The title of this post means “Back in Sweden”. When I left Stockholm in late June 2014, after living there for a month, I had told myself that I’d be back in the city soon. I had no clue when, how, or for what exact reason it would happen, but I was convinced that for one reason or another I would be setting foot in the Swedish capital one more time throughout my third University year.
And, as no surprise, I did. But this time, Stockholm was not my final destination but just a one and a half day stop before the main focus of the trip: Lapland. I am now writing this blog post from the northernmost populated place of Sweden: a small town called Kiruna. Developed thanks to it’s mining business, it has become the primary destination for travellers, both during the winter and the summer, who want to have a taste of what adventure in real Scandinavian nature feels like.
Most people fly up here for the country’s most famous hiking trail, called Kungsleden (the trail of the King), which is over 400km long and starts in Abisko, a “populated place” (as described by the national weather website) of just over 60 people 100km north of Kiruna. Me and my travel-mate Evan will be heading there tomorrow morning, as the main focus of the trip to Lapland is to see the spectacular northern lights which happen at this time of the year only, thanks to the almost 24h darkness of these northern territories.
We landed today at around 2pm and the sun had set half an hour before. However, the sky was still bright enough to enjoy the first sights of Lapland with a bit of light before the pitch dark sky would cover the place for over 20 hours.
It was not far from how I imagined it, but still spectacular to see. Bright white landscape, tree branches beautifully frosted with snow and lit-up Christmas swedish stars shining from almost every window of the cottages you see when heading from the airport to the town.
On the SAS flight to Kiruna, I was sitting next to a Viking. Him and his Thai wife had just come back from a trip to Bangkok and Phuket Island, which he described as “insanely hot”. No wonder, considering he lives half of his year in extreme temperatures.
I told him that I was heading up to Lapland to see the northern lights, and his answer was: “It’s not cold today, it’s only 16”.
He is so used to these arctic temperatures (and probably very obvious at this time of year) that specifying that the temperature was well below freezing point was completely pointless.
When I stepped off the plane, to my surprise, the cold did not feel as bad as I thought. Probably being a very “dry” cold, it penetrates less through clothes and gives you a warmer (within the limits of warmth in -16°C obviously) feeling than you would expect.
However, we spent the rest of the day in darkness. Complete and utter darkness, something I had never experienced before in my life. All I saw were a few people on the streets rushing from one closed space to another and a few tourists. As Kiruna is located within the Arctic Circle, the sun rises at around 11am and sets at 1.30pm. The polar nights, when the sun does not even rise for a few hours, ended just last week. These days, once the sun “rises” it stays so low that it merely brights up the sky for a limited time and then goes back down. I wonder how people manage to survive in these extreme weather conditions, considering that in merely 5 months the sun which never rises now, is never going to set for the entire summertime.
One curious fact about this town is that it will be completely relocated in the years to come. Since it is built next to an iron ore mine, which also happens to be the world’s biggest and most modern of its kind, it risks to be “swallowed up” by its expansion in the future. Therefore the government has made the decision to completely move this town 3km east of its current position, introducing a project similar to none in history. Me and Evan interviewed the project manager and lead architect of the Kiruna relocation project in Stockholm on Friday (for a journalistic project we’re currently working on) and he explained to us in detail how the town will be literally “moved” in the years to come, reducing all current imperfections and possibly attracting a larger number of people to move up here. Just two buildings, the old church and the town’s clock tower, will be moved and relocated exactly how they are – brick by brick. All the other buildings will be gradually demolished and re-built from scratch. A huge “New Kiruna” sign has been placed on the site of the future relocated town.
Today, it was weird walking in a city which is bound not to exist anymore in 50 years from now.
Tomorrow morning we will be taking a train to Abisko, where we will hopefully be witnessing one of earth’s most spectacular phenomena.
Here’s a short low-quality video taken from the bus as soon as we landed in Kiruna 🙂
Hej då från Sverige! (Goodbye from Sweden!)