Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sweden, part 3. Descent into Darkness.

The road from Hegra passes through Meråker, a huge region of pleasant scenery. Parts of it were like Stevens Pass in Washington. But as we neared the border, the scenery changed. Storlien is a weird tiny speck of a town, home only to a strip mall containing a grocery store, a touristy gift shop, and a cafe. The shopping bus was parked outside as we approached. We didn't stop.

The landscape flattened. Dark evergreen trees flanked us, interspersed with blood red foliage. The sky darkened and it began to rain. Mile after mile after mile, the same depressing scene. This was the 'black zone' we were told about, the part of the world that no one wants, the tracts of uninspired land clinging to the edge of Sweden.

above: endless nothing, and finally arriving in Åre.

Åre is a very small town, home of a big ski lift and a giant warehouse-like building called the Holiday Club, which has indoor minigolf and a swimming pool. Families can take the train from Norway to Åre, and step off the train into either the Holiday Club or a mini-mall.

Åre was deserted today. Aparently, this is two week period between winter and summer season when they everyone leaves except for maintenance crews. The mini-mall was open, and we parked in the garage underneath.

$5 to use the bathroom at the mall in Åre. Your admission comes complete with a shower. If you hop the turnstile, the bathrooms are free. Or you can use the baby-changing bathroom for free. I figure I've changed enough babies in my life to earn entrance to that room!

Inside the grocery store a stuffed reindeer is standing watch over the dried goods. There's exotic groceries: flavors we've never seen before, unknown products labeled in a weird language with umlauts, so many varieties of spreads in tubes (fishy things and unknown vegetables and varieties of mystery meats and other "things". How brave are you?) It was some interest we noticed that we could understand most of the signs, about 3/4 of the words are similar to their Norwegian counterparts. I immediately shifted in a language mode, sorting words and trying to discern roots and meanings, but I quickly managed to stop myself.

We found bacon by the cartload. Our holy grail. You can't find bacon easily in Norway. (tangent: I bought a pack once at a specialty shop in Trondheim, it was 10 dollars for 10 razor thin slices. Oh, it was very good, but was it one-dollar-a-slice good? Of course it was, it's bacon.)

Bacon at this store was on sale, 10 packs for 8.90 sek... $1.50 per pack. Mmmmmm.... bacon.

Frozen chicken was 1/4 the price, and meats were half the price. The meat looked so fresh and lean. Hamburger in Norway is often turning brown when you buy it (maybe Norwegians like it brown?), but this meat is beautiful. We pick out some marinated steaks and babyback ribs, and enough hamburger and chicken to last us until the end of time.

Milk and yogurt, also 1/2 price, but most other items, cereal, bread, cheese, chips... all are about the same price as in Norway, maybe a little cheaper but not by much. We loaded up the trunk and headed off into the rain.

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