I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


It was possibly darker when we got up than we went to bed, thanks to the weather. Bloody rain. It spat, and made Narvik look bleak. A well marshalled, washed, and showered group, the no-longer-dirty dozen left our cabins and walked to the station. We'd got the bus up, but it was high time we got on a train south. Because there was no other direction to go.

A small party headed to the supermarket for provisions while the rest of us availed ourselves of free fast wifi at the station, plus some locomotive photography. We grabbed our seats in the front carriage and headed off, forwards towards fjords and Sweden. True to form, Norway continued to spoil us with marvellous scenery as we climbed up, around, and over the our last fjord before hitting the border at just after 11am, a crossing which remained untoasted for a few hours.

Swedish scenery, after the first lake, was bloody tedious. Really. Largely flat and consisting of relentless trees, close to the tracks and blocking our view of the miles and miles of more of the same trees behind the. Narvik to Boden was not one of the most picturesque routes. Books were read and pastries were eaten, we really only sprang to life when a majority of us commandeered the back half of the carriage, now the rear of the train since a trainspotter's dream switch at Kiruna. I wield that apostrophe correctly: the trainspotter whose dream came true was Mike, happier than a pig in shit at his photos of the new loco being attached.

That rear half of the coach, separated by a door, became our party coach, Vodka was drunk, liquorice was eaten, and many photos of endless track disappearing behind us were taken. To the left and right: trees.

The arctic circle was crossed at around 3:50pm. We were there for around 25 hours. This seems at once a preposterously short amount of time to spend somewhere so amazing and hard to get to (if you make it hard, that is), and an eternity. A realisation hit me: we had only spent any time outside of a station or vehicle in two places so far, Brussels and Narvik. This despite 8 border crossings, and changes in Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Oslo, Trondheim, Fauske, Narvik, and Boden. Yeah, Boden, the place where our change took less than 2 minutes. Off the train, cross to the adjacent platform, board the carriage one up from where we were already stood. This was the sleeper to Stockholm, a 13 hour ride. It was only 17:30 as we pulled out. Eatening time.

We had two 6-person couchettes next to one another at the end of a wagon. Jason and Dave performed wonders with bread, squeezy jalapeƱo cheese, bacon pate, prawn salad, and sundry other toppings. Someone went to the bar and bought extravagantly priced Swedish beer. I was particularly enthusiastic about this, suffering as I was from spirits fatigue somewhat. It seemed I wasn't alone; a lot of beer was drunk, by most of us and the arc welding girl who joined us for a couple of hours up 'til midnight. We weren't quite threatened with exclusion of travel, but we did make a lot of racket. Not incorrigibly so, I like to think. The one and only time we were asked to quiet down, we did, and we closed the door. We're nice people!

The lass was ecstatic about her journey to meet her new boyfriend. She threatened to kill us, several times, and we believed it may not all have been in jest. In impeccable English she repeatedly apologised for the quality of her English. I'd have been reminded of the Simpsons episode where the German company take over the nuclear power plant: "my English is, how you say, inelegant". But that thought only just occurred to me now. The cartoon she actually most closely represented was Family Guy, because she regularly punctuated her speech with a Stewie-esque "blast!".

She hated Albert's music. Lloyd didn't really like hers. She liked Guns n Roses, Metallica, some Megadeth, but had never heard of Slayer. What?

The bar shut at midnight. She left soon after, repeatedly apologising for not having bought a round despite our protestations that it was really not necessary, She'd assisted us through a mountain of cheese, and hated discovering that the Norwegians - those bastards - are producers of fine dairy goods. We convinced her she hadn't caught herpes from us. She said she was happy with life. Lloyd accused me of almost poetic eloquence when I said that she may have been a guest in our cabin, but we were guests in her country, and it was us who should thank her. Good night and good luck, arc welding Swedish girl. Thanks for not killing any of us.

Four of us remained: me, Mike, Albert, and Lloyd. No strangers on a train, we've all known each other since at least 1999 (1995 for me and Mike). Some whisky appeared from somewhere, no idea where. We spoke deeply about social media and depression, like some dreadful version of that show that used to be on Channel 4, the open-ended thing that Keith Allen turned up absolutely battered for.

We may have been some distance south of 66°33'44" but still it barely got dark - we saw a wonderful sunset at about 0100, making an industrial town and smoking chimneys look glorious as we sped through. It started brightening up at about 0230, when the whisky ran out and the last two of us retired to the bottom bunks. An alarm was set. We had to be off the train at 0630 after all.

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