Category Archives: Holidays

He’s On His Way!

It’s happening!  It’s here!  Johan arrives in Oz about 21 hours!  We’ve had what will probably be our last Skype call in a very, very long time.  He got to the airport safe and sound and on time,  and last messaged after his first of three flights, and before his phone died, in Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, I’m finishing up at work tomorrow, the cat is getting her last injection on Monday, and Mum’s had a 7.30pm alarm go off every day this week (for that’s the time Johan’s plane is due to arrive in Brisbane).  It took half hour for me to get to sleep last night, and I laid awake for a further hour and a half at 5am, having over-excited myself.

View from my desk at work.

As a birthday treat, Mum shouted me a trip to Sydney last weekend (our final weekend alone together before Johan’s arrival) for the last night of the Vivid Festival.  Vivid is the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas.  We walked a tiring 21.7km around the city on Saturday until our feet were in agony, and then half that again on the Sunday!

Vivid Festival lights up the Sydney Opera House.

It’s a pretty city with its harbour and ferries, if a bit of a mess with roadworks as they build the new light rail.  There’s roadworks everywhere around here, too, and will be one of the first things Johan gets to experience on our trip back from the airport with all the changed traffic limits.  It was nevertheless a nice way to spend the weekend, and the week before that I got to see all my family for my 25th.  My little niece made me a lovely (difficult) heart puzzle!

My niece’s artistic work.

It feels strange to know that I now have less than 50 days before I get back on a plane myself, to finally move out of home, and out of this country.  It’s a huge, scary and exciting step in my life, and now that it’s fast approaching I think I’m trying not to think about it!  But first, there’s my boyfriend to see, and 6 more crazy, action-packed weeks to live through (don’t worry Johan, it wont be quite as crazy an itinerary as Lapland was).  Bring it!


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!

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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!

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“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!

Haparanda, New Years, Luleå

When we returned to Haparanda, it was the day before New Years. We all unpacked as best we could in my tiny apartment, which left us with basically no floor space. I’m telling you, that place is fine for me, who is just one guy, but you can’t live more than one person there. At least not if you want any kind of personal space. And especially if two out of three people are living out of large suitcases placed on the floor. But we managed, and it actually wasn’t too bad. Kylie and I didn’t want much space between us anyway.

New Year’s Eve is interesting in a town bordering two time zones, as you celebrate it twice. Once for each time zone. The event itself started a couple hours before new year’s Finnish time (which is one hour ahead of Swedish time) and we made our way to the parking lot of the big shopping center that straddles the border between Sweden and Finland, which is where the celebrations would be held. There was a stage and it all started with a dance number, before speeches were made and it turned out that one of the main hosts of the event was the principal of my school, who is a really cool person by the way. Following this, there was a live band that played cover songs and other performances, until just before Finnish New Year, when they lit a fire sculpture display thing in an area just between the two countries. During this, there was more entertainment, until at midnight Finnish time, they lit the fireworks.

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By this time, it had gotten really cold, and the wind was biting at every bit of skin that was exposed on our faces, and finding its way inside our thick layers of clothes. Seriously, it bothered me less being in -40 but no wind than just the few degrees minus but with high winds.

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For the next hour, there was more entertainment on the stage and more speeches being made, until the Swedish new years, when we got even more fireworks. It was nice, and Kylie preferred our Swedish show over the Finnish one, but she still claims they have even better ones in Brisbane. I guess I’ll have to take her word for that. It wasn’t the most intense new years celebration I’ve ever experienced either, though I think the most novel thing was having done it twice in one night! Regardless, we were pretty tired when we came home, and it was very nice to get to crawl into a nice warm bed.

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The next day, we spent walking around in Haparanda. I showed them my favourite places. We went down to the beach by the river bordering Finland, which had iced over. Actually, the town was covered more with ice than with snow. That’s what happens when the weather is mild. Snow falls, partially melts, then freezes again, forming a thick layer of ice everywhere.

I must admit that I was not too happy to go out, I’d probably have preferred to stay indoors, cuddling in the warm apartment, but I know how much Kylie loves the snow and ice, and I wanted to show her the place I, for the moment, call home, so I braved the weather, though slightly reluctantly, and now afterwards, Kylie still says I was grumpy, not wanting to play with her in the icy playground. But I digress. We did get some Christmas decorations though, a christmas goat! It’s a scandinavian thing.

Pic 5One dangerous looking playground!

Pic 6 The town’s hotel… Kylie’s Mum was later horrified to find they’d removed the Christmas tree!

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On the second of January, we started our journey further north, by taking a bus to Luleå, from where we would go by train to Kiruna. We stayed overnight in Luleå though, at a very cosy hotel. Probably my favourite of the hotels we stayed at. It was nice and modern, and Kylie and I had a room to ourselves, which I appreciated. Not that her mum was annoying to be around, quite the opposite, she was great fun! But it was nice to have some time to ourselves.

Luleå is a very nice town though. We walked around for a few hours in the evening and had great fun. The river was frozen over and they had ice skating tracks on it. It would have been fun to go skating there! We got to do a little skating, but only on small rinks, as you’ll see later, but nothing that really let you just skate straight forward without having to turn because you’re approaching a wall.

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Pic 9 A little bit more snow and a lot more ice!  On the Luleå River, where they ice skate.

Nevertheless, we found a park with Santa sculptures, another iced over playground, which I did play in, I’ll have you know, and what looked like a small outdoor theatre thing where they had performed for kids. There was a lot of interesting things to find. Just before we went back to the hotel, we found a time capsule, which was installed on new years 1999/2000 and is not supposed to be opened for a thousand years, new years 2999/3000! At the time of writing, that’s only 984 years left…

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Since we had to leave the hotel early for our train in the morning, the hotel allowed us to make breakfast and bring it with us in paper bags, which was very nice of them. And it was great! They also had hot chocolate and coffee and fruit and little muffins that you could take from the food area at any time, for free. We probably exploited that a bit too much… had quite a few mugs of hot chocolate.

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Anyway, as usual, we ended up running late for our train in the morning. And we had to sprint though Luleå to the train station at 5:30 in the morning, lugging heavy suitcases with one hand and carrying breakfast in the other. Luckily, the station wasn’t that far away. But it seems like we have a habit of being late… I think we’ll need to work on that in the future.

Snow Adventure in Finland

It was a long journey.  The snow arrived in Skänninge the day after we left… which just so happened to be the first day we saw snow, when we woke up on our overnight train – typical!  Boy, was it a sight – how I had missed it!  There was snow EVERYWHERE!  The train itself had been comfortable enough, if a bit squishy with two suitcases crammed in there.  We had a small private compartment for the three of us and we watched shows on the iPad and slept in beds with not much room but then woke to snow flashing passed the window.  All too soon we were getting off at Luleå and making our way to the bus station – the bus was already there waiting, so only a very short transfer and no time to really play in the snow – too busy trying to drag 3 heavy suitcases through it!

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It was about a two and a half hour bus ride to Haparanda, by which time darkness had already fallen and guess what?  THERE WAS NO SNOW!  Mum and I were outraged!  Instead, we were greeted with ice, and plenty of it.  Turns out, I’m not a big fan of the ice.  Johan had told us there were two ways we could take home – a longer route which went under a tunnel and would avoid a lot of the ice… or the quick route – just over the ice and passed the service station.  Mum and I were quite happy to take the longer route, but Johan insisted that we would be fine with the quicker route and he would help us over the ice.  Well!  Help he did – we struggled and struggled with the suitcases, moving extra slow over the ice.  We came to a tiny ditch on the side of the road completely covered in thick layers of slippery ice and I insisted we turn back but no… we kept going.  And in the end, the route we took ended up longer than the “long” route because Mum and I were moving so slowly and cautiously so as not to slip over and break a leg!  It was not fun!  But we finally made it back to his apartment and into the warmth, starving.

Having survived the slippery walk, we didn’t feel too bad about the fact there wasn’t snow, because we weren’t staying, and it still had 3 days to arrive before we would return for New Year.  The bus we were taking to Rovaniemi that night was leaving at 8.30, and allowing ourselves extra time to get back to the bus station with 2 suitcases instead of 3 (as we had packed carefully to enable us to do so), we still had quite a bit of time.  We headed off to the supermarket to pick out a quick meal for dinner  and we found some instant pasta dishes, garlic bread and a hazelnut cake to top it off for dessert… some milk, and we were heading home, excited for our trip to Rovaniemi, were there was bound to be plenty of snow to jump in.

Well, as we’re heating up our two different pasta dishes in Johan’s tiny kitchen – one on the stove and one in the microwave, and double checking times, yes, bus leaves at 8.30, still plenty of time… it’s starting to occur to me that I’m sure that was not the bus time I wrote in my itinerary… we triple check the bus time.  And at the bottom of the page, there’a  footnote.  Times are in Finnish.  Oh no.  That means the bus is leaving at 7.30.  That means we’ve got about 40 minutes, with at least another 20 minute walk back to the bus station with our suitcases!  Into the freezer went the garlic bread and the cake, quickly shoveled down meals, pulled on all of our winter layers again and were out the door, two suitcases behind us, slippery roads ahead of us, though making sure to take the longer, less slippery route this time.

We somehow made it, and the bus was late anyway, so we waited around a while, still not convinced we had the right time, because the electronic timetable was showing something different again, but eventually the bus arrived and we were jumping on, very thankful to have made it.  And then it was about another 3 hours on a bus and we arrived just past 10 to snow galore again.  We were staying in a lovely little apartment someone was renting out, and he kindly picked us up, allowed us to grab breakfast meals and then it was pretty well straight to bed and he said he’d pick us up at 10, enabling us a bit more of a sleep in.

And sleep in we did.  I was rubbing my eyes awake at 9.45, glancing at the clock and saying aloud: “Er… I think we should be getting up now.” We had forgotten to set alarms, and we had gone to bed early without much to do, but the exhaustion from our holiday, and the sun only just rising… well.  Let’s just say the breakfast we had bought went untouched, we were quickly getting dressed, which takes long enough in itself – on went the thermals, the shirts, the fleece pants, the snow pants, the jumpers, the jackets and already he was messaging us saying he’s at the door!

Highly awake now in the cold morning air, the drive to the village center was a scenic one with green trees and leafless trees, but plenty of snow covered ground.  We were dropped off at the Santa Claus Village, caught glimpse of a squirrel, and hurried inside to be greeted with hundreds upon hundreds of souvenir shops housing everything from reindeer and husky toys, t-shirts… they quickly became some of the funnest shops I’ve explored.

We didn’t stay long in the Village, just enough to have a quick look around, before heading off to Santa Park, which is a 2km-and-half-hour walk away in the freezing cold, but on a path cut through the snow beside the road.  The cold wasn’t too much of a bother – we were enjoying the snow way too much!  At least, Mum and I were.  Johan… well, his mustache was freezing.  There is supposed to be a reindeer farm somewhere along this road, and while we passed two or three fences that could have been it, it was on the opposite side of the road to the path, and the piles of snow were much too big to just duck across and look – perhaps something if you’re visiting in summer.

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Santa Park, which is built underground in an old nuclear bomb shelter, is just picturesque!  Yes, it’s more aimed at children, but it’s just as fun and authentic as an adult.  Most of the workers are young (though claiming to be over 500), short, with pointy ears, noses and hats, and the acting is all very well done.  You get to visit Elf School and become an apprentice Elf, with a certificate, card from Santa and Santa Hat.  You can visit Mrs Claus’ Gingerbread Bakery, the Post Office, an Ice Gallery, and of course, meet Santa – it didn’t matter that it was the 28th of December, he was still there, perhaps a little less busy than usual!  They also have a fun little sleigh ride we rode at least twice that takes you through a snowy forest, right through to Santa’s workshop and home.

But we were booked on a 5 hour reindeer safari starting at 3.30 and we had to get back to the city.  We learnt the hard way that there are no buses from Santa Park to the main city – which was back another 15 minutes by car – and had the pleasure (not!) of booking an overpriced taxi so we could be back in time to meet with our tour group at Lapland Welcome.

They hurried us in to put on extra warm layers – mittens, muffler hats, two pairs of socks, bigger boots, replaced our jackets for an all-in-one jumpsuit.  I believe we kept on our snow pants for two-leg layers and afterwards we felt we should’ve kept our jackets on too!  It was FREEZING.  The coldest we had ever been in our lives and understandably, as we later discovered it was -27°!  Brrr!  It was a fun experience nonetheless… we had a bit of a drive to the reindeer farm, then they taught us to lasso a reindeer using a pair of antlers… there were just two others in our group, and they gave us multiple turns.  Everyone managed to lasso the antlers after a number of tries… Except me.  Shame.  Then it was time to meet and harness our reindeer!  

We would be taking 3 reindeer out, 2 to a sled, and the guides told us we couldn’t hope to feel the holes in the buckles of our reindeer harnesses with our mittens on which Mum was none to happy about, having wanted to harness up our reindeer, Jätti, meaning giant.  When her fingers were well and numb, and Johan and I were still trying to fiddle with cameras and GoPros in the cold, we were being ushered into the sleds.  Mum went in the front sleigh with the guide, and their reindeer, Valkokynsi (white claw), followed by the two other people, and finally Johan and I at the rear, tucked under a thin blanket and freezing.

If we had hoped the journey would warm us up, we were sorely mistaken.  It was at least a half hour trek, at just a walk as the reindeer followed the guides on foot, so the wind wasn’t too bad, but the cold was numbing.  Pretty soon we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes, and Johan and I had given up on the cameras, deciding it better to cuddle and enjoy the moment.  The sky was supposedly clear and full of a hundred stars as far as the eye could see… I wouldn’t know, because my glasses had fogged up completely and I was having immense trouble defogging them.   For most of the journey, I stared at reindeer butt, while Johan awed at the stars instead and our sled creaked away.Pic 9

It was a relief to get to our campfire, but still not as warm as we’d been hoping with our still-numb fingers and toes.  I quickly took off my glasses, and discovered they were completely frozen over – no wonder I couldn’t defog them!  Worried about heating them up too quickly over the fire, they got tucked away into the camera bag, deciding they’d be useless on the journey back.  We took off our gloves and warmed our hands whilst the guides cooked us sausages and pancakes over the open fire, with blueberry jam and hot chocolate – delicious and much appreciated!  We were also given the opportunity to feed the reindeer and none of us wanted to leave the warmth of the fire, before the guides reminded us that the more we warmed up, the colder we would be, and the sooner we left the quicker we could be back indoors.  So we all snuggled down into our sleds again and we were off.  My vision not too much better on the journey back without my glasses.  I discovered later after much trial and error my glasses fogged up a lot less without the muffler covering my face and with controlled breathing where I didn’t blow my breath up my face, so I’m sad I didn’t learn that sooner… I would’ve foregone the muffler and would have probably enjoyed the sleigh ride much more, despite the cold.

The gift shop at the end was small and pricey, but full of handmade wooden articles, etc.  I tried to suggest a carved wooden reindeer thermometer to Johan, but it was a bit too costly.  We journeyed back, talking with the other couple in our tour group, now with 5-year reindeer driving licenses in our hands – though how well that will hold up officially I’m not so sure!  We had a long walk back to our apartment, made longer by getting lost, and Johan’s insisting of wanting to take this photo which involved pulling out the tripod and waiting for long exposure times:

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We awoke the next day to… more snow!  To our glee, fresh snow had fallen overnight and it all looked 10x prettier with glistening white snow now settled on every branch of every tree.  The apartment owner again took us to Santa Village, but took a detour passed the town he grew up and it was all very pretty.  We dropped our suitcases off at Snowman World, where we would be spending our last night sleeping in an igloo, then explored the Village more thoroughly as we hadn’t the day before.

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They had overpriced reindeer sled rides for the kids, which involved a short ride around in a circle and we felt quite satisfied with our 5 hour safari from the night before, and fires everywhere to warm you up.  We visited the Main Post office which was ridiculously packed, you could barely move in there, and visited all the souvenir shops, going inside every single one, even though most sold similar things, envying over all the ludicrous price tags.  I was pricing up the reindeer toys – I wasn’t leaving without one!  And I found one, in a store that had 50% off every single item in store, making it easily the cheapest souvenir shop in the Village by far… except, they didn’t take card.  And there are no atms in the Village.  If we had of known that, we would have taken out cash in the city the previous day.  I settled on a different reindeer in a shop that did accept card, twice the price, but still the cheapest I could find by a few euros, and left happy.Pic 12Pic 13b

In the late afternoon, we made our way back to Santa Park, as tickets included 2-day entry and the only thing we had missed the previous day was the Elf Show.  We made it in time, and considering the rest of this marvelous place, were thoroughly disappointed with the Elf Show, which had no dialogue and a very confusing storyline (if any) with bizarre costumes you spent the whole show trying to work out.  If we had known, we wouldn’t have returned for this show, which was just 25 minutes of “what am I watching?”.  But nonetheless, we were back now and we visited everything again!  Johan and I made felt-and-wood-santa-and-elves which are all hammered up in a hut full of them (which we had neglected to do the day before, despite Mum having already done hers), and had our photo undercrossing the Arctic Circle.  We bought our certificate for doing so (a further €5) and were one of the last ones to leave.

We trekked back to Santa Village in the dark (well, there was plenty of lighting), and having eaten nothing since breakfast, settled on the cheapest place we could find – a service station opposite the village which offered wraps, hot dogs and pizzas – overly priced, but the cheapest place to eat you had the possibility of finding.  Our stomaches full, we headed excitedly through the Village, to Snowman World.  There had been no rush, as they don’t allow check in til 6 and it’s not recommended to go into your igloos before you’re ready to sleep, and we were again disappointed to find out that staying at Snowman World also allowed for 2-day entry tickets.  In all my research, I had thought it had only included one day either before or after your stay.  We would’ve been much better spending two days at Snowman World instead of Santa Park.  The ice slides were closed, but there was a tiny ice slide inside we rode up and down and checked out the snow sculptures and the empty Ice Bar and Restaurant.

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There were plenty of well-done snowman carvings in the snow, and we checked out all of the carvings in the 10 rooms as well.  Like a hotel, there was a big main room with doors coming off it into separate igloos.  We were quite pleased with the two we picked out, deciding them to have what were probably the best room carvings featuring reindeer.  All of the rooms also had lighting which you could change – yellows, blues, greens, reds… and, to our surprise, heated mattresses!  It was quite pleasant in doors though – they keep the temperature at -2 to -7° which is warmer than it is outside.  You also don’t sleep on ice beds as we’d been expecting – it’s just a wooden bed with reindeer-furs on top and there’s one ice bed in the main room on display – which is also just a block of ice surrounding the wooden bed.

So, we grabbed our sleeping bags, and as instructed, took off our shoes which are kept at the foot of the bed, took off our jackets which you put inside your sleeping back and sleep on top of, so they’re kept warm in the morning, and well, struggled into our sleeping bags!  Beanies and socks are kept on to keep you warm in the night, but I ended up too hot in my layers, and peeled them off during the night.  We had a bit more success than Mum – who we had filmed getting into her sleeping bag the wrong way!  And that’s the story of how we slept in an igloo!

We had a lovely buffet breakfast in the morning and stocked up, knowing that lately our days had consisted of skipping lunch, too busy doing everything else.  Snowman World, which I had thought was open to guests before the public, wouldn’t be opening until 10 or 11, so we made the decision to… trek back to Santa Park.  But not to the actual Park itself!  I had read a review on Trip Advisor which mentioned of a look out, which started at the base of the car park.  They had done it in summer and weren’t sure how hard it would be in winter, but we took the plunge, and are glad we did.  A short 20 minute hike up the hill, led us to this look out, and it was nice, but most of the snow had melted off the trees so if you can do it with snow, do!  You can see as far as the Village, and beyond.  Just be careful climbing up those ladders – the steps were very small and very slippery!

Pic 17aWe spotted two snowmobiles here and enjoyed jumping in deep snow, making snow angels and sliding back down the hill.  Then hiked back to Snowman World, excited to try ice slides and ice skating!  All in all, that meant making 5 trips to or from Santa Park, and over 10km of walking – great exercise!

Mum headed straight for the ice slides, whilst Johan headed onto the ice rink.  I was still unsure and nervous about the small ice rink with no railing, and watched and filmed Johan for a while, before deciding I couldn’t miss out.  I beckoned Johan over and he helped me into ice skates, which felt too loose and too tight at the same time, and struggled for a while getting the laces done up tight and secure enough.  And then… I had to walk from the hut with the ice skates, to the ice rink.  “Johan, HELP ME!!!” I was hanging so tightly onto him I’m surprised we both didn’t fall over, but we made it and I soon grabbed hold of a support frame, which they had 3 of, instead of the railings.

This was my first time ice skating, and Johan was trying not to show off as he skated around freely and I struggled to get moving, little kids much younger and shorter than me zooming around.  But I eventually got there.  A few times I let go of the frame and hung onto Johan for dear life instead, but I kind of told him I didn’t trust him (sorry honey! :P) and felt much better using the frame, and got faster with it, but didn’t let go, being too much of a wuss.  We spent quite some time here, going around and around in circles until I got the hang of it.  We only wished it had been a bigger rink – all the other ones we had seen in London and Stockholm had been much bigger so that was a bit of a disappointment – you were just gliding in tight circles the whole time.  Eventually Mum joined us and had a go – though not before going on the ice slides about 20 or 30 times – they had two which you rode on tubes.  One that went around a large corner, and one that leaped into the air and landed you on a giant inflatable bag like a jumping castle.

Pic 18 So getting late in day, Johan and I took off our skates and switched to the slides.  Amusingly, there are signs that say it’s best to wear a helmet, but there are none available for loan.  Nevertheless, we didn’t see any cracked heads when we were there.  My first try on the bag jump ended with my glasses very squashed onto my face, so I avoided that one, instead much preferring the longer ice slide which took you at crazy speeds around the corner and had mats at the end to slow you down.  It was thrilling!

A quick ride in a sled beside the ice rink, which was tethered to a pole where one person sat in the sled and the other ran  in a circle, and it was time for us to be thinking about returning to the city to get our bus back to Haparanda.  And guess what?  All tickets had to be purchased on the bus.  There was no way of pre-purchasing them online or at the Tourist Information, just had to buy a ticket on the bus, IN CASH.  So, another expensive taxi journey later, we were back in the main city directly outside the bus station, and took our leave from Rovaniemi, disappointed to leave after such a fantastic fun-filled day.

Pic 19