Day 5

Friday, 21 August 2015
Start: Timrå (S) 11:30
Arrival: Luleå (S) 20:30
Total: 610 km

The next morning, we were treated to a wonderful little breakfast buffet all for ourselves. The old lady who was the housekeeper in the mansion spoke excellent English and told us some more about the history of the town. Apparently, the Swedish king Adolf, the grand-father of the present king, had indeed spent the night in the house and slept in our room. Back then, the town of Timrå was an important saw mill town and the house had belonged to one of the most influential families of the country. In the late 19th century, the Siamese king Chulalongkorn even visited the area. During his visit of the docks, one of his daughters fell into the sea and a Swedish sailor rescued her. The king of Siam was so grateful that he had a pagoda built in the sailor's home village nearby, which can still be visited. Chulalongkorn! That was the boy from the TV series The King and I with Yul Brynner, which we used to see as children. So that pagoda was not far from here? We definitely had to see it. Now we found out that "nearby" means something different in Sweden than in Luxembourg. The village lay a good 80 kilometers inland, but oh well, we didn't have any plans for today other than arriving in Luleå (read that Lulyo) before nightfall. The housekeeper gave us very detailed directions and as a little thank-you, we left two of our crime novels with her.


The Thai Pagoda

It was almost noon before we finally set out for Utanede, the village of the heroic sailor. The road inland was just as good as the coastal highway, in a way even better, because there was less traffic and so we made good speed. We followed the large river Indalsälven up through idyllic forests and hills, and an hour later, we reached the small village of Utanede. The Chulalongkorn Memorial building was pointed out to the left and there it was, a picturesque pagoda set on the backdrop of the most charming Alpine Heidi-land setting. We felt transposed into a fairytale Southeast Asia. It was really warm too, not at all what one might expect from central Sweden.
We had the park almost to ourselves and enjoyed the peace and quiet. A little leaflet which we had obtained at the entrance informed us that the pagoda had not been built by Chulalongkorn in the 19th century, as the old lady had told us, but only a few years ago on the centennial of the Siamese king's visit. So the pagoda was not historical at all? That was a bit of a let-down. The story of the heroic villager was not mentioned either. So did he or didn't he rescue that girl from the waters back then? Deciding not to let the truth stand in the way of a romantic story, we imagined king Chulalongkorn (looking the way he had in the TV series, of course) and his entourage riding along the Indalsälven up into the Swedish hills. Neat.
Inside, the pagoda consisted of only one room, with a large statue of the king in the middle. You were supposed to leave your shoes outside, so I pussyfooted it barefoot up to the statue to have my picture taken with the great king.


The Dead Waterfall

We spent about an hour in these peaceful surroundings. Then we debated what to do next. Further upstream, there was a place called the Dead Waterfall. The old housekeeper had told us all about that too. In the late 18th century, a dam was built on the Indalsälven. Some of the locals feared that the project would disadvantage them, so they sabotaged it. In the end, the dam broke and a huge tidal wave rushed down the river towards the sea. It was a major environmental catastrophe, in which fortunately no one was harmed, but it permanently changed the course of the river and the Döda Fallet has been devoid of water ever since.
This sounds like a very interesting place to see indeed, and as it's not even 20 kilometers further upstream (right next door, the Swedish would probably say), we hop into our car and off we go. But wait... there's a strange sound, like the pityful chirping of a little bird, and it sounds like it's comig off our car. I slow down to a stop and the chirping stops too. Carefully, I push down the gas pedal and there it is again. Stop, go, more chirping. What could it be? A flat tyre? The motor, giving up the ghost? Our mechanic back home had assured me that the back brakes were fine, even though they had already a good 130,000 kilometers under their belt, literally. Sonia gets out to analyse the chassis while I'm wondering where we would find a garage on a Friday afternoon in rural Sweden. My sister announces that there is, as far as she can see, nothing wrong with the tyres. There's no bird trapped under the car either. I slowly drive on, and the chirping does not come on again. Odd. Only half convinced that our car would make it all the way to Murmansk and back (spoiler alert: it did), we drive on.
Apparently, the dead waterfall was a tourist magnet in this part of Sweden, and by rights. From a platform high up, we looked down over a vast forested valley, with a large rocky outcrop winding its way down the middle. Rustic timber stairways led down among huge boulders. Now this was hardcore Sweden, just as we imagined it. We crossed a high iron bridge and clambered down the stairs.
The tourist magnet was almost deserted, we shared the place with just three or four more visitors. All the way down among the boulders, there were pockets of water left. The sun burned down on us without mercy. Two months ago, we nearly froze to death on Mount Vesuvius, now we were going to die of heatstroke in Lapland! It's a crazy world.
Luckily, the Scandinavian flies didn't seem to like the midday sun either, in any case they didn't bother us at all. A brackish forest glade like this, one would think it would be swarming with the little buggers. Incidentally, the myth that summer in northern Scandinavia inevitably means fly bites is just that - a myth. We were never bitten. Gnat once. Midge to our delight, of course. I suppose the Swedes and Finns put the story of the mosquito-infested lakes out to keep the foreign tourists away, so that they can have their beautiful countryside all to themselves.
One hour and a sunburn later, we were on the road back to the coast. Heading northeast towards Sollefteå (read: So left the awe), we started to wonder whether it was a good idea to take the National Road 335 to the coast. The shortest way is not always the fastest, and this road really looked tiny on our map. A barely visible white line. What if it wasn't an asphalted road at all? Seeing that their main coastal highway, indicated in a fat red line, was only a two-lane countryroad. At a gas station in Sollefteå, we asked for directions and the girl reassured us. She used to drive this road all the time (not anymore? why not?) and it should be in perfect order. And so it was. We really came to appreciate these deserted inland roads because once we hit the coastal highway, it was plenty of slow moving traffic all the way up to Luleå.



On the coastal highway, we saw the northernmost part of the Höga Kusten, the High Coast, a UNESCO natural heritage. Nowhere else in the world has the ground lifted up higher in the last ten millennia since the last ice age. Relieved of its massive glaciers, the Swedish coast stands now a good 800 meters higher than during the period of glaciation. Of course, if one does not know about this geological marvel, it looks simply like any other scenic, hilly coast. Goes to show that with the right background knowledge, all things become so much more interesting. That's why you read travel guides before you set out to see the world.
The sun was getting ready for bed when we approached Luleå. Our navigation system told us we should drive a long way around the coast and approach Luleå from the North. Odd. Why not take the bridge over the inlet and save a good 10 kilometers? The navigation system stubbornly refused to guide us over the bridge, even though it was right there on its display. The signs on the highway also seemed to favour the long way around. Maybe the bridge was brand new and not open to traffic yet? Or it was old, in disrepair and closed down? Feeling adventurous (a trip to the Dead Waterfall does that to you), we nevertheless took the exit to Luleå Airport, determined to find our own way over the water. We followed the road to the inlet and, quite unspectacularly, there was the bridge, taking us in no time at all into the center of Luleå. So why not guide the traffic this way in the first place? We filed it under part two of the Unfathomable Reasonings of Traffic Guidance Systems in Northern Europe. (For part one, see my "commentary" on Day 2).
Without trouble, we found our hotel for the night. Now where should we park? There was a parking garage not far away and a gravelled parking lot just outside our hotel. The hotel staff helpfully proposed a car park on the other side of the street, near the water, where you could park for free. Delighted, we decided to do that. We and all the other people on their Friday night out in Luleå. After driving around the lot twice, carefully avoiding some quite drunk, yodeling Swedish young men (should they be driving a car in their condition? − I am getting old), we declared defeat: this lot may be for free, but free spaces it had not.
So we drove into the multi-storey car park nearby, which strangely enough had its boom barrier up. No ticket machine at the gate either. Could you park for free here too? Somehow, we doubted that. Indeed, there was a ticket machine not far from the entrance, looking just like the universal "pay here" machines everywhere else in the world. The thing helpfully explained in Swedish how it was supposed to work, but we were a bit thick tonight. We were supposed to put in our credit card, that much was clear. But how did the machine know at what time we had entered the garage? Ah, once you put the card in, you got a ticket out. But was it the same price, no matter how long you stayed? That would be a bit unfair, wouldn't it? Deciding to resolve this matter the next day, we played it safe, displayed the ticket in our car window and left to grab some grub.
Grub it wasn't, because actually, the Clarion Hotel had a very nice restaurant on the top floor, overlooking the bay. Unfortunately, our table was close to the bar and here again, the young people were celebrating their night out in quite a boisterous way. But our room was cosy and quiet, and soon we happily snoozed off into another exciting day.


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