Category Archives: Sweden

The Best Holiday Ever

Yes, I know. Not everyone would be thrilled to be going overseas with only 2 days’ notice. But I was. Spending almost 3 weeks in sub-zero temperatures, not seeing the sun for 2 weeks, camping in a tent in the snow, sleeping in the car and even the prospect of travelling so far to see a natural phenomenon without any guarantee of success would not be everyone’s idea of the perfect holiday. Gee, we could have just stayed home and enjoyed (or endured!) a long stretch of 40+C days instead. But I’m so glad we went, and not just because we missed Adelaide’s heat wave.

It was wonderful to revisit places we had seen 6 months ago, in mid-summer. At the time, we wondered what it would be like there in winter …. and now we know. Once we got used to colder weather than either of us had ever experienced, and worked out what to wear, the cold didn’t bother us much. Okay, so I wasn’t brave enough to get out of the warm car when it was -36C, but getting out and about in slightly warmer but still sub-zero temperatures, and even sitting watching for aurora was fine as long as we wore enough clothes. The Norwegians are right – ‘there’s no such thing as cold weather, only inappropriate clothing’.

I had always thought that winter inside the Arctic Circle meant existing in complete darkness, and was very happy to learn and experience that it’s not so. During ‘polar night’, which is the opposite of ‘midnight sun’, it does get light even though the sun doesn’t shine above the horizon. The light is weak, like pre-dawn light here, and it only lasts a few hours. For the first few days, we were looking for dinner at 4pm … well, it had been fully dark for HOURS by then, feeling tired at 5pm and sleeping in until it was light … at around 10am. We never really did wake up early unless we used an alarm, but then we don’t at home either.

We did see the Northern Lights … 3 times. The first 2 nights we were inside the Arctic Circle (the night we slept in the car, and the next night when we camped in the tent), they were there. Not spectacular displays, and if we had realised how elusive they really are, we would have paid more attention and spent more time outside watching them. But because they were just there almost as soon as we arrived to watch them, we figured they would be there all the time and we could see them whenever we looked up at the sky. So, so not true. The third time we saw them was the first night we stayed in the cabin at Birtavarre, but they were mostly hidden by cloud. We could see them through the cloud, but wasn’t a good show.

There are 2 enduring images that I’ll carry with me as memories of our trip, and neither were photographed. The first is the one Greg mentioned, of the couple walking their baby in a pram when it was -36C. The other is of a mother pushing a child on a swing in a playground in Kiruna. It was 4.30pm, -5C and pitch black outside. And it reminded me that wherever we are in the world, kids are kids.

As always, thanks to everyone who has read, commented and sent messages – while we really write and share our photos for our own amusement and to keep a record of our travels, it’s great to know that we entertain other people as well.

Just a few last words … for Greg. Thank you. For planning and organising our amazing holiday; for buying the equipment, warm clothes and other essentials; for doing all the driving, including that long, difficult snowy drive back to Stockholm; and most of all, thank you for your adventurous spirit and for taking me along with you!

South to Stockholm

It was a long cold 1500km drive south from Birtavarre Norway to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. We spent another fruitless night looking for Aurora. It was a clear night with the temperature dropping to -18C, but no sign anywhere of Aurora.

We left Birtavarre at 5:00am, and within a couple of hours we were back in Finland, refuelling the car with cheaper Finish Diesel (about $A2 a litre) rather than expensive Norwegian Diesel ($A3 per litre). When we refuelled it was -24C  and we worked our way through northern Finland for about 100km with the temperature dropping even lower. The temperature finally dropped to -36C with the cars clutch starting to play up getting heavier to use. We thought it might be the cluch fluid freezing , but it turns out clutch fluid does not freeze until -59C, so something else caused the clutch to play up when it was very very cold.

We crossed south into Sweden with the temperature still hovering around the -36C level. We drove through a town where a couple were taking their baby out for a walk in a pram, and it was still -36C.

We finally had the sun rise over the horizon in northern Sweden, unfortunately we drove straight into the low sun for a couple of hours.  By the time it got dark at about 2pm we had covered 500km, but we still had a 1000km to go. Once we got to Lulea the road got wider with more overtaking lanes. Around about 600km from Stockholm it started snowing again and you have difficulties overtaking the trucks on the overtaking lanes. The trucks kick up light snow that billows around like dust on an Australian dirt road when you follow them. When you overtake the outside lane has a lot more snow sitting on the road because not as many cars use the outside lane. So you pass on the outside lane driving through layers of snow trying to peer through the snow being thrown up by the truck you are passing. Very difficult.

We stopped at a parking bay about 11pm and slept in the back of the car, waking again at 5am to do the last 350km to Stockholm. We refuelled the car at a Service Station about 40km from Arlanda Airport with only 2 hours before our flight left. We asked the service station attendant if he could take some our of discarded camping equipment, and he kindly volunteered to take it to a local charity. With a very fast and rough repack, and a very superficial clean of the car (it was still caked with ice on the rear) we rushed  to Avis to return the car. Hopped on the bus from Avis to Terminal 5, checked in, did the usual long wait in security, changed out of our thermals, and by the time we made the gate, they had started to board the plane.

-36C. The cars clutch started being very heavy and we did not dare turn the car off.
-36C. The cars clutch started being very heavy and we did not dare turn the car off.
Dawn and -36C. Judy staying in the wamer car (which still had ice on the inside of the windows however)
Dawn and -36C. Judy staying in the warmer car (which still had ice on the inside of the windows however)
Trees covered in snow in the pink light of the low morning sun
Trees covered in snow in the pink light of the low morning sun









Walking in a winter wonderland

Oh, I know you’re all humming that song now …. and my dad is probably remembering the corny photo I emailed to him just before Christmas, of Christopher Walken in the snow.

We’re still at Katterjokk, leaving tomorrow to nip across the border into Finland for a few days. We went aurora-hunting last night, but it was mostly cloudy and misty and we didn’t get to see much even though we headed closer to Abisko in case it was clearer there. It wasn’t.

This morning we went for a walk up the hill from the apartments, to the Katterjokk train station. On the other side of the railway line is a ski-lift which isn’t working yet as there’s not enough snow. There’s enough for us, but it’s a bit patchy on the slopes and there are still rocks sticking out, which probably isn’t ideal for skiers. There is also a tourist information office up there, and about half a dozen caravans. I think they might be for the people who run the ski-lift when it’s ski season. We walked along snowmobile tracks, which are probably walking tracks in summer, and met the friendly woman who works at the supermarket. She was going home at lunchtime on a new snowmobile that she and her husband had bought yesterday.   She was very pleased with it, but they need to get another seat so 2 people can sit on it at once. And there is room at the back to carry stuff as well.

I attempted to make a snow angel, but the snow wasn’t powdery enough and I was laughing too much, so it didn’t really work. We walked through the rest of Katterjokk village, which consists of about 20 houses. They all seem to be holiday houses – some have people staying in them, some haven’t had anyone there since it started snowing. I noticed a snowmobile with a lot of snow on it, and then 2 others with covers over them, and concluded that the snow-covered one is the equivalent of a wrecked car in a front yard at home.

There is also a large caravan park/camp ground here, and most if not all the caravans are empty at the moment. This time of the year seems to be in-between the main seasons – too early for skiers, too cold for people wanting to walk,fish,  kayak. So there are just a few aurora-watchers and a few snowmobilers.  I think we’re the only people who have stayed here for more than one night.

What do we wear when we go outside, I hear you ask. Or maybe not,  but I’ll tell you anyway. The day before we flew here (which was the day after I found out we were coming), we went to a fantastic closing down sale at the Columbia store in Adelaide. We each bought a pair of snow boots, a couple of sets of thermals, a warm jacket for Greg (he had already bought one for me), and other bits and pieces including gloves and scarves.

If we’re only going to be in the car, and then indoors, I just add a jacket to what I’m wearing (on the advice of my cold-weather dwelling friends David and Mickey – thanks for that excellent tip, it’s saved a lot of hot flushes!).  If I’m going to be outside for a while, I wear a layer of thermals, a warm top, a lightweight pair of pants (jeans take too long to dry and I never take them travelling), my warm Columbia jacket, a scarf, hat, a pair of thick socks (my feet have never felt cold in my snow boots), and a pair of possum/merino gloves that my gorgeous friend Sally brought back from New Zealand. If we’re planning on sitting outside for a while, I’ll add at least another layer of thermals, a polartec top and a down jacket. Current temps here are around -5 to -8C. And then of course, as soon as we get back inside, it all gets peeled off again.

judy-snow-katterjokk (Small)


Katterjokk Station (the building Judy is outside is the heated waiting room
Katterjokk Station (the building Judy is outside is the heated waiting room
the lady from the Supermarket taking her new Snowmobile home
the lady from the Supermarket taking her new Snowmobile home
Ice crystals on the trees
Ice crystals on the trees
Everyone has a snowmobile
Everyone has a snowmobile
Caravanning in Sweden
Caravanning in Sweden






After our 2 nights camping/sleeping in the car, we are now happily indoors surrounded by lots of creature comforts – electric lights, central heating, beds, a kitchen, a bathroom with cold AND hot running water. Ah, the luxury of it all. We are regular patrons of the little supermarket downstairs, but haven’t yet ventured into the restaurant/cafe just down the hall, other than to pay for our apartment for the 4 nights we’re staying here.

It’s so nice to be able to unpack some of our stuff from the car (not the tent stuff, it’s all sitting frozen in a duffle bag in the back. We’ll get to it later) , do some washing, have a second (or even third!) cup of coffee without firing up the gas stove. And, of course, an early morning trek to the toilet is so much easier indoors. We cooked dinner last night – meatballs AND mashed potato – juggling any more than one thing on a gas stove is tricky, so we usually just heat up a can of something when we’re camping. But the warm, canned ravioli we had the night we were in the tent tasted very good!

Here’s a link to the apartments we’re staying at – Katterjokk Apartments. There is a train station and a ski-lift just up the hill. The lift isn’t working at the moment, not sure why, maybe not enough snow yet. The restaurant manager told us that there would be a lot of snowmobiles here today as it’s Saturday. We think it’s the Swedish equivalent of guys riding their dirt bikes at home.

We will go in search of aurora tonight. The lake near Abisko seems to be the pick of places to view The Lights, so we’ll drive there and take lots of warm clothes so we can sit and watch. It’s a bit overcast, but there are patches of sky amongst the clouds. It’s currently 12.30 and the clouds are turning pink because it’s getting close to ‘sunset’ here. In another hour it will be dark.

Pink "Sunset" except the sun never got over th horizon, but it is setting south of us
Pink “Sunset” except the sun never got over the horizon, but it is setting south of us
Snow mobiles getting ready to ride
Snow mobiles getting ready to ride
Katterjokk River
Katterjokk River
Judy standing on the balcony of the apartment we are staying at Katterjokk
Judy standing on the balcony of the apartment we are staying at Katterjokk
Judy's possum fur and marino wool gloves
Judy’s possum fur and Marino wool gloves
Don't you think the shopping trolleys should have skis instead of wheels?
Don’t you think the shopping trolleys should have skis instead of wheels?
Katterjokk village
Katterjokk village









Inside the Arctic Circle – in winter

Before we did our Scandinavian road trip to Nordkapp to find the Midnight Sun, I couldn’t really get the whole ‘sun never sets’ concept. Same with the Arctic Circle’s seasonal opposite, where the sun never rises. It sets in late November and doesn’t rise again until late January. I thought it meant that it just stayed dark the whole time. Well, it’s close to that, but thankfully for the locals it does get light for a few hours during the day. It starts getting light here in Abisko at around 8am, and is totally dark again by 2pm. The light is dim, but all the snow reflects it and makes it seem brighter. I keep wondering how people managed to live here before the invention of gas and electric lights and figured that they must have just gone to bed for the winter, then stayed up all summer to get stuff done.

We have seen some Lights! The sky is very clear tonight (it’s currently 7pm), and there are aurora over the lake. They look like long green curtains, flowing and moving along from north to south.

We are camping in a hollow near the railway line, just off the main road. Greg brought an extra tent fly which we have put over the tent, and anchored all around with snow. It’s very comfortable inside the tent, we brought compresed foam squares to make a floor inside, and then use a lightweight inflatable Thermarest camping mattress, 2 sleeping bags and a thermal sleeping bag liner. All that plus a layer or 2 of thermals keeps us warm. We slept in the car last night because we got here in the dark and couldn’t find anywhere suitable to set up the tent. A lot of people go snowmobiling beside the main road, so we had to find somewhere that our tent woudn’t get mown down by snowmobiles – not so easy as very few side roads are cleared by the snowploughs that keep the main road clear. We got lucky and found a clear side road this morning. It goes up to a power sub-station, and there is just enough space to park the car off the road, with space for the tent not too far away.

A couple of vehicles drove up the road while we were there, and no one stopped to tell us to leave. We think that maybe they thought if we were crazy enough to camp in the snow, they would just leave us to it.

We are now spending a few nights in an apartment at Riksgransen, which is very close to the Norwegian border. There is a supermarket downstairs and a restaurant/bar. The barman told us that a lot of Asians come to this part of Sweden to see the aurora, and that it will be very busy tomorrow because snowmobilers like to come here to do their thing. We found Santa’s reindeer on the way here, in a stockyard. It was -1 outside and they didn’t look particularly cold – I guess they are used to it, must have good cold-repelling fur!

Reindeer in stockyards
Greg clearing the tent site in the snow
The tent set up, as it gets dark at 1pm
The tent set up, as it gets dark at 1pm


Cooking dinner in the shelter of the rear of the car
Cooking dinner in the shelter of the rear of the car


We made it to Abisko. We arrived late (about 7pm) so rather than search in the dark for a campsite, we slept in the back of the car.  We passed the Arctic circle, with it getting dark about 1:30pm. The lowest temperature we had today was -8C at Abisko, with most of the day the temperature hovering around -5C. No Northern Lights yet, but we can see stars.

[mappress mapid=”4″]

crossing the Arctic circle

Afternoon shopping at Kiruna

Happy New Year, 2014

To all our family and friends reading, and to anyone who just happens to find us here, we wish you all a very Happy, healthy and rewarding 2014. I hope it’s a very good year for us all.

We spent New Year’s Eve staying at a hotel in Lulea, a town near the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. We have been driving up the east coast of Sweden, and will head inland and go north-west today. Our destination is the Abisko National Park, which is a very good place to see The Lights because of its proximity to a large lake with mountains behind it, and it’s isolated so there’s no problem with any artificial light pollution. Greg has been watching websites that monitor solar activity and it’s all looking very promising for the next day or so.

When we arrived at the hotel yesterday, in the middle of the night at 6pm, we chatted with the receptionist and she told us that it had only started snowing there yesterday, which is very late in the season. A guy in Stockholm told us the same thing – that is was very rare to have clear, fine days in December … and no snow. I guess we’ll go back to a very different, snowy Stockholm to the one we left a few days ago, where it was a bit cold and everything was damp, but still easy to get around.

Looking outside from the Scandic Lulea at 9am, dawn is 10am.

[mappress mapid=”2″]

Heading North from Stockholm

We started the drive North about 10am Monday, not long after it got light (9:30am). It was easy driving on a freeway until we got to Gavle, where we stopped at a supermarket for supplies. The shopping centre was packed with holiday shoppers, and it took us about ten minutes to leave, the traffic was so dense.

The road dropped to two lanes, with frequent overtaking lanes. There was more signs of old snow about, and frozen lakes. At 2:30pm we stopped for a stretch as it got dark . We continued on driving through this dark world with buildings decorated with Christmas lights, and fighting the perception that it was late at night.

We stopped about 7pm, found a campsite in a pine forest, and set the tent up on a thin layer of snow. We cooked dinner and drank our cold beer (just leave in snow), and went to bed with two sleeping bags each (one inside another).

stopped at sunset-2:30pm
Judy inside two sleeping bags


Camped in the pine forest. Tent and car covered in snow the next morning
Judy scraping snow off the car

[mappress mapid=”3″]

In Stockholm

Exactly 6 months ago to the day, we arrived in Stockholm to begin our month-long Scandinavian road trip. It was just after the Northern summer solstice and it seemed like it was light all the time. We didn’t see any stars for a month.This time, it’s the complete opposite. We arrived yesterday morning and it was overcast, rainy and the light was dim. We went for a walk in the afternoon and by 4pm it was completely dark. Which was fine by us – we were ready for bed, although flying here this time was a much nicer trip. The first time, we flew Malaysian Airlines, stopped at Kuala Lumpur and Heathrow and arrived 34 hours after we left home. This time, we flew Qantas/Emirates, stopped at Dubai and arrived 22 hours after we left home.

We’re staying at the Hotell Dialog again. We stayed there night before we left Stockholm to start the Russian part of our trip. We know this part of town, it’s near the largest Ikea in the world and a heap of other shops – we need to shop for a few things before we head north in search of the Aurora. Food, snow shovel, more food, booze …. I’m beginning to understand why schnapps is popular in cold weather climates, it certainly gives one a nice warm glow.

It’s not actually very cold here, and there isn’t any snow in Stockholm. Yesterday the temperature range was 2 – 5C, and the forecast is similar for today. I haven’t quite worked out how to dress for both walking outside AND being inside heated shopping centres. Yesterday I wore a pair of thermals and a couple of other layers to walk  to the shops, then peeled most of it off when we were inside, and piled it all on again to do more walking. I guess I’ll just get it all worked out, then we’ll head north and I’ll just want to wear everything I brought with me, all the time.

Greg is watching the Space Weather website for signs that we’re going to get to see some lights soon. There is a lovely video which was taken on Christmas afternoon, from the lake we’re heading to, so we’re feeling hopeful that we’ll be lucky enough to see them. The customs officer told us that he had never seen any in Stockholm – too much light pollution in the city. Greg will do a post soon about the technical stuff, with some of the websites he’s following for information.

It’s almost 8.30am and there’s a glimmer of light outside. Time to get this day started.

One more thing, for Sam and Brianna … and any other Scrubs fans reading. We’re sitting having breakfast at the hotel and back-to-back Scrubs episodes are playing on the TV, with Swedish subtitles.

The Best Present Ever

Yesterday, on Christmas morning, we woke up at the decent time of 8am, reminisced briefly about all the years of early Christmas morning awakenings when we had little people in our lives, and then got down to the business of exchanging presents. I gave Greg a soft-sided, powered fridge bag, which he knew about and wanted, plus a signed limited first edition of Donna Tartt’s latest book The Goldfinch. We are both reading it at the moment and enjoying it very much. I also slipped in a copy of the South America on the Cheap Lonely Planet guide as we have been talking about going there next.

Greg gave me a book on the Northern Lights. Now, Greg is always a very good present-giver, so I had a suspicion that there might be more to it than just a book about something we thought we might like to do some day, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful by shaking the book to see if anything would fall out. So I looked through it page by page until he gave up waiting for me to say something like ‘wouldn’t it be great to see this’ and brought out our itinerary. Oh. My. Goodness. Plane tickets to Stockholm this Friday. In 2 ½ days. In 60 hours. Unbelievable. Incredible. And probably the Best. Present. Ever.

He has been planning it for weeks – working out the best time to go in terms of the sun and moon cycles, the best place to go that will give us the best chance of seeing the Lights, car hire, warm clothes, guide book on how to camp in the snow. Because yes, we’ll be camping inside the Arctic Circle in winter … as you do. Well, actually most of you probably don’t … but we do. Of course we’ll let you know how it all goes, with pictures.

The soft-sided fridge bag will come with us …. but that’s so that we can stop our food from freezing, as opposed to keeping it cold! We have a small mountain of camping gear, clothes, tent, and assorted other paraphernalia to go through and pack. But that’s okay, we don’t fly out until late tomorrow night. Plenty of time.