I know a Viking – I mean a Norwegian – living in Trondheim, Norway. Joachim had extended me an invitation to visit him in his hometown; this was my next destination. To reach Trondheim, however, I was obliged to take on a train journey of epic proportions. My train in Copenhagen moved north, taking me to Göteborg in four hours. The scenery was lovely, with low rolling fields and farms. At Göteborg I got on a different train, this one going to Oslo. On this train I met a fellow traveller, a Taiwanese guy roughly my age who goes by the name Asiaman Chen. We kept each other company for four hours while the scenery changed to forest and rocky hills. At long last we arrived in Oslo. Thor Vilnes, my couchsurfing host, was kind enough to offer me last-minute accommodation, once again keeping me off the streets at night. We spent the evening chatting away. This far north, the sky never really gets dark; by 1:00 a.m. there was still a glow on the horizon. I knew that, the farther north I went, the longer my days would be! After a short night I was back out in the wide world, left to explore Oslo for a few hours before getting my train to Trondheim. Wandering around Oslo afforded me visits to the city hall, with its impressive murals; the opera house, a unique structure allowing one to walk up onto the roof and look out over the city; and the medieval Akershus Fortress. Oslo is a beautiful city with gardens and flowers and a fresh, clean atmosphere. The only problem is, it’s incredibly expensive. I was getting hungry, so I went to an ATM and withdrew some cash, in Norwegian Krones. I had no idea how much a krone is worth, but I went out and bought some dried frut and nuts. Turns out I spent $30 on a kilo and a half of dried goods; the most expensive trail mix I am likely to ever buy.
After four hours of wandering Oslo I was back on the train, quickly approaching my destination, the ancient Viking capital of Norway. I arrived on the night of July 1st, only, it wasn’t night. It doesn’t get dark here in the summer. I met up with Joachim – it’s always so wonderful to see a familiar face! – and we cooked up a great dinner and made some plans. I spent a day walking around Trondheim and relaxing, recovering from my intensive two-day train journey. On the 3rd I wandered off into Bymarka Park, a beautiful forested mountainous region on the south side of Trondheim. The peaks afford a great view of Trondheimsfjorden, which is – you guessed it – a fjord. Quite a large one, I might add. I will digress for a moment and complain that my brand-new waterproof boots are not waterproof. The marshes in Bymarka Park were just too marshy, and my boots gave up. Soggy socks are not fun.
After my soggy sock escapade I returned to civilization. That evening I joined Joachim and one of his friends for a swim in a lake up in the same hills I had just hiked. I can’t say the swim was pleasant, but it was invigorating. Afterward the cold water gave me a splitting headache, but that doesn’t matter. If a man doesn’t jump into a cold lake in the evening with a cool breeze blowing across the water, he isn’t a man. That’s just the way it is.
I didn’t spend much time in Trondheim, but the time I did spend there was worthwhile. I celebrated the 4th of July by sitting on a train all day. It took me to Sundsvall, Sweden, where I hopped another train to Umeå and from there to Luleå. It was a marathon train ride. From Luleå I was obliged to take a bus connecting the town to the train station in Kemi, Finland. However, the next bus was not until the next morning, so I wandered across the tracks and pitched my tent among some trees by the riverside. Hooray for urban camping! The mosquitos were really friendly, so I spent the evening in my tent. By 11:30 p.m. the sun had gotten… low. I slept a few hours, then broke camp and wandered back across the tracks and headed to the bus station. It was time to enter Finland!
The bus ride from Luleå to Kemi takes a couple hours. Why don’t they have a connecting train? Beats me. Once I arrived in Kemi, I boarded a train bound for Rovaniemi, my northernmost destination on this grand adventure. A friend of a friend of a friend lives in Rovaniemi, so naturally I had a place to stay. I met Maria at her apartment on the afternoon of the5th. Right away she designated herself my personal tour guide! That same day she drove me to Santa’s Village on the Arctic Circle. I actually crossed the Arctic Circle! After walking around the village, Maria took me to see the devil’s churns, deep pits ground into the rock long ago. Don’t ask me exactly how they were made, but they’re pretty awesome. And deep. For dinner Maria treated me to a gourmet meal a the Sky Hotel, overlooking the city of Rovaniemi. The food was excellent! Back at the apartment, I had my own room. Maria’s apartment complex actually provides its residents with a spare guest room, which was amazing. On top of that, I had access to a sauna and indoor swimming pool, which I took advantage of on more than one occasion. In a traditional Finnish sauna, one sits in the sauna and hits one’s own back with a bundle of birch branches. This is meant to help with circulation. It’s not exactly comfortable, but it was fun, in a strange uncomfortable sort of way.
One day Maria and I visited Maria’s sister and brother-in-law, Katri and Petteri, and their two young children. Katri works at Arktikum, a fantastic and fascinating museum/discovery center all about the Arctic and its environment and people. Katri gave me a reference stating I’m a travel writer, so I was granted free admission to Arktikum. I spent several hours there, exploring their interactive exhibits and admiring the beautiful traditional clothing on display. That same day Petteri loaned me his mountain bike, so I was able to ride around the city and even do some off-road riding in the woods. That was fuuuuuun.
Reindeer are abundant in Finland. One evening Maria and I cooked a traditional reindeer stew, with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Dessert was a special kind of Finnish cheese heated in a pan with milk and topped with cinnamon and sugar. Rovaniemi was a culinary delight, with lots of cloudberry ice cream, Finnish strawberries (truly the best in the world), reindeer salami on toasted rye bread, and even some excellent Arctic cod.
After several wonderful days in Rovaniemi, it was time for me to move south, back toward the Land that Actually Has Night. I was up early to catch a train to Kemi; from there I had to get the same bus connection back to Luleå. In Kemi I met two Belgian backpackers, Yentl and Kaat, both 19-year-old music students who were spending one month backpacking and railing through Scandinavia. We traveled together all day, explored Luleå for a few hours, and caught a train to Umeå. I decided to get off with them at Umeå and camp, instead of travelling all night to Stockholm. We found a great place to camp in a wooded park in the city; you could hardly tell you were in a city at all! We even had a campfire. The next morning I returned to the station and boarded the 9:12 train to Stockholm; I would arrive there after seven hours. Moving through Scandinavia took a lot longer than I thought it would!