09.53 Fredag, 8 Mars, 2013
This past week, I went on a tour of a region called Lapland. Lapland is the northern part of Scandinavia, including parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, and is the home of an indigenous people called the Sámi. A large part of Lapland lies above the arctic circle. The tour I was on was a student tour with a company called Scanbalt Experience. We went by bus from Stockholm starting on Saturday, and we returned to Stockholm on Thursday morning. I had a great time on this trip, so I hope you enjoy this post!
A tropical-colored bus from Estonia, lost in the arctic wilderness…
Crossing the Arctic Circle – 66° 33’ N
After leaving Stockholm on Saturday, we made stops in Uppsala and Sundsvall to pick up more students, bringing the total on the tour to 51 (all international students). After stopping for dinner, we drove through the night and arrived in Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden, on Sunday morning.
Kiruna is a mining town, and is situated next to the largest underground iron mine in the world. This mine is not only large, but it also contains some of the purest iron ore deposits in the world. Consequently, business is going pretty well for the mining company (LKAB – Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag), and the mine is expanding so extensively that the ground under the city is shifting, causing structural problems to the buildings. To avoid having the city collapse, LKAB is paying for a project to relocate the city a few kilometers down the road. This includes moving some historical buildings, such as the church and the city hall, and placing them intact in another location. The area vacated by the relocated buildings is gradually being turned into a public park called Gruvstadsparken, which means “Mine City Park” in Swedish.
Kiruna Kyrka – Kiruna Church
Kiruna Stadshus – Kiruna City Hall, with its iron clock tower
On Sunday afternoon, we went on a dogsled and snowmobile tour through the wilderness. This was a lot of fun, and we got the chance to see the arctic nature up close. However, I definitely would have enjoyed some more time on the snowmobile!
Dogsledding and Snowmobiling
Sunday evening was definitely the highlight of the trip! After eating dinner, about half of our group went with our guide to a bar in Kiruna to hang out and socialize for a while. Afterwards, we walked out to a relatively dark place on the edge of town to look for the northern lights. When we got there, there was already a faint band in the sky above the mine; however, as we watched it got more intense for a while, and eventually started to shrink and fade. When we were no longer impressed by that, we almost started to walk back to the hostel, but as we were leaving, someone pointed out a very thin band stretching across the sky right above us. Most people initially dismissed it as a cloud, but a few seconds later, it exploded into a huge aurora and the rays began to dance around and move across the sky directly overhead. We watched this for about thirty minutes until it moved off towards the horizon and began to fade. Unfortunately, my pictures aren’t great, but I did get a few nice ones.
Norrsken – Northern Lights
On Monday, everyone went to the grocery store and got some food for the rest of the week, since there was not going to be many places to get food at our next couple stops. We then got on the bus and went to the town of Jukkasjärvi (a Sámi word meaning “meeting place”), where we visited the Ice Hotel. The Ice Hotel is a real hotel consisting (this year) of over 60 rooms that you can actually rent and sleep in! Each of the rooms is carved and decorated by a different artist, and each room has its own theme. Many artists apply every year with designs, and the best ones are chosen to be represented in the rooms. The hotel is built out of ice blocks cut from the nearby Torne river the previous year, as well as a lot of snow. Since snow is an insulator, the interior of the hotel remains quite warm – only –5°C as opposed to the -20°C outside! The hotel also consists of an Ice Bar (where the glasses are actually made of ice) and an Ice Church (which is quite popular for weddings and baptisms). The Ice Hotel is constructed during December and January, and is closed in April for, well…obvious reasons.
The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
We did not actually stay in the Ice Hotel; after our stop there, we continued on and made a stop at small Sámi village, where we learned a little about their traditional way of life. As we sat around the fire in a traditional Sámi tent eating reindeer meat and drinking reindeer soup, a Sámi woman explained to us about the Sámi people’s primary activity, which is reindeer herding. In the Sámi calendar, there are eight seasons, which are based on the cyclic activities involved in herding, raising, and slaughtering reindeer. Still today, many Sámi people own large herds of reindeer that they take care of throughout the year and sell as meat and fur in the Autumn. Of course, most Sámi people also live modern lives as well, and many have regular jobs in cities such as Kiruna to supplement their income from the reindeer. One other interesting thing about the Sámi people is that they are recognized by Sweden, Norway, and Finland as an indigenous people and they have created the “Sámi nation,” complete with a flag, a national anthem, and a national day. They are still governed by their respective countries, but they also have their own, semi-autonomous administrative bodies in each country as well.
After visiting the Sámi people, we continued on to Abisko National Park, in one of the northernmost corners of Sweden, near the border with Norway. Abisko is located next to the seventh largest and second deepest lake in Sweden, called Torneträsk, and is an important site for scientific research related to the arctic climate. The evening we arrived at the national park, we had a barbeque on an open fire in a large tent by the lake. With our barbeque, we drank a traditional Swedish drink called glögg, which is hot, spiced wine that is popular in the winter. While we were eating, we kept an eye out for the northern lights, and we did see a faint band for a while, but there was no spectacular show like the previous night.
On Tuesday, we took a day-trip from Abisko and went over the border to the Norwegian city of Narvik, which is situated on a fjord called Ofotfjord. Historically, Narvik is an important city because its port does not freeze, which means that it was a valuable asset for the Germans during World War II because it gave them access to the nearby iron ore in northern Sweden. On the way, we drove through the mountains and passed some amazing scenery. Once in Narvik, we rode a gondola up to the top of a mountain called Narvikfjellet (“Narvik Mountain” in Norwegian) in order to get a good view of the city and the fjord and surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the top, it was cloudy and snowing, so there wasn’t much of anything to see, so we ate lunch in the cabin at the summit and then headed back down. We didn’t take the gondola back down, however; instead, we ‘walked’ down the ‘walking path,’ which turned out to be too steep to actually walk on. So, in reality, we ended up running/sliding/falling down most of the 656 meters to the base – it was awesome!
The Flag of Norway
I’ve finally seen a fjord!!
Back in Abisko, we enjoyed the evening in a traditional wood-heated sauna on the shore of Torneträsk. After feeding wood into the furnace for about half an hour and bringing the temperature up to about 75°C (it should have been hotter – normally, saunas are as hot as 95°C), we ran out to a hole cut in the ice and went for a little swim in the lake. Surprisingly, it was not as terrible as it sounds! It was actually rather refreshing, and once I got in the water, I didn’t really even feel very cold at all. I know, this sounds crazy, but sitting in a sauna and subsequently jumping into a frozen lake is a very common activity in the Nordic countries during the winter. In fact, the word sauna is actually a Finnish word, since the sauna was invented in Finland.
A sauna by a lake in the frozen wilderness
Wednesday was our final day in Lapland, and I spent the morning exploring the national park. In particular, I walked the beginning portion of the hiking trail called Kungsleden (“The King’s Path”). Kungsleden is a famous hiking trail that goes over 400 kilometers through Swedish Lapland, beginning in Abisko National Park and past landmarks such as Kebnekaise, the highest mountain in Sweden.
Beautiful nature in Abisko National Park
Finally, after a great week, we got back on our tropical-painted tour bus and made the 18 hour journey back south, through the stunning scenery in Lapland, across the arctic circle, along the Bay of Bothnia, and returned to Stockholm on Thursday morning.
By the way, don’t forget to check this page to see the where I’ve been!