Trips in 2013: Norrland.

Day 1 (Saturday).

To pick up where I left off, we left Kalmar on Saturday morning and headed north to Stockholm, a distance of about 410 kilometres. Once there we checked into our hotel and then we headed downtown for a couple of hours. The weather was lovely and the city was as beautiful as ever... I really want to go to Stockholm more often, once a year isn't nearly enough.

In the evening we had dinner at the hotel with our fellow travellers. As you might recall this trip was an arranged bus tour and I've been on a handful of those before, most recently the one to Spain last summer. While I certainly don't love all those hours spent on buses I think it's a convenient way of travelling to a new place for the first time - you get to see the highlights and don't have to do a whole lot of planning yourself. A common myth is that only the elderly go on these kinds of trips, but that hasn't been the case for me in the past. However, this time around, maybe because it was a trip within Sweden, all of our fellow travellers were like 75. All of them, except this one woman who travelled with her mother. That was quite a letdown, not because we had expected to make any friends for life on this trip or anything, but it would have been nice if someone had been closer to 40 than 80 you know? Needless to say, we decided early on to keep to ourselves as much as possible.

Day 2 (Sunday).

On Sunday morning we left the capital behind and headed north to Örnsköldsvik, about 530 kilometres away. The highlight of the day was crossing the magnificent Höga Kusten Bridge. We reached our destination in the early evening, checked into our hotel and rather than join our fellow travellers for dinner we went for a walk around the city centre and had dinner on our own in the harbour.

Day 3 (Monday).

This was the only time we were to spend more than one night at the same hotel, and Monday was dedicated to exploring The High Coast area. While the rest of the group went on an outing organized by the bus company (that you had to pay extra for) we rented a car and drove around on our own, taking in the unique scenery. Among other things we enjoyed the beautiful view from the mountain above Örnsköldsvik, visited the two quaint little fishing villages of Skeppsmalen and Bönhamn, went for a walk on the cliffs around the Skag lighthouse, visited the round church in Själavad and learned more about the High Coast area at the visitor centre of the Skule Forest nature reserve. This is definitely an area I wish to revisit some day.

Day 4 (Tuesday).

On Tuesday we left our hotel in Örnsköldsvik and continued our journey north to the little town of Arvidsjaur, 380 kilometres away. We got there in the late afternoon and once we'd checked into our hotel (the nicest one so far, complete with a warm indoor pool) we travelled another hour to the Båtsuoj Sámi centre where we got to learn about the Sámi culture and way of life and enjoy some traditional Sámi food for dinner. Oh, and see some reindeers of course. Something we didn't see much of were mosquitoes - everyone warned us that Norrland is filled with mosquitoes bigger than you've ever seen, but as it turns out they're mostly gone by August. We didn't put on mosquito repellent a single time during this trip. So if you want to explore Norrland free from those awful creatures, August (or later) is the time to go.

Day 5 (Wednesday).

Before noon on Wednesday we went for a walk around Arvidsjaur. We visited the town's pretty church and the most famous attraction - the Sámi village called Lappstaden. It has never been a permanent settlement but is a so called church village where the Sámi would stay when they came into town to attend church, since they had to travel such long distances to do so. The traditional huts date back to the late 18th century but are still used by their owners during Storstämningshelgen, a Sámi festival that takes place during the last weekend of August.

In the early afternoon it was time to leave Arvidsjaur and head south again, this time by train rather than by bus. We travelled on the Inland Railway Line down to Östersund, a distance of about 450 kilometres. It was a long journey of about eight hours, but the view made up for it. I wish I'd been able to take more photos from the train to show you how beautiful it was (the same goes for the time we spent on the bus, but I obviously couldn't take any good photos through the window while we were in motion). Every once in a while the train made longer stops so we could buy food and snacks (there is no restaurant onboard the train).

By the time we reached Östersund it was already nine o'clock in the evening. Our bus picked us up at the station and took us straight to the hotel where we had a (very) late dinner. Per and I opted out of dessert because it was getting so late (and waiting until the whole group had finished dinner and been served dessert would have taken another hour). When we went to pay for our drinks the waitress kindly asked if we wanted to bring our dessert up to our room instead, an offer we obviously didn't turn down :)

This was actually the nicest hotel we stayed at so it's unfortunate that we got to spend the shortest amount of time there.

Days 6 & 7 (Thursday & Friday).

On Thursday we left Östersund already at eight in the morning and travelled the 560 kilometres south to Stockholm. At this point we were getting quite tired of travelling so it was a relief when we finally reached Stockholm in the evening and got to check into our hotel (the same one that we stayed at during the first night). Per and I headed downtown to have dinner with my good friend Jenny who we hadn't seen in almost a year.

On Friday it was time to go back home to Kalmar again. We came home feeling quite exhausted and to be honest not at all up for going back to work on Monday (although of course I can't think of any circumstances under which I had been excited to go back, ugh).

In conclusion...

We've both greatly enjoyed seeing more of the vast and wild land that we live in and hope to go back to Norrland within the not too distant future. We have travelled a distance of about 2,700 kilometres through 12 of Sweden's 25 provinces, 9 of which I had never been to before. Here's a map of our journey with the stops we made:

Above all this trip has showed me that Norrland isn't as inaccessible as I used to think. It has become a real place rather than just some far away place I've heard about in geography class. Norrland might not be all that different from the rest of the country in certain ways, but in many important ways it is. The air is fresher, the nature is grander, the landscapes are wider, the pace is slower. I am so grateful that I finally got the chance to experience (a part of) it for myself.

Around here: The last Sunday of August.

I tell myself that it's still summer and try to ignore the signs that autumn is coming but I can't deny that we no longer open the balcony door to let in fresh air as soon as we get home and that I find myself neglecting the flowers out there. It's true that we sleep with the bedroom window closed and turn on the window lights in the evenings. I know that we've stopped bringing swimwear and towels with us when we go outside and that I am starting to feel less drawn to my bright flowery dresses. It's still warm but somehow I suddenly can't resist the allure of the cozy sweaters and woolen scarves that seem to fill every store. When I see the deep shades of green, plum, navy and red I can't help but picture candlelit evenings, warm blankets and movie nights and bright leaves everywhere I go. I can almost sense that crispy autumn air.

Every year it bothers me that summer seems to end so suddenly, one day I wake up and it's autumn and summer has left without giving me the chance to say goodbye. I crave closure, a clear break. Today is summer, tomorrow is autumn. I want to know when I go swimming for the last time that it is in fact the last time. I want to know that it's the last barbecue of the year when I'm actually having it. I want to know that it's the last time I'm wearing that particular summer dress this year. Sure, I might remember all the lasts, but I feel like I would enjoy them more if I knew at the time that they were lasts. I guess the lesson here is to always make sure I enjoy each moment as if it were the last time, so that's what I'm trying to do this time around.

With that in mind, today, I went to the park where it still feels very much like summer and soaked up some sunshine and marvelled at the amount of flowers still in bloom...

Trips in 2013: Leaving for Norrland.

Today we leave for Norrland. As I've mentioned before, it has been a dream of mine for a long time to visit the northern part of Sweden, and I think this trip will be a good start. The furthest north I've ever been before is Sälen where I went skiing at the age of eleven, and that is only 650 km away from here. This time we will go as far as Arvidsjaur, 1,300 km north of Kalmar. This is our itinerary:

Arvidsjaur isn't even nearly as far north as you can go, it's another 500 km or so before you reach Sweden's northenmost point. It never ceases to amaze me how long this country is. (Oh and I know these distances are nothing to you Americans haha.)

In any case, we will be back home on Friday. I hope it will still feel like summer down here by then because I am not ready to let it go just yet, and I know Norrland is going to be colder than here.

Around here: Staycation.

Since we came back from Barcelona last Friday we've had a bit of a staycation while waiting for our second trip that starts on Saturday. We hadn't made that many plans for this week beforehand and we've just enjoyed taking the days as they come. We've gone hiking in the forest, swimming in the lake, visited the parents and been treated to lovely meals but also done practical things like cleaning the apartment and shopping. Today we went blueberry picking in the forest of my childhood and of course the day ended with a homemade blueberry pie. There's enough blueberries in the freezer for four more pies, and I even saved some for tomorrow's breakfast.

Yesterday afternoon we took the opportunity to visit the Krusenstiernska Garden which is located just a five minute walk from here. We walk past the red walls that surround the garden several times a week but we had never gone inside before. It is such a beautiful place, especially at this time of the year when its filled to the brim with brightly coloured flowers such as these:

In previous years I've done my best to avoid such downtime during my vacation, preferring to have each day planned out well in advance, fearing that my precious vacation days would go to waste otherwise. However, I think this vacation (so far) has been a nice mix. I wouldn't want to spend more than one week of vacation like this, at least not as long as we live in an apartment in the city. I imagine that it would be different if we had a house to work on or our own garden to hang out in. It would also take me further away from work geographically. As it is it makes me a bit uncomfortable to be so close to the office on days off; it's too close for comfort and I feel like I should be there rather than at home "being lazy". Fortunately I have been able to put those thoughts out of my head most of the time this week.

Tomorrow we're heading down to Karlskrona to visit a few places we missed out on when we went there last summer, and then on Friday it's time to pack for the next great adventure :)

Trips in 2013: Barcelona.

To pick up where I left off, we left for Barcelona on Monday evening. I am very anti-Ryanair in general but they currently fly from Kalmar to Girona and I couldn't deny that being able to travel from our tiny airport rather than travel those four hours to Copenhagen first would be incredibly convenient. We were up in the air little over an hour after we caught the bus to the airport from where we live! Three hours later we landed in Spain and caught the bus to central Barcelona and from there we took a taxi to our hotel. We marvelled at how incredibly short the journey was, especially compared to our last trip abroad.

Tuesday started with a delicious hotel breakfast and then we headed into the city centre to begin the sightseeing. As you might recall I went to Barcelona briefly last summer so it wasn't all new to me, which made getting around easier and I had an idea of which sights I wanted to revisit and what I'd missed out on last time. We braced the 30 degree heat and walked from the top of La Rambla to the harbour where we had paella for lunch and did some shopping. On the way we spent some time exploring the La Boqueria market that I missed last time and it was just as incredible as I'd heard - all that fresh fruit and everything else you could think of.

In the harbour we found something really cool, namely the location of the high diving discipline of the 2013 World Aquatics Championships. This wasn't cool because we care about the competition in general as much as because Per had been watching the men's competition just before we left for the airport the previous day (mostly because there was nothing else on). Little did we know then that we'd find ourselves in that very location in real life less than 24 hours later.

Once we left the harbour we walked to the Parc de la Ciutadella that I went past last year but didn't get a chance to visit. It was really pretty, but by then we'd had enough of the heat so we didn't stay very long before we caught the metro back to the hotel.

Our hotel wasn't in the best location but it was just a short walk away from the metro as well as a huge shopping centre, so we didn't mind so much. The mall was a great place to escape from the heat and we spent quite a bit of time there. Our hotel had a rooftop pool that we made sure to go swimming in, and the view from the pool area on the 10th floor certainly wasn't bad.

On Wednesday we went on one of those hop-on-hop-off tours of the city. Per wanted to go because he'd never been on one and I figured it would be a good way to get to the main sights. It was terribly warm on top of the buses so we didn't stay on for the whole tour though.

One of our stops was the Sagrada Familia church because of course you can't go to Barcelona without seeing it. Just as last year the area around the church was terribly crowded, and the line to get into the church was ridiculous! Thank goodness we weren't interested in seeing it from the inside.

We also visited Park Güell which I loved just as much as last year. I hoped I'd get to see a bit more of the park than I did last time, but it was just too warm to stay out in the sun for very long. Walking to the park and back to the bus stop was exhausting enough.

By Thursday we knew better than to venture outside during the warmest time of day so we spent a good few hours exploring the mall and did quite a bit of shopping. I found the selection pretty overwhelming now that I am used to the limited shopping that Kalmar has to offer lol.

Late in the afternoon we went back to the Montjuïc hill that we'd visited briefly the previous day. We took the driver-less tram (an experience on its own for someone who finds public transport systems as fascinating as I do) and then got on the Montjuïc Cable Car. The view from the cable cars was amazing and we agreed that going on it was the thing we enjoyed the most about our stay in Barcelona. We got off at the Montjuïc Castle station and walked around it for a bit, taking in the panoramic views of the city and the harbour. It was so nice up there, far less crowded than central Barcelona and by then the sun had sunk lower in the sky so it was really pleasant outside. Later in the evening we did brace the crowds again though when we went to look at the Magic Fountains of Montjuïc, another sight you shouldn't miss if you go to Barcelona.

On Friday we went back to the mall again and then it was time to check out of the hotel and make our way back to the airport. The trip went smoothly and we were back in Kalmar by seven in the evening. All in all I enjoyed the trip and I'm glad we went, but I do think it must be better to explore Barcelona in the autumn or spring when it's less warm. I don't mind crowds so much, and lord knows Barcelona is filled with them, but in combination with the extreme heat it got to be a bit too much. I am quite happy to be back in little Kalmar and the far more enjoyable 25-degree heat for the time being, but I do hope I get the opportunity to go back to Barcelona again someday.

Outings: A sunny day on Öland.

Another beautiful warm and sunny Sunday, how did we possibly get this lucky? This summer keeps surpassing my expectations. Vacation at last and the second Sunday in a row completely free from work-induced anxiety. Sunflower fields, wearing my new dress, a long carefree drive around the island listening to our summer soundtrack, discovering new places outside the beaten path, swimming in the sea that is finally warm enough to stay in for more than a few minutes, soft icecream covered in chocolate, colourful flowers and bumblebees and smoked salmon and potato salad for lunch... In short, the epitome of a perfect summer day ♥

PS. I take so many vertical/portrait photos lately when I used to take only landscape/horizontal ones. It's a phase.