I count myself a very lucky person for the time I had in Finland, especially after the challenge I’d faced the year before! But I think I’ve come to realise that after everything that had occurred, the part where I knew I still had plenty of amazing life ahead of me was waking up in a tent the Arctic. Having spent the night at Saana, we were simply camping beneath its shadow in a camp ground… Pretty standard… But at that point, I was some young Australian who’d managed to step across to the other side of the world, doing that amazing thing that Antipodeans seem to cherish most… The great travel experience!
Of course, it wouldn’t be a great adventure without some sort of challenge! Mine was preserving the brakes of a little red Peugeot and, therefore, the lives of myself and of my travel partner and Finnish host. Given the situation with the brakes, we had to revise the great journey to Nordkapp and Stockholm, down to the only slightly less enjoyable trip through to Narvik and back to Rovaniemi through the northern Swedish town of Kiruna.
Norway – Just… Just go there, now!
We were up nice and early the next day, following our trek to the top of Saana. It was probably one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had, let alone while camping. We had a bit of a schedule, but it was more like the concept of “organised chaos”, we wanted to be close to Narvik by “night” time, but we weren’t in a particular rush… So, after a breakfast of camp stove-cooked porridge, we packed it all up and made for the border of Norway (FYI, since the Schengen region is free travel, so the word “border” is probably more just where one language ends and the other begins!).
It wasn’t too far to our first stop in Norway, only around an hour to Skibötn, and having looked down on Sweden, Norway and Finland from the top of Saana, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the scenery wouldn’t get any better. But wrong you would be! The windy road from the “hand”of Finland down to Skibötn takes you through rocky mountains and drops you down into the middle of the northern Fjord region. The grey, craggy rocks are replaced by green mountains capped in snow (an odd contrast to the 15 degree temperature outside!) and in the distance, the road seems to disappear into the amazingly blue water that runs to the sea.
Skibötn itself was a good place for a bit of a photo op. We stopped at what looked like an old concrete wharf, where the local fishing boats are moored up with the crews evaluating their catches. But we were pretty well drawn to the mountains that surrounded us, as well as the glacier sat across the water from where we are.
As an Australian, I’m ultimately confused that it’s 15 degrees, the middle of summer, and yet there’s so much snow! Much of this is permanent though. Much of the Arctic has snow all year round (hopefully that’s going to continue!) and the water, while inviting looking is most likely pretty damn cold! So a Summer, with snow and water too cold to swim in… Why not! Especially when It looks so damn amazing…
Making for Elvelund
As I mentioned before, we were on a schedule, but not in a rush. Still, we wanted to get either to, or close to, Narvik by the end of the day and our driving had to go slightly slower thanks to our potential to, well, not being able to stop! But we completely forgot about that anyway! We took a southerly direction and decided we’d see as much as we could! The only thing was, by now, since the whole smart-phone thing hadn’t started just yet, our camera’s memory card was basically full, so we could only take maybe a dozen or so more pictures!
Even so, there’s so many things I remember vividly, the windy mountain roads that line the thousands of Fjords, bridges big and little, the mountainside waterfalls running from the melting snow. Everywhere you look in this country is a postcard! It’s like Finland’s “thousand” lakes, but on such a grander and even more beautiful scale! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the odd-looking houses… they were seemingly normal, just that their roofs were covered in thick thatched grass!
Of course… we did take a couple of wrong turns! There was one point where we’d driven for an hour in the wrong direction! Being such a big and sparse country though, all we had to do was turn around, drive an hour and take the left instead of the right! But it was more of the same! At this point, I received a message from a friend back home… He was saying that I was “missing out”… We have a big sporting even in Australia called State of Origin… It turns out it was a highly uneventful game anyway, but since all I was looking at was “scenery” I was clearly the one with the worse deal… I kindly disagreed and continued driving along a ridge that came to a tunnel which came through to where two Fjords met… Definitely the best looking part of the trip!
Eventually we came along to our camp ground, called Elvelund, near Sjovegan, at the bottom of a windy mountain road (surprise surprise!). Again, we set-up camp, had a bit of a wander around, taking in the mountains across the water and the rive running out to the Fjord which would be our home for the night. My only regret is not having more pictures than I do!
Narvik and a Flying Fin(n)ish through Sweden
One of the most memorable things of all my travels was a conversation I heard at breakfast the next day! In the middle of the Norwegian north, we’re sitting at a table outside the main building of the camp grounds, eating some pretty camp food… A group of guys, no younger than I am, all English, have just come from a music festival a bit further south and spent the night in this place. What struck me, is that they were still getting to know each other! It turns out they’d met at the music festival, realised they all went to the same university and decided to continue their respective trips together, so they were still sharing stories of a professor they hated, who their favourite was and what pranks they’d pulled. They’re my inspiration for my future hope to hire a van and go from Oslo to Nordkapp, meeting people along the way!
Back to our trip though! We’d decided that today would need to be the last day, and we’d push all the way back to Rovaniemi! It was a matter of the finances we’d set aside for this road trip, as well as a creeping suspicion our luck would run out with the car! So we headed down the windy roads, into the mountains… It had gone from clear, blue skies to driving through clouds and torrential rain! Then we came to the bridge, spanning the gap between two mountains and then down to Narvik! It was a quaint enough little city. We parked and walked our way down to the harbour. More fishing boats! Turns out these are also whaling boats, the result of which I saw in a nearby butcher! I’ve never seen whale meat, or anything like whale meat! Its redness is surprising…. I would have tried it… but a) slight moral guilt and, b) nowhere to cook it! We headed back up towards the car and I couldn’t help but notice a little boy, busking with an accordion, he was crying because there wasn’t anyone around to see him play! So I slipped him 10 euros and he seemed happy enough that we’d noticed him and kept playing.
By now, we’d thought we’d need to pick up the pace, being lunch time and we still had to get to Rovaniemi! A quick stop for some authentic, Norwegian… Pizza?! “Well, yeah I guess it’ll be quick”. I found myself eating this same pizza all the way through Sweden to Kiruna… The drive was a lot easier… The mountain roads gave way to the flats and birch tree forests of Sweden, and an odd number of Volvo estates/wagons! All going much quicker than the plucky little Pug could go… Stopping in Kiruna, one of the northernmost Swedish towns, there’s one thing you notice… Everyone, EVERYONE is one of the most attractive people you have ever seen! Guys, girls, Sweden has some good genes! I just wish our stop was more substantial and I could have found out more than the superficial! A quick stop for coffee and we would be back in Rovaniemi in only a few more hours for a well needed rest!
Back Down South
Our trip had ended. It wasn’t quite the epic trip we’d hoped for, but it was still as great as we’d hoped! We’d managed to cover a ridiculous amount of ground in about a week! The last thing we needed to do was to make the final trip back to Muurla in the south. But, to make up for our shorter trip, we thought we’d stop in Ranua and visit the Zoo! I’d not seen Finnish animals up close, so was excited to see what they were like… Cute, cool, they’re very different from Australian animals, and I ticked off another thing that, while seemingly obvious, isn’t really, until you’re there experiencing it!
It was a welcome way to unwind from the amount of travel we’d done! It was an epic trip and we had deserved a bit of a relaxing finish to what was a hectic, physically draining, yet amazingly rewarding and beautiful trip! One I am certain to never forget, but hopeful to repeat at some point in my life again!