The dogsledding part of the trip was over. But on previous trips to Sweden, I had combined dogsledding trips with stays in unusual "hotel rooms", whether that was a strange UFO shaped tree-house, the cockpit of a decommissioned Boeing 747-200, or the engine of that airplane in the following year, or "Sweden's most primitive hotel", basically a simple pile of wood and earth.
As Sweden has a surprising number of odd places to spend a night in, it seemed like a good idea to visit two more this year.
The first one was a place that I had wanted to visit the previous year.
But there had been problems with the reservation (basically, the people taking the reservation weren't telling the people operating the property about it). So it hadn't happened.
This year I made sure that they would be aware that I was coming. And when I would be arriving where.
The issue is that you can't just drive up to the place (for reasons that will be quite obvious), so you have to arrange for a meeting place and time with the operators.
And I am slightly challenged in that way, as I travel without a mobile phone.
Sure, I got a tablet and a computer, but I can't be reached by phone and I have difficulties making a phone call (unless I manage to find a pay phone, but these are getting rare).
So instead of calling them and tell them "I'm here now, when can you be?", I needed to sort things out in advance. And given the experience from the previous year, I made sure that they were well sorted out in advance.
Side remark - it is getting difficult to be in the civilized parts of Sweden without a mobile phone. For example, there is essentially no free parking in Västerås. No problem, but parking meters are uncommon as well. When I tried to park at the 'harbor', the ticket machine was no longer available. Instead there was a sign telling me to either text a message to a premium number (difficult to do without a phone) or use the 'EasyParking' app. As there was free Wifi on the parking lot, I managed to download the app. But when I opened it, I couldn't get anywhere without entering a mobile phone number. Which is really annoying. I wouldn't have minded if I could have paid as an in-app purchase or even per credit card. But having mobile phones as the only way to pay for parking was annoying. I considered driving to some place outside of in Västerås, park the car there and then walk back a couple of kilometers to the meeting point. But then I found another parking lot nearby that still had a ticket machine. That wouldn't take actual money (the slots for that were welded shut), but at least it accepted my credit card...
But in any case - I got my car parked and I made it to the meeting place on time, where I was expected by the people responsible for the 'hotel room' I was staying in.
The 'Utter Inn'.
It is located on Lake Mälaren, about a kilometer from the shore, so you need a boat to get there.
On the way out, we passed another unusual housing option - the 'Ooops Hotell', which is designed to look like a half-sunken house.
It doesn't open until June, so it was still moored in the harbor of Västerås. During the season it is moved out on the lake, closer to one of the islands.
But I was heading to somewhere else.
And it soon got into view.
From the outside, it looks a bit like a cross between one of these rural bus shelters they still have in some places and an outhouse, floating on the lake.
On the inside, it technically is an outhouse. At least the main feature inside is the toilet.
Sorry about the weird perspective in some of the pictures, but the room is quite small and it is difficult to take pictures without using fisheye views. Even though the toilet looks like a miniature in the second picture, it is normal sized.
The interesting part is below deck.
Beside the toilet, the other relevant feature is a hatch in the floor, which reveals a ladder down a tube into the bedroom, three meters below the water surface.
But before I could explore the place, there was one issue to solve - heating.
The water of the lake cools the room efficiently, so the bedroom temperature was at about 6°C.
There is a gas heater available. But it didn't start. The guy, who had driven me over in the boat, stated that he was new to this. He (usually) could start the heater, but he didn't how to fix problems with it.
But the other one would come around in a couple of hours to bring me dinner, so he could have a look at it.
I had been spending a lot of time on the dog sled in lower temperatures for a longer time, but there you are more active. If you sit around for some hours, it feels a lot more unpleasant.
But at least I had the proper gear with me. One of the advantages of going dogsledding is that you pack a lot of warm clothing. And, oddly enough, the very heavy fleece pieces, that I didn't even take on tour, were the right thing to wear now. (I had brought them with me, as I didn't know in advance how the weather would be. But when it was time to leave Tjärnberg, it was clear that it wouldn't get really cold. So I left that stuff behind in the car and didn't bother to take it with me on the sled. Now I was happy to have it with me.)
A couple of hours later, the boat with my dinner (Chinese takeaway) arrived and the heating was turned on.
I had dinner and then went downstairs to have an early night. (As I had gotten up at 2 o'clock to catch the bus to Lycksele, it had been a long day.)
There wasn't much to see in any case.
While I hadn't expected to see any fishes (the 'Utter Inn' is somewhere on a lake, so it's not like it is anchored to a reef or some other landscape feature that fish might find interesting, and it's not some warm tropical waters with an abundance of colorful and easy to spot fish), I had assumed that you would be able to see a bit into the lake and maybe a distorted view of the sky above. (Three meters aren't that deep.)
But what I did see was, essentially, a solid orange color.
For a while I was even wondering whether they might have painted the windows from the outside or whether there might be some shutters that needed to be operated somehow from above. Or maybe there were some orange lights outside the window that needed to be turned off first to be able to see anything in the dark waters outside.
But it was only orange water with almost no visibility.
The next morning, I tried to lower a camera in a waterproof casing into the lake, trying to get a 'view from outside' through the window into the underwater room, but even at 10 cm below the surface, the visibility was like this.
Once the camera got deeper than that, all the video showed was this.
When I had flown to Stockholm, a bit more than two weeks earlier, the view from the plane window still showed a lot of snow all around. All of that had melted since and it seems that the meltwater had brought a lot of soil and sediments into the lake, reducing visibility to, essentially, nil.
Catching some sleep didn't turn out as easy as expected.
After an hour or so, the heater had failed again (and I couldn't get it restarted), so the temperature in the bedroom was 8°C and falling again.
So I slept in my clothing and had a good night (being a bit tired surely helped).
Next morning I had a breakfast and waited for the boat to pick me up again.
At least that upper room was warm again. There is little two-flame gas burner, so you can heat water, make coffee and warm up the place a bit. (Actually, that was also the recommendation in case the heating failed again - turn on the cooker and let it run all night. But I didn't really like the idea of having an open flame unsupervised all night, so I preferred to sleep in my clothes instead.)
So, while finally managed to spend a night in the 'Utter Inn', it was a 'been there, done that' experience. Good, if you are a 'strange places to stay in'-completist, but not so much if you want to have a nice stay somewhere.
Which is a bit frustrating, as the idea is cool and it's an interesting place. It just works better as an idea than in reality.
After having spent one night underwater, the plan for the next night was to be underground.
And that didn't simply mean to stay in a cellar somewhere, but deep underground. At 155 meters below the surface.
There is a former silver mine in Sala, which is no longer operational.
But there are guided tours through the mine. And there's a suite down there.
The start was a bit worrying.
I had made the booking months ago and if you book the suite, you down to it in the early evening. But you also get to go on one of the guided tours, so you get to see the rest of the mine (and, presumably, to discourage you from going exploring on your own when there is nobody else down there at night).
So I showed up at reception, showed them their e-mail, confirming my booking for the night and the tour at 13:30.
Some irritated looks, head-scratching and discussion on their side.
First of all, there was no 13:30 tour. They had tours at 12:30 and 14:30, but none at 13:30 existed. Not a problem, but some confusion why they had sent me a confirmation for a 13:30 tour.
Potentially more problematic was "We didn't expect you today. We thought you would arrive tomorrow!"
Why they thought so never became clear - my reservation showed the current date. Sweden didn't have a calendar reform since 1712, and 2018 isn't a leap year, so there should not been any confusion on what day May, 3rd, 2018 actually was.
I was a bit worried, as my flight home was booked for the next day, so if someone else was staying in the suite that night, there would be no easy way to fix this.
Fortunately, the suite was available that night and after that initial irritation, everything else went perfectly.
I went on the 14:30 guided tour, which usually covers the 'upper level' of the mine at about 60 meters below, but was extended to cover some of the 155 meter level as well to include a visit to the suite.
There is a lot of history attached to that mine.
There has been a silver mine on that site for more than 500 years now, possibly even up to 700 years. It had been of strategic importance from about 1560 to 1660, when Sweden became an empire that covered a large part of northern Europe and the kings of Sweden needed money to pay for the extension activities (i.e. wars).
The silver mine provided a significant part of it, making it "Sweden's Treasure Chamber"
Although it is difficult to tell, how much it really contributed to Sweden's economy.
There was some info at the local exhibition stating that the highest annual yield was about 4500 kg of silver (I think the actual number was 4600 or 4700, but I didn't write it down and I can't find it online). I was surprised that this was in kilogram, not in tons (the mine yielded about 450 tons of silver in its lifetime).
The greatest yield was achieved at a time when modern mining techniques were used, so the yield around 1600 must have been a much bit lower.
But today silver sells for slightly more than $500 per kilogram, so in its best year, the mine produced silver worth roughly 2.5 million dollars. Which, admittedly, is not a trivial amount of money, but wouldn't make much of a difference in a nation's finances.
Out of curiosity, I checked the Swedish government spending of last year, which was around 30 billion dollars, so an income from silver of 2.5 million dollars would be less than a 1/10000 of that. Not the financial margin that makes or breaks an empire.
Yes, silver prices have shifted over the centuries and so have economic power and taxes. So it is hard to tell how significant the silver mine was back then. But it seems insignificant by modern standards. (Technically, the Sala Silvermine was always more a lead mine than a silver mine, producing about a hundred times more lead than silver, but 'lead mine' doesn't sound as good as 'silver mine'.)
The inside of the mine is quite impressive. Silver wasn't found in specific veins, so the mining wasn't driven much by geology. Ore was broken off from the wall and moved out for smelting, creating large underground chambers. At some points creating too-large chambers, which then collapsed and made part of the mine inaccessible.
They put some life-sized dolls into some of the chambers to give a better impression of the size of the place. (The second picture gives, more or less, the reverse view. The gallery with the railing towards the top of the picture is from where the first picture was taken. The place in the center of the first picture is where the second one was taken.)
You can, presumably, walk all the way down to the suite level, but tours go down the stairs to 60 meters below and then take the elevator down to 155 meters.
Down there is not only the suite, but also a small concert hall.
And a lake.
At some point the mine went a lot deeper (down to 300 meters below). When it became no longer efficient to mine down there, they stopped the pumps and let the ground water reclaim those tunnels and caves.
Today, there are divers going down there to look for historic artefacts. (As that lake was only a hundred meters from the suite, I would have loved to buy a small inflatable boat and paddle around a bit on the lake. Probably not the wisest thing to do when you are down there alone, but would have been interesting...)
Following the tour, we took the elevator back up the surface and I went for a nice dinner before returning in the early evening and being brought down to the suite.
With all the chandeliers and candles, my first impression was that it looked like the lair of the "Phantom of the Opera". (And it was easy to pretend that the underground lake nearby would somehow connect to the lower cellars of an opera house.)
Unlike the 'Utter Inn', the heaters in the suite were working (outside in the mine shafts, the temperature is a constant 2°C all year round). And there were power outlets (the 'Utter Inn' only has some reading lights powered by a 12V battery) and, very unexpectedly, it came also with free Wifi.
It also came with a food platter with 'night time snacks' and a bottle of Prosecco.
Living in a hole in the ground can be quite luxurious, even a bit decadent.
Sitting there, munching on cheese, fruits and crackers, while drinking prosecco the impression of "Phantom of the Opera" faded and I felt a bit like Denethor from the "Lord of the Rings", sitting alone at a table at the end of a large hall in Minas Tirith, not caring about anything that happens in the world outside. (Though I tried not to eat as messily.)
That impression was increased by the table and benches at the entrance of the suite. There are some mine tours that include 'lunch in the mine' and mine visitors eat there.
However, the silver (painted) table for the suite was at the end of that mine shaft (even with a small curtain to separate it from the rest). And while there were simple tea lights to illuminate the 'common' area, the table at the end of the room had chandeliers and long candles in candelabras, heightening the feeling of being in an exclusive 'VIP' section.
While being all alone.
So it's a strange 'king of the hill' situation down there.
It would probably also be cool to decorate the room with all sorts of cups and chalices. And then pretend to be the knight from Indiana Jones III, sitting alone under the hill for centuries due to some pointless reason.
Or, a much less gloomy, you can just sit there, turn on the computer and watch videos online...
In any case - it's a fascinating place and it is very strange to spend a night down there and ultimately an amazing experience.
Next morning, someone comes down to bring you a breakfast basket and you have another hour to have a nice breakfast before he returns and brings you back to the world above.
Definitely a great and memorable way to finish this year's vacation!
All that remained was to drive back to Stockholm airport (via Uppsala, as that is more or less on the way and I had a late flight - also it seemed kind of fitting that after going up from the mine in Sala, the next thing to do would be to go to Uppsala) and fly home (this time the direct way and not being redirected to Copenhagen or Lycksele and, ultimately, just leaving 20 minutes late).
Click here to go back to other travels