A recent guest complained that there weren’t many good cafés in Kiruna, and that there was only one place in town where you could get a cappuccino. That’s always the problem for visitors – they don’t know where those perfect coffee places are, and they don’t have time to look for them. Today it was a warm minus eight degrees so it was obvious we would head out somewhere along the E10 into the ‘fjäll’, the mountains that lie west of Kiruna towards the Norwegian border, to a really good place that I know for coffee.
The E10 is a road that was only built in the 1980s. Before then there was no road west of Kiruna, only the single track railway line that is still there today. It must have been devastating when they built the road, but it does mean that it is very easy to have direct access to this wonderful landscape. Because the road was built so late there is very little development – only at places that were served by the railway. Now development is largely not allowed, apart from the occasional discrete extension of a lay-by providing parking for caravans or motor homes. It’s a fantastic drive, the road following the edge of Lake Torneträsk, the mountains on one side of you in Sweden, and on the other side of the lake, in Norway.
Our drive took us about an hour and a half, quicker than usual because we were determined to resist the temptation to keep stopping to take photographs. As we approached the parking area at the start of our walk we joined a small armada of Norwegian motor homes. We remembered that today was a Norwegian bank holiday. The visiting Norwegians had made themselves at home. Some were sat out in their deckchairs on the snow, a vase of tulips placed thoughtfully on the dashboard. We got all our warm gear on and set off down to the frozen lake.
Out on the ice the walking was easier than expected. The snow layer wasn’t too thick, so we didn’t sink too much, and there was enough of it that it wasn’t slippery to walk on. As we came out from behind a wall of rock, the vast expanse of the lake lay before us, white mountains on all sides, and a swirling shifting blue white and grey sky over our heads. We have never been able to walk to the other side because the distances are so huge, but there is a rocky area jutting out into the lake where we like to go, where the main attraction is some amazing natural ice sculptures that form on the rock.
In the distance two cross country skiers were sliding towards us. They were obviously Norwegians – they ski across countries just to have breakfast, their stamina is legendary. They greeted us and remarked on the fact that we were managing perfectly well just walking on the lake in boots. They gave us a report of the state of the ice sculptures we were heading for – a little disappointing this year – and then they went on their way. Far out in the distance three black specs jetted along the lake – snowscooters, and therefore almost certainly (less hardy) Swedes.
At our destination of the rocks, we found that someone had carved a small bench-shaped seat out of the frozen snow, providing a perfect resting place, with a view over the lake, the mountains, the everything. We made ourselves comfortable, leaned back against the snow. Now for the cappuccino. In our thermos was black coffee – oh alright then, it would have to be a black Americano. But we didn’t mind the compromise, given the view, and coffee has never tasted better.