The Vanern Ocean

A few weeks ago, the Ekobuss embarked on yet another 5 day excursion. This time the plan was to tour Lake Vänern. We would begin in Karlstad, of course, which sits on the north shore, and travel counter clockwise, spending most of our time on the south shore. Our first night was spent dead center in the middle of the lake on an island called Lurö.

After a two hour bus ride, we jumped on a boat at a dock in Ekenas. The harbour was marshy. Perfect territory for a moose. If fact, we saw one! Quickly the water opened up. Vänern is the largest lake in Scandinavia, third largest in Europe. The European Union has classified it as an ocean; a fact the locals are very proud of.

As the lake grew wider, so did the swell. 3 feet at least, I reckon'. I was attempting to film my surroundings when the boat descended from a tall crest throwing my body forward towards the railing. To prevent myself from going over board, I threw my weight back, but over compensated. I fell onto the lap two lovely Czech girls. “You did that on purpose,” accused a classmate.

The wind was gusty and chilly, but disappeared as soon as we pulled into a sheltered dock at Lurö. We ate lunch, then went for a swim. A group girls went skinny dipping on the other side of the island while myself and a few guys swam in bathing suits in the harbour. When the water is that cold we have reasons for being shy, alright?!

My cowardice was later confronted by two girls with no shame.

“We're goin' for another dip. Are you coming?"
“Yeah I just can't find my bathing suit.”
“Oh come on. Who needs it."
"Right ..."
“Oh my God, it's so cold.”
“Yeah yeah, totally. Listen, so have you gals seen that episode of Seinfeld where George is swimming in the pool and ...” I began to ask.
“Nothing. Let's go.”

Damn it, if Elaine didn't know, would they? I assume they did as no vicious rumors were circulated that night. It was a full moon (no pun intended) which gave everything a silver sheen. We stripped down, giggling and shivering, then jumped off the dock. We returned to a nice toasty cabin thanks to a stokin' wood stove.

The following day the class did some hiking before leaving to see another island. There are islands everywhere you look in lake Vänern. 22,000 to be exact. Our ferry took us 10 minutes back up the lake then docked right against some rocks. “I want to show you something” said Hans, our guide for this trip. We hiked a few meters along the rocks to a cabin.

“This cabin is very old. There once lived a lighthouse keeper and his sister on this island. A few years ago, I interviewed the sister. She calls this Lucky island. She now lives in a nursing home, but used to live in this one one room house with her brother. A while ago we got some money from the state to restore it. We maintain it as an unstaffed museum.”

Most of the buildings on Lurö were also government funded. Hans is a founding member of a society that works hard to preserve these relics of how people lived on the Vänern islands in less modern times. Today the islands are heavily forested. Decades ago they would have all been farming pasture. To keep the fields grazed on Lurö, this group offered a farm on the island to a local family. Thanks to some more government grants, they were given a house, sheep, cows and an aluminum boat so the kids could commute to school. Fifteen years later, mom and pop are still there. Their two kids are now attending university. If I get married and have kids, I expect the Canadian government to buy me a boat and a private island.

We returned to Ekenas to continue our tour by bus. We traveled to a town called Håverud. A quaint touristy town, but it was obvious that tourist season was over. There were cafes, restaurants and ice cream stands everywhere, but all were closed. To further drive the point home, when we asked for 17 beds at a hostel, they gave us the whole building! It could have easily accommodated twice that. They didn't even bother staffing the reception desk that night.

So what was the tourist attraction? A large canyon with three bridges: one for cars, one for trains and one for boats! The aqua-duct was built in 1868 so cargo ships could safely traverse the Håverud rapids. Back then, ship was the most efficient method of transporting iron and timber harvested from this rocky area of Sweden. It got 10 years of heavy use before the railroad carved through the land. Today it attracts more kayaks and Mercruisers than cargo ships, serving as a major attraction for boating enthusiasts and sightseers.

The next day we saw more canals. This time in a larger city called Trollhätte. Unlike Håverud which pours water into Vänern, the Trollhätte canal is the only exit point on the lake. It is here where the Göta Älv begins its path to Gothenburg. There are three canals. Two are retired while the third is still in use.

The following day was fairly uneventful. We explored a small fishing village named Spiken and checked out a Castle. On our final day we went to a query for a good ol' geological dig. I grabbed the other Canadian in the class to do what Canadians do when surrounded by rocks.

“Hey! Check it out.” I shouted to a German friend.
“'Now the Swedes will know Canadians were here.' Ha ha.”
“Oh right. Nevermind.”

More Photos

Shout Out
For some impressive shots of the trip, check out fellow classmate Alex Esseling's Flickr photostream.