Norway & Sweden By Van – Part 2

Last time I blogged, we were as far north as we’d be able to make in Norway on this trip. Even though Geiranger was very touristic and busy it was a worthwhile visit. We stayed at a camping for one night, as finding free showers in Geiranger was pretty much impossible, and then moved on the next day.

The drive out of Geiranger was gray and rainy, luckily we’d done the Dalsnibba view two days earlier. The rest of the day was uneventful, though we did come across an inspiring brochure that pointed us to our goal for the next day: the Dovrefjell national park.

Our first stop the next day was the Snøhetta viewpoint, named “World Building of the Year” in 2011. Despite being fairly busy it was enjoyable pause after the extremely windy (but short) walk up to it. Near the viewpoint, a Norwegian man pointed out some Muskoxen (which the Dovrefjell park is famous for), far away on the mountains and borrowed us his binoculars. They were so far away I could barely catch them on photo, but I’m glad we at least saw them. He didn’t seem to tell anybody else around about them, just us, so we felt pretty honored.

We went for another hike, near Kongsvoll, after that, but alas, saw no more Muskoxen. We spent the night on a little road, thinking we’d be alone, but 2 hours later, 3 different campers had manouvered in alongside us. Even though we moved away from Geiranger and the super-obvious tourist spots, things can still get busy in Norway…

We don’t always get amazing days, it felt like we lost steam a bit after some of the amazing highlight of the previous weeks. Especially on rainy, gray days, with no clear plan the day can feel a bit dull. Drinking coffee and playing boardgames inside the van only lasts so long to keep my spirits up. By then we were also on a bit of a schedule, various of my Swedish friends had gotten in touch and invited me over, the first one to visit was Jimi, who just moved to Stange in Norway. While it was good to have a goal, it does take some of the freedom out as we now had to move in a specific direction, as opposed to the first weeks where it felt like we had masses of time and could go as slow as we wanted in any direction.

In general, finding good free camping spots in Norway was not as easy as I thought it would be. Many small roads are private or require toll, as they lead to mountain hut/holiday house areas for rich Norwegians. There aren’t many roads in general, and when there are, people tend to live there so we prefer not to camp nearby. This spot took 20 minutes of driving on gravel roads between fields and forests, it felt like the middle of nowhere, yet cars would still pass by every 15 minutes while we had dinner.

Before getting to Jimi’s place, we had some time to waste, so I took Jolien to the abandoned sawmill area i’d found two years ago. It felt a bit strange to retrace things like that 2 years later, but we’d be doing more of that in the next weeks anyway. The place had changed a bit, it was cleaned up more near the beach and marina, though the abandoned tracks and buildings were still there in the same state. Even though I don’t mind seeing an interesting place again, I often don’t feel too inspired to take (the same) pictures again. After some kayaking and berry-foraging we headed to Jimi, where a free shower was repaid by cooking him dinner.

The next day, with little rain and clouds, our spirits were lifted again. Norway became flatter, less rugged as we approached the Swedish border. We had a little tight moment where the B-road we followed all of a sudden ducked under the railroad with 2.9m clearance (my van measures about 3, without the kayak), and retracing would have taken ages. The sign didn’t turn out very accurate as we could fit under those 2.9 meters with some space to spare.

It was cool to cross the border in such an inconspicous place in the middle of nowhere, as we were heading for one of my favorite abandoned places.

Båstnäs is honestly one of the most amazing places I know. I’m talking from a perspective of someone who was a strong “Rust Obsession” though. Luckily Jolien, who was teasing me a bit about where we were heading before, got very inspired by the place as well. We spent the whole afternoon running around, photographing, flying and filming the area.

Contrary to last time, when I went there on a gray spring day, this was a sunny summer day, plants and trees were in full bloom, and we got some perfect light as the sun was setting. I also tried to focus on capturing some different angles from last time. This place is just so vast and photogenic that I had no trouble shooting things again.

One worrisome development I noticed, is that pretty much every single VW T1 and T2 bus had been cut up and had it’s most valuable parts removed. I’m pretty sure nobody actually paid for taking those parts (the owners are dead or in a retirement home). I guess that’s a dark side of the popularity of #vanlife pictures featuring classic VW busses; their value has skyrocketed, meaning there’s even money in stealing scrap VW’s. It doesn’t make sense to me though: there were plenty of Ford Taunus Transit (my van’s ancestor) wrecks around in similar condition, and I think they look just as charming as a VW Kombi, yet they were all untouched by the angle grinders of the scrap-raiders…

The next 24 hours rain showed up again for most of the time, and we were mostly occupied with finding an affordable camping (we went to one that insisted we buy an annual subscription, doubling the price, something that pissed me off way more than it should according to Jolien) and drying laundry inside the van while it was raining. We took off late and found a good spot next to a lake, with a beach. Sweden really turned out much more relaxed when it comes to finding a place to wild camp. No signs anywhere that prohibit camping, many more small roads that lead nowhere, no hordes of other RV’s on the road vying for the same spots, and so on. And maybe the Swede’s nature of avoiding confrontation means they all prefer not to confront us to tell us to move along if it bothers them? Either way, while Sweden is less spectacular, both me and Jolien found it more relaxing to go around in by van.

The next day we eventually headed for a limestone quarry where we could supposedly see an old rusty digger. It all turned out a bit more complicated, getting in and finding the digger, as the quarry was still in use. We didn’t find the digger, but there was a cool area with a car wreck and some other junk that had been submerged. Jolien was a bit annoyed by all the climbing and walking (without finding much), way more than she should be according to me, but I guess we all have bad days!

Stora Sunby slott and it’s hunting grounds provided our secluded camping spot of that day. We even saw plenty of dear on the hunting reserve the next day.

The next day, after the slight disappointment of the Forsby limestone quarry, we headed on to another spot that used to be connected to the quarry. Limestone was brought from Forsby to Koping by cable-way, in buckets with 1.2 tonne of limestone each, over a distance of about 42km. The cable-way would cross roads, forests and even a large lake. The whole thing is a Swedish invention and actually quite neat to see. I noticed it when driving to Karlstad 2 years ago, passing under the cable-way where a net protects the road from potential falling limestone. The whole thing was decommissioned in 1997 and demolition has started a few years ago, but there’s still plenty of artifacts left over the 42km-long tract.

Malmberga substation lies about three-quarts along the way to Koping and is a station where buckets would switch to a different set of cables, being driven from sets of motors inside the station. It was manned by about 3 people, whom I guess used to live in those 3 houses nearby. This station will be spared from demolition so I read.

Where the quarry wasn’t that great, the substation was very well preserved and really interesting to see. Manuals from the old 80’s computer system where still there, an old Caterpillar bulldozer used for pulling cables was hidden in a shed, and so on. Very cool!

The next days we drove from Eskilstuna, to Uppsala, to Stockholm. Weather was good, we took it easy and again found some really nice spots. Turns out Swedish “Badplatser”, bathing areas, are often very well suited for camping out; there’s often a toilet alongside the swimming!

After a BBQ with old friends Essi and Petter in Uppsala, who took great care of us and even invited some more old friends of mine, we headed to Stockholm where I went enduro-riding with Christian (who was along in Sweden last year too) and Carsten (Who has helped me out countless times). This made me realize even more how I miss Sweden; I’d be out every weekend doing this, polishing my enduro-riding skills if I still lived there…

For Jolien’s last real night in Sweden before she flew home to start a new job, she wanted another “perfect” evening in the wilderness. Perfection according to her, involves golden sunshine, beer, water to swim and kayak and very few people around. Thankfully, I knew a spot, which amazingly had very few people or buildings around on the isle of Rindo. Just lots of ferries passing by the Oxelosund, but that didn’t bother us much!

Jolien flew home after us having spent a few days in and around Stockholm, with me showing her around my old hometown and meeting old friends. My sister Eva still lives there, and after seeing the finish of my van in spring, she exclaimed she would even be up for trying vanlife out for herself a bit. So we came up with a plan, to see some of central Sweden for a few days before I drove back to Belgium.

“Vanlife = equal parts horrification and fascination” – Eva, 2017.

She did have a really good time out in nature; not having a car and spending almost all of her time in the city, being in the forest was fun for a change.

Eva did a great job with preparing where she wanted to go: her dream was to visit the Dalarna (“the valleys”) region, northwest of stockholm. It’s famous for those little red horses that have become a symbol of Sweden. She wanted to go to the original place where they started making them, and buy her own. We cam across world’s biggest Dala-horse on the way there, in Avesta.

Again we found a great spot to camp, near a bathing area. Hilarity ensued when Eva insisted she had to shower, even braving experienced travellers me and Jolien in utilizing my rooftop shower (which we always find too cold to use).

Before we got there we stopped at the famous Falu-mine, once the biggest mine in the world, accounting for a huge percentage of Sweden’s income, back when it was a powerfull warmongering nation. The visit of the mine was not cheap, but both me and Eva found it well worth it.

When we finally got to Nusnäs, home of the original Dala-horses, Eva got to buy her own wooden horse, after years of dreaming. Me, I prefer Dala-pig, but they weren’t selling any examples small and affordable enough for me to bring home…

On the way back we did a little hike to an impressive lookout tower near Bjorsos, to then finally head back to Stockholm.  Eva was really happy with the trip, and I’m glad we got to see this part of Sweden. I hope it inspired her to get out and explore things more!

After some final friend visits and a yearly shopping-spree at Biltema, I spent 3 boring days on the motorway heading back home. Sleeping near the beach of Ishoj in Denmark was nicer than the standard motorway stop I usually do though. And that wraps up two whole months in Scandinavia, probably my fifth summer in Scandinavia in a row…

Here’s the map with the route. Blue is with Jolien, Red is with my sister to Dalarna.

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