Hej hej Sweden

Our grasp of Swedish is limited, we have though taken to the local greeting. Everyone, be they four years old or 94 years old, uses the greeting of “Hej, Hej” – it’s a sunny expression that is always accompanied with a smile. As importantly we can pronounce it so it’s a winner all round.

We have ambled down through Sweden on  more or less straight roads, mile after mile after mile of pink tarmac, through forests with the odd lake at the side of the road. Whilst its been single lane it hasn’t mattered as there was very little traffic.

Every so often a ‘one elk town’ came into view but within a nano second we were out the other side. We drove over 120 miles and it was possibly the least stressful piece of road we have yet to come across – the E45 is now our official favourite road! Parking up for the night has been a matter of the side of the road along with caravans, tents and even a Danish couple eating and sleeping in their yacht on a trailer.

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Maybe not enough lakes?

On Thursday we planned to visit a small lake where we had read there was a quiet camping spot, when we arrived it was like hitting a mini-metropolis in the sticks. It took us a while to work out, three wooden buildings, several rough car-parks and lots of very tall painted wooden horses – along with one or two chickens.

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He sat on the chicken because he couldn’t get a leg up on the horse!

We had arrived at the Grannas Olsson factory in Nusnas, famous as the home of the hand-made Dala wooden horses. The carving of wooden horses in the region dates back to the 17th century, and the same traditional methods of carving and decorating are still used. A walk through the factory showed everything really is done by hand from the original wooden blocks being carved, sanding of each horse, painting and laquering – you can watch every process taking place.

As the horses are carved by hand no two are exactly the same, well maybe one or two are as there were thousands of them in various stages of carving and painting along with several hundred herds for sale. Ranging from a few inches high to over 20 ft high you buy them at pretty much every size in a dazzling array of colours, or though red seems to be the most traditional.

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One of the smaller Dala herds

We shyed away, :), from staying overnight as there wasn’t room to breathe in the car-parks and instead moved onto Mora. Iain had mentioned a couple of times the number of classic American cars on the road, by early afternoon they were outnumbering regular cars. We pulled into the teeny village of Vikarbyn and found a campsite, even on the campsite there seemed to be classic 1950’s cars everywhere. Chatting to some locals we discovered that we had hit  “Cruise Week”, week 31 is traditionally the week when somewhere in the region of 2500 classic car enthusiasts from all over Sweden descend on Rattvik to cruise and show off their cars. Several hundred are registered for displays and events but the rest just turn up, take part and enjoy.

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Thursday being their last night they put on a cruise display from Rattvik through several of the villages, we watched for over two hours and there was no sign of it ending. It was full on stuff – they don’t just drive the cars here they live the life! Cars are piled with bodies, the outfits scream 1950, a bit odd when the radio is blaring out a song you know you know but the lyrics are being sung in Swedish.

Several of the cars were staying on the campsite with us, with their retro caravans, all of whom shared their love of 1950’s music with us through the night until daybreak! Next morning we left the campsite, memorable as our first ever Baptist campsite – where New Testaments were hung on string in each toilet to encourage a bit of bible reading whilst you, you know what! Two very different sides of Sweden in one night :).

Next stop Falun, a small town with a massive copper mine, now Unesco listed as one of the important industrial sites in Sweden. The copper from the mine was used for the production of castle roofs, church steeples, coins, and household utensils all over Europe. It looked as interesting as a mine can (to me) but as we had done the Salt Mines in Poland we made do with a look at the outside only.

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Entrance to the copper mines

We found a little campsite next to the lake on the edge of town and went off for an explore on our bikes. We were looking to visit Lugnet, the sports  complex which is home to the Swedish National cross country skiing and ski jumping teams. Cycling to a ski jump wasn’t one of our well thought out plans, a 6 mile up hill ride, fair killed the both of us. The 2015 World Cup ski jumping was held here a few months ago and even in the middle of summer it’s a busy place with over 60 different sports practised at the centre.

The two ski jumps defy belief in the size of them, whilst we knew they were massive it”s only when you stand near them you sense the true scale – which I would describe as frightening. Anyone who thought Eddie the Eagle was a wimp wants to come and stand at the bottom of this jump let alone sit on the bar at the top.

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Lugnet Ski Jumps

It’s all about the lakes in Sweden

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Our last sunset in Norway

Back into Sweden on the E14, we thought it would be a busy dual carriageway but just a good main road that took us over the border and up high over the mountains and through the ski resorts. Whilst there aren’t many skiers around there are a surprising amount of holiday makers in the mountains, the scale of the resorts was much larger than anywhere else we had been, hundred upon hundred of chalets together with some very impressive hotels. A few ski lifts open taking walkers to the mountain tops but we resisted the urge to go up as low cloud was obscuring the views (my excuse and one I am sticking with).

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Arriving in Jamtland our first attempt at a stopover was at a large ski hotel complex, one of those closed for the season but with a large poster saying feel free to stay for night, the showers and loos are unlocked and heated and leave some money in the letterbox! Only that it was right on the main road did we not – so close to home and yet such a difference in terms of trust and honesty.

We had our first couple of nights at Rista, a small dot miles away from anywhere or anything except the 50 metre wide and 14 metre deep waterfalls. The sound of the river and the falls drowned out pretty much any other noise. Incredible amounts of water and nearly as incredible the number of walkers that appeared out of the trees from early morning through till very late evening.

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Rista Falls

St. Olaf’s Pilgrims walking trail ran through the centre of the campsite , hence the amount of modern day pilgrims. We walked a section of the trail that followed the falls down stream, every so often someone had kindly left a wooden bench or small hut or a fire pit ready for the next set of walkers. No matter what is left out and where, it seems people are able to resist either removing things, spraying them with paint or just smashing things to pieces.

After a couple of nights listening to the falls we agreed to move to calmer water, just under an hour down the road at Mattmar on Lake Storsjon. The fifth largest lake in Sweden at 464 km2 and one of the more famous as it’s the only one reported to have a lake monster! First sighted in 1635 and known as Storjoodjuret it’s apparently still spotted on the odd occasion, warning signs abound on the edges to be careful :), we were and can report we didn’t see anything resembling a monster.


Monster warnings!

We found ourselves outside a café and a tractor museum, a small piece of land in front of a couple of fishing boats and £10 to stay over, as the sun was doing overtime we elected to stay for 24 hours – sadly when the sun went on a tea-break the mossies came out – feasted on my arm – and left me looking like a relief map of Sweden. Once everywhere had closed we were joined by another four motorhomes and spent a quiet evening watching a local seaplane take off and land on the lake in front of us, the odd fishing boat come and go and a couple of people fishing out on rowing boats.

P1130530Storsjon Lake

Heading slowly South we have passed a few churches with a wooden bell tower outside which are common in Jamtland. Mostly built around 1736-1780 the towers are wooden and painted in the bright colours first used in the late 1880’s. Inside the church the pulpit had been painted in 1662 (the date painted on gave the year away), and next to it stood an ornate font – carved from a single log, crowned by a wooden pelican – being the symbol for Jesus in the region.

P1130517Mattmar belltower

Our route down over the last few days has taken us as far at Ytterhogdal where we are parked up behind the Tourist Information office for the night. As seems to be the case at every stop in Sweden we are beside a lake, this one has a few small boats chasing around with the local teenagers towing tyres containing other teenagers. Despite the fact that the water temperature must be pretty cold this far North there are a good few in swimming, the radios are on loud so we may have stumbled onto the local night spot for late night water play!

Back in Sweden this seems like a very different country to the one we hopped through a few weeks ago heading into Norway. It feels very much like a wilderness, the main roads are long straight and wide, we have seen very little traffic of any sort over the last four days, what traffic we do see has at least five spot-lights and bull-bars. There are small communities dotted around where there are a few shops, a bank and a garage but very little else.

It is very hard not to notice how the Swedish people appear to have a pride in the places they live and keep them immaculately. Houses are freshly painted, lawns are always well mown, we haven’t seen any rubbish or tipping The other thing its been hard to miss is the size of the caravans here, not just big but often off the scale of caravans as we know them. The Swedish Kabe is king here in motorhomes and caravans – we have seen several of the size of the one below – they don’t do small here.

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Not something you would want to meet on Trollstigen