Sailing Towards The Midnight Sun
( Originally Published 1881 )
AT the extreme northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia, near the right bank of the picturesque Tome River, lies Haparanda da, the most northerly town in Sweden, to which tourists from the South resort, in order to see the midnight sun, and to observe the coast scenery. During the summer months comfortable steamers leave Stockholm weekly for that part of Sweden, stopping at different points. By taking one of these boats, towards the 13th or 18th of June, the traveller can make a short and pleasant trip, and can enjoy the sight of the midnight sun without any exertion. The passage lasts about throe days, and one should not fail to secure a state-room in advance, as the boats are often crowded. The only drawback is the noise made by discharging and receiving cargo at the different stop ping-places, which prevents one from sleeping.
There Are two was of entering or leaving Stockholm to or from the Baltic—one by the fjord, and the other by the Malar, which is connected with the sea by the Sodertelge Canal. The coast on each side of the fjord is literally lined with a maze of islands, many of them mere rocks above the water ; some are quite large, under cultivation, or covered with woods of coniferous trees, while others are the abode of fishermen.
On one of those fine June mornings so common in Sweden at that season of the year I left for the North, just as the sun had risen, gilding with its rays every hill. The steamer passed Waxholm, which guards the approaches to Stockholm ; year by year its fortifications are being strengthened. Island after island Came into view, and gradually the scenery became wilder, and the shore more barren ; the coast grew bleak ; fir trees, often wide apart, covered the rocky islands, occasionally a windmill or a fisherman's house being visible, or a few cows, belonging to some little farms, grazing near the water. After a sail of four hours we came abreast of the island of Arholma, upon which is found one of the old-fashioned semaphore signal stations, in appearance not unlike a windmill with its projecting arms. Farther on we passed between the main-land and the island of Aland, and entered the Gulf of Bothnia, and then gradually lost sight of land. Our steamer was heavily laden, and ploughed its way at the rate of about ten miles an hour. The sea lay with its surface like that of a mirror; the winds came off the Swedish shore, from forests of pine and fir and fragrant meadows; there were no swells, and hardly a ripple on the water, which was very dark colored, contrasting singularly with the pale-blue sky. I was particularly struck by the absence of aquatic birds. We saw no ducks, gulls, or other water-birds. We sailed in a straight line, keeping away from the numerous islands along the coast. The Baltic and the Bothnia are rich in fish, and along the shores, and on some of the islands, fishing is carried on extensively.
Our steamer did not have many first-class passengers, owing probably to the few places at which we were to stop, and the fear of being detained by ice. Among those in the cabin were the captain's wife, and a young lady about eighteen years of age, who was very refined and extremely self-possessed. She spoke English and French slightly, was returning from Stockholm, where she had been at school, and was going to her far Northern home: there was another lady travelling with her husband. Among the gentlemen were a young custom-house officer, bound for duty at Haparanda during the season of navigation, who proved to be a most pleasant and valuable companion, a young actor, and two merchants.
All were polite to each other, and especially so to me. The captain presented me to his wife, and his wife to the two other ladies; and, as usual on board of vessels, the a gentlemen got acquainted with each other without knowing how-a matter very easily accomplished in Scandinavia—and soon we were all good friends.
The deck passengers were numerous. To observe these on board either Norwegian or Swedish steamers was to me always a source of pleasure, for one sees in them the peculiarities of peasant life. It is very seldom that a farmer, however rich he may be, takes a first-class passage; to him money spent that way is wasted, with no equivalent in return. They are always jolly and light-hearted ; no conventionalities of fashionable life trouble them ; they shout, they laugh, they slap each other on the back ; there is a freedom in everything they do, which might appear shocking to the prim inhabitant of a city. There is a genial kindness and innocent fun in-their man-tiers which are very pleasant to see. These people seemed to be the happiest of all on board; they were evidently bent upon travelling in the cheapest way, paying only for their passage, and carrying their food iii wooden or birch-bark boxes. Their fare consisted of salt raw herring, butter, cheese, etc., etc., and black coarse soft bread. They had another kind, called Stangkakor, if anything darker than Knackebrod, but of such a hardness as to render it very difficult to eat, and which, like the latter, is kept for months, strung upon poles passing through a hole in the centre. Now and then old friends or new-made acquaintances treated each other with a bottle of beer at the bar, or oftener with a glass of branvin, which they drew from a bottle carefully packed in their chests, or safely put in their side-pockets.
When the time to go to sleep came the sight was ludicrous; they had to find room and beds the best way they could, in the amidst of boxes, casks, and all sorts of miscellaneous merchandise, and in every conceivable posture, some of which would have shocked the sensibilities of prudish people. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and lovers slept in each other's arms, all perfectly unconcerned as to what people might think. Many would lie as close to one another as they could, putting their blankets over them for warmth, or in corners or under tarpaulins. Those who were so unfortunate as to have nothing to cover them would keep awake, or take a nap till the cold aroused them, and obliged them to take a walk to warm themselves. The nights were chilly, though during the day the sun was quite warm.
These deck passengers have often to endure great hardships when the passage takes several days, and when the weather is stormy, as it often is in the fall of the year; but they would rather be wet, cold, and uncomfortable, than pay a higher fare.
I have always been struck with the uniform politeness of the captains, and of all the officers, on board Norwegian and Swedish steamers. I believe that there is no country where those having command in the steam mercantile marine show so much courtesy and appear so well educated; they always speak some foreign language, generally English, and often French or German, and sometimes the three languages. Their refinement of manner is probably owing to the fact that most of them be-long to the navy, or were formerly connected with it.
I was especially pleased to notice how well the second-class and deck passengers are treated. Every one on board is civil to them, and their luggage and other possessions are not roughly knocked about. They are sure of a polite answer to their questions, and no profane language is permitted.
The cabin had good accommodations, and was heated by steam ; everything was clean, and our state-rooms were exceedingly comfortable : in the saloon there was a good piano. I did not wonder that everything was so tidy, for all the servants on board of Swedish steamers on the Baltic, including the cooks, are females, and are under the supervision of a stewardess, who is general overseer, and has charge of the culinary department. This custom of employing female servants is said to date from the time of Charles XII., when his wars took away the male population.
The dining-saloon was on deck—a great improvement, for we had none of the smell of food in our cabin. We had three meals a day—breakfast, dinner, and supper-with beer and wines of good quality. Meals were not included in the price charged for passage. The cooking was good, the service excellent, and the tariff of charges very moderate.
There is a custom on board these steamers which well illustrates the general honesty of the people. I noticed that after every meal, or at other times, gentlemen wrote in a large book in the saloon. At the end of the second day I found, upon inquiry, that every passenger was expected to write his name after every repast, and to record what he had taken, with such extras as wine, soda-water, lemonade, coffee, liquors, beer, cigars, etc. Where there is a regular bill of fare, and every dish is charged, he has to do the same.
I was in a great dilemma; for, not knowing this rule, I had not written my name or. recorded my orders; I only knew that I had not missed a meal, and that I had treated my friends, as they had treated me, to coffee, cigars, etc., especially the etceteras. I at once requested one of my fellow-passengers to help me out of my trouble; the waitress was called, and, putting our heads together, we made everything right. When there was a doubt in regard to the order, I put down the maxi mum. After everything was settled, I told the maid that hereafter she must write down my orders, and not trust to me, as I was very forgetful. Her look, as she answered yes, told plainly that she had enjoyed the fun occasioned by my ignorance of the customs of steamboat navigation. When the passenger is ready to leave, he calls the girl, and gives his name; she pun the price against every item, adds up the amounts, puts the sum she receives in her pocket : when the money becomes too heavy, she gives it, without counting, to the mistress. Almost every one gives a small fee to the girl, for which she is very grateful, and with a courtesy says, Tackar aldra odmjukast !—" Thank you ever so much !"— so sincerely that you almost feel sorry that you did not give her more. The restaurant-keeper runs some risk, for a passenger might forget to put down all the items of his entertainment. Nevertheless, all is left to the honesty of the people, and this confidence makes every one very particular.
The Swedish coast, from the Aland Sound northward, as far as the town of Umea, forms a horseshoe, and between the two points you lose sight of land. We found great drifts of ice in the sound called Qvarken : a maze of islands rising from the Finnish side checked their drift, and the easterly wind sent large masses towards the shore. On one immense field there were a great number of seals.
We passed the light-house on the island of Norrskar, and farther on the light-ship Snipan warns the mariner of danger. After a trip of thirty-two hours from Stockholm we sailed between the main-land and a group of islands, of which the most important is Holmon, opposite the pretty little town of Umea, but at quite a distance from the coast. Here we met a considerable number of large ice-floes, driven from the Finnish coast towards the Swedish shore. The winter of 1870–1871 had been exceptionally severe, and the fields of ice were met till the latter days of June.
The weather was cool, and overcoats were very comfortable on deck ; the little wind we had came from the north. There were still many large fields of rotten ice, and when it blew over them the thermometer would fall to 42° or 43°; then rise in a few minutes to 50° or 51°; and at night it would remain at 44° or 46°.
Numerous boats, especially built for the hunting of seals in the Baltic or Bothnia, were seen in different directions. These were of very peculiar shape, the forward part rising gradually from the centre to the bow; the head is rounded and high above the water, so that the boat can go over cakes of ice, or land the crew on the ice-floes, to enable them to approach the seals on foot. With a fair wind these boats sail very fast. As we proceeded the sea became darker, and al-most fresh; for at that time of the year the body of water coming from the melted snow of the interior and from the range of mountains is enormous. The coast was low and monotonous, and covered with firs, pines, and birches.
As the steamer approached the station, where a wooden wharf has been built, farm-houses, hamlets, and saw-mills came in sight. Each landing has a characteristic of its own ; some of them are merely outposts of towns or villages farther up the stream, and are forlorn-looking. As the stranger wanders near their surroundings the woods appear lonely, and the small size of the trees is apt to give him a wrong impression of the vegetation, for all the large ones have been cut down. The rocks are covered with lichens, and boulders are scattered in every direction:
At each stopping-place a black-board is hoisted, upon which is written the hour for the departure of the vessel, as a notice to the passengers. Three sharp whistles, blown at short intervals, call those who have gone ashore for a ramble, and the steamer leaves soon after the last warning. Here passengers were left or taken, their number increasing as we advanced farther north, and the crowd became merry.
Though so early in the season that the Bothnia was not yet free from ice, a large number of sailing-vessels had already come to take cargoes of timber.
There is a look of sadness about the country, which is happily relieved by the deep-blue sky characteristic of the clear atmosphere of Scandinavia. Dwarf forests of pine and fir lined the, roads, while here and there meadows, fields of barley, oats, and rye, relieved the monotony of the landscape. Wild flowers were abundant ; a few butterflies flitted hither and thither, and an occasional magpie or crow disturbed the solitude. Along the road a cart was rarely seen. It was a great charm for me to gather, at twelve o'clock at night, in the; midst of broad daylight, sweet violets, which grew among the rocks or by the side of the roads, with golden buttercups, and to hear perchance the notes of the cuckoo. The air, was so invigorating, the scene so novel, that I hardly ever felt sleepy.
On land it was much warmer, the rays of the sun being so powerful that the heat at noon sometimes reached 700 in the shade. Vegetation was making rapid strides; the pine and fir had already sent out new shoots four inches long. The little towns were quaint, with no sidewalks, the streets paved with cobble-stones; the houses were of wood, with stone foundations, some very large, with one or two stories, and almost all well painted; the windows were gay with roses, carnations, geraniums, and other flowers in full bloom. No persons in rags, no beggars were seen. The men were independent looking; the women comely, wearing handkerchiefs over their heads, and, no matter how poor, always cleanly dressed when in the street. Barefooted and bareheaded boys and girls, happy as all children are, filled the school-houses. The church towered over the other buildings.
As our boat arrived at one of the chief places the whole population appeared to be on the wharf to greet us. Our arrival was to them a great event, and we were hardly along-side the wooden wharf, or quay, when the crowd came on board. How welcome are the first steamers of the season to the in-habitants of that far North! How glad they are when the ice blockade breaks! for with its breaking sunshine has come; they have then an open highway to the seas of the world ; their rivers bring down the trees that have been cut during the winter months; their saw-mills run; hundreds of vessels come to load with the immense amount of timber which waits for shipment; their friends come to visit them; families who dreaded the long winter land journey meet again, while others can go to Stockholm, or to the sunny south of Sweden, or to the Continent; the merchants get their new stock of goods; luxuries from a warmer latitude appear; the fishing-season opens ; salmon come into the streams, and are very plentiful ; and the husbandman is busy, and looks forward with hope to a good harvest.
Steamers here are a sort of floating restaurant; and while cargoes are being loaded and unloaded, crowds of men come on board to eat and drink—to taste of radishes, asparagus, salad, etc., for as many hours as the vessels stay in port. Some go, most remain till the departure; there is no night, and all the visitors are determined to have a frolic after their meals. Our visitors had a good time, but in the midst of all this jollity there was no coarseness and no vulgarity. The deck over the cabin was crowded; the dining-saloon was jammed; and it was a great day for the good restaurant-keeper; her happy face beamed. There was no rest for the waitresses ; they flew about from one place to another, laughed at the compliments thrown at them by their new admirers, and attended strictly to their business; there was no sleep for them ; they had to work, no matter how long since they had slept; though tired they were quick, and always in good-humor, and remembered every order. No one could withstand the sight of all this feasting: the feeling that one must eat or drink something became irresistible; and between the general hilarity and the noise of landing the cargo, I felt that it was of no use to go below.
While looking round I observed one group of four or five gentlemen, before whom stood a bottle of wine. They were all standing after the glasses had been filled ; they had been invited by one of their number to drink to the health of a present, whom he had not met for several years made his speech, alluded to the years gone by, and to tit friendship, talking for ten or fifteen minutes. They all bowë and drained their glasses. The recipient of the toast returned thanks in a speech, and the glasses were replenished.
Another company of friends about to part drank to their future meeting, and again speech making followed; while others were laughing and enjoying themselves, the wine and the Swedish punch having evidently exhilarated their spirits. They seemed ready to embrace one another. There was also a party engaged in drinking coffee, and talking upon business. matters—evidently merchants, thinking of making money, and probably driving a bargain.
These festivities went on during the whole of the night, until the departure of the steamer, which took place at 5.30 A.M.
The last whistle having been blown, there was a general stampede for the shore; the people paying in a hurry, and giving a little money to the good-looking waiter-girls, whom they had kept awake all night.
The total abstinence man may probably be shocked at such a display, but if lie tries mildly to remonstrate, the people simply answer him that the Swedes and Norwegians have the longest lives of any people.
After such a scene of merriment the next stopping-place may be at a solitary landing, or some fjord, with only a wood-en wharf and a shed, sometimes with hardly a house in sight. But one must not be deceived by this apparent solitude, for often, not far off, between the rocky hills or behind the forests, are farms, hamlets, saw-mills, and at some distance the highway.
As the voyage drew to a close, and we approached the upper end of the Gulf of Bothnia, the twilight had disappeared, and between the setting and rising of the sun hardly one hour elapsed. We came to Stromsund, our last point of destination before reaching Haparanda. Here the steamer remained several hours.
The spot seemed lonely enough. Close to the landing was a small lake, on the outlet of which was a grist-mill, a farm or two in sight, with rocks covered with lichens, interspersed with boulders of granite, small pine or fir trees, and sterile soil. Everything appeared so deserted, that involuntarily one asked himself where the large cargo landed was going to be distributed. A few swallows, high in the air, assured us of a continuation of the fine weather.
Stromsund is at the end of the Rane fjord, not far from the river of that name, upon the banks of which were farms and saw-mills.
Ranea, was about four miles distant, on the highway which skirts the Baltic, and during the navigation season connected with Stromsund by telegraph. The road, like the country, was silent; on my way there I met only two carts, the drivers being women, who walked up the hills instead of riding, for fear of tiring their horses.
The village contained the parish church, a large edifice, which could seat about twenty-five hundred persons, and is often crowded ; it had white painted walls, with seats of bare boards. Over the altar was a silvered figure of Christ on the cross, with imitation of blood coming from the nailed hands and feet and from the side. Above the pulpit was written, "Praise be to God in Heaven."
There were no religious paintings on the walls; on the steeple was a cross, over which was a weather-cock. The grave-yard surrounded the church, and looked neglected.
At a short distance was a well, common to all, about twenty or thirty feet deep. Inside, somewhat above the water, there was a crust of ice several feet thick, which sometimes remains there all the year round. The water was delicious.
A fair takes place in the beginning of July, and many empty wooden houses, not painted, which are used at that time, gave an abandoned look to the place. Now and then a woman or man was seen walking, making one feel that the hamlet had not been entirely left to itself.
The doctor of the village was at home, and received me most kindly; he told me that the winter had been very cold, the thermometer falling to 40° and 45° below zero; and there was still snow on the ground on the 2d of June. But now, in the gardens, the pease were about two inches above the sur-face of the ground, and would be fit for the table at the end of August or the beginning of September. The polished pine floor of his house was so clean and white that I was almost afraid to walk upon it. In the -Unpretending little library there were scientific and medical works, and volumes in English, French, and German ; everything was simple and comfortable; the rooms were large, and every window was crowded with flower-pots.
He kindly invited me to stay to dinner, but being afraid of missing the. steamer, I declined. Still, the country hospitality would not permit me to leave without taking some refresh ment, and, if I had been a smoker, to enjoy a pipe or a cigar.
Returning to Stromsund, all was life. I wondered where the people could have come from. Numerous carts had arrived from different parts of the country, to take the cargo that had been landed by the steamer—composed of rye and barley flour, a complete steam apparatus for a saw-mill, barrels of snuff, boxes and hogsheads of claret and other wine, iron pots, casks of nails, dry goods of all sorts, bags of coffee, sugar, and in fact all the commodities found in a country store.
Another steamer had arrived crowded with men from the inland districts, and here two hundred more were to be added to the number. They were all farmers, belonging to the beveiring, one of the military organizations, and were going to drill and exercise for several weeks, under competent officers, at some point lower down the coast.
From the Rane river the coast, which forms the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, runs east and west. A sail of a few hours brings one to the mouth of the Torne river; but, ou account of the shoals and shallowness of the water, vessels have to stop a few miles below. At that time a small steamer took the passengers to Haparanda, a few miles higher up.
The town is in 65° 51' N. lat., and forty-one miles south of the arctic circle, and has a population of about one thousand, mostly Finlanders. It is 1° 18' farther north than Archangel, and in the same latitude as the most northern part of Iceland. The sun rises on the 21st of June at 12.01 A.M., and sets at 11.37 P.M.
From the 22d to the 25th of June the traveller may enjoy the sight of the midnight sun from Avasaxa, a hill six hundred and eighty feet high, and about forty-five miles distant, on the other side of the stream ; and should he be a few days later, by driving north on the high-road he may still have the opportunity of seeing it.
Haparanda is quite a thriving place, with many large and well-painted houses; it has several stores, and is a sort of commercial depot for the population farther north, its exports being chiefly timber and tar. It has risen to its present dimensions since the cession of Finland by Sweden to Russia. Formerly the seat of commerce was on the island of Tornea, lying almost opposite. It has two churches; a high-school, where students can prepare themselves to enter one of the universities, and where French, English, German, and the dead languages are taught ; and public schools for primary education-; it also has a newspaper.
This is the last telegraphic station in the north of Sweden whence messages can be sent to any part of the world. The telegraph-operators are all educated men, who have passed a rigid examination, and are required to understand English, German, and French. The same regulations are also enforced in Norway. The postal-telegraph system has always existed in both countries, and the tariff of charges is uniform, whether the distance be short or long.
There is a good hotel, where the rooms are comfortable and the fare excellent; indeed, there are very few towns between -Stockholm and this point where yo can be so well entertained. The size of the landlord, and that of his good and pleasant wife, spoke well for the food and the eliminate of the country.
The news of my arrival was soon spread over town. The judge, clergyman, custom-house officers, se master, postmaster, banker, and others came to the hotel to see -me, and they all welcomed me to Haparanda. Though living in the remote North, they had all the politeness of their countrymen of the more populous districts of the South.
When I told them that I intended to go as far north as by land, they seemed somewhat astonished. When I wanted to cross to the polar sea, "There are difficulties in the way," they said; "the people do not speak the Swedish language; after awhile there is no road, and the country is wild, sparsely populated, and the people will not be able to understand where you wish to go: Will you be able to eat their food? If not, you must buy what you want here." "The food," said I, "does not trouble me in the least ; I can eat anything."
They did not see how I could ever get along. " Just go as far as the high-road, and come back," was their counsel. "No," said I; "I must go as far as North Cape."
When they saw me resolved to go, they took as much interest in my undertaking as if I had been one of their dear relatives; they got an excellent guide for me, and seemed overjoyed that they had been able to find me one, and said that they knew I would be in the hands of a good man. They were not mistaken. His name was Andreas Jacob Josefsson, and proved to be as good and honest a fellow as any one whose services I could have secured. He was a tall Finlander, and had a kind face. He had lived in California quite awhile, and could speak a little English ; he had come back to Sweden to rejoin his sweetheart, and be married; he wanted to go back to America, but she did not, and accordingly he had settled here—the home of his wife.
The great' charm of travelling inScandinavia is by the relay stations, called gastgifvaregard in Sweden. The conveyance given to the traveller is a cart called karra, drawn by a single horse—a light vehicle, with only two wheels, the body and shafts continuous, generally without springs, and with a seat large enough for two persons, and a moderate amount of lug-gage.
There are more than sixteen thousand miles of roads in Sweden, all with post-stations, numbering over fifteen hundred. There are four kinds of roads; the kwngsvag (king's road) being the finest; haradsvag (country road), most of which are very good; sockenviig (parish road), which is not so good, and often bad, and the byvagg (village road), which is narrow, and very rough. It may, therefore, be judged that before one can see the country thoroughly there is a good deal to do. In the sparsely inhabited districts some of the stations are very humble, but the traveller is glad to reach them after a hard day's journey.
The distance between each station is generally about one and a half Swedish miles ; seldom less than a mile, or more than two miles, although in some districts the intervals are greater, on account of the scantiness of the population. Most of these stations are farms, and at all of them food and lodging can be had; and many of them are exceedingly comfortable, especially on the high-roads which connect the towns or cities; but in remote or unfrequented districts the fare is very poor, and a stranger finds it hard to get accustomed to the diet. The people who keep them generally receive compensation from the Government, but the amount paid is proportioned to the extent of the traffic. The State makes these arrangements with the most responsible farmers in each district, and good and faithful service is therefore insured. At each station there is a register in which travellers record their names, with their destination, the place they have left, their vocation, and the number of horses they take. On the cover of this book the rules relating to the road are inscribed. The number of hours during which the traveller is required to wait is according to the number of horses taken before. The tariff of prices from one station to another is indicated with the utmost precision, so that no mistake can be made. Generally the rate is one krona and twenty ore per Swedish mile in the country, and one krona and sixty ôre in the towns. Every month the records are taken up by Government officers, and if any traveller has any complaint to make, he registers it, with his name appended.
In Sweden all the farmers within a specified distance of each station are obliged to furnish horses upon the requisition of the station-master. This law seems to be rigorous; but it is, doubtless, the only practicable way to accomplish the end desired. Hence the stations are established in places where constant supplies of horses can be obtained. The traveller is charged an additional sum for the use of vehicles and harness —the usual rates for the sleigh or cart being three ore per mile for a cart without springs, and six ire for ore with springs. The station-master provides the driver. The cost of ferries or bridges is borne by the traveller.
The amount of weight allowed is four hundred pounds, including the passenger; but there is never any difficulty, unless the traveller has an unusual amount of luggage : two together pay fare for one and a half. A driver is fined twenty-five-kronor for overcharge. If the traveller hurts the horse by fast driving, he is responsible for damages. The spec owed by law is one Swedish mile for every hour and a half but they always drive faster, and the average is a little over five English miles an hour. When sending a fôrbud (that is, ordering a horse in advance), either by messenger or letter, if the traveller comes too late he has to pay twenty-five ore every hour, and the driver is compelled to wait only four hours. Sometimes the post department has to change the stations, either on account of the farmers refusing to have them any longer, or because they are not properly kept.