Hej hej! These past few weeks have been so busy, but I am back to share my adventures with you! This blog is about a spontaneous trip that a few friends and I made a few weeks ago to the Arctic Circle. We chose to take the overnight train to Lapland, the Northern part of Sweden where the lights are often visible. Our train left Friday evening at 5:30 pm, and we arrived in Abisko, our destination, at 11:00 am on Saturday. Yes, we took a 17-hour train ride for a weekend trip (17 hours each way, that is). And no, we did not reserve a sleeping cabin, so those 17 hours were all spent in chairs. Why? College students are frugal! Not my best decision, but worth it.
After seventeen hours on the train, we eagerly jumped off into a world that I can only describe as a winter wonderland. On one side we saw huge mountains covered in crisp, white snow. On the other, we looked across to a large lake surrounded by pine trees and far off icy peaks. Pictures will never do this view justice, but they can give you a sense of what I am talking about.
Surprisingly, the long train ride ended up being the smoothest part of our travels. our lodge sent a van to pick us up at the train station. After the long train ride, we couldn’t wait to get to our destination. However, the van’s breaks froze, so the driver couldn’t move it. One friend of mine, from Colorado, said not to worry, this happens often and directed us all to get out and push the car. I had never done that, and it was hard. We pushed with all our might, but it wasn’t enough and another van eventually came.
(Our Attempt at) Seeing the Lights
We had signed up for a tour to view the lights. I showed up in all of my warmest clothes, including my host mom’s snow pants (thanks, Susanne!) and my warm ski coat. The tour guide insisted that I put a snowsuit on top of that. I laughed at his suggestion, so he reminded me that we were literally in the arctic circle and I obeyed. So glad I went with all of the gear; I may have looked four times my usual size, but even with that it was chilly up there.
The tour began with a sleigh ride. We each sat in fur-covered benches that were attached to a snowmobile. We cruised through hilly, narrow paths in a beautiful forest. It felt like a rollercoaster ride, so my (American, of course) friends and I put our hands in the air and screamed at the top of our lungs. Our European companions seemed annoyed at first, but then they joined in for some good fun! From there we arrived at a clearing with a vast few of the ski and a warm tipi where we watched for the lights. While we waited, we took breaks for warm lingonberry juice (a delicious Swedish specialty drink) and, of course, cinnamon buns. Our tour guide told us about his life in the desolate arctic circle. While he admitted to the magical aspects of Lapland, our tour guide said after a few years there he’s ready to head back to the city. He explained that while the natural views are unmatchable, the lack of people wears on him. For an idea of what I mean by lack of people, here is a quick summary of what I mean: the k-9 grade school has only fifteen students in the entire school! However, the emptiness of Abisko might be changing, seeing as their tourism venue is growing rapidly each year. For now, though, anyone interested in a peaceful, cozy winter wonderland, must make this trip!
I have digressed and for a reason. I may have wonderful memories, I don’t have insane pictures of a bright green sky. We only had one night to try to see the lights, and, despite our high hopes, that night consisted of a very cloudy sky. We waited for a few hours, and at times we could see vague green and red lights through the clouds. So, we technically got a glimpse of the Northern Lights, but we didn’t get the full experience. No problem, though; it’s just an excuse to go back!
We’ve been spoiled by Stockholm’s SL System…
Apparently, one month of living in the city made us forget what it’s like to be somewhere without trains, busses, or metros around every corner. When we asked someone at our lodge how to get back to the train station, she told us to walk there (no van offered this time around, I guess they figured that we were bad luck?!). So, with our way over packed suitcases, we trudged 2k (about 1.3 miles) through snowy cross-country skiing trails. It felt a lot like the scene in “Elf” where Buddy leaves the Northern Pole for New York (except our final destination, a small train station, was no NYC). We sang, enjoyed the nature and took a lot of breathing breaks. The walk was beautiful, and we got a really good workout in.
Now I am four hours into my 17-hour train ride home, and sleep is calling. I have a few final thoughts. First, Stockholm has been snow-less and warm, so it was great to experience the Swedish winter by heading up north. Second, I cannot wait to get home to my host family. Traveling is so fun, but I keep finding myself wondering what they are up to! I didn’t expect to feel so bonded with them so quickly, but after just three days away I miss them. Third, despite Trump’s unwarranted comment, everything is okay in Sweden, and I think we actually have a lot to learn from them, not so much to fear.
Finally, one of the best parts of the experience was the friends. From seeing each other in our most dirty, sore, hangry (hungry + angry) states, to pushing each other through snowy hills with our suitcases, we bonded in ways that you can’t get in a college classroom. I may not have pictures of lights to share, but the memories from this long weekend are ones that will stick forever. Thanks, Sweden!