While in my dreams still on the descend from Triglav, I am waking up just in time for the train’s arrival in Sundsvall. Not to get off here would have resulted in a time consuming detour, as the next stop would have been Östersund – 200 km to the West….
Hauling my considerable luggage down the platform, my pass is suddenly blocked by a 2m bearded giant in a high Hi-vis overall….
“Hej, you must be Wolfgang !” my welcome committee says in a deep voice, ” I am Marcus – I was told to collect you and to bring you to “the house”….”
“Nice” I thought and after Marcus had disposed my bag into the boot of his Japanese All-Terrain vehicle, with not more than two fingers of his left hand, we hit the road.
It turned out that Marcus came from Kiruna in the “very” far North of Sweden; a town that is famous for its iron-ore and where everything – including its people – need to be a bit bigger and tougher than the rest of the country to withstand the extreme weather in the winter (that at least is what I am telling myself….)……
At the clinic Marcus works as the caretaker, the fixer of pretty much everything broken and he is in charge of health and safety. And as if this wasn’t enough already, he was also a member of the local life boat crew and in fact “on call” that evening.
Without a nautical emergency “call out” we arrived after a short journey first at the clinic – the place of work for circa 60 vets, nurses and support staff – and Marcus gave me a short guided tour of the place, which with so little daylight at this time of the year reminded me more of a ship or a polar station.
I was pleasantly surprised that it featured a set of state of the art operating theatres, digital radiography and even a CT, plus – also very important – a spacious cafeteria with an industrial sized coffee machine, where the black stuff was available in decent quality and quantity pretty much at any time of the day (and night…). Once Marcus had ticked off his H&S duties including advising me that the local electrician would suffer a nervous break down, if I would attempt to address a fire at the main fuse board with a foam extinguisher (which I had somewhat guessed….), we continued our journey to “the house”…..
“The house” as it turned out is quite a place….a beautiful bungalow right at the edge of the forest and at the bottom of a downhill skiing slope (more about this another time….). The place has a large kitchen, two (!) living rooms, a huge TV screen, an excellent working broadband connection and even a large jacuzzi outside (though frozen solid at the moment…). In addition to this it has five individual bedrooms, all of which include extra mattresses for dogs of all sizes!…..
The down- or (in my case being a pretty social individual) upside was, that you are never or seldom alone in the house, as all non-resident vets, nurses and other visitors live here as well and most of the time people turn up – usually together with one to three dogs – and then disappear again without any prior warning.
In the beginning I had to get used to it, that while sitting in front of the television set, suddenly someone was standing next to me or that when I was coming home from work at night, I found strangers fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room…..
It is great though meeting new team members already over breakfast in our kitchen and it turns out to be wise to always prepare dinner for two or for three, as you never know who else might be turning up.
But where are all these people coming from ?…..
Some are colleagues who normally worked in our branch clinics in Jämtland just 20 Swedish Miles (= 200km !….) away – it is somewhat understandable that they are not overly keen to cover that distance twice daily if they are working a shift in Sundsvall. Traveling these distances to work or – as I soon found out – to see a vet is nothing unusual in this part of the world.
Others arrive from much further away in the South and usually stay then for a whole week.
And then there are the more unusual or adventurous types like me ( and so far only me….) who travel through 1/2 of Europe to make it a whole month – or more – to experience the beginning of winter in the North…..