Summer holidays in Sweden are a time to look forward to… unless you want something done (you need to contact a government organisation or want to swim at the local pool for example (yes, most swimming pools close here in summer, something I found absolutely odd but now understand)) because almost no one stays in the city. Summer holidays are so anticipated (infact, I think that just applies to summer in general) that almost everyone takes weeks (plural) off work at this time. So work places become vey quiet and calm, morning and evening traffic jams cease to exist, as too do the road tolls for driving into the city – they get swtiched off for the main holiday period because so few people stay in the city.
This year M and I took a 2 week holiday at the start of August, which is getting kind of late in the summer season, but still doable. We had been talking for a long time that we wanted to drive up to the north of Sweden, but as it is such a long way, we figured we needed at least 4 weeks. After saying this for the last couple of years, we just decided to do it, because obviously we were never going to have 4 weeks off in a row at the same time. When one looks at the map below, Sweden probably doesn’t look like that long of a country to travel through, but to give you some idea, driving from Stockholm to Kiruna (you’ll spot Kiruna in Sweden getting near the border with Norway in the north) is a little over 1200 km, with an estimated driving time of almost 15 hours (according to this page at least). And needless to say, that is by the most direct route.
So if you add side diversions and sightseeing, toilet and coffee stops, petrol purchasing and meals, traffic and (potentially) reindeer on the road (or moose) to that time, well it takes a while. I’ll also add here that the last 4 days of our holiday were scheduled for Gotland, an island off the east coast of Sweden, south of Stockholm (you can also see this on the map), so we had a bit of driving to do. We don’t usually do things by halves.
We decided to drive up the east coast of Sweden as far as is possible, passing Gävle, Sundsvall, Umeå, Skellefteå, Piteå, Luleå…. Most of these places we didn’t stop in (except for coffee), and as we drove through/past them, we could see that it wasn’t a bad decision not to stop. Some of these small towns have a very industrial feel to them, and it simply doesn’t inspire you to stop and look around. We did however stop in Umeå – my choice – because of the university there. All I know really about Umeå is that there is a university there, and so I figured it would be a cute little place. Well it was cute, and it was also little, a lot smaller than I had thought infact. So we didn’t spend so much time there, just finding a nice cafe for a coffee, and a stroll down the main street.
I’ll add here that M and I had no set plan when we set off. We were driving north, with some idea of making it to Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, and we don’t book hotels. Our car is pretty long once we put the back seats down, so we put a mattress in and our sleeping bags and cooking gear/food, and when we have had enough for a day, we simply find a nice spot to pull over and sleep. This priviledge is known as allemansrätten, or the right of public access. It is something I took for granted at home, however, have since realised that it really is a priviledge and should be treated as such. So a couple of pics of places we stayed randomly while heading north…
One thing the photos don’t show are the mosquitoes. If you have a hatred/fear of mosquites, then northern/outdoor Sweden in summer is probably not the place for you. Here at this sleeping spot it was not that bad – we could be out of the car for quite some time without too much of a problem. However, later on (further north) we did come across some clearly starving mosquitoes that tracked the car (and the food – us) and were hovering ready to pounce before we even set foot outside. Those evenings were spent huddled in the car, with quick, short “dives” outside, but only when absolutely necessary. One of the first places we ended up stopping up (properly stopping and sightseeing I mean) was an old church town near Luleå, called Gammelstad.
The reason Gammelstad is a UNESCO site is because these houses are really well preserved. We spent a little time there, walking through the houses – people appear to live in them nowadays, or at least use them as summer cottages. The town was laid out in neat rows extending away from the church. It was very quaint, and after spending some time there, we hit the road again, heading for the next place.