Stockholm Narvik – a pick-me-up

Almost exactly a year ago, the 29/6 2013 we sailed with Dax from Keflavik, Island and started our Northwest Passage Expedition. I got to experience amazing things during a trip and getting back to “normal” life has not been easy. Abstinence was too excessive. Here is my story about how I get my “pick-me-up”.

    What to do with a longing to visit plains and barren landscape? I have one in me and I do not always know how to handle it. Now I decided, however, to travel up north, north of the Arctic Circle I wanted. It should generate a feeling in your body. So I decide to use my SJ Prio points and buy a journey by night train to Narvik. I want to see the Arctic Ocean again. The weather seems to be ok. I also booked B & B online.

    My fellow passenger named Peter Lindgren enters the compartment with his bags. He arrives with a delayed train from Jönköping which we waited out. I see a Canadian flag on one of his bags and ask if he had been in Canada.

    – I live there, he says, for 30 years in Vancouver.

He is actually from Lyxele and real name is Per Gunnar but PG did not work in Canada, he must always explain what the initials mean, so it had to be Peter instead. He’s a little awkward with how it works on board and says he has been riding trains only five times in his life. I explain how the alarm works because he must get off in Umeå. Peter pokes about in one of his bags and gets up a box with a picture of a man with a kind of red dot in the chest with yellow rays outside.
  – I have problems with heartburn, excuse himself, as if he feels the need to explain himself.

    Peter tells me how he ended up in Canada, but I still do not understand how it happened. It was something with friends who first went to the U.S. but did not get a residence permit, a visit to the Canadian consulate and an official who claims to only speak English but still seems to understand Swedish. It is strange that I do not get an understandable explanation – his presentation is completely incomprehensible but I do not care so much.

    The first part of the night becomes shaky. The track is bumpy and I am jerked here and there in my top bunk. Do my best to ignore the need to go pee and trying to sleep on. In the end, I give after and climb down my ladder and patter barefoot down the aisle in just my underwear off to the toilet at the end of the sleeping car.

    In Umeå Peter gets off. His wake up signal beeps for a while so I have to tell him that he should shut it off it with the button at the top end.

    Outside the train window firs and pines flows by. I love this country with its forests and mountains. It makes me calm to watch this and I get the urge to just roll around in the moss, to become one with the land and the trees, to unite the forest and marsh with my own body. Just do not know how it should be done. Will write a song about this later.

    The bread is finished in the dining car so I take pancakes instead. Eggs with caviar, orange juice, tea and yogurt I buy too. Talking to a young man opposite me on peatlands, forests, nuclear power and become enlightened about the city department planted Ginko trees along Hornsgatan in Stockholm. It’s really a conifer but recalls leafy tree and can pollinate itselve across huge distances. Have to get a closer look at the new trees when I’m back in town.

    Change of trains Boden where I jump on train 69 to Narvik which is already at the platform. Looking up my seat 34 but there is 35 and 33 but not 34. Very strange. Confused, I sit down on number 35 until I get me to check out mobile ticket again and can confirm that I have stepped into the wrong trailer. I continue back in the train and find my seat next to a lanky, pale young man with studded belts and cartridge bracelet. He has his luggage in front of his feet which he slowly moves away as I enter ifor my window seat. Thinking – why does he not put up his stuff on the luggage rack instead? The young is apparently listening to music in his earphones because he drums both his feet against the floor. If he continues I have to ask him to stop, I think. I dont have to – he does not hold for a long time and in Gällivare he steps off. During our mutual journey north he utters not a single word.

    I step out for a moment on the platform and watch hikers with their large rugsacks on thier backs probably on their way to Sarek. They just plowed down the aisle between the seats with their cups and boots dangling on the back. One or two passengers seated gets a slap in the head. A long iron ore train with its rusty wagons rolls by on the opposite track.

    Further back in the wagon sits another young man in a ghetto cap with large letters and talks incessantly on Pite dialect with a loud voice, probably drunk. He grinds on and ranting, clueless as to what the rest of the passengers are going through. Suddenly another passenger raises his voice and ask him to calm down. The Pite man continues with his silly talk and then the other passenger slamming bangs his palm down on the table between the seats.
   – Now you take yourself together!
Then the disturbing man reacts, excuses himself resentfully and silences – at least for a while until he takes up the cell phone and boasts on, seemingly unaware of what just passed.

    In Kiruna wind turbines are standing still. Kirunavaara slag heaps with their terraces silhouetted against the horizon. A bronze sculpture picturing a group of navvies on line carrying a piece of rail on their shoulders adorns the platform. After a break, the train continues and I can now see the sunlit snow-capped peaks to the north. As we approach the Abisko birches are taking over the scene from the previously dominant spruces. Nature becomes more dramatic and below us ripples Torne Lake. The drama increases as we approach Narvik. Steep mountainsides with foaming rapids and streams everywhere. It is so steep that I look down at them from above. To build on this stretch of the iron ore line must have been a challenging task.

    After a while it’s off down to the sea along the fjord. At the station I asked a woman for directions to Norumgården, my Bed & Breakfast.
  – Wow, it is far, surely takes twenty minutes, she says.
   – It’s cool, I answer.
She walks with me a bit pointing out the main direction. At half past seven, I enter the steep stairs to my room, called Jomfruburet. The room is nicely decorated in a romantic early 1900s. Cream ornamented furniture, crocheted bedspreads and a small chandelier. Black and White old portraits in small veneered frames on the walls.

    I’m hungry and head down on the town again to find a place to eat at. Amalia is a Portuguese restaurant. I take Bacalau a braz and a beer. Sitting alone on the terrace next to the war museum. The sun is blazing and it’s nice and warm in the face. I close my eyes and sip on my Nordlands Guld while waiting for the food. Oddly very few people in motion. You can hear live music from another nearby outdoor seating. A man comes out of the restaurant to smoke. He lights a cigarette, takes a few puffs, goes back and leaves the smoldering cigarette butt in an ashtray on the table beside me.

    Finishing the meal with Pedro Cake and coffee, pays and goes down towards the harbor. The sidewalks are poorly maintained and lean back and forth. Grass, dandelion and frog leaf penetrates the cracks in the asphalt. A stage and dance floor overlooking the harbor has seen its best days. Also the buildings look a little shaggy. Still, I like the environment. The city is framed by mountains all around. A ski slope with his bare ground is visible in the slope of Narviksfjellet. In the east, the fjord is opening up to the sea and Svolvaer. I’m looking up a viewpoint that is slightly higher with better overview. Looks a cargo ship at anchor in the bay. When I walk back to the hotel, the shadows are long and I hear tones from an electric guitar from somewhere. Cant manage to locate the source. The music is improvised and lyrical and thats what I like.

    I buy biscuits, cheese and apple juice in evening open Coop that I enjoy in the room while I listen to Eva Cassidy on the computer. Pondering over the fire escape, and if it is approved. I have only one way out and that is through the narrow steep stairs. No fire ladder is visible outside my window. Imagining if I would be able to hit the cushioning bushes below if I have to jump from the window.

    I wake up in the middle of the night, the sun’s beems into the room. A high cutting tone pumps on the outside, persistent and high pitched. I sit up in bed and have associations to air raid warning – has war broken out? After some time the noice dies out, sort of stifles and I fall asleep again. At breakfast, where all guests gather around the big table I find out what the sound during the night had been. There are ore train that brakes suddenly. Since there are 70 ore-filled cariages with 70 tons in each takes a while to stop the train. Traffic with ore shipments from Kiruna and Narvik run around the clock.

    Again a day with bright sunshine so I hike up on Narviksfjellet. First with the gondola lift and the last part by foot which takes about 40 minutes. The view is stunning but can not be captured on a picture which is often the case with beautiful views. You get a feeling which is not easily embraced in a picture, or at least is not pictorial. Taking the less steep way back down at the back of the top and lwhat on the way up challenged my fitness now give your leg muscles a matchW. A lousy lunch at the cafeteria before I take the cable car back down and walk to the War Museum to view artifacts from Narvik’s war history; torpedoes, rifles, machine guns, mines, stretchers, uniforms, maps and bandages.

    Tired body and tired brain as I lie down on the grassy spot with a fountain outside the museum and go to sleep on my back in the sun with playing families surround me. I wake up after an hour and head down to the harbor and LKAB’s field to try my photographic luck. I have seen the installation from the mountain, attracted by the different shapes and dilapidation.

    Feel like a mischievous schoolboy when I sneak into the area. Come to think of film Stalker. The environment is rough and gritty. There is ongoing demolition and new construction at the same time but since it’s Sunday, it’s not much movement. My goal is a powerful red volume with black concrete suports on the outside, probably a magazine for ore. It smells of diesel, creosote and wet dust. I’m not hiding but try to avoid contact with passing vehicles. Those who seem most disturbed by my presence are the seagulls making their flight atacks against me, crying and putting it on. They have their nests perched on the roofs of buildings along the quay. I might get some good pictures, do not know for sure until I examine them on the computer.

    Beer and burgers in the sky bar at the hotel Rica and then back to my accommodation. Turns the TV on, it’s football Costa Rica vs Greece. Turns off again as I feel little enthusiasm for the game. Instead i lay down with Knausgårds book My Struggle 6 on the crocheted bedspread and get carried away into the hypnotic prose.

    As my mom always do I bathe my face with water from the fjord. I taste it. It’s not extremely salty probably because of the proximity to the river which enters the fjord nearby. Thinking about this thing with my mom who always took the sea water in the face. She made it seem so obvious. So I do so now. On the beach sits a few young people in the municipality neon colored vests. They seem to have a lunch break from their community service and talking drinking stories.
   – Beer I drank once, it was disgusting, says one of the young women, it is dangerous to drink anything below 40 percent.

    Dog owners are making their rounds down to the water. A large golden retriever stop midst the youngsters and barks at them. The owner who just released on leash says – Come on! to the dog. The sun warms despite the northern wind. It is pleasent and I stroll up to the station. The train is already at the platform, and it is just to get on.

    In Boden, I wish to visit the dining car so I walk along the train on the platform. Jumps into the cart before to visit the restroom and when I turn back towards the bistro it is gone and the track is empty outside the door. A moment of confusion before I find out that they are replacing the dining car. Once it is plugged in and opened it turns out to be over 35 degrees inside – it has been standing all day in the sunshine. I buy a Seunerts Höga Kusten and potato chips. Share a table with, what appears to be a family. I write seems since they are talking to each other in such a non-familiar way. The young woman adresses them father and mother but the tone is that of colleagues who do not socialize as much. The mother speaks Danish and has bruises all over her eyes and scratch marks on his forehead. We are not talking to each other until I get up and say
  – Now I will seek out a place with more coolness. They laugh a little relieved and make way when I pass.

    When I get off the train in Stockholm, I note that the scent of sea ice and mountain flora from Narvik is replaced with the Central Station complex mix of bodily odors, perfume, coffee, detergent and dirt. I feel relaxed and refreshed after my trip and I take the subway to the office and meeting there with Skanska. Professional trivialities such as schedules, insulation thicknesses and socket design displaces my state of mind from the trip.

Finally a quote from Martin Buber – All journeys have secret destinations that the traveler is unaware of.


4 thoughts on “Stockholm Narvik – a pick-me-up

  1. Dirk

    Hej Richard, såg i kväll på ARTE TV resan om nordpassagen. Riktig utmaning och en avspegling av livet. Tack för vad du beskriver nu om tågresan som slutar med utsikt på Svolvaer. Jag har varit där med min fru. Hon är i himlen sedan juni 2013. Du reser för att vara ensam, jag är ofrivillig ensam. Är det inte märkvärdigt med livet. Guds vägar…

    1. richardnorthwest Post author

      Dirk. Beklagar att du mist din fru. Livets vägar ser minsann olika ut för oss. Jag har själv inte sett några avsnitt ännu från dokumentären men min avsikt med resan har nog inte varit att få vara ensam. Mer då att göra något annorlunda och samtidigt uppleva möten med människor. Däremot har jag inte något problem att vara med mig själv men då är det fråga om självvald ensamhet.

  2. Lise

    Hello Richard,
    Just watched the 10th, and very last, episode of “The Polar Sea.” Didn’t want it to finish… But, all good things comes to an end.

    Thank you for your honest perspective throughout this journey.


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