Vad handde i Lappland (Part 2)

The trip began with a short flight from Stockholm to Kiruna. We landed in what I consider heavy snow, which had me a bit concerned. I guess they thought nothing of it, because everything went off without a hitch. After the taxi ride into town, I arrived at the hospital … yes, the hospital. After much consternation about where to stay because the hostels were fully booked, I found out that the hospital has a “Lilla Hotelet,” which I’m pretty sure I don’t need to translate for you. Better yet, it was far cheaper, and I soon found out, far better equipped than a hostel. So I walked into the ER at midnight and said (in my best broken Swedish) I needed to pick up my key for my room. I got a room to myself, with a TV and own bathroom.

After a restful evening, I made my way down toward the train station through central Kiruna, walking beside 10 foot snow drifts and through the 8 inches that had fallen overnight. Here’s some context.


There was a whole park full of snow sculptures, most of them odder than this, and those kids are standing on top of a mountain of snow. It was definitely a different world. And it was still snowing.

After warming up at the train station, I was ready to head to Abisko Mountain Station, the self proclaimed best place in the world to see Aurora Borealis. This claim (I think) is made based on their geographical location in a rain shadow beneath a canyon. As such, they get more clear nights than nearly any other populized area in the Arctic Circle. At least this is what they tell me. I certainly wasn’t being convinced by the weather as I got there.


Yup, that’s the sun trying to poke through. And the snow was still coming. And even though it wasn’t looking too promising, I decided to chance it and buy a ticket up to the Abisko Sky Station that night, since it was the last night they were planning on opening. And in retrospect, I don’t know why they even opened it, because when I went up there in the evening here’s what I saw.


Yep, not much. The lights are where I was staying, but even they were a rare appearance from the sky station on this night. So needless to say, there was no chance of looking up and seeing anything. So I spent my time taking some pictures of the cafe/sky station. It’s not very big, but its quaint. Let me also say there is something very unnerving about a complete white out. Riding up on the chair, the clouds were so thick, I couldn’t even see the chair in front of me, and the ground below me was completely white. It was like a sensory deprivation tank, only not black. Very peculiar feeling.

The next morning I hopped on the train to Björkliden, a ski area 5 miles away. I had thought about trying telemark skiing or alpine touring, but in the end couldn’t resist good ole downhill. Like a typical spoiled American skier, I was annoyed at the T-bar pulling lifts (seriously, up here Gondola’s should be a must!), and no goggles + light snow = difficulty seeing, but other than that the skiing was great. I quickly found my favorite runs and spent all day on them (with copious stops into the Snöbar for hot chocolate and to warm up). On one such stop, I noticed a sign for trying a dogsled. How could I resist! I signed up and walked over and met Andreas and his many dogs. He quickly showed me how to hit the brakes, and then he got to harnessing Björk, Lare, Wilmer and Kim. They are sweet looking dogs, mainly Alaskan husky (to handle the cold) and pointer (to run forever) mixes for those of you who know your dog breeds. For sledding dogs, they had a really hard time grasping the concept at first. But in no time I looked like a pro.


Now, looking like a pro doesn’t mean I drove like a pro, I did skid out and tip over on one turn. Driving those things is not as easy as it seems. And I don’t know what Survivorman was talking about on his show where he was in the Arctic dogsledding, as soon as I was off the sled the dogs stopped. I got back on and all was well (the whole time Andreas was ahead of us in his snowmobile, so it’s not as if I was going to get lost or anything). It was great fun though, I think I may try to run the Iditarod one of these days =).

That evening, my last at Abisko, I headed out with my camera after dark determined to see some northern lights. At least this night was somewhat clear, though clouds and occasional snow still passed through. I strained my eyes looking in all directions, lasting about two hours outside in the cold, through the peak auroral zone time of 10:30 I had heard about the night before. I even arose and headed back out when I saw it was clear at 1:30 AM. Never did I see anything, which was highly disappointing. It would all come down to the last night back in Kiruna. In all my time spent looking though, I did manage some pretty neat pictures of the night sky.


Here’s some more pictures from Abisko that don’t fit into the narrative for you to enjoy.



Part 3 comes tomorrow, the dramatic conclusion to my trip. I visit the Ice Hotel, and get a little crazy in my quest to see the northern lights. Stay tuned!

Vad handde i Lappland (Part 1)

You may have noticed Theresa has been keeping the blog alive for the past week or so. And if you haven’t gotten around to commenting about where you want to go most because you’ve been thinking long and hard about it, head down below this and inspire us. While you may attribute my absence to general laziness, you would in fact be wrong. In fact, it was the exact opposite, as I was braving arctic blasts and gigantic snow drifts to venture into the far north, to Swedish Lappland. I spent three days and four nights over 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, almost farther north than the entire state of Alaska. I visited Kiruna, Jukkasjarvi, and Abisko to try to accomplish four things:

1) Witness the Northern Lights

2) Venture inside the world famous Ice Hotel

3) Drive a dogsled

4) See a moose (and reindeer)

I’ll go ahead and spoil the last one right now, I did not see a moose, nor reindeer, though I can’t say I went out of my way to try. I did run across some tracks that I thought might come from a moose, though.


Anyone knows if those are moose tracks or something else? Chime in with your idle speculation and wild guesses. I really have no idea. But the picture also gives you an idea of the raw beauty that was everywhere.

But to find out if I was successful in accomplishing my other goals, you’ll have to stay tuned to Lives of Wander. This is the first of a three part series. I’m just too exhausted tonight to write more, and when you get to part three, you’ll understand why.

Stockholm Through a Lens

Before you get into this eye candy, if you haven’t voted on how we should see the Amazon, head to Theresa’s post just below this and give us your thoughts.

Since I don’t have my own separate blog, and since this is vaguely travel related, I thought I would share it here. This weekend we had a rare nice day in Stockholm, and so I took the opportunity to wander about the city with a camera. Here are some of the images I was happy with.


There’s plenty of color splashed onto apartment buildings.


It’s coming up on Easter, which in Sweden means you tie feathers to bare tree branches. Mom, you want to explain that one? It does look nice in big bunches though.


A row of Swedish fruit drinks outside a store. I like that you can see the buildings across the street.


An empty pier. It is winter after all.


An interesting building with Stadshuset (City Hall) and it’s Tre Kronor (three crowns, the national symbol) in the background. Here’s another of one corner of Stadshuset. It kinda looks like it needs to be in a Cingular commercial.


And I just thought these last two looked kinda cool. Feel free to disagree.



Chef Jeff

A few of you have probably heard that I’m back in Stockholm now for about a month to tie up some loose ends, finish up my classes, etc. The trip over was, as usual, uneventful, but I think I’ve finally given up on trying to sleep on flights over to Europe. It never seems to work. I’m better off just staying up the whole time, making sure I stay up the next day no matter how tired I am, and get to bed at a normal time and all is right with the world on day 2. So be it. It means I can watch more movies (I got to check out the Oscar contenders Michael Clayton and Atonement on the way over … they were both excellently done … planes may be the only way I see movies anymore).

But anyway, thats not what I really wanted to discuss. I wanted to continue the trend of food related posting. It’s often a goal of the backpacking types (i.e. us) to cook meals while on the road to accomplish a couple of things: reduce costs, feel more like a local and at home, venture into some “less touristy” areas, etc. I think reduce costs might be the main one. Now I have always kind of gone along with this mantra, but really thought of it in the more idealized sense (kind of like many Americans treat cooking their own food … a rarity).

But I’m proud to say that with minimal ingredients and minimal effort (and minimal costs) I have managed to do my own cooking so far over here and been very pleased with the results. And we’re not talking ramen here. I’ve been having salami and brie sandwiches for lunch (one of my favorites ever). Last night I prepared some pasta with some homemade sauce combining crushed tomatoes, brie for creaminess, arugula for spice and meatballs for, well, meat. I had a delicious spinach and arugula salad two nights ago. Tonight I made tacos (though I was missing mexican cheese … ’twas a shame). And I’ve got some barbecue pork ribs and our chorizo soup in mind soon too. All easy to make and without needing many ingredients or time to prepare. And a lot cheaper than eating out in Stockholm, where meals start at $25 and McDonald’s is at least $10. I just thought I would share my success with all of you. I’d have taken pictures for some nice food porn for everyone, but I was too busy eating =).  Point is, it’s a very doable thing, me being able to pull it off proves that beyond a doubt. We’ll see how well it carries on over the whole month though, my enthusiasm for cooking has been known to wane quickly.

The one issue I’ve noticed, though, is what to do with leftovers. Fortunately, there’s a fair bit of tupperware around here for me to put my things in, but that’s not likely the case at hostels/budget hotels. I guess you just have to eat it all in one sitting. Or carry around a big plastic case with you. Or give it to all the poor, dirty and hungry fellow travelers.

The other thing I’m enjoying about staying here right now is that any time of day or night I’m literally steps away from a machine who’s sole job it is to make me a cup of delicious hot chocolate (it makes coffee for the Swedes, but I don’t drink that stuff). So culinarily, I’m living pretty good right now.

I’m happy to be a Swede

When I was in college, we went to Sweden one summer, not unlike a number of other summers of my childhood, since my mother is from a small town in central Sweden. On this particular trip, however, my mom, dad, sister and I all stayed for three weeks in one hotel room in Uppsala, while my sister and I took a language course. With European hotel rooms being what they are and at that time in my life, let’s just say it was difficult to be confined in such a way. To boot, we were right on an intersection that, while not seeing much traffic, is friendly to blind people. Meaning it beeps. Loudly. Alternating between quickly when the pedestrians have a walk signal, and more slowly when they do not. So all through the night, my brain would rattle with a bee-bee-bee-bee-beep … beep … beep … beep … bee-bee-bee-bee-beep. I longed for mere Chinese water torture.

The carrot for enduring this temporary loss of sanity, along with a few more bureaucratic hoops, was permanent Swedish citizenship, which these days translates to EU citizenship. This has already been very useful, affording me flexibility in work trips to Sweden while my classmates fiddle with visas. (And since Theresa is married to me, she can easily get a work visa should we ever desire to move to Europe. Nice option to have, and one that many others would kill for.)

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being Swedish for the culture as well. I see a lot of how I am in the way the society works, both in good and bad ways. I feel I understand and fit in with both the timidity I disdain and the thoughtfulness I appreciate. Swedes have a very egalitarian perspective on society (as their government reflects … or is it the other way around?). And Stockholm manages to be the cultural center of Sweden while still feeling small and walkable.Sweden vs US Visa Info

But now there’s another new reason now to be pleased about being Swedish. When we looked up the visa requirements for all of the countries we were interested in visiting, we saw that many countries charge EU nationals substantially less than U.S. nationals for visas. I mean, check out the chart (click here to see a full-size version). At least Vietnam, Zambia, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia all charge way more for U.S. visitors than Swedish visitors. I figure in total, my visa fees will be less than half of Theresa’s. So that’s useful.

I guess what I’m getting at is, thanks mom for pushing me to get my permanent citizenship. It’s an invaluable trait to have in an increasingly connected world. While my Swedish nature leads me to desire citizenship even without any benefits, saving a few bucks on my visas sure doesn’t hurt.

Some quick notes from Stockholm

As you all may or may not know, I’m over in Stockholm for only five days (my shortest trip here ever) for a conference. I thought I might enlighten you all with some of the things that are bouncing around my head here.

– I think the more you travel, the less of a problem jet lag seems to be. I haven’t noticed any problems this trip, even though I didn’t sleep at all on the plane over here. Does anyone have any good theories about why this is? Is it just that you know what to expect?

– As another sign of how connected the world is now, I was walking through central Stockholm, hopping on buses and trains, all the while talking to Theresa in DC on our cell phones. Total cost for this convenience? ~15 cents a minute. Impressive.

– I am strongly anti-pay toilet. Especially when you don’t even have change so it’s not even an option (though even when I do refuse on principle). That McDonald’s always has free toilets is the only thing that makes them worthwhile. (By the way, pay toilets were apparently common in the US until the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America (CEPTIA) was successful in the 1970’s. Hooray Wikipedia. Now that’s a cause I can get behind.)

– Fondue is awesome. I had dinner tonight with some family friends Hasse and Lena, and we had beef broth fondue. Delicious! And fun!