How to Get from Podgorica Airport to the City Centre by Public Transport: Yes, It IS Possible (Kind of!)

Google the question in the title, like any budget-minded traveller heading to Montenegro would, and prepare to be met with a resounding response boiling down to just one word: “impossible”. Advice forums are full of people saying that there are no buses or trains, and that the only way out of the airport is by taxi. These same helpful folks often continue by recommending their “favourite” taxi company, which is not suspicious at all, nuh-uh. However, while planning my own trip, I came across a lone, rebellious comment stating that there might be other options. Being the cheapskate that I am, I obviously had to investigate it further. So, here are the results of my empirical research. In brief: yes, it is sort of possible, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Option 1: Podgorica Airport to Podgorica by Train

Try this first! There is a train station about one kilometre from the airport, and it’s a fairly quick and easy walk that takes about 10-15 minutes. When you first step out of the airport, shake the numerous taxi drivers peddling their services and yelling about how there is no bus, and exit the parking lot to the only street leading out towards the main road. Note that there are no sidewalks and the cars drive by fast, but for most of the way you can walk on a gravel path that follows the road on the right.

IMG_20180615_194905This is how the gravel path looks, the road is on the left behind the bushes

IMG_20180615_195257This is right before the bridge over the railroad starts – do not enter the bridge; instead, cross the road to the left side

IMG_20180615_195330Keep walking down on the left side of the bridge

IMG_20180615_195534When the tarmac turns into gravel again, you’re almost there

IMG_20180615_195639Aaaand there it is! Cross the tracks to get to the station

IMG_20180615_195730 Looking in the Podgorica direction

The empty shack of a station may seem abandoned, but don’t let it fool you: the train does stop there. I’ve seen locals hop on the train on my way from Podgorica to Virpazar and back. However, the main problem is that there are only ten daily connections, so if your flight schedule doesn’t match the train schedule, you’ll have to opt for the bus. You can check the train timetable here: http://www.zcg-prevoz.me/search, from station “Aerodrom” to station “Podgorica”.

Option 2: Podgorica Airport to Podgorica by Bus

Okay, so the train schedule doesn’t match yours? No worries, you’re already halfway to the bus stop. Keep following the path on the left side of the bridge to reach the main road.

IMG_20180615_200003Walk past the basketball court and keep going

IMG_20180615_200113The bridge across the tracks ends here, keep walking on this narrow path. At some point you can switch back to the right side of the road again

IMG_20180615_200514The road from the airport meets the main road at this traffic circle. Take the exit to the right in the Podgorica direction

IMG_20180615_200701A wild pavement appears! And disappears. And appears again.

IMG_20180615_200752Almost there! Just have to cross this blue bridge and walk a tiny bit further

IMG_20180615_201134Voilà! The bus stop is next to the Pizza Restaurant Ester

IMG_20180615_202639A single journey ticket costs 0.90€ (June 2018)

A bus sped up past me a minute before I reached the stop, but on a Friday night I only had to wait about 15 minutes before the next one arrived. I tried to look for the bus timetables online, but had no luck there. I assume they run fairly regularly. If you see any locals waiting at the same stop, you’re golden. I’ve also come across a few random comments on a mysterious “L20” bus line that supposedly runs all the way to the airport seven times a day, but unfortunately I could not confirm its existence. Further research is needed there.

But Is It Worth It?

Alright, before you embark on this epic journey to the bus stop, you must first decide how much you value your time, effort and safety. The taxi to the city costs around 15€ (or less if you manage to negotiate it down or book in advance), a single bus ticket costs 0.90€, and a train ticket costs 1€. It is a 2.5 km walk to the bus stop, which took me about half an hour + 15 minutes of waiting time. How much would you have to save to make it worth the hike, the time, and the risk of being run over by the reckless drivers?

I feel like the train/bus option is great for cheap solo backpackers like myself, but when you have two or more people in your group, the cost per person is significantly reduced if you just take the easy way out and hop on a taxi. I would also think twice before attempting this with a heavy trolley bag.

For me, a major perk of this public transport option was the mere fact I got to avoid taxis! I haven’t been scammed often when travelling, but the few times I’ve been left feeling ripped off or just generally bamboozled, a taxi driver has almost always been somehow involved. So, personally, I’m willing to go the literal extra mile to avoid them. Your mileage may vary.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was helpful! :)

 

Hitchhiking from Northern Sweden to Norway: Abisko-Tromsø

Well, well, well. It’s been a while (!) since I last wrote anything here – all my writing energy was spent on my Bachelor’s thesis. But now that I’ve wrapped up that project, it’s time to finally finish the grand Kungsleden saga. At the end of our hike, we hitchhiked from Abisko to Tromsø, where we rested for a couple of nights before flying back home to our beloved Turku.

Day 7 Continues: Hitchhiking from Abisko to Tromsø

Due to its sparse population and even sparser traffic, it’s easy to assume Northern Sweden would make for terrible hitchhiking territory. However, in our experience it was quite the opposite: our journey from Sweden to Norway was smooth and comfortable. It is possible to catch a train or bus from Abisko to Narvik, and a connecting bus from Narvik to Tromsø. The total price would be around 45-60 EUR per person, and there’s only a handful of daily connections. We managed to save both time and money by hitchhiking.

In the afternoon we left the Abisko mountain station and positioned ourselves by the only road (E10) leading to Narvik, Norway. It didn’t take long for us to catch the first of our four rides, when a father-daughter duo picked us up and dropped us off at the next village, 10 km closer to our destination. In Björkliden we kept our thumbs up for twenty long minutes until a young Norwegian woman stopped her car and told us to get in. Right before the Norwegian border, we stopped for some last-minute grocery shopping before continuing all the way to Bjerkvik, Norway.

There’s a perfect hitchhiking spot right next to the Esso in Bjerkvik, where cars heading north slowly exit a traffic circle to get on the E6. Before we knew it, an older Norwegian gentleman had picked us up and taken us all the way to Nordkjosbotn. On our way he stopped for gas and bought a coffee for Chef and, upon hearing I’m not a fan of coffee, a chocolate bar for me. :) At this point, Mister D. texted Chef to let us know he had made it to Abisko and was ready to party. Sorry D., too late! We were long gone by then. We did invite him to visit us in Turku so we could celebrate again together, but so far he hasn’t taken us up on our offer.

IMG_4287Hitchhiking views in Nordkjosbotn – Santa biking in the river?

Our final hitching spot was where the E6 ends and meets the E8. Again, we were soon picked up by a man from Tromsø who took us all the way to the campground parking lot! His own house was located a bit outside the city, but he said he was happy to make the extra five-kilometre drive for us. He had also used to hitchhike when was younger and wanted to pay it forward. Feeling extremely grateful, we accepted his offer and finally made it to Tromsø Camping, where we put up our tent in the dark. Our plans for the rest of the evening only included a meal and a hot shower, oh the luxury!

Day 8: Touring Tromsø

During the past week, our towels hadn’t completely dried up even once, and on the eighth day our clothes, too, began to exude a hint of an exotic aroma. We decided to make full use of the campground facilities and do a load of laundry while having breakfast. Washing one load cost a whopping 10 EUR, but a clean set of clothes would be worth it. Unfortunately, the price didn’t include any washing detergent! Figuring that a wash without detergent would be better than no wash at all, we put all our textiles through the washer and dryer. Another mistake! The rotten aroma of dirty towels emanating from the dryer filled the entire room and lingered in the air long after we had already slinked away in shame (I checked later). Sorryyyy.

IMG_4335View from the Tromsø bridge connecting the mainland to the city centreIMG_4339Arctic Cathedral

Unwilling to let the laundry disaster discourage us, we set out for the sights and walked a couple kilometres from the camping to the city centre. Chef had managed to break the frames of his glasses, so we visited the first optician we spotted on our way. They just happened to be celebrating 50 years in business, so we got to enjoy some cake and refreshments while waiting for the glasses to be repaired. Perfect timing!

IMG_4328Hustle and bustle in the city centreIMG_4332Feathered street patrolIMG_4330

The cake made for an excellent appetiser before lunch, which was our only chance of eating out budget-wise. We chose the cosy-looking Emma’s Dream Kitchen, where Chef got a taste of whale and I ended up with a fish dish. After this welcome break, we rolled on. Literally.

emmasEmmas Drømmekjøkken

IMG_4308Lunch à la Polaria

The obligatory sights in Tromsø include both the aquarium Polaria and the beer hall of Mack brewery, and naturally we checked both off our list. At Mack’s, Chef ordered the tasting menu which included six (I think?) varieties of beer, while I focused on emptying my pint of cider. Fortunately, we made it to the pub about half an hour before a busload of loud Germans arrived, otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to look around and take in all the decorations.
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mackBetter advice for Norway: “keep your life savings, drink water”. Compared to the price list from 1939, the cost of getting wasted had risen ever-so-slightly :)

To finish off the day, we headed to the final, obligatory tourist destination: the Fjellheisen cable car takes visitors to a viewpoint 421 metres above the sea, which boasts terrific views over the city and the surrounding mountain ranges. Once again, our timing was perfect to enjoy the glorious sunset. Unfortunately, I’m not good enough at photography to really do any justice for the majestic natural spectacle we got to experience, but it was definitely worth the price of the cable car ticket (~19 EUR). An excellent end to an excellent trip!

IMG_4350Happy campers. Notice the snack chocolate peeking out of my pocket :D
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Kungsleden, Part 4: Alesjaure-Abiskojaure-Abisko

Day 6: Alesjaure – Abiskojaure – Almost Abisko

Chef really had the perfect timing to splurge on indoor accommodation. On the fifth night, the temperature dropped well below zero, and by the sixth morning, the nearby mountain tops were covered in a fresh layer of snow. Many campers complained they hadn’t slept much due to the freezing temperature. The only people who seemed happy and well-rested were the few who had been smart enough to pack a fleece liner for their sleeping bag. And of course us, the fat cats from the moneybags section indoors.
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After breakfast, we continued on the tried-and-tested splurge track and paid 350 SEK (~35 EUR) each for a boat ride across Lake Alisjávri, which shaved about 5 km off the next leg. The Alesjaure-Abiskojaure leg would have been 21 km of hiking in total – 16 km sounded much better, so we were more than happy to cheat this way. I think I’ve already mentioned how we rejected a similar boat ride offer on the first hiking day at Lake Láddjujávri because it “seemed like a rip-off”. Curiously, we began to appreciate comfort more and more the closer we got to the end of the hike… Of course, our official excuse for being lazy like that was protecting my hurt knee from any extra strain. The dashing Mister D. did not join us on our lazeathon and chose to walk the whole way, so we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.
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At the wheel, there was a delightful reindeer herder who told us these boat rides usually form his main income in the summer season. No wonder business is booming: who wouldn’t enjoy the luxury of admiring the scenery from the comfort of a soft seat on a boat speeding across the turquoise lake? We passed by a small village only inhabited in the summer; in late August it was already deserted. We also caught a glimpse of a giant waterfall – I already forgot its name, but I remember the man telling us it’s possible to walk behind it! The waterfall would make a nice day trip destination from Alesjaure. Technically, it would be also possible to pass the waterfall on the way from Alesjaure to Abiskojaure by hiking the eastern side of Alisjávri (Kungsleden follows the western shore). However, that would require some seriously difficult wading where Alisjávri meets Rádujávri. Noobs need not apply, only recommended for experts.
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Although the frost had subsided, the weather was still super chilly before noon. Regardless of the cold, I couldn’t stop smiling like a crazy person, all thanks to the amazing hiking poles. My knees were beginning to feel normal, the trail was fairly easy to hike, and we were making fast progress (at least compared to the past few days). This Alesjaure – Abiskojaure leg was my favourite in terms of the scenery, as well.
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The closer we got to Abiskojaure the more the nature started resembling our own ‘hoods in Finland. The climate in the valley between Abiskojaure and Abisko is unusually warm considering the latitude – there are birch trees growing there! In the picture below, you can see Lake Ábeskojávri looming in the distance. The Abiskojaure huts are located right by the lake.
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The valley belongs to the protected Abisko Nature Reserve. Camping is only allowed at three marked locations: the first spot is at the Abiskojaure huts, the second spot by the trail approximately 5 km before Abisko, and the last at the Abisko camping site. The reserve begins approximately 1 km before the Abiskojaure huts. Our guide book recommended setting up camp by a large bridge a few kilometres before the Abiskojaure huts, and sure enough, there were several beautiful spots in a small forest by the river. Chef and I had originally planned to spend the night there, but we got there quite early and weren’t ready to call it a day yet. We decided to continue past the huts and on to the second camping spot, which meant an additional 10 km of hiking.
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But first, we had a proper lunch break at the huts. I would have very much liked to buy a can of coke to go with my sandwiches, but the tiny shop had already been conquered by a nightmarish group of indecisive Brits. The ladies sure took their sweet time shopping: Gore-Tex trousers rustling, they kept shuffling between the cash register and the shelves, switching out the products in their grubby hands, and calculating out loud whether the budget of eight people would allow for the purchase of both a chocolate bar and a can of pop, or only one of those. Or maybe neither, or possibly a double amount of each…?  Hrrrnnnnnggghhhh! All this kerfuffle over euro prices in the single digits. It became abundantly clear that I would not be advancing to the cash register until long after my spirit had already left my mummified body. My patience wearing as thin as my body from hunger, I left the queue and pretended water was as good a drink as any. We feasted on our lunch at the yard while mosquitoes feasted on us.

Upon leaving the huts, we ran into Mister D. again. Talk about perfect timing! He was just arriving and going to camp by the huts, but we just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. So we bid farewell for the second time that day.
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Now, I have nothing against roaming birch forests, but after hiking for 24 kilometres we did begin to feel a wee bit tired. According to my calculations, we were nearing the next allowed camping spot – and then got ambushed by the sign pictured below. Huh, two more kilometres? And in the wrong direction? And also uphill?
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At this point, a smart hiker would have consulted the guide book and the map once more. However, I had memorised the fact that there were only three possible camping spots within the entire nature reserve, so obviously this had to be one of them. So we dragged ourselves in the direction the sign was pointing at. The path kept getting narrower and ran through a muddy forest in steep uphill, and the promised camping spots were nowhere to be seen. Our slight annoyance quickly turned into sheer rage, but we had already gone too far to turn back. So we kept trudging on while scaring off any living thing within a five-kilometre radius with our loud cussing.
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The “two kilometres” suggested by the sign was in reality at least three (hundred). We finally made it out of the cursed forest and into the scenery pictured above. This obviously wasn’t the original camping spot we had been looking for, but it was the camping spot we deserved. It was an old, abandoned campsite! We had accidentally hiked outside of the reserve.
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The mood lightened substantially after Chef had managed to feed us both. We realised that making this wrong turn had in fact been a real stroke of luck – the most majestic camping spot of our entire hike was right there, high up, surrounded by mountains, next to a waterfall, with magnificent views over the lake below. I’m so thankful we were too stubborn to give up as soon as we realised our mistake.
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Day 7: Almost Abisko – Abisko
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Last hiking day! I taped up both of my knees just in case the impending downhill would wreak havoc with them. Then we were off to follow in our own footsteps back to the actual Kungsleden. Back down on the right trail, one of the rivers had dried up but the forest was flooded. Pictured below are the outhouses close to our planned camping spot – camping higher up really hadn’t been a bad thing at all.
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The rest or the trail was wide and extremely easy to hike – so easy that it became boring. Could we just finish already! Now I understand why so many people recommend starting the hike in Abisko: this birch forest highway would make for a nice, soft landing to the gruesome hike ahead. Finishing in Abisko means the hike ends in a bit of an anticlimax, at least terrain-wise.
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There are several “meditation spots” along Dag Hammarskjöldsleden. These spots always feature some kind of an aphorism carved in stone. The last meditation spot is pictured above. Carved in stone or not, this one I have to disagree with: den längsta resan är faktiskt Kungsleden.
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Never mind my complaints about the anticlimactic finish line – we really felt on top of the world upon finally reaching the Abisko mountain station! It was simply exhilarating. 108 km of physical and mental challenges and we made it! We also scored high on the relationship-testing aspect of this all: we did not fight once during the entire week (which is unheard of).
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The enormous mountain station, located by Lake Torne, seemed almost like a hotel, but the decoration still made it feel cosy. Our arrival could have been timed better, though: at two in the afternoon, lunch had just ended and the restaurant would not be open again until six in the evening. We didn’t end up staying for long: only for the time it took us to prepare a quick snack and reply to all the accumulated messages from the past week. Then we were off again, this time aiming to hitch-hike to Tromsø, Norway.

 

Kungsleden, Part 3: Sälka-Tjäktja-Alesjaure

Day 4: Sälka-Tjäktja

On the third night, the skies opened up and rain came pouring down on us. Fortunately, our loan tent managed to shield us from the flooding quite well: by morning light, only a small puddle had formed inside the tent in a bumpy spot. Since we didn’t want to start hiking again before the rain had stopped, we gladly took the opportunity to chill out in the comfort of our sleeping bags until late in the morning.

When we eventually got our backpacks packed, we stopped by the huts for some last-minute shopping. The hot-and-cold treatment in the sauna and the river had somewhat subdued the pain in my knee, but I still winced at the thought of putting pressure on my right leg despite all the sports tape. Chef had the stroke of genius to ask the hosts if someone had left behind a spare pair of trekking poles. To me, such a possibility felt highly unlikely and I wouldn’t have even bothered to ask. But lo and behold, they did in fact have a spare pair – how lucky could I possibly get! The hosts refused payment for the poles, and I’m finding it hard to describe the feelings of relief and gratitude that swept over me at that very moment. A couple of popped painkillers later, we were right back on the trail.

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The trekking poles soon became unexpectedly useful, when we had to wade several streams that the heavy rain had made extra challenging to cross. I always loaned one of the poles to Chef so we both could keep our balance while stumbling on slippery rocks. One of the crossings, however, seemed a bit scary: we would have to get knee-deep in the water, and the flow was strong. We were convinced that one pole each would not be enough to keep us from losing balance while also carrying our backpacks. At first, we considered the possibility that Chef would do the crossing first, then throw the poles back to me. However, the stream was wide and we couldn’t risk losing the poles. We walked around for a good while looking for a narrower crossing spot but saw none.

Once again, luck was with us when one of the hikers having a lunch break nearby came over and offered to help us. He told us he enjoyed crossings like that and had already gone back and forth thrice that day to help others cross. We got to borrow his friend’s trekking poles, which he then collected from us on the other side. After the half-hour hassle, we finally made it across without falling in the water. Wading such freezing streams without shoes on does wonderful things to your feet, by the way!

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Then begun our uphill battle toward the highest point on Kungsleden, Tjäktjapasset (1150 m): first a gentle rise and eventually a steep climb up a muddy slope. It’s amazing how far a person can go without really bending one of her knees at all – I pushed myself up with the poles and my left leg while my right leg just sort of stiffly dragged behind like dead weight. We were moving slowly again, but we didn’t let that ruin our mood. The views kept getting better the higher we got. Pictured below is the perfect camping spot we saw on our way to the top. A level, grassy spot next to a little stream for drinking water, with amazing views far down the valley – what more could you ask for? We were not ready to call it a day yet, but we shared this tip with a couple of really tired-looking passers-by a bit later.
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Right after Tjäktjapasset, the scenery changed dramatically from idyllic greenery to barren rocklands. So. Many. Rocks. The Sälka-Tjäktja leg is only 12 km long, but felt like twice as much due to the never-ending rocks. We passed by a couple of camps and snorted at the thought of putting up our own tent there; we didn’t even want to see another rock again, let alone wake up in the middle of the bastards the next morning.
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We also passed straight by the Tjäktja huts, because there was no sauna there. Besides, any otherwise potential camping spot would have been ruined by the rockpocalypse surrounding us. Our perseverance was rewarded when we found a comfortable, grassy spot next to a thundering river. The only downside were the millions of mosquitoes attacking us, but Chef’s campfire kept them away long enough for us to enjoy our dinner without needing a blood transfusion afterward. This time, a dip in the freezing water didn’t seem appealing, so we opted to crawl straight into our sleeping bags and marinate in our own filth overnight.

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Day 5: Tjäktja-Alesjaure

At least from the point of view of an antisocial Finn such as myself, Central European hiking tourists seem to have a strong need for undesirable social interaction and handing out advice nobody asked for. On the fifth morning, we were harassed by the French instead of the Germans. Variety is the spice of life! A group of French people passed by our camp at the crack of dawn (or at least before 9 am) and took it upon themselves to wake us up by incessant yelling. “Hello! HELLOOOO THERE! Time to wake up! Hehehehehehehe! Lol!”

How about time to bugger off?IMG_4174

Oh well, at least we got the day going. For some reason, my memories of this 13-km leg to Alesjaure are hazy at best. Despite the bunch of photos I took, the details still escape me. I do remember the trail becoming easier and going pleasantly downhill for a good part of the day. Kungsleden occasionally passes through fenced areas the locals use to pen their reindeer, and we managed to catch a glimpse of a herd of these handsome fellas, who barely paid any attention to us. Based on my photos, there were some river crossings as well.
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Right by the Alesjaure huts, there is a meandering, turquoise river that many might recognise from popular Instagram photos. The best photos of the river could be taken by climbing a nearby mountain, but we couldn’t be arsed to strain our bodies to take the same photos hundreds have taken before us and better than us. Instead, we continued on to the huts.

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The huts are built on top of a small, steep hill with a view over the aforementioned Instagram river, as well as the Alisjávri lake gleaming on the other side. There are several buildings for accommodation, as well as a large main building with a shop and a huge dining area. Next to the outhouses, there is a sign pointing to probably the world’s most majestic pissing-in-the-wind spot for the gentlemen.
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We got to the huts right in time for the ladies’ sauna, so I left Chef to set up camp for us and headed straight to the delicious warmth. In the meanwhile, Chef had arranged a surprise for me: that night, we wouldn’t be sleeping outside in a tent, but in a real bed in the warm indoors! It cost Chef 500 SEK (~50€) per bed, which at that point of the hike seemed worth the price. We ran into Mister D. from the Sälka sauna again and happily shared a room with him.

While Chef and D. took their turn in the sauna, I was unsuspectingly wandering in the yard and accidentally got in the middle of another hiker couple engaged in a breakup of epic proportions – by the end of the spectacle, one of them got on a helicopter and just flew away. I tried to cook myself dinner, but all the gas stoves were occupied by a Massive Group of Brits. Soon the other party of the breakup rushed in with a few friends, sat at the same table with me and began a deep and thorough analysis of what had happened earlier, trying to justify their own assholeish behaviour. I was too hungry to stay and listen to the drama, so I decided to go wash some laundry instead.

This time I didn’t want to go to the mixed sauna. Instead, I was watching like a hawk for a chance to heat up my food. Chef and D. joined me later, and eventually there were only the three of us left, sharing our snacks. D. ate our smoked cod roe paste and gave us a big chunk of Cadbury’s chocolate in exchange – trade makes the world go round, amirite? We had to sit in the corner of the kitchen, because the Massive Group of Brits had spread their snacks all over the biggest dinner table, thus “reserving” it for their own use in the morning. Where were those world famous manners then, I ask?

 

Kungsleden, Part 2: Kebnekaise – Singi – Sälka

Day 2: Kebnekaise – (Almost) Singi IMG_4089

Our second hiking day started with the sounds of Germany: it’s a bit tough to sleep in while the German group camping next to you starts stomping around like a bewildered herd of elephants at 6 am. (What exactly is your beef with us, Germany, anyway?) We continued to get fragmented sleep until half past nine. One lazy breakfast and slow pack-up session later, we were back on the trail at around noon.

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The trail is supposed to be idiot-proof, but somehow we managed to get lost almost immediately. We had accidentally turned to the marked trail leading up to the Kebnekaise summit, when we of course should have turned to the unmarked trail winding down to the valley. We only noticed our mistake after a solid 45-minute climb. At that point, smart people would have swallowed up their anger and turned back – we decided to sink our feet into wet hummocks and take a shortcut straight downhill. Despite all our stumbling, we finally got back on the right trail with all our limbs intact.
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On the trail, there are many bridges like the one pictured above: squeaky and bouncy with delightfully terrifying views over the drop below. Fortunately, the fear of heights is not a problem for either one of us, but it was entirely different for some of the other hikers’ four-legged companions. We watched as a terrified dog was being persuaded to cross the bridge for a long time. The poor thing tried to turn back even when there was only a metre left to get to the other side. So, patience will be needed if your furry friend also happens to be too big to carry across.

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According to the guidebook we used, this 15-kilometre leg from Kebnekaise to Singi should only take about 4-6 hours. The trail is generally quite easy to walk, but also rocky at times. This leg felt a lot longer than 15 km, which was probably due to exhaustion from carrying our heavy backpacks. Balancing on rocks was also taking a toll on my joints: towards the end of the day, I started getting scary little twinges of pain in my right knee. Being quite tired, we scrapped our original plan to reach the Singi huts before dusk. The decision was made easier when we spotted the perfect camping spot by a tiny lake, approximately 2 km before Singi. Or how do you feel about the private beach pictured below?
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I set up camp while Chef scraped up enough twigs for a campfire. Sauna was not in the cards for the evening, but we were starting to get chilly after a whole day of sweating. Chef kept bugging me to go skinny dipping with him in the lake until I finally caved just to get him off my back. The water in the lake comes from melting ice, which is probably enough of a hint of how the temperature was. I had to muster up all my willpower to take a dip, but it did make me feel pleasantly clean and tingly afterwards. I don’t think there are too many better ways to spend the final moments of any day than watching the sun disappear behind snowy peaks. I crawled into the warm caress of my sleeping bag, just hoping that my knee would make a speedy recovery overnight.

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Day 3: (Almost) Singi – Sälka

On the third morning, we woke up to changed scenery. Mist had swept over to cradle us, stopping any rogue sunrays from warming our skins. Perhaps thanks to the chilly temperature, we managed to stuff breakfast down our pieholes, pack up camp, and get going much faster than the previous days.

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As we continued toward Singi, the fog soon cleared up and made way for the sun. Upon reaching the Singi huts, we also took our first steps on the actual Kungsleden; the Nikkaluokta-Singi leg is officially part of the Dag Hammarskjöldsleden trail, which then overlaps with Kungsleden between Singi and Abisko. However, since Kungsleden is internationally the better-known trail of the two, it made sense to refer to our whole hike as “Kungsleden” here on the blog.
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Right after passing by the huts, we suddenly got roadblocked: a large group of Swedes was squatting on and beside the trail, oohing and aahing over the various kinds of plants growing around them. Or in Chef’s words, Hemulens had found their way to the valley. :D At this point, my knee began to hurt again, but I sucked it up and kept walking with a bit of a limp.
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Many of the other hikers we had met had told us that the Singi-Sälka leg would be the easiest and most enjoyable one of the entire hike: not rocky at all with fantastic views over the valley and the mountains surrounding it. However, enjoyment was far from my brain when every step was pure pain. As the pain kept intensifying, I had a couple of breakdowns on the way. I was convinced I would have to quit the hike and hop on an extremely expensive helicopter to ever make it out of the wilderness. Cue: self-pity and tears. If only I had been smart enough to bring a proper knee support with me!

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The route from our camping spot to Sälka was only 2+12 km, but I was really slowing us down. Now that I think about it, it’s incredible how Chef managed to stay so patient and calm with such a whiney, mopey sloth in tow. #Relationshipgoals? Hands down the longest 14 km of my life! When the Sälka huts finally appeared in the horizon, we both let out a spontaneous squeal from sheer joy.

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There is a surprisingly well-stocked shop by the huts. I bought a can of coke, and let me tell you: the elixir of life, as my brother used to call it, has never tasted better than it did right there and then. The extortionate prices at the Kebnekaise fjällstation also stayed at Kebnekaise: in Sälka, it was possible to only buy access to the sauna, and it cost a very reasonable 50 SEK (~5€) per person. Very reasonable. There were three 1.5-hour sauna shifts: first the ladies, then the gents, and finally a mixed sauna that turned into a mini party when almost 20 naked, tipsy* people sat side-by-sweaty-side, sharing drinks and hiking stories. Most took a lightning quick dip in the freezing river by the sauna, but Chef just plopped himself down and sat in the stream for ages, possibly mistaking it for a jacuzzi.

*Beer was also available in the shop, a.k.a. our little oasis in the wilderness

We met the greatest people of the whole hike in this sauna. For example, a Swedish nurse showed me how to tape up my knee and gave me hope for the remainder of our trip, two Swedish brothers claimed they thought I was barely over 20, and a charming Englishman, D, invited us to his birthday party which would be held in Abisko upon completing the hike. I had originally planned to go straight to sleep after the ladies’ sauna, but I’m really glad I stayed until the end. A relaxing evening in excellent company was just what we both needed after such a long and troublesome day. Eventually, the hut owner had to chase us out and into our tents, or else the sauna party might have gone on forever.

Kungsleden, part 1: Kiruna-Nikkaluokta-Kebnekaise

Kungsleden (The King’s Trail) is a 400-kilometre-long hiking trail in Northern Sweden. When I was googling for Europe’s best hiking trails, Kungsleden was included in almost every Top 10 list I could find. In August, Chef and I set out to see how well-deserved all the hype was. However, 400+ km might have been a bit rough for two hiking novices, so we only did the most popular bit from Nikkaluokta to Abisko. 108 kilometres in a week = just a little over 15 km per day. Can do!

Nikkaluokta-Abisko Map

The trail can be hiked in both directions, though most choose to start in Abisko and finish in Nikkaluokta. We only did the opposite because it was easier for us logistically. The most convenient way to reach this bit of the trail is to fly directly to Kiruna and catch a bus to Abisko or Nikkaluokta. We chose to travel by bus all the way from Turku, Finland, because that was the most budget-friendly option for us. Fortunately, we were able to make a couple of pit stops on the way in Jyväskylä and Oulu, while visiting friends and family.

Upon reaching Kiruna bus station, we ran into a lone German lady huffing and puffing under a pile of ancient gear that made her resemble a member of a 20th century arctic expedition. She had just finished a rough hike: she had broken her tent, missed her return flight and spent all her money. As logically follows, based on her bad experience she declared our plan equally doomed. Chef apparently had ze wrong kind of poor shoes which would be his downfall once we reached the deadly muddy bits of the trail. There would be nothing but rain, wind, cold and misery awaiting us, and of course only uphill in every direction, as far as the eye can see. In addition, all accommodation in Kiruna was deemed subpar and overpriced by her. So, us kids had better turn around on our heels and go back to where we came from. We thanked her for the kind warning, which only fuelled her fire. We finally managed to bid her farewell and went out to eat.

Arctic Thai & Grill seemed like a promising eatery, but boy did we screw up with our orders. The waitress asked us to pick between Mild, Medium and “Thai hot”. Obviously, Chef couldn’t help but brag about his past travels to Thailand and boasted he could handle Thai hot, no problem. I opted for Medium. “Are you sure?” asked the waitress with a hint of a devilish smile in the corner of her mouth. Yuh-uh, yup yup, we were sure, we were confident. Once our meals came, it soon became abundantly clear that “Thai hot” was not just empty marketing jargon this time. Instead, it felt like third-degree burns in the digestive system. Chef, with his watering eyes, bravely destroyed several forkfuls before having to call it quits. I tasted a teeny-tiny one-centimetre bit of a noodle from his plate and felt like spontaneously combusting right there and then. A little tip for anyone travelling to Kiruna: they sure don’t shy away from chili at Arctic Thai & Grill!

We spent the night at Camp Ripan, which was neither subpar nor overpriced (Chef & Sloth 1 – 0 German Lady). 250 Swedish krona bought us a spot for our tent, and access to warm showers and sauna for two, with the added bonus of access to a comfortable bar at the reception. The next morning, packing up was such a hassle that we nearly missed our bus to Nikkaluokta. What better way to start a day than running 1.5 km to the bus station while carrying a backpack stuffed to the brim. We made the bus, barely, and an hour later, we were finally in Nikkaluokta at the starting point of our hike.

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We did some last-minute shopping at the tiny store and came out with a hiking map and a brand new Mora knife, a pretty little impulse buy. Bursting with energy and determination, we were finally ready to hit the trail. We found out that the yearly Fjällräven Classic hiking event had just ended before our arrival. It had once again brought over two thousand hikers to the very same trail, which sounds like a complete nightmare considering our main goal was to seek some peace and quiet in nature. So, we got pretty lucky with our timing and never had to join the herd. I hadn’t even heard about the whole event before that.

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The first leg from Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise is 19 km long. There is also the possibility to pay 350 SEK (~35€) for a boat ride across the Láddjujávri lake, which cuts 6 km from the hike. At that point, only 5 km in, we were way too energetic to even consider such frivolities. We had a little snack break by the lake, which accidentally ended up taking us over an hour, and continued on foot.

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This delightful Lap Dånalds establishment serves reindeer burgers, but we were too well-fed to be tempted by that offer, either. We strolled happily through birch forests and past open areas, taking in the magnificent mountain views. Tiredness only crept over us after 11-12 kilometres.

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We knew there would be small shops along the way, but we didn’t want to rely on their supplies. That is why we were carrying extra food, just in case. Our backpacks weighed a ton, and I was sweating like an animal despite the cool weather. The last four kilometres were spent counting down steps to our destination. Oh, the joy of finally gazing upon the glorious Kebnekaise mountain station!

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We had quick drinks at the bar and set up camp nearby, but not near enough to have to pay a camping fee. The station is very pretty and fancy, but the prices were a bit high for my taste. At Kebnekaise fjällstation, it isn’t possible to only pay to use the sauna. Instead, anyone wanting to go to sauna after a long day of hiking has to pay 300 SEK (~30€) for the full service package, which also includes the use of their other facilities: showers, indoor toilets, and kitchen. Too luxurious for the occasion, if you ask me, but to each their own. Had we been hiking in the other direction, it might have felt like a sweeter deal after 5-6 days of sweating.

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My precious sleeping bag (pictured on the left) is the warmest and comfiest. Love it!

 

A Weekend in Reykjavik

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After the Golden Circle tour, we had two full days left to spend on a Reykjavik city break. Our guesthouse was located right next to Hallgrimskirkja. The church is massive and can be seen from nearly any part of the city – for someone who could get lost for a living, it was the perfect landmark orienteering-wise. We started the day by hopping on the elevator to the top of the church, and from there we could gawk at all the colourful houses of Reykjavik.

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After our church visit, it was time to roam the streets of the city. My first impression of Reykjavik is a mish-mash of adorable wooden houses and tons of graffiti covering the walls. It also seems like a pretty laid-back city (even though they’ve deemed it necessary to specifically ban tractors on the roads during rush hours). A young man tending a hot dog stand tackled his grey day blues by singing out the tiny window of the stand, singing out so loud his voice echoed throughout the block. While my mum and I cursed the rain, a man in a suit closed his eyes, lifted his face up against the sky, and smiled at the raindrops bouncing off his cheeks to join the puddles on the ground.

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As we reached the harbour, we started to wonder about the crowds of people, families and couples, all going in the same direction. We joined the march out of pure curiousity and soon found out that the local rescue services were holding some kind of an open doors event. We actually got to go on a free tour on the Coast Guard boat! They also had a cavalcade of different rescue vehicles in a neat row outside, including a gigantic 4×4 for the difficult inland terrain. It seems that car rental companies are scaring tourists about Iceland’s dangerous small roads for a good reason.

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We finished off Saturday night at the Harpa concert hall, where we saw the amazing How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. This hilarious one-man comedy show included not only stand up, but also a lot of props and video material, and the goal of the evening was to turn the audience into fresh, new Icelanders to help keep their tiny nation afloat. This show is pure gold and I can absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Reykjavik! I dare you not to laugh for an entire hour at Bjarni Haukur Þórsson’s mercy. The concert hall in itself is also quite a sight.

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On Sunday it was time for another soak, this time at the Laugardalslaug geothermal outdoor pool. This is another strongly recommended destination for Reykjavik visitors. The entrance fees are reasonable, under 1000 ISK, and for the price you get to enjoy a variety of different pools and other services. In addition to the “normal” sports pool, they also have a steam room, a seawater pool, a waterslide, and a bunch of smaller pools of different temperatures up to 44 degrees Celsius. All of the water is geothermally heated and the pools are open year-round. It seems swimming is one of Icelanders’ favourite hobbies, and what better way to catch up with friends and family than soaking in a warm tub of awesomeness.

Since we had already seen most of the must-sees on Saturday, on Sunday we could focus more on the details. I was charmed by the streamlined, bright red street lamps, geometric roundabout art, and sidewalks tiles that made them look like pixel art. Unfortunately I managed to destroy my memory card before I had the last day’s pictures safe on the computer. I lost them all, I cried, but what can you do. Fortunately the good memories of this trip will be much better stored on my brain than they were on the SD card.

Finally, here are a couple of Icelandic music videos. We kept hearing the first brainworm all the time on the car radio. The second video takes you to the streets and roofs of Reykjavik. The third video features a rapper riding through the suburbs on an icelandic horse. :D So heartwarming!