Sápmi, in English commonly known as Lapland, is the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people, traditionally known in English as Lapps. Sápmi is located in Northern Europe and includes the northern parts of Fennoscandia. The region stretches over four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.This trip was packed full of things to do, so I'll go day by day for a summary. Note, I started writing this post while on the way home from the trip, but then go so wrapped up in work and another trip, so I'm finally finishing it now. Now, from the start...
FridayThe trip started off with one word: cumbersome. I wanted to swing by the rink to drop off some skating dresses and watch as much practice with a guest coach as I could before going to the airport, so I brought my luggage with me. After my time was up, I had a long walk to the commuter train towards the airport, which was made a good deal more annoying by the amount of snow I had to deal with. As I dragged my suitcase through the snow, I thought of all the alternative suitcases I'd like to have -- one with big snow-capable wheels, or maybe something with a sled.
I made it to the station with 3 minutes to spare, got to the airport with 20 minutes until boarding, messaged Anita my dinner order as I approached security, and sat down to eat quickly before we boarded our flight, 5 minutes before it took off. Domestic flights within Sweden are such a pleasure, with their lack of waiting around, ID checks, or excessive lines.
We flew for the next hour and a half towards the northern city of Kiruna. When we landed, we stepped off the plane and down the stairs to the tarmac, met by a very crisp, cold night. From there, we got our bags (I think the local airport has two, maybe three rooms) and got on a bus to the city center. From the bus, we walked to our hotel (somewhat long, and again, in quite a lot of snow). We settled in for the night, with plans to be up early and out the next morning.
SaturdayThe next morning, Anita left early to get the rental car while I got ready, packed up, and brought our stuff down to meet her. From there, we drove from Kiruna to Lofoten. It took us about 6 hours and was one of, if not the, most beautiful drives I've ever done. Through mountains, fjords, wild reindeer, along lakes, the sea, on and on, it was amazing. We listened to podcasts, took pictures, talked about everything and anything -- the six hours blew by.
|(The small cluster of stars to the left of where it says "Baltic Sea" is Stockholm.)|
I took a bunch of videos and some pictures during the drive, and have strung them together (along with a bunch of our other footage) here:
Saturday evening, we arrived in Lofoten. We checked into our hotel and were pleasantly surprised by how great it was. We didn't have low expectations or anything, but the whole trip was as budget-friendly as possible, so this particular hotel was a kind of hostel/apartment thing wherein we rented a room within an apartment. The room itself was just like any hotel room (with its own bathroom) and required a keycard to enter, but then in the common area there were doors to two more bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room, all decorated very nicely. We think we had one other couple (or person?) staying in one of the other rooms, but we never actually saw them -- only heard someone come in later in the evening.
After dropping our stuff off, we set off to walk around town and get the lay of the land, as well as take some pictures as the sun set. It was a beautiful little town that smelled like fish everywhere we went. But not in a bad way, just in a fishing village kind of way, and it was enjoyable, being so cold and crisp out anyhow.
On the way home, not wanting to spend the rest of our budget on dining out in Norway (which is quite expensive), we stopped at a grocery store and got supplies to make a taco dinner and breakfast stuff for the next morning. We spent the evening keeping an eye on the northern lights forecast and prepared to rush out if the possibility arose to see anything decent, but had no luck with that.
SundayOur plans to get out the door and back on the road early did not go quite as planned. It was my day to drive and my first actual moments driving (the first time I'd done so in a year and a half) were absolutely terrifying. As I remembered how to drive a stick shift, I steered the car up and out of the underground parking lot we'd paid to park in beneath our hotel. When we were at about the halfway point out of the ramp up to the street, the car started to slide. As we slid, it stalled, and I held onto the steering wheel, keeping it as straight as possible, as we slipped backwards down the ramp. Surrounded by concrete walls on both sides, this was terrifying. Somehow, I managed to keep us from hitting anything. Once back in the garage, I hopped out and Anita swapped in. We also had the added fear of the sporadically-closing garage door, so I stayed out of the car to press the button to keep it open while Anita tried to drive out. After two more failed attempts, we gave up. Anita's last attempt was the closest to exiting, but because of that, the car had the most speed and slid back down the fastest, ending a bit sideways, which was the most terrifying.
At this point, I went inside the hotel to ask what their solution to this problem would be (given that it was their garage and surely we weren't the first with this problem). The boy working the front desk made a phone call and in a few minutes, three people from the hotel and one guy who had just been passing by, were helping to move the car. After a few minutes of shoveling in as much gravel as they could, the four of them got in position, counted down, and, making it look far too easy, picked the car up and moved it. Anita then hopped out, and one of the hotel workers slid the car back down into the garage, added more gravel, and then, successfully drove it out.
The weather started off bad, but in about an hour, we were back in the sun. Another gorgeous drive of 6ish hours later, we were back in Kiruna. After dropping the rental car off and a quick grocery stop for our meals for the next few days, we were picked up by our camp's shuttle van and on our way there.
MondayThe next morning, we were up and ready to go bright and early. After heading over to the cabin full of outdoor wear, we were snowsuited up with big boots, heavy duty gloves, helmets, eye-wear, etc., ready for our snowmobile tour to the Ice Hotel and Sámi museum. This was a blast. It'd been a while since I last drove a snowmobile, but after a few minutes, it was comfortable again. Somehow, while holding on behind me, Anita managed to get some awesome footage, shown in the video posted above. (I was on the back of the snowmobile on the return trip and didn't have the guts to try taking my phone out to record more footage.)
The ride was great and incredibly beautiful. After a few laps around a frozen lake and passing through the woods, we arrived at the Ice Hotel. After having a quick look around, we set off to walk to the nearby Sámi camp. There were a bunch of cultural exhibits and even some reindeer, which were, of course, our favorite.
It was awesome to see them up close, and we stuck around until they got bored of us and wandered off. After that, we went back to the Ice Hotel. Anita paid to do the tour while I ducked off to the side to check in with work on my phone and make sure I wasn't missing anything important while off having fun.
Upon getting back to our cabin that night, we began religiously checking the northern lights forecast for the evening -- our last -- in the hopes that we'd finally be able to catch something. We packed up our remaining food (halloumi cheese and meatballs), grabbed a frying pan, and went to a nearby campfire hut (I have no better name for what these things were) to settle in for some dinner and night sky-watching.
We cooked and ate our dinner while refreshing the forecast and checking the view out the window for a few hours before we noticed someone's camera flash going off outside. At that point, Anita ran back to grab her camera and tripod from our cabin while I cleaned up our dinner stuff and got my own camera ready. Soon after, even though the forecast hadn't been great, we had a seriously awesome northern lights show on our hands:
I easily took a hundred decent pictures during the next four-ish hours we spent absolutely freezing outside, trying to see everything we could, desperate to ignore the insane cold. My feet, despite all my terrible freezing hours while skating, had never been more cold. The rest of me was, thankfully, somewhat warm. Anita was shaking, chattering, and I worried, about ready to fall over at some points. But she was having none of it, and pressed on. We got so many great pictures and were just plain amazed. It was so fun to sit around the campfire with the other groups staying at the camp (a group from Ireland, two New Yorkers, and some Germans), having snacks, chatting and watching the lights as they came and went.
For one of the first times, I experienced something that non native English speakers get all the time: the ability to switch languages to speak privately at times. (The first time a Swedish friend realized English speakers are never able to do this while vacationing abroad, etc., she was so full of pity for us.) Now I know this could be a rude thing to do, and of course it would be if done excessively, but it's something I've always envied of my foreign friends. And this night, it came in quite handy that the rest of the group were just passing tourists in Sweden and so, as needed, we could quickly comment to each other in Swedish without worry of being overheard. (Side note: This came in even more handy on our later US trip, as I was able to quickly let off some steam about the terribly annoying guy on the flight next to me who didn't stop fidgeting the entire trip, constantly elbowing and keeping me awake for 5 hours. I was about ready to explode at that point, thinking about how tired I'd be the next day.)
By 1am I think it was, we collapsed into our exceptionally warm beds. I heard later that the lights continued very late into the night, but I'm glad we didn't know that, or I think we'd have turned into blocks of ice trying to see it all.