Östersund to Gällivare. Inlandsbanan.
The timetable for the entire European leg of my entire RTWbytrain journey was based around this one train.
So, even before I had boarded the train, my expectations were high. And as it turned out, I wasn’t to be disappointed.
First of all, an explanation of just why the timing of this train was so important (and this is also the main factor that you too will have to work around if you plan to experience this magnificent little, one carriage, train). And I recommend that you do experience it at least once:
The Inlandsbanan runs along the spine of Sweden between Kristinehamn, in the south, and Gällivare, deep inside the Arctic Circle, in the north. A distance of 1,300km. Although I will be joining the train at Östersund today – so will “only” cover 900km. And because of the snow in the north, the line is impassable for most of the year. But the snowfalls don’t just happen in mid-Winter. Oh no. The final journey north, this year, will be on the 24th.
And the train won’t run over its full length again until June next year. So, if you want to experience this line, you have a very limited window of opportunity (roughly mid-June to mid-August).
With e-ticket in hand (tickets can very easily be bought in advance, from the comfort of your own armchair, at http://inlandsbanan.com), my first sight as I approach the train in the early morning sunshine of Östersund, is that of the driver, resplendent in wooly bobble hat, conversing with “Emil”, the very knowledgeable ticket-inspector/guide, who is also wearing very natty headgear (back-to-front baseball caps are all the rage in Sweden too it would seem).
This is a long journey (900km covered in 15 hours) so I would recommend that you bring some snacks and water with you. There are no refreshments available to buy on-board, however the train does make regular stops throughout the day, first for “morning coffee”, then for lunch, and finally (twice) for dinner. So there is no danger of going hungry should you forget.
The first of these stops, for a much-needed caffeine injection, will be at Jamtlands Sikas in an hour or so. The ever-helpful Emil wanders through the carriage shortly after leaving Östersund and asks every passenger whether they would like to pre-order a sandwich to have with their coffee. I find this a bit unusual, having to pre-order a simple sandwich, but I do so anyway (and later, I will be very happy that I did so).
Once the train arrives at Jamtlands Sikas, it instantly becomes obvious why Emil wanted to know the exact numbers in advance. You see, we are the only customers, and the “coffee shop” is actually the main room in the old Sikas Hotel. A hotel that is now home to one Swedish family. And mother and daughter are busily laying out homebaked bread and cakes, and brewing coffee, as we arrive. The sandwiches aren’t your normal sandwiches either. They are made from a local flat-bread, resembling a cross between a large Scottish crumpet, and a wholemeal crêpe. And they are delicious (I can personally recommend the local goat’s cheese – Mmmm).
Bottled water and soft drinks are also available to purchase.
After a quick shot of caffeine, and a stomachful of home-baked bread and cakes, all passengers clamber aboard “Dorotea” again (all carriages on the Inlandsbanan are named after towns along the route, and our train/carriage is “Dorotea”). As soon as the train has started to pick up speed again, Emil comes around the carriage again, this time asking passengers to select their lunch choices from the onboard menu, which is to be found in every seat pocket. In addition to the choices listed in the menu, there is also a “daily special” which Emil explains. And today it is “creamy macaroni with Swedish sausage”. Well, that was an easy decision!
If only I had packed a nice bottle of rioja.
Not that I’ll need any help in the “nodding off” department. This is not a high-speed train, and it gently rocks through the very serene Swedish countryside….
Emil is a mine of information, and announces any special landmarks that we pass. This is no dry factual commentary though. He is obviously very interested, and proud, of this land. And at one point, when he is giving commentary in Swedish, he has everyone in the carriage laughing uncontrollably. Well, everyone but me (as I’m the only non-Swedish speaker on the train). But the laughter is contagious and I find myself grinning anyway.
We stop, for 40 minutes, at Vilhelmina, for lunch in the Vilhelmina Hotel. The stations at Vilhelmina and Dorotea (the station that gives our train its name) were renamed in 1907 – and are named after the wife of King Olav IV.
After a very filling meal of pasta and sausage (as delicious as it sounded just a few hours ago), we all board the train again.
And soon reach the highest point on the line, 483 metres, so it will all be downhill from now on as we continue northwards towards the Arctic Circle.
The free WiFi on the train (ask the ticket collector/guide for the password) gives out again as we cross some very isolated, and stunningly beautiful, countryside.
The train makes two more lengthy stops (about 20 minutes each) between lunch and dinner. The first of these stops is at Storuman, where there is an ATM machine should you need to stock up with more cash before dinner. The second stop is at Sorsele, where the train waits for the train coming down the line in the opposite direction (the Inlandsbanan is a single-line railway).
Emil’s dulcet tones soon waft over the intercom speakers again, announcing that there will be TWO stops for dinner (so that the whole carriage doesn’t swamp one restaurant at the same time, perhaps?, but more importantly I feel, so that passengers have the choice of eating early or late). The stops will be around 16:50 and 19:45. My advice is to wait until 19:45 if you can – as the train stops for 45 minutes then (as opposed to a rather rushed 20-30 minutes during the earlier stop).
Before the dinner stops though, the train stops at Arvidsaur. Where my travelling buddies, that I met during our tasty lunch, alight. I can see the steam engine, on which one of them is the proud fireman, sitting on the other track. The poster that he gave me during the train journey, announcing (in Swedish of course) the excursions available on “his” steam train, is safely tucked away in my bag, and will be framed and hung on the wall when I eventually get home. A simple reminder of an extraordinary day.
But my day is not finished yet.
The train stops for 10-15 minutes at the marking for the actual Arctic Circle, so that all passengers have time to get “that” picture (the one of them standing in front of the sign that announces that they are standing on the Arctic Circle). The Arctic Circle here is also marked by a row of white stones (although I doubt very much that the stones continue all the way to the sea!).
After all passengers are back on board, and Emil has made his customary headcount (we don’t want to leave any stragglers out here – for the wolves), the train sets off again, and we are soon trundling through the sole tunnel on the Inlandsbanan. All 50 metres of it. When the line was being built, the Swedish “navvies” saw that they could easily blast a path through the rock, but as they (very rightly) felt that any self-respecting railway line should have at least one tunnel, they tunnelled through instead.
About an hour after the 40-minute stop for dinner in Vajkijaur (where coffee and cakes are available for any passengers who didn’t pre-ordered their dinner) I finally work out that the seat that I have been comfortably sitting on for the last 14 hours – reclines! So I am very relaxed and laid-back (physically as well as mentally) as the most spectacular event of the day (and possibly of my entire trip through Europe) occurs:
The sun has been trying to set for hours (as it does this far north – but it does get there eventually), and is just above the horizon – so it looks absolutely enormous. The sky is a beautiful blazing red/orange/pink – and bathes the interior of the train carriage in a warm pink glow.
Out of the opposite window, in the same blazing sky, a full moon is rising (a “Blue Moon” too). And as it too is just above the horizon, it also appears to be much larger than usual.
So here I am, reclined in a dazzlingly glowing carriage, with a huge sun viewed from the left window, and an enormous full moon viewed from the right.
Web resources for this route:
Official Train Operator: www.inlandsbanan.se (English version)
If these articles have given you some inspiration, or have saved you some time and money, please say “Thanks” by donating a few pennies to my latest Kiltwalk Appeal (in aid of FareShare). Thank You.
[photo credit: kevinhidalgo.se]