10th December, we landed on this snowy land, high up in the arctic circle, a place that sees only 3 hours of daylight at this time of the year. It was about -15 degrees when we landed, bearable because we were heavily protected from the harsh weather. This was an expensive trip. But it's a trip worth making, just once in our lives. And for the sake of even myself, I'll write a descriptive account of this entire trip.
Kiruna on the map:
Kiruna is a town of 18,000 people. I thought that's surprisingly many. I can't imagine living in Kiruna. Although Kiruna has everything a town has.. cafes, shopping, cinema.. it still seems very distanced from modern civilization. How could people stay in such a dark, depressing place. Anyway, the primary industry in this town is iron mining. Kiruna boasts the world's biggest iron mine. And this mine is so important that they are in the process of moving the entire town so that the iron ores underneath the town could be retrieved.
Taken on our way from the train station to the hostel we stayed in. We had some difficulty looking for a decent place to stay in Kiruna. We finally found a place at a nice vocational school that rents out their school hostel rooms to tourists .
Snippets of Kiruna Town:
Also visited the church. Happened to be Saint Lucy's Day celebration. we watched a few great performances.
The first program on our itinerary was to visit the Ice hotel. It was a bit of a disappointment for most of us. Or perhaps were expecting a little too much. I have a feeling that the Harbin ice sculpture exhibition would have been even more impressive. Well, the ice hotel, was ok, made of ice. But it's only a small portion of the hotel that's made of ice. You could stay at a wooden cabin in the ice hotel. The suites were individually designed by artists (many of them from japan) so that each room has a different theme. The hotel is kept at about 5 degrees regardless of the temperature outside because of the insulating properties of the ice blocks so guests sleep with protective sleeping bags on animal fur-lined ice beds. But because the ice hotel was still in the process of construction while we were there, we didn't see that much.
At the lobby:
Pathetic snow-angel attempt:
The next day, we took a one-hour train up north to they tiny town of Abisko. THIS was probably the best part of the entire trip. The point of Abisko was to see the northern lights. Honestly we didn't see that much because it was all cloudy where the northern lights were supposed to appear. We saw a little green glow and this is what my friend captured on his camera after a 45 sec long exposure :
It didn't matter to us that we didn't see much aurora that night. But just by being on that mountain, has been one of the most surreal experiences. On the cable ski up the mountain, you feel like you're dangling in the middle of no where, staring at this vast blackness in front of you. It was so quiet that you talk in low voices because you don't want to disturb the serenity.
As you get to the peak, the wind starts to howl and it sure was cold.
I expected to see some path leading you to some viewing platform at the peak, (well since Abisko markets itself as one of the best places on earth to see the aurora) but no, we had to trudge through the snow to get to this point where we could not go any further. We couldn't really see where we were going because there were no lights.. we could only trust ourselves to trudge along a certain direction. And trudge, not even walk. Or I should say, walk and fall repeatedly to get to that point. It wasn't a long walk; but it was a cold, and pretttyy scary walk.
Us, captured in the darkness.
And it was all worth it. The five of us lay on the snow staring at the crazy stars above. We saw shooting stars every few minutes.
Prior to this trip, Dixi and amy has been asking me what has been the most outrageous thing i've done in my life (their interest for my answer to this question is attributed to the fact that virginia SEEMS to be the most law abiding person, whatever kinda law. national, or domestic rules. and i haven't been able to answer that. ) On the mountain that night, we agreed that whatever we were doing then, was pretty outrageous. Outrageous for the fact that it was such a surreal experience for every one of us.
We had our share of mindless games at the hostel.. (ok it was in fact not mindless. it was brain intensive)
Basically we assumed a given character and we had to guess our character by asking yes-no questions.
We left abisko the next day, rested at kiruna for another night before taking on our last hmm. adventure.
Sami hut adventure:
The Sami people are the indigenous people of Lapland, this arctic region that stretches from Norway to Russia. This tour package we signed up for was supposed to introduce us to the "lives of the Sami people" by living in indigenous huts and eating indigenous food. It wasn't entirely enjoyable (because of the lack of hospitality by our guide) but it was definitely memorable.
So the tour (or more like some training camp) started with us riding the dog sleds. We had to take the sleds because where were going was not accessible by vehicles. The guide briefed us a little about the dogs and we were made to bring the dogs to the sleds and tie them to the leash. It was three people to a sled, 1 as driver, 2 as passengers. Not difficult, pretty fun. Only crazy cold.
Cam whoring while waiting in the cold:
and playing stupid games:
We also rode the snow mobil:
Then we had to cross a river with a raft; paul was made the rope puller...
When we finally reached the camp, (our cabin)
We were given a briefing...
By our hideously eccentric tour guide.
Then we had to cut wood for fire to warm our huts:
And had a nice barbecue lunch...
Then basically the rest of the day we did nothing in the cabin. Sat at talked and played card games the entire afternoon, waiting only for dinner. It didn't help that the guide was eccentric. He had a lot of rules and would tell us off for not doing certain things right, like if we took some cutlery without permission, if we wore our coats during dinner. We think he's depressed or something, living in such a place for such a long time.
So it was a long night.. we had to wake up every hour to check on the fire. Once, the fire died and we were freezing. I I slept on the sofa eventually because my bed was too cold, but it was great, cos i saw more shooting stars from the window about the sofa.
Cheap thrill with the butt slide the next morning:
So we were relieved to go back to kiruna town. Like I said, it was quite an experience, but it definitely could have been better if were followed another tour.
It was a long 5 days. A very memorable 5 days. We left kiruna at dawn. And it was again, beautiful weather that morning:
During the 4 hour plane delay wait..(because the freaking plane was frozen).
For anyone going to Sweden, Kiruna is worth a visit.