MostNorthern Christmas Book List (Or Books For Jólabókaflóð)

Iceland’s relationship with books is one that, as a writer and bibliophile, has me in tears. I could move to the the land of ice and fire quite happily based solely on how passionate everyone is about literature.

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime and the small, Nordic country has more writers, more books published and more books read than anywhere else in the world.

It came as no surprise to  learn Iceland has a special celebration for books, one which practically the whole country participates in. It’s called jólabókaflóð which translates to the ‘Christmas Book Flood.’

The celebration actually begins in September, when the Icelandic Book Association posts a book catalogue to every home in Iceland. (The catalogue is called Bókatíðindi and you can browse this year’s edition here if you would like.)

So, from September onward there’s a book buying hysteria in Iceland, which culminates on Christmas Eve when people gift each other the books they’ve been frantically buying. The rest of the evening is then spent reading. I can’t think of anything more perfect than that.

I believe so strongly that we need to be more Icelandic when it comes to our relationship with books, that I’ve put together a list of northerly reads to inspire your own jólabókaflóð.

Icelanders give paperback books on Christmas Eve, but the ones I’ve listed here are all available on Amazon Kindle, so you can have them pretty much instantly to read. If you don’t have a Kindle, (I don’t) no stress, you can download the FREE Kindle app here for IOS, Android, Mac and PC.

Happy reading!

Ice Bear By Michael Engelhard

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I’ve been wanting to read Ice Bear ever since it popped up on Amazon as a recommended read a month or so ago.

While it’s the priciest book on this list, with the Kindle Edition coming in at a hefty £15.21 if you’re invested in deepening your knowledge of this most important and beautiful species, it’s entirely worth it.

“From Inuit shamans to Jean Harlow lounging on a bearskin rug, from the cubs trained to pull sleds toward the North Pole to “cuddly” superstar Knut, it all comes to life in these pages.

With meticulous research and more than 160 illustrations, the author brings into focus this powerful and elusive animal. Doing so, he delves into the stories we tell about Nature–and about ourselves–hoping for a future in which such tales still matter.” – Amazon.

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is one of my all-time favourite books, and I featured it in my Top Ten Ten Books About The North list  back in February. It’s a gloriously creepy ghost story set in 51HeHhcACUL._SY346_the High Arctic and it leaves no nerve unturned.

For years I longed for a book like Dark Matter and when it came along, it was everything I wanted and more. There’s a really good reason this book has nearly 400 reviews on Amazon and almost a full 5 stars. If you choose Dark Matter, you’ll be up all night reading, I promise.

‘January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.

But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

The Nordic Theory Of Everything By Anu Partanen

The Nordic Theory Of Everything is another book I’ve been longing to read, and now that it’s available on Kindle for 99p I’ll be delving into it this Christmas eve. Since living in Sweden, it’s come to my attention that, actually, not everything is as rosy as the majority of literature out there would lead you to believe…so it’ll be really interesting to read, reflect and no doubt debate the theories within its 432 pages, even if I’m outnumbered 10 to 1 this Christmas time.

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‘From childcare to healthcare provision for the elderly and tackling issues of homelessness, the Nordic countries are world leaders in organising society – no wonder Finland has been ranked among the happiest places in the world.

But when Finnish journalist Anu Partanen moved to America, she quickly realised that navigating the basics of everyday life was overly complicated compared to how society was organised in her homeland. From the complications of buying a mobile, to the arduous task of filing taxes, she knew there was a better way and as she got to know her new neighbours she discovered that they too shared her deep apprehensions.

The Nordic Theory of Everything details Partanen’s mission to understand why America (and much of the Western world) suffers from so much inequality and struggling social services. Filled with fascinating insights, advice and practical solutions, she makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild society, rekindle optimism and become more autonomous people by following in the footsteps of our neighbours to the North.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Reindeer An Arctic Life By Tilly Smith

I saw the cover of this book and thought to myself, ‘if I don’t enjoy this, I’m going to be really disappointed.’ I needn’t have worried though, as I took advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, had a read of a few pages and knew it was going to be a beautiful, captivating and enlightenment little read, from which I’d come away from a more learned and inspired reindeer obsessive.

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‘In this enchanting book, Tilly Smith leads the reader through the cold and extraordinary natural history of the reindeer.

A creature that is often used to adorn the winter season, the reindeer has been domesticated in Eurasia for longer than the horse while in North America it exists side by side with the humans, never tamed yet vital to the native settlements.

Despite the popularity of the image of the reindeer, they are rarely seen in real life.

This beautiful, comforting little book, peppered with anecdotes about the author’s own herd, is sure to kindle affection for one of nature’s most adaptable mammals, from fur-covered hooves to downy antlers.’ – The History Press

Buy it here.

 

Tales Of Iceland Or Running With The Huldefolk In The Permanent Daylight By Stephen Markley

While I’ve read (very) mixed reviews about this ‘fast, fun, educational and true story’ written by a journalist from Chicago who went to Iceland with his two friends, one of whom, Matthew Trinetti, is the main character in the book, it intrigued the hell out of me. And, seen as though I can get it free on Kindle Unlimited (if you don’t have Kindle Unlimited, get it. Seriously. It’s brilliant.) I thought why not.

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‘When American author Stephen Markley was a fresh-faced, impressionable university student in Ohio, he saw Quentin Tarantino describe a trip he’d taken to Iceland.

“Supermodels working at McDonald’s,” said Tarantino of the Icelandic. Markley never forgot those words.

Seven years later, Markley set out with two friends for Iceland, and adventure would ensue. The three young men found a country straddling Europe and North America, recovering from its 2008 economic crisis, struggling to regain its national identity, influenced by the entire globe yet trafficking in its singular Icelandic sagas and legends.

With Tales of Iceland, Markley delivers the fastest, funniest memoir and travelogue of an American experience in Iceland.

Beware: You will NOT learn how to say “Which way to the potato farm” in the Icelandic language. Nor will you learn how to locate the finest dining options in Reykjavik, or the best opera house. This is not that kind of travel book. Markley and his two irrepressible twenty-something American pals do not like opera, had no money to eat much besides eggs and skyr, and learned only how to say “Skál!” “Takk,” and “Skyr.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Icebreaker By Horatio Clare

I only found out about this book and it’s author Horatio Clare today, but this book is on my ‘must read before the end of 2018 list.’

‘We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker?’

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A message from the Finnish embassy launches Horatio Clare on a voyage around an extraordinary country and an unearthly place, the frozen Bay of Bothnia, just short of the Arctic circle. Travelling with the crew of Icebreaker Otso, Horatio, whose last adventure saw him embedded on Maersk container vessels for the bestseller Down to the Sea in Ships, discovers stories of Finland, of her mariners and of ice.

Finland is an enigmatic place, famous for its educational miracle, healthcare and gender equality – as well as Nokia, Angry Birds, saunas, questionable cuisine and deep taciturnity. Aboard Otso Horatio gets to know the men who make up her crew, and explores Finland’s history and character. Surrounded by the extraordinary colours and conditions of a frozen sea, he also comes to understand something of the complexity and fragile beauty of ice, a near-miraculous substance which cools the planet, gives the stars their twinkle and which may hold all our futures in its crystals.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Other Titles To Check Out

ScandiKitchen: Fika & Hygge By Bronte Aurell

Wild Guide: Scandinavia By Ben Love

Scandinavian Christmas By Trine Hahnemann

Finding Sisu: In Search Of Courage, Strength And Happiness The Finnish Way By Katja Pantzar

Folklore: The Northlore Series Edited By MJ Kobernus

 

 

 

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Winter’s Light & Details

The temperature has been rising again, so today was very slushy and I was very miserable, so I’m going to share some shots from a few weeks ago when the air was cold enough to catch in my throat and the light was glorious.

The light of spring and summer doesn’t get to me the way winter’s light does. Winter’s softer light gives me an energy that I’m unable to find in any other season. In spring and summer, more often than not I find myself saying ‘oh, piss off already, sun,’ and I can find myself slipping into many a depression during the warm months, because there’s too much light and not the sort of light that feeds my spirit.

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The details of winter – iced streams, frozen spider webs – can hold me captivated for hours. Literally. I nearly always loose track of time when I’m walking in the forest in winter, and more often than not, find myself making my way home in the dark.

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I would love to know which seasons help your spirit thrive.

Is That You Autumn? Scenes From The Swedish Forest

Summer in Sweden ground to a sudden halt the other day and Autumn took it’s chance and snuck in. The past few years, it’s been more of a gradual transition, but this time around it was Summer when I woke up one day, and Autumn before lunchtime.

Oh, and have you noticed the thing with fungi? Like, one moment you can’t find even the smallest little cap, and then BOOM! They’re everywhere you look, thrusting skywards.

While it’s nice having summery days (not the relentless scorchers we’ve been having though) summer isn’t a season that I find myself feeling comfortable in. If I had a choice, the season would run like this: Winter, Winter, Autumn, Winter.

The days are getting colder, and much of nature is winding down for its season of rest. But with the coming cold, I find myself getting stronger, more joyful and full of life, love and optimism here in the North.

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A Conversation With Marcus Eldh Of WildSweden

It was thanks to orangutans and a group of enthusiastic guides in Indonesia that Marcus Eldh had an ultimate light bulb moment and realized his mission in life – to become a wildlife guide in his homeland of Sweden.

Within a few days of setting up his website offering moose tours, Marcus had his first bookings with WildSweden and his career as a guide kicked off.

What started as a one man venture in 2003 is now a hugely popular, award winning eco tourism organisation offering dozens of, quite frankly, amazing opportunities for people to experience Sweden’s staggeringly beautiful nature and wildlife up close.

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With just a few taps on your phone, you can book yourself on a small group moose safari, a bear watching day trip or a night in the forest listening to wolves howling. You can reserve a stay at the Kolarbyn Eco Lodge AKA the most primitive hotel in Sweden, or be dropped off by helicopter in Swedish Lapland and hike the Sarek National Park, with no marked trails but plenty of opportunities to be guided by the northern lights.

The day trips and wildlife expedition holidays offered by WildSweden will enable you to collect the kinds of memories you’ll never want to loose.

MostNorthern caught up with Marcus to dig deeper into the story behind WildSweden, to talk about his first moose tour, the value of Allemansrätten and how WildSweden helps with the monitoring of Sweden’s wolf population.

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Marcus Eldh

Hi Marcus! Would you care to introduce yourself, and talk a little about WildSweden?

Hello! Well, who am I? Today I am a bearded-soft-adventure-nature-lover. I was born and raised in Blueberryland among moose and pine cones. I eat plants, drink oats and locally brewed ale. I spend a lot of time out in the woods, on wooden skis and in canoes on any of the thousands of lakes. I heat up in saunas and cool down in Lapland.

I share my days with my wife and I am also father to two little blond fairies. We live in a white wooden house in a village called Sundborn in Dalarna. I founded WildSweden in 2003 and it is the only job I have ever had. Although I have a handful of amazing guides and colleagues I still love to lead tours.

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Jan Nordstrom

The story behind how WildSweden came to be reads like a dream. You set up in business on the day you decided to become a guide, and a few days later, had your first clients booked. What did you do that was so right and which led this immediate success?

I followed my dream and I guess people were drawn in to join me on my path. I made a lot of beginner’s mistakes, but I never focused on them. When obstacles showed up I just went slalom. I also had a lot of beginners luck. Crucial was that I offered tours that people were able to book. I am sure that one of my main success factors was that my tours were ready made, all inclusive, at set dates and with set rates. That made it easy for tempted nature lovers to just click and join me.

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Jan Nordstrom

Can you take us back to your very first moose tour?

Hehe, yes I still remember that first Moose tour. I had never been on a moose tour myself but I had an idea how to see moose and how to make it a memorable experience for my guests. Three cool persons from Russia and Austria.

Luckily we did find some moose that night. We also stayed overnight in an abandoned forest worker’s cabin far out in the woods where we grilled sausages over an open fire. The next morning I woke up in the cabin and two thoughts came to my mind: 1) Wow, I am now a moose guide. 2) I will never do this again!

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Glenn Mattsing

WildSweden can boast that it’s one of the most prolific eco tourism companies in Sweden, having won several awards, including Eco Tourism Company Of The Year (2009). Did you visualise your company becoming the roaring success it is now? Are you happy with the current situation, or are there any grand plans to expand the services you provide?

I don’t really make plans… I just go for whatever feels right at the moment. I already live my dream and I have what I need. But of course I still like to evolve. I love to find ways to improve our tours and to create new tours. How can we create better experiences for our participants? How can we make life better for our guides? How can we contribute to the local society? And how can we preserve and rewild nature?

WildSweden will never grow to become a large company. Small is good. But I know that there is an increasing demand for nature based experiences. I also see that a lot more people could get involved in leading guided tours. But instead of growing WildSweden I would like to share my experiences to help other ecotourism businesses get up on their feet and to take off.

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Jan Nordstrom

On every tour, for fifteen years, you and your team have provided tourists with sightings of moose. How do you stake out the places where you’re going to take your visitors?

Well… last week we actually had our first tour when we didn’t see a moose 🙂 But we still have a fantastic track record. Our guides are local and they know where and how to find wild animals. Our strength is not that we know how to find wild animals, but that we know how to create memorable experiences around wild animals.

When I introduce new guides I tell them that finding wild animals is actually one of the easiest things with being a guide. We always know that Moose, beavers, wolves and bears are. They are in the forest! Our participants however… they are from all over the world, stay at different guesthouses and hotels, they all have high expectations and different reasons for coming on our tours. And when they arrive they are not used to being out in these forests. I can easily say that it is more difficult to find participants than to find a moose 🙂

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Jan Nordstrom

For those who don’t know about Allemansrätten, could you explain what it is and why it’s valuable for WildSweden?

Allemansrätten is just common sense. It states that the land is open for anyone to enjoy. It states that noone can buy land and close people out. I can’t understand why Allemansrätten is not global. For our guides and participants it means that we can walk and canoe in nature wherever we like. I wouldn’t be able to run WildSweden without the freedom to roam.

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Vargsafari i Skinnskatteberg / WildSweden

Does one tour in particular stand out for you?

We have wolves here and our wolf tours have provided me with lots of unforgettable memories. I remember this warm Summer night some years ago… We had found fresh tracks of wolves and I knew they were probably nearby. We had set up a tented camp with a family from England. As it got dark we went up on a small hill to listen for the wolves’ howling.

We waited for about an hour and then heard the wolf family howl together. When we got down to the camp and the lake we realized it was full moon and the moon was reflecting nicely in the still water. We lit a fire and then we all went for a swim in the dark lake. To swim under the full moon with a family of wild wolves nearby was an amazing experience. I felt truly rich.

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Kolarbyn / WildSweden
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Per Groth

Have you had any terrifying encounters with moose, wolves or bears in the Swedish forest?

Nope, never.

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Sarek Lapland Kungsleden Camping / WildSweden

You taught yourself how to howl like a wolf. How did you do this and how would you describe the feeling when wild wolves respond to you?

I recorded their howls and then listened to the recordings and practiced while driving my car where no one could hear me. I have then tried different types of howls and pitches to see how they respond. Hearing wolves howl is definitely ones of nature’s great wonders, but I am honestly more fascinated by how silent and elusive they are. People say wolves howl. I would say they are extremely silent and just howl once or twice each night.

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Serek Wildlife Expedition / WildSweden

As well as being an important contribution to the life experiences of thousands of people from across the world, WildSweden provides valuable information to researchers to assist in the monitoring of Sweden’s wolf population. How do you gather your findings?

Throughout the years we have reported lots of wolf droppings that rangers and researchers may collect for DNA-testing to monitor the population. We have also reported howling pups which has contributed to find new litters.

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Marcus Westberg

WildSweden holds tours all year round, but do you have a favourite season?

Personally I love winter when I can play in deep snow, ski across frozen lakes, breathe the crisp air, dress up to stay warm. September is also a favourite time of year when the forest explode in colours and the forest floor is covered in lingonberries and autumn chanterelles.

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Lapland / WildSweden

Have you ever seen an albino moose?

I suppose you mean white moose… there are about a hundred white moose in Sweden, but they are not albinos. I haven’t seen them.

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Matti Holmgren

You recommend people to turn off their phones to truly disconnect when they’re on a WildSweden day trip or holiday. Do they mostly listen, and do as you recommend? Also, do you find because of your line of work, and the passions that you hold in life ordinarily, that it’s easy for you not to become trapped on your mobile?

It is difficult to keep away from phones. Some guests do and some don’t. Most guests are taking pictures, and some take pictures all the time, with their camera or phone. Sometimes I get the feeling that they are not actually experiencing nature at first hand, but rather taking pictures to enjoy later, again watching them in their phone or computer.

I remember this one time when a woman filming a bear that was just in front of us outside our hide. After a few minutes of filming I asked her… ”Have you actually seen the bear?” She didn’t understand my question as she was watching the bear in the iphone at that very moment. I pushed her hand and the iphone aside gently and when she saw the bear at first hand she twitched, and then she put down her phone.

I have to admit I use my phone a lot and sometimes more than I want. But the positive side is that I can keep in contact with friends, family and colleagues even when I am out in the forest. I can also manage all parts of my business like emails, bookings, social media, manage evaluation forms and much more. I don’t have an office. It is all in the cloud.

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Marcus Westberg

Being so attached to nature, what’s it like going out into the city?

Haha, I only live three hours away from Stockholm, but I go there less and less. Sometimes when I read a status update on Facebook where friends are asking if there is anyone who wants to go for a beer or concert tonight… Well… I can’t even if I would like to.

On the other hand, Sweden’s countryside is amazing… This evening I just got back from the sauna where me and my daughters plunged into a fresh water lake surrounded by forests and hills. This is where I want to be.

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Lennart Pittja Camp / WildSwden

For this year’s Midsummer, you posted on Instagram a famous painting by the late Swedish artist John Bauer, and called him ‘The Great Master of Dark Forests’ – such an apt title! Can you talk about your relationship to his artwork?

When I was a small child my grandfather gave me a big book with John Bauer’s paintings in it. I fell in love with his art. I am fully aware that most people prefer to lay on a sunny beach on a warm summer day, with endless views across the horizon.

I can appreciate that too (if not too hot and with plenty of clouds). But for some reason I have always been more attracted to dark forests with old growth conifers and large rocks covered in moss and lichen in all shades from grey to green. John Bauer didn’t seem to prefer sunny beaches either 🙂

What’s the furthest north you’ve ever been, and where do you ache to go?

I’ve been in Northern Norway a few times and in Northern Sweden many times. Some weeks ago I went to Alta in Norway’s far North to attend an adventure travel conference. 15 hours by train + 8 hours by car driving through an amazing landscape.

I went along with some friends. We were camping by a fjord and went backcountry snowboarding under the midnight sun. That is my ultimate holiday, very inspiring. I have always wanted to go to Svalbard, but I avoid flying, and there are so many places I still want to visit on the mainland.

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Lapland / Boel Engkvist

What do you think draws people to the north?

I guess the north is exotic to most people as most people don’t live in the north and it is not a rather new tourist destination. There is wilderness, wildlife and inspiring culture.

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Serak National Park / WildSweden

In three words, what does ‘north’ mean for you?

#natural #freshness #adventuretime


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Semla Season In Sweden

Yesterday was Fettisdag (Fat Tuesday) in Sweden, a day when everyone in the country eats semla buns until the blood in their veins is running sweet and they can hardly move.

While you may have heard about the Swedish king Adolf Frederick who died in 1771 after eating a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, followed by 14 helpings of semla with hot milk (a desert also known as hetvägg) you might not know what a semla (plural semlor) consists of exactly. So here I am to explain.

A semla is a  hefty sized soft wheat flour bun, that’s been flavoured with cardamon, and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. It’s probably the most decadent thing you’ll eat in Sweden. Back in the olden days, semla were eaten at final celebratory feasts before Lent. Back then though, it was just a bun soaked in hot milk.

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At some point, enough wise souls got so bored with their bun and hot milk that they decided to slice it in half and put in some almond paste and cream. Funnily enough – and thankfully – the Swedes never looked back.

While supermarkets provide everything you need to put your own together, the majority of people, including me, buy them ready made. (Though I think next year I’ll try and make a batch.)

My frugal sense has to be put to one side for the day – in ICA 4 semlor will set you back about 60kr or just under £6 – but though I silently complain about the eye watering price, I do think, as I take my first bite, ‘this was worth every bloody krona.’

Despite always feeling like a literal mountain after eating  semla (yesterday was my third year) and vowing that I won’t touch another until next Fettisdag – I lied to myself yesterday and ate another one today because I’m pregnant and I can – Fattisdagen still remains to be my favourite celebratory day of food in Sweden. And if it doesn’t become yours too, I would be sincerely interested to learn why not.

If you’re not in Sweden, but need to taste a semla, here’s an excellent recipe.

If you’re in the UK and somewhere near/or in London, quick march yourself down to The Scandi Kitchen where they have semlor available until Easter. Elsewhere in the world, a quick Google search will direct you to any nearby Scandinavian eateries where you might be able to invest in one of the best tasting things to come out of Sweden.

Katie / Your eyes in the north

 

Listen To A Finnish Lullaby

It was entirely by accident that I was introduced to Naku Naku, an ancient Finnish lullaby performed by the Finnish folk musician Merja Soria and her kantele (Finnish folk harp). Sometimes YouTube can get it so right that it almost makes up for all the adverts they inflict upon us.

I’ve been playing the track for baby bump for the past three mornings…I find it settles the restless one right down. (It might have something to do with the little bit of Finnish blood in him/her.)

Soria used to sing Naku Naku for her daughter when she was going to sleep, and her grandmother sang it to her before that.

I recorded this video last Christmas as a gift to my daughter. I wanted her to have something that would connect her to the generations of strong Finnish women that came before us.

Naku Naku was Soria’s first recording after many years of silence…and I just hope with all hope that her YouTube channel becomes a hive of musical activity,  because the north and the wider worlds needs this woman, her voice and her kantele.

– Katie / Your eyes in the north.

 

 

 

 

Your Eyes In The North

I am going to assume that, if you’ve picked this blog to read from the other 37 million sites that are hosted by WordPress, then you’re northerly obsessed.

I’m also going to assume that you can’t go a day without thinking about the most northerly places on our planet, and you have, within your soul, this insatiable hunger for pretty much everything to do with the Nordic countries and the High Arctic.

For the record, the above paragraph is me in a nutshell. If it’s you too, then I hope MostNorthern will be able to satisfy your hunger. At least for a little while.  If we’re alike in our obsession, you’ll know it’s only a matter of time before you need your next northerly fix. And that’s where I come in. To try and provide that, to try and be your eyes in the north.

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In case you’ve skipped over the About page, my name is Katie Metcalfe and I’m an English writer, blogger and poet living in Sweden.

I’ve been writing on the subject of ‘North’ for over a decade, and have a solid portfolio on writings about everything northerly, from the life of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, to the mythology of the Greenlandic Inuit, from the experience of dining on the Icelandic delicacy hákarl (fermented shark) to not being allowed to die in the Norwegian Arctic town of Longyearbyen.

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MostNorthern was established because, to put it quite bluntly, I wasn’t able to find another blog out there that could successfully satisfy my northerly needs. (Please do shout if you are able to recommend blogs I may have missed…)

It exists  to celebrate everything Nordic, with a special focus on raising awareness about the Arctic, and the current climate crisis going on at the top of the world. I really hope, that, while satisfying my curiosities and interests in all things northerly, I’ll satisfy yours too.

If there’s anything northerly that you would like an insight into, or if there is a northerner who you have been itching to learn more about through an interview, or even if you want to make a suggestion on how MostNorthern can be improved, please leave a comment below or email me at: mostnorthern@hotmail.com

Katie – Your Eyes In The North