Sweden - a Flying Gamble
A Tight Planning
December 2019. After a good weekend in London with Air Antwerp (a Fokker 50 leased from the Swedish Amapola Flyg) and Flybe (DHC-8-400) it is really itching to book the next trip. We try to plan a trip for the May holiday of 2020 or maybe later, when the chances that the weather will cooperate are the greatest. Suddenly, the news reached us that the RJ85 and RJ100 will leave the BRA fleet by the end of March. BRA is a Swedish regional carrier based in Stockholm at the regional Bromma Airport (BMA). We have already flown the RJ85 and this type will continue to fly with Cityjet / Aer Lingus* between Dublin (DUB) and London (LCY), but an RJ100 is very rare. It is therefore important that we book a flight with certainty on the RJ100, and therefore before the end of March 2020...
* This was written before CityJet went bankrupt in mid 2020.
The RJ100 still serves two destinations, both from Stockholm Bromma (BMA). The first destination is a shared route to Gothenburg (GOT) , co-operated with the ATR. The second route is to Malmö (MMX) and is (still) flown entirely by the RJ100. Both destinations are served several times a day, so there is room to choose a preferred time. It looks like the chances are the best for Malmö, so we are going to MMX for a one-day roundtrip! The maintenance hangars of BRA and Amapola Flyg are located at MMX as well, so we might be able to arrange a tour. All in all, Malmö it is, so now it is important to find a way to get to Stockholm as cheaply as possible ...
Transavia offers the solution with its end-of-year sales. Cheap tickets are flying out the door and even the (albeit sparsely flown) route Eindhoven-Stockholm Arlanda did not slip through the cracks. Sunday out and return on Thursday, that turned out to be the cheapest and easiest option. In the meantime, we can do the roundtrip to Malmö.
After the flight with the Air Antwerp Fokker 50, we could not let go of a chance to fly with this Dutch turboprop again, so we looked for a nice Fokker destination as well. Our eye fell on he northern town of Sundsvall. Here we will spend the night and then we go back to Stockholm by high speed train. Unfortunately, there was no time (and money) to make a flight with the ATR, but they will remain in the fleet for a long time, BRA stated. So the necessity to ride ATR is less, so to say.
The final itinerary is ultimately as follows:
- On Sunday 15 March we will fly in the morning with Transavia to ARN on HV6523. We arrive at 1.30 pm. We use that day to discover Stockholm and to do some serious planespotting at Bromma. We have booked a hotel overlooking the runway: the Mornington Hotel in Bromma.
- On Monday morning 16 March we fly to MMX with TF130 (10.05 am-11.10 am) and return that same afternoon with TF155 (4.45 pm-5.50 pm), both flights with the RJ100. That way there is still daylight during the flights and we have enough time to look around and maybe even do a hangar tour in Malmö. That night we will be back at BMA, where we will sleep at the Mornington again.
- -On Tuesday 17 March, we will start the day with a bit of spotting at BMA, and then fly at 11.35 am to the northern town of Sundsvall with TF508. This is a BRA flight operated by Amapola Flyg with the Fokker 50. The rest of the day we will discover Sundsvall and we spend the night in the Good Morning Hotel: a converted ship in the harbor of Sundsvall.
- On Wednesday 18 March we will return to Stockholm by high-speed train at 1.15 pm.
- Thursday morning March 19 we will fly back to Eindhoven at 09.45 am with HV6524.
The First Wrinkles
It is now January 2020 and of course we keep a close eye on the booked routes on Flightradar and the BRA booking site. It would definitely suck if the RJ100 was to be replaced, but nothing is certain of course. Fears began at the end of January. BRA has leased an Embraer 190 from the German WDL Aviation on the route to Malmö. Initially, this helper did only two hops a day, but as time progressed more and more flights were replaced by the Embraer ...
In February there was no way around it. Our return flight to Stockholm has been replaced by the Embryo. The Avro would only fly three more times in the morning, so it will be fine. Let’s keep an eye out, because for the time being our outbound flight is still on the Avrojet.
We are now a few weeks further and February has exchanged for March. Two more weeks and everything has to happen. The progress on the Embraer-case looks promising, no other flights had been replaced. Will it all still work out?
One week before departure. The concerns about the Embraer are now overshadowed by a bigger problem that can disrupt the journey considerably. The new corona virus has reached Europe and is spreading like a maniac. Italy is already locked down, Spain and France are taking tough measures and Denmark is also closing its borders. Flights throughout Europe get cancelled and several airlines are even suspending their entire operation. Sweden has not yet taken any measures and Transavia is also still flying. Would continuing this trip be still responsible? But if we don't go, will we ever be able to fly RJ100 again? That answer is no, that's for sure. The virus had already landed in the Netherlands, and actually in the province of Brabant (with Eindhoven as one of its major cities). Would flying from Eindhoven still be safe?
The Big Gamble
Sunday, March 15. In good spirits we board the train. Only change trains twice and then we are in Eindhoven already. All flights will continue as far as known, so we decided to give it a shot. The first transfer to Utrecht Central feels bizarre already. The Netherland’s biggest train station is almost deserted. Of course, it is early on a Sunday morning, but the silence is deafening. First, let’s get a cup of tea for the ride. The young man in the kiosk has just started up and everything is working against him, he says. He would rather have seen the measures differently, because he feels very alone all day. The coffee machine also has corona problems, he jokingly states, while he struggles to heat up the machine in time before our train arrives. Just in time we collect our tea and we rush into an empty train. The ride to the airport is quiet, but smooth. Eindhoven airport is quiet as well, and the recently improved security means that we are at the gate in no time. The flight opens and boarding is about to begin. So far, so good.
During boarding it turns out that the aircraft (Boeing 737-800 PH-HXI) is only filled for one third of the 189 passengers. After the quick pushback, startup and friendly wave goodbye from the pushbackers, it's time to take off. The empty Boeing shoots into the sky like a rocket and before we know it we are above the clouds and we leave the hectic pace of the Netherlands behind us.
The flight is very calm. No turbulence on the way and plenty of other planes to see flying above and below us. After a while the clouds break open and the rugged Swedish landscape with all its lakes and immense forests is revealed. We fly around the city of Stockholm and Arlanda Airport looms up in the distance. One more turn and we are there. The landing is going well. We fly in from the north and we touch down on runway 19L. During the final approach we see a number of Boeing 737 Max aircraft from TuiFly Nordic and Norwegian awaiting their fate. A number of older aircraft, including an MD-83 and even a real DC-8, are also shining among all the modern Maxes.
The trip is already bearing fruit, because shortly after we got off the plane the first Amapola Flyg Fokker 50 taxis by. There is not much else to see on Arlanda, so we decide to visit Stockholm. The train to the center is a modern and quick transfer. We rode to Stockholm Central at almost 200 kilometers per hour. Life just appears to go on here. It is a bit quiet, but not as painfully quiet as Utrecht Central Station. The clock told us it was about lunchtime and we are craving for a good local snack. Fortunately, there are plenty of local catering establishments at Stockholm Central station, so that will be fine.
Silence in Stockholm and a Jumbolino
While munching away the fresh Chicken McNuggets we plot a nice walking route through the historic center of Stockholm. It is quite chilly here and the wind is blowing hard, but hey, we are not feathers made of sugar, are we? After a walk through the Gamla Stan, the historical center that dates back to the Middle Ages, we decided it was best to spend the rest of the day spotting planes at Stockholm Bromma. First, a quick stop by our hotel to drop some stuff and then on. But first, to the metro!
Stockholm’s metro stations are all very impressive. Each station is uniquely decorated with art, making the metro network the longest artwork in the world. The ride was not boring either. With just one transfer, we arrived at our hotel. The man behind the desk could go for true Hells Angel, but he was really friendly. We booked this hotel for the view towards the airport, but well, will that wish be granted? At least we're on the top floor, so that's nice. When we arrive at the room, the fear turns out to be true: we are on the wrong side. That's not what we wanted, so we went back to the Hells Angel to ask if there is another room available. Fortunately, it turned out to be the case, and the best man was even willing to upgrade us to a four-person family room with a view, also on the top floor, for half of the regular price. This resulted in a huge room with a beautiful view. The first day is going well according to plan so far!
We quickly pack our things for the short walk to the spotting place. Bromma is located between a couple of stunning rock formations. During the walk it turns out that it is colder than we actually expected. The ice hangs between the rocks and the water that trickles over it freezes again. It is a wonderful natural spectacle. We carefully climb the rocks and reward ourselves with a beautiful view over the whole of Bromma Airport. We don't have to wait long before the ATRs, Fokkers and Embraers almost literally fly all over the place. Eventually we see a four-engine jet coming around the corner. The small high-wing plane looks playful and his T-tail flutters cockily as the machine maneuvers itself through Bromma's winding taxiway system. This is our goal, the Avro RJ100. The aircraft still has to wait for an inbound ATR to land, and thereafter commences its flight. Strangely enough, this flight does not go to Malmö, but to Gothenburg. It's late in the afternoon already, so will he come back in the morning? Then we hear the machine accelerate, spool up as it is called in jet language. The SE-DSS is gaining speed and when it has sufficient lift the nose pitches up. Not much longer after that the aircraft is cleared off the ground and the “whisper jet” zooms past us into the gray cloudy sky.
Whisperjet. During the design, account was taken of local residents of regional airports. This aircraft has always been very successful in that market, but it is at the moment very outdated. It is still quieter than the Embraers, despite double the number of engines. Because of the four engines on this small plane, the aircraft is also affectionately known as “Jumbolino”. The SE-DSS quickly disappears into the dense clouds. Will this be our plane tomorrow? It's getting dark, so it's time to walk back to the hotel and prepare for tomorrow. Then we leave our belongings in the hotel to fly "just" to the other side of Sweden. A strange thought ...
Musing in Malmö
Nearly all flights have now been replaced by the Embraer 190 from WDL Aviation. BRA has leased a second aircraft and both operate almost the entire route to Malmö. Nevertheless, our flight still has “RJ100” planned. According to our analysis, there is no RJ100 at Bromma at this moment, so one will have to be flown in. The SE-DSS hopped out to Gothenburg last night, but no return flight is expected. After a hot, sweaty night, the day of truth has arrived. The entire morning Flightradar24 is worshiped as if it were Jesus Christ, Buddha and Allah in one. There must be a flight back from Malmö, there is no other option. The stress levels are increasing. We walk towards the elevator. It's snowing outside. According to Flightradar, an ATR-72 has to land at any moment, so we are waiting for that. There is no view of the flight path, so we look at the radar to predict when the aircraft will fly over. But suddenly, a plane popped up at Malmö: an Embraer….
The ATR landed beautifully in the snowstorm. We walked to the restaurant for breakfast with a face like the back end of a cat. Due to the corona virus, a buffet was prohibited and breakfast was served in paper bags. The breakfast didn't taste good unfortunately. We do have to eat something, so we get rid of the dry sandwiches with vague meat as best we can. We can't believe it. This entire trip is planned around flying the RJ100, and everything looked fortunate until now. There is an Embraer on its way to Stockholm, and no RJ .. Anyway, take another look at Flightradar. Another plane pops up at Malmö with destination Stockholm Bromma (BMA): an Avro RJ100 with registration SE-DSZ!
Filled with relieve and excitement, we went back to the room to pack for the flight. We fly at 10.05, but we want to be at the airport a bit earlier. Of course we keep an eye on the Avro. When we are prepped, we walk back to the elevator where out of the window we see the RJ100 landing in the snow. That must be the one. SE-DSZ, a 2001 Avro RJ100, our ride to Malmö today.
We struggle our way through the snowstorm to the terminal. The short route takes us past an industrial estate, several construction sites and the clubhouse of the Hells Angels (would our hotel host from yesterday come here too ??) to the airport. The terminal is located next to Stockholm Bromma's old terminal building. It's not that big, and in no time we'll be in the gate. The gate concept is a bit strange. Behind the gates is a long covered corridor that gives the illusion of a metal bunker. An aircraft stand number is displayed at the gate. This is the stand you should walk to. Our parking space is not difficult to find, because from the general gate area we can already see the Avro proudly waiting. The clock is ticking 10.05, and the gate agent lets us pass. We take our time to capture the moments on camera, and we board the aircraft with 8 fellow passengers. The crew has to laugh about this low occupancy, because the aircraft fits no less than 130 passengers! The signal “Boarding Completed” is given and after an unintelligible såfety briefing it is time to take off!
The flaps are selected and the aircraft turns onto the runway. The engines start buzz louder and louder and the brakes are released. In no time the practically empty aircraft shoots into the sky. We make a sharp left turn and the flight to Malmö is a fact! During the flight we make the most of the fact that we are almost the only passengers on board. Every free window is deflowered and every possible view from every possible angle of the four engines is captured with multiple cameras. We decide not to sit together before landing. Marieke stays behind and guards the GoPro, and I conquer a spot in the front with a view of the engines. The fåsten seåtbelt sign turns on and the descent initiates.
After the landing we have a short talk with the crew. They tell us that they don't know exactly how long the RJs will remain in the fleet. The planning was until the end of March, but with the corona crisis it could even be over by next week, says the co-pilot. The captain agrees and says it is difficult to fly in these uncertain times. He also wonders whether if we can still get home. Because our Transavia flight has not yet been cancelled, we still have confidence. The captain smiles and we say goodbye. As much as we can, we photograph the Avrojet from as many angles as possible from the terminal, because we won't get that chance anymore...
Malmö airport is a yellow airport. Not so much because of the planes, but all buildings (terminal, hangars, piers, etc.) are painted bright yellow. I will not judge whether it is beautiful. It is now 11.30 am. We decide to have something to eat before we go on an expedition around the airport. The return flight with the Embraer to Stockholm is scheduled for 4.45 pm, so we have plenty of time. After a small snack we walk outside on our way to the hangar area. Here are several planes that look like they have not been touched by either a pilot or a cleaning cloth for decades. One plane looks even more sad than the other. Our eye gets caught by a gray low-wing monoplane standing remarkably high on its legs. It has “West Air Europe” written on it in black letters. The aircraft has clearly stood still here for a while, without engines. The aircraft, a British Aerospace ATP, has apparently already had its golden age and is probably only good for spare parts. It's a sad sight.
We continue our route to the hangar of Amapola Flyg. We were able to arrange a tour in December with Johan**, Amapola's technical director. When we arrive at the hangar we stand face to face with a closed door. The doorbell and intercom system do not seem to operate. We decide to give Johan a call. The phone switches to voicemail. Unfortunately, a tour probably won't take place today. Somewhere logical, because when discussing the tour back in December, the entire corona crisis was not yet there. I receive an automatic text message with the request to leave a name in the voicemail, so I can be called back. I do so, but our expectations are low. We have a look around at the remains of a Fokker that is visible at the gate and we slowly make our way back to the terminal.
My phone vibrates. A text message. Would it be Johan who wants to call back? The truth turned out to be a lot more disturbing. The message came from BRA regarding the cancellation of our return flight. My heart was in my throat. Why is it cancelled? The Embraers are usually very reliable aircraft, and as far as we knew no flights were cancelled with BRA yet. We look at each other. We have been rebooked to the later flight, leaving at 5:55 pm. This would mean an evening flight and also the last flight of the day. That is a risk, because tomorrow morning we fly to Sundsvall ..
We keep walking. There is also an earlier flight, at 1.30 pm. That will be in an hour and a half, so maybe we can be rebooked to that flight. Then we fly with daylight and we can do some spotting at Bromma, because there are much more flying activities there than here at Malmö, where almost all flights have been cancelled. The phone vibrates again. Another message from BRA. Our flight tomorrow has also been cancelled, and replaced by the morning flight at 8.15 am.. So it is of the utmost importance that we get back to Stockholm.
Cån I help you?
When we arrive at the terminal, we rush to the counter with the large BRA logo. The lights are off and there is a sign in Swedish. We cannot tell whether they are on a lunch break or the counter is completely closed, as somehow every Swedish document looks like a recipe for meatballs to me. One certainty is this will not be helpful for us. We spot the airport information desk. Fortunately, this desk is manned. We approach the woman behind the desk and ask if she knows whether someone can rebook us. She tells us that no one from BRA is currently present, and our best option is to call the BRA customer service. She hands us a phone number. We thank her and search for a quiet place to call. This was not a major challenge in the almost extinct terminal.
We dial the number and get a selection menu. The first choice is loud and clear: “For English, press 1” is heard. Because our Swedish is not that much better than our Chinese, I immediately press key 1. The selection menu continues. Only, not as we expect. For an English-language menu, there’s a lot of Swedish phrases rattling out of the telephone. After three minutes of listening to a complete Swedish menu, we discontinue the call and go back to the service desk. The friendly woman is willing to help us. She picks up her work phone and dials the BRA number. She too is struggling through the Swedish menu, clearly wondering why the choice for English is not successful. Five minutes and seven options later, she says she's through and we're on hold. There are “only” 85 people waiting for us.
This will take a while. Another woman joins us. Her camera and notepad reveal that she probably isn't a vacationer at the airport. She approaches us and introduces herself as Lena, a journalist for a Swedish newspaper. She asks what our destination is and when we arrived in Malmö. She doesn't believe her ears when we talk passionately about our hobby and the reason for our trip. The notebook is properly written full and she takes a couple of photos of us. We say goodbye and Lena walks away. We look at each other with great amazement and we laugh. Then, the lady behind the desk tells us that we are now number 53 in line.
We decide to order a hot dog at the adjacent kiosk. While ordering, the nice lady from the information desk comes to us: "You wanted me to rebook you to the 13.30 flight, right?" We respond in agreement. “It has just been cancelled,” says the woman, somewhat upset. She can no longer mean anything to us and we will certainly have to spend a few more hours at a sleeping airport. It is what it is, but we have to look at the other options too, because what do we do if this flight will also be cancelled?
Musing in Malmö - part 2
We pay for the hot dogs and find a place to enjoy them. What are our options now? So there are now only three flights to Stockholm today. First there is a flight of SAS Scandinavian Airlines. After that is our flight, and in the evening another SAS. Rebooking to SAS will mean that we have to buy a new ticket for that. That will be outrageously expensive, but if we have to, we should consider that. In addition, SAS does not fly to Bromma, but to Arlanda, which is another hour from our hotel. We look at the other options. There is a bus to Malmö center. From there a train goes to Stockholm. Although this is also a high-speed train, the journey will take nearly seven hours. Is this worth the gamble, or are we placing the bets on our own flight?
We decide that it is best to wait for our own flight and only take steps for an alternative as soon as it gets cancelled. To kill time, we go outside again, back to the hangar area. The practice area of the airport fire brigade is not that far away as well. There are a number of ATPs and an MD-83 parked there, so we want to take a look at them. The weather is playing ball, the sun is shining and the wind is calm. We pass the abandoned ATP at the hangars and see a few small planes from the flight club. They may also receive some attention in order to being able to fly safely again. My phone vibrates again. It won't be, will it? Our hearts are beating in our throat now. The alternatives quickly cross our minds again. I unlock my phone and read the message.
Pottering with Fokkers
“I am in Stockholm, please call Erik**” it says. It's a message from Johan. We continue our journey to the fire brigade site. In the meantime, we call Erik. Erik has received instructions from Johan and knows what we are calling for. He says he is actually too busy right now, but he refers us to Lucas**, Amapola's maintenance planner. I thank Erik and end the call. Will the hangar tour still work out then?
It is deserted at the fire brigade training location. The remains of the ATPs look tragic and the MD-83 state has clearly seen better times too. Yet it is a special sight to see. We compare it to the huge “boneyards” we saw in the USA back in 2018. This is much smaller in scale, but not less impressive. The history of these planes is great, and now they are left here. The fire brigade uses them for practice, so luckily they are still being used for something. We absorb the still life before we walk back to the hangars.
I call Lucas on the number I got from Erik. It appeared that Lucas has not spoken to Erik, as he initially does not understand why he should allow us access to his hangar. I explain the situation and he understands. He tells me to call Erik again as soon as we are at the door and he will answer. I finish the conversation and we walk on.
Once back at the hangar, I call Erik again. He says there has been a miscommunication and that Lucas did not know he was busy as well. But, he seems to be kind and willing to help us, as he asks in his meeting if there might be someone who has some time for two Dutch students (Swedish is sometimes understood!). A volunteer reports and I hang up the call. The door opens and we meet the man. He also has no idea what we are doing and why we are there, so we tell him our story.
** Johan, Eric and Lucas are fictional names due to privacy.
The kind man takes us with into the hangar. Two Fokker 50s are inside: one passenger plane and a freighter. Those Fokker 50 Freighters are very rare, so we are very happy to see them up close and personal. All our questions are answered and we are allowed to take extensive photographs around and inside the aircraft. We learn how the planes are repaired and modified. We also take a look at the “prop shop”, the workshop where the propellers are maintained. Our guide takes us outside. Here stands the SE-LIO. This aircraft was sprayed a week earlier at SATYS, an aircraft sprayer in Lelystad, The Netherlands. The machine, which bears the name “Big Mike”, was proudly shining in the sun. Especially for us, the door is opened and we also take a look inside Big Mike.
The Amapola crew was very busy, so after about half an hour we have say goodbye and we commence our walk back to the terminal - absolutely satisfied. The hot dog from we had earlier today tasted great, so we decide to order another one. A great reward for a successful tour. We settle down on a bench by the window and watch the first SAS flight come in and be turned around. Also, a Cessna Grand Caravan from some German company comes in and is parked almost in front of us. When the SAS has departed and the silence has returned, we leave our bench. We check in for our flight at the check-in machines and go through security with our freshly printed boarding passes.
MMX Airside is even quieter than landside, which is very bizarre. A few shops are still open and we decide to get a nice cup of tea with a sandwich. After all, we still have to kill some time. The Embraer that could have brought us back at 1.30 pm is still parked at the gate. The crew is ill, so there is no Embraer crew in Malmö. According to Flightradar, a different aircraft type is scheduled for our evening flight. Will this be our first ATR flight? That would be cool, but there is no ATR scheduled to arrive here, and no planes are on their way. The only option is that they get one out of the hangar, because BRA also has their hangars in Malmö.
The ATR is a plane that is still on our wish list, but has already skillfully avoided us twice. Back in 2016, we booked a flight with an ATR between Toulouse and Marseille with the French company Hop!, a subsidiary of Air France. When the plane arrived it turned out not to be an ATR, but an old Embraer 145 from a charter company. Also nice, but it is not an ATR. In 2018 we booked to fly from Copenhagen to Billund with an ATR from SAS. Due to a technical problem, the flight was canceled and we were rerouted with an A321 and a CRJ900 via – you bet - Stockholm Arlanda.
The minutes are slowly ticking by. We decide to take a look at our gate, it only takes half an hour until we start boarding. Flightradar shows that the SE-DSZ, the Avrojet that flew us to Malmö this morning, is also on its way back to Malmö. This is his last flight of the day. In front of the gate, a fresh shiny ATR had indeed been taken from the shed, and it was being prepared for our return flight. Just before the gate agent starts boarding, we see “our” Avro landing. We walk out through the gate, where the lovely Avro is taxiing right in front of us. To our left is the SE-MDH, a ten-year-old ATR72-500, and she is ready to meet us.
We walk in and look for a seat. BRA does not use fixed seating, so first come, first served. We look for a nice seat with a view of the propeller. The crew apologizes for the longer flight time because of the change from jet to prop; the safety briefing commences and we are pushed backwards. We take one more look at the SE-DSZ, the last RJ100 we'll ever see with BRA. The engines fire up and the pushbacker disconnects. We are ready for departure.
The flight is going well. The sunset over the clouds casts a golden glow on the mighty turboprop engines next to us. There are not that many passengers on board, so we can fully recline the seat without feeling guilty and let this special day sink in. The plane hums quietly and after a while the sea of lightbulbs called Stockholm comes in sight. This morning's snow clouds have disappeared and the moon reflects on the many lakes in and around the city. We make a sharp turn and not much later our tires are licking the asphalt of Bromma Airport. It is dark outside. After a quick visit to the cockpit we leave the ATR behind and walk back to the hotel. When we walk under the runway, the MDH takes off again. Her next adventure has just begun.
I Have the Little Fokker in Sight
The next morning, the alarm goes off early. This time we skip breakfast in the hotel, yesterday was not quite the success. From the window next to the elevator we watch a Fokker 50 touching down, then we go outside. When we arrive at the terminal, we immediately go through security. After security there is the usual duty-free shop, but also a cozy café. Here we get breakfast, and we do not regret it at all! Some utterly delicious Swedish quark with honey and a good croissant form the basis of what will be a beautiful day. The gate is shown, and as soon as it is time for boarding we will be the first to go out into the metal labyrinth. Our aircraft stand for today is at the very end of the tunnel, so that was a long walk. There was the gap in the wall and behind the iron curtain appeared a beautiful Fokker 50 from Amapola Flyg, featuring the bright colorful livery of BRA.
Before we board we notice the plane next to us. A proud looking high wing plane with four tiny jet engines. It was the SE-DSO, the only RJ85 that BRA still has in the fleet. We did not expect to see this plane at all, so that was a nice bonus. We board the Fokker with three (!) fellow passengers. Of course I firstly turn left for the flight deck to meet our pilots while Marieke immediately searches for a good seat. The pilots welcome us, the crew shuts the door and the engines are started. Due to the low occupancy and weight and balance, passengers are requested to sit behind the wing. The most beautiful windows remained unoccupied, so we placed our GoPro at a good view on the main landing gear and took a different seat ourselves.
The pilots are apparently eager to fly, because we are rapidly taxiing towards the runway. Once there, it doesn't take long before the two PWC PW125B turboprop engines start roaring loudly and the brakes are released. With a view of the landing gear, it is easy to see that the light Fokker wants to fly so badly, because even before the pilots rotate the aircraft already cleared the ground. The gear is retracted and we take one last look at Bromma Airport. Six ATRs, one RJ85 and a handful of smaller planes can be seen as we gain altitude and climb towards the clouds.
It is a smooth flight. For a long time, we fly in the clouds, so there is little to be seen from the windows for most of the flight. Suddenly the sky opens again and the beautiful Swedish landscape shows itself - covered under a beautiful layer of snow. The view is absolutely breathtaking. Large lakes are completely frozen over and we see snowy forests as far as the eye can see. Every now and then we see a farm, typically Swedish, painted completely red. We fly over a wide river. The drifting ice is clearly visible, even from this altitude. Then, the deep hum of the engines quietly subsides, and the descent begins.
Because the engines of the Fokker are positioned slightly above you in relation to the horizon, you can clearly see how steep the pilot pitches down the nose. Outside we now see the town of Sunsvall. Our hotel-boat where we will be staying is already visible as well. The descent is a lot rougher and bumpier than the rest of the flight. We make a steep turn and look down. The mountain peaks are beautifully forested and frozen rivers meander in the valleys. The landing gear is extended. The pilot throttles up a bit to compensate for the drag of the landing gear, but we still feel that we are slowing down. A big unfrozen lake appears right underneath us. We descend more and more and the small waves become visible on the water. Just before we think we are going to make a water landing, the runway appears. We land surprisingly gently but we brake fiercely. The pilots park their plane and we can disembark. We take one last look at this Fokker from 1992 and make our way to the terminal.
Sundsvall Airport is a small airfield. Of the average of eight flights that normally visit per day, only three will come with this corona crisis. The terminal is therefore completely empty. Well, empty? A small army of taxi drivers is waiting for us to take us. I just want to take some pictures of our Fokker from upstairs, so we appear to be the last passengers in the terminal. Anxiously looking for where to find the bus stop, we are suddenly approached by a familiar man. It is our co-pilot I met earlier today. He asks if we had a good flight. We respond enthusiastically. Then he suggests that if we need to go to Sundsvall center, he can drive us in the Amapola Flyg corporate car. Of course we will not refuse this great offer!
Strolling through Sundsvall
Once on the road we are amazed by the beautiful winter wonderland. The mighty rock formations are covered with a thick layer of ice. The co-pilot tells us about his career and the Amapola company. He says he is currently applying for a job at a company that operates the four-engined prop DHC-7, a rare bird these days! The company is just not that close by, as it operates flights to Antarctica! In no time the city of Sundsvall appears on the horizon and we are dropped off in front of our boat-hotel. We thank the friendly pilot and board the boat.
Since our original afternoon flight has changed to a morning flight, we do not expect our room to be ready yet, and we hope that we can at least store our luggage in the lobby for the time being. The Good Morning hotel is located on a converted boat called the Astoria, and is situated at the old docks of Sundsvall. Surprisingly, our room is already cleaned and we can take a short rest. Our room has a beautiful lake side view and the ice shelves are floating by. We decide to go exploring the town. It is only 9.30 am, so we still have a whole day ahead of us.
The city is not very big nor touristy. Everything is at walking distance. We walk through the stone streets, which are strewn with gravel to enhance the grip on the ice spots. We see the town hall and various boutiques. Despite the corona crisis, life continues here without any problems. We walk out of the city center and look for the train station. The old station building has been turned into a casino. Freight trains are busy shunting around the station, as Sundsvall is known for the paper and pulp industry. At the station we also find an idyllic local diner.
Slithering to the Top
We make a plan for the rest of the day while enjoying a fresh portion of Chicken McNuggets. We go back to the boat to restock the backpack with snacks and drinks. Then it's time to hit the road to Norra Berget, the Northern Mountain. According to Google Maps, the hike to the top should take about 45 minutes. The summit is 166 meters above sea level and is also a free open-air museum. On the way up we see the old wooden huts between beautiful snowy forests. In order to set them somewhat level against the sloping mountain, the small buildings are partly built on piles of boulders. It looks fairly makeshift, but it appears to be effective.
We slide onwards, because the pathways are covered under a thick layer of snow and ice. There is a viewpoint at the top. The watchtower that stands there is closed due to the strong wind, but the view is just as beautiful. Where the city of Sundsvall is now located, used to be water. That explains the number of anchors and ship relics at the open-air museum here on the mountain. When the water subsided, the valley was designated to build a city. The city itself has been ravaged several times by major fires. The last fire was in 1888. In order to prevent future fires, the buildings and streets are built completely of stone with large wide streets that function as firebreaks. The center of Sundsvall has since been called Stenstaden: The Stone City.
From the mountain top we also see the other side of the valley. The mountain top there is in use as a ski resort. If we look closely we can see the skiers slalom down the slope. It's a bizarre sight. In the distance we see the pipes of the paper factories, behind the big bridge over the bay. The bay is slowly starting to thaw now that the temperature is rising above freezing point. The river through the city is still completely frozen though. We look at our route from earlier today and look for what we have seen of the city so far. We spot the town hall. On top is a golden vane with a dragon on it. The dragon is the city symbol of Sundsvall. After the fire in 1888, the dragon was placed here as a protector against subsequent fires.
The view is utterly breathtaking. We slowly commence our walk back down. Be careful though, because it is still quite slippery underfoot. Still, the descent is surprisingly faster than the climb, and before we know it we are almost back at the docks and our hotel boat. A cute blue dragon has been placed on the bridge over the canal. She is guarding the city well. We settle down on the bed and take a rest. It was a nice trip, but it is only just afternoon, so it is time that we start hunting for a souvenir magnet. That should not be that hard, should it?
The Stone City
We walk back to the town hall, as this is also the tourist information point. The building does not look very welcoming, the swing doors are hard to open and it is quite dark. We enter the building and follow the signs. At the end of the dark hallway, we can see the area in front of the tourist center, so that's good. In a niche in the hallway a stone bust of a historical figure suddenly lights up and a voice is heard from the speakers. It scared the life out of us and we quickly walk on. In the building we find only a courtyard with a café has been opened. The tourist center itself is closed due to the corona virus. This won’t help us, so we decide to keep on searching the rest of the town.
We look at the other options to score a magnet and browse various kiosks and local shops. We walk through the entire city and around the large church. To the right of the church is a large school building. This is one of the few buildings to survive the fire of 1888. We walk on and decide to visit the Museum of Sundsvall. This museum is located opposite the large library and is located in a covered complex of four old buildings connected by a glass roof. The museum houses a variety of exhibits about Sundsvall before and after the fires, historical excavations, Swedish wildlife and the history of human inventiveness.
It was a nice museum, but the souvenir shop didn't have a souvenir magnet either. We leave and stroll the main street again. We stumble upon a local bookstore. The bookshop also has a corner with local literature and souvenirs. Fortunately, there are also magnets here, so our quest is finally done. Tired but satisfied we walk back to the boat. The hotel also houses a restaurant. During dinner we reflect on two very special days. Flightradar24 shows that the BRA Avrojets have not flown today and that the route from Bromma to Malmö was barely flown. We were extremely lucky yesterday. After a delicious dinner we enjoy a warm cup of tea before we are gently lulled to sleep by the swell and the reflection of the moon on the bay. It was a beautiful day.
Back to Stockholm
The day is dawning. Yesterday's sun is covered with a gray cloud base today. On today’s schedule is a long train ride with a high-speed train. Making the reservation was very easy and the ride really didn't cost much, even with a seat reservation. First a nice breakfast on the boat. Here breakfast is still buffet style and we make extensive use of it. Suddenly, a message appears on Facebook. As we speak, all five remaining BRA Avrojets have taken off for their final flight to Norwich and Southend for decommissioning. Faster than anyone expected, these aircraft are now facing an inglorious end. Our flight turned out to be the penultimate commercial flight of the SE-DSZ and BRA's Avrojet fleet in general. It is sad and impressive at the same time to see on flightradar how the five Jumbolinos leave Sweden in a formation, on their way to their final resting place. We continue to eat with mixed feelings.
With well-filled stomachs we leave for the station. The train is already there but is still being cleaned, so we decide to stop by our favorite establishment next to the station to buy some hot chicken nuggets for the ride. It appears that we were not the only one with this idea, as we see the endless queue. It was almost a struggle, but five minutes before departure we are finally handed the bag of nuggets. We rush to the platform, but luckily the train was still closed. We visit our wagon and not much later the door is opened. We make ourselves comfortable by the large train window. The door closes and we start to drive slowly.
The train, the Snabbtåg SJ3000, is a new Swedish high-speed train. The ride is very comfortable and quiet. We meander through the Swedish landscape, which is no problem for the train, which is equipped with a tilting mechanism that makes it faster through tighter curves. The train also has a neat bistro, power outlets and WiFi. Outside we see how the snowy forest landscapes with frozen waters and large boulders slowly change into extensive agricultural land with occasionally a small village. The weather has not improved and every now and then rain splashes against the windows.
We get off the train at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The train stops there, just like at Schiphol underneath the terminal. Now it turns out that Arlanda Airport is a privatized station, so a separate ticket must be purchased to be allowed to leave the station and enter the terminal. Once in the terminal we could walk straight through to the Clarion hotel. This is a brand new luxury hotel overlooking the apron and the runway. We check in and go to our room. The fast elevator takes us to the 11th floor in no time. Here we see the hangars of SAS and a part of the runway. After a few photos we walk to our room. The door opens and we step into an absurdly luxurious room. The bed is bigger than we have ever seen and the view is indescribably beautiful. Well, I'm going to give it a try: the room looks out on the platform with a pier on either side and the runway from right to left in front of it. Behind the runway is a huge forest which is so green that it almost reflects off the walls. Due to the rigorous corona measures that have now been implemented throughout Europe, not many planes are flying anymore, which is a shame. But those who still fly are special enough that we don't have to get bored at all.
That evening we take it easy. We spotted some more aircraft such as the various Fokker 50s from Amapola Flyg and the two Bae Jetstream 32 turboprop aircraft owned by the Dutch AIS Airlines, which operates a couple of routes from Stockholm Arlanda. We also enjoy a wonderful shower and in particular the unlimited Rituals that the bathroom is stacked with. The restaurant is one floor above us, and also has a brilliant view over the airport. At check-in we made an immediate reservation and we do not regret this. We get a table by the window and the food is really delicious. Marieke's main course consists of Swedish venison meatballs with homemade fries and a berry jam. My main course is a delicious tenderloin on a bed of cauliflower puree with fried onion rings and Berbere Bernaise sauce. The evening is perfect.
Back to the Netherlands
The next day the alarm goes off early again. At 09.45 we fly back to Eindhoven. Last night in the restaurant, behind us was a Flemish couple who are stranded in Stockholm as Belgium has closed its borders and all flights to Brussels have been suspended. We haven't heard from Transavia yet, so we leave the hotel and walk to the terminal in good spirits. It is a long walk from the hotel before arriving at the correct terminal. Once there, we see a huge queue of passengers in front of the check-in desk who are going with the Transavia flight. We now know: it gets busy on board like in the old days ...
Once passed security we have time to shop for another magnet and have a drink. Our aircraft, the PH-HXA, has just landed and is now being unloaded. Next to our gate is a familiar blue Embraer being prepped for the flight to Amsterdam. After long minutes of waiting, it is finally time to board. We walk to the gate where a gate agent has just arrived. She says there is a technical issue with the boarding system. All passengers who are digitally checked in and therefore have a digital boarding pass like us, must be checked in again.
It takes a long time for the systems to cooperate again and we receive a new boarding pass. Not at the seats we initially reserved, but fortunately seats we don’t dislike either. In the aircraft itself, the flight appears to be not completely full, so there is still some shuffling between seats. The crew sighs and watches as the spectacle unfolds. When everyone is seated, the door closes and we are ready for departure.
The return flight is also quiet again. Up until Germany, the skies are clear and we can spot cities like Linköping, Helsingborg, Malmö and even Copenhagen. It gets cloudy from Puttgarden, Germany on. Just before the Dutch border, holes are appearing in the cloud cover again. The descent has been initiated. We can clearly spot Volkel Air Base, and before we know it we are back on Dutch soil. When we get off the plane, we immediately notice that it is quite a bit warmer outside here than in Sweden. Although that is not the biggest shock.
In the terminal everything looks like a post-apocalyptic hospital. Everyone wanders around like semi-zombies with face masks. It's a sad sight. McDonalds is only open to people in a car and people wondering around looking like they can burst out crying at any moment. "Can we still go back?" we wonder out loud. Sweden has stolen our hearts and we spontaneously feel homesick for this beautiful country, which still has many secrets for us, and which we will certainly visit again. Even though absolutely everything will be totally different for sure...