One of the main things which had convinced me to book flights to Narvik earlier in the year was the fact that it is the terminus station for a railway line known as the Ofotbanen. The train line was built between Sweden and the Norwegian coast in the late 19th century, to enable iron ore being mined in the Swedish town of Kiruna to be transported to the ice-free port of Narvik. Iron ore is still transported on the line today, but there are also two passenger trains per day which run between Norway and Sweden. This means that flying to Narvik is actually quite an easy way to get to Swedish Lapland. The journey itself is supposed to be really scenic, most notably between Narvik and a station called Riksgränsen, which is located at the Swedish border. We'd therefore decided to catch the first train of the day, to ensure that we saw the scenery in daylight
When I opened the curtains in Narvik this morning, I saw to my surprise that it was raining The rain had stopped by the time we'd packed up and checked out of the apartment, but it had interesting consequences for the condition of the roads.
It was really hard to tell which bits of the road were wet and slushy and which bits were more icy and slippery.
Luckily our Yaktrax seem able to cope with all surfaces and we made it to the station without falling over!
I'd already bought the tickets in advance online and we had reserved seats, so all we needed to do was wait on the platform for the train to arrive. There were actually some nice views of the fjord from the platform.
The train was due to depart at 10.48 and it arrived promptly.
There were some groups of Chinese tourists, but overall it wasn't too busy and we were soon on our way towards Sweden As the train pulled out of Narvik, we got a view of a bridge across the fjord which I think we crossed on the airport bus in the dark the night when we arrived.
By chance we were sitting on the best side of the train for views
The photos are all a bit blurry as they were taken through the glass of the train window, but we travelled along the fjord for miles.
As we got further on, it became increasingly narrow...
...until eventually we got close to the end of it.
By this stage, the scenery was becoming increasingly mountainous.
Finally we passed the end of the fjord.
The train took us right across the top of it...
...and then we were properly inland.
On the sides of some of the mountains I could see frozen streams.
We were getting close to the Swedish border now.
We had decided to get off the train at the border station of Riksgränsen, where we were hoping to get lunch and kill some time before catching the second train of the day on to Abisko. We could have stayed on this current train all the way to Abisko, but we would have ended up getting there three hours before we were able to check into our accommodation and, as research suggests that there aren't very many amenities in Abisko (a village with a population of 85 people), that didn't feel like a good plan. Having researched various destinations along the route, Riksgränsen had sounded the most promising place in terms of restaurants and cafes. The guidebook had described it as Sweden's best ski resort and recommended it as a day trip from Narvik.
First impressions when we got off the train in Riksgränsen were that it looked a bit small.
It was scenic though, with lots of snowy hills.
And we were now in Sweden, which was exciting
We started walking down to explore the village.
Google maps suggested that there would be a restaurant up this road but, when we got there, we found it was all closed up.
Trying a different direction, we passed this bus shelter completely buried in the snow
There didn't seem to be very many people in Riksgränsen and so far we hadn't seen a single restaurant which was open.
We did find a shop, and Tim asked the staff for directions to a cafe. They told us that everywhere in Riksgränsen was closed and that the nearest open establishment was in a neighbouring village They described the village as being 15 minutes away, but the only way to get there was to walk down the main road which they said was a) slippery and b) dangerous because lorries drive along it quite fast. When I looked it up on Google maps, Google suggested it would be more like a 40 minute walk than 15 minutes anyway, so we quickly ruled that out as an option.
We could see ski lifts on the hills above the village, but those weren't operational either. The girls in the shop explained that the skiing season hasn't started here yet because, despite the fact that there's lots of snow, there isn't enough daylight. The fact that a ski resort would be closed in December had never occurred to us when we booked this trip
We didn't have any options but to walk back up to the train station and wait for our train to Abisko.
The station didn't exactly have a lot of facilities. We were able to buy bread, cake and crisps at the shop and have a picnic lunch in the snow; not quite what we'd been hoping for for lunch, but better than nothing
We also had some wine in Tim's suitcase (which we'd brought with us because Abisko is too small to have its own alcohol shop) and that livened the picnic up We were lucky that it wasn't actually very cold today; I think the temperature must have been above zero, because we could hear snow melting from the station roof. It was warm enough for Tim to take his coat off anyway
I suppose it's fair enough that they don't ski here in December, because there really wasn't a lot of daylight. By 2pm, it was already looking like twilight.
By the time Tim went down to the shop again to get some more supplies, it was properly dark.
Everywhere looked very pretty in the darkness though.
By 3pm it may as well have been the middle of the night!
Every so often while we were waiting, freight trains came past bearing the logo of LKAB, the Swedish mining company. The trains were enormous, with so many carriages that it took several minutes for each one to pass.
Needless to say, we were incredibly pleased when it was finally time for our train to arrive.
This train had sleeper carriages which were continuing on all the way to Stockholm. Perhaps that's an idea for a future holiday! Our journey to Abisko only took around 45 minutes. There are actually two stations in Abisko - Abisko Turiststation, which is the site of a youth hostel, and Abisko Östra, which is the station for the main village. We were getting off at Abisko Östra.
Abisko is a very popular winter destination and so, when I was booking accommodation here, options were extremely limited. There were no available apartments or hotels, so I booked us into a small hostel where we would have a bedroom to ourselves, plus use of a shared kitchen and bathrooms. The prices here are reminiscent of Icelandic prices, and so our stay here is costing £98 per night.
As you can see from the photo, the room we're getting for that price is a bit on the small size It's warm and comfy though and all the shared facilities seem clean. Best of all, the owners messaged me days in advance with the check-in instructions, including the code we needed to get our keys out of the key safe, so Abisko is already winning over Narvik in that respect!
The area around Abisko is supposed to be beautiful, so we are looking forward to exploring it in the daylight tomorrow