After spending new year’s eve and the new year day in Stockholm, we and my sister parted ways. She went back to Delft and we headed to our next destination, Kiruna from where we were to take a bus to Abisko National Park (ANP). Abisko is located about 200 kilo meters north of the Arctic circle. This meant that we were going to face extreme cold temperatures. More like -30 degrees. This was exciting, cause we had never experienced such a climate before. The main reason for visiting ANP was to see the Northern Lights. The other activities we were able to do was a bonus!
A few tips before your travel:
- Carry proper clothes for this kind of extreme climate. You will need thermals, jackets, pants, boots, woolen socks, gloves, cap, and maybe a scarf to cover your nose.
- I would recommend that for the top you carry a down jacket, and another waterproof jacket to wear over it, such as a parka. Apart from the jackets, you will require thermals and a sweater.
- You will need waterproof pants or ski pants. Just jeans will not suffice. You can wear thermals underneath a pair of ski pants, and you will be comfortable. But, thermals underneath jeans is not going to hold good. Jeans is cotton, so it will absorb the moisture in the air and make your legs go cold. We even wore ski pants over our jeans one day when it was too cold for us. Besides, if you’re actually going to ski, it is much needed (especially if you’re likely to fall a lot) .
- Waterproof boots and woolen socks to keep your feet warm. There are also these hand and feet warmers which you can slip into your shoes, or your jacket pockets if you tend to feel too cold. Your hands and feet are the pulse points through which you could feel cold all over, even though you’re well packed. These warmers work like a charm.
- Thick waterproof gloves and a cap is obviously essential. If you want, you can even carry a face warmer or a scarf to cover up your nose.
- It is advisable to carry a bag pack and not a trolley suitcase. Even though, it might look convenient, but in the cold temperature with all the snow, the wheels might jam. Hence, making it more of a nuisance.
- Carry some basic medicines and maybe a muscle relaxant spray, in case you hurt yourself while doing some activity.
- Try to keep your gadgets inside the room and use it as seldom as possible. In this kind of freezing winter, the battery of your phones and cameras drain out pretty quickly. The weather makes them act funny, eventually leading to damage. So keep them warm and switched off as much as possible.
- Last but most importantly, have fun! It is all totally worth it.
Day 1: On Landing at Kiruna Airport
On 02.01.2017, we arrived Kiruna at around 2:30 pm, and the minute we got out of the aircraft, we were mesmerized. It was freezing in -17 degrees, it was dark already, and it was white. The Kiruna airport is very small with just two gates for the departures and arrivals. So, the tiny little arrival hall felt a little crowded as everybody was there waiting for their luggage.
There are bus transfers from the airport to ANP organised by ANP itself. There are fixed timings for this service, and it is recommended that you book it in advance. The tickets to get on this bus cost about SEK. 365 or EUR. 36.50 per person. It might be a bit expensive, but then there aren’t a lot of options. The bus takes you to ANP in about 1.5 hours. The ride to ANP was actually a lot of fun. Our Driver happened to be a very funny man who hated reindeers :P, actually, he did not hate them. He quite liked them in his stew, with veggies, or roast potatoes. He just thought they were stupid, because they manage to jump out on the road and come under his bus. This is likely to happen, so you might want to keep your seat belts fastened at all times. Thankfully, it didn’t happen to us.
The first stops was the Abisko Mountain Lodge followed by the STF Abisko Mountain Station (STF), both situated in ANP. We were put up in the latter. Staying here would cost about SEK. 4500 or EUR. 450 for two nights. Again, a bit expensive but totally worth it. We reached STF by 4:30 pm. Checking in took a long time, cause we had to wait in a queue to get to the reception desk.
In and around the hotel..
For food, STF has a restaurant in which you need to make reservations a day prior. The reservation needs to be made only for dinner. You can simply walk in for lunch and breakfast. You have to pay separately for each meal. Lunch and breakfast is all you can eat buffet, with a fixed menu for each day. Dinner is not a buffet, but it too has fixed menu. They have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, so you have nothing to worry about.
Apart from the restaurant, there is a store which provides you with all the essential items that you might need. They have stocked all kinds of things such as skis, torch lights, batteries, various souvenirs, some instant food items, etc. Some clothes, shoes, torch, and other activity related material is available for purchase as well as on rent.
After all this was explained to us, we went to dump our luggage in our room, and went down to figure out the various activities that were available, and what we could do the next day. The highlight for us were the Northern Lights. There is something known as the Aurora Sky Station from where you can view the Aurora. But this was booked out till the 6th of January. Sadly our stay was only for two days. So, if you want to visit the sky station, book it in advance. It is very popular! I felt disheartened, felt like all this travel was going to go in vain. Cursing myself for not knowing better. It was later at the reception that we figured out that we can view the Northern Lights on our own. You can just walk down to the Torneträsk lake, and there she will be.
Getting this information was really relieving, and so, we booked ourselves for Nordic skiing and an “Explore Abisko” hike for the next day. There are many other activities available at STF, like ice climbing, snowshoe hike, dog sledding, etc. For the two activities that we booked, we paid another SEK. 1000 or EUR. 100 (for two people, for both the activities).
After booking all the activities, we headed to the store to rent two head torches for our walk to the lake later at night. After dinner, we packed ourselves well and set out to see the Aurora. It took some time for it develop, but, you can see it form like rays, and eventually start swaying in the night sky. This was it. The dancing Aurora. She wasn’t as strong and green as we were expecting (like how you might see in pictures). But it was beautiful, and we felt extremely lucky to be seeing her.
Day 2: Skiing and Hiking
On 03.01.2017, we started our day at 8:00 in the morning, because we had skiing at 10:00. So, we wanted to get ready and grab breakfast before we head out. There are specific timings for each meal which are mentioned on their notice boards. Adhere to it if you don’t want to skip a single one. Especially on a day full of outdoor activities.
So, we were ready for skiing by 10. The whole group for this activity assembled at the reception by 9:45 am. We then went into the store to get a pair of skis, shoes and poles. All this was included in the price for the activity. After changing into our Nordic ski shoes, we walked with our skis and poles till a particular point. Here, the instructor gave us specific instructions on how to put the skis on, how to walk with skis, how to ski down a slope, how to stop, and most importantly.. how to get up when you fall. Which happens a lot if you’re a first timer (like us :P)
This was an awesome experience! Even though I fell a lot, I had a ball of a time. The snow white nature around us was simply breath taking.
By the time we got back after skiing, it was around 1:00 pm. We quickly grabbed lunch cause our hike was to start at 2:00. For the hike, we took a simple trail which was led by our guide, Marcus. We were just three people (excluding Marcus) for the hike, so it was a different experience. More of a close knit group 🙂
Marcus first took us to the Abisko museum, which is just next to STF. This place is a museum now, but it was actually a place where scientists and professionals stayed in. They stayed here to study about iron ore mining, or for work that included making tunnels to transport iron ore from Kiruna to Narvik. Marcus told us about the history and how people lived in these little houses before anything else was built.
After the museum, he took us through a tunnel. On entering this tunnel, you could hear the Sami people singing. Who are these Sami people? They are the indigenous group of people in Sweden, who live close to nature, without the comforts of a permanent home. They hunted their own food, built their own homes, had their own way of life in the arms of mother nature. Their form of music is known as Joik. They are known to sing songs or joik about how they are feeling. They joik in various manners when they are happy, sad, in love, or feeling any other strong emotion. You don’t find these people any more, living in the nature like they used to. Civilization has taken their lives from them by changing everything that was natural. You can still experience the Sami culture at certain dedicated places.
Marcus told us a lot of interesting stories about the Sami people, and their way of life. We then went to a waterfall (currently frozen) which is said to be very sacred to the Sami people. It is said, that a white reindeer (also very scared to the Sami people) was lost, and it came to edge of the waterfall, fell and died. Its blood spread into water at the end of the waterfall. Since then, it is considered to be a very holy.
After the hike got done, and we reached our hotel, I couldn’t feel my toes. So, we just took a break, and made ourselves warm. It was only 4:00 pm. We spent the rest of the day in our room itself. By 7:00 we headed down for dinner followed by a walk to see the northern lights again.
Day 3: Checking Out
On 04.01.2017, we checked out by 9:00 am next morning, since we had a bus to the Kiruna city center at 9:15. Again, you have to book this bus in advance, and it costs SEK 365 or EUR. 36.50 per person.
This was an exceptional trip, and I wish we had spent more time here. Two nights is simply not enough. There is so much to do and experience, that I am sure we will be going here again.
Probably for the midnight sun 🙂