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As there didn't promise to be a lot happening in Abisko for New Year's Eve, we were booked to visit the nearby Aurora Sky Station for the evening. This is a mountain-top viewing platform, located on a mountain near to Abisko Turiststation, and it's supposed to be a great place for seeing the northern lights. The only way up is via a chairlift and, unfortunately, Abisko had been experiencing strong winds all day, which meant that it wasn't safe for the chairlift to run. A bit disappointing, but I guess that just means we'll have to come back another year and try again On nights when the chairlift is cancelled, there is an alternative programme at Abisko Turiststation instead, so we were picked up by a shuttle service to participate in that instead. We arrived at the Turiststation at around 20.50. The activities weren't due to start until 21.00 and the number of layers we were wearing meant that it was really hot inside, so we decided to wait outside for a while. The Christmas decorations were pretty At 9pm we were ticked off the list and then invited into what I can only describe as a large wooden teepee, with a big fire burning in the middle. We sat here briefly, before being offered the opportunity to go on a northern lights walking tour. We didn't ultimately end up seeing any northern lights, but it was still a fun experience Our guide led us down a series of snowy paths for about half an hour, towards the shore of lake Torneträsk. We definitely wouldn't have walked so far in the dark on our own. The sky wasn't as cloudy as it had been earlier in the day and so we were able to see an amazing quantity of stars, although unfortunately it wasn't possible to capture the night sky with our phone cameras. Eventually we walked back up to the teepee, where there was free gluehwein and hot chocolate on offer There was also dried reindeer meat, but I gave that a miss It was definitely a different way to spend New Year's Eve When we woke up in Abisko this morning, we were in the middle of a blizzard. We were travelling to Kiruna today, but our train wasn't until 12.26, so we had time for a final walk around the village in the snow And there was a lot of snow; it didn't take long until we were both covered in it It was really beautiful to be walking through the snow on New Year's Day though We needed to check out of our hostel around 11, so after a while we had to turn around and go retrieve our suitcases. The station is only a few hundred metres from where we were staying, but it turns out that pulling your suitcase through fresh snow is hard work! We had a while to wait at the station for our train. The platform looked deserted in the snow. The trains in Sweden appear to run on time even during blizzards though There was a nice heated waiting room at the station but some of us were a bit warm after pulling our suitcases through the snow The train arrived promptly and soon we were on a journey through a snowy wilderness. It was snowing so much that a lot of the view was obscured, but every so often I could make out the shapes of mountains in the distance. It's hard to make out in the pictures, but for a while the train travelled alongside lake Torneträsk. As we moved away from the lake and got closer towards Kiruna, the weather seemed to improve a bit and the views became a bit clearer Soon we arrived in Kiruna itself. It looked like there were lots of wagons of iron ore here, waiting to go to Narvik, and in the background behind them we could just make out what I'm guessing is the mine. The station is a couple of kilometres outside the main centre of Kiruna, so there was more snow to pull our cases through. Everywhere looked really pretty though We weren't able to check into our apartment until 3pm, so we had a bit of time to explore. Everything was closed up today for New Year's Day, but we found a main street with a supermarket without too many difficulties Plus we got to see some really beautiful colours in the sunset. Then it was time to check in. This is definitely the most spacious accommodation of our trip In addition to a living room, we have a bedroom... ...and a huge kitchen/dining area. We were actually really lucky with the hostel in Abisko and were the only people staying in it for the past two nights, but it's definitely nice to have a bit more space to spread out this evening
We went out for a walk to the lake in the dark last night, but it was so cloudy that we couldn't even see any stars, never mind the northern lights We were outside for about an hour or so, during which time we walked down to the lakeside and then along part of the path towards Abisko Turiststation. It was snowing all the time, and the snowflakes looked really pretty in the darkness. The unusual street lights which we'd seen earlier in the day were actually really good at night, projecting light downwards so that we could see the path, and not causing lots of light pollution. We might not have seen the northern lights last night, but when we stepped outside our apartment this morning we saw something even rarer in the sky. These, we later learned, were polar stratospheric clouds, and we'd never seen anything quite like them before. Our phone cameras weren't able to capture all the colours, but they were really beautiful; all the colours of the rainbow We were really lucky to have seen them, because the rest of the sky was quite overcast today. As we walked towards Abisko Turiststation, the top of the mountain was obscured by the clouds again. Although, when we turned around once more, we did get another glimpse of the special clouds You can perhaps get a slightly better impression of the rainbow colours in this photo We didn't have a firm plan for the day, but we were hoping to explore a bit more of the national park. We headed off through the wooden walkway again... ...and this time followed a different trail, which we hoped would give us a view of the canyon from the opposite direction. When we'd been at the canyon viewpoint yesterday, we'd seen a bridge across the canyon lower down but hadn't been able to figure out how to get to it. Today we found it and were able to stand in the middle, looking down the length of the canyon. The views were really beautiful There weren't many other people around today either, so we had them pretty much to ourselves We did meet two other people as we were on our way back up from the bridge to the viewpoint we visited yesterday though. The woman started speaking to us in Swedish, before explaining to us in English that there were two moose up ahead! They were quite a distance away and camouflaged by trees, so you're going to have to play spot the moose with the photos It was really cool to see them and they were absolutely huge animals! Once the moose had moved on, we made a quick stop at the viewpoint where we'd taken photos yesterday, to have another look at the ice. Then we followed a track which took us under the main road, then alongside the river which flows through into the canyon. The views of the canyon were really impressive on this side too... ...and we could see the power of the water beneath the ice. The wind was really strong by this point and it was snowing quite heavily. We didn't want to walk too far, so we decided to follow one of the marked trails through the woods for a while, and then turn back. There does seem to be quite a good system of marked walking trails here, although I haven't been able to figure out where to get a proper map that shows where they all go. They are numbered and colour-coded though, with strips of colour wrapped around the trees so that you know you're going in the right direction. We couldn't exactly see polar clouds at this point... ...but there were still some pretty colours in the sky. The trees were really pretty too... ...although it's still surprising me how different the trees are here to in Finnish Lapland. Once we'd walked for half an hour or so, we turned around and headed back the way we'd come. On the way back, there was just time for a final look at the canyon It was already starting to look like twilight as we walked back towards our apartment. When we got as far as the station, we were passed by another one of the iron ore trains to Narvik. From there it wasn't far to walk to Abisko's shop, where we wanted to stock up on supplies. We're travelling to Kiruna tomorrow, but with it being New Year's Day we're not sure whether any shops will be open when we get there. One of the things we needed to stock up on was chocolate; luckily we managed to find some Ritter Sport among all these sweets Then it was back to the apartment for some much-needed food and a rest before we head out again this evening for another attempt to see the northern lights. Not sure we're going to have any success, as I think it's still going to be overcast, but we can't complain when we have seen such beautiful clouds today
Having arrived in Abisko in the dark last night, we were excited to see it in the daylight this morning As expected, it's quite a small place, with a handful of buildings along a main street. The hostel we're staying in is quite small (only four rooms), but we passed a couple of bigger guesthouses as we walked along the street. One of the attractions of Abisko is that it is situated on Lake Torneträsk and we soon found a path which led us down to the lake shore. As you can probably tell from the photo, it was snowing lightly and so we acquired a sprinkling of snow on us as we walked along As we approached some boat houses and covered up boats, we knew we were getting close to the lake. Lake Torneträsk is the sixth biggest lake in Sweden, with a surface area of 130 square miles. We saw a group of people with sticks getting ready to walk on the ice. It didn't look 100% frozen to us though or, at least, the ice wasn't completely covered in snow like the frozen lake we have walked on in the past in Finland, so we didn't fancy standing on it. We got close to the edge though and it was really pretty We enjoyed the views of the lake for a while and then walked back up towards the village. In the distance we could see the tall building of the railway station, where we had arrived yesterday evening. We were looking for a path which would take us to the settlement of Abisko Turiststation, which we passed through on the train yesterday shortly before we arrived here. There were no signs at first, but we followed a small road past these houses in what seemed like the correct general direction. The road led us up towards the railway line, where we were just on time to see a passenger train on its way to Narvik. Shortly after here we saw a sign pointing towards the Abisko National Park, which is what we were looking for. It was still snowing quite heavily at this point. We followed a snowy path, which was initially lit by normal street lamps. As we progressed further along it, it was lit by these smaller, more tasteful lamps instead. It's only about 2km from where we're staying to the national park. One thing which struck us as we followed the path was how different the trees are to Finnish Lapland. Finland is full of conifers, whereas the trees here all seemed to be deciduous. We also realised after a while that we had a view of the frozen lake in the distance Before too long we passed a sign which indicated that we were getting close to our destination. There's supposed to be a big mountain here with a chairlift, but the weather was so cloudy that we could barely make out the base of it. It had more or less stopped snowing now, but I had accumulated rather a lot of snow in my hair Abisko is the start of the Kungsleden hiking trail, which runs from here for 440 km to a place called Hemavan. This wooden construction marks the beginning of the trail. We certainly weren't going to walk that far, but we did want to do a little walk to see a frozen canyon which I'd read about online. We followed a signposted trail along the side of the canyon, at first not able to get much of a view. Soon we were able to look down and see water below us... ...and then the view opened up and we were able to see down the length of the whole canyon. The best views were yet to come though As we rounded a corner, we were able to see down towards a pool of water which definitely wasn't going to freeze any time soon, because we could see fast water flowing into it from behind the rocks. We could also see a huge block of frozen ice which a group of people were attempting to climb Definitely not a winter activity that we'll be attempting! We walked further along and came to another viewing platform. From here we had an amazing view of the icy canyon... ...and of the people trying to climb the ice wall! It was a really beautiful place We followed the path a little further, but the walk didn't seem to be circular so in the end we had to turn around and come back. The weather had begun to clear up a bit now though and by the time we'd retraced our steps, the cloud had moved enough for us to see the mountain which had been completely obscured when we'd arrived. As we turned to walk back to the village of Abisko, we realised we could also now see further out across the lake... ...and it most definitely was not completely frozen We're rather glad we didn't decide to try walking on it now We made it back to Abisko while it was still daylight. We decided to explore the local shop, which is situated with a petrol station beside the main highway which passes through the village. I had been a bit worried about this in advance, because when I'd googled the name of the shop (Godisfabriken) it seemed to be primarily a sweet shop. We'd brought a supply of our own pasta and cup-a-soups with us in our suitcases just in case it wasn't possible to buy any savoury food here But, luckily, that turned out not to be a problem; although half of the shop was indeed given over to an enormous display of pick and mix, the other half was fitted out more like a normal supermarket and so we were able to buy some pizza, as well as ingredients for a bolognese Once we got back to the hostel with our provisions, we realised that the view had now cleared enough for us to be able to see the blue water of the lake from outside our door. It's been a really fun day, and although I think it will probably be too cloudy tonight for us to see any northern lights, we're going to try going out for a walk down to (but not onto!) the lake in the dark later
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