Also many native Swedes have never traveled to northern Sweden or seen the northern lights, it is very common for international students to travel to the city of Kiruna in the north.
Realizing that my next few weekends are all booked and I may not have a chance to visit northern Sweden during the Winter, I took the trip planning into my own hands and approximately one week before our departure, I started frantically searching for an available cabin and tours to book. So when we arrived in the winter wonderland I was a little worried about the logistics since everything was thrown together at the last minute and I still hadn’t received confirmation of the cabin rental, but in the final hours of the train ride every came together and we set out a good plan for the weekend.
Since our cabin was differently not walking distance from town and the alternative would have us sitting in a cabin for three days, we rented cars. Factoring in who actually has a drivers license and any experience driving in the snow, I was defaulted as a driver.
Look! That me, in a rental car, in a foreign country, in very snowy weather, responsible for other peoples’ lives and a high deductible if something were to happen. Yes, it was frightening. pc: Virginie
Northern Sweden is absolutely beautiful. I spent a majority of the weekend with a huge smile on my face, swelling with happiness every time I looked around at the beautiful nature around me. But I couldn’t say that it was anything new to me as it looked almost identical to the northern part of Michigan. Or even Flint during the polar vortex. The other difference is that it was around 32 degrees all weekend. Even above the arctic circle, it was still warmer than Michigan!
We stayed in a cabin about 20 minutes outside of Kiruna, which required us to drive down a very scary, hilly, snowy path to get to it and then it was about a 7 minute walk from our car to the actual cabins which are situated on a peninsula. We had one central cabin with a living room, kitchen and one bedroom; second cabin with three little guest rooms; a suana; and an outhouse. No running water or plumbing.
Our outhouse. Very fitting since we arrived on Valentines Day.
The first night we did the only tour that was still available to book at the last minute, a “Snow Caliseum Tour”. The tour includes snow clothing which seemed ridiculous at first, but was very helpful later on in the night when we had a big snowball fights and could burry one of our friends in snow without fear that he would freeze to death under there.
The German guy who lives on the property and takes care of the cabins picked us up in his snowmobile with a sled attached and brought us the to caliseum. It is a bench/building type structure made out of snow on top of the frozen lake where we were supposed to see the northern lights. Unfortunately it was too cloudy so we didn’t see the lights that night. But we did get to sit on reindeer pelts which I loved because I really like reindeer.
Afterwards we had dinner in a traditional wooden cabin made over a fire.
We were first served warm lingonberry juice. Then reindeer stew. And finally sponge cake with cloudberry a berry native to Northern Sweden.
Then we learned how to make a fire using birch bark and magnesium.
Then we climbed in some igloos
In the igloo
And went sledding
The second day we drove out to see the Ice Hotel
I really wanted to see the Sami museum down the road, but once we got to the museum it did not seem worth the high entrance fee to see a few reindeer and read some plaques. It seems as though the high entrance price, limited exhibits and way that Sami culture is portrayed in the shop are a reflection of the hardships that the indigenous community experiences as they try to join in the tourism industry in Kiruna but do not have the resources to produce a museum anywhere near the quality of the other tourist attractions.
I did not get to play with a reindeer as I was looking forward to, but we drove past a few just standing on the side of the road. Though they wander freely, there are no wild reindeer in Sweden, they all belong to the Sami. They belong to a specific tribe and in the spring the new babies are marked into the same tribe as their mother.
The last day we drove out to Abisko National Park. Because the lake is surrounded by mountains which block some of the clouds, it is said to be the best place to see the northern lights. But once again it was too warm and too cloudy so we didn’t get to see the northern lights at all on our trip. But it was still very beautiful.
And then we flew back to equally as warm central Sweden.