Sunday, October 2, 2016

Canoeing Down the Skellefte River

As I wrote this, my arms were sore, my feet were throbbing, and my clothes reeked of river water and dirt. I was sitting in the lobby of my hotel, trying to soak up the little bit of WiFi it offers, checking my Instagram and catching up on the day. Yet, it was such a good day. Okay, now rewinding to July 17, when I actually wrote this.

Today was my first day in the Swedish Lapland region, more specifically Skellefteå (pronounced shell-EFF-tay-oh), with a lovely group of five other bloggers.

The weather was beautiful when we flew in, but it started pouring as soon as we began our hike through the Bjuröklubb nature reserve. That meant that we couldn't get as great of a view from the lighthouse, but it was pretty in its own way.

Boy were we in luck for the rest of the day, though. The sun peeked out after lunch, practically inviting us to take a leisurely canoe ride down the Skellefte River. Did you know that many Swedish cities end in å, indicating the presence of a river? In this case, Skellefteå is named after the Skellefte River.

A middle-school version of myself emerged during that ride. About 10 years ago, I went to a summer camp where we would do days-long hiking and canoeing trips, yet I had not stepped foot in a canoe since. I was nostalgic as the boat wobbled beneath my feet, water danced from the paddle onto my face, and the only sounds were those of nature. The beautiful flowers floating on the water made the trip even more serene, and it was such a treat when they happened to join my paddle out of the water.

In true Swedish fashion, we stopped on the Kyrksholmen island to take fika, or have a coffee break. Peter, our guide, effortlessly started a fire, over which he boiled water for the coffee, which we sipped out of traditional Sami mugs. The Sami people are indigenous to the Arctic region, and have a great presence in Swedish Lapland. Peter also brought vanilla buns that his daughter made from scratch! Sure, you could get that sort of pastry anywhere, but how many travelers can say that they tried a homemade one?

As if the flocks of ducks and their ducklings, gulls, and flora didn't give us a beautiful enough scene of nature, a rainbow appeared! I've seen a few rainbows in my life, but never one in such a perfect arc form.

If that couldn't excite my inner child, I don't know what could.

Check out everyone else's blogs below!

Thank you to Visit Skellefteå for providing me with this opportunity! All content and opinions are my own.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sigtuna, Sweden's First Town

Sigtuna, Sweden, was built around 970 AD and is known as the first Swedish town. King Erik the Victorious declared himself the king of Sweden--the first time anyone had ever done so--and decided it was high time to build a town. Thus, the birth of Sigtuna.

And what better way to spend one's first day in Sweden?

I had arrived in Stockholm a mere three hours earlier by the time I boarded the bus to Sigtuna, which is about an hour's drive. Our guide, Eva, explained that many Swedes have not even been to this city--turns out our bus driver was among them! Regardless, Sigtuna had always been an international city, evidenced by coins and currency found throughout the ages.

At our first stop, the five-star 1909 Sigtuna Stads Hotell, we had coffee and got an overview of the hotel and our day to come. Unfortunately, the hotel owner was sick, so Eva read her story in place. Marilyn Bellman had always dreamed of owning a hotel, and after taking some self-development and leadership courses, leading to increased confidence, she bought the 1909 Sigtuna Stads Hotell. Her goal is to make it as cozy and home-like as possible, and I think she's done quite well!

Eva and Ted, the Museum Director of Sigtuna Museum, gave us a walking tour following our morning provisions. On the museum grounds, you could see exactly where the church walls were--in those areas, the grass did not grow over the foundation.

We also came across runic stones, of which Sigtuna has the most in the world! Destination Sigtuna sums it up much more eloquently than I ever could, so here is their description:
Visitors are sometimes surprised when they are advised to look for runic stones near the many early Christian churches (built of stone in the 12th and 13th centuries). “Weren’t the Vikings heathens?." Not many know that the majority of all runic stones are Christian. The cross on the stones indicates just that. Most of the stones were put up in memory of deceased family members and intended to be seen by others. They are to be found where people congregated or passed by. The churches that came later were built on those sites, too, and runic stones proved to be quite good building material. 

Our tour ended at the Rådhus, or town hall. Not only is it the smallest town hall in all of Sweden, but my favorite anecdote originates here. Way back when, Sigtuna had a population of only 380 people, yet there were 16 bars on the main street. Clearly, they had a drinking problem. Legend has it that, in a hidden compartment on the outer wall of the building, there was a spare key to a prison cell. If the men got too drunk to go home to their families, they'd let themselves into the cell and make themselves at home!

One last thing of note--the beautiful pastel colors of the buildings are not by accident. In Sigtuna, there is actually a list of approved paint colors, and you must abide by it.

I think any history buff would enjoy Sigtuna, so make it a day trip the next time you're in Stockholm!

Thank you to TBEX and Destination Sigtuna for providing me with this amazing opportunity!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Architectural Charm in Iceland

Iceland blew me away. The weather was delightful, Icelanders are so friendly, the natural sights are jaw-dropping...the list goes on. And as I expected, the architecture was beautiful, too!

Aside from Hallgrímskirkja Church, which towers over Reykjavik, the houses and buildings are quite small. What they lack in size, they sure make up for in color!

I mean, just look at this view. (P.S., this photo was taken from the top of Hallgrímskirkja--best panoramic view of the city!)

Blue bicycles as street blockers were the cherry on top of this colorful city!

I especially love the added touches of the painted ramp and sidewalk!

And with that, my posts about Iceland have come to an end...for now. Stay tuned for my next trip series--Sweden!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Hiking Mecca of the Indiana Dunes

Growing up in Michigan, I've always equated the word "dunes" with the Sleeping Bear Dunes, one of our state's most beautiful parks. It only recently occurred to me that you can hike up sand dunes, visit beaches, and roam historic villages in one of our neighboring states--Indiana.

Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes has sand dunes and hiking trails of varying difficulty, beaches, water sports, bike trails, and wildlife areas. Better yet, it's only a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Metro Detroit, so it's the perfect weekend getaway. You can even do a day trip from Chicago--the South Shore train that runs between Chicago and South Bend makes a stop near the dunes (the ride takes about 90 minutes), and the ticket is less than $8 each way.

I've done a dune hike only once, and that was in the Sahara Desert; I think I'm overdue for another. Seriously, dune hikes are HARD. I like to think that I'm in really good physical shape, but man, nothing gets your heart rate going like ascending a giant sand hill. I basically melt once it hits 75˚F, so sometime this fall, when the temps cool, will be the perfect time to venture into the Indiana Dunes.

Mount Baldy, the crown jewel of the Indiana Dunes, is currently closed to hiking, so my eyes are set on the Tolleston Dunes Trail. At under two miles, it's a relatively short hike, but you're traversing sandy trails. You really get the best of the park on this trail: wetlands, sandy terrain, and wildlife. And once you've finishing hiking, you can go to West Beach, where clear skies will permit views of the Chicago skyline!

If you're not into climbing some sand, fear not, as there are flatter hikes (complete with boardwalks), too.

To learn more about the hikes that the Indiana Dunes offers and to get information about lodging and dining, click here for your one-stop information source.

So, who wants to go on a hiking trip with me this fall?