After travelling today was our first real day in Sweden was filled with excitement, not knowing how cold it was going to be and with the prospect of sailing out into a frozen sea. After breakfast (nothing to write home about, just your typical European mix of fruit, meat, cheese, yogurt and cooked eggs) we layered up and headed out on the bus.
After a short drive to Piteå we glimpsed the first site of the Piteålven River which is the gateway onto the Bothnian Sea…which is we were lucky would be frozen! After a rather long way wait for a (one of the reasons I don’t normally opt for large group tours) we had the single most hilarious safety briefing I’ve ever had. The two youngish guys who I don’t think spoke fluent English muddled their way through the things they needed to tell us which really in the end was “don’t fall off the boat”!
Back on the bus we drove up to the boat, which was a lot smaller than I expected, and bundled on. There were two groups, ours and a Dutch group which meant the boat was quite full but more than enough space to wander round and not feel on top of people.
We weren’t in the frozen part of the sea yet so after about 30 minutes we began to hear the crunch and the boat just sliced through the ice like it was butter. The ice was pretty thick and it was amazing to feel and watch to boat sail through it.
After about another 10 minutes we were overcome by the concept of swimming (read – floating) in the gap made by the boat…in a frozen sea.
Never fear survival suits were provided, I was assured that they are the same suits oil riggers use in an emergency then they have to jump into the cold sea. They will keep you alive for around 6 hours. Being only 5ft3(ish) I was at the shorter end of being able to wear the suits so it was a little uncomfortable for me and my hands didn’t reach the hand part which was odd. The suits completely cover you (you’re fully clothed underneath minus shoes) apart from your eyes. They zip right up over your mouth which was claustrophobic for a couple of seconds but you soon get used to it.
We waddled out onto the ramp down onto the ice where everyone else was walking, were attached to dog leads (so we didn’t drift off) and then got into the water. It was a very very strange feeling overcoming the psychological terror of freezing in the water but once you were in and floating around it felt amazing!
It was so so relaxing I could have stayed in there all day. Apart from the fact our leads kept getting tangled up, you lose all control of where you are floating and the prospect of getting out was beginning to dawn on me. You don’t feel the cold really at all in the suits, you are aware that what you’re lying in is colder than you are but it’s not uncomfortable at all.
After our float about we wrangled ourselves out of the suits and joined everyone else on the ice with hot lingonberry juice out of a wooden cup. It was warming, sweet and super yummy! We walked about, took some photos and generally enjoyed our time on the ice. Before we knew it the horn sounded, we all piled back on the boat and headed back to shore.
An unforgettable experience and a highlight of our trip.
On route back to Luleå we stopped off at a UNESCO site – Gammelstad. A church town built to house the congregation of the church who had to travel long distances for church services it is very well preserved. The church dates back to the 15th Century and is surrounded by 424 wooden houses. These types of towns are apparently very common in Scandinavia and I would have loved more time to wander down the roads and peek into the houses. They aren’t occupied on a permanent basis (from what I could tell) but it did look like some of them could be holiday homes you could rent out.
The church was pretty pretty and apparently had a wonderful interior which we couldn’t look at in too much detail as there was a service in progress so we popped our head in and walked round the exterior. It looked as though it had new stonework but was beautiful in the light of the setting sun. Worth the trip if you’re in Luleå!
The rest of our day was spent relaxing, walking around the high street in Luleå where we partook in one of the best burgers I’ve ever had and began our addiction with their special burger sauce. A mix of your typical orange burger sauce you get here but with pickles and pickle juice. I couldn’t get enough of it over the next week. As usual there is no photo evidence of this burger but if you find yourself in Luleå head to the Korvgubben burger shop on the high street.
After our walk we all piled into the in laws room so some wine and cashews before our first evening out. Around 7pm we drove out to a place called Brandon Lodge where were greeted by a candle lit snow path down to a traditional Sami tent, some canapes, Prosecco and a look a local Sami ladies shop. She had an interesting art style, there were a lot of naked female torsos. Nevertheless I did buy some small prints for 100 SEK.
After 40 minutes or so of standing in a small tent with reindeer canapes we headed up to the main lodge for the best buffet meal I’ve ever had. The beef was cooked to perfection!
After an action packed day we were more than ready for bed when we got back to the hotel!
Ever taken a dip in a frozen sea? Or anywhere unusual for that matter!!