The Land of the Long Johns

Hi everyone,

Long time no see, right? First, let me just quickly wish you a happy 2015! What I want to achieve this year, I will go into in another blog post soon. But before you start to wonder where the hell I have been all this time, here is an update on my freshly experienced adventures. The way this is going to work is I’ll write two blogposts: one on my adventures in Lapland (this one) and one on my days in Stockholm, simply due to the fact that one blog post will be excessively long. I’m writing these blog posts from my cozy and comfy bed in Lund, with a little bit of Bon Iver as my background tune. Here we go.

Day 1 – Stockholm to Kiruna

As you may or may not know, the trip to Lapland I went on was organised by an organisation called Scanbalt Experience. They are an Estonian based company that organise trips around Scandinavia, the Baltics, Russia and Ireland/UK, mainly for (international) students. I was travelling by myself. Our meeting spot was in front of the Sheraton Hotel in Stockholm, where our bus would depart for Kiruna (Sweden), picking up more people in two more cities on the way. I had only been waiting for a couple of minutes when two lovely girls from Thailand, Oey and Mook, came up to me. We started talking and they soon became my travel buddies for the whole trip. They were kind enough to include me and invitations to visit each other have been exchanged on both sides. Anywho, we started our long, long, long journey to the North.

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Day 2 – Kiruna

We arrived bright and early in Kiruna, where we had breakfast and were treated to a gorgeous sunrise. I felt and looked like death itself, but nothing was going to stop me as the first activity on the menu was dog sledding. I’d been looking forward to this for a very long time.

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So off went. Some mini busses picked us up and took us to a more remote area, where the dogs resided. We got to put on a ginormous snow suit and boots to protect us from the cold. I looked like the Michelin Man, but couldn’t care less and waggled my way to the sled. There were four of us on each sled and one professional dog chauffeur (what do you call this person? I’m interested to know) to make sure we wouldn’t hit a tree. The sledding itself was amazing, with only the sound of the wind and the running of the dogs to fill the otherwise complete silence. What no one tells you, however, is that there is a constant smell of dog pee along the way, which you do forget quickly when you look around at the stunningly beautiful scenery. Halfway we got to have some tea in a tipi tent, had the opportunity to pet the dogs and take some pictures. It was also the place we traded the dogs with the other half of the group for some snow mobile driving. I surprised myself with my driving skills and wondered why I just couldn’t drive this instead of a car in Belgium too? Parking would be so much easier. 

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After our venture out into the snow, we arrived back at the kennels, where we got to pet some adorable husky puppies. My heart melted and I contemplated putting one in my backpack for a second, but was able to, only just, refrain myself from any such crime. By that time (about 1 PM) the sun was setting again in a splendid orange that contrasted beautifully with the white landscape.

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We then headed back to our hostel, where we quickly (as in: we had 8 minutes to eat) grabbed lunch before our tour leader gave us a quick tour around the town of Kiruna, in the dark. A cozy town, though! The Thai girls and I had booked a trip to the iron mine before going on the trip, so we went on that after the tour. Pretty boring, to be honest, but glad I saw it nonetheless.

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When we got back we only had half an hour left before we were expected at the New Years Eve dinner. No time for showering or fancy dressing. I only hoped people wouldn’t be scared off because I hadn’t showered in two days (because of the bus drive) and still felt, and looked, like death. At least I didn’t scare off the new year, as it arrived with fireworks and hugs in the main square of Kiruna. I started off 2015 pretty wild with a hot shower and by being in bed by about 1AM. I’m a granny at heart.

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Day 3 – Kiruna to Abisko

On the first day of the new year, we left for an even more northern town called Abisko. We made a slight detour to see the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi. The hotel is basically one giant work of art and seeing as it melts in March or April, the hotel looks different every year. The suites of the hotel each have their own theme, masterminded by one of the international ice sculpture artists. The temperature in the rooms are a constant -5°C. Never in a million years could I ever sleep there, no matter how many layers they would provide. Even walking around, my toes and fingers were on the verge of falling off. We got to warm up with some Swedish glögg afterwards though. I’m going to miss the smell of this comforting drink once the cold season is over.

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After our visit to the hotel, we went up to Abisko, part of a national park, where we had a relaxing evening. I would recommend the place we stayed at to anyone, seeing as the rooms were nice and comfortable, there were lots of activities, it’s located in a gorgeous area and the breakfast buffet was delicious (a deal breaker, of course).

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Day 4 – Abisko to Narvik to Abisko

On our fourth day of the trip, we crossed the border with Norway, where we got to see the fjords. Beautiful, but not as breathtaking as I’d imagined. Maybe the more well-known fjords a little bit more south are what I had in mind. It was great to have been in Norway, though! We had a walk around the city, which was pretty small, but we ended up going to the sky bar, solely to have a look at the view, and trying some Norwegian candy at the supermarket.

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Once we got back, we cooked dinner and played some addictive card game with two German girls (Frauke and Dorit), before we walked to a big tipi tent, where we had some sausages and marshmallows near the fire.

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The Thai girls, Frauke and I snuck off to go for a walk to the Sky Station. We had already given up hope to ever see the Northern lights (Aurora Borealis), because it was extremely cloudy and it had been like that for the past days. Our hopes sparked again, when the guy at the chair lifts told us that it was clear at the top of the mountain seeing as the clouds stayed low, and that there was a possibility for us to go up if the people in front of us didn’t make up their mind and come back in 15 minutes. Our good vibes must have helped, because about 20 minutes later, we found ourselves wrapped up in a snow suit in one of the chair lifts. Excitement. After only a couple of minutes on the lift, we reached the top of the clouds and it was only after half a minute that we saw the Northern lights. There were shrieks, laughter and sighs of amazement. We all felt so blessed and the cold couldn’t really touch us anymore.

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At the Aurora Sky Station, way up the mountain, we had about 3 hours of seeing the Aurora, which came in waves, some of which were just simply jaw-dropping. My camera refused to focus because it was so dark and none of us had a really high quality camera, so pictures don’t really do it any justice (but do they ever anything?). I gave up after a few tries and just took it all in, right then and there. Mental pictures are the sharpest anyways. We went down at around 1 AM, most of my body parts frozen, but with the adrenaline rushing. Most of our group down below got to see the lights in the end too, because the clouds had moved on. A splendid night for everyone it was.

Day 5 – Abisko to Rovaniemi

The next day, we got to spend half a day in Abisko, before making our way to Finland, where we would spend our last night. The German girls and I went for a walk around the canyon next to our hostel, which was beautiful seeing as the waterfall and most of the water stream was frozen. Some other people went ice climbing on that same waterfall. We got to unwind with some tea by the fire place afterwards.

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Our next stop, on the way to Rovaniemi (Finland), was a Sami family. The Sami are, as you may or may not know, the indigenous inhabitants of Lapland. They have their own language, traditions and beliefs. Traditionally, they are reindeer farmers, and today, still, they are the only people who are allowed to continue this tradition. So we visited one of the farms and got to feed the reindeer. They just kept running away, despite the fact that I had indeed showered that morning. “After you feed them, you get to eat them” is what we were told, and so we had some salty reindeer meat by the fire. As you do.

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We arrived in Rovaniemi around 11 PM and got sent to our sweet and charming cottages. I wish we could’ve stayed there longer, such a cute environment. Almost like a fairytale winter wonder land. 

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Day 6 – Rovaniemi to Stockholm

Our last day was split into two main activities. Firstly, we spent half a day in the city of Rovaniemi, where we visited the Arktikum Museum, got to do some grocery shopping for the long bus ride back to Stockholm and had a quick look around.

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The second part consisted of a visit to the Santa Claus Village, where we took a group picture with the one and only Santa. Also, can you believe they were already starting their mailing service for post cards for Christmas 2015? They don’t mock around in Santa village, it seems. I was more excited about the fact that we got to stand on the Arctic Circle though, who cares about the grey bearded old man (I hope he doesn’t read my blog, I still want my presents).

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And then our long bus ride began. I got on the bus satisfied, because I’d accomplished all the things I’d hoped for on this trip. And I realised how lucky I am to even have the chance to experience all these amazing things. Thank you, parents, circumstance and life for letting me. Lapland is a truly amazing place with lots of friendly people, interesting places and amazing scenery. Don’t let people scare you off with stories about the  “cold and darkness” because it’s been one of the most heart-warming and enlightening trips I’ve made. (Also literally: Lapland treated us to a gorgeous sunrise and sunset EVERY DAY. It didn’t feel like a dark place at all with the white snow to reflect the light.)

On the bus however, slowly I started to feel and look like death again, but I was not really happy to get to Stockholm either, seeing as we got there 3 hours too early; my hostel only opened at 9 AM. But that’s a story for the next blog…

Until then,

Hejdå,

Silke

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