Huntly – Rovaniemi – Huntly

Huntly, Insch, Inverurie, Dyce, Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Montrose, Arbroath, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Haymarket, Edinburgh Waverly, Berwick-on-Tweed. Newcastle, Darlington, York, Doncaster, London Kings Cross, London St Pancras, Bruxelles Midi/Brussel Zuid, Brussels Central, Liege Fuillemins, Aachen, Köln, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Bochum, Dortmund, Münster, Osnabrück, Hamburg Haarburg, Hamburg HBF, Lübeck, Oldenburg, Puttgarden, Rødby, Nykøbing Vordingborg, Høje,Taastrop, København, Østerport, København, Kastrup, Malmö-Central, Lund, Hässelholm, Alvestra, Nässjö, Trannas, Linköping, Norrköping, Sodertalje, Stockholm, Alvesta, Uppsala. Gävle, Söderham, Hudiksvall, Sundsvall, Timvaa, Hämösand, Kramfors, Örnsköldsvik, Umeå, Vindeln, Basturträsk, Jörn, Ålvysbyn, Boden Central, Sunderby, Luleå, Persön, Börjelslandet, Råneå, Jämtön, Töre, Kalix, Sangis, Säivis, Seskarö Vägskäl, Nikkala, Vuono, Haparanda, Tornio, Rovaniemi, Oulu/Uleaborg, Vihanti, Oulainen, Ylivieska, Kannus, Kokkola/Karleby, Pännäien/Bennäs, Kauhav, Lapua, Senäjoki, Parkano, Tampere/Tammersfors, Toijala, Humppila, Loimaa, Turku/Abo, Stockholm, Sodertalje, Norrköping, Linköping, Trannas, Nässjö, Alvestra, Hässelholm, Lund, Malmö-Central, Kastrup airport.( Aberdeen, Huntly)

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Everybody asks me why I did that, – go to Lapland by train. When I was first invited to the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi to give a talk, I was inquiring about the flight connections. That would have been 3 connections, which seemed an awfully long day. Last year I took the opportunity to accompany my daughter Rachel to Istanbul by train, to start her Erasmus year there. It then occurred to me that it could be nice to repeat this adventure, but go the other way. North instead of South, cold instead of warm (although in reality Serbia was colder than the Arctic Circle), business instead of family. I also had some holidays left, and just wanted a bit of time off the PC. And: 2013 is here in Britain the 50th anniversary of the Beeching axe. A bit of time to ponder, to reconsider, mull over – plans, ideas and celebrating the survival of some rail routes… The stretched cold landscapes appealed as a remedy.

The route took me from Huntly to Edinburgh, where I caught up with Diane our new walking coordinator at Deveron Arts, and also the family with whom we had a great meal at Sweet Belindas. From there via London to Brussels, where I caught up with Rolf the former boyfriend of my beloved sister Hannelore – I had not met him in over 21 years. He and his wife Marianne goot the sweetest oof all daughters Anna who loves drawing donkeys with earrings. I drew at least 20 of them that night. The 6 am train from here leads over the Rhine, change in Cologne and Hamburg and then onto the ferry at Puttgarden; the whole train comes on the ferry too.

My old friend Eva, who I first met when she came as an artist to Deveron Arts joined me in Copenhagen. Eva is a photographer and film maker, with her new camera she had a frame for the journey. I meanwhile focused on my tea cosies. Last year I made many tea cosies, so I could give one to each of the people I was hosted by along the journey to Istanbul. Rolf and Anso – Eva’s friend who we stayed with got a prototype each. But from here on I tried to revive my knitting skills and make one perfect Aran style cosy while zooming through the snow and tree covered Scandinavian landscapes.

Rolf and his cosy

Anso and her coy

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You have to look sharp here, otherwise snow becomes just more snow and trees just more trees. I have the book Harzreise by Heinrich Heine with me: Nature, like a great poet’ he writes ‘knows also with little means to create largest effects. There is not just the sun, trees, flowers, water and love. Of course the last one is often missing in the heart of the onlooker, so the whole show may allow a poor view and the sun has then only so and so many miles of a radius, and the trees are good for heating, and the flowers are classified according to their pollen stamens, and the water is too wheat’.
Hence, many would think that going on a 5 day train journey to the other end of Europe via 7 countries, 2 seas and 2447 miles (according to Google 24 miles more than to Istanbul) is a bit of a waste of time. Time is money they would say, and this is a big waster therefore. But time can also get you something. I used to knit a lot, but kind of de-learned it due to all those time constraints. As the landscape passes by, the pattern evolves. Sadly there was not a single tea pot on the route, so little chance to fit it, to make it tea pot perfect. And when I got home it did not fit. ‘What a bummer!’ Eva would say. And then we see a reindeer herd. And Eva sees also a mouse through her lens (I see only the Aran pattern).

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Rovaniemi is somewhat a bit disappointing at first sight, – a town with many modern, rather uncoordinated features. But then I went to the amazing ARKTIKUM museum, its full of arcti-facts, Sami culture, sledges, info on the aurora borealis. And then you get to a 1939 model of the mainly wooden architectured town. And then next to it a model of 1944. At first sight one is not sure if one sees right. But yes, it is the totally burned down city following a bombing raid by the German army. My stomach went upside down. That image has not left me since… But I see Rovaniemi with a different lens now.
The talk went fine, it was interesting to be among all those amazing arctic design people; my task was to discuss role of community in all this. In particular I loved these Icelandic designers who through their protagonist Vik Prjonsdottir tell stories off nature, the sea and animals through their knitting of wonderful blankets. They brought an eagle blanket, I was tempted to steal it there and then.
The night before we were invited to go on a snow safari (arktafari as they call it here – they are really great in turning all the negatives into positives here: cool is cool). That was totally crazy, a bus takes you into the woods and when you think it does not go any further a snow mobile driven sledge is waiting and takes you further in, where there is a fire and a display of the newest design of a tree cutting machine… It was hard to think what to make of it, but certainly worth the journey.
And then I got the chance to go skiing. Eva came with me on day one in the vicinity. The next day I skied on the icy Kemijoki river, what a novelty. That alone was the trip worth. Cool is cool, seems to be the slogan here, all the things you can do on ice: ski, fish, race around in speedy snow mobiles, even barbecue.
The return journey leads us via the village of Ii (yes, this is not a typo), where we give another talk to village elders and school – as they have a keen interest in local cultural development. And then the train again from Oulu south to Turku, where we take the Baltic Princess a gigantic ferry with no less than 6 restaurants and great dance space. People dance Tango here to life music, while the ship breaks through the Baltic ice towards Stockholm. More train, more knitting, Eva still trying to get the ultimate picture we get to Malmö. Eva departs, we say good-bye to a great trip. Maybe next year we go as far east as we can. Maybe. I look at Malmö Konsthall at work from Alfredo Jaar, then get to Kastrup airport and fly to Aberdeen in 90 minutes.

Thanks: to Glen Coutts who introduced me to the people in Rovaniemi, Maria who organised it all, Marja for all the information on the skiing and the location. Eva for the great company and patience with the knitting; Nick for letting me go.

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