The day finally came when I was to leave Iceland and head to Sweden for the final leg of my Nordic summer. Reykjavik’s international airport is a 45 minute drive from the bus terminal, the latter of which is a 50 minute walk from the campground.
I opted to pay an extra $5 and have the bus company pick me up from the campground. It was well worth it, but being at the airport for my 7am flight meant I had to be at the campground bus stop by 4am. At least the sun was already up!
The small Keflavik airport on the Reykjanes peninsula was fairly overcrowded, though the staff were pretty well organized and things ran smoothly. With more and more tourists each year a lot of Iceland seems to be playing catch up when it comes to being able to handle the numbers, though at least the airport seems to be in the process of expanding. I’d never seen so many bikes and backpacks in an airport as I did leaving Iceland.
Back in April I booked a flight on WOW, Iceland’s budget airline, to Vasteras in central Sweden. Because I flew in peak season, the 2 hour 45 minute flight cost me $150 one way. Maybe I’ve been in Europe too long because that struck me as really expensive.
The Vasteras airport is probably one of the smallest airports I’ve ever been to. Sweden and Iceland are both part of the Schengen open border region, but Sweden reinstated a check for people entering by land from Denmark. When I did that crossing for a day trip to Malmo back in early July I didn’t have my Spanish travel papers. The stamps in my passport showed I had been in the EU for many months, well past the 90 days allotted to tourists, but the border guard didn’t seem to care after I showed him my round trip bus ticket back to Denmark. I didn’t want to take any chances of having issues going into Sweden, so I had all of my documents and an explanation ready by the time we landed. There wasn’t a single person at customs or passport control, so I just walked in without issue.
The vast majority of people who fly into Vasteras take the direct one hour bus to Stockholm. Instead, the friendly information desk attendant sold me a local bus ticket downtown, 4 miles away. Everyone is so friendly and helpful in Sweden, and really goes out of their way to help me when I’m not sure what’s going on/can’t understand Swedish.
I stayed in Vasteras just long enough to catch a bus to Uppsala, a university city north of Stockholm.
My eventual end goal is to get to Abisko, 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to do a 270 mile hike on the popular Kungsleden trail. The Arctic Express leaves Stockholm each evening and heads to Narvik in Norway, stopping in Abisko along the way. Rather than do the 21 hours all at once, I opted to instead break up the journey and spend a few days in two lesser visited towns of Sweden: Uppsala and Lulea.
Uppsala is a wonderfully walkable city with leafy green streets and lots of affordable ($10 or less) restaurant meals. This was all a huge shock after five weeks in Iceland, where I survived on crackers, self cooked hot dogs, and ramen noodles. I also finally got the opportunity to eat from a decent selection of fruits and vegetables!
The Uppsala campground was a 20 minute walk from downtown, and was easily 1000 times nicer than any of the campgrounds in Iceland (and way less crowded, too). I got a massive doner kebab with lots of vegetables at a place my guidebook recommended downtown, and didn’t feel the need to eat until lunch the next day. Good decision.
The main tourist attraction in Uppsala is probably the oldest cathedral in the Nordic countries, which also happens to be the center of the Church of Sweden. Although it’s Protestant, it had all the artwork and grandeur of a Catholic cathedral since it was started before the Reformation in 1258. This was the only church I’ve been to where they do collections via credit card. I don’t think anybody uses cash in the Nordic countries. Even the bathrooms take credit cards.
When I arrived at the Uppsala train station at the end of my second day, I found out the train was delayed almost an hour. Taking my bag, I wandered around the gardens west of the station to get a good view of the Uppsala castle. It doesn’t have anything on the amazing castles of Transylvania I visited with friends in March, but was worth the trip. There’s so much greenery and amazing gardens everywhere I’ve been in Scandinavia.
When I got back to the train station I laid out my socks and underwear to dry on the platform, having washed them in the hot shower the night before. Others on the platform didn’t seem to think it was feasible to do the Kungsleden in two weeks like I’m planning, but one of them did say his pack weighs 33 pounds without food or water. Mine is closer to 13 or so, I think. I don’t check because ignorance is bliss and I have to carry it anyways. Hopefully I can finish this hike in my allotted timeframe!
I’d bought my Swedish train tickets back in late May, which along with a youth discount got me some sizable discounts. A bunk in a 6 bed dormitory compartment for the 620 mile, 14 hour ride to Lulea cost me $64. There was only one other guy in my compartment, who didn’t say more than three words the whole trip.
Although we left Uppsala late, we got to Lulea at 8:40am just as planned. Lulea is a seaside town of about 144,000 just south of the Arctic Circle, and is the capital of northern Sweden. It used to be a church town centuries ago. During the colonial days when everyone lived spread apart, families would come on the weekends to mandatory church services. There were small houses built for the churchgoers, which have been rebuilt and are still used by the church.
The original church town is a few miles inland and still stands. Eventually it turned into Lulea. Because of a receding coastline over the years and subsequent lack of sea, the town and port were eventually moved to its current position. Gammelstad, the church town and old Lulea, is just a 20 minute bus ride from the modern town. I bought a bus pass that let me wander all over the Lulea area, and also gave me easy access to an affordable campground a couple miles away from town.