You leave Stockholm in the morning, and enter again the E4 highway that passes through the whole Sweden from Helsingborg to Luleå, up to the Finland border. Sky is cloudy, sometimes rainy. Beyond Uppsala the street lanes reduce to only one for each sense, this kind of “fast country road” is the main route of all central/northern Sweden. It is almost never traffic congested, literally: you meet just few cars on the way. Often you see damaged cars on the side of the road: nothing serious, except an overturned articulated truck carrying logs with ambulances, firemen etc. Remember to drive carefully, and keep on being concentrated. By the way, you are always concentrated when you travel with the kids, not only when you drive. Maybe a little bit too much, as no time remains for yourself: you do not even have time to read. It’s just like sailing across the sea, there’s always something to do: cooking, cleaning clothes, tidying up the van, studying the route for the next day. It’s allright: that’s what you were looking for: in return there’s the world that flows out the car windows, the silence and total solitude in the night dusk, when the kids sleep and you smoke a cigarette,
the hot coffee in the morning as you awake first, and above all, that infinite sky above you all.
The same sky that suddenly opens, as you pass over the terrific suspension bridge that leads to Höga Kusten, that means High Coast, a Unesco World Heritage area that hosts some of the most beautiful landscapes you expected to see in this trip: green perfect meadows, dark thick forests, still ponds reflecting the red painted houses, each of them with its own little dock for the rowboat, fishing villages facing the calm sea…
You stop in one of these villages, Norfällsvikens, and place in an original Swedish camping: it means almost desert, in the middle of a forest, with a lot of facilities totally free! A thousand red houses host kitchenettes, dining rooms, verandas on the sea, kids recreation rooms, reading rooms, saunas… And the price is definitely INEXPENSIVE!
While you heat up some ragout sauce a fox comes out of the woods and approaches the camping site. It looks like a dog’s puppy, with big and nervous eyes. You eat a generous plate of Maccheroni and goodnite.
The following day you wake up under the rain. You all feel so lazy, therefore you pass the day enjoying all those famous facilites: the kids study a little, you clean the van, pick raspberries and blueberries in the woods under the gentle rain, you even take a little nap in the afternoon. And, last but not least, you take everybody to have a gorgeous sauna with a view on the foggy sea.
You wake up early and have a rich breakfast (especially you, with loads of cinnamon sweets) and drive to the near Skuleskogen national park. A reindeer/elk/deer/thingwithantlers crosses the road while you get to the small parking area. You wear raincoats, take the backpacks with the food and get into the wild.
The forest is made by three levels of vegetations: above all the Swedish pines as a roof that prevents the rain to reach the ground; than a layer of medium height trees, firs and birches, and finally the lower part, made of ferns and bushes (inevitably raspberries and blueberries…). The ground is covered by lichen and musk, from time to time crossed by creeks and swamps, that you easily pass using wooden boardwalks. Everything is surrounded by total silence, you just meet a couple of guys on the way (as when you walk on the mountains, here too there is the famous law “we all love and greet each other”; only, here when you meet somebody in the forest it’s natural to say hello), while the path gets more arduous and passes through fields of red and green granite stones, typical in this area. The girls start complaining: they are tired and hungry. You stop and eat the sandwiches you prepared, and barely succeed convincing them to go ahead with the walk: not for long, actually, after another hour they stop and refuse to continue. You prepare a small camp lying a towel between the rocks, give them water, food and a card deck and leave them alone in the forest as Hänsel and Gretel. Actually, there is just a quarter of an hour to the end of the path, but it’s a little game after all:
you and Mitia quickly walk through the last part of the route, that leads to a dramatic crack in the rock (it’s a lively telluric area, it grows 8 mm per year) that is the Skuleskogen highland. After a while you get back to the “camp” to take the two poor orphans, that don’t look upset at all, and merrily ate the whole muffin box. Great. You reach the camping tired but happy: after dinner it’s sleeping time, the day after you are going to leave again. Destination: Luleå, the gates of Lapland.
During the night, a cold wind wipe out all the clouds from the sky, that the following day is clear, the air is sparkling and fragrant as it is on the mountains. You have a quick breakfast and then you leave. The road twists and turns along the usual beautiful Swedish landscape, woods, meadows, ponds, now the houses are made in raw wood, with the walls slightly inclined. The van proceeds quietly along the road, while you listen to a radio drama based on a popular Italian comics, Tex, even more grotesque than the original. The western setting is grotesque, full of funny incongruities (we are in the Far West, there is a medieval castle and they talk about “savana”!); you are all amused by the routine of fixing each and every problem, according to the actors words, with “hot lead“. Obviously from now on it will be the leit motiv of the travel:“Can we stop for a while? I need to go to the toilet” “Again? Maia, we stopped a quarter of an hour ago” “Dad, nothing a little hot lead can’t fix!”, and so on…
You meet just a few cars along the way, until yu get to Luleå, the last “big” city before the Finland border. You settle in a camping just outside town, here too huge spaces hosting just a few camping vans. You buy fresh local salmon at the supermarket, and you roast it and serve with potatoes. The morning after Emma awakes with a swimming pool desire. Emma has always been this way: sometimes she wakes up with a compelling desire, often of something absurd and totally out of context, something she pulls from the hat as a rabbit unexpectedly. It’s not some kind of childish whimsy, those are different. In this case instead it’s something full of glee and enthusiasm, you can’t resist: it’s a side of her character you love so much. “Swimming pool: so be it!”
The swimming pool you go to is more than an exquisite architectural object, with elegant and well finished interiors, and a special attention toward the relationship with the external spaces and the natural light, so delicate at these latitudes. It is almost desert, except for some old men that gently smile as your noisy kids dive into the pool. You are thoughtful: you already saw this place, those steps in colored mosaic tiles, the wall covered in wood, the high steel railing. You have a sudden doubt: you ask to the lifeguard, and the answer confirms your thought. Now, let’s see if somebody recognize this place: it’s not difficult, a famous scene of a famous movie was shot here.
In the afternoon you visit Gammelstad, another Unesco World Heritage: XXVII century church town, built around a majestic church, once the center of Luleå, before it was moved at a lower level to follow the natural growing of the ground (yes, it’s funny: there is a part of Sweden that grows like a primary school pupil).
A stream of red houses, of every shape and dimension; it reminds the Truman Show town, but here everything is real and inhabited. You return to the camping, while the girls play and Mitia studies you write these lines on the Iphone.
Tomorrow it’s time to leave again, destination Rovaniemi, the final milestone. You don’t expect much from the city, reconstructed after the WWII bombings; after all it represents just a name for you: a geographical place, the turning point. And who cares about Santa etc., none of your kids believes in Santa Claus anymore, except Maia (and even her is not that sure anymore…).
You didn’t came up here for Santa, or to see the reindeers. You came here because you had an appointment: with me.