Arctic Crossing (Northern Sweden to Northern Finland)

It all seemed so straightforward when I planned it at my desk back home. The nice lady on the Swedish Railways helpline said: “yes, you can travel from Kiruna to Oulu by Interrail. You just get off the train at Lulea, take the bus to Tornio and pick up another train.” She gave me the times, which seemed to have plenty of interchange leeway and I duly sent off the details of my 2258h arrival to my hosts in Finland, who said that they would meet me at the station. They in fact live on a nearby island and it turned out that we would have to take the last ferry at 0030am. But it’s still Winter! Oh well, if that’s how they do things in Northern Finland.

I began the day by recording a quick radio interview for Carole, the French journalist staying over at the Nutti Sami Siida Reindeer Lodge. After all, once you have shared the Northern Lights with someone a certain relaxed bonding takes place and my Interrail experiences were easy enough to chat about. Then it was off to the station for the train across the top of the Baltic. I packed a high protein picnic and carefully secreted all my travelling necessities around my person, from the cash hidden in the underwear to the cable spaghetti distributed around the various pockets of the huge outer coat I had brought along for the Northern part of my trip. With several layers of inner clothing and my documents placed so as to be accessible, I must have looked like a roly-poly toy. The furry, leopard-eared hat didn’t help, in fact one tiny child reached out to pet me.

The first leg of the train journey went well enough and I even got my picture of the Arctic Circle sign. Then I transferred to the bus station without incident and the friendly cashier confirmed that I could use my Interrail Pass to get to Finland so I worked happily on my photographs and congratulated myself on my organisational skills. Much later, when the bus finally arrived in Tornio and the driver made to put his last passenger (me) off in the middle of a freezing and apparently deserted bus station, I asked plaintively: “but where is the railway station?”. “There is no railway station here” he replied “you have to get a bus but I don’t think there are any more going today” and with that he closed the doors and drove off back to Sweden.

To say I felt a bit of a chill is an understatement. Night was falling and the temperature rapidly dropping; I was also well aware of the warning that much fewer people in Finland speak English. Not that there was a soul around to speak to anyway. I decided that I would not give in to the temptation to try and phone for help just yet and headed off in a vaguely promising direction with my (fortunately cabin-baggage sized) wheely suitcase dragging behind me. I rounded a corner and found an open supermarket, where a dozen shoppers gathered round my map and rail itinerary, shaking their heads until an English speaker could be found.  It seemed I would have no choice but to try to pick up the train at the nearest railway station in Kemi, 30 kilometres away.

A taxi was called for me and, as I feared it cost – well, let’s just say more an a Euro a kilometre. However, that was not the biggest of my worries: suppose the train didn’t stop at Kemi? Suppose it was on a different route altogether? I resolved to give it a try and then phone for help if I could get no further. It was by now past eight and spending the night at a deserted railway station in temperatures of minus unthinkable was just too horrifying to contemplate. Reaching the station to find it alight, warm, inhabited and with my train up on the display board was a moment that I shall savour for many years to come.

Planning officer and English teacher Paivi was kind enough to assist me with confirmation of all the details and a much needed phone call to my hosts. She too had encountered the mystery of the Tornio Triangle but had been fortunate enough to have friends to drive her down the line and explain the misunderstanding. The train does indeed stop at Tornio but only by request and only at a stopping point somewhere outside the town. The thought of standing out on some freezing railway siding, trying to hail an express train as if it was a number 11 bus was beyond imagination. Paivi agreed and so we shared a good luck toast when at last we boarded the train.

The sight of my hosts waiting on the station at Oulu was enough to make me squeal like a kid at Christmas and I regained enough of my sense of adventure to appreciate having the ferry to ourselves as we crossed through a slushy ice channel to the island of Hailouto out in the frozen Baltic. Now, in the language of travellers’ tales there are the “jolly japes” and there are the “bloody stupids”. Last night I came far too close to the second category and will have to learn an important lesson.

The island promises to be a fantastic experience.

 

Categories: Arctic, Europe

5 Comments

  • Chris says:

    I don’t think anyone at home is laughing, you are not some wilderness-loving youngster like the girl with all the fancy kit in picture 06.

  • Paivi says:

    I’m glad you got to Hailuoto safe and sound.

  • Sandy says:

    I won’t let Kees read this one! He still talks about our getting lost looking for Chaco Canyon!
    I hope you have your beaded jaguar leopard coin purse with you to match the leopard hat!

  • Paivi says:

    I thought that I should correct one missunderstanding: the train does stop at Tornio according to a fixed timetable – you don’t need to hail for it…

  • nicola ainsworth says:

    …but there’s still no station so you have to wait in the middle of nowhere!

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