With my travel report about our polar bear encounter on Svalbard in the “DER Community Urlaubsliebe” I did win a short trip to Kiruna in Lapland.
You will find the post about our trip to Svalbard HERE but right now I really want to tell you about our adventurous trip to Lapland.
The only conveyor belt at Kiruna airport comes to a squeaking stop. We are in the small and slowly emptying arrival hall of the small airport and immediately realize that after changing flights in Copenhagen and Stockholm our suitcases did not make it here. We take a deep breath, report our loss to the airport staff and get into the waiting airport shuttle. Relax. It is -18°C outside but as if we’d sensed it we have heavy winter boots, winter jackets and thermal pants on us and packed hat, gloves and scarf into our hand luggage. We wanted an adventure, now we have it. We won this trip so we’re not letting this get us in a bad mood.
Camp Ripan in Kiruna
At the north-eastern edge of the little town lies Camp Ripan. The hotel is completely designed in a typical Scandinavian style and welcomes the visitors with birch trees, a huge fireplace in the foyer and little cabins scattered in the snowy landscape in which the rooms are located. Our room is at the far end and when we trudge through the snow with excitement we see the first green glow above the cabins. What a wonderful welcome from mother nature.
We enter the typical red wooden cabin and through a small hallway come into the spacious living- and bedroom. It’s cozy and right outside our door we find the entrance to the Midnattssolstigen, a small hiking trail leading into the woods. We just have to step outside and are right in the middle of the snowy landscape of Lapland. We immediately set out for a walk because the greenish glowing sky magically attracts us. The aurora is not very strong yet but it is there and because polar lights can be active all night and we didn’t have anything proper to eat all day, we go and have dinner.
The restaurant of Camp Ripan serves traditional dishes from Lapland but reinvents them. We have moose and don’t regret it. With a full stomach it is a lot easier to chase polar lights and so we head back to the Midnattssolstigen and admire the green spectacle before our warm beds lure us away from the cold.
The breakfast buffet at Camp Ripan gives us a fantastic start for the day with a traditional Swedish breakfast with lots of coffee, pancakes, cinnamon buns and even reindeer. What a morning before we head to the city center which right now can be reached by foot within 15 minutes.
Right now? Yes, because in Kiruna a lot will change. To be more precise: The whole city centre will move. Why? Beneath Kiruna there is a huge iron ore mine. The ore body is so huge that further mining would cause a collapse of the city. So the city will have to move. And wants to by the way. The people of Kiruna know that without the mine there’d be no Kiruna so there is only one way. And this way leads three kilometers to the east. A new city centre is already being built, within the next years a few historic buildings and the old church will follow. Once the church was elected as the most beautiful building in Sweden so we have a look at it before we wander around the old city center for a while and explore the little shops that offer a variety of Scandinavian design.
The Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi
In the early afternoon we get on the bus to Jukkasjärvi. About 20 km east of Kiruna this small settlement lies along the bank of the Torne Älv. The 250 km long river remains wild and untouched and with its source in a glacier in Norway it runs extremely clear water. Jukkasjärvi made a name for itself when the first Icehotel was built from the clear ice cut out of the river. Now every year with the onset of winter one of the most famous hotels in the world emerges from the river. Each time artists from all over the world turn the hotel into a new artwork, designing individual rooms from ice and snow. Floors, walls, furniture, chandeliers – everything is made out of ice. In April the hotel melts back into the Torne Älv and continues its journey.
Throughout the day the icehotel is open to the public. Good news for those who don’t feel like sleeping on a block of ice with -5°C IN the rooms. For 250SEK (approx. 25€) you can wander through the rooms and admire the art. With -25°C outside the inside of the Icehotel feels almost warm. Mermaids and clowns made out of ice, wondrous worlds, beautiful details. The Icehotel does not cease to amaze us.
“The fuzzy chisel Jukkasjärvi”, this year’s Icebar in the hotel serves ice cold drinks in glasses made out of? Of course: Ice. We have a drink on Lapland before we go through the rooms for a second time.
It gets colder and colder and because there is still some time until the bus back to Kiruna leaves we warm up in the Hotel Lounge, which for a change is not made out of ice but the beer is brewed from Torne-water to make up for this inconsistency.
Back in Kiruna the weather is foggy and because we haven’t really made use of our cozy cabin, we order pizza and enjoy the winter night on the couch. Sometimes you just have to take a break from adventure.
Lapland by husky sled
Bill Johansson owns a little husky farm between Kiruna and Jukkasjärvi and when he picks us up at the hotel next morning even he is astonished about the coldest day of the season yet. The thermometer in the car shows -32°C and even for Bill this is extreme. Extreme but not impossible. At the husky farm we put layer on layer. Thermal pants over thermal pants, winter jacket over winter jacket. Like clumsy astronauts we waddle outside to meet our companions for today: The huskies. For them the temperature is perfect and they are impatiently waiting for us to get going. Me and my mom get our own sled with six dogs in front of it. We will take turns driving it, while the other can sit in front and enjoy the view.
After a short security briefing and a couple of helpful tips for driving a sled, we head off, Bill first, then us. I am driving first and when I let go of the break we literally shoot into the woods. I have to hold my breath for a second when we reach a clearing and drive through now -35°C cold gusts of wind. I have to wind my scarf around my face while little flecks of ice appear on my eyelashes. Between the trees it gets better and I dare to peek out of my scarf and enjoy the landscape.
This is more than magical. When I try to take some pictures, not only do my fingers protest but so does my camera which is only constructed to withstand -20°C. But I get a few nice snaps before the batteries give in.We take a break. Bill own a small hut in the forest and makes a fire inside. There is coffee, tea and amazing fish soup. Safran cookies for dessert is a must in Sweden.
On a short snowshoe walk Bill tells us about flora and fauna before we head back to Kiruna with the sleds. The evening sun paints the forest in yellow and pink and we savor the moment. Then, shortly before we arrive back at the farm my shoes and two pairs of woolen socks can’t withstand the cold anymore. Back inside I almost don’t dare to have a look at my numb feet but everything is still in its place and we’re proud to have mastered this challenge in these extreme conditions.
On our way back Bill drives us to the airport because the two other tourist from the dog sled tour are missing their suitcases, too. And there it is, my suitcase. I don’t really care about my clothes anymore. Over the last two days I have learnt that I really need much less than I always think. But there is one thing I have been waiting for: My tripod. Everyone agrees that tonight there will be a massive sunstorm and the sky is clear. The best time to watch the aurora borealis is supposed to be at 10pm so we have time to check out the new Spa, which was built right next to the Camp Ripan.
The Aurora Spa in Kiruna
Admittedly, the price of 35€ per person for two hours in the Spa with two small saunas and two hot tubs is quite steep but we have the urgent need to warm up. It is not very crowded so we can stay as long as we want. Also there is fruit and tea so we dive right into a well deserved wellness evening.
At around 8pm we sit in the sauna with the big panorama window when suddenly the lights go out. For a moment I think it might be a power failure because even Kiruna is struggling with the temperatures with heaters failing and showers freezing. But that’s not it. I look out of the window and there it is: The aurora borealis. The outside hot tub is the place to be and as we lean back in the 40°C warm water the aurora slowly starts its dance.
The spa closes at 9 pm so we get back to our cabin, grab some more clothes, camera and tripot and head to the Midnattssolstigen.
Aurora Borealis over Midnattssolstigen
It’s still -34°C outside but we wait. We wait even though at 10pm nothing much happens. Sun storms have a long journey and thus cannot be predicted by the minute. The polar lights slowly drift across the sky in long green streaks. And then, around 10:45 pm the show begins. The later the evening the more beautiful the guests, right? The sky is on fire, green and pink flames shoot across the sky and it becomes clear why polar lights don’t shine. They dance.
Some myths from Lapland say that the polar light is created by foxes whirling up the snow with their tails. Fox fires. Pure magic.
Despite the cold we stay and watch the spectacle for hours until the aurora becomes weaker and weaker. This unforgettable night will forever dance in our memory.
Packed with unforgettable experiences, wonderful impressions and colourful pictures, we board the plane next morning. We float above the untouched, snowy landscape of Lapland just when the sun comes up behind the horizon. It is hard to say goodbye but one thing is for sure: No later than 2040 we want to come back and have a look at the new Kiruna. However, I doubt that it will be that long before I will be drawn back to Lappland by its magic.
Last but not least I have laugh a little when my suitcase comes of the plane first back in Düsseldorf. Sometimes that’s just how it is… with adventures.