Inlandsbanan offers a seven-night Taste of Sapmi package (departures between June 12 and August 14) from Ostersund to Gallivare, taking in Jokkmokk, and return. More: inlandsbanan.se. Australia-based operators that specialise in the region include Nordic Travel and Fifty Degrees North. More: nordictravel.com.au; fiftydegreesnorth.com. • swedishlapland.com can be two or three of these units; today there’s just the one. “The air conditioning is very simple,” the on-board host, Malin Godseth, announces. “If it’s getting too warm, you open the windows. If it’s getting too cold, you close them.” Godseth has been working on the trains for six years. “So I recognise every pine tree,” she says. “Sometimes we have to stop because there are reindeer on the line. And sometimes we have people who ask if we can stop as they want to pick the berries.”
Every few dozen kilometres, we pass a small settlement, a single timber house, maybe even a person. A man riding a bicycle is a real event. Hours pass, trees pass, lakes pass, snowy mountains loom in the distance. The pace is sometimes lullingly slow. We gaze, we doze, we read. We see the odd startled reindeer, the even odder lolloping moose. It’s a sort of meditation-on-the-move. The Scanoraks congregate behind the driver’s cab for the full on-track experience.
After seven hours, we get off at a small station and are driven to an underwhelming lakeside Sami Centre with half a dozen reindeer, a few huts and not much enlightenment. There’s a beguiling stillness, though — just bird calls from deep in the forest. We get a much better idea of Sami culture at the Silver Museum in the quiet town of Arjeplog (some of these Swedish names don’t so much trip off the tongue as trip it up). The museum is a treasure house of the everyday — a wooden cradle, an accordion, knitted mittens, tin reindeer toys. They create an engaging picture of Swedish life.
The nearby wooden church is a riot of golden-haired cherubs. Over the altar is a painting of the Last Supper that suggests an unusually intense Swedish company board meeting.
Our final destination is the town of Jokkmokk, part of a municipality with a population of just 5000. Near our hotel, with its idyllic lakeside setting, is an alpine garden where we meet Eva Gunnare, a beaming “food creator and culture guide”, for an intriguing event dubbed a “taste experience”. Gunnare evokes the Swedish seasons through storytelling, singing (eyes closed, hands clasped behind her back) and food she has created from wild ingredients, including tree roots. There’s bread made from pine bark, angelica seedcake, birch sap juice. “The flavour of early spring for me,” she says. We resist the dried reindeer meat. A show-off red squirrel practises tightropewalking on telegraph wires.
Gunnare reflects on the characteristic northern Swedish reserve. “Up here, people don’t talk; they do,” she says. “My husband’s family bond by being quiet.” Or, as another Swede puts it, “These guys are famous for saying two words a day — and one of them is usually ‘no’. ”
Next morning we take the train back to Ostersund, an 11-hour journey, for a flight back to London. From the Land of the Midnight Sun to the Land of the Midday Rain.
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