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In Search of the Northern Lights

There are experiences that amaze us, and that we do not want to miss. In English, they are called "once in a lifetime experiences", and "must-dos before you die" in our language. The "northern lights" that can be observed from places close to the North Pole had been at the top of my list for years – I really wanted to go to Iceland or one of the Nordic countries for this experience. By wonderful serendipity, as Brisa we invited distinguished members of our national press to Sweden to visit the winter tire testing center of our partner Bridgestone so as to raise awareness on the newly introduced legal obligation in Turkey for the fitting of winter tires. So, I didn't miss the opportunity, and joining our team, went to Sweden in search of the "northern lights" which was the theme of our tour.

Vidsel and Its Deers...

The first day we flew to Vidsel, a town (in fact "village" would be more appropriate as the whole town consists of 500 people) 95 km to the Arctic Circle after a layover in Stockholm. When we arrived there at around 5 p.m., Vidsel was dark and under a magic blanket of snow like in winter tales. We checked into the cute little hotel of the village. When I saw the endless forest surrounding us, the frozen river in front of the hotel, and the waterfall that was gurgling despite the cold, my feelings were hard to describe – they evoked the sense of literally "absolute nature" and the essence of one's self. The enveloping silence, the perfect glitter of snowflakes, and the power of the forest that invites one into its depths… I was very impressed.

Of course, we had venison for dinner, and our Brisa team did not miss the connection, and doubled the fun of our meal by distributing hats that read "deer talk"*! To top it all, the dexterous chef who served us in that tiny village turned out to be Turkish, so the "deer" joke did not get lost on him...
(*Note: word-for-word translation for "chitchat" in Turkish.)

What did Stefano Modena Say?

Early the next morning, on our way to the testing center, we virtually lunged at our cameras the moment we saw the late awakening of the sun amidst all those colors in the sky – colors and a sensation that reminded one of sunset rather than sunrise… It was as if we lost track of time…

Owing to the fact that most of the staff of the testing center were Italian, we received a warm welcome on arrival despite the icy weather. All the Italians, we were told, were professionals based in Rome, the European testing headquarters of the company, who took turns in dedicating their time to the testing center here.

The tire tests were an amazing experience to say the least – the team had organized a great program. Without going into details, let me share with you the three points that I found critical:

  • Winter tires are indispensable for safe driving in the winter – we all got this message loud and clear in the comparative snow drives with summer tires for both braking and traction performance (improvements of up to 25% depending on the conditions, and more controlled handling).

  • As the former F1 pilot Stefano Modena, who was with us during the test drives, explained, "what matters in effective fast driving is not how you step on the gas, but that you brake at the right time!"

  • Even in extremely variable conditions in snow/on the road, the company uses state-of-the-art technology (such as sensors with sensitive GPS) with a scientific approach to measure and improve the performance of tires.

Snow Biking on the Shores of the Baltic Sea...

After the test, we went to the village Brandön, 1.5 km off Lulea, to snow bike. Once there, we realized, surprise surprise, the terrain where we would snow bike was the endless and frozen shore of the Baltic Sea! Following a very short training, we set off with 15 bikes.

Imagine you are driving at 60+ km/h in the dark, on frozen sea and snow – what an adventure! Especially when one of the bikes got stuck in the water (there can be stretches of water on the ice), the hearts in our motorcade skipped a beat. After the problem was solved, we gave a break and relaxed, sipping our salep drinks around a campfire, and then tried to catch fish through a hole we made in the ice – but to no avail: trying to catch fish at that time in the dark through a hole was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Following this three-hour adventure, we had a very pleasant dinner in a tent in the company of the indigenous Sami people (the Lapons). Back in the hotel, we were all savoring the pleasure and sweet exhaustion of having shared an unforgettable day.

The fascinating civil privilege of being an apartment resident in Stockholm

On my way back Saturday morning, I took the opportunity to see my dear friends, Cengiz and Vicky, in Stockholm after four years. Of course, it was Turkish hospitality all over – despite my insisting on taking a taxi, Cengiz picked me up at the airport. Luckily, it was wonderfully clear and sunny; and my friends had prepared a great sightseeing tour. I won't bore you with the details, but it is a beautiful city, a must-see. I'll just share my key impressions about Stockholm (and the Swedes):

  • This is the city with the cleanest air in the world – the fact that 85% of the city's economy is service/technology-based certainly is a factor. It has also been chosen the greenest city in Europe. Do you know why? Because 30% (!) of the city is green!

  • Rumor has it that the number of English-speakers (proper and without an accent) is more than those in London.

  • Sweden is one of the countries with the most advanced social state and socialist approach. One striking example: If you are living in an apartment building and own that apartment, you actually don't own it! Because you are not regarded as an owner of an apartment, but as a "shareholder" in the building. The very civil consequence of this is that you cannot lease the apartment just like that, but you can only do so upon the consent of the other tenants of the building! To include that in Turkey's 2023 vision would be great:)

  • On the flip side of all these niceties is Sweden's dark face: alcoholism and suicide rates. However, they have managed to reduce them in recent years. They are particularly strict about controlling alcohol consumption - for instance, random checks on the road are the most frequent on Monday morning. You might say that's too late and irrelevant. On the contrary, they do not even tolerate drinking late on Sunday and having even a very low level of alcohol the next morning on a school day since their rule is "zero promile".

  • ? This is an unbelievable country, with both clean air and society… If only it were 10 degrees warmer – it would probably be the most popular city in the world.
In short, I had a wonderful journey I enjoyed to the full. In the beginning, my biggest dream was to see the northern lights. Although weather conditions did not permit that, I so admired and was fascinated by the absolute beauty of nature in Sweden, and the advanced state of the society that I thought, while looking for it in the skies, "I had found the splendor of the northern lights on earth". And thanks to Sweden, my hopes, belief and engagement for the development of nature and green life, as well as for a civil society and stronger individual rights in our country were revived.

N.B. I would like to reiterate my heartfelt thanks to our Brisa team for this impeccable organization, and dear Vicky and Cengiz who hosted me in Stockholm.

Kind regards,

Mehmet N. Pekarun