It is the year 2019, and at the end of May I managed to make my first trip to the north this year, to Lule Lapland in North Sweden.
The trip was actually a largely unplanned one. I’ve been living in Finland for over 1.5 years now, but I still have difficultly remembering public holidays, especially since many of them are in fact church holidays. This time I forgot the Ascension Day. It takes place 40 days after Easter, and thus its date may vary but it always falls on Thursday (it is called helatorstai in Finnish, “Holy Thusday”, where “holy” (hela-) part is borrowed from Swedish). Thus it’s a very convenient time to take Friday off too, and go on some short vacation.
In my case, since I hadn’t budgeted for this mini-vacation before, and would also have my move from Vaasa to Helsinki/Espoo just a few weeks later, I basically looked for the cheapest possible accomodation I could find, and started from there. There were also practical considerations; you probably don’t want to go that far away on a four-day vacation, and the end of May is still too early for a trip to the Scandinavian Mountains, much as I would love to go there (still a ton of snow up there). In the end I found a nice cheap home rented out on Booking.com in the village of Nattavaara in North Sweden. The village itself is kind of in the middle of nowhere, but I quickly came up with a few places which would possible to visit from there or on the way there, including Muddus National Park, the mining town of Gällivare, and Luleå, the center of Swedish Norrbotten.
In the end I ended up exploring Lule Lapland, the area of North Sweden along Lule river valley. Well, technically only a few places where I’ve been belong to what is properly called “Lule lappmark” (that is, the lands of the Lule Sami people), but let’s stick to Lule Lapland name for these posts, it rolls of the tongue rather nice 🙂
Here is the map of the places I’ve visited. Vaasa is where I started from, and Nattavaara is where I spent two nights:
You might notice that it’s not the northernmost part of Sweden but kind of the second northernmost. The northernmost one is Torne Lapland, which I’m already familiar with, including Abisko National Park, and the cities of Haparanda and Kiruna. When you drive along the coast of Sweden, on the highway E4, from the Finnish border, Haparanda is the first city you’ll see, immediately at the border. The next one, 50 km farther, is Kalix. It’s a rather minor city but I decided to stop there nonetheless. So this post will be about Kalix.
1. Kalix is really a rather small place. 7,500 people live in the town, of the 16,000 in the overall municipality. This is what its center looks like from away.
Kalix is located at the mouth of the Kalix River (Kalixälven). It’s smaller than either Torne river to the east or Lule river to the west, but is still also a river of quite respectable length and flow. Like these rivers it flows from the Scandinavian Mountains, from the area around the Kebnekaise Mountain (the highest mountain of Sweden), but Kalix is the only city along its entire 460 km length. The only other settlements of any note are the villages of Morjärv, Överkalix (Upper Kalix) and Tärendö. The name of the river is North Sami in origin, Gáláseatnu originally, which supposedly means “cold river”. Like Torne river, Kalix has been preserved in its original state; there are no hydro power station dams on it (and not just because Swedes are so nice; it is also poorer suited for hydro power, as it flows mostly smoothly with many small rapids, instead of fewer but bigger waterfalls, like Lule river does). This perhaps also explains why its valley is relatively undeveloped.
Swedish settlement at the mouth of Kalix river (originally Nederkalix, “Lower Kalix”) has been known since the 15th century. In the early centuries it was known as a site of a copper mine and some shipbuilding industry. Currently the biggest enterprise in the area is a paper factory of the Billerud-Korsnäs corporation. The factory is located not in Kalix proper however but in Karlsborg area, a short distance away. Karlsborg is also the northernmost cargo seaport of Sweden. I have not been in Karlsborg, only in Kalix proper.
2. I set out from Vaasa at about five in the morning, and drove my first 500 km to Kalix (via Kokkola, Oulu, Kemi, Tornio, Haparanda) in about 6.5 hours almost without stops, other than to refuel and stretch my legs a bit. Kalix is honestly not a particularly exciting town and I could skip it altogether, but I like exploring small nondescript towns, and also kinda like the name “Kalix”, so I wanted to have a look at it. I left my car at a parking lot across the city center, which of course had a few places for electric cars, because this is fancy Sweden. (My car is not electric and it’s not the one in the picture.)
3. Road E4 goes right by the city center. South of the road there is only a small strip of land along the river bank, with a camping, a sports ground, and this rather nice track by the river. It was sunny but rather windy and not particularly warm.
4. A closed cafe with solar panels on the roof.
5. Camping ground.
6. Bridge over the Kalix river, carrying the E4 road which goes along the Swedish coast all the way to Stockholm (and past it to Helsingborg, to a ferry to Denmark).
In the aftermath of the Finnish War of 1808-1809 between Russia and Sweden, where Sweden lost badly and Russia conquered the entire Finland from it, Kalix river was at one point discussed as a possible new border. When Finland was a part of Sweden, the internal border between Finland (“Österland”, Eastern Land) and Sweden proper was considered to pass along Kemi river, eastwards of the modern one. (That border in particular also meant that the entire Lapland, including what is now Finnish Lapland, also originally was a part of Sweden proper.) After the war Sweden desired to keep the same border, but Russia originally wanted to draw the border along Kalix. The modern border, along Torne river — halfway between Kalix and Kemi rivers — is thus a product of a compromise.
The border also meant that a significant number of ethnically Finnish people were left on the Swedish side of it. Originally Torne valley was predominantly Finnish-speaking and Kalix valley was Swedish-speaking; the language watershed passed along the watershed between these valleys, between Sangis and Säivis villages. Most of Swedish Torne valley villages still have conspiciously Finnish names. A distinct Finnish dialect, Meänkieli (“our language”), developed among the Finns on the Swedish side of the valley, and is now considered in Sweden legally distinct from Finnish, although it’s easily mutually intelligible with it.
Curiously enough, the Finnish name for Kalix is Kainuu, exactly the same as the name of a large and thinly inhabited region of East Finland. This has been viewed as a possible piece of evidence of the history of the Finnish people settlement. It might also be a conincidence though; the name “Kainuu” is also often linked with the Kven people. Kvenland of the Kvens is some place mentioned in Icelandic sagas. While these Kvens were apparently a Finnic people, it remains a mystery who exactly they were and where the Kvenland was. (To add to the confusion, the name “Kvens” is currently also used for a Finnish minority in North Norway, but these Kvens are most likely unrelated to the ones from the Viking age.)
7. The church is probably the most notable building in Kalix, and certainly the oldest; it dates from 1472. The more prominent belltower is from 1731. It was built by masters from Finnish Ostrobothnia, and indeed it looks a lot like belltowers of many of the older Finnish churches.
8. I originally thought this is a flag of the Norrbotten region or something like that, but it’s actually the flag of the Swedish church. Indeed this house is very close to the church; probably the local priest lives there.
9. Some industry on the other bank of the Kalix river.
10. The river goes on and on. It’s about half a kilometer wide here.
11. Apartment buildings.
12. As usual, although the architecture is not dissimilar to Finnish buildings, there are subtle differences. In this case I’d say this mottled brick look is not used in Finland (or at least is very uncommon there).
13. These striped things on balconies? Yeah, also a sign that you’re in Sweden, not in Finland.
15. Some older house, not sure what it’s supposed to be. The sign says “rooms for rent”.
16. Bus stop (and a post box). Kalix has public transport, a total of six bus routes even! Well, I would in general say that public transport seems better developed in Sweden than in Finland.
17. We’ve got bike lanes too!
18. Cafe in the center.
19. I’m very sorry but “Mohameds Livs & Kosmetik” just sounds a bit funny.
20. This angry-looking gentleman, Oscar Wilhelm Lövgren, was a local politician and newspaper editor, born in Kalix in 1888, and eventually becoming the governor of Norrbotten County in 1947-1952.
22. This is the local movie theater.
23. You can see some locals here. Kalix seemed an extremely sleepy town, and I’ve mostly only seen grandmas and grandpas on its streets (of course it was a holiday too). Well, and one bored looking younger black guy. I’ve actually seen him several times; the last time he was chatting with a local granny about something.
24. These columns on a public building look fairly ridiculous.
25. The local seat of power, apparently. I forgot to have a close look of the statue.
26. There’s a hotel too. Would be fun to stay here, I love small town hotels.
27. Not entirely sure but I think this says something about the brotherhood of Torne and Kalix valley peoples, and how they have together contributed to the defense of their homeland.
28. Bus station. There is a train station in Kalix too, but there is no passenger traffic between Luleå (more precisely, Boden) and Haparanda.
29. Bus and train stations in Sweden (or at least in North Sweden) have these uniform electronic timetable displays, which I rather like.
30. Local shopping center. There are also a few chain supermarkets, including ICA (visible to the left here) and Coop.
31. The church again, from the other side.
32. This dashing captain near the chuch is Karl Olov Bäckström, who served as a local pilot in 1887-1919.
33. And this is a random Bible quote (Psalm 104:1; “O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty”).
34. And with that it’s time to continue on along the road E4. Not to Haparanda though, to the opposite direction, to Luleå; 80 kilometers down the road.