Arctic Spring – Night Snowmobiling

There was an outing that was on the itinerary that escaped Jen’s attention to detail – a snowmobiling outing after dark with dinner (link). Snowmobiles? Driving them? Not for some of us. Lily and Bryant, however, thought the idea was pretty cool. So, Jen and Hil skipped it, while Bry and Lily revved it.

We started out getting picked up from the hotel, then a stop at the guide’s office for winter clothes, then a stop at the Ice Hotel for the other 2 customers (a doctor couple from Stockholm – she was a psychiatrist and he was an ER doc), and then finally to the garage to get the machines. Here is a pic of the garage, and Lily getting all suited up for the adventure!

After the obligatory safety demonstration, we were off. Bryant and Lily on one, the Stockhomers on another, and the guide out front on their own machine leading the way. These were pretty simple machines to operate, save the weird thumb-throttle that was a lot more like an ATV throttle than a motorcycle (which I am more used to).

The route was a mix of trails thru forest and across the frozen Torne River and Sautusjärvi lake. The ride out was still light, and it was pretty easy to follow the track of the guide in front. The main thing was to stay on the track. The show was very deep and soft on either side of the track, and the risk of the big touring machines nose-diving and being stuck was a big one. So, stay on the track!

We arrived at a low, octagonal wooden hut with benches around the inside walls and a fire pit in the middle. The guide made a fire and set to cooking dinner, which was a delicious reindeer stew made from smoked, salted and sliced meat called suovas in Saami. Here is the outside and inside of the hut.

After dinner, we rode back. It was a lot harder to follow the guide’s track in the dark, but we managed. Along the way, we stopped to look for auroras and to hear the Saami constellations story. Basically, the Big Dipper is the bow of a hunter, and the “w” of Cassiopeia is the horns of a great moose (and other stars make up the body). As long as the hunter shoots over the North Star, then all is well. If the hunter hit the North Star, then the heavens would fall down and things would be bad. Luckily, the North Star has not fallen down … Another stop along the way was for the guide to explain the giant crack in the river ice and the differences in the levels of the ice due to the levels of water under it.

Of course, all the pick-up logistics had to be reversed, and Lily and Bry were finally back at the room by about 12:30.

Kiruna, Background Info

We decided to spend our Easter holiday doing something. In Sweden, Easter (or Påsk, pronounced “poask”) is a very secular holiday, and Holy Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays (so, no work!), and the schools are out for Easter week. So, we took a trip to Kiruna, Sweden.

Kiruna is a city of 30k people in Swedish Lapland, and lies north of the arctic circle. The arctic circle is the latitude (66.3 deg north) at which there are days of 24 hour sun in the summer, and 24 hour dark in the winter. Kiruna is far enough north that there is almost 100 days of full sun in the summer. Here is a little map of where we were (in context of the rest of Sweden)

Kiruna is at 67.8 deg north. Fairbanks AK is 64.8 deg north. The Twin Cities are about 45 deg north, and International Falls MN is 48.6 deg north. So, Kiruna is NORTH, and sits in the heart of the Swedish part of Fennoscandia – that horseshoe-shaped region that wraps around from Finland over to Norway. Kiruna is also the centre of what the Saami people call Sapmi – their lands. The word Kiruna comes from the Saami giron, which is the ptarmigan.

We flew from the Malmö airport to Stockholm, and thence to Kiruna. Malmö’s airport has one terminal, and about 10 gates (we usually fly out of Copenhagen for international stuff). Kiruna’s airport has one “gate” and you get to the plane via mobile stairs. And it has one runway, so when you land, the plane overshoots the gate, goes to the end of the runway, and then turns around and taxis back to the gate. No worry of traffic, however, as there is only one flight in and out per day. There is a lot of tourism, however, so the plane was an A320 a mid-sized regional jet. Flights from Malmö to Stockholm were a little under an hour, and the flight from Stockholm to Kiruna was about 90 min.

The weather in Kiruna was a lot more like northern Minnesota than the Pacific Northwest-iness of Skåne. At the beginning of April, daytime highs were around freezing and overnight lows were around 18-20 deg F (-7 or -8C). We had some cloudy days and nights, and also some brilliantly clear days.

Along with tourism, Kiruna’s big industry is iron mining. Most of it is freighted out as pellets on rail to Narvik Norway, where it is shipped off. A bunch is also freighted around the Nordics and Baltics. A fun fact about Kiruna is that the mine is so productive that they are following veins under the town. So, they are moving the town to make way for the mine. There is a nice new city centre that is being built right now, and people are figuring out if they want to move their houses, or take a buy-out. The mine is footing most of the bill, so it is clearly making a LOT of money!

Jen and I will cover a bunch more on the trip itself in different posts on the particular events, but this will set the stage for a wintery, colder, arctic setting for the adventures.

Arctic Spring

We decided the risk of traveling within Sweden was minor and booked a trip to Kiruna, the northern most city in Swedish Lapland. It’s north of the Arctic Circle in Sàpmi (Sami cultural region) taiga forestland with long winters.

Traditional Sami foods, cooked over the fire in a làvvu reindeer, moose, lingon and cloudberries prepared in different ways, as well as many gourmet dishes awaited us at the resort hotel, which caters to foodies. So we enjoyed lots of caviar, smoked fish, meats (and even eggs) artichoke whiskey soup with cauliflower chips and freeze dried beets, pickled squash and shiitake risotto, and wonderful desserts and breads. Birch burl “kuksa” of coffee or lingonberry juice were a nice authentic touch.

Reindeer stew!

The weather was good, melting a bit during the day and freezing when not in direct sun, making for very slick surfaces. I couldn’t do much walking, but it made for some fast moving dog and reindeer sleds! This guy’s name means Power and he was running so fast that I missed a shot of him pulling Lily and Bry on the sport sled.

The sled dogs were extremely fast and on icy spring snow pack; they had to use a smaller team of dogs to prevent them from going too fast.

For me this trip was a lot of Type 2 fun, appreciated more after it’s over than while it is happening. I tried to embrace the opportunity to try some new things, including the outdoor spa, which I genuinely enjoyed and would do again! Usually hot tubs and saunas are too warm for me but the outdoor versions kept me from over heating.

Lily discovered an interest in snow mobiles and Hilary took to nighttime photography, more on those adventures later.

Bornholm

A Danish island in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden, Bornholm is still closed to tourism.

It used to be a fishing community, but in recent times it is known for biking, hiking and culinary culture.

My great-grandfather, Fred, was born there in 1880 Fred’s mother’s family lived there for generations. His father, Per, was an immigrant from Sweden who earned his living fishing until the decision was made (with his Bornholmska wife and other family members) to leave Bornholm and try farming in the American Midwest.

The island has since become famous as a foodie destination and for its artisanal products, which always catch my eye in the food markets around Lund. I wonder what Fred would think of this development!

Per fled Sweden due to famine and a few years later immigrated again, taking his young family including Baby Sigfred across the ocean to farm. Now his great-grand daughter buys gourmet farm products from Bornholm…the latest being this basil pasta made from bornholmsk wheat and beer. We prepared it with Norwegian shrimp from our Fiskbil delivery- amazing!

We look forward to more gastronomical adventures when we can finally travel to Bornholm.

Face Mask Machinations

There is one issue in Sweden that has annoyed me from day 1. Sverige seems like a country that would put the public good ahead of individual freedoms. The leaders claimed they were following the science on all issues related to covid 19 so why are they ignoring the data on mask effectiveness?

We’ve been wearing masks in public indoor spaces and outdoors if there are space issues. There are lots of internationals here in Lund so it’s not uncommon, but the vast majority of people do not wear masks. It seems to me that people are choosing to misinterpret the lack of mask recommendation by the Swedish Health authority to mean that the “risks” outweigh the benefits. It’s not really clear what they think the risks are!

The story below cites a hindrance to communication as a reason for not allowing the student to wear one in school. I’m occasionally asked to remove my mask for identification purposes in situations where it seems completely unnecessary, but most of the time no one says anything. Once a person seemed to cough deliberately in my direction. Some kids at the mall made rude comments in English, and once a man in the grocery store talked to me animatedly in Swedish while gesturing to the distance markers on the floor. I assume he was trying to tell me that keeping distance is enough and that I shouldn’t be wearing a mask, but I don’t really know.

Our kids were questioned repeatedly by classmates and teachers about mask wearing at school, in a manner that made them feel they needed to defend the science and our choice, but no one asked them to remove the masks. A few teachers and kids now wear them regularly. And although Sweden denied any strategy of herd immunity, we do believe that a large number of teachers and staff at ISLK have already had Coronavirus, so the atmosphere is now more relaxed.

It does seem like they meant to “allow” healthy young people to get sick, making personal responsibility the main strategy for protecting the vulnerable. I think that message runs counter to Sweden’s stated prioritization of responsibility to society and raising good citizens.

This story got me “hotted up” to borrow a local expression (I think it’s British)

https://feeds.thelocal.com/app/ios/article.php?id=stockholm-school-sends-pupil-home-for-wearing-face-mask

And below is an update to that story…

No, Swedish schools can’t send students home just for wearing face masks

Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT has spoken with Sweden’s Education Agency (Skolverket) after The Local last week interviewed a motherwhose 13-year-old son was sent home from school after he refused to remove his face mask. The school said it was following Stockholm’s coronavirus recommendations on face masks, but the infectious disease unit in Stockholm said it had issued no recommendations on masks in schools.

Skolverket told SVT that Sweden’s Education Act does not give schools the power to send students home for wearing or not wearing a face mask. “The only situation really where you can send a student home is if the principal decides on suspension, if that option is needed to secure other students’ safety and studies,” said a spokesperson.

Swedish vocabulary: suspension – 
avstängning

I’m pretty sure the Health Authority determined that the potential divisions that would arise from any kind of mask mandate would outweigh the benefits. Instead, it seems like we have the divisions without the benefits. I also wonder if they decided to avoid any decision about face coverings in order to steer clear of the controversies surrounding religious face and head coverings. I guess I can understand that goal, but it’s so frustrating that a simple, common sense strategy to help people stay healthy is in any way controversial. People are stupid.

Påskkäring, Easter Witch

My friend, Brandie, suggested we get out of town for a bit since her husband and daughters are working from home this week due to Swedish guidelines regarding the new covid variant.

We drove to the southern most point, Smyghuk but it was under construction so we went to Vellinge Blommar, a huge garden center with gift shops, cafe and displays, like Bachman’s. They do a big haunted house in the Fall and are currently going all out for Spring!

I learned about the Easter Witch, an odd blend of pagan and Christian traditions with elements of Halloween, May Day, Easter etc.

In ye olde days, folks would scare away and/ or hide from witches who might be on the prowl during their meetup with The Devil. In modern times, kids dress up as witches and carry baskets of homemade cards or spring branches to give out as they go door to door in search of treats. And now witches are a big part of Easter decorating!https://www.minnesotanoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/img_6833-2.mov

https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/easter/

The video clip doesn’t have sound for some reason. The witch was talking about getting all of the eggs painted in time for Easter.

This week I plan to clear out the winter decor and bring in a bit of Spring. Hilary is doing remote lessons until March 9, while Lily is in-person. The ice skating rink and ski track are no more, but the patios are reopening and international citizen’s hub has resumed a few outdoor events

Shame in the Grocery Store

Lily and I went to the Stora Coop (Big Co-op) last weekend for a stock-up. Saw this in the store. I have many conflicted feels about it.

This is the American section. Next to the Asian and Eastern European food sections. This might have been the store’s entire stock of partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Risk 2 Driving Training

As Jen mentioned, I am working towards getting a Swedish drivers license. I might go into a weird amount of detail on this post because Jen’s dad is a drivers ed instructor and will enjoy reading this …

The process basically consists of 4 parts. Part 1 is called Risk 1, and it is a classroom training on all the terrible things that happen on the road with a car. I was scheduled for a Risk 1 class, but work got in the way. Part 2 is a classroom plus in-the-car training on a closed course. I completed this earlier in the week and will talk about it here. Part 3 is a written exam. Part 4 is a driving exam.

So, Risk 2. I was scheduled into a timeslot at the driving site, and it turns out I was in a group of 4. Me and 3 Swedish teens who were getting their licenses for the first time. Before I get into the experience, I have to share this bit. The instructor realised that I do not speak Swedish, and said “ok, today is in swenglish!” (the sort of hybrid of the two that is often spoken). The whole session, the teens all spoke Swedish to the instructor and each other. The instructor spoke English to me.

Here’s how it worked. A short classroom session where the plan for the day was explained. Then, we went to a large room that had a bunch of simulators in it. One was a sled with car seats on it. You buckled in and then slid down a ramp to an abrupt stop at the bottom. It was pretty uncomfortable, but only hit at about 7kph. Then there was a whole car on a rotation contraption. All 4 of us got in, buckled up, and then the car was rotated 90deg to the side. So, one side of the car is lying on the doors, and the other 2 are sagging in the seatbelts. Then the car goes 180deg upside down, and it is NOT fun to hang upside down in a seatbelt! Then you keep going to the other side, and then finally back upright. Made me very sure that I did not want to roll a car! There were a number of other physical demonstrations to make you really feel the impact of an accident.

After the simulation room, we went out on the course. All the cars were Nissan Leafs. We had a number of experiences in the car driving around in low grip situations. The low grip was made by the concrete being painted with a smooth epoxy, and then basically constantly wetted with water to make it really slippery. Here are some pics of the course. These are all I got as the instructor chastised me every time my phone was out.

There were some interesting features of the course. There were yellow rubber posts that the instructor could pop up out of the ground that you had to avoid (to simulate an accident). Another trick they did (and did not tell you about until afterwards) is that they had 2 cars with winter tires in the front and summer tires in the back, and 2 cars with the set up reversed. And you went fast around the slippery corner in both. One you spun out like crazy (I did a full 180) – the winter tires in the front. The other you just understeered like crazy. There were braking distance drills at different speeds. Interesting stuff.

It took a long time to safely get thru all the drills for all 4 of us, including car swaps. And then we headed back into the classroom for debrief and the last thing was to pair up and do a little thought exercise. I looked at my teen partner, and started to stammer about speaking Swedish and she just started speaking perfectly good English. Turns out, all the teens spoke English just fine. Jerks. 😉

I have been driving for over 35 years, but I learned some new things on this outing. I cannot believe that the US does not have this level of training. Esp. in places like Minnesota where it is frequently bad driving conditions. This was a super good session, and gives new drivers practical, controlled experience on what to do and how to handle a car. And super-concrete experiences of why it matters to slow down and not take too much risk.

Kings Park

Spent the day in Malmö while Bryant took his driving hazards test. He’ll post about that interesting experience sometime!

Cloudy but warm, 53 degrees. A nice day to roam around, but the kids stayed home to clean their rooms

Malmö castle as it used to be…

And how it is today, with restorations

“Diana” sculpture (meant to look magical by moonlight) Some trees remain in Kungsparken from 1872 when it became the first public park in Malmö

Man and Pegasus (there is a copy in Iowa, too!)

Birds have been on the move lately. Saw a flock of about 10 trumpeter swans flying in a V formation. So cool to watch the swans land on ice!

These gray herons seem to have a nest near the windmill and they were staying close by.

And here are the old and new libraries just across from the park.

IKEA Digital Days

Pre-covid, Bryant’s big event would have been at an exciting international location. Instead he got to travel to a studio in Malmö where his game show style presentation was broad cast live to 5,000 people via the internet!

His segment was well- received, and he enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame. Plus he was able to see some other people irl for a change.

Here is an edited down excerpt from some of the sessions:

Luckily I’m an introvert or I would have been jealous. But it is too bad that we didn’t get to go somewhere fabulous…the last two years were Amsterdam and Shanghai! Instead I went on my usual walk, although this time I found a sunny spot to listen to a piano recital outside the University amphitheater.