Travel diary: Trip to northern Sweden and Lapland

Travel diary: Trip to northern Sweden and Lapland

“L” stands for Lapland

I have been to Lapland this week! It feels so strange to be back home in Stockholm now, as this place has absolutely enchanted me and I definitely want to go back there some day.

The trip was organized for Erasmus- students in Sweden and I have to say that it was one of the best and most exciting trips I have ever made!

We had beautiful weather, snowy landscapes and fantastic people on board. “On board” because we went to Lapland by bus – the “Lapland Express”, as I call it… which is an 18- hour ride. I underestimated the size of Sweden: the distance between Stockholm and Kiruna (the town we went to first), is about the same distance as from the South of France to the top of the Netherlands. So, pretty, pretty far.

For those of you, who don´t know so much about Lapland: It stretches over the North of Sweden, Norway and Finland and is situated above the Arctic Circle[1]. Lapland has indigenous tribes, who pursue reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. Lapland is also the “home” of the Aurora Borealis- the Northern Lights, a physical phenomenon. But more about this as you go on reading….

For this blog I have created a “travel- diary” or “Lapland- ABC”, to show you what the program for this trip was and what wonderful experiences I have made. If you want to do something fun while reading this blog, you could listen to the music that I have listened to during this trip. Alt- J, one of my favourite bands, is great to listen to while travelling and makes me think about Lapland now when I hear their music…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAC9Ecf1Xgc&list=PLu4uczmISknyF15Pg8nl96pe4-ukfIwHd à Listen to “Ms, Matilda, Bloodflood and Dissolve Me”!

Day 1: “D” stands for Departure

Polar circle sign

Departure from Stockholm! All the students (52 in all) met near Stockholm´s Central Station in order get onto the bus with all our luggage, filled with warm clothes for this trip. Everyone´s aim was: to get a seat by the window! Since the ride is 18 hours long everyone wanted to make sure to get a good place to sit and sleep.

At first I was a bit unsure about this way to travel, but I happily realized that this journey wasn’t as bad as I expected. The bus made two stops for us to walk around, get some food and fresh air. The bus ride also gave me the chance to get to know new people.

We also got to meet our wonderful tour- guide Amber, who is at home everywhere around the World, but originally comes from New Zealand. She is like “Wonder- Woman”, as she has been living out of her backpack since eight years now, gives tours all over the World and teaches scuba- diving. This trip to Lapland with us was her 50th time and now she will head back to China to give tours at the Great Chinese Wall. Luckily I was able to fall asleep on the bus and woke up in the morning in a beautiful winter- wonderland!

Sunset northern Sweden

I took this picture at our first stop during the bus- ride. The beautiful sunset predicted the weather for the following sunny days…

Lapland snow

First impressions of Lapland: Snow, snow, as far as the eye can see!!!

Tree line Lapland

Day 2: “K” stands for “Kiruna”

Kiruna on map

This is a screenshot from my phone in Kiruna. I was so far up North!!

 

Husky sleigh

Husky and Katja polaroid picture

The dog- sledding tour-guide took this photo for me with my Polaroid -camera…

Happy huskies

In total there were three of these sleighs with doggies, pulling us through Lapland´s amazing landscape!

Our first destination of this trip was Kiruna, the largest town in Swedish Lapland. We arrived at our hostel there at 8 am and got greeted with a huge breakfast! After we had had finished our delicious meal, we could move into our rooms and half of us prepared for the very first activity: dog- sledding!!I think I have never dressed warmer in my life for this activity, only to get to the “husky- farm” and discover that we have to wear even thicker suits to protect us from the cold! The weather couldn´t have been better for this day! I even got to sit in front on the sledge and had a marvellous view!

The dogs were so excited to run and I was thrilled to do something so special. After a quick stop for some hot tea and coffee in a tipi, the adventure continued with snow- mobiles! We paired up in tows and got to drive a snow- mobile back to the farm. It was a lot of fun, although I am generally not a fan of all “jet- ski”-type mobiles. I will never forget this day! It was one of the most special experiences I have ever made!

Our first destination of this trip was Kiruna, the largest town in Swedish Lapland. We arrived at our hostel there at 8 am and got greeted with a huge breakfast! After we had had finished our delicious meal, we could move into our rooms and half of us prepared for the very first activity: dog- sledding!!I think I have never dressed warmer in my life for this activity, only to get to the “husky- farm” and discover that we have to wear even thicker suits to protect us from the cold! The weather couldn´t have been better for this day! I even got to sit in front on the sledge and had a marvellous view! The dogs were so excited to run and I was thrilled to do something so special. After a quick stop for some hot tea and coffee in a tipi, the adventure continued with snow- mobiles! We paired up in tows and got to drive a snow- mobile back to the farm. It was a lot of fun, although I am generally not a fan of all “jet- ski”-type mobiles.

Back at the hostel the same group of students prepared to be guided around Kiruna by Amber. Kiruna is very small, but also very famous because of it´s iron mine. Everybody who lives in Kiruna either works at the mine or lives there because their family members work at the mine. The mine itself has 400 km slopeways of tunnels and due to it´s constant expansion, the town centre has to literally be moved. All the houses have to be torn down and rebuilt in the new city centre. Even the 100- year old church has to be sawn into two halves and be reunited some place else!

Kiruna mine

The Kiruna Mine!

The church is very special, since it is a meeting point for all religions. The style of the church is more like a Viking- design, masses are held for all kinds of religions there!

Kiruna wooden church

The Kiruna Church!

After the tour, we had time to go food- shopping for the next three days, as from tomorrow on we wouldn´t cross any restaurant or supermarket anymore.

In the evening most of us went to the pizzeria of Kiruna and back to the hostel to play some games of “Werewolf”. It was a great first evening with great people!

Day 3: “I” stands for Ice

Game of Ice-thrones

I slept really well after the night on the bus and had another excellent breakfast at the hostel, before getting ready to leave for our new destination: the Ice- Hotel! This hotel is literally completely made out of ice and designed by artists from countries all over the World. Every year the Ice Hotel looks different because it melts down when summer comes and has to then be rebuilt in winter. Everything is made out of ice. The Ice Hotel even features an Ice Bar as well as a church with different themes every year. This year the theme is “space” and one can see this when looking at the decorations and designs of the church. Apparently about 100 weddings are hosted there in a year as well as numerous baptisms! I thought the idea of the Ice Hotel was pretty cool, and I liked that one could see that the water quality is so good because the ice was totally see- through! I don´t think I would want to stay there though… I prefer heated hotels…

The Swedish Ice hotel entrance

The Ice hotel

Ice hotel church building

Ice hotel church

Ice hotel sculpture

After the Ice Hotel, the next destination was the “Sami Family” with a reindeer farm. The Sami- people are the indigenous people of Scandinavia. In former times they suffered from the segregation between them and the Swedes and also from the fact that the Swedes wanted to make them change religion from Shamanism to Catholicism.

The Sami Family are reindeer herders and have a whole paddock with reindeer- mostly calves! As we arrived, we were again split into two groups. One group started by warming up in the tipi with reindeer- meat and –soup. Meanwhile the other group was able to feed and pet the reindeer! They were so sweet and elegant! I took many pictures of and with them! The experience in the tipi was interesting as our host introduced us a little bit to his way of living and his culture. It was a wonderful afternoon!

Lapland reindeer herd

The Sami´s reindeer herd!

Reindeer herd eating

Sami tipi Lapland

Warming up in the tipi!

At the end of the day, the “Lapland Express” took us to our new hostel in a tini- tiny town called Abisko (Western from Kiruna). The hostel is very big and newly renovated with nice rooms and an enormous kitchen for us!

We were all excited because tonight we would barbecue in a tipi close to the hostel and hopefully see the Northern Lights!

The tipi- experience was a bit different though than what I thought it would be like. First of all, it was sooo cold in there. Secondly, the fire was very small and yet produced so much smoke that after an hour my eyes were red and itching. Third, the food took ages until it was grilled and everyone was starved by the time they finally got something to eat. (Not me though, because I had already eaten before that.)

Buuuut we all got rewarded by Amber´s message that the Aurora Lights were visablex! All of us rushed out of the tent and stood under this long stripe that made a wavy movement and kept coming out of the same direction. It was amazing! The “glogg” (hot wine) that Amber made kept us warm while we watched the Northern Lights change.

It was a great day and some of us got fantastic pictures with their cameras, showing the actual glowing colours if the Aurora Lights.

Beautiful Aurora Borealis Lapland

The beautiful Northern Lights! Pictures were taken by Fan King Yiu Chris!

Northern Lights Sweden

Day 4: “N” stands for Norway

Today we would go to Narvik, a small town in Norway. The bus ride there would approximately take 1 h 15 min. At first Amber wasn´t sure if we could go, since the road to get there, is often endangered by avalanches. Luckily the weather conditions were ideal for that day, the sun was shining and we all got onto our “Lapland Express”.

Lapland landscape

Lapland- landscape

The landscape was amazingly beautiful. We even saw a reindeer mother with her baby in the woods.

After having passed the Norwegian boarder, we stopped at a fjord! The sea by the fjords never freezes because of the golf stream! With the mountains, the stony beach and seabreeze in my hair I felt like a fjord- mermaid….

Fjord mermaid

Enchanting fjord

Narvik shore

After half an hour we went on with our journey. We arrived in Narvik at around 12 pm.  There we could choose from doing three different things: Having a “fika” at the Scandic Hotel with a view over the town, having fish and chips at the “Fiskehallen” (fish market) or exploring the town a bit. My friends and I decided to start with the fika and ended up having the most delicious fish and chips everrrrr!

Narvik view

The view from the Scandic Hotel over Narvik

At 2 pm we went back to Abisko because we had another program on our schedule for today: sauna evening and jumping into an ice-hole! On the bus we were divided into 3 groups who could enter the sauna after another. Back at the hostel we had some free time before going to the sauna. The kitchen had the perfect cosy atmosphere for playing cards and making dinner. At 8 pm we met in front of the hostel and were guided to the sauna- which was a good 15 minute walk in a minus 18 degree night…

As we got to the sauna we first went to check out the ice- hole which we planned to jump into later. I saw it and thought: “NO”. From the sauna you had to walk down a small hill and across the lake to then crush the ice before jumping into the hole. There was also only space for one person in the hole. We were told to go there in pairs, so that always one person could hold the flash- light, as it was pith black outside. All of these facts made me lean against jumping in… We went back to the sauna- hut to warm up. It was so great to arrive in the warmth and relax. Amber then told us a bit about the sauna itself. To make my feelings about the ice- hole even worse, she also instructed us to not dive under the water, since we could get brain-freeze and wouldn´t be able to recover for months. Also we might cut ourselves on the ice because it is so sharp. Now I was sure I wouldn´t go in…

After about 30 minutes in the sauna the first pair started to run to the ice hole. It was thrilling to watch them run and hurry to come back as fast as they could! Having returned to the sauna they were totally amazed by this experience. My friend Laura then asked me if I would join her to jump in. I don´t know why but I suddenly heard myself agree… I think we were the fifth couple to go in. In order to do so we had to put on socks to not cut our feet on the ice. We ran so fast to get to the hole! Laura said I should go in first. I didn´t even think about how to get in… I just jumped… into the -5 degree water…. and I went straight back out!It was amazing and yet I think I will never do this again!

Ice hole bath

I must be crazy.

We were back at the hostel at 10 pm and found out that the showers only gave cold water. At least the lake- water has already cleaned us after the sauna… We ended the evening with playing cards and all had a good night sleep after this adventurous day.

Day 5: “S” stands for “Stockholm”

Last day in Lapland! Some people from our group have signed up to go ice- climbing in the morning and the rest of decided to climb the Abisko – mountain “Nuolja”. No just kidding. We had to take a very small chair lift to get up there which was a bit scary, since the chair- lift looked quite unstainble. After having arrived at the top, we went for a small “hike” in the snow and took some pictures.

Lapland hike

Selfie with friends on Lapland mountain

Enjoying our last hours in Lapland…

The view was beautiful and that was this moment when I figured what Lapland means to me:

I felt like being the only movement in a black and white photograph. Everything is still and quiet and looks unreal. I felt like I was in an enchanted place and my feelings of time or stress disappeared completely.

Ski-hut view Lapland

View from the ski- hut.

Before we finally headed back to the hostel, we had some hot chocolate at the ski- hut and took some more pictures.

Polaroid friends Lapland Ski-hut

We had a great time together! Photo taken with my Polaroid.

At 2 pm we got onto our “Lapland Express” and bid farewell to Lapland. We all agreed that it was one of the best trips in our lives! I was not at all worried about the 18- hour bus- ride anymore. We played games, watched movies, listened to music and had a quiz about Lapland (which my group won- just saying). At 8 am we arrived back in Stockholm.

I want to thank all the amazing people who were on this trip for making it so special!

Lapland, I will be back…

Katja and Lapland mountains

Yours,

Katja

Thank you Laura, Cédric, Juan and Ky Fan for the pictures!

[1] The Arctic Circle is the most notherly latitude of the Earth. On polar night, the sun doesn´t rise at all, on midnight sun, the sun doesn´t set.