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Monday, March 10, 2014

Kiruna in Swedish Lapland

Kiruna city, near the Yellow House hostel
Kiruna, far up north in Swedish Lapland, never heard of that city before. And I am not the only one. That lady at the checkin counter at the Helsinki airport was looking at me doubtfully: "Destination KRN, I've got no idea where that is but you might have a good reason going there!" Yeah, I had for sure, getting even more curious.

View towards lake Torneträsk, near Abisko National Park
I met Vika and Claus in Stockholm, where I had a stopover anyway. Two hours and a little dozy sleep later, we arrived in Kiruna. 1pm and the sun was setting already, a process that takes somes hours up there. At least the sun was showing up. Outside temperature: -23°C! Wouldn't call that a warm welcome. But snow and ice everywhere, like it has never been any different.

In the ice church in Jukkasjärvi
The first evening was supposed to be our first proof how we'll deal with those weather condition. We were looking for a guided tour showing us around a bit, but not much was going on. "Unfortunately, it's a bit too cold these days!" Temperatures were varying heavily. In rural areas -45°C could be reached easily. Damn!!!

Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi
We booked the tour available - polar lights colosseum. Means they take a few people and bring them somewhere to the wilderness, offering drinks and cookies and wait for polar lights to show up. Weather conditions were brilliant that night, extra cold and crystal clear sky, just no lights. I was wearing like 3 pair of trousers, 4 sweat shirts plus winter jacket, overall, 3 pair of socks, boots, 2 pair of gloves, face protection and hat - basically everything I had with me and the company was offering. And still, after a while ... freezing my butt off. As the lights were not visible we decided to enter the hut where reindeer meat was offered - so delicious. And after having a couple of glimpses to the sky, we were able to see it, the first polar light ever. Not very strong, but for a while it was somehow swirling on the horizon.

Elk near the lake Laukkujärvi
We rented a car on Saturday, hitting the ice covered road on ourselves. Abisko was the place to go. Temperatures were foreseen to drop below -40°C at night, so even the aurora skystation was closed. In that case, not many options there. Instead, we went to Jukkasjärvi. It was located on the other side of Kiruna, just some 10 km away. A spot other tourists found worth seeing as well. The lobby was put into another building, great entrance and modern café/restaurant/pub. The hotel itself was in walking distance. From 10 am to 6 pm, it was opened to tourists who wanted to have a little walk-around in there. It was cool to get an impression, but sleeping there at -5°C, putting oneself in an overall to prevent you from not getting up the next morning, and paying 150 € for it, at least? I don’t know.

Laukkujärvi at sunrise
The next morning we got up early. One of those ladies’ from the Friday tour was telling us where to go to see elks. I’ve not put so much trust in that, knowing how difficult it is to meet them. Thus, we started a bit demotivated. Unnecessarily, as it turned out quickly. We took a dead end road towards the mountains, to Nikkaluokta After a while already, Vika spotted a little baby elk, the mother on the other side of the street. They looked at us, we at them. No reaction. No sound, just the shutter from the cam sometimes. We tried to get closer, and mother elk crossed the street with huge jumps. Huge animals, massive! A least glimpse before they disappeared in the undergrowth. We saw 5 more of them before going back to Kiruna.

We returned the car and walked to the Luossavaara mountain. As it was the snow and ice festival, Intersport invited everyone to free of charge skiing material testing. So we slipped into those shoes and clipped on the skiers – battling some kids down the hill. The wind was freezing cold and even Vodka was not helping to warm up easily. The kids had won, obviously.

Huskies having a little break after draging the sled
The last thing we did on that Sunday evening – dog sledding. While the dogs do the work, we were sitting on the sled watching the sky for possible polar lights. But it was too clouded, nothing to see at all. 12 dogs were pulling the sled, with us and 2 instructors on it, Mia from Finland and a Swedish guy (Kevin, Marcus, Max, or so, can’t remember). The smartest dogs were up in front, basically the brain of the system. They were controlling the whole thing and following the commandos. The more you go backwards the more powerful the dogs get, more strength, but more dumb also. -20°C means perfect weather condition for them. They feel pretty much comfortable then. But if it’s exceeds -10°C they won’t be running, it would be too warm for them. Sounds so weird!

Vodka-lemon and Vana Tallinn in melting ice glasses

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