Why Would I Possibly Want to Move to Sweden?

When we first started dating and considering how this long distance would pan out in the end, I would never have expected to be the one to WANT to move.  We were at opposite ends of the globe, and couldn’t get too much further apart if we tried.  Johan had said he would like to move to an English-speaking country, and his family was more spread out over the country than mine was, so I’d always just expected for him to make the move, otherwise I wasn’t sure how long our relationship was going to last.  At least, that was my thinking for the first year of our relationship.

Then we had our first meeting, and it was love at first sight with that country (and the boyfriend, of course).  I could no longer imagine us living in Australia.  Which is a bit crazy, considering the number of things I consider the negative effects on the “Things to Know Before Moving to Sweden” lists.  Here’s why:

Title 1

No, don’t shoot me down for this one! Fika is Swedish for a coffee break that’s more about socialising than drinking coffee.  It is more than just a coffee break – it’s a lifelong tradition and social phenomenon – but that first part still makes me hesitate.  Coffee break.  I don’t drink coffee.  Or tea, for that matter.  I’m much more a water & occasional soft drinks (soda) kind of girl, with the odd hot chocolate maybe three times a year.  I fear turning down the cups of coffee that the Swedes may offer me, to the point where maybe I will start drinking this hot beverage to avoid the awkwardness.  Who knows, maybe I’ll start liking it?  But for now, I’ll stick with my coffee-free lifestyle.  Besides, there’s the other half of fika – all the sweets and cakes and buns and cookies and delicious sugary goodness to look forward to.  Mm-mmm!

Title 2

I am not a seafood person.  I do not like the smell; I do not like the taste, especially not REAL seafood – like caught from the ocean, shells, eyes and bones kind of thing.  I have no problem eating baby prawns (frozen & prepacked), smoked oysters/mussels (in an aluminum can) or seafood extender (the red stuff, also bought frozen).  I’ll also eat crumbed calamari rings, and fish fingers – only if they don’t taste too fishy.  But proper fish?  I steer well clear.  And Sweden is like the fish capital.  They have it on their National Day, Midsummer Day, Easter, Christmas… And they have the real stuff.  Salmon, pickled herring, crayfish (boiled alive) and of course, surströmming *shudders*.  They even have fish CAKES.  CAKES.  For birthdays.  Not sweet, fattening sponge cakes and cheesecakes and chocolate cakes, but FISH CAKES (which actually, if I’m perfectly honest, doesn’t look too bad.  Something I would eat.  Much less horrifying than the thought of trying to pull apart a crayfish).  I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle so much seafood.  But it will be a learning curve.  After all, Kalles kaviar wasn’t so bad.

Title 3

For my whole life, my Mum has told me to stay single and free and travel the world, because she didn’t.  For my whole life (…before I met Johan) I told her I didn’t care about travel.  And I didn’t.  I cared about going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Studio Tour, but apart from that… no interest.  Then I went to Sweden.  Not for the travel, but for my boyfriend (okay, okay, and the snow).  And I loved every minute of it.  Finding out about the history of his hometown, the history of the capital city, the Vikings.  Australia seemed so new and has so much to learn, and yet here, this place had a history hundreds of years old, and buildings made before Australia was even put on the map.  It was fascinating.  And suddenly, my interest in travel peaked just a little.  I wanted to explore the rest of his country, up and down the entire stretch of land.  Then you start thinking, well, it’s so close to so many other countries and it’s so cheap to visit.  And Australia is so isolated and takes a small fortune to get outside of those boundaries and further than just interstate.  You know what?  I might have to bite my tongue and take back my word.  Maybe I DO want to travel.

Oh, and then there’s the things other people consider the negative effects, that I consider positive:

Title 4

Ever since I’ve started saying I want to make the move, my Nan has said that the  novelty of the cold air and snow as far as the eye can see will wear off.  I don’t believe that.  I’m a child at heart – always have been, always will be.  I’ll make snowmen and snow angels every year, enjoy the late morning sunrises and rugging up in about a dozen layers before stepping outside.  And when it seems dark, I’ll have someone to keep me company; a fireplace to tend to and fleece blankets all over the house.  I’ll get to the point where I’ll consider a Swedish summer hot and an Aussie summer hell (because of course an Australian winter only gets as cold as a Swedish summer).  I’m more worried about the midnight sun!  My Mum is absolutely right when she says Australia is the same all year round, at least in Brisbane where there is no snow.  No autumn leaves and trees losing their leaves, only to sprout fresh new ones in the spring, splashing the world in an abundance of colour once more.  The yard looks the same today, as it will next season, and the season after that and the season after that.  I mean, where’s the inspiration in that?  The excitement of the first snowflake, jumping in a pile of crunchy, autumn leaves… yep, I’ll have some of that please.

Title 5

One of the things I’ve always admired about Johan is how fluent he is in English.  I didn’t have to teach him a thing (well, except for the Aussie slang).  That said, I also enjoy listening to him speak Swedish with his family even if I can barely understand a word.  The Swedish language sounds so pleasant to the ear, especially when softly-spoken.  Even before I wanted to move to Sweden, I wanted to at least learn the language to better communicate with his family – who for the most part speak fairly good English anyway, apart from his youngest sisters who will eventually learn it in school.  How hard could it be?  I mean, when I learnt Indonesian in school I was pretty good… not that I remember any of it now… Whilst I am learning bits and pieces of Swedish, it is harder than I perhaps expected, but I hope to one day be as fluent in Swedish as Johan is in English, and be able to sing the beautiful national anthem, loud and proud.

Title 6

Almost all the articles rattle off quotes about how Sweden is a very expensive country to live, particularly in Stockholm.  I mean, of course it’s going to be expensive in Stockholm, it’s the city!  Every city center is expensive.  Now if these articles are all being written by Americans who pay $10 for three course meals, then I understand.  But when comparing prices with Australia, it really wasn’t that much more expensive.  In fact, in some instances, Sweden was cheaper!  I regularly look at Swedish real estate sites with prices of approx. 1200000 – 2000000 kr ($183000 – $304000) – up and down the whole country mind, so some of those houses might be in the middle of nowhere, I haven’t worked out the geography of it all yet – but there’s some beautiful old homes that are drool-worthy.  Whilst many have been built  in the mid-1900s – some earlier, some later –  so many have had renovations inside to make the house modern, refreshing and new.  There are fewer new houses and housing estates being built, meaning more countryside.  Not to mention a much better (and cheaper) public transport system, meaning fewer cars on the road (and more expensive fuel), but more bicycles.  It may or may not have been my imagination, but the air smelt so crisp and clean outside.  Of course, then there’s avgift which confuses me beyond belief, but…

Overall, I think the biggest worry will be maintaining employment (specifically for a non-Swede) to be able to keep up with the cost of living.  I really want us to be able to move into a home sooner rather than later, but from what I’ve heard it can be harder to get loans over there – although there’s not supposed to be any restrictions for expats – but then, it’s also very hard to get into the renting market, at least in the city areas, unless you’ve been on a wait-list for years.  Hence we’re trying to save every cent and kronor we can now.  As long as I can job search before moving over there, and work on learning the language – the unemployment rates can’t be that bad.  I mean, it can’t be that different from Australia, and I was unemployed for almost two years, hunting down that first job.  I’ve been down that road, conquered it, and I’ll conquer it again.

Regardless, it makes more sense for me to move to him (we won’t even mention the ludicrous cost difference for a Swedish Residence Permit – which can be obtained without being married aka “sambo” – vs. an Australian Partner Visa).  His family is younger; he has younger siblings closer to my age who are yet to marry.  My family is older and slightly better off money-wise if ever they want to come for visits (and will surely love the novelty of snow as much as I do).  I want our kids to grow up in a multilingual country where education is free (and gender equality great) and they can speak with both our families from the time they can talk.  I want to change my lifestyle to a happier, healthier one, which I want to do outside of my home country and my creature comforts, in one of the greenest nations on Earth.

I have always hated and feared big changes in my life.  Now, I couldn’t be more excited to try, with the one I love to help me through it. ♥♥♥

The Interview

(Kind of sounds like the title of an impressive Thriller, doesn’t it?  …I just checked. There’s at least four movies with that title.)

So, how did it go?  Hur gick det?  After staying up all night stressing, going over my notes three times, asking Johan random questions about himself, leaving myself just five hours sleep, and waking up after four, did I walk into the interview, introducing myself in perfectly pronounced Swedish?  Um, no.  It was more like… “Hi. Please take a seat.”

First thing I noticed, there was no glass barrier separating me and the interviewer.  I didn’t think there would be, but apparently in happens in the movies, and I’d read about people interviewed in the US and Thailand that had a barrier, so I felt instantly more relieved comfortable.  I wasn’t a prisoner.  We were just going to have a nice little chat.

The Consulate’s name is Helena, and she was a lovely lady who was very easy to talk to.  Above her desk is a plaque: SVERIGES KONSULAT. This is real, I thought, this is happening. First things first, I paid an interview fee of $50 (which varies depending on your type of application) and she took photocopies of my passport and the official letter I had to say I wasn’t married. I was asked to bring both of these over the phone, and in fact, they were the only documents I was asked to bring. That didn’t stop me printing off all the evidence Johan had uploaded to our application last week – our chat logs, photos, letters, etc, but I asked and she said it wasn’t needed, because he was asked for them at his end, not me, and obviously it’s all already been uploaded, but I thought it better to bring it all just in case.

So straight into the questions then.  She sits at a computer typing up all of my responses and admitted straight up that she wasn’t a fast typist, which was a little painful to watch for someone that does 100wpm, watching her two-finger type, but she printed off the questions for me which allowed me to scan them and think about my answers while I waited.

I had been googling for sample questions, and found people had been asked about which schools they and their partner attended and subjects studied; their partner’s favourite colour; both family’s occupations; how they’d cope with the climate change; why they loved their partner; even their parents type of car.  I spent a week trying to consider how to put into words exactly why I loved Johan so much, and I wasn’t asked!  In fact, the only one of those questions asked was about both our schools.  I was glad I quizzed Johan on his schools as he’s been to half a dozen over his time, but I had no hope of remembering them all and I wrote them down which the Consulate accepted, agreeing that it was ridiculous they asked for this and that she had a hard time remembering the schools her partner went to!

Apart from this, all the questions were pretty straight forward and very basic.  Like, simplified versions of the ones that were asked in the initial application, simply to check that all the answers match up, I guess.  Why do you want to move to Sweden?  To be with my partner.  Names of all family members, and whether they’ve met with the applicant/partner . Not the occupations I had prepared to explain.  What are your plans for the future and a family?  Have you got work lined up in Sweden?  Again, she was very understanding that it’s almost impossible to look for work and say “I might be there next month! Or I might be there in 8!” and that we didn’t know where we would live depending on where Johan found work. How did you begin communicating?  How often do you keep in contact?  How did you meet him?  What interests do you share with him?  All those types of original questions that were on your application the first time, but the much shortened version as she had to type it all up.

In the end, I was with her for almost an hour exactly, although it felt like longer.  Would’ve been shorter if I was typing! 😛 She printed off my responses, I checked over them to make sure it was all correct, signed, and was free to go.  I tried to enquire about how long it would take, but her guess was as good as ours, and we’re not to expecting anything more for several more months still.  So we can relax.  Sort of.  Because that interview did not refine my confidence in our application.  I had so much more I wanted to say, for instance about my Swedish learning,  and I barely mentioned all we had got up to on our second holiday, just that I had been to Sweden twice, took my Mum along and saw his family and went to his place in Haparanda.  There was so much I left out, but then again, the questions didn’t really ask for it, and I felt it maybe best to stick straight to the point as much as I wanted to overload her with information, but I feared her fingers wouldn’t hold up to the keyboard!  She was alone in the office and already had four phone calls including one as I was walking out the door, so yes.  I felt disappointed in that I could’ve said so much more, but I will just have to trust that all of that extra information is in both mine and Johan’s written responses to the application questions, and in the uploaded evidence.

And now we wait some more…

Application Update!

So, you may recall that in March, we submitted an application for my Swedish residence permit, not expecting to hear a decision for 14-17 months?  No, don’t panic!  We haven’t got a decision this early.  But on Monday a week ago, I received an invitation to contact a Swedish embassy within 14 days to make an appointment.  At the same time, Johan also received an email asking to send in photos and further evidence of our relationship.  So you can relax, no one’s moving just yet.  But panic mode set in for us!  Admittedly, Johan was a lot more cool about it, but I was not expecting this for several more months.

Two phone calls later, one to the Swedish Embassy in Canberra and one to the Swedish Consulate in Brisbane, I had an appointment set.  And the date for that appointment has come around very fast.  When, you might ask?  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, Thursday the 4th of August, I am going to speak to an official and tell them all about my relationship with Johan, and why I want upheave my life to move to him.  Full of nerves and freaking out just a little when I consider this interview is going to contribute to our future dreams and goals.  It took several frantic days of trying to gather Skype call logs and Facebook Messenger screenshots, letters, flight tickets and photos spanning the course of our relationship over 3.5 years.  We may have only met twice, but we still struggled to get the photos narrowed down to the 3-5 they asked for!  All in all though, I think the evidence we’ve gathered is solid, and our love is strong, and hopefully that will show in this interview and it will all go well!  Wish me luck, and expect another update soon!

The Final Week

J:  Back in Haparanda, it was time for me to go back to school, which started the very next day. It was nice to see all my friends again, even at the expense of missing Kylie, but if I’m honest, I didn’t have too much time to miss her, compared to her sitting alone in my apartment. That said, it was always nice to come home and see her every day. I liked to call out that “honeyyyy, I’m hooome” that they always do in movies and shows, because why not? I think that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to the most when we move together. Not having to come home to an empty apartment every day. It’ll be nice to have someone there to greet you and give you kisses when you come home 😀

K:  It was odd, having him around every minute of the day and suddenly he wasn’t there anymore.  We spent so much of this last week just sleeping in late, uploading photos and catching our breath from being on the go the whole time.  It was always nice to see him again after school though!  On the first day, we had forgotten to get his apartment key off him and so we were stranded at the apartment and unable to lock up, but luckily he finished early this day and we explored some shops where Mum picked up some discounted Christmas placements and serviettes, Johan bought some new shoes and we had ice creams at yet another candy store!  Candy World is supposed to be Europe’s largest candy store, right here in Haparanda.  It was pretty large, complete with a children’s playground, but very spacious, and I still don’t quite know whether to believe it or not!  Pricing it up though, we found most candy to be cheaper at the grocery stores and so left without, which was probably a good thing because we’d already eaten so much!

Pic 1

J:  The first night back to school, I had an assignment to finish, a report on a project we did the first term, which got carried over to the second. The next night, we had some time over to go hunting for northern lights though! I had seen them before in Haparanda, though that was earlier in the season, and we were kinda hopeful that we would catch them again. Alas, we had no luck with that, and that was the last time we tried, but I did show them this nature reserve where we’ve had activities with school, and I wanted to show them this lookout tower from where I think I saw my first ever aurora. Again, we never found that either. That said, it’s a forest, and it’s easy to get lost, and I’d only been there once. One day I’ll find that tower again though!

Also, I made a kladdkaka (a sort of Swedish mudcake). It was okay I guess, but I failed in baking it the way it should be made, and it ended up way too hard and crumbly. But Kylie and her mum enjoyed it.

Pic 2Our very own lantern, which we had carried everywhere with us but this was the first time we actually used it!

K:  The next day, the key to Johan’s apartment in the hands of Mum and myself, we returned to the nature reserve to try and find this tower he spoke of in the daylight.  We had more important matters at hand first though… and spent half hour walking in the wrong direction, because we’d missed one of the turns!  It was good exercise nonetheless, and still so beautiful to hear the crunch of snow beneath our boots.  It was making me cold and grumpy though, but Mum wasn’t leaving until we went back to ‘her’ forest.  We retraced our steps and were soon on the right route again.

Pic 2Haparanda Train Station, which is along the way and no longer in use.

And we eventually found it again, this magnificent forest and it’s snow-covered trees straight out of a fairytale.

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It’s many long winding roads will eventually lead you to the lake.  Another snow-covered lake.  You almost wouldn’t be able to tell if it wasn’t for the row boat propped up near the edge.  And we met a bloke who went out walking on it, straight shortcut across town!  We didn’t trust ourselves though, this was a man who knew the ice and had with him a prodding stick!  Still no tower to be seen though… are you sure it existed, Johan? 😛Pic 4

By the 14th of January, we were getting pretty upset counting the days until going home.  Me, because I’d have to leave Johan, and Mum, because she’d have to leave the snow.  I slept late while Johan went off to school, wishing he could stay for longer cuddles, packed and repacked suitcases (as I was leaving all of my heavy winter gear with Johan, to avoid having to bring it all back next time) and waited for his lunch breaks with eagerness.  Today, I met one of his school friends, Dan, and we talked with him a while. 🙂 Meanwhile, Mum decided she’d go explore the town again without me, walking up and down along the river until after it got dark.Pic 5

J: On the 15th of January, it was my birthday! Congratulations to me! Me and my friend Dan met Kylie and her mum at the shops after school, and Kylie apparently had a secret she wanted to hide from me! Turned out it was… (drum roll) CAKE! She had bought me my favourite cake 😀 She also hung up a banner thing in my apartment that said happy birthday. She’s nice 🙂

We celebrated with a dinner date at a Chinese place. She had fried rice and I probably had deep fried chicken again. I love that stuff. Then we ended the night by going to the pub and met up with my friends. Kylie doesn’t drink, but I do occasionally. There weren’t many people there though, so we soon moved on to a group home where a lot of students at my school stay, and which frequently host parties.

The night ended well, if you ignore the fact that Kylie got sick, probably from the food at the restaurant.

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K:  By the next morning, I was feeling fine, at least tummy-wise, not emotional-wise, as it was to be our last day together.  Johan was now the one with an upset tummy, and was not a good way to end our trip!  Thankfully, it was a Saturday, and we were going to cherish every last moment together.  Mum and I had booked a flight from Luleå to Stockholm where we would spend one more night, so we would be ready for our international flights home at Arlanda the next day.  Our flight wasn’t departing until the evening though, and it was another 2 and a half hour bus trip to Luleå Airport, and we insisted that Johan come along to spend just those few extra hours together and help us get to where we were going as there was one transfer we had to make.

J: Nothing much happened between the time we arrived at the airport and we parted at the gate. We were the only people in the airport at the time, and so we had the place to ourselves. We mostly spent the time in a nice cosy sofa, holding on to each other and talking. Recounting the good times we had had, and reminding ourselves that it’s not the end and next time we wouldn’t have to leave each other again!

This is also when we finally tore into the chocolate frogs we bought at the Warner Bros Studio Tour four and a half weeks earlier! One could say we drowned our sorrows in the chocolate.

While we were inside feeling sorry for ourselves, Kylie’s mum had gone out into the snow, one last time, and she didn’t return until it was almost time to go to the gate. They even allowed me to go with them though the security and wait with her at the gate, which was nice of them.

Pic 8Drowning our sorrows in chocolate.

K:  It was the moment we’d both been dreading.  I don’t think there’d been any tears up until this point, which was the same for the first trip.  The tears didn’t come until the goodbye.  We mostly sat and cuddled, wishing it could last forever, and promising that this would be the last goodbye.  Promising that next time, Johan would come to Australia.  Promising that next time, I would fly back with him to live our happy ever after.  And the tears ensued.  And we kissed and hugged and they were calling for us to board.  And I didn’t want to let go.  But at the same time, Johan needed to get the bus back.  It was the last bus that would make it in time for the next connection.  We were the last left at the gate.  I told him to go.  And he did, and Mum took my hand as we headed for the gate.  We all looked back at one another.  We gave our tickets to the attendant, and I looked back again.  He was gone.

J:  It was with a heavy heart I walked away. I kept looking back as long as I could still see them, then I rounded the corner and walked out through the exit, and keeping with the theme of this holiday, I only just made the bus back home. This is also when I lost my Ravenclaw scarf, but I didn’t really have the energy to care about that, because I had left Kylie at the airport and we wouldn’t see each other again in many months. In fact, I’m still waiting.

Pic 9Last moments.

K:  There’s not much to say about our flight or our final day in Stockholm.  We had a buffet breakfast at the hotel and we couldn’t do much, because we had to be at the airport 2 hours before our lunchtime flight.  We had transfers to and from the airport and it was all pretty miserable.  Yet the sunsets made me smile, and I held to the belief that next time it would not be a 2 year wait.  It would be less, and it would be to move to him.Pic 10

We Fell In Love With Kiruna

We arrived in Kiruna for a second time, late in the evening.  We had planned this so we’d already be in Kiruna the next morning to start our day’s activities.  We got a little lost walking to our destination and had to ask several people along the way, as some had never heard of Camp Ripan.  I found this a bit of a surprise coming from a small town, as this was one of the best accommodation options we could find.  Camp Ripan was a great choice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.  We stayed in a small cabin, which was cleaned daily, and had an all-you-can-eat breakfast included every day in the main dining room.  We did have trouble closing one of the windows on the first night which was letting cold air in, but they came around and fixed it for us promptly.

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It was a lazy first night, and we dug straight into some left over pizza we had bought with us as we were starving!  Most days we had been on the go so much that we skipped straight past lunch for dinner, something Mum and I were fine with but Johan struggled with a bit as Swedes have their main meal in the afternoon and not in the evening.  After our tummies were filled, we got some directions from the staff on the best spots to hunt for the Northern Lights.  If you do ever stay there, ask if it’s possible to get a north-facing cabin which can offer you views of the aurora straight from your window if you’re lucky – we weren’t aware of this and booked a little late, meaning our cabin unfortunately just looked onto more buildings.  That said, we went out every night, hunting for those elusive lights.  We once again found them among the forest, away from the city lights, but once again, saw nothing but blackness and grey clouds for two hours between midnight and 2am.  The photos turned out much nicer.

Pic 1The next day brought with it the coldest day yet.  -36 degrees.  We rugged up in our thermals, two pairs of tracksuit pants and fleece jumpers, and our outer layers, and headed for breakfast.  Cereal, yogurt, sausages, pancakes, reindeer meat, eggs, knäckebröd, you name it.  And this was the outlook from the windows:

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We had been planning on trying skiing, but we were informed the ski slopes closed when it hit -20, so instead we took some kicksleds out and drove them around and up and down a hill.  I’m not entirely sure they are meant for this purpose – more for carrying kids or groceries or bags, and once was enough for me after I slipped, but Mum enjoyed herself, and Johan too (though he didn’t like the part about walking back up).  The views were beautiful.Pic 3

Later in the afternoon, we took the local bus to Jukkasjärvi to visit the Ice Hotel for the evening.  The local bus is the cheapest way to go, you just have to be careful with your timing and triple check the schedule so you make the bus back.  It got down to a further -38 degrees at the Ice Hotel, the coldest they’d had in 15 years, and we were starting to feel it!  But it is warmer inside the snow and ice buildings than it is outside.

We had been saving up for a hot chocolate here, inside the famous Ice Bar.  And were sorely disappointed to find they didn’t sell them!  We had previously seen hot chocolates sold both at the Ice Gallery in Santa Park, and at the Ice Bar in Snowman World, but we’d been saving up for this only to find they weren’t sold!  It might possibly be something to do with fake vs. real ice glasses that you drink out of (these were made out of real ice and I’m not sure if the other ones were), but you’d think they could incorporate something, because all you feel like at this sort of time is something hot and soothing to the throat!Pic 4

They change the designs in the Ice Hotel every year, and by far one of the most impressive designs this year was the elephant below.  However, it just seemed so… out of place, being an African animal.  It wasn’t exactly what you’d expect to see, but was nice none the less.  The other most exciting room was the “Counting Sheep” room, which had about 15 sheep sculpted in ice around the room you had to try and count.

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But overall, we were actually quite disappointed in the designs from the Ice Hotel this year.  Many of the rooms had basic, abstract designs and you couldn’t make out what they were supposed to be and just a curtained walkthrough.  Of course, they have different price ranges for different rooms – a basic room with no sculptures, to the more exclusive rooms some of which you can’t visit – but even the most basic rooms cost two or three times the price of what we paid for our two igloo rooms at Snowman World, which came with arctic-inspired sculptures and a wooden, spring-latched door.  Even the Ice Chapel, which had a planetary, solar-system inspired design, we would’ve had no idea what it was supposed to be if the guide hadn’t told us.  The Ice Hotel is one of the must-do things in Kiruna, and a quick look on Google Images will tell you why, but the designs we saw were not nearly half as extravagant as the ones often photographed.  We were sorely disappointed after Snowman World, and we honestly could’ve done without the visit.  We did end up picking up nice, instant, steaming hot chocolates from a coffee machine which was the cheapest thing you could find in the gift shop.Pic 6We found and enjoyed our first thai meal of the holiday at a restaurant in Kiruna, called Artic Thai and Grill, which I had seen recommended on TripAdvisor.  The food was delicious and reasonably priced, which included your meal, salads, a drink, tea, coffee and biscuits.  If you’re a lover of hot food though, beware.  My Mum loves hot and spicy, and ordered a hot thai red curry.  A few mouthfuls in and she was shoveling it down with juice, water, cold salad and bread, but still determinedly eating her way slowly through it, cooling it down after ever bite.  It was hilarious to watch, because nothing is ever too hot for my Mum!  Even I found the medium dish I had ordered a little bit too hot.  But it was lovely and we were grateful as we’d had trouble finding any nice thai restaurants in our whole time away.

The next morning was a bit warmer, it was above -20 at least, so we headed to reception again to ask about the ski slopes.  This was the view outside, with the reception on the right, and the main dining area you saw earlier on the left.  Lots of lovely, large, soft piles of snow to jump in!

Pic 8

“The ski slopes?  Oh, they’re not open on a Friday.”

Um.  “What, why?”

“I don’t know… because people don’t like working on a Friday?”

Okay then.  Seemed a little strange to me, but it didn’t worry me too much as I wasn’t much liking the idea of skiing – I was getting much too used to the idea of my glasses fogging up in the cold air, more so, whenever I was wearing a scarf or mask over my mouth to keep my face warm, which is sort of a necessity in the downhill wind of skiing!  Johan didn’t like skiing, so he was quite happy with this, but Mum had been looking forward to it, and this was our last chance to do it as we were all booked up for the remainder of our time.

Instead, we hired out some ‘toboggans’ (though these were simply plastic mats and not the hard plastic ones) and joined a few others sliding down an empty road. Pic 9Johan in the distance.

It was great fun just running backwards and forwards, sitting up, lying down and sliding down together!  We were at it for ages.  When we finally did return them, the staff person said, “Oh!  I’m glad you came back!  Turns out the ski slopes are open, because of the peak holiday period”.  Um… you think?!  Thanks for the information, but it’s a bit late now.  It was very odd, that in their peak holiday time, they couldn’t tell us this itsy bit of important information.  But oh well.

We headed for a walk into the city, one we took every day along this road with all these picturesque houses.
Pic 10Kiruna is actually known first and foremost as a giant mining town, and it is a town which is being moved, because of the mining making the land unstable.  So in order to keep mining, they are moving the town two miles east, and rebuilding houses and a church built in 1912, which will be rebuilt piece by piece.  They have a tour you can take inside the mine, which is what we did, and is recommended to learn more about the history and heart of the town, and is quite interesting.  It is the world’s largest iron-ore mine, having extracted over 950 million tonnes of iron ore since 1898.  They have so far mined 1,365 metres underground, and intend to go further.  They take you by bus to the Visitor Centre, which is just 500 metres below the surface, and you get to leave with your own bag of iron pellets.

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Near the bus stop, Mum spotted yet another empty, snow playground.  Don’t see why it’s empty, do you?  Look how much fun there is to be had!  Slides and swings and frosty bridges!

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We returned to the Arctic Thai and Grill again, where the lady at the counter remembered Mum from the previous night, and we ordered mild dishes.  Yum yum!

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Cold and tired, we retired to the lobby area of Camp Ripan, where they have a room upstairs with ceiling windows and lie-back deck chairs for watching the sky.  We were told if we wanted any hope of seeing the lights we’d have to go out though, so we took it in turns to go outside on northern lights watch, to no avail, starting to fear our chances of ever seeing them.  We met a lady who had seen them the night prior – the sky was dancing green about an hour before we went out hunting for them!  They should have some sort of alarm system you can sign up for! 😛

Our next day in Kiruna was a little more successful.  We had booked a Horseback Moose Safari through Camp Ripan, and it was great!  I did horse riding for about two and a half years when I was younger, and it felt so good to be back in the saddle.  Johan had ridden a few times, but Mum had never done so.  There were two other inexperienced riders in the group, but these Icelandic horses were so gentle and bombproof.  That’s us with our horses Birtingur and Hvellur, below. 🙂 Pic 14

We got to brush down the horses and tack them up (Mum, erm, put the saddle on back to front, which I thought was a thing that only happened in movies!) and then we rode for at least an hour through the forest, hunting for moose.  Because you are with the horses, they do not get spooked the way they would with snowmobiles.  And guess what?  We filled up the SD card on the GoPro!  Oops.  Sooo, no photos or videos of the moose! 😥 But we saw plenty, a dozen at least, including one or two with their calves.  Our guide was very good at telling us when to be quiet and pointing them out.  The ride was mostly at a walk, though we trotted a few times, and it was nice to take it slow and have time to take it all in.  It’s quite a different experience, riding in the snow.  The horses would follow the path set out by the horse in front, stepping into the same hoofprints they had already been made, though occasionally they’d miss and you’d feel their feet sink into the soft snow.

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We returned all too soon, I felt I could’ve been out there much longer than we were!  And surprisingly, none of us were really sore when we hopped off which was something we’d been expecting!  We were treated to broccoli soup and more moose meat and potatoes, veggies and round bread.

Back at Camp Ripan, we had booked to use the Aurora Spa for the night.  It is an additional fee to your stay, and while we felt it should have been included, it was well worth it if you can plan your day around it – you can stay as long as you like on the day you book, and so we booked for the late afternoon and stayed at least 4 hours into the evening.  They have one small heated indoor pool, three different types of saunas heated in different ways, and the highlight, an outdoor spa.  You build up the nerves to walk outside in just your swimwear, and you can’t run, because it’s slippery.  They have matting down to stop you falling, but the steps into the spa are slippery, and the handrail is covered in ice.  But once you get into the nice warm water, it’s lovely.  And you just play around in the spa.  And because your hair is above water, it starts to freeze.  And sometimes, it would start snowing, and it was just such a great feeling to be warmed up in this nice heated spa, with snowflakes falling all around you.Pic 16

Mum was a bit more adventurous, getting out and rolling in the snow and ice half a dozen times and jumping back in!  The same goes for doing that and then running into the sauna.  I did attempt it, but my bare feet on the snow was enough for me!  Yet again, no northern lights, although we did spot a snow-white hare on the walk back to our cabin!

For our final day in Lapland, we had left one of the most anticipated activities – dogsledding!  We booked a 4 hr tour, “Musher for a day” and had a blast!  There was just one other couple in our group, and with our guide we were 6 people, 2 to a sled of 5 huskies.  Johan drove on the way to our picnic-spot, and I drove on the way back.  You spent about an hour on the sled each way, and the dogs do most of the work!  They are so eager to run, we had to keep using the brake to slow them down so they didn’t run into or ahead of the sled in front.

Pic 17The sleddogs Mum shared with the guide: Njalla, Nikita, Bluebell, Chalsun & Nikka.

We stopped for hot drinks, delicious mushroom soup and melted cheese sandwiches cooked on an open fire inside a tent, but enjoyed the time outside playing with the dogs and enjoying another heavy snowfall.  Another group joined us for drinks who had been travelling on a group sled pulled with about 12 dogs, so there were almost 30 dogs in the clearing at one point, all yelping and howling excitedly.  They were all so friendly and loved the attention they received with many pats for a good journey!  Such an incredible experience if ever you get the chance!

Pic 18Ricti & Blackie.

We were pushing it a bit tight for time to get back to Camp Ripan to pick up our suitcases and make our train back to Luleå and Haparanda, but the inbetween-guy that picked us up from the husky farm a little late was understanding and dropped us back at the door, and somehow, half running to the train station, we made our train in the nick of time again.  And it felt very depressing to leave such a wonderful place, knowing our adventure in Sweden would soon come to an end.

Aurora Hunting and Border-crossing in Abisko and Narvik

We said goodbye to Kiruna, and headed even further north, on another one hour train, to Abisko.  Abisko is not big. It probably takes about ten minutes to walk through the little town. But it’s a nice little town. It mostly survives on tourists I think, because about half of the shops in the place was tourist places, like tour guides, little shops selling crafts and stuff like that. And most people were probably there for the same reason we were. The Northern Lights.

We stayed at Abisko moutain Lodge, in our own little two story cabin. The bottom floor had a small living room area with a bed sofa where Kylie and I slept, and a little kitchen, while the second floor was a single big room with a lot of beds, where Kylie’s mum slept. It was a nice enough place, but the best thing was probably that it was at the bottom of a small hill from where you could walk to to the highest point in Abisko and look at the night sky.

Pic 6We had Cabin 4, on the far left.

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Granted, the whole town is basically built on the side of a hill, or small mountain, but we were just toward the top. We did see a little northern lights at the top of the hill, but there wasn’t much. Kylie has mentioned before that our photos of the northern lights “lie”, and well, yes she’s correct in a way, but I feel like I need to defend myself a little here. While the lights were kind of faint to the naked eye, it’s easy to simply set up the camera to take in more light, making the lights more visible. So no, the photos don’t lie in the sense that they weren’t there. It was just harder to see them with the naked eye, unfortunately. That said, it was still very hard to get good photos of them, partly because they were so faint and the streaks were pretty small, and also there was still a little light pollution from the town below us. We had a bit better luck at the lowest point, down by Lake Torneträsk.

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Abisko was a really beautiful place though, and we spent a lot of time walking around and exploring. We were surrounded by mountains, that were covered in blankets of white snow, and below us a big lake, mostly frozen over and also covered in snow, the flatness of it making a nice contrast to the mountains.

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As I mentioned before, there isn’t many shops and stuff in Abisko. There’s one grocery store, which wasn’t that big and had limited stock, but for some reason, they have a store dedicated only to candy, and there was a lot of it. Kylie and I filled a bag to share, and Kylie’s mum got even more of the liquor chocolates she loved.

I don’t think we got much sleep while we were in Abisko. It was northern lights hunting during the night and exploring by day. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much northern light, but that didn’t stop us from going out every night anyway, ever hopeful of catching it, tracking the light forecast on our phones and everything! We were thinking of going to the Abisko Sky Station, where they say the lights can be spectacular, assuming they’re out, but we dismissed it pretty quickly once we found out that in bad weather, they close it, and you don’t get a refund if that happpens, and we’re glad we did, because we overheard another couple having run into that problem. Or maybe the ski lift had broken, don’t remember. Anyway, all they got to do was watch some video instead of going to see the lights.

We only got to spend one full day in Abisko, and two nights if you include the one when we arrived, because on the second day, we went on a day trip to Narvik in Norway, almost completing the list of nordic countries visited. Kylie still haven’t been to Denmark yet, but I have, so I only have Iceland left, which unfortunately is a bit too far away to include on this trip (but I did ride an icelandic horse, so I guess that’s something. More on that in a later post).

It was a long drive to Narvik, but we did stop at a few interesting places, like Hotel Fjället in Björkliden, where they picked up some more passengers, and which had an amazing view. We also stopped at the Swedish/Norwegian border and a beach by the fjord.

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In Narvik, we got to go to the top of the Scandic Hotel, the observation deck. You had an amazing view of the town, which its little houses and stuff. The deck had a restaurant/bar, which sold drinks and food, but we didn’t really have anything because it was pretty pricey.

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Pic 14Notice the LKAB train, delivering the iron pellets from the mine in Kiruna. These trains are fully automated and pretty awesome

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Once back in Abisko, we got to exploring a little more, because the day wasn’t over yet. Went back to the little store, bought some supplies, but it wasn’t long until we had to pack up again and return to the train station going back to Kiruna, where we, I think personally, we did some of the most fun things this whole trip!

Snowmobiling, Skiing, Stargazing & Sleeping Sami Style!

It is the 3rd of January.  Our next destination was Kiruna Station, four hours on a train where you’re mostly looking out into a darkened sky, occasionally lit up at a lonely snow swept station where people would get on or off.  We arrived about 9am, the sun not risen, and made a call to our next tour guide to say we’d arrived (as they were picking us up).  We had wanted to book an overnight tour, and Taube Activity won our vote, with the plentiful amount of activities listed on their website that we could try  to our heart’s content!  Ride on a snowmobile, cross a river by boat or ice skates, depending on whether it was frozen over or not, ice fishing, cross country skiing, and sleep in a sami hut or self-made igloo!  They were very reasonably priced, with all meals included and student discounts, and we’re glad we went with them because we had a ball!

The tours are run by a father-son-and-daughter team, who take it in turns to run the tours and we were lucky enough to meet all three of these lovely Swedes 🙂 Henrik picked us up at the station and drove us to  the meeting point, where we would lock up all our suitcases and gather bigger boots and extra snow pants and jackets and gloves.  We didn’t take the extra jackets, but after the reindeer sledding in Rovaniemi, Mum and I took an extra pair of snow pants and ended up wearing two, which kept us extra cosy.  This was where Henrik left us, as from here on out the cars couldn’t travel and we were trekking it on the snowmobiles for the rest of the way.

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We were a smallish group, Johan, Mum and I, and a total of 7 others, along with our next guide, Henrik’s son, Ivan.  We took three snowmobiles 10km down to the Torne River, which is the same river that runs through Haparanda.  You need a license to drive a snowmobile though, and as Johan and I are without, and Mum was too worried about driving it, we sat on a sled at the back of one.  It was also the first time we’d really made use of our GoPro and got some great footage.

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We spent about half hour on the snowmobile, and the novelty soon wore off a bit with freezing fingers and toes, again.  They’re fine when you’re moving around all day and walking, but as soon as you sit down and stop moving, they become numb with cold and you’re forever rubbing them and tapping them trying to get them warmed up again.  It was probably about -20 or -25 degrees on these two days, so we were starting to feel the cold even more!

The white landscape was as beautiful and astonishing as ever, and we were soon at the river, taking even more photographs and trying to jog on the spot to get warmed up again.  It was still early in the season and so the river was unfrozen and we got to row across in a raft boat which was slightly unnerving, all 11 of us needing to scramble into it with our backpacks and bags of groceries while one person held the rope, but no one went overboard, the boat didn’t sink and we all survived. 😛

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After rowing across, it is a short walk up a hill to the camp, and we were all eager to get inside and warm again!  It was here we met the final member of the group, Ivan’s sister, Märta, who was to stay with us for the rest of our camping adventure.  We sat and talked around the main cabin, getting to know one another and where we were from, as Märta and Ivan began making us lunch, and we (that is to say, everyone but me) warmed up with tea and coffee.  Oh, and PEPPARKAKOR! (That’s gingerbread, for all your English-speaking folk).

Lunch would be a while, so we were told to go out and enjoy ourselves while there was still daylight.  The sun doesn’t really rise at this time of year, it just seems to be a melt from sunrise to sunset, although on this day it was overcast and grey, so not much of either to be seen I’m afraid!  They have a trail marked out through the forest and we all hiked for what seemed forever through trees and knee-deep snow, quite forgetting about the cold – like I said, when you’re on the move, you don’t feel it.  And it was glorious!  The crunch of snow beneath your boots and the soft mounds you can just fall in if you trail off the path.

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It was like being pure kids again – even Mum, who enjoyed making snowfalls in the air, as the snow was too soft to make snowballs – which isn’t to say she didn’t try doing that, either, and taught two asian girls how to make snow angels, as they’d never heard of them before.  Once you get out of the forest, you come back down to the river at a different spot, and the slipperiness of the downhill slope meant turning a snowy downhill path into a snowy slide, which admittedly felt much safer and more fun!

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We returned to the cabins for a traditional moose soup.  A bit cautious about trying moose, the same way I was for reindeer later on our journey, simply for the fact I didn’t want to eat such an iconic Swedish animal, but it tasted quite alright.  And we had my favourite round bread, too (I’m obsessed with that stuff!).  We sat around talking with Märta and the others again.  Johan played a bit of guitar, and Märta told us tales of hunting and running the cabin with her family.  The cabins don’t have electricity, and are heated by firewood, and one chilly -40 degree day she awoke to find her sheets wet and frozen to the wall of the cabin!

So if we didn’t want that happening to us, it was probably about time we began to chop firewood to heat our own cabins for the night, the sauna, and the grill for dinner!  Märta was there to teach us, not to do the work for us, we were all to there to experience that way of living ourselves, and the group was great at chipping in and helping one another out – collecting wood from the woodpile, sawing it down into smaller pieces, with a two-person saw, and then swinging at it hard with an axe to get it just the right size!  During this time it started snowing heavily, and really, it was the first proper snowfall we’d had, and distracted us a little from the work at hand!

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The camp also had no running water (so going to the toilet was a true camping experience!), so to heat the sauna and provide drinking water, we had to trek down to the river as a group carrying empty water buckets and bottles to fill up at the river.  Mum was the one to volunteer to kneel down and fill the buckets from the ice-cold water, everyone else helped fill the buckets with funnels and carry them all back to the cabins.

For dinner, we got to grill sausages on the open fire again, which we ate with mashed potato and baked beans, and we discovered roasted lök, or onion, which are sort of like crunchy flakes,  that you can have with anything really – potato, meat, burgers, etc. – we later bought a few packets home to Australia with us.  It was very warm and pleasant by the fire.

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After warming our huts (we stayed in a traditional Sami hut) it was pretty much Northern Light hunting for the rest of the night – ducking inside and out, trying to spot a glimpse of colour amongst the black sky.  If anything, it was nice to just stargaze.  Then someone would say they spotted a grey cloud moving and we’d take a photo, and it would be green.  THESE PHOTOS LIE.  It was not green.  It was pitch black, with maybe a wispy grey cloud in front.

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But it was nice all the same!  This went on for sometime, until grey clouds increased and photos became slightly brighter, and the photographers in the group began screaming “they’re coming!” and would consequently run down to the river for a better look.

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AGAIN, THIS PHOTO IS A LIE.  Pretend it’s greyscale, and that’s what we saw.  They were very weak auroras, which, I can’t lie, was a little disappointing, but you can never plan the weather – or the aurora borealis activity, as the case may be.  For the guy in our group that wanted our northern lights photos – here they are!  And we’re sorry we never got the chance to take down your email 😦

Cold, tired and disappointed, half of us (Mum and I included) trekked off to the warmth of cabins and sleeping bags, the other half (including Johan) to the saunas.  Having not quite enjoyed the sauna the first time, I decided to sit it out and let the boys have their fun as Johan was getting along quite well with the other guys.

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Waking up inside a sleeping bag in a toasty-warm traditional log hut was almost as exciting as waking up inside an igloo.  Breakfast consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches and tea and coffee in our huts, and the sky was just starting to brighten at 10am.  The group had voted on cross-country skiing (that is, skiing on the flat) this morning, so off went the boots and on went ski shoes, which was probably one of our few complaints as it was very hard to find large sizes for everyone, and then we had some difficulty trying to fit them properly to the skis.  Some had to take the snow-shoes instead.  But we got there in the end.

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Johan and I fiddling with the GoPro took up the rear of the group, and I really struggled to get the hang of it skiing properly, but in the end it was Johan that fell over on camera, not me!  I had also began tucking my hair inside my jacket, which I forgot to on this morning and by the end I looked like Queen Elsa with it all frozen white (not to mention the furs of our beanies and Johan’s mustache).
Pic 17We began at sunrise, and when we turned around half hour later, the sky was still stuck in sunrise-mode, and we had this view the whole way back.
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We had a little time left over after this to do what we wanted so Johan and I grabbed plastic-seat-slidey-things to slide down a hill on, but as they were small and you had to hold your feet up to slide, it didn’t quite work limb-wise.  We instead returned to the river where others were having a go at ice-fishing.  But they warned us to be careful, that the ice was thin, and they couldn’t have too many people standing on it!

Ice-fishing may have been successful if we had spent longer doing it, but it was basically a quick trial.  We did get to drill a hole into the ice, but that was about it before we  had to set off on our way back, as they also had the next day’s group arriving.  It was a truly beautiful place and experience and we’d love to do it all again if given the opportunity.  The guides were fantastic.Pic 19The mist rising up from the river from the evaporating water.

It was all a bit of a rush going back, but soon we were climbing back in the raft and hopping back on the snowmobiles.  This time, renewed with confidence, Mum did have a go at driving the snowmobile, and she drove just fine!  The sunset at 1.30pm followed us all the way back along our once again, freezing journey, but oh how beautiful it was. ❤
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Tack Taube Activity!