A Weekend in the Arctic Circle

By the river during the sunset

I was going to post this later this week, but I’ve talked to several classmates who are going to Kiruna this weekend and wanted to share more details about what I did before they go!

All my classes are one Mondays and Thursdays, which gave me a perfect opportunity to take the 16 hour night train to Kiruna, Sweden after the last meeting of my core course on Thursday. Last week I was in Greece with swimmable weather, now I’m in the arctic circle with skiing weather. I wanted to take a solo trip while I was in Sweden, and it was so much better than I could’ve asked for.

I walked from the Kiruna bus station to my airbnb, it was about 45 minutes (if I didn’t take several “short cuts” to explore) and I got a good feel for the city. I made lunch from the ramen I packed from home and relaxed a little. Eventually I tried plugging in my charger for my phone… and learned that the one adapter I packed for this trip was now broken (ironically, this is the one trip I only packed one adapter for). I wish I knew what happened, it was working most of the train ride, then I started having some difficulty with it but didn’t think anything of it.

The sunset during my walk

I talked to my mom once she was awake, and she convinced me to write down the important details about getting back to my lodging and head out to the museum I wanted to go to. I rallied myself and put on my two thick jackets and went outside to find the bus stop… after 5 minutes of searching I realized the bus wouldn’t come for another hour and a half, so I wouldn’t arrive at the museum until 30 minutes before it closed. Thankfully, I noticed the stop for the museum sounded pretty familiar to the name of the church my airbnb host was going to take me to on Saturday. They were in exactly the same place, so I decided to spend my afternoon going grocery shopping (where I found a plug I could use to charge my phone!). Since Kiruna is in the arctic circle, this *afternoon* walk included a great view of the sunset.

When I returned to the house, I turned on the sauna and waited for it to warm up. My airbnb host asked if I wanted to have tea with him, and we had a really nice 20 minute conversation while I waited the last bit for the sauna. This was my first time using a sauna, and it’s made my airbnb host really happy. He said I’m definitely part Finnish because of how much I’ve enjoyed it (I went again the next day after a long morning outside). He also told me about how his Finish mother was born in a sauna.

We went to a concert that night, performed by local singers. My host’s daughter came too and it was a spectacular and moving performance. The concert was dedicated to one of the singer’s parents, and the late wife of my host. The few sentences I was able to translate were really powerful. I also learned later that one of the singers was Sami (the indigenous people of Scandinavia) and sang a traditional song.

After the concert we checked our aurora apps to see what our chances were like. They were good enough that we went out to this mountain to look, they didn’t appear and it was freezing so we left after a few minutes. On the drive back home my host’s daughter pointed out this grey streak in the sky which was the beginning of it. Honestly, I was amazed and wouldn’t been completely happy if that was all I would see. But after stopping at home for more clothes and some Christmas pudding for dinner, we went back out and drove far enough away from the city to avoid the city lights. This time, there was color. My camera is terrible and didn’t pick it up very well, so all the good pictures I have were sent to me by my host’s daughter. I had an amazing experience, even though it was literally the coldest I’ve ever experienced in my life (felt like -4 Fahrenheit). Something amusing I’ve noticed about the people up here, is that the temperature is so often in the negatives, they don’t even specify it’s negative.

The next day (Saturday morning) we had breakfast together, Finnish pasties that I’ve also had with my host mom back in Stockholm. After bundling up in every jacket I own again (although this time with just two pairs of pants, not three) we went out to a nearby village to visit the 400 year old church and the Sami open air museum I wanted to visit (the entire reason I took this trip too). The church was really cool, and my host told me about some of the history of the church and the story depicted in the art. We also walked down to the river (that looks like a lake) and got a great view of the sunrise.

At the Sami museum we first got coffee, then I headed out to look around the museum. There was a nature trail that also showed some Sami art and stories. After completing the loop and looking at the Sami handicraft I had to go back inside to warm up. After my fingers weren’t icicles I visited the section of the museum about reindeer herders, and finally went to the enclosure and fed the reindeer. They were super sweet, and really loved the food we had. When three reindeer approach at once for food, it can be slightly overwhelming, but they were adorable and excited but still calm enough.

We got lunch at a restaurant next to the ice hotel, it was really good food and we had a great view of the sunset. My host wanted to meet my mom (he’s very social) and since she’s an early riser she was awake so I called and introduced them. I also showed her the “sunrise.” I only realized it was the sunset when we went to see the ice hotel for this year being constructed and the sun was already gone. In addition to being in the arctic circle, this village was also in a valley so the sun was only fully up for around half an hour.

We returned home, and I had an amazing time doing another round in the sauna. After a short nap, my host had prepared Swedish pancakes so we had them with ice cream for dinner. My host went to take a nap himself, giving me the perfect time to make tea and write this post on my phone because I can’t use my dead computer without an adapter.

I’m so grateful to the student hub for recommending Kiruna, and my hosts here for showing me around the city. Truly couldn’t have asked for a better trip, this one vastly exceeded my expectations.


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