Last week Pia and I took the kids on an adventure. 19 hours on the night train, 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle: Swedish Lapland; Europe’s last true wilderness.
Our plan was to hike for a few days. Never having hiked before, we didn’t really know what to do. But we guessed Europe’s last true wilderness was a good place to start. Figuring we should approach this with the right attitude, I booked us into a rather nice hotel up there. No sense hiking all day if can’t get a shower, sauna and a good meal at the end of it. Sleeping unwashed under neon-orange nylon and heating up baked-beans on a one-ring stove is highly overrated if you ask me.
I bought a map in a proper hiking shop in town. It was no use at all: just a lot of white with brown squiggles and numbers on it. I began to think that perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea. And that was before we got on the train.
Our fellow passengers had weather-beaten rucksacks, proper hiking boots and spent much of the journey applying strange salve to their already blistered and rotting feet. We had wheelie bags, golf socks and trainers. And Pia had a nice new hand cream she had bought. The toilet had no paper and smelt of urine.
Day one, we only made it to a little beach about ten minutes on foot. Day three, it rained all day (some odd people actually went hiking in the rain). But day two was a triumph. We walked 15 kilometers, with an elevation of 500 meters, drank water from a mountain stream, had lunch by a crystal clear lake, got wet feet and blisters (hence the boots and the salve I guess) and only got lost once.
It wasn’t exactly Scott of the Antarctic, but to my little family it was a triumph. A triumph made better by food. Of all the surprises we encountered on our short adventure (how good water tastes straight from a mountain stream, how quiet it is in Lapland, how difficult it is to pee into the wind, how our fellow passengers smelt worse on the way home than they did on the way up) it was the food that surprised most.
In this empty, isolated wilderness, we ate food of such quality it would have been worth the train journey just for dinner. Locally caught Arctic char with lemon veloute and mountain herbs, locally shot venison with lingonberry cream and root vegetable mash and truly the most delicious crisp bread I have ever tasted, from a bakery at the bottom of the mountain; all eaten with a view that took your breath away.
Frankly, you can keep your tents, your squiggly maps and your little stoves (although I wouldn’t mind borrowing your boots), but hiking-light, with a bit of gourmet Swedish food thrown in, is a holiday I can highly recommend.
Now, where did I put that luxury hotel brochure …