Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Jukkasjärvi -> London (23/02/2019)

The bitter sweet awakening of someone getting up on the last morning of a holiday. The shower and space provided eased the parting blow and we got to have breakfast before the masses arrived with their little darlings.

There was no guests with high heels this morning, yesterday’s arrivals being ill prepared for life in the snowy, icy conditions. They were now shivering over their coffees, wearing fashion faux pax ski suits and jeggings, with their hair done in perfect ringlets. Cringe!

We gazed longingly out of our bedroom window, the sun shining a hazy glow to the epipheral beauty of untouched snow and trees covered in winter’s dust.

We didn’t break a leg on the trip, nor lost any fingers to frostbite, so when the shuttle bus arrived, it was with impending doom that it brought us to the airport and it too would bring us back home and to work.

The final glimpses out of the airplane window were off a pure, peaceful environment, calling to us to stay. We would find a solution to have Nahla adapt to the harsh conditions and she would love playing with in the snow.

We had had a trip of a lifetime and ticked some things off our bucket list. It was a pretty epic adventure.

Saturday, 23rd February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Jukkasjärvi (22/02/2019)

We did not look ‘selfie’-worthy when we got our wake-up call. The hot, fresh lingonberry juice was a lovely touch, but I was pretty miffed that it was 07:50 when we got our call, rather than the requested 07:00. Thus, with an uneasy night sleep, Katherine’s back seizing up a bit and my hip hurting from lying on my side, we weren’t off to the best of starts for the morning. The sauna/shower rooms were packed and our little sauna, although 68*, was more of a respite to cool down the tempers. Before having our showers, Katherine had to storm off and find towels. The rich and famous were using 4-5 towels for their hair and the hotel had not anticipated to keep check on the facilities during the morning rush. The showers were see through with a thin blue curtain, so imagine the pair of us, cringing at the set-up with heightened senses and stress levels already at breaking point. The breakfast buffet almost tipped us over the edge with politeness resulting in the lady in front getting the last of the coffee out of the urn. Big deep breaths, ignore the chorus of needy kids wanting plates of just bacon or pancakes and try and source some food before the staff kicked us out of the restaurant. Ugh, what a morning!

With the morning mostly spent, our plans of renting snow shoes was now out the window. But, improvise, adapt and overcome, we wouldn’t let the mood continue all day. After all, we had just experienced some incredible moments during the week, we wouldn’t ruin it on the last day.

We suited up in our black ninja astronaut gear and headed further in to the village. The church murals behind the altar were lovely. In fact, when we left and talked about them, Katherine hadn’t seen much of the left hand screen so we went back in for me to point out the winter scene blending across in to the spring/summer scene. It was a quaint church and a lovely place to gather the thoughts and settle.

The cat outside the Sami museum made himself comfortable on my boots, getting up off the cold snow and ice. He wasn’t around the site when we went in, but photos showed that he had a friendship with the reindeer.

The reindeer recognised the brown paper bags of lichen. Snuffling in a fashion reminiscent of piglet back home, we ventured further in to their enclosure to pass out the treats. I may have taken too many photos at this point, but knowing we wouldn’t be able to take one home as a pet, we enjoyed the unique experience. The rest of the museum was incredibly fascinating: learning about the 8x different seasons in their calendar year, the different structures they build and the purpose they serve, as well as the lifestyle they lived and the crafts they made. We got in to the spirit of things and lasso’d some reindeer. We could totally move to Sweden.

After a delicious lunch of reindeer, lingonberry and flatbread, we walked home via the frozen river.

The signs for Finland, placed there for tourist purposes only was calling to Katherine to visit another county. We checked our app and it showed how close we were to the border and in affect how we were standing in the middle river. Standing aside for snowmobiles, dog sleds, skiers and cars that were taking shortcuts across the river, we preambled up the white avenue till we were back at our lavish abode.

We timed it well, being able to take a few sneaky photos in our cold room that were a bit more glamourise, and then checking in for our warm room. Comfy mattresses, en-suite with private shower and a tv, we didn’t get too comfortable just yet, heading back in to town to get a fizzy drink and chocolate for the evening. I don’t think the shop were used to seeing Ice Hotel guests in the shop, nor were the aisles adequately wide enough for my fat ass in a boiler suit. We kept checking the weather outside and with no prospect of seeing the northern lights, we watched some tv and packed ready for tomorrow.

Friday, 22nd February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Abisko -> Kiruna [actually Jukkasjärvi] (21/02/2019)

We had a nice leisurely start to the day, with our porridge oats in a cup that we had found back in Tromsø pairing nicely with fresh blueberries and hot black currant cordial. We then went down to the lake to become Arctic explorers ourselves, traversing the expanse over to one of the islands. The stark loneliness as we walked across the ice and snow conjured images of Polar expeditions and it was freaking awesome. I felt so alive and the cold air hurt my lungs as I breathed in. The views were worth it and it felt like a mini adventure all in itself.

We left plenty of time to have a hot chocolate and some gingerbread biscuits before going to the station and getting the train. Those trains don’t hang about (no transport seems to hang about), with everyone frantic to get on board. The train pulled away from the station on time, while I was still waiting for a chance to put my bags on a rack. The journey was short and we watched the scenery speed past as I caught up on some blog writing and Katherine plied me with brown cheese and ham sandwiches.

Kiruna provides a free shuttle bus service from the temporary train station to the central bus station and we both rolled our eyes at the tourists unable and unwilling to carry their suitcases up the flight of steps to the bus. If you can’t carry it yourself, you shouldn’t have it! With time to kill for the #501 bus onwards we found a cafe up the hill (Katherine didn’t slip) to top up our hot chocolate quota for the day, pairing it with a fresh cream bun, with some marzipan goo inside for good measure. Expect to see this on a GBBO in the future.

We checked in to the IceHotel and were provided with boiler suits, space boots, little hats and giant mittens. Suitably dressed for a mission to the moon, we made it over in time for a tour of the hotel. We were given dozens of interesting facts and the sheer marvel of the construction was more prominent after the talk. We were then guided to the Ice365, a hotel section now open 365 days of the year, with snice (snow and ice mixture) compacted around a permanent structure and kept at -5* all year round by a massive array of solar panels.

We then went exploring the rooms by ourselves, with the designs just breathtaking. Some of the artists have never worked with ice before and have just proposed the ideas to the rooms, while some are clearly a dab hand at working with this raw material and showcase their talents in inconceivable fashions. Like, how on earth did someone think to create a staircase out of ice, and get it completed in the two week allotted time. Bonkers!

Cutting it tight on time again, we got back for the briefing on how to sleep in the cold rooms and frankly it was dragged out a bit. I think it was self explanatory that you wear your pyjamas, run to bed and get in to your sleeping bag. In the morning run back to the hotel. And pray that you don’t need the loo in the night.

With dinner we opted for the 3 course à la carte rather than the Ice Dinner Experience. So, with porcelain plates instead of ice, we had a meal that will make it in to our top 10, maybe top 5 ever. Sven, Katherine’s main dish of reindeer, was the star of the evening with food envy being evident across the table with my Artic Char.

We layered up a bit more to go out looking for the northern lights and we couldn’t get to a darker area quick enough to start photographing the display in all their brilliance. Setting up the main camera wrong (again), the iPhone with it’s £1.99 app seemed to be capturing images with the settings I wanted. It was spectacular. To see the Aurora borealis once was special, this was a treat.

We both lost feeling to our extremities, the temperature now at -26* (we shared a taxi to the airport with someone that said it finally dropped to -33*) and retreated to the fire in the main lobby to regain conscience and dexterity. We did one more jaunt outside and had a brief glimpse of the lights once more. Another respite in the lobby, this time bagging a spot by the fire, we were finally thawing out, camera lens defrosted and ready to call it a night when the receptionist shouted at everyone present to go outside as there was a massive display. Chasing her outside, the whole complex was abuzz with activity with people running to the river to get to a darker spot for photos. We were just crouching to the ground or huddling by the warm window panes and trying to get any shots of this incredible display. The dancing and flickering across the sky was incomprehensible and then the green hues, vibrant in their contrast to the black starry night, turned to pink and yellow and meandered across the sky with a rhythmic wave action until it faded back to green and disappeared. The show, for there is no other word for it, let us humbled and in awe of the natural phenomenon. We went to bed buzzing, which probably isn’t the best thing when you’re trying to sleep at -5*C.

Thursday, 21st February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Narvik -> Abisko (20/02/2019)

The alarms went off during the night, but there was nothing visible over the city. However, upon reflection, there may have been something there, maybe even several nights and we wouldn’t have known how to spot it. The morning alarm went off and I was awake immediately, web-chatting with the train company and checking the road works progress online. The explanations we got were not very clear so we headed to the station in a hope that the replacement bus service would indeed take us onwards.

The bus did turn up and we motored out of the city, up the hill and ground to a halt. We were in a holding queue for 1hr 20min as the approaching convoy cleared and we had our opportunity to go. The bus stopped in a ray of sunshine and the heat melted the ice off the windows, with twisted formations cracking and sliding down the glass. The view was quite special with the moving sun casting different shadows on an untouched area of wilderness.

The wind turbines we passed were frozen or perhaps turned off for the winter and the blockage that had shut the road for so long, was still so tight that the right hand side of the bus scraped through. We made a few minor detours to pick up passengers from other stations but gradually made our way to Abisko. The bus stop was crowded with people desperate to get on and to Kiruna, with only space for a fraction to come aboard. One lucky passenger to get on was the French tour guide who got a taxi back at Narvik to try and get all the way to Kiruna. Not sure why she only got this far, we received a sheepish smile as she took seat, probably upset at the cost of her transport and still nowhere near her destination and clients.

The driver took onboard 4x more passengers to replace the four of us disembarking at Abisko proper and they were in our seats like greyhounds out of a trap. We checked in, wrapped up warm, out on the provided boiler suits and went ice-fishing. SPOILER ALERT: we caught fish. Jacob had a wicked sense of humour and drove us to a spot he was hoping would reap better rewards. But, the snowfall was so heavy he struggled to see the bottom of the lake in his hole or the food that would attract fish to the area.

He drilled 3x holes and we lay or knelt in our area, tiny gnome fishing rods jerking up and down in a peculiar fashion to attract the fish. What should them be a case of watching down the hole for passing fish and varying the rhythmic action of the bait, was a bit more pot luck than skill. But, there was no luck involved when Katherine felt a nibble, patiently waited and struck her catch to haul up a beautiful Arctic Charr. Jacob quickly de-hooked the little fella and Kat returned him before the cold shocked him.

With no luck for our esteemed guide, he suggested we try another site, so we did. The area, much shallower, meant I was able to watch my lure over the lake bed. The approaching monster gauged up the treat, I waited patiently and struck when appropriate. I caught a fish, ice-fishing, start to finish and he too was returned unscathed (but fed) to the water.

We bought supplies at the market to cook a nice pasta, but we’re both craving more vegetables than were on offer. We stumbled around the pokey kitchen and wolfed down our food, anticipation rising to the evening ahead. We layered up even more than before and emerged to the fore yard like two police training dog dummies, swinging our legs like a cowboy and temporarily warmer than the outside temp of -17*C. We passed our driving test, although I deliberately kicked the last traffic cone at the end, much to the hilarity of our guide, Jacob.

Yes, Jacob was our guide again for the evening and he led us up in to the mountains and forests to experience the opportunity to chase the Aurora by snowmobiles. Having missed the night before and our Sami BBQ evening, they let us choose a different activity so we upgraded this evening to do something else neither of us had ever done. And it was spectacular.

The first stop afforded beautiful views of the lake below and we were only looking slightly upwards at the acclaimed observation platform on the mountain next to us. We never got up quite so high but we did progress a bit further in to the hills. The next stop was ‘the viewpoint’.

Aptly named, the viewpoint was atop a small rise with Abisko somewhere behind us, the moon up to our left the mountain range in front of us and a sub-alpine meadow and river before us, all of which covered in a blanket of snow. Following in the footsteps (and advice of Jacob) I took several shots with the camera in a hope that in the future I could splice them together to form a high quality panoramic photo. But, each image appearing on the view screen was in itself a thing of beauty and worth framing.

We progressed deeper in to the forest after some hot lingonberry and chocolate, to be shown a cold spring: a spring of cold water constantly pushed up to the surface from warmer depths to reach the surface and form a mini ecosystem. A grove of Adler trees were alive and growing in the area of the spring and stream as the roots are never frozen over and the bacterial symbiosis able to survive the harsh temperatures.

We were discussing the options of what to do for the evening when Jacob, quite calmly and matter of factly, pointed to the skies and said the Aurora borealis was appearing. Not sure we were looking at the same thing, the wisp of cloud, that would easily be overlooked, took definition and swirled in a fashion that then started to arc across the sky.

The Indian gentleman wanted proof, so Jacob took out his camera, pointed and took one shot, to show the vibrancy of colours that were yet to show themselves to the human eye. The Asian gentleman (not sure where he was really from) didn’t believe this so much that he put the tripod and camera away. I had to properly explain the arc above his head and he raced to put his gear back together.

I messed about with camera settings and didn’t get anything worth while. But, we had seen it. And wow. It was incredible. I drove the snowmobile back, the heat from the handlebars becoming a bit too extreme at times, and Katherine caught further glimpses of the Northern Lights on the way home.

Back at the lodge the vans were also returning from their expedition and the whole lot of us were peppered about the car park, black specks amongst white snow, all setting up cameras for the display above the guesthouse and lodge.

Kat and I warmed up, and marched down – and on to – the lake for a late evening of magical displays. Totally losing track of time and feeling in our extremities, we had long trailing lights from across the lake, with some curtains above us and the mountain. We were even fortunate enough to catch some pink and yellow flickers in one display. The whole evening was breathtaking and we had to really restrain ourselves and go home before we got too cold. We had seen the northern lights and while I may not have done them justice by camera, nothing will ever truly describe the experience.

Wednesday, 20th February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Tromsø -> Abisko [actually Narvik] (19/02/2019)

It is during the bus journey to Narvik that I decided to start blogging the trip. So many picturesque scenes with a plethora of descriptive adjectives cannot but be committed to literary immortality.

We started the day like any other: up, showered and had breakfast (the coolest part of the room to store our grub was between the curtain and window) and we finished packing. Katherine’s back had stiffened up since the night before and bruises had materialised overnight. So, we tiptoed down the hill with fresh snow, in to the mall where our closest pharmacy had the heat pads that wrap around your back and we shuffled over to the bus station to start the next leg of the journey.

The fog had been replaced by a cloudy atmosphere of fine snow, blowing and swirling around Tromsø off the buildings and kicked up by vehicles. The last glimpses of the city were hazy and mysterious and the driver seemed oblivious to the snow and ice as he veered around bends, roundabouts and traffic lights to speed off on his exacting schedule.

Trees and even entire forests were bent over from the weight of the snow, humbly acknowledging the weight of the weather on its many branches. The clumps of pine didn’t bow to this pressure and stood proud and evergreen amid the scene. The walls of ice, baby blue and transparent white, had a fascinating, elegant quality and appeared on stretches of the road normally on our left hand side as we drove. To our right, trough screens of snowy dust we would occasionally glimpse the fjords and mountains of the other side. The narrow sections near the apex of the fjord were generally frozen over, with chunks of ice broken up through the rest of the plateau like white cornflakes from an otherwise empty void. The sections that were still freezing were a mottled appearance of brown and white, different shapes and sizes, with the appearance of cold fat congealing at the top of a tray. And yet this entire landscape was peaceful and beautiful, with shades of white and black only interspersed with the crimson red or cream of traditional homes.

We commented on how this country would laugh at our ‘snow days’ or lack of transport in comparison to their weather. We regularly saw folk clearing their cars and driveways, being about their business as normal. Whether for fun or work, there were even two people out on one of the fjords ice-fishing. And unless this gentleman was practicing rescue saving techniques, one chap was even ice-climbing by the side of the road on one of the gothic, cathedral-like sculptures that went higher than we could see out of the bus.

Folks disembarked the bus at random points; no discernible features, roads or houses in sight. Interesting fact: the #100 bus, is one of two bus routes that will provide an additional bus if the bus is full for that departure time. Thus, one needn’t worry about booking seats in advance. Also, it’s considerably cheaper buying your ticket through the online app, saving 20%, but you have a window of opportunity to use the ticket. So, only buy the ticket soon before boarding.

I return to this blog entry on the 20th sitting at the train station, hoping that the rail replacement bus service will turn up any minute. The road over the mountains crossing the Norway/Sweden border is closed. We understand that they are working on preventative avalanche works. The railway is disrupted due to a problem with one of the power lines. I heard a few disgruntled chats about this wouldn’t be the case if they had a few Diesel engines… it’s the price one must pay to live in a sustainable environment.

A bus did just turn up at the train station, but it was a normal route bus doing a u-turn. So, to continue our story… we paced the station, groups of tourists sharing information, looking at different sources of communication from several companies and numbers dwindled as some gave up hope sooner than others (or perhaps some realised their fate before others). There was no way to get to Abisko or anywhere for that matter.

We did a quick search for guest houses and tried ringing to check availability. With no answer on the telephone we booked the room and hoped for the best. I dragged rather than carried or wheelied the bag up the hill, with patches of snow clearly deeper than you realised but we were walking over the more compact stuff and the bag was being dragged deeper like a sea anchor behind a boat.

We left our guesthouse, with the lady behind the counter saying she’s never known snow fall like this in her life. In a reassuring way, it made us feel like there was nothing that we could have done. We watched a lorry struggle to get up the hill, with the second wheel just spinning with no grip on the road. Thankfully all the traffic was back far enough down the road that the lorry did a few reverses and attempted the uphill climb. We were sitting at the restaurant half an hour before he made it past us at the apex of the hill.

We tried to watch a bit of a film, but were more distracted and craning our necks out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of the Aurora. The clouds had suddenly parted, not at all what was predicted on the weather app until it happened. So, I set up the camera and tripod pointing out the window, did a few test shots and set several alarms during the night to check.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019