September 09, 2015

Swedish Lapland: around Kiruna and Abisko

So... almost half a year later, yes, I finally write about Swedish Lapland! It's been a busy 2015 so far. And I'm going to start from the very beginning.

For those who still don't know anything about Lapland, it is a cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sápmi people and it is located in Northern Europe, extending over Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (you can find more info on Wikipedia, of course).

 

Specifically, swedish Lapland is the area belonging to Sweden (about a quarter of Sweden's surface area) and is the one that I will write about.


ABISKO

Our 7-day trip started on a saturday (end of January) in Uppsala, close to Stockholm, and crossed almost all Sweden. We travelled to Abisko by night-train (Nattåg, SJ, Stockholm - Narvik line, duration of 19h30min approx., ~ 590sek), which I would recommend even though it can be a bit hard. The landscapes at sunrise are stunning. Totally worth it. And even more if you're able to book a comfy 6-bed cabin!







In total, we only spent one day and night in Abisko, and we stayed at the Abisko Winter hostel. Everything was a bit compacted, but we were able to do almost everything that must be done. We arrived in town around mid-day, with enough time to leave our stuff at the hostel, have a small hike around and play with the snow, buy our dinner in the supermarket, eat our dinner... and go see the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) next to the lake! Let's mention that, at the end of January, sun sets at around 13-14h and the sun rises at around 9-10h.




On the next day, we started early in the morning and walked to Abisko National Park, stopped at the turiststation to get some tips regarding the park's walking tracks and hiked a bit around the park. Just enough to be back in town around 15h, when we took the train back... to Kiruna!


 




Tip: as showed in this cool map, we stayed a bit far from the park (Abisko östra train station), so we lost some time in going and coming back from there. If it's possible and affordable, I would recommend staying closer to the park and the second train station (Abisko turiststation train station), since walking around the park is more interesting and exciting than the town itself. Moreover, rumours are that northern lights are better spotted in there. =)


KIRUNA

In Kiruna, we spent 3 nights and days and we stayed at the Yellow House hostel (~170sek/night), TOTALLY RECOMENDABLE! I mean, the host was a bit awkward when we arrived and not very friendly, but the house is awesome, as well as the rooms, and even the toilets and showers. I was happy. Furthermore, it is really close to the city centre and to another northern lights "viewing point".



Ok, going back to the important stuff: Kiruna is not a super beautiful city but it has its little treasures. The city centre, the wood-snowy-cute houses and the church (Kiruna kyrka) are worth seeing, but you don't need a lot of time to do that. So, of the three days staying in the city, we spent two of them doing activities outside the city.




  

One day we went, by bus (at 13h, from Kiruna bus station) to the ice-hotel (http://www.icehotel.se/) and the Sápmi camp (http://www.nutti.se/) located in Jukkasjärvi, they are only 15min walk apart. We didn't enter the camp due to the cold (it is an outside activity and we were between -20 and -30ºC, you know) but you can check the shop for free, and have a look around (there's a café too). Regarding the ice-hotel, we didn't pay entrance either, but you can still check the hotel reception, ice-bar and church for free. And see the hall of the rooms from the door. It is a nice way to spend the day and enjoy the coldness of the region! ;)




On our last day in Kiruna city, we booked a dog-sledging tour (http://www.kirunanature.com). It's expensive (~850sek) and cold (-25ºC), nobody is going to argue that, but it's A-W-E-S-O-M-E. You can book it online and by phone, but also at the tourist station in Kiruna. Our particular day-tour lasted 3h (10-13h), but there's also an evening tour (17-20h). There are a lot of dog-sledging companies and day-tours, but all the prices and activities were more or less similar. I would recommend doing the day-tour if visiting Kiruna in winter, since it's the only time there's sunlight and the views are stunning. In summer... I guess it doesn't matter. There also are 3-day tours, etc., just look for your best option :)


       




OVERNIGHT TRIP

Finally, our last Lapland stop was in the middle of nowhere, in the winter wilderness of -40ºC. An absolute pleasure. Now, seriously: for the last two days (and one night) we booked a 2-day overnight trip with Taube Activity (~1400sek), which is organized by a family. They picked us up in our hostel (Yellow House) and went by van up to a certain point, which I'm sure it could be close to Kurravaara. From there, we took two snowmobiles, packed all our stuff, we sat on a huge sled and we were driven/brought up to the "Overnight trip - Taube" point in the above map. We had to do this because, as you can see, there are no roads there, so we went through the frozen river (in summer, they use boats). A long ~40min drive if I'm not mistaken, that could have been a lot longer if the ice were not safe enough. It was really exciting, and beautiful, and unforgettable, but COLD, really cold. I was really concerned about my toes.

We had some rewards though. Halo. It's called halo. And moose.



Pictures taken by Taube Activity

So we finally arrived (alive!) to the camp, which is traditionally built (wood, soil, and almost nothing else) and has no electricity nor water. It is challenging to live there at such weather conditions. To be honest, I wanted to leave just after getting there. But now I remember it as one of the best experiences of my life. The guests hut, the kicthen hut, the toilet hut, the sauna hut and the BBQ hut are all separated by snow, cold and wilderness ;). But the inside of all of them is warm and cozy. And the food they prepared for us was DELICIOUS.





Once in the camp, lots of different activities are offered, but some are more appropriate than others depending on the season and the weather of that day. For starters, you can learn some easy Sápmi survival skills, such as preparing firewood to heat the cabin and sauna or collecting fresh drinking water from the river. It is also possible to learn how to build an "igloo" (more like a snow-cave), but we didn't do that, since it was too cold. Other offered activities (they have all the required equipment) are ice-fishing, cross country skiing, snowshoe walking, or even ice skating. The last activity you can do is... enjoy the northern lights. Which, if the sky is clear, is pretty easy since there is no light pollution at all.




If it is too cold, it's also nice to just sit close to the fireplace, have a tea and chat with the host family (in our cas Marta), they have lots of anecdotes to tell. It was really interesting for us, we learned a lot about the northern Swedish life. The next day, we did some other activities and they brought us straight to Kiruna airport.

Now that I'm looking at all the pictures again, I cannot believe it's been more than half a year ago, already. And I cannot believe that I have done all of this, either. It was absolutely incredible.

Touché!

Nat