The Golf Cart Sightseeing of the Arctic Riviera – First Camp Luleå

First CampThis destination is packed of families in the summer. Luleå is not along the Midnight Sun Road that starts in Piteå and ends up in Nordkapp. However, for most long distance travelers, Luleå is a likely hub to start any travel in the Arctic. University town Luleå has a big airport.

First Camp Luleå has just invested in new all-year cabins. It is not just a summer vacation spot for sun-hungry people from Northern Norway anymore. Luleå is quite exotic in the winter as well. If you are looking for a freezing city environment, no other place than Luleå fits the bill. Set at the innermost part of Bottenviken (Bothnian Bay) you can almost tell by the trees how chilly the winds are in the winter.

The archipelago outside Luleå defines the city in many ways. The traffic in it in the summer is indicative of the activity at sites like First Camp. The regional manager Ms. Carla Peruzzaro at the wheels gave us a thorough introduction of the complex on a golf cart. We also got a golf cart tour on a Finnish golf course in Levi.

First Camp is running a terrace restaurant serving pizza and á la carte menu by the riverbank. It also runs a café located in a quiet area with a beautiful view of the Luleå river. These options are only open during the summer. Other times of the year, you have dining opportunities in Luleå. Just like in Rovaniemi, there is even a McDonald’s in the city. By far, it is the northernmost franchise in Sweden.

First Camp, previously Arcus, is famous for its swimming opportunities. The pool is heated with green hot water. Water trapped big black lenses are heated by the sun and released into the pool. So, it is possible to practice reusable green “sun cells” in the north as well.

first Camp

Green energy in Luleå

It is perhaps a better option to swim in the river. First Camp has a lovely long beach.  It is possible to engage in more organized activities such as football, beach volleyball, and badminton. You also have the opportunity to jump on big jumping cushion, even grown-ups enjoy the ones we have, says Carla. It is possible to rent kayaks, play miniature golf, and the list goes on.

We didn’t examine it, but First Camp also has a smoke sauna, the one we described in Kiilopää, Finland. Saunas are big in northern Sweden also.

First Camp has 44 hectare of land. There are plenty of play areas, cabins, camping spots for RVs, trailers, and tents. Some of our guests return to us every year, Carla pointed out. We passed a German couple who had visited the camp 15 years in a row. One camping area is set for all-year.

Our golf cart sightseeing tour was over. We went to our cabin and an energetic squirrel greeted us. It was jumping up and down the trees in the backyard. It is a good place indeed.

First Camp

“Wildlife” at First Camp Luleå

First Camp

Relaxing by the beach in Luleå


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Keeper of the Swedish Military Might

BodenA major military power for many years Sweden got tired of warfare. It was able to remain neutral both in WWI and WWII. It hasn’t tossed its military away. It still has a strong military and Boden has been the fortress in the north.

Rödbergsfortet in Boden is an historic fortress, open for visitors. On our drive up to the fortress we encountered a small “platoon”. They waited for us and had their machine guns pointed at us as we came around a curve. Luckily, they were all made of metal. It made me think, we wouldn’t have lasted long if it had been an engaging enemy platoon.

A veteran officer Mr. Bernt Wikström disciplined Angelo and me from the barracks to the gun barrel on top of the mountainous fortress. He is one of 20 guides commanding groups of visitors in the summer.

The fortress has been an important part of the Swedish defense. All Swedish Kings have bestowed a visit upon the fortress since it was built. It was decided to build the fortress in 1809. But the excavation didn’t start until 1901. Because, that is what it really was. What a job, men carved the fortress out of solid rock with the bare hands, horses and some Nobel mixes.

One millimeter at a time, an Iron leaded bar was drilled through the rock with sledge hammers. When the holes were one meter deep, a prescription of dynamite would split the rock apart, and the men or horses would haul the rocks away. 1 200 hundred men worked in the summer, 900 men worked in the winter, and the pay was Euro ½ a day. It was hard earned but good money back then.

The entrance area to the fort was 18 meter deep, 10 meters wide and 100 meters long. And then they started carving out the tunnels and rooms.

We went into the fortress and saw the different rooms:

  • The area for the artillery and the infantry
  • The commando room
  • The dining hall
  • The kitchen
  • The doctors and dentist office
  • The hospital rooms
  • The barracks for the privates and the officers

In the commando room, we checked the old manual maps for calculating how to project where the gun shells must drop. We cynically planned to fire five shells 40 km simultaneously, so the enemy wouldn’t be able to hide or make counterattacks if we would fire one by one. Then we went up to the guns, loaded the grenades, and fired twice. Playing with the real thing is different from using Ninja Turtles. We didn’t really need ear muffs, but we put them on anyway.

Two doors from the fortress top, they became harder to open. This door is nuclear-proof and you are not supposed to be able to walk in or out of this door, Bernt said. On top, we had the benefit of a sunny day. Unlike the soldiers in the fortress who sometimes didn’t see what the weather was like for two weeks. We could see Boden, some of the other fortresses in the area, and even as far as the tall iron works building in Luleå.

Bernt pointed us to another attraction we should visit when we were in Boden. In fact, he recommended two: Försvarsmuseet (The museum of defense) and Ruter Retro Café.

We marched out of the fortress and conscientiously drove down to both. We did not want to bet on whether Bernt’s suggestions were orders or not.

>The second blog post about Rödbergsfortet.


Bernt Wikström at Rödbergsfortet


Boden in Norrbotten, Sweden

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The Destination of Many Kings – Boden


How the Rödbergsfortet was built

At Rödbergsfortet we were introduced to some of the military secrets of the Swedish armed forces. It was just one of many fortresses set up in the Boden area. At times there were thousands of men that needed normal housing. Many look alike residential homes were put up by the Swedish government. Boden is in many ways tied to its military history.

Boden is the place a lot of young Swedes have served in the “Lumpen” as the called it in Sweden. I would imaging, that it was not the most popular garrison to serve in. The coldness and the darkness of the long winters can be a challenge for someone who is not determined to enjoy it. One person, who is very often in Boden, is H.M the King.

Ever since Oscar II visited the militaristic Boden in 1903, Kings have made their rounds in Boden. The current King H.M King Car XVI Gustaf has been to Boden. The current king became king at a very early age, only 23 years old. His father, Georg V, died when Carl Gustaf was barely a year old. At Rödbergsfortet the dining table is symbolically always set for the King.

The King was certainly interested in what was going on in Boden between 1941 and 1982. In 1941, The Bank of Sweden (Sveriges Riksbank) decided to move part of its gold reserve to Degerbergsfortet in Boden. In 1982 it was moved from the fortress to an unknown fortification.

The fortress was demilitarized in 1997. There has been a shift in the strategic importance of Boden.

Now, it is still educating thousands of young Swedes to become soldiers every year. In MMXI the Försvarsmuseum was opened. It is a modern museum commanded to educate the public about the military culture and history of Boden and Sweden since early 1900s.  The museum is also displaying military equipment. And, it is explaining the Cold War and the battlefield wars from a Swedish perspective.

It is part of what has become increasingly important to Boden: Tourism. Among some great alternatives, I will recommend the Western Farm and Ruter Retro Café.

At the café it is all Rock’n’Roll.

>The first blog post about Rödbergsfortet 




The table is set for a royal visit


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How a Cup of Coffee and a Green Buick Became a Café

Ruter Retro CaféSometimes things just happen for no apparent reason. They just unfold. A visit to Ruter Retro Café was not planned. We didn’t know it existed. We had just visited Rödbergsfortet and the veteran officer “suggested” we made a stop at the café.

The first thing we noticed as we pulled in to the parking lot was the cars. Cars from a nostalgic era, American veteran cars from the 1950s and 1960s were parked one by one. Most of them shining as if the just been polished. We walked around the corner and saw a Betty Boop display in front of a small red building. There wasn’t too much commotion it seemed.

Then the place started to hum a little. People came out in the yard. They took a seat in the outdoor café, and before long the place was packed. A lot of people were already inside the main café and an adjacent building. We walked through the small café, through a garage, and came out on the other side. A party of a hundred plus motorcyclist had just arrived. Ruter Retro Café was buzzing.

I walked in the buildings and spotted relics from the American decades. Elvis Presley gracing the building, Marilyn Monroe throwing kisses, and JFK still president. There is a sofa made of the rear end of an old Chevy (if I recall correctly). There is even a police car from the New York police force in the garage. And of course, a jukebox with 45 singles record hits.

Ms. Lena Boström and her husband had a garage for their classic cars six – seven years ago. They had just bought the place on old military ground outside the center of Boden. They needed more space for their American car hobby. Friends started to pop in for a cup of coffee so they could talk about the cars.

It didn’t take long before more than just friends would come by. Everybody loved the place. The cars and artifacts Lena and her husband had assembled hit a soft spot. People can experience the cherished American Camelot period. They had to charge for the coffee people we’re drinking. One thing led to another, and one day they decided to quit their job. They would work on the café instead. Now the whole family is engaged in Ruter Retro Café.

It is just amazing, Lena says. People come to us with their artifacts so they can be displayed. All sorts of visitors, old, young, pop in on the days the café is open:

  • Tuesday
  • Thursday
  • Saturday
  • Sunday

We also invite organizations to do small conferences here. We serve homemade fika.

It is pure and simple, just a very happy place!

Ruter Retro Café

In the garage – Ruter Retro Café

Retro cafe

Boden in Norrbotten, Sweden

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The 15 Points for Making Great Sled Dogs

HuskyOur Diamonds of the Arctic Tour 2014 was on the beginning of the end. We had driven from Boden and straight to Muonio, the second longest leg on the tour with a distance of 350 km. On our agenda were huskies. Harriniva Holiday Centre is the home of 422 dogs. All dogs are involved in pulling visitors through the Arctic winter landscape.

We came to Muonio in time for an evening beer. It was very quiet. I thought it was strange, not a single bark or howl could be heard. The next morning we were ready for meeting the dogs and the musher.

Ms. Pirjo Rauhala met us outside the hotel entrance. Let’s go, she said. We walked towards a fence and a gate. She opened it. It looks just like Jurrasic Park, but don’t worry, she said.

There was still not a sound of any dogs. The dogs in Muonio are quiet. It is a good thing, because the dogs in Muonio are in very good mood. Dogs in a good mood, has a good dog life.

A lot of the preparation for the winter is done in the summer, and I will slide you through a list of points on how they work with the dogs in Muonio:

  1. The guided tours in the kennel have multiple purposes. From they are puppies; the huskies are exposed to people. As many different people as possible. This way the dogs get used to different odor, voices and cuddling
  2. The mushers will early on do hiking trips in unfamiliar terrain. The huskies are, thus, exposed to different environments and will not be distracted of new environments when they are pulling sleds
  3. Alaskan huskies are the preferred huskies. They are bastards of Siberian husky and something else
  4. In the kennel, the staff will recognize the different personality of the dogs. Dogs that like each other are allowed to live together. If some dogs don’t mix, they are separated
  5. In the summer, the dogs are relaxing, eating once a day and recuperating from the winter. Pregnant females may eat more. It is important that the dogs don’t get chubby during the summer
  6. The dogs must drink sufficient water
  7. Once the temperature is below 10 degrees in September, the huskies start to train again. They eat more, and will build new muscles for the winter
  8. The training gets successively more and more strenuous. A team of dogs pulls an ATV
  9. The musher is taking care of its own team of huskies
  10. The veterinarian visits the kennel every week to be on top of health issues
  11. From early on, the huskies will learn simple commands that will eventually make it possible to communicate with the dogs when dog sledding.
  12. The work load, position in the team and number of days out in the field is adjusted according to age. Most dogs work 5 days a week, older dogs maybe two or three days
  13. The dogs are given simple names, so you can communicate easily with each dog. Names such as: Paris, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Polo, Beetle, Golf, Cha-Cha, Tango, Jive, Rhumba, Picasso, Dali, Munch, etc
  14. Special attention must be given to train leader dogs. These are the huskies that you give orders to when dog sledding
  15. Be in a good mood, the dogs will replicate your mood

In many ways a dog sled tour is recommendable. You get to experience the nature in a more powerful way than if you go on a snowmobile excursion. The reason is simply because you are not locked inside a helmet when you are behind a dog sled.

You’re allowed to feel the flurries, observe and share more of the tour with the team.


A puppy in Muonio


Muonio in Enontekiö, Finland


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Why It Is Easier for a Golfer to Get an Eagle in the Arctic

Levi GolfGolf is one of the greatest sports in the world. It would be a fair way to conclude that the last thing a talented player should do is to move to the Arctic. What I am driving at is that some sports are meant to be played in Scotland, or anywhere the green is green most of the year. Bunkers, there will always be an exception: Levi in Finland.

It is true, you will not only be able to experience a birdie at the Levi Golf Course, but an Eagle is not unheard of either. What you can bag on seeing is a reindeer. So, if you love golf, and to play golf courses all over the world; Levi should be on your list. We’ll take a swing at it.

The tourist resort of Levi added Golf to its activities in 2006. Nine holes were ready. Two years later the whole 18 golf course was finished. The gold course was designed by Pekka Sivvå. The scenery is Arctic, colorful and green. There is one thing about the Arctic summer; most of it has a fresh green tint.

The golf season in Levi starts late and ends early. Don’t plan on playing golf in Levi before July. The summers are great; in fact, it may be more comfortable to play in the cooler Arctic summer than in burning sun elsewhere. The best time of the year, visually, is the autumn. This is when the green colors of the trees turn orange, yellow and red in September/October. It is Ms. Fia Hollmén favorite time of the year at the golf course. She teed us off at the golf course.

She took us on a short tour of the golf course in one of their golf carts. It was the second golf cart safari we had on the Diamonds of the Arctic Tour 2014. We saw several reindeer cutting the fairway. In the autumn, she warned, you need to mind the reindeer bucks in heat. Fighting for the females can be a dangerous time for golfers. The bucks become aggressive.

We’re on par with Levi Golf & Country Club; you can join the club if you have a green card!

Levi Golf

Fia Hollmén at Levi Golf Club

Levi Golf

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When You Want a Temporary Home in Touristic Levi/Kittilä

Golden GooseWe had been almost two weeks on the road. The second last night was spent in Kittilä. This was between the golf course in Levi and Kaukonen. Kaukonen was very high on our list of priorities, because of the artist Mr. Reidar Särestöniemi.

In Kittilä, the fourth generation at the Golden Goose Guesthouse welcomed us. Ms. Henna Hahnivaara did not offer us accommodation. She offered us a home. I am always here, she said. Angelo and I moved into our Wi-Fi rooms, and after a while Henna would graciously pass on some of her family story at the guesthouse.

It is also illustrative to the history of contemporary Kittilä. Her great grandfather started the guesthouse in 1920s. At that time the guesthouse also served food to the guests. It was located in the center of Kittilä. The family ran the guesthouse until the war.

It continued to run during the war. On the wall, Henna has some pictures from the war days. The German soldiers became almost like family members. In one of those pictures, a group of family members are posing together with some German soldiers. In another picture, Henna’s grandfather is making firewood with some of the soldiers.

Big politics made some people friends and others foes. For much of the war, Finland was an ally of Germany. People were trying to get by in a difficult time. In the autumn of 1944, the alliance was dropped. The Germans pulled out of Finnish Lapland after destroying all houses and infrastructure. The idea was to leave a wasteland and halt a potential Soviet invasion.

Only the church was still standing in Kittilä when the Germans left town. After the war, the Guesthouse was rebuilt. But it took almost three years to collect enough material to start the rebuilding. Only in 1950 was the guesthouse once again painted white.

Today, Henna does not have a cafeteria. There are restaurants nearby and you are free to cook a little on your own at the guesthouse. Many of her guests enjoy their stay very much and return to the guesthouse. It is close to the bus station and six kilometers from the airport.

There are a lot of activities in the area for tourists. If you want to live more like home instead of a hotel, the Golden Goose is the right choice.

Golden Goose Guesthouse

Henna Hahnivaara at the Golden Goose Guesthouse

Golden Goose

Kittilä in Enontekiö, Finland

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Posted in BONUS DIAMOND, Levi / Kittilä, LIFE

You’ll Find the Särestöniemi Storytellers at the Back of the Store

Särestöniemi-museoThis was our final day on the Diamonds of the Arctic Tour 2014. This will be the 71st blog post. We have traveled full circle above the Arctic Circle. Angelo and I had driven up Santa’s Road from Rovaniemi, and driven down the Midnight Sun Road from Olderfjord to Älvsbyn. We drove on to Luleå, turned our nose north to Muonio, and were aiming for the final in Rovaniemi.

On our first day in Rovaniemi we visited Korundi, a Finnish center for contemporary art. In the exhibition we opted not to look at Mr. Reidar Särestöniemi (1925 – 81) works. I was hoping that we could visit the original gallery outside Kaukonen on our tour.

Now, just before re-entering Rovanimemi again, we were in Kaukonen. We had left the main road – The Northern Lights Route (E8) 100 kilometers ago. We had even left the regional road between Muonio and Rovaniemi (79). We had just driven a dirt road for 10 kilometers between Kaukonen and Särestöniemi.

It is like going to the supermarket. What you need the most is stacked at the far end of the store. So you may be enticed to buy something else to and from the most important goods in the store.

We had traveled half the Arctic and, finally, we were standing at the Särestöniemi-museo (Särestöniemi Museum). This is the innermost part of the supermarket. It is so reclusive that it even survived the autumn of 1944.

Along the roads we have met many storytellers. The director at the museum, Ms. Anne Koskamo, had the same characteristic of the Särestöniemi family. They were storytellers.

Maybe the source of these stories is the conversations in the saunas, the nature, or strong oral traditions beating one-dimensional written documentation?

Anne told the story of Reidar‘s mother Alma and the picture she had on the wall of the old Norwegian Royal couple. Alma came from Vesisaari (Vadsø) in Norway. Her parents were Finnish and had moved to the Norwegian coast. She had seen the royal Norwegian family in Vadsø one time. She had a picture of them, and kept it when she married Matti.

When visitors came to Särestöniemi, Alma would show people around. About the picture she would say: …and here are my grandparents from Norway.

Reidar’s brother Anton lived his whole live on the Särestöniemi estate. He had a large collection of pocket watches on the wall in the living room. Anne said that Anton collected these watches because when people came to Lapland, there was no rush, no hurry, time did not matter. They would throw their watches, and Anton would hang time on the wall.

Reidar’s grandfather Heikki Kaukonen bought the Särestö farm in late 1800s. Reidar grew up on the farm and showed early on talent for art. There are many factors contributing to his ascend in the world of art. The whole family must have supported his artistic expression. The family members would arrange their small quarters so he could paint.

Throughout his life Reidar was very attached to the nature. Even after he became famous, the remote family farm remained his residence. He was attached to the river Ounas floating by. When it was dammed, the local people lost the salmon, which was a big blow to their residual income. Reidar’s art made him a wealthy man early on in his career. He could afford to build his own exotic gallery and studio at Särestöniemi.

Even people without interest for art will enjoy his colorful work.

at the Särestöniemi-museo

Anne Koskamo at at the Särestöniemi-museo


Pocket watch collection at the Särestöniemi-museo



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Twelve Points That Made Reidar Särestöniemi One of the Greatest Arctic Artists

Särestöniemi What made Mr. Reidar Särestöniemi such a great artist? I got closer to the answer after visiting the Särestöniemi-museo (Särestöniemi Museum) and hear what director Ms. Anne Koskamo had to tell about Reidar. There is a number of things one could make a point of. The important questions to answer is who, why, how, what and when.

In no particular order I will pen stroke some of the layers behind his artistry:

  1. When Särestöniemi was painting he would marinate himself with what he was painting. He would wear seal skin when he was painting seals. He would dye his beard red when he was painting red. He would try to immerse into the things he was painting as much as possible.
  2. As a child he was always drawing. From an early age he was exploring and practicing making art. This is perhaps a key reason why he would become such a revered artist.
  3. A prodigy artist he was creative in many ways. He didn’t express himself in just one way.
  4. In the early days, they did not have any materials. Reidar would have to make his own paint. For instance, he could use flowers to make paint. He knew the process from A to Z.
  5. His parents must have been instrumental for his development. It was mind-blowing to learn that they would arrange their humble quarters so Reidar could paint.
  6. Reidar would use the nature as a source of inspiration. He would walk in the nature and explore tiny details of the nature.
  7. He projected nature upon man. He would describe himself or others with nature. He regarded the river as his brother. When he built his gallery the main philosophy was that it should blend in with the nature. In his gallery there is work illustrating a bobcat (lynx). It is a self-portrait.
  8. He had higher art education. He would learn the trade from professionals. He started to study at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School in Helsinki in 1947. In 1956 – 59 he studied art at the Ilya Repin Institute in Leningrad.
  9. He painted alone. He didn’t tutor other painters at his residence, for example.
  10. He never got a driver’s license. However, he loved traveling.
  11. He loved good food, a good drink, and didn’t exercise a whole lot.
  12. He had a dog.

Points 10 – 12 are added to include a sort of personality outside the mere art aspect.

He had a fascinating dedicated way of working. He was trying as best as he could to catch the feeling and essence of what he was painting. He sought to project his personality and humanity by painting it into other familiar subjects and objects. The vivid colors in his work are awe striking.

He became a celebrity in his own time, and we’ll look into that next.



A piece of Särestöniemi

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Of all the Saunas in the Arctic, Särestöniemi Sauna Is the Diamond

Särestöniemi The Prince of Spain found his way to the Särestöniemi estate. He must have been an admirer of Mr. Reidar Särestöniemi’s art. The Finnish president was also a fan. He also visited. They both had the opportunity of taking a sauna and a swim in possibly the most exclusive sauna and swimming pool in the Arctic.

We had just toured the whole estate, and the director Ms. Anne Koskamo had presented Reidar Särestöniemi from A to Y. We were in the gallery that was built so Särestöniemi could work in peace in the studio. The exhibition in the gallery Särestöniemi built in 1972 is changing every year. The museum doesn’t want the works to be replicated too much, and after filming on the ground floor; I felt that we had reached our level. Anne invited us upstairs. She insisted.

Upstairs was a swimming pool. It is 2.5 meters deep and rests on the ground. It is rarely used, but it is always filled with water. It keeps a perfect level of humidity for the paintings, Anne says. Särestöniemi loved to swim and next to the swimming pool is the mandatory sauna. Prince Juan Carlos of Spain and President Urho Kekkonen are just of the celebrities that had the honor of swimming and exchanging sauna stories with Särestöniemi in the gallery.

Särestöniemi was successful from the very beginning. His art touch a universal nerve and the success made it possible for Särestöniemi to build the gallery and studios.

In the gallery in 2014 one of the paintings was “Flooding of the manor during the spring thaw”. It was painted in 1972. The spring was a very important time of the year for Särestöniemi. He was born in spring .He called himself the child of the spring. In the spring the water floods, the river Ounas floods, the snow and ice melts, and the yard, the manor, is filled with water. The painting is telling the story of that time of the year.

Another work is one of the last paintings he made: “The first light of a winter day behind frosted birches”. Winter was the time of the year that Särestöniemi feared. It was cold and dark. The lack of light made it difficult for him to paint in the flickering light from the fireplace in the early days. He tried to conquer the winter by painting it.

The first studio he built next to the gallery by the river was lost to fire on New Year’s Eve 1977. It was a great loss to Särestöniemi, he had a lot of things of great personal value when the flames took it; poems, paintings and equipment.

He had another and bigger studio built on the hill top. Here he felt like an Eagle. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to work in it for long, as he died in 1981 of a heart attack.

When he died, his brother Anton inherited the Särestöniemi legacy. A foundation was set up when Anton passed away in 1997. The Särestöniemi treasure is securely staged at the far end of the supermarket.

I have been there twice, and a third visit is forthcoming.


Anne insisting we look at the rest of the gallery


Särestöniemi pool


Särestöniemi sauna

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