Tango marathon and hot-barreling

Trip Start Feb 10, 2008
Trip End May 13, 2009

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So here we are at 11am Friday morning bundling into Ana's little Renault - Ana, Victoria, David and me - they all have small backpacks or overnight bags, while I have suitcase, backpack, camera bag and day bag - and we set off for Geneva a couple of hours away. There we meet up with Sonja, David's girlfriend, who has only been told she's on a weekend mystery trip and to bring her tango shoes.
We reach Sätra Brunn, nearly 2 hours from Stockholm about 9.30 in the evening. Janne, a friend who I met last year in Stockholm (he is also one of the organisers), greets us. We eat a hearty and warming goulash, then go to the milonga. We are at La Divina Tango Maratona, 44 hours of virtually non-stop tango. There is a little ceremony at the beginning and all the international guests are introduced - I'm the first being from Australia - then we each light candles inside a metal frame with a plastic bag around it (like a miniature hot air balloon), and they float off into the night air. Gentle snow falls and the scene looks like a fairyland.
The milonga is held in a beautiful little hall - the DJs have been organised in shifts - you can dance as much as you want, stopping for meals, sleep, etc if you wish to.
The first night I dance until 6am, get a couple of hours sleep, then meet Janne and the others at the swimming-pool at 8am, which Janne had organised the night before. We get into our bathers, expecting to have a nice relaxing start to the day, but find out that there's a water aerobics class starting. So we join in, being driven hard by our super-fit woman instructor in leotards, to thumping disco beats. I have never done aerobics before, and doing it in the water adds a whole new dimension - it's hard to keep your balance and there's a lot of resistance, giving you a really good workout - we all emerge hot and sweating after being pushed hard by our instructor. Then it's shower, dancing, lunch, dancing until 7pm, when our group have the hot barrel booked (as Janne so cutely calls it).
I walk out in the freezing cold in my bathers and climb in to the hot tub - an attendant comes out every now and then and feeds wood into the stove (and sells beer) and within minutes the water temperature soars, and we all alternately sit in the barrel and sit on the edge when we feel too hot - it's a very funny feeling having cold beer in your stomach while sitting in a barrel of very hot water. So after that very pleasant interlude its back to dancing, dinner, sleep (I sleep in and miss saying goodbye to my friends, who are flying back to Switzerland that morning), then dancing until the Maratona finishes at 6pm Sunday. In all, out of the 44 hours of the Maratona, I danced 26 hours.
I spend the next few days very pleasantly at the home of Janne and Elisabet in Sala nearby. They have a lovely, large timber home and I stay on the third level in an attic that until recently was the bedroom of Janne's daughter. Sweden's largest silver mine is just outside the town - silver mining started in Sala around the 1200s, and I believe the mine was established in the 1500s. The main excavation method was to light fires against the rock overnight - the heat would crack the rock then the miners would use sledge-hammers and picks to break it up - using this method they could only advance 10-20 cms a day, so you can imagine how many thousands of men laboured for hundreds of years. The deepest shaft is 318 metres, although tours only take you down to 155 metres. At this depth a large room has been created that can be used for weddings, conferences, etc and there is also a bedroom and bathroom that can be booked for the night (at around 300 euros per night). While I was there Crown Princess Victoria paid an official visit, and there were great festivities - people turned out in period costume, danced traditional dances, Swedish folk orchestra, etc.
Janne is a man of many talents, and one of his businesses is spice wholesaling and distribution (he and Elisabet had just come back from a trip to India). One day he took me along as he attended a couple of business functions at some lovely old mansions that have been converted to hotel/conference centres. The chef was a friend of his and prepared a buffet of dishes made with local produce, nearly all of which incorporated Janne's spices.
While I was there I asked Janne where would be some interesting places to visit up north, so he took a piece of scrap paper, wrote down some place names and joined them up with some lines, and gave me a few contacts. So that became my 'travel plan' for the next few weeks.
First stop was Uppsala, an hour away, from where I was to catch the train for the long journey north. Uppsala is a historic town - St Erik, one of the early kings of Sweden was murdered near the site of the Cathedral in the mid-12th century and pilgrims come to see his relics there The Uppsala Cathedral was built from the 13th to 15th centuries and is the largest church in Scandinavia. Carl Linne (Linnaeus) lived in Uppsala and he is also buried in the Cathedral. He sent many students to different parts of the world on field trips to collect specimens - one went with Joseph Banks to Australia with Captain Cook, others died of diseases, were killed, or went mad - almost none had peaceful lives (or deaths).
Late that night I caught the overnight train north, but unfortunately left my backpack on the platform, containing a woollen jumper, Goretex jacket, toilet bag, travel guide and journal - bugger. I was a little worried about having enough warm clothes for the climate I was going to, as I had barely brought enough in the first place. I slept ok in the cramped 4 berth compartment and woke just as we were arriving at the train stop at a village called Undersåker, about 700kms from Uppsala. I got off the train with about 5 others, who all knew where they were going. I looked both ways, snow in every direction and a few scattered houses. Luckily Janne had organised accomodation for me so I asked around and finally found my ski lodge, labouring to drag my suitcase through the snow.
Undersaker is about 12kms from Åre, a popular ski resort, so I hired a car from the lodge, and headed there for a look around. It only took a few minutes to get used to driving in the snow and then there was no stopping me:). A 70km long lake lies alongside Undersaker and Are, and it was frozen over and there were cars and snowmobiles zooming around. I had fun doing a spot of snow rallying and getting the hang of sliding across the snow.
The next day I went skiing, which was fantastic. The World Cup Championships for freestyle were being held there and the town was packed. I haven't skied for at least 7 or 8 years and my first downhill runs were a bit rough, with me falling over quite a bit, but within an hour it was coming back - not that I'm an experienced skier, and usually I tend to ski beyond my skill level. One part of the mountain had a section full of jumps and also a half tube and it was a lot of fun trying these for the first time, although again I had many falls, but it was such fun I always had a smile as I went crashing down into the snow, getting it into my face, down my back, into my boots, etc - I definitely think I would have won any competition for most number of crashes :). By the end of the day however I was getting so confident that I finished with 2 black runs.
I was ravenous after this and luckily found a restaurant called Grappa, where the chef is a Neapolitan, and they have a selection of over 50 grappas - the only place in Sweden, actually Scandinavia, where I found grappa. After my meal of pasta with crab, prawn and asparagus sauce, I had a glass of my favourite grappa, Berta Roccanivo, a beautifully smooth aged grappa, which my friend Eva introduced me to in Zurich last year. There was a table of 14 German men nearby wondering which grappa to drink and I recommended they drink the Roccanivo, so they did, to the great happiness of the waitress because it's very expensive.
The following day I drove to Östersund, about 100kms away and spent a couple of hours on Sunday morning watching people having picnics and barbeques in the snow, people skating on the lake, kids playing in playgrounds of ice, and having a breakfast of a sort of thick fried pancake studded with onion and cubes of pork and toppped with berry jam, etc, then drove a further 50kms south to Åsarna where the World Sled Dog Championships were being held.
If you can imagine thousands of sled dogs - Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes and Samoyeds in one place, jumping and barking like mad to get going. I don't know how it's bred into the dogs but they jump and throw themselves forward furiously against the harness of the sled and have to be physically restrained, otherwise they just take off - it's amazing though, as soon as they take off they go completely silent.
I was there on the final afternoon of the 3-day event so there was lots of excitement as to who the winners would be. There were teams from many countries in Europe, and even one from South Africa - I was told they were very excited as they had never raced on snow before! For the record, a Finn won.
Later I ate at the Big Moose Hotel, all you can eat for 85 SEK (Swedish Kronor, about $15 Aus), drank a half litre of local stout, and listened to a cd of a girl from Trondheim (Norway) playing local music on an instrument that looked like a cut-down bandoneon.
Just for the record the latitude of the area was around 63 degrees north - the temperature in the day-time was around zero, and night time about -4 or 5, which wasn't too bad, but I only had 1 pair of reasonable shoes I could wear in the snow, which was sometimes up to my knees, but they were not waterproof and the soles were very slippery.
The snow around the area was sometimes up to half a metre so I often had wet feet and legs.
The next day I boarded the train early in the morning, bound for Trondheim, Norway, about 200kms west.


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valeriavine on

What a beautiful white landscape.....the days are cooling down here too. i love the snow covered roof of the restaurant....looks so inviting. I'm sure you're keeping warm!

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