Monday, 8 April 2013

The big empty north and assorted geographical musings

One thing I failed to comprehend before I moved to Sweden was the sheer size of the country, and the seemingly endless kilometre after square kilometre of dense forests.  According to my feeble research on Wikipedia it is the 55th largest country, and the 4th largest European country and some 53.1% of of it's surface is forest. 

Some weeks ago whilst cycling home from the train station I tried to think about what was west of the town. The simple answer, Nothing. The more complicated answer is deepest, darkest Dalarna. I was able to satisfy my curiosity some weeks later as we headed west to the ski resort of Idrefjäll for some well earned holiday. The route we took more than confirmed my suspicions. 

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Dalarna is the fourth largest län (I suppose a län is what might be a county in the UK and quite possibly a state in the US, excluding the political ramifications of course) and its geography is composed of three things: forests, a sizeable lake and mountains. It's principal claims to fame are the iconic Dalarna horses and the cross country ski race called the vasaloppet. The main cities of the län aren't exactly huge by any standards, the largest is Borlänge, followed the the län capital, Falun, and their populations could easily fit into most modern premiership football stadia. 

Once past the heady metropolis of Mora, notable, principally, for being the finish line for the Vasaloppet, and which boasts a population of around 10,000 our next significant point of civilization was Älvdalen. Älvdalen, with 1,900 inhabitants is famous for, put as politely as one can, isolationism. The town is famous for speaking and continuing to speak their own dialect.

Once past that, you're into another big empty nothing, and our route ran parallel to the dalaälv river and took us up to Särna, which proclaims itself "gateway to the mountains". 

I'm saddened to report the the world's sorriest and most incongruous strip-joint seems to have vanished, I guess the business plan didn't quite work out. I mean, who'd think a strip bar in the middle of nowhere, near a ski resort famously family-centric would fail? Given the appearance of the place, it's just as likely the the owner was arrested for human trafficking. 

Past the Ski resort of Idre, the only thing left is a further 100km or so of beautiful rugged mountains and the then the border with Norway. 

If you look at a map of Sweden, and draw a line across the country at Stockholm and then look north and west. You'll notice something I think is impressive. Saving Falun, and Borlänge and Östersund, there isn't a major city or town (let's call that above 20,000 people) that isn't on the coast. That's a massive amount of ancient quiet forest...

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