Sweden’s National Parks

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This Summer I took some time to explore some of the Swedish National Parks. Sweden has 29 National Parks, and around 4000 Nature Reserves.

Sweden has some of the oldest parks in Europe, and puts quite some effort in creating new areas, once in a while. Some of the parks are currently being renovated (new/improved infrastructures and accesses), and it’s a pleasure for me to know how well the tax money is applied.

Swedes naturally enjoy outdoors, and even in the coldest days, they will go outside to embrace the nature.

Some friends ask me if I don’t get bored in Sweden. Well, to be honest, you cannot get bored if you love outdoors. Kayaking, skiing, hiking, camping… Sweden has it all! Now, if you are a person that fancies shopping malls and crowded festivals, than you’d better not move to Sweden!

The National Parks differ quite a bit, whether in landscape (coastal, forest or mountain) or accessibility, meaning that some are easily reachable by public transportation, and some are so inaccessible to the point where there are no bridges, and you have to cross small streams.

On the website and at the entrance of each park, there is always information about what you can find in the park, and what you are allowed to do, or not. It’s impportant to always check this information before, to prevent unpleasant surprises/problems.

Besides that, there are already some phone applications available, with information on the different nature areas, for some regions.

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The Swedish Summer

Even though Southern European people think it’s a myth, they are wrong. But of course in the Northern part of the globe, we do not get 50 ºC temperatures – luckily – or we would die (since the sun never sets in the Summer, it would be extremely tiring). Not to mention the forest fires! More than half of the land in Sweden is covered by forest. There are already enough warnings about forest fires, since it can get incredibly dry.

The Summer in the Arctic is something between 20-28 ºC, with sunny, and never-ending days, and believe me when I say it: 28 ºC here feels a lot more than in the Mediterranean!

The most interesting fact about the Swedish Summer is not the weather itself, but what happens when it starts (or better saying, what does not happen!).

Every Swede takes around 6 weeks of holidays in the Summer. With a long and cold Winter, it’s easy to understand why. I’d rather not put all the eggs in the same basket, and split, the holidays in portions. It’s healthier, and in case the weather is bad, I still get a second chance!

The funny thing about this is that nothing happens in Sweden during these 2 months (road construction, medical appointments, passport applications, car maintenance…). If you have something you need to do during the Summer, you have to do it before, or after. Unless you get shot, or fall from a 12th floor, no one will be there to attend you! Even the airport is only working 50%! Yes, you have to see it to believe it! =P

In Southern Europe, there is the common belief that nothing can be left to do for the following week or month – people are even disrupted during the holidays to do something that “cannot wait”! Though it can be frustrating when one wants/needs to have somehting done during this period, everyone is entitled to have holidays in the best part of the year. And if that does not happen, you have to be compensated for that. Right?

It is weird, and sometimes it will drive you nuts (specially if you are working during the Summer, like me), but after some time, you get used to it, and learn how to plan everything carefully (even getting sick!) =)

Reindeer Races

In February I had the chance to drive my own reindeer sledge, and get the proper driver’s license.

Now I went to Finland (again!) to see reindeer races. I was searching for information online on this kind of events, and I found that there is a Reindeer Race Championship, held in Finnish Lapland, every year.

Even though the Sámi people are spread between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, different laws apply. Unlike Sweden and Norway, in Finland you don’t have to be a Sámi to own a reindeer (just because of that, I might move there!). So, this kind of events, is much more popular in Finland. Thus, they are intended for Finnish people, and all the information available (which is not much) comes in Finnish! Eventually, I could understand where the race was, and I decided to meet the racers before the race!

Whoever had the opportunity of riding/driving a reindeer, knows how frisky they can be. And they are much more stubborn than horses! These two make a nice combination for funny moments 🙂

The race takes around 2 minutes, and consists on a reindeer pulling a skiier. There are several categories and several stages, but only the 24 fastest reindeers go to the final in Inari, after 5 stages. Unlike the horses/dogs races, where people invest huge sums of money, and the animals are abused, the reindeer races are seen as a cultural event, to keep up the Sámi tradition.

For photographers, this is quite a nice event to take great shots, specially if they let you stay behind the finish line, like me 🙂

Life above the Arctic Circle

One of the best things of living on this location is enjoying the outdoors, and what comes with it – the amazing wildlife!

One might think that there’s too few animal species living on these latitudes, but it’s rather the opposite. They are just hidden (or abroad) for part of the year. The same applies to flowers and berries – I’m not so sure if there is more variety here than in Southern Europe, but when Spring comes, all the flowers suddenly blossom at the same time!

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit another wildlife park, this time in the Finnish Lapland. Ranua Park has been quite popular lately, since the bear cub came out of the den. It’s not common that polar bears can breed in captivity; in fact, Venus, the mom, had two babies, but one did not make it. The fact that the young cub has already turned 4 months old is a sign of success, and this has drawn hundreds of people to visit the little one.

Besides the bears, there are reindeers, muskoxes, wolves, moose, lynx, beavers, a series of prey birds and owls, amongst many more. And excellent opportunities for good shots (with the camera!).

The same kind of park can be found in Lycksele (Sweden) or in Bardu (Norway); both of them are worth a visit.

Who said Winter was boring?

Since driving my own reindeer on a race (Oulu), to hop on to a hot air balloon flight (Gällivare), and even swimming in the icy waters of the Gulf of Bothnia (Piteå), I have been trying a little bit of everything!

And you know what? I am not done – it’s amazing the amount of new experiences one can try in Lapland! You don’t even need to go that far!

Boring and never-ending Winter? No way! I barely have time to sit on my sofa =D

Habits from Sweden (that I picked and love so much), and the ones I will never get used to!

It’s interesting to see how we get used to new habits, so easily, and at the same time, are relentless to change others.

Here’s a list of the good things I learnt in Sweden:

  1. Leave your shoes outside (saves a lot on cleaning!).
  2. Measure time in weeks (fantastic!).
  3. Doing everything via mobile phone (from a bank transfer to booking an appointment at the doctor, or even filing the tax return).
  4. Going to the sauna, at least, once a week, and then, roll on the snow 🙂

And the ones I cannot understand:

  1. Having lunch at 10.45 and dinner at 17. Really? I don’t even understand it in Winter, let alone in the Summer, with the never-ending days.
  2. How much Swedes love these cakes called Semla – can anyone imagine bread and whipped cream mixed together? Blahhh…
  3. Drink the Swedish coffee, accept it as coffee, and pretend nothing else is better than that!
  4. Walking on the ice as if you were walking on the asphalt. I wonder how they do it – I’ve seen old people walking faster than me, without falling!

I love Swedes :)

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Some time ago, I came across this website, and I started listening to the podcasts. Not only they are extremely funny, but entirely true!

For all those asking me what it´s like to live and work in Sweden, if people really stay at home 18 months when they get kids, if it´s really true that you can take 6 or 10 weeks off… This and much more, here it is. I couldn´t say it better!

Västerbotten’s cheese pie

If I would have to pick a favourite food from Swedish cuisine, it would be this. Without a question!

When it comes to food, I’m picky. Besides not eating meat and seafood, there are still some more items I cannot stand. Luckily, one of the traditional foods in the region I live, is one of the best (or the best) in Sweden! And meat free 🙂

This pie, whose recipe can be found here, is really easy to bake, provided you have the main ingredient – Västerbottensost – (I heard some IKEA’s around the world sell it, otherwise, you can replace it by Cheddar, but I’m not so sure if it will be the same!).

After having tasted this pie in a number of occasions, I decided to bake my own, and I am, not at all, disappointed with the result!

It’s important to say that this cheese has been produced the same way since 1872, and only a few people have the secret for its recipe. Västerbotten’s cheese can only be produced in Sweden, and the small dairy, which produces annually around 140 000 cheeses, is located 50 km away from the place I live.

If you ever find this cheese on sale, give it a try. It is completely different from the other types of cheese!

2017

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Another year went by, another one comes in. It’s been 2 years since I moved to Sweden. It seemed I was packing just yesterday, yet a lot happened during these 730 days!!!

There have been many challenges along the way, but no one said life was easy. If I would have taken the same decision, based on what I know today? Definitely, yes! I only regret the things I don’t do 🙂

I want 2017 to be the turning point. The year I will become a fluent Swedish speaker. The year I will master cross-country skiing. The year I will go (even) further on my travel bucket list. The year I want to embrace all the opportunities I see lining up for me.

Happy New Year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die.

What is the purpose of life if we don’t step out of our comfort zone?

Winter Driving is…

  1. Never knowing what kind of road to expect. Icy, slushy or only wet? The water changes so much with the temperature, that each time you go for a drive, it’s a lottery. One day, it might be quite cold and the road is perfectly drivable, and on the following day, it starts snowing and the temperature suddenly reaches 0 ºC, and everything starts melting.
  2. Having to drive with both hands on the steering wheel! Yes, if it’s Summer, I will hand my left arm out of the window…
  3. Leaving a much longer distance between the car ahead of you.
  4. Avoiding the use of brakes; instead, using the gearbox is a much wiser decision. That’s why I would never have an automatic car, if I have to drive on icy roads! If you really have to brake, do it. Bear in mind, however, that not much you have trained before will help you on this moment of panic.
  5. Adjusting your speed at all times. Personally, I do not feel comfortable driving over 70 km/h, if it is snowing heavily, and visibility gets massively reduced.
  6. Being aware of certain areas, where you know, for sure, your car will slide: roundabouts and intersections packed with ice, some sharp highway exits…
  7. Not stopping if you are going uphill, but not speeding up, either. Your wheels will start spinning!
  8. Never overestimating your/your car capabilities. It might be the best car in the world, and you might be the most experienced driver, but things change when driving on snow/ice. Don’t get overconfident just because you have a 4WD. I’ve seen a lot of cars in the ditch, supposedly much safer than mine.
  9. Checking tyres conditions regularly. It might be the best Winter tyre, but if it’s worn out, it will only be good as a Summer tyre. Speaking of tyres, don’t get overconfident, just because you have studded tyres, instead of the friction ones.
  10. Assuming all other drivers are amateurs. Even if you never had an accident, there are very bad drivers on the loose. These people have no idea how dangerous their reckless behaviour is, and they should not even be allowed to leave home on a sledge.

Strange as it might be, I feel a lot safer driving in Sweden than in Portugal. In fact, even with good weather conditions, there are already more deaths in car accidents in Portugal than in Sweden. Swedish drivers are generally careful and patient, and know what it means to drive in Winter conditions.

In Sweden, it is mandatory to have a “Winter Driving Course” when taking the driver’s license. Besides that, if you have to drive as part of your job, you will take part on one of these sessions, to get some knowledge/practice on this subject.

Apart from all this, I keep a thermal blanket in my car, and some chocolates, excluding all that Winter paraphernalia one must have on the trunk. Just in case.

In addition to all these dangers, driving on a snowy road is a great pleasure! You just have to get used to it 😉