My Life In Europe’s Freest Covid-1984 Country

Socialist Sweden no more.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Sweden is no longer a country run by social justice warriors. That’s a thing of the past, though Sweden does still have its share of problems.

But in the time of Covid-1984, Sweden is a sane country in an insane world. And because of that, Sweden is where I’m at. Which gives me the opportunity to explore not just the cities, but the terrain, of this Northern European country. And that allows you to tag along for the ride.

So buckle up for a paranoia-free road trip in which we’ll adventure in the Arctic, ski the slopes of a white desert, soak in midnight sun, sleep in a UFO and invade Norway (the far north, not the far, far north). All while discovering that Sweden is not just for SJWs, nor is it flat as a pancake.

You’ll be in the backseat on this rare spring 2020 voyage into a land of free human beings cause my brother’s in the driver’s seat and I’m riding shotgun.

But first…

The journey from Mexico

If you read the most recent installment of my adventures in Covid-1984 world, you’ll remember I was trapped in Mexico

The hysteria and lockdown regulations caught up to me in April in my villa in Quintana Roo. More specifically, in my pool on my floating flamingo in Playa del Carmen.

Starting to rain here…. a good omen to leave

I spent most of April in or around that pool, entertaining myself with movies, books, games and the occasional stealthy meet up with friends for a game of Catan. 

Relaxing as it may sound, I am used to being on the road. This lifestyle was getting a bit depressing. In that blog, I mentioned starting to monitor potential escape routes with one eye. Now that I had been there for over a month, I was watching much more closely and weighing my options.

Near the end of April I distilled my options down to two choices: Sweden or Belarus

Would things be the same if I were to return to Belarus??

Both those countries have some of the most relaxed quarantine regulations in the world right now, so I booked a flight for both just in case. 

I was still trying to decide which country appealed to me more when the airline decided for me. The flight to Belarus was canceled. I would be leaving for Sweden on the 30th of April.

With the anticipation of being stuck in Mexico for 6 more weeks finally gone, I returned to my productive self. They say a body in motions tends to stay in motion and a body lounging on a flamingo in a pool tends to… well you know the rest.

I started to plan my trip to Sweden with a nice addition to consider my brother would be joining me for my Swedish excursion.

We had been planning to meet up around this time of year, but Covid-1984 almost ruined that plan. He was in Germany at the time, so Sweden was a convenient destination for us both. Most importantly, we are both big skiers and Sweden has some world-class resorts in the northern part of the country.

I also needed him to bring me some cold-weather clothes. The luggage situation of a perpetual traveler doesn’t lend itself well to going from a pool in Mexico to a ski resort in the Arctic — though I did pull off Antarctica carrying just hand luggage and wearing eight layers of clothes.

On my last full day in Mexico I finalized all my plans for Sweden.

With the Arctic Circle to look forward to, I soaked up as much of the tropical sun as possible.

That night I snuck out to meet with some friends for a goodbye game of Catan. We may have had a couple of Coronas for good measure too 🙂

A loss to send me off unfortunately 😛

The next morning I woke up reinvigorated with energy at the idea of hitting the road again.

My flight was not until the late afternoon, so I’m sure you can guess what I did. Let’s just say I made up for not seeing any flamingos while I was in Yemen.

Eventually it was time to leave. I would be flying from Cancun to Mexico City and from there on to Amsterdam.

So long Mexico

Cancun airport had only two or three domestic flights all day, so the airport was empty but the flights were full. Surprisingly, there were no mask requirements at the airport or on the plane.

My flight to Amsterdam left Mexico City at around midnight. 

Perfectly sized lines

Despite the airport being empty, the plane was full again. It makes you wonder what the point of social distancing in the airport is when you get crammed so close together on the plane…

Anyway, I slept for most of the flight having an emergency seat and arrived in Amsterdam around 5 pm.

My flight to Stockholm wasn’t leaving until morning, so I booked this little room in a transit hotel for the night.

In case anyone wondered, I use one of these Osprey bags for traveling

Not quite a beach adjacent villa in Mexico, but I reminded myself I’d only be there for a night and soldiered on.

Every restaurant was shut down due to Covid-1984 hysteria, so I settled on some vending machine chips for my transit hotel room service.

The next morning I was happy to find out my ePassport was still working in the Corona world. 

“Please keep your distance”… until you get on the plane and basically sit on top of each other.

I went right through the automated border control without any hassle. Quite the difference from my recent experience at the airport in Jaipur, India.

Walking to my gate I noticed that despite all the restaurants being shut down, the Rolex store was operating and fully staffed.

Luxury watches. Waterproof and corona-proof evidently

Maybe those who buy Rolexes in an airport aren’t so quick to forgo buying a new watch sponsored by taxpayer money just because of Covid-1984…?

The flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm was short and a little bit refreshing. Refreshing because nobody was wearing a mask. Breathing in those things is bad enough on the ground, thousands of feet in the air it’s just oppressive.

No mas mask

Stockholm – One of the Last Bastions of Sense

If I thought the flight was refreshing, I had another thing coming.

As I mentioned, Sweden was at the top of my list to escape Mexico mostly due to their handling of the harmless flu going around. No offense to any Swedes reading this, but I had always thought it was expensive, boring, flat as a pancake (geographically), and a little bit communist.

Quite the contrary. I had 4 nights in Stockholm by myself and couldn’t be happier seeing things like this:

Terrified people. How do they sleep at night?

While much of the world was still advising you to report your neighbors for not social distancing in some Gestapo-lite impression, it was pretty much business as usual in Stockholm.

Business as usual in Stockholm

I had a ton of work to catch up on before my brother arrived, so much of my days in Stockholm were spent working in my hotel. I was staying at the Hilton Hotel in central Stockholm right on the Söderström river.

Hotel view

Many people might assume my consulting business would be in a lull during this global shutdown, but it is actually booming. 

I’m hopeful that one good thing to come from this hysteria is more people scrutinizing the role of the state in their lives.

Anyway, my days were filled with work, but I still managed to fit in some exploring and tasty meals at night.

Steak tartare. One of my favorites

Raw meat is one of my favorite meals, so the abundance of various tartare dishes like steak and deer was extremely welcome.

Deer tartare

As was the ability to finally go visit a bar again:

A little sick of corona after Mexico… Might switch to a new beer 🙂

I found it a little funny (or maybe punny) that Stockholm seems to be the only city not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome at the moment. 

With views like these, I was happy with my decision.

Light at the end of the lockdown tunnel?

Uppsala

With 2 days remaining until my brother arrived, I decided to spend the remaining time in Uppsala.

Uppsala is due north of Stockholm, and a bit closer to the airport my brother would be arriving at.

I still had plenty of work to do, but fit in as much exploring as time afforded me.

Beautiful Uppsala

Uppsala is home to the oldest university in Scandinavia. As you can imagine that gives it a pretty impressive list of notable alumni.

You can add me to the list in the sense that I “attended” the university’s botanical garden and tried to fire this cannon at Germany for giving into the Covid-1984 delirium 🙂

On my signal…

I believe the last town I described as quaint was the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn. Although much (almost 9x) bigger, Uppsala had a similar feel about it.

Classic Scandinavian style town

The architecture was very simple but classically Scandinavian and the abundance of water and nature figuratively and literally completed the picture(s).

Uppsala also happens to be the ecclesiastical center of Sweden. This big cathedral you’ve already seen in some pictures is actually the largest cathedral in Scandinavia.

The cathedral with some bar patrons below

I finished as much work as I could with the impending road trip ahead, and eventually, the day came to pick my brother up from the airport.

Road Trip

After I had sprayed my brother down with disinfectant and waved at him from 2 meters away (just kidding) we grabbed his luggage and took a bus to the rental car agency.

Picked up a hitchhiker

The ski resort that we planned to go to was called Riksgransen. It is almost as far north as you can go in Sweden, and sits right on the Norwegian border. We had decided to take the route that hugs the Baltic Sea coast all the way to the top of the Gulf of Bothnia.

Easy to forget how large Sweden is

This meant we had approximately 1,300km of driving ahead of us. As the crow flies, the Austrian alps are actually closer to Stockholm then the northernmost ski resorts in Sweden are.

Anyway, although a convertible was tempting, we decided to rent a 4-wheel drive Mercedes GLC for the Arctic conditions we were headed for.

With no special hurry, we had arranged to spend about 5 nights on the road during our 1,300km trip.

While normally I opt for a Marriott or Hilton if they’re available, I made a point to try to choose some interesting hotels for us.

The first of which was a little bit of a detour inland from the coast in the town of Järvsö. It is called Järvzoo because it is literally a big wildlife park with a hotel built in the middle of it. 

We arrived in time for an evening hike not far from the park. This is called Kramstatjärnen Lake and sits right outside the wildlife park.

One of many lakes to come

By the time we got the hotel, we still had just enough daylight to make a quick tour around the wildlife park. The park is home to brown bears, elk, reindeer, musk oxen, lynx, owls and all sorts of native Nordic animals. 

Unfortunately, the Scandinavian sun was finally setting and most of the animals with it, so we didn’t see much.

However, being able to walk around the zoo wasn’t the reason I booked this hotel. 

The hotel gives you the option to purchase various rooms that are in the same area as some of the wildlife preserves. Despite being afraid of wolves as a kid, I decided to conquer my fear and booked us the wolf room.

This is basically a room with panorama windows right in the wolf section of the “zoo”. Because the animals had enormous amounts of space, it wasn’t so much a zoo as a wildlife preserve. 

Anyway, our beds were about 3 meters away from where the wolves lived. We were separated by just a glass window.

We went to sleep having gotten just a glimpse of a couple of wolves in the distance. All night we could hear them howling, which made me dream of being a wolverine when I finally fell asleep 🙂

When we woke up, the wolves had just been fed from somewhere right by our window. We got to see them running by with food in their mouths and playing with each other just a few meters away. I am quite impressed with wolves now to say the least. In fact, they may have overtaken birds-of-prey as my coat of arms animal from my Saudia Arabia adventure… Maybe.

Majestic creatures

We packed our things and took one last tour around the facility. Now that the animals were fed and energized by the morning light, we got to see almost everything the zoo had to offer. 

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a uh…baby chicken?

Unfortunately the brown bears seemed to still be hibernating.

I hoped this was a sign that we wouldn’t come across any brown bears in the wild in the coming days.

The Last Metropolitan 

Our destination for the day was the city of Umeå. About 400km was the distance from our wolf sanctuary to Umeå, so we had roughly about 5 hours of driving ahead of us.

Nice weather this morning

The weather was very pleasant that day, so we meandered our way up the coast enjoying the Baltic coastline.

Our first stop along the way was the city of Sundsvall.

Sundsvall. Notice it is not verboten to sit on a bench with a friend here

Sundsvall was one of the early contributors to Swedish industrialism with a prominent sawmill district. With industry came one of the first strikes in Swedish history called the Sundsvall Strike of 1879. 

While the strike was largely unsuccessful at the time, Sweden has seen union membership as high as 86% since then, so maybe it worked out in the long run 😛

Our second stop required a little bit of a detour, but it was worth it. 

Covid’s estranged twin brother

I joined a fraternity of non-brainwashed travelers who are willing to come one letter away from the evil Covid-1984.

And yes this stop was just for the picture. Hovid is a fairly unremarkable town of about 300 people on the island of Alnö just off the coast of Sundsvall.

The High Coast

Höga Kusten. The High Coast Bridge

We continued on up the high coast of Sweden.

Our next stop was the Skuleskogen National Park.

Brief hike in the national park.

This is one of the most beautiful national parks in Sweden due to its steep rise out of the Baltic Sea and topography that is unique to the high coast area. We decided to stretch our legs and had a nice bear-free hike for a couple of hours through the dense forest.

Skuleskogen is a favored place for scientists to observe the effects of post-glacial rebound. Simply put, this is the phenomenon attributed to the ice sheets in the Arctic pushing down on the crust of the earth and slowly raising the water levels by a few millimeters per year.

Before long we were back in our car and pushing north.

Örnsköldsvik would be our final stop before Umeå.

Bay of Örnsköldsvik

This is a coastal town with a perfect natural bay as well as some interesting architecture.

Creative design

I sort of doubt this building was designed this way with female seclusion in mind, like the Palace of Wind in Jaipur

After walking around the town for a bit it was back on the road for the final 100km of our 400km journey.

Umeå is the largest city in Norrland. As I’m sure you can guess, Norrland is the designation for the 9 northernmost provinces in Sweden. 

Downtown Umeå

The long day of driving concluded with a delicious meal at a tapas restaurant called Cinco.

Kiwi in cocktails.. almost always a hit

The food and drinks were great, but a disadvantage of Sweden is that the six cocktails we celebrated our successful day with cost 100 Euros. In Mexico I could have my favorite cocktail, dark and stormy, for just a few pesos.

There were plenty of beautiful blonde Swedish girls in the restaurant too though, so maybe they factor that into the price 😛

After dinner we headed over to the appropriately named U&ME Hotel.

Enjoying the views from U&ME—a hotel in Umeå

Quite a beautiful city.

This is about as dark as it gets here this time of year

Aliens in Sweden?

Our pleasant weather set with the sun, unfortunately. We woke up to a pretty brutal snowfall so we decided to skip exploring Umeå more thoroughly before taking off.

We continued north, getting closer and closer to the end of the Baltic Sea coastline. Every 50km I was happily reminded that we didn’t choose the convertible car as the temperature plummeted.

Even the Baltic Sea was no match for the freezing temperatures this far north. In this little town of Luleå Skärgård you can see a completely frozen over Baltic Sea in the foreground.

Here to ski and not ice skate unfortunately

Eventually we made it to our first and only stop of the day, a place called Gammelstad Church Town. 

In German “gammelstad” means rotting. I’m sure they didn’t mean any sacrilege by it, but my brother and I had a laugh at the idea of a rotting church town.

The rotten church with the wooden lofts around it

This whole town is actually considered a World UNESCO Heritage Site. It is the best-preserved example of this type of town which was very common in northern Scandinavia once upon a time.

Essentially it is just a large church surrounded by hundreds of simplistic wooden houses. 

The idea was that on Sundays and religious festivals all the worshippers from the countryside could gather here to worship and celebrate. Instead of having to worry about getting home in dangerous weather, the country folk could stay in the wooden houses for free.

And no, these wooden houses were not one of the interesting hotels I had booked for our trip.

Instead I had booked a very bizarre accommodation not far from the rotting church town.

My brother and I, aliens to this Swedish Norrland, would fittingly be staying in a UFO.

Stranger in a strange land

I had found this company Treehotels while I was researching Sweden and knew we had to give it a shot. 

Treehotels offers a wide selection of bizarre treehouses that are open to rent nearly year-round.

My first choice would have been the MirrorCube:

Mirrorcube

If you read Atlas Shrugged you’ll remember this is how Galt’s Gulch worked. It’s basically a cube completely covered in mirrors that offer it some pretty convincing camouflage in the right setting. I’d like to incorporate something like this in all my properties in the future 🙂

Again

Unfortunately the MirrorCube was booked for the weekend, but staying in a UFO was not a bad second option.

Some other options Treehotels offered were the Bird’s Nest:

If birds of prey end up on my coat of arms I guess I have to incorporate some of these around my properties

The DragonFly:

Head of the dragonfly not pictured

The Blue Cone:

Never figured out why this is called “blue” cone

And many others. Which would you have stayed at?

If you also chose the UFO I have to warn you —unless you’ve spent a lot of time sleeping on a boat (or in a real UFO!) it can be a little difficult to fall asleep. The UFO is basically just attached to all the surrounding trees with cables, so you can get a little seasick if the wind is bad.

Before facing the elements in our UFO we had a delicious dinner at a local restaurant. We ate moose and some local berries before getting a bottle of wine and enjoying the sunset over this river.

Quite a nice sunset to end a day of bad weather

A Gourmet Restaurant in the Arctic Wilderness

We ejected from our UFO and hit the road early the next morning.

The staircase is photoshop. We were beamed in and out

We were abandoning the Baltic Coast and finally cutting inland for our final few nights before we reached the ski resort.

It was unfortunate that we had so much driving because the weather was really beautiful again.

Our one detour on this stretch of the journey was the Storforsen waterfall.

Appropriate enough for my collection of waterfall selfies?

The Storforsen rapids are some of the biggest in Europe. They stretch over 5 km with an average flow of 250 cubic meters per second. To put that in perspective the rapids drop 82 meters in that 5 km stretch.

It is possible to arrange rafting trips here, but something about violent snow-melt water didn’t appeal to me that day.

The power of water

From Storforsen we had a four-hour drive inland to the Arctic Gourmet Cabin.

Crossing into the Arctic Circle

The Arctic Gourmet Cabin is a complex about 20 minutes drive from the city of Kiruna. It is the brainchild of Chef Johan and consists of two private luxury cabins and one of the smallest and most secluded gourmet restaurants in the world.

The entire restaurant

We had lucked out with the slow tourist season because oftentimes people reserve their stay a year in advance. 

It was easy to tell why after our first night there.

The restaurant really is tiny, just large enough for two tables and the area for the chef to cook. He cooks, serves, and explains everything himself.

2 tables and the chef’s cooking area

The first night was 5 courses and truly one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I’ll put pictures of all five courses with their description here for you.

1. Onion soup with pork belly

2. Smoked moose with coffee cheese

3. Reindeer filet mignon with chanterelles

4. Moose filet with the best sauce I have ever had. I believe it was shitake mushrooms, cheese, and some other things

5. Chocolate fondant with local cloudberries

Amazing. I can’t praise Chef Johan’s cooking enough.

The night didn’t end there however. Our cabin was outfitted with perfect Arctic amenities like a big jacuzzi whirlpool and a sauna.

Nighttime in arctic Sweden

This time of year it never gets completely dark that far north, so after dinner we sat in the whirlpool relaxing with plenty of light until almost 3 in the morning.

All built by Johan and company

The next day we had arranged to visit a local husky farm nearby. The couple that operates the farm has nearly 45 huskies.

How far back are you related to those wolves, dog?

While there wasn’t any dog sledding allowed, we got to explore all the property and the frozen river nearby with a few huskies in tow.

Neapolitan huskies

It was very peaceful being this far secluded in the world, so we walked around a bit and just continued to enjoy the environment. 

The snow was a bit too deep to do any serious hiking, but we were able to cover a good amount of ground with the snowshoes they provided us.

A meter of snow is no match for these

Starting to get antsy for skiing…

The previous four days I had been busy with the road trip, so eventually we went back to our cabin so I could get some work done.

If you can believe it, our dinner that night was even better than the night before. Johan must have known how to make me a happy customer because he cooked us up a 45-day dry-aged Swedish beef steak that had been slaughtered less than 2 months before.

Someone must have told Johan my kryptonite

Nothing better to eat on this planet.

After dinner we indulged in some very fine liquors like this Zacapa 23 year rum from Guatemala.

Tasty rum. Wouldn’t want to waste this in a dark ‘n stormy

Once again we ended up in the jacuzzi whirlpool in the early hours of the morning. This time a little bit drunk from all the fine booze 🙂

Decided to take the hitchhiker with me all the way 😛

We relaxed in this haven and eventually went to bed in preparation for our final drive to the ski resort.

Riksgransen at Last

We said goodbye to Johan and struck out early in the morning. The local town of Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden, but our ski resort was about 140 km northwest from there. 

Church in Nikaluokta

After Kiruna the flat landscape of Sweden starts to change drastically with very scenic and beautiful mountains.

On the road again. The last time for a little while

It had been a long few days of driving, but we really enjoyed this final stretch. There were frozen lakes and snowy trees all with the bright white mountains in the background.

A halfpipe for the gods of snowboarding 😛

Eventually we made it to the promised land of Riksgransen.

I believe Riksgränsen means something like the nation’s limit, due to it being right on the border of Norway

The weather was perfect when we got there, so we immediately rented some ski gear and hit the mountains.

This is one of the last open ski resorts in the world, so while we didn’t have the mountain completely to ourselves, the lifts and runs were almost completely barren of other people. 

Very few people for such a perfect ski day

The resort offers around 20km of slopes and fully working lifts so we had a very full day of skiing. The snow is very fresh and deep too, which let us do tons of freeriding. 

White desert

All in all we spent about 6 nonstop hours skiing that day. We even illegally crossed the border into Norway at one point 🙂

Whoops we uh… got lost

Sweden had been very good to us so far though, so we didn’t stay long in Norway.

We skied to the point of exhaustion and eventually returned to the resort for a well-needed full night of sleep.

Midnight

The next day the weather was very poor. I am more of a relaxation skier, so I chose to stay at the resort and get some work done while my brother went to test the slopes.

After about 2 hours he came back saying the conditions were just not worth it. Luckily the forecast for the next two days looked very promising. 

My Fresh Perspective on Sweden

My brother and I weren’t going to stay in the Arctic to ride out all of Covid-1984. We made our way back down the country, which you may read about in an upcoming post or which may be left to your imagination…

Anyway, I have been very pleased with the Covid-1984 time I have spent in Sweden. It turns out I was very wrong in some of my prior assessments about the country. It is indeed a bit expensive. But other than that, I couldn’t be happier to be in Sweden for this stretch of my paranoia-free journey through a paranoid world. 🙂