Feb 6, 2012

Kiruna, Sweden

03 (Fri) - 06 (Mon) Feb 2011
Lodging: Hotell City

The utmost purpose of this trip is, to watch the northern lights or more commonly called "Aurora Borealis". Were we lucky enough?

Day 1

Huge Winnie the Pooh at
Copenhagen Airport Terminal 3
Kiruna is the northernmost city of Sweden in the province of Lapland and as we're staying in Lund, the funny thing happened - we took train from Lund, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark and fly to Kiruna, which is in Sweden.

There was a transit at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Kiruna airport is a very tiny one, so not many places to fly from for it.

As we arrived to Kiruna airport, there's a digital indicator outside displaying the temperature (-21°C), and the cold temperature was of course expected - one needs some trainings to survive this temperature. Well, this is just the beginning, -44°C comes as you continue reading.

From the airport we took a catered bus at SEK50 to the tourist centre, not actually to get any tourist information but to travel to where we're gonna stay that night.

There's a Thai cuisine nearby the tourist centre at Vänortsgatan 8. It seems like Thai cuisine is somewhat popular in Europe. SEK65 for a meal and most of us ordered mixed dishes with rice.

Not only its relatively affordable, they have free self service salads, crackers, cookies, coffee and tea. Why didn't we just enter and have it the cheapskate way? LOL~~

Our lodging for the first night was Hotell City at SEK200 per night with extra charge of SEK50 for bed linen. We're lucky to have a room with exactly 10 beds, own toilet and entertainment room. That's the fun part of travelling in a slightly bigger group.

After unloading our luggages, we went out to have a freezing stroll.

We passed by a liquor store, and I knew it - some drunkards among us are going to visit and buy some, then 不醉不歸 again.

Really, I didn't want to buy at first, but peer pressure is such a convincing source that drives action beyond intention - I just then picked a cider that most of us bought (and since cider tastes nicer).

That night we cooked ourselves dinner for the day from what we bought from ICA, typically like when some of us were in Lund, to save money.

It's a 4 days 3 nights trip, so we have 3 chances of gazing aurora, to give it a try, we walked out of the hostel and tried to reach somewhere dark where we''ll be able to watch clearer aurora. We even asked a convenience store keeper about a recommended spot to watch and she replied, "if there's aurora, you can see it everywhere here".

After a while, we couldn't take the cold anymore and had to "chill" in a random hotel that we passed by. My toes were painful.

We still gave it a try after leaving that hotel and proceed to Camp Ripan.
I'm sorry but reaching the cliff of Camp Ripan didn't grant us a chance of aurora appearing in the sky, the cloudy sky, ya, could be the great reason of failure. What to do, other than walking back to the hostel while feeling disappointed?

The red patches are the results from frostbite.
Nevertheless, a small 'home-sweet-home' - we're sheltered once again from the cold.

And next on, it's time to get high!
Sometimes it doesn't take a genius to see who're really drunk - it starts with those turning into swearers.

Day 2

Early in the morning we had to prepare to pack our bags to be brought to the camp, and be prepared before the person in charge, Stefan coming to pick us up to their home base.

We're told to charge all our electronic devices before departing, as there'll be NO electricity in the cabin we're gonna stay, which is in the middle of a cold forest.

After getting off from the van to their home base at Alttajärvivägen 1 (Kiruna Aurora Tours), there're one line of Alaskan huskies in front of us, and some them their kept howling.

We enter the changing room of their home and put on their overall winter wear, balaclava, boots and two pairs of stupid gloves (in the shape of mittens - holding stuffs and taking photos become so difficult).

We're then making our move to Kaperasjärvi (a lake where the cabins of our lodging are located nearby).
Some of us followed dog sled, some in the trailer and I was the passenger of Khiong Kiat on a snow mobile.
By the way, we need a driver's licence to drive the snow mobile, else they'll report to the police (so serious or not), and how do I know that I'll freaking need a driver's licence when I'm doing SEP in Sweden?! I think I either left it at home in Penang, or at my uncle's house in Singapore.

After half of our journey there, the snow mobile driven by Stefan that pulls the trailer went wrong. There's probably fault in the engine due to cold, see what cold temperature can do? It's about -30°C. We're then stuck in the middle of the snow forest and waiting for assistance from the home base.

Of course, while waiting for the rescue team...

Also, after the journey, I'd say no thanks to driving the snow mobile, I was too cold until I had frostbite on my fingers even as a passenger. I would rather sit covered behind the trailer.

In the meantime we're actually asked to help lifting the trailer to get the whole thing moving forward (what?! we pay you for this?!). Well after that, it's fixed and on our way we finally saw some cabins in the forest - our cabins. I just quickly ran into the cabin for warmth, and then grab some biscuits in the cabin to eat.

After some 'heat recharge' for our body, we ran down to the very huge lake for dog sled.

The lake is a very huge frozen lake now, with thick snow on it, and it's a perfect spot for watching aurora because there's no visual obstacle around.

And the thick snow allows us to do relatively spectacular snow angels.

I can tell that these Alaskan huskies are really powerful, and they're really brainwashed to just run for their whole life.
We have to keep stepping on the brake whenever the dogs are going to overtake the sled ahead of them, besides enjoying the super cold wind during the run.
The journey of dog sled revolved the big frozen lake and it took about 6 minutes I guess.

Lunch came after dog sled, and Stefan was cooking for all of us. In the meantime, we just grabbed some very nice and crispy biscuits to counter the cold in our body first.

It's so cold that we baked the biscuits on candle before eating them. Haha...

Reindeer soup

Mora hand auger
Sun sets even earlier in Kiruna (4pm in February).
Stefan brought us down to the lake to do ice fishing and walk on snow on snow shoes, instead of leaving us doing nothing other than keeping warm in the cabin.

There's a think layer of ice under the snow we're standing on and to reach the lake, we'll have to drill a hole through the thick ice using the mora hand auger.

The first few tries of drilling were demoralizing, as the height of the tool was still the same - not drilling through.
After that we helped each other to drill by pressing the tool downwards. Delighting result came after our herculean efforts.

Pulling out the mora hand auger leaves a hole on the ground that leads to the liquid lake, however, there're still some frozen pieces of lake water on top that needs to be cleared. Stefan helped us to scoop out the pieces with hand on gloves, but few times later he took off his right glove and scoop with his bare hand!! All of us just stared at him...

Some of us started to ice fish. For me, ice fishing, who cares?! After drilling the hole to the lake I was just jumping around and trying to fit my shoes into the snow shoes to prevent my feet from getting frostbite, although they've gotten already.

It's for me ridiculous to ice fish in the dark because first it's DARK and you can't see the thread of the fishing rod and it might tangle, second it's definitely freezing cold.
Just look at Min Khai's frostbitten face!! Haha...

Usually we won't want to stay at the lake for too long, it's too cold and eventually we'll run back to the cabin.
In the cabin we had some light snacks like biscuits and the very nice round bread with butter, while waiting for dinner that Stefan's cooking for us.

At the moment all of us were aspiring for aurora. When I was looking at the sky in the noon, I sort of like seeing some cyan lights from the horizon, which gave me a strong feeling that there'll be aurora tonight. Clear sky for the night was a plus, but the minus side, the bright full moon that could be obstructive to gazing aurora, which ironically was the only light source in the forest. No electricity, remember?

Stefan went out for a while and then came back from outside and said he got a good news and bad news. The bad news was, dinner has to be delayed, because there're currently weak aurora. Didn't he just explicitly announce the good news? We hastily put on our overall wear after our epic reaction to the news.

Can you see the 3 tripods (mine, Syjia's and Khiong Kiat's)?

The aurora was still quite weak and will grow stronger maybe at a latter time.

Actually it's not very visible with naked eyes but clearer in camera because the shutter speed has to be slow to collect light. The quality was quite lousy because I used pretty high ISO setting for faster shutter speed, still, it took a few seconds for a shot. Also because of manual focusing, I didn't really focus anything (and with the obstructive gloves it's so uneasy to rotate the lens).

We had to get back to the cabin for dinner and shelter ourselves.

Yummy Swedish meatballs...

A while later we went down to the lake again and the aurora was stronger, although it's still actually weak for our eyes.

This one is the best aurora borealis that I took, although it's not focused.
It took 30 seconds to capture, and it's long enough to capture the aurora's dancing motion (f/3.5 ISO-160).

They said that the orange light came from the Icehotel's reflection.

The aurora shifted to our left and got weaker and in the end diminished.

You know, at that moment, I was so delighted and I thought I was very fortunate, and now I really feel like sharing this song that energized me to cross finger for the aurora -
Aurora (歐若拉) by Angela Chang (張韶涵).
作詞:施立 作曲:李天龍

神秘北極圈 阿拉斯加的山巔 誰的臉 出現海角的天邊
忽然的瞬間 在那遙遠的地點 我看見 戀人幸福的光點
靈魂 在招喚 唱著古老 陌生熟悉的歌謠 天空在微笑 我的世界 繽紛閃耀

愛是一道光 如此美妙 指引我們 想要的未來
魔力北極光 奇幻的預言 趕快去找不思議的愛
愛是一道光 如此美妙 照亮我們 勇氣的未來
魔力北極光 傳說的預言 原來就是 戀人的眼光

沈默一眨眼 一萬年外的光年 我相信 未來其實並不遠
哭泣的眼淚 是喜悅的讚美 是因為 有你能展翅高飛
靈魂 在招喚 唱著古老 陌生熟悉的歌謠 天空在微笑 我的世界 繽紛閃耀

愛是一道光 如此美妙 指引我們 想要的未來
魔力北極光 奇幻的預言 趕快去找不思議的愛
愛是一道光 如此美妙 照亮我們 勇氣的未來
魔力北極光 傳說的預言 原來就是 戀人的眼光

紅橙黃綠藍 五彩的歐若拉 愛就在心中 相信就會存在
紅橙黃綠藍 美麗的歐若拉 愛就在心中 相信就是永遠

愛是一道光 如此美妙 指引我們 想要的未來
魔力北極光 奇幻的預言 趕快去找不思議的愛
愛是一道光 如此美妙 照亮我們 勇氣的未來
魔力北極光 傳說的預言 原來就是 戀人的眼光

紅橙黃綠藍 五彩的歐若拉 愛就在心中 相信就會存在
紅橙黃綠藍 美麗的歐若拉 愛就在心中 相信就是永遠

By the way, I lost my spectacles when I asked Aletheia to take me a photo, when I took of my beanie. Well, you can't really feel anything because of the numbness of body and they're too many layers of clothing from head to toes.
I tried to find of course, but failed, probably resting in peace under the snow layer, who knows... sobz...

Gas log fireplace
There's one thing that we had to constantly keep our eyes on before it extinguishes - the gas log fireplace, our only source of heat in our cold bedroom cabin.

We have to insert logs into it whenever there're more than sufficient space there, and have to be careful not to get burnt. The fireplace is hot and will burn your skin, but in spite of this extreme, the room is not much warmed by this thing.

It actually extinguished that afternoon and we had to trouble Stefan to start the fire again and that's not easy.

He explained to us the technique of inserting the logs:
  1. Start inserting the larger possible log into the fireplace
  2. Then fill the remaining space with smaller logs, then even smaller and smaller.
Well, I don't know why, but it seems easy. Sometimes the log is too long for the depth of the fireplace and we have to punch it in so that the cover can be closed.
I couldn't remember anything as I was knocked off due to tiredness, but I believe Min Khai was one of those who did stay awake and load the logs while everyone fell asleep.
Kudos to them!

The trip to Kaperasjärvi made us appreciate Thomas Edison's invention more. It's just simply too arduous to survive with merely candles.

On the other hand, all of us felt disgusted, first of all no water (the drinking water came from the lake) and no bathroom. That's fine as we don't have to bathe in such cold weather, and we didn't brush our teeth. Yucks!

The second thing, oh my goodness, the toilet got NO PLUMBING!!

Ok, at night, there's only dim candle light for you in the toilet. And you know, in cold weather, the air you exhale condensates to fog. The fog blocks your eyesight each time you exhale. How irritating...

Next, it's not totally enclosed and so the temperature inside is the same as outside, the more time you spend inside, the more painful you'll get. Now, imagine how long it will take for the females to take off so many layers?

Finally, the grossest part, no plumbing remember? In daytime, you can choose to see, or not, the collection of excrement down in the 'sewer'... Ewww!!!

Day 3

Next morning we followed Stefan to transport water back to the cabin. It's another open area, with a pre-drilled hole, so he has to just cut the layer of ice with an axe.
The hole was quite big, it'll be dangerous if one falls into it.


It's about time to leave for Icehotel and we'll be passing by the Torne Valley.

Some of us drove the snow mobile and some of us (including me) sat inside the trailer (yeah, protection from cold wind).

All of us stopped our respective vehicles at Torne Valley, have some scenic views, then again, the snow mobile that carried the trailer broke down.

We're left catching cold in the wilderness while waiting for the rescue team for 30 minutes. Hello! Did we pay you for that?!

I believed everyone was at the moment suffering from frostbite.

Torne Valley

Look at my eye lashes and scarf, the ices were formed from the frozen moisture I exhaled.

The team came with a large dog sled and we sat on the sled, the upcoming journey was a super cold one.
The dog unfortunately took the wrong turning and the person behind us had to stop them from proceeding, and due to the brake Wei Ling's foot was sandwiches by the sled in front (I couldn't really see as I was sitting quite behind). She was saved then and luckily no serious injury.

Ah, I just didn't know what exactly has happened and what'll happen next and what're we gonna do. Somehow their green van reached that place and we took the van back to their home base - YEAH, back to civilization.

We returned their overall wear, wet balaclava, gloves and boots. After getting back our bags, we're ready to visit the Icehotel.

We took a photo with Stefan before he left.

When we're in the cabin, Stefan will randomly tell stories to us, about what he's experienced from his over 20 years of working experience here. He's quite nice and has been taking care of our meals and activities.

Because it's so expensive to visit the Icehotel and it's so bloody cold, except for Gareth and Wei Ling, all of us were not very inclined to entering the Icehotel, instead we wanted to catch the bus at 3pm to get back to Hotell City (as told by the activity receptionist at Icehotel).

We however walked around Icehotel before the entrance, and before it's 3pm.

Bus stop along Marknadsvägen
At 2:45pm we're waiting at the bus stop and guess what, the bus hasn't reach when it's already 3:15pm.

We only realized that for Sunday, the bus timetable is different, when informed by another receptionist at Icehotel.

We've wasted our time standing in the cold waiting for NOTHING!!

Oh well, we've to call a taxi. And the taxi is a van that fits all 8 of us. We're happy enough to be in a warm van that brings us back to Hotell City, where we can finally bathe in.
Dinner was cooked by us...

I did anyhow cook one of those plates of fried rice. Haha...

That night ended with some drinking games and really creepy detective games...

Day 4

Pizzeria Sicillia
We checked out in the morning and had to fold all the bed linens and clean the room in order to check out. So cumbersome...

That day's brunch was at Pizzeria Sicillia, Vänortsgatan 10 which is near to the tourist centre, where we boarded the 12pm bus to the airport.

We ordered 4 delicious pizzas and shared.

Before leaving, some of us quickly ran off to buy Magnum ice cream from ICA as desserts before the bus arrived.

After self-checking in, we ate the ice cream outside the airport, like morons, but the different experience was, the ice cream won't melt! ^^

The journey back was just the reverse of coming here - transit at Stockholm Arlanda Airport and arrived at Copenhagen Airport, and then we took the train back to Lund, home-sweet-home. How much we miss the warmer temperature in Lund, although it's still below 0°C.

Kiruna is by far the northernmost and coldest place I've ever traveled on this planet earth. I guess it's enough for me to experience such extreme temperature once in my lifetime.

Phew, what a trip, back to studies...

Javin Tham A master's degree graduate in engineering, a musician at heart, loves playing with soft toys.

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