so Joel and I took turns behind the wheel and pushed through the night while the kids soundly slept. Of course there was endless beauty along the coast and many recommend taking a week just to do this portion of our trip. Since we get to live on the coast and see this topography every day in Tromso, we elected to push through, stopping for meals and some time to run around.
Our first destination was Åre, Sweden home of Åre Bike Park, the biggest bike park in Northern Europe. Of course Joel researched this portion of the trip thoroughly and came prepared with bikes for he and Odin to explore some downhill mountain biking. Odin made his inaugural trip up a lift chair with his bike on Saturday afternoon. Despite the super slippery trails due to the rainy weather, Odin made his way down from the top and LOVED it! He tells everyone that he only fell once and that was when his dad pushed him off his bike. The real story is that Joel grabbed him by the arm to stop him after he lost control and was riding straight off the trail toward some sketchy rocks and a fence. Geez dad, pushing your kid off a bike:) Though Adelheyd did recently learn to ride her bike without training wheels, we decided that a 3 year old downhill biking was a really bad idea so she and I hung out and explored.
While in Åre, we got in touch with our friends, Tim and Elin, from Tromsø who had just returned from their own summer holiday to the States and were spending a week at Elin’s family dairy farm just 45 minutes drive from Åre. It was perfect timing, as it was raining and we weren’t too keen on spending the night camping in the rain, especially with Odin and Joel covered in mud from their bike ride. Upon arrival at the farm we were greeted by an amazing sunset over the open fields and our own little cottage to stay in on the farm. Tim, Elin, Frida (age 4) and Louise (age 1 1/2) are some of our closest friends in Norway, and are always ready to join us on a camping, skiing, running, hiking adventure. We spent a wonderful few days on the farm. Joel and Tim returned to the bike park for a day while Elin and I wandered the farm with the kids. They helped milk the cows, feed the chickens and played with the new baby kittens in the barn. We drank fresh milk and ate fresh eggs every morning, had home made baked goods, of which an almond scone was our family favorite. The kids ran around in the fields with the dogs and climbed around trees and walls. We learned about Fika, the Swedish custom of taking a coffee break with bread or pastries while chatting with friends or family in the mid morning, mid afternoon or really any time of day. It was a heavenly break from travel and ‘city’ life.
Leaving the farm, we made our way to Uppsala, excited to finally meet up with Aunt Alli! She and Boris warmly welcomed up and set us up in a great little room near their apartment, fondly referred to as Hotel Bloden. We spent 3 nights in Uppsala visiting with Aunt Alii and Boris and their friends. On the first full day, we made a trip into Stockholm and enjoyed walking the streets of this lovely city. We did not check out any of the museums or many tourist attractions, but definitely walked our way around a lot of the old town, the palace, and the endless waterfront. We will definitely have to return one day and explore the museums and parks for a few more days.
After our day in Stockholm, we opted for a day without getting in the car at all and walked through the Uppsala forests. We were told by the locals (Alli and Boris) that the best part of Uppsala is the forest. Of course this was coming from some orienteers who spend most of their time running through the forest, but we thought we should check it out. They were right – the forest trails, which began just across the street from their apartment, were wonderful. The kids were in their element walking around finding sticks, leaves, flowers and berries. We ended up picking about 2 liters of blueberries, eating just as many along the way. It was so fun that we decided to buy a little berry picker so that we can go on some berry picking trips at home in Tromsø. We are told that the berry picking in this part of the world is great and we all LOVE berries! Aside from berry picking, we were able to meet a lot of Alli’s friends, had a fantastic barbecue night outdoors and learned some interesting new games. Of course these games had to be complex and involve strategy since we were playing with a bunch of scientists/orienteers (the two seem to go hand in hand). Joel and I fared quite well for our first time, not winning but not losing. I guess we are kinda smart too:)
After a few days in Uppsala it was time to head north. We added Boris and Alli to our VW, strapped our bags to the roof and hit the road heading up the Gulf of Bothnia on the E4. We stopped and found a beautiful camp site on the water. We later learned by a local Swede who joined us for some time later that evening that it was a toxic area near a paper mill that had recently been converted to a nature area. We did not drink the water, but did enjoy some great scenery, good meals and excellent company. We woke to sunshine, coffee, pancakes and a birthday breakfast with Aunt Alli! Not bad.
The final stop on our Grand Roadtrip Adventure was Boden, Sweden, sight of the O-Ringen Orienteering Competition. I had never head of orienteering before moving to Scandinavia and meeting Boris (these happened almost simultaneously) and here we were arriving at one of the biggest events in Scandinavia. There were 15,000 participants ready to run through the woods to find ‘controls’ which were orange flags hanging from trees and various other objects in the woods. The goal is simple, be the first to find all of the controls (in order) and make it to the finish line. The process involves using a compass and a topographical map of sorts with the general area of the controls marked on the map. There are several levels to compete in. Boris is one of the best in the US and had recently returned from the World Championship in Finland where he ran for the US team. Unfortunately, the US is not known for its orienteering. Sweden, Norway, and Finland seem to lead the world in this sport. You can read more about orienteering here. In Boden, Boris and Alli had rented a house with fellow orienteers from around the world – in their house were representatives from the Czech Republic, England, Sweden, France, Finland, Ireland and the US. The very kind woman from Prague even brought up a few cases of Czech beer for Joel (thank you!!!) Alli and Boris took the kids out on an easy orienteering course and taught them the basics of the sport. They sent Joel and I out on an intermediate course given that Joel is pretty handy with maps. It was quite fun. If Joel liked to run or if I was patient enough to read a map properly one of us could probably enjoy the sport. I don’t think Joel will ever like to run or I will ever become patient enough to stop running and read a map so don’t count on us as future orienteers. We will leave that to Boris and Alli.
SWEDEN TOP 10
10. 7 Wonders and Dice Games (new games taught to us by Alli and Boris)
9.Camping Toxic Wasteland
8. Touring Stockholm for a day
6. Swedish Almond Scones and Grilled Haloumi – two of our new favorite foods
5. Orienteering 101
4. Berry Picking
2 and 3. This depends on who you ask – Joel votes Åre Bike Park, I vote Farm Life
1. Aunt Alli (and Boris)