A friend recalls our recent Sweden trip with great detail (from his blog)

/ Saturday, June 27 /


The following is an account of my trip to Sweden in June 2009. I went to Sweden with four other Masters students from Imperial College - Scott, KJ, Giorgos and Gaurav. The reason we went to Sweden was to attend a two-day bioenergy study tour funded by the EUREC Agency. The study tour was based in Örnsköldsvik (pronounced 'urn-shools-veek'), a small town 400 miles north of Stockholm. After the study tour ended Scott and I then spent two more days in Stockholm.

Swedish Techno and the Journey North

We flew to Stockholm Skavsta from London Stansted. On the plane I happened to sit next to a 19-year-old DJ named Stana, who it turns out is a big name on the Swedish techno music scene. Stana was on his way back from a gig in Norwich. I didn't know Swedish techno was big in Norwich, but there you go. He had his laptop with him and very kindly gave me (and everyone else in the cabin) a sneak preview of his latest track. You can check out Stana's banging tunes at his myspace page.

When we arrived in Stockholm we rented a car to drive to Örnsköldsvik. The distance is roughly equivalent to driving from London to Glasgow and the journey took us 11 hours in total. We passed the time by playing the brilliant car-journey game Contact and singing along to Shanty Town by Mr Scruff ("Whale fish, whale fish, whale fish, and the whale was in full view..."). The map below shows our journey north along Sweden's eastern coastline from Stockholm to Örnsköldsvik.


Despite a large number of these bright yellow warning signs on the motorway, we discovered that it is unlikely you will encounter a moose on the road in Sweden. We did a lot of driving and didn't spot a single moose.

KJ did, however, see a small bear sitting on a log by the side of the road (although this claim remains unconfirmed).

The Youth Hostel and Bright Nights

We stayed in a youth hostel in Örnsköldsvik. The youth hostel was huge. Us boys had the entire basement floor to ourselves, which was an underground labyrinth of small rooms, dark corridors and mysterious noises. Meanwhile KJ slept upstairs in a luxury suite, complete with a jacuzzi!

Örnsköldsvik is located 3° South of the Arctic Circle. The sun does go down at night but it remains light enough outside to read a book. The time on Scott's watch in the photo above is 11:45 pm.

The Wood Pulp Factory of Death

The first day of the study tour began well with a tour of the SEKAB bioethanol production plant, which makes bioethanol (an alternative to petrol) from wood chippings. The car on the right was in the car park and presumably belongs to the boss.

However, things rapidly took a turn for the worst when this was followed by a tour of the neighbouring Domsjo sulfite fibre mill. This wood pulp factory was a terrible place - room after room of hot, deafening machinery with dirty puddles of chemicals trickling across the floor. Worst of all, the air was thick with sulfur dioxide fumes and the smell was unbearable (the SO2 was also not good news for me as I am a part-time asthmatic). We were glad to leave.

Electricity, Steam and Eating Ice Cream

In the afternoon we visited a brand new Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant built by Övik Energi. As well as generating electricity this power station provides hot steam for district heating and local industrial processes. Below is a photo of KJ, Scott, Gaurav and myself modelling Övik Energi's latest health and safety gear on the roof of the CHP plant.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon so after the tour ended we went down to Örnsköldsvik harbour for an ice cream and a sleep on the pier.

Fun in the Forest

The second day of the study tour began with a visit to a forest management centre at Gideå, about 30 minutes drive from Örnsköldsvik. We got a bit lost on the way and turned up late, but luckily we were still in time for some cake! It was delicious.

We were shown around the refrigerated seed vaults and huge greenhouses where millions of baby trees are grown each year to replenish the forest.

In the afternoon we went for a walk in the woods. After several months spent cooped up in the City it felt good to have some earth under our feet and proper fresh air in our lungs again.

At one point we were slowly wondering through the trees when suddenly Scott excitedly pointed out a clearing ahead and began running downhill towards it as fast as he could. KJ and I tentatively followed. Unfortunately he ran straight into a deep bog, and it still makes me laugh to think of Scott urgently shouting "Abort! Abort!" as he plunged into the bog at full speed!

The Cave

As we were leaving the forest in the car I spotted a cave through the trees, so we stopped to take a look. From the outside it really reminded me of a cheesy horror movie I saw once called My Bloody Valentine. We decided to venture inside. Here we discovered a collection of stalagmites made of ice, some of which were taller than us. Fortunately we didn't encounter a psychopathic murderer with a pickaxe like in the film.

From the End, A New Beginning

The final visit of our study tour was to a place called GreenZone, where we were shown around a car showroom that contained glass cases filled with plants to clean up the air. And then, just as we were beginning to get used to bright nights, early starts, site visits and naps on piers, the study tour was over. The next morning we clambered back into the car and drove back down the coast to Stockholm. When we reached the airport it was time to say goodbye to KJ, Georgios, Gaurav and the hire car, which was emotional as I had got to know them all very well.

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