go to northern scandinavia.

After our brief stop in Tromsø, we continued on to Abisko. After staying in the main scientific research station for a night, we took a helicopter ride up to Latnjajaure, our tiny field site. It’s only about a 3-4 hours walk, but we needed to bring food for almost three weeks up there, so hiking it up wasn’t a very good option. Plus, I had never been in a helicopter before! so that was a treat.

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I don’t know what to say about the work (it was the same? hard? confusing?), but our time at Latnja was amazing. There is an extensive hiking/trekking trail system in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland, so we were right on the path of one of the trails. We could hike off into the heath and up the mountains surrounding our station, or we could make huge loops on established trails. Both were lovely.

One day we even hiked to the nearby(ish) Låkta hut, where we ordered soup. Helen and I were getting pretty desperate after not having fresh vegetables, and luckily their soup of the day was cream of broccoli. I ordered a coffee, too. It was perfect. I was amazed to see that you could stay at the hut (without meals, of course) for just 40 SEK – incredibly cheap, way cheaper than any AMC hut in New England or a hut in Switzerland. In fact, there aren’t very many things at all that you can do in Sweden for SEK 40!

So: if the following slideshow doesn’t convince you to go plan a hiking trip to northern Sweden/Norway immediately, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

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Trøndelag.

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And so, one day, we left Svalbard.

It was sad, in a way, and it had its snafus. We went for one last hike; we drove the car back to the airport, stopping to fill it with fuel along the way but struggling for ten minutes to get the gas cap off. I laughed: what if we missed our flight because of the rental car gas cap?

And then we were off to Tromsø. It had been sunny, but chilly and blustery when we left 78˚N. We flew over the archipelago, seeing the many many glaciers we couldn’t see from town – Spitzbergen is covered 60% in snow (don’t quote me on that though).

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When we landed “down south”, it was t-shirt weather and the sun was hot. We had to pinch ourselves to remember that we were still far, far farther north than most people will go in their lifetime. Tromsø felt like the tropics.

Our friend Cecilie picked us up at the airport and brought us back to her house, where we also met up with our friend Nikoline. Then they drove us out of town to a favorite picnic spot along the fjord. In the back was Cecilie’s bassett hound, panting and shedding adorably.

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It’s hard to describe the sun in the north. I didn’t have a reason to because in Svalbard, it rarely shown. On those few days that it did, it was strong and bright and a joyous occasion.

When you’re merely in normal Scandinavia, the summer sun begins to dip at night. It might not get dark, but it’s not like noon, either. Sweden and Norway, especially in late summer, are encompassed in a glow of dusk – the sun resting at an angle on the horizon, bathing everything in its peculiar light. Amazingly, my camera did manage to pick this up.

We could have sat there for hours in the sun, all night, really. As it was we walked along the shore and the basset’s short legs took him to and fro. Sometimes he’d slip and almost fall, but he gamely scampered on, betraying no sense of the fact that he was not a dog built for anything but flat ground.

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Cecilie made us salmon burgers, the most delicious. And brownies, which we heaped with ice cream on top. She had found Helen her favorite new drink, a special ginger beer that we had never heard of before. The only thing better than the scenery in Tromsø was the hospitality. I really hope that I can offer Cecilie and Nikoline the same in return one day.

Helen and I had to catch a 6 a.m. bus to Sweden the next day, but Cecilie gamely woke up (despite not being a morning person!) and packed our lunchbox with not only lunch, but all the rest of the brownies. When we ate them in Narvik before switching to the train, I had rarely felt so spoiled in my life. Cecilie’s mother is American, so she knows how to make a real brownie.

And then we were off, traversing through the fjords and over the mountains. I had never thought much of northern Norway, but as the bus wound through the alpine landscape, I thought it might be my most favorite place ever. I wanted to jump off the bus right there and wander off into the heath, to climb over the bare rock hills.

It wasn’t just the Tromsø fjord that was so astonishingly beautiful; it was everything going East, too. I definitely have to go back some day.

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spring in Gotland.

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Over the last few weeks I have been lucky to receive some great visitors to Visby. First my mother came and now two other friends (one at a time!). It’s always amazing how sometimes you don’t do things or see the sights in the place you live until other people come to visit. Suddenly you feel you have to show them around, and you realize you don’t know how! So I’ve learned quite a bit about Visby and Gotland in these days.

It has also been nice because as tourist season approaches, more and more things are opening up, whether it is cafes and restaurants or the ruins of old cathedrals. This weekend I was able to finally go inside some of the ruins and man, they were incredible. So thanks to my visitors for finally getting me outside doing things (and eating some FANTASTIC food, as I rarely go out to eat by myself here in Sweden, $$$$).

When my mother was here we rented a car and ventured to the far north of the island, to Fårö, which is actually an island of its own. We took a small ferry across the channel (just a five minutes ride or something – in the U.S. they’d just build a bridge, but the ferry was great and I prefer it!) to the home of Ingmar Bergman. Confession, I have never seen a Bergman film. But I will have to now. Fårö is amazing. I don’t have much time to write, but here are a few pictures. Click to enlarge.

incredible Visby.

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When I moved to Visby, I was like, woohoo, this is pretty cool, it’s sunny and I live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I didn’t really figure out just how cool it was until this weekend, when instead of having to go to work (BORING, amiright?) I was able to explore a little bit.

I mean, there were hints. For instance, this is the street I live on:

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And the running isn’t bad here either. This is just a 15-minute jog from my house:

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But on Saturday, I packed my bag to head to the university for the internet (I don’t have it in my flat, meaning I spend a lot more time reading and listening to podcasts, which I’m quite happy about), and was determined to take the long route, camera in hand.

This is the other side of that city wall on my street:

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It was quite a lovely way to start a walk.

I usually always take the same route to and from the university. It takes about seven minutes, and there is one alternate route about the same length. So I’ve seen one side of the medieval part of the city. What I didn’t realize that rather than being, say, one half of the walled snclosure, it was actually just a fraction of it. The old city is much much larger than I had previously realized. The walls are very extensive. I explored them.

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And then, eventually, I went inside.

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Amidst the cobbled streets and the small, cute old houses, there is a ton of history here. I mean, no duh: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But I didn’t realize quite how much that meant. My corner of the city has mostly houses in it. This other side? There were the houses, but also a lot of much older things. There’s one cathedral which is maintained, beautiful, and still in use.

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There are many, many others which are unmaintained, beautiful, and not in use. Okay, unmaintained is not a fair characterization. They have been fixed up quite a bit. But they don’t have roofs. They are falling down, or rather they were falling down and have now been frozen in one point of the falling-down process, fixed at a certain amount of fallen-down-ness. Some have grass growing on what little roof remains. And they are open to go inside – but only from May through the summer, so I couldn’t wander in and look up at the sky through the roof of a church. In one, I took a photo through the gate barring my entrance.

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In short, I have accidentally landed in an amazing place. When my supervisor told me he worked in Visby, a satellite campus, rather than Uppsala proper… I was sad. I love Uppsala and my friends are there, and I was really sad to leave them. I had a good life there, whereas here I am almost completely solitary.

But I’m not at all sad anymore. This weekend I also took a long 2-hour run north of the city and ended up in some amazing nature areas, as well as just running along the rocky beach. This is a great, wonderful, amazing place. At least for now, I’m enjoying my solitude. Plus, I have visits from a couple of friends to look forward to, and my own trip to Portugal next week, and at least one if not more trips back to Uppsala to visit. I don’t think I’m going to be too lonely.

Final thought: paging Kate Mosse. I love southern France, but I think you could write a great book set here!

oslo.

I had a great time in Oslo the last few days! One of the best things was staying with my friend Knut, who is great company and also made sure that my stay was easy and fun.

Yesterday he headed out of the city to go see his mom, so my stay culminated in an end-of-season party at the venue last night which was really super fun. I am not feeling so hot this morning, but I’m in the Oslo airport and it has been pretty hilarious to see all the biathletes catching their flights out and looking at least as bad as I do. So instead of writing something, I’ll start by just posting a slideshow. The mass start race yesterday was really exciting and picturesque! Click to enlarge.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but Martin Fourcade turned the final roller into a jump and got some air on his way into the stadium! It was I think my favorite of the ways he has ever celebrated a win – more joyful, less egotistical bravado.

I like to call the last photo in the set “goodbye biathlon season.”

birken.

Well, this is not as exciting of a post as I was anticipating. I spent Friday evening waxing up my skis here in Lillehammer. Nothing fancy, just some HF7 and binder ironed in to the kick zone. After extensive consultation with Erik, who I am staying with, we decided that for the Birkebeiner it was impossible to tell whether it would be klister conditions or hardwax, so I packed a bag of goodies and figured I would wax once I got to the start and could scope out the situation.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to eat some yogurt, and Erik was up half an hour later and drove me to catch the 5 a.m. bus from Håkans Hall in Lillehammer to Rena with the Lillehammer Skiklub. I slept most of the way there and we arrived shortly before 7 a.m. I was set to start around 9 a.m.

As we got in the car in the morning, Erik had said something like, “just so you know, NRK was reporting that a meteorologist said there were such high winds that organizers should think carefully about whether they were going to send people over the mountains.”

You see, the Birkebeiner is not like the Vasaloppet – it is an extreme experience! The course climbs to almost 3,000 feet and spends a lot of time in the mountains. Bad weather there is not atypical. Participants have to carry a 3.5kg backpack to symbolize the weight of the baby in the old story the race is based on, but also because they must carry food, drink, an extra shirt, pants, jacket, and wax with them. Things in the mountains can get crazy.

Anyway, when we arrived in Rena we learned that the race had been delayed an hour so organizers could continue to assess the weather at the top of the course. I was somewhat dismayed because I hadn’t planned for this and an extra hour meant an extra hour of when I should be eating, only I didn’t really have any “extra” food, just what I had brought to tide me over to the normal start time.

After the hour of deliberating, though, the race was canceled completely. I was sad but at this point honestly I had sort of begun expecting it, so I didn’t feel quite as dismayed or furious as the Norwegian skiers around me seemed to be. We waited for everyone else to come back to the bus and headed back to Lillehammer. Erik picked me up back at Håkans Hall around 10 a.m. As I walked back in the door of the house, I told his daughter Greta, “it only took me an hour to ski back here! I won!”

All day she asked me whether I was really, really sad. I kept saying no. I mean, yeah, I was sad. I was really looking forward to the Birken. But this wasn’t the defining point of my season and honestly, while I feel a lot better than I did before the Vasaloppet, I’m still not very fit. Instead of racing, I have been hanging out with the Stange family and Erik and Emily have made sure that I have the opportunity to ski every day. It’s a different trip than I was envisioning when I hopped on the train, but it has been perfectly lovely in a different way.

Many Norwegians don’t feel the same way. I wrote a short article for FasterSkier summing up the controversy around the race cancellation, which you can read here. Wind gusts reached almost 50 mph and the wind chill was at -14, but there were windows of more okay weather and some people skied over the mountain anyway. They said it was fine, and that is what is pissing people off – the idea that maybe everything would have turned out okay.

As for me, I went for a pretty blustery ski today and was distinctly glad that I wasn’t racing, especially not in conditions that were significantly worse. Eh, well. You win some, you lose some, Norway.

I joked to U.S. biathlon coach Per Nilsson this weekend that I seem to be some sort of curse on races in terms of weather and snow conditions, and he wrote, “We see if it’s bad in Oslo, then you are not welcome to World Cup Biathlon anymore…”