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  1. Last night was our final night in Kiruna, so we decided to go out for an evening walk to see the Christmas lights in the town centre. The big Christmas tree looked pretty in the dark... ...and Tim looked quite regal in the ice throne We walked past the display of snow sculptures. It was actually a bit easier to make our some of the shapes in the dark. Once we'd done a circuit of the town centre, we headed back to our apartment for the night. We're flying back home from Narvik tomorrow, so the main aim of today was to travel back from Sweden to Norway. Our train wasn't until the afternoon though, so we were able to have a leisurely start to the morning. We'd just finished breakfast and were considering starting to pack, when I looked out the window of our apartment in Kiruna and was amazed to get a glimpse of some polar stratospheric clouds, just like the ones we'd seen in Abisko earlier in the week! We didn't have to check out of the apartment until 11, so we quickly pulled on our warm clothes and boots and ran outside to have a look. We walked along the main road from our apartment, trying to find a place from which we would have an unobstructed view. The clouds were the most amazing colours. Tim managed to capture them more accurately by making his camera darker. We walked down a rather slippery pavement, towards the park we'd discovered yesterday. From there we had the clearest views, without any buildings in the way... ...and the clouds looked beautiful above the snowy landscape. I could have stayed and stared at them all day Unfortunately, however, we had to return to the apartment to pack up our things and check out. Our train to Narvik wasn't departing until 14.51, so once we'd successfully checked out we had some time to kill in Kiruna. As we walked back into the town centre, the sun was rising and there were some beautiful pink colours in the sky There's a small indoor shopping centre in Kiruna, so that was our first stop. It had a cafe, where we got two rather strong Americanos From there we moved on to Kiruna's English pub (bizarrely, Kiruna has an English pub called The Bishop's Arms!!), where we were able to get lunch. I had a burger, while Tim had fish and chips. It was really dark in the pub (loads of places in Sweden seem to be really badly lit!) so we then moved back to the slightly brighter cafe for another coffee and some cake It was while we were having the coffee and cake that I got a rather disturbing text from Swedish Railways about our train When Google-translated, this informed us that due to a "nature incident" the train line to Narvik was closed. Oh dear We made our way towards the station, hoping for the best. It was still really snowy everywhere but the snow was flattened down and much easier to pull our cases on than it had been the day when we arrived It was much easier walking downhill from the town to the station, as opposed to uphill from the station to the town As we got close to the station, we passed a hill with an illuminated ski run which I hadn't even noticed on the day we arrived. When we got to the station the train to Narvik was sitting on the platform, so we boarded it and hoped for the best. It departed promptly, without any announcements about the line being closed. In the absence of announcements, I checked the Swedish trains website and found a message said that the "nature incident" had now been resolved and the line was opened again. Phew!! It was a big relief that we were going to make it to our destination; I don't know whether they would have put on a rail replacement bus if the train couldn't run, but if they didn't I think it would have cost more than our life savings to take a taxi We eventually made it to Narvik only 15 minutes or so behind schedule. It looked like it had been snowing quite heavily here and there was lots of fresh snow everywhere. Pulling our suitcases up Narvik's steep streets in the fresh snow was not the most fun we've ever had! Everywhere did look beautiful in the snow though And it was actually easier to walk on this snow than on the ice which had been here when we caught the train on Sunday. As we're just staying one night in Narvik this time and departing for the airport first thing tomorrow morning, I'd booked us into a small hotel rather than re-book the Airbnb apartment we stayed in at the start of the holiday. 895 Norwegian Krone (around £78) got us this tiny room which just about has enough space for both of us and our suitcases We do have free breakfast included in the morning though (which we intend to eat as much of as possible to get our money's worth!) and from our window we can see out across the whole of Narvik. Tomorrow will be a very long day of travelling, with two flights and about 9 hours to kill in Oslo airport, which I don't think will be worthy of a blog! But we've had a fantastic holiday, exploring a completely different part of Lapland and seeing some really amazing clouds, and I think it's definitely been worth the journey
  2. There was lots of snow outside when we woke up in Kiruna this morning The house across the road from where we're staying also had some rather spectacular icicles! It had been pretty much dark when we arrived in Kiruna yesterday, so we were looking forward to seeing the town in the daylight. As we set off in the direction of the town centre, we passed some absolutely enormous piles of snow It didn't take us long to reach the town centre. We found some large snow-covered rocks... ...some pretty Christmas decorations... ...and a whole load more snow It's hard to make them out in the photos because everything is so white, but there were also some snow sculptures... ...and some ice sculptures. I really liked these presents made out of snow We didn't know a lot about Kiruna before we came here, choosing to stay here for a couple of nights mainly because it was the end of the railway line and somewhere I managed to find affordable accommodation, but it's actually a really pretty little town. With a population of around 17,000 people, it's the northernmost town in Sweden. The iron-ore mine here is apparently the largest one in the world, producing 90% of all the iron in Europe. Extraction has been going on here since around 1900 and has made Kiruna a prosperous place. However, the mine is now so extensive that it is starting to cause the town to subside The authorities have therefore decided to demolish the town centre and relocate it to a safer site, 2 miles to the east of its current location. It sounds rather dramatic, but it isn't all happening at once; buildings are being moved gradually, with the aim that the whole town centre will have been moved by 2035. The entire relocation process is being financed by the mine, with residents whose homes have to be sacrificed being compensated for 125% of the price. The most historic buildings in the town will be carefully dismantled and rebuilt in the new location. These include Kiruna's iconic wooden church, which we caught sight of while we were strolling around. The church was built in 1912 and is one of the largest wooden buildings in Sweden. Its unusual shape is because it was designed to represent the shape of a traditional Sami tent. Once we'd passed the church, we caught sight of a rather strange sight; a model rocket by the side of the road. Apparently there is a rocket research centre located outside the town. Across the road we found the entrance to the local park, marked by a large block of ice. We had a walk around the park, which was home to some unusual sculptures, like this rather cross-looking owl. There were also some really interesting photos on display of the early settlers in Kiruna. After we'd been around the park, we walked back up past the church, towards the town centre again. We found an icy throne... ...which I couldn't resist having a sit in As we rounded a corner we saw something which I really didn't expect to find in such a remote corner of the world On our way back towards the apartment, we also saw something else we didn't expect to see; a huge container by the side of the road, full of snow. A man with a digger was collecting snow... ...and depositing it in a big pile further down the road. Next thing we know, a lorry arrives with an empty container. The empty container is deposited... ...and the digger immediately starts filling it with snow. In the meantime, the lorry is picking up the full container of snow. It was so heavy that the front wheels of the lorry lifted off the ground as it was picking it up! The lorry then drove off with the snow, presumably to dispose of it somewhere outside the town. It was a really interesting insight into everyday life here; it's hard to imagine having so much snow that you need industrial machinery to remove it! It's been quite cloudy again today, but once we got back to the apartment the sky was turning a beautiful shade of blue for sunset
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. We woke up feeling rested this morning and a bit more enthusiastic about exploring Narvik than when we'd arrived last night It was still dark at around 9am when Tim set out to find a shop to buy breakfast. It seems like things are slow to get started in Narvik on Saturday mornings, so it took a while before he found one that was open. By the time he'd returned and we'd had breakfast and were ready to set out again, things had got a bit brighter. Our apartment is in this red wooden house. From our windows we can see this big mountain, with its illuminated ski slope. Hopefully this picture also helps to illustrate how steep the side streets in Narvik are! We were prepared for the slippery pavements today though and had our Yaktrax on, which made it a lot easier to walk. Our first stop was the local shopping centre, because we wanted to track down Narvik's branch of Vinmonopolet, the state-owned alcohol store. We knew from our previous visit to Norway in 2013 that these shops have restricted opening hours and are often closed at times you might expect to be able to buy alcohol, like on weekends or bank holidays. The good news was that when we found the shop, we were able to establish that it was open until 15.00 on Saturdays, so we knew we'd be able to return later and buy some wine It was worth going into the shopping centre anyway to see the Christmas decorations We headed outside again, walking along the town's main street. The mountain we can see from our apartment looms across the whole town. There aren't a lot of sights in the town centre, but there are a few strange landmarks like this huge pyramid. We realised that we could see down towards the bus station, from where we'd started our uphill climb last night. In the distance, we could also see Narvik's main church. The town feels quite large, but it only has a population of 14,000 people so it's actually pretty small by UK standards. Our aim was to walk downhill, towards the harbour area, in the hope of getting some views of the fjord. It wasn't long before we got our first glimpse of the sea! As we walked towards the water, we passed this unusual building. Once we got to the far side of it, we realised that it was a church The further we walked, the more impressive the views became. We began to get better views out across the water. In places the side of the road was quite rocky and we passed some incredible icicles. I don't think I've ever seen icicles this big before Eventually we made it down to the harbour. Despite the fact that it is located very far north (the furthest north we've ever been) Narvik is warmed by the Gulf Stream and so the harbour here is always ice-free. The town grew up here in the 19th century, when a Swedish mining company realised that they could use the harbour to export their iron ore. A significant amount of iron ore is still shipped from here today, and so although some of the views of the fjord were stunning, overall Narvik does have a bit of an industrial feel to it. The ice-free nature of the fjord had unfortunate consequences for Narvik during the Second World War, because the harbour was of strategic importance to both sides. It's hard to imagine when it all looks so peaceful today, but two naval battles were fought in the fjord in 1940. There is a war museum in the Narvik but we didn't go. The views were starting to get obscured by clouds at this point and light snow was falling, so we decided we'd walked far enough around the harbour and turned around to climb back up towards the town centre. The Christmas lights in the main square were pretty. Walking along the main street in the opposite direction from before, we came across this signpost showing the distance between Narvik and various destinations. It turns out we're slightly closer to St Petersburg than we are to Oslo The daylight is quite limited here and before it got dark, we wanted to locate the train station from where we will be catching a train to Abisko in Sweden tomorrow. It turns out that it's actually not that far from our apartment. Walking towards it, we had some more beautiful views of the mountain. We were hungry by this stage, so we walked back towards the shopping centre, where we'd spotted a pizza restaurant earlier. I went for a tropical pizza, which unusually featured pineapple and spicy pepperoni, while Tim had a chicken burger. The food was filling, and not too expensive; we stuck with the free tap water again, so just had the main courses, and the bill came to just under £30. We weren't in the restaurant for long, but by the time we stepped outside, darkness had fallen. Walking back up towards our apartment, we could see the ski run illuminated again. Having explored Narvik today, the apartment is actually in a good location, not far from the train station or the main street. It was a bit of an unpleasant surprise last night to have to do so much walking uphill with our cases (and then not to be able to get into the apartment), but that aside it hasn't been a bad place to stay We're spending tomorrow travelling to Sweden, where we'll be staying in less glamorous accommodation, which will hopefully be compensated for by some amazing scenery!
  8. We had some difficulties with planning our post-Christmas Lapland trip this year. We'd decided that, after a few years in a row of going to Äkäslompolo in northern Finland, we wanted to try somewhere different and we were considering travelling to Ivalo, a village even further north. We spent ages waiting for Ivalo flights to be released by Norwegian, before eventually realising that they'd discontinued their Ivalo route. By the time we'd figured that out, flights to Finland after Christmas were far too expensive, and so it was too late to change our minds and go to Äkäslompolo again instead. While searching for cheap flights to anywhere snowy on the dates we wanted, I stumbled across a good deal to a place in Norway called Narvik. I can't pretend that I'd ever heard of Narvik before, but it seemed sufficiently far north that it ought to have snow, and once we did some research we realised that it was situated at the far end of a train line leading into Sweden. That sounded promising, so we decided to give it a go and I booked the flights while they were still cheap Getting to Narvik involved flying with Norwegian via Oslo, and so it was that our alarms went off at 4am this morning for another early morning drive down to Gatwick. We were flying from the south terminal this time, as opposed to the north terminal for Bolzano, so that was a bit of variety at least; it really didn't feel like very long since we were last in Gatwick We arrived in plenty of time for our 09.20 flight and survived the chaos of self-check in with only a minor blip when Tim's suitcase turned out to be over the weight limit. This may or may not have had something to do with an attempt to import our own alcohol into Scandinavia Luckily, Norwegian is a much friendlier airline than Ryanair and while we had to go to a separate desk to get the bag checked in, we didn't have to pay anything extra. All that remained to do was to keep our fingers crossed that our baggage labels were properly stuck on this time and neither of our suitcases would get lost en route! Our flight departed promptly and we had a pleasant journey. The first part of the flight was very cloudy, and although the sky cleared up about halfway through the journey, the majority of the flight was over the sea so there wasn't actually a lot to see. It was only about half an hour before the end of the flight that I got my first view of the Norwegian coast. As the plane moved further inland, snowy mountain tops suddenly became visible. We flew over the mountains, looking down on frozen lakes and rivers below. As we got closer to Oslo, the countryside became a little flatter. There seemed to be snow everywhere, even this far south. Oslo itself was covered in cloud and there was an announcement saying that the pilot wanted all electronic devices on board switched off to help him land in it We landed safely though and were soon inside Oslo airport, where we had 5.5 hours to kill before our second flight to Narvik at 17.55. We decided to kill some time by having lunch and walked around exploring the various eating options at the airport. We settled for Jamie's Italian, which I thought had gone out of business in the UK but which still seems to be going strong in Oslo. Tim had a tagliatelle bolognese... ...while I opted for a spicy meatball pizza. Both were good, although the Norwegian prices are going to take a bit of getting used to; each main course cost around £18. A glass of wine would have cost £12, so we decided to save money and drink the free tapwater Then there were just a few more hours to wait before our internal flight to Narvik. I passed them with reading, drinking strong coffee and starting to write this blog. We also had to move from the international terminal into the terminal for domestic flights, which provided a bit of variety. Overall Oslo airport is really nice. The seats were comfy and there were plenty of water fountains. We had come prepared with our own water bottles so that we didn't have to pay for bottled water. Our flight to Narvik started boarding promptly at around 17.30. I had expected this to be a smaller plane because I didn't think Narvik would be a very popular destination, but it was actually the same size as our flight from Gatwick and seemed to be completely full. I had high hopes of us departing Oslo on time, because the flight was scheduled to land at 19.35 and the airport bus was due to depart for the town of Narvik at 19.50. If the flight was delayed and we missed that bus, it wasn't the end of the world because the was another bus scheduled for that evening... but not until after 22.00, so we would have quite a long wait. Unfortunately, despite the promising start we didn't take off on time. The plane got close to the runway, but then had to join a queue of planes which were waiting to be de-iced. We sat for about half an hour before it was our turn to be sprayed with the de-icer and we could get on our way. The flight took around 90 minutes, so it was after 8pm before we landed in Narvik. There were no views on this flight as it was so dark, but as we came into land in Narvik we could see that it looked pretty snowy The airport which I've been referring to as "Narvik" is actually called Harstad/Narvik airport, a name which it seems to have acquired by virtue of being located equally far from both Harstad and Narvik, in a place called Evenes. It is a very small airport, so we walked straight off the plane and into a room which seemed to serve both as an arrivals hall and as baggage reclaim. We had to wait a while before the baggage carousel to start up, so I had time to get increasingly nervous about whether our bags were going to have made the connection... happily they both did, and so all that remained was to see whether the airport bus had waited because the flight was delayed. Amazingly, when we stepped outside the airport we found that it had indeed waited I had already purchased the tickets online for 297 NOK, which is about £26 each for a journey of around an hour. The bus waited for a while longer to make sure that everyone had had time to collect their luggage and that there were no more potential passengers, before setting off on its route. The journey took us around the edge of the Ofotfjord, so I had tantalising glimpses of the coast out of the window, whenever there was sufficient light to see anything The snow seemed to go right down to the water, but the water itself was frozen. The bus stopped at various hotels in Narvik, terminating at the bus station. I'd decided that the bus station would be the best place to get off, although I'd done so without realising that the bus station was at the bottom of a rather large hill and the rest of the town was at the top of that hill. We spent 10 minutes or so pulling our cases up very steep and icy pavements, before arriving at the same level as the penultimate bus stop outside one of the town's hotels. Oops - it would have been much better if we had got off there! We are staying in Narvik for two nights and I had booked an apartment via Airbnb. This is the first time I've ever used Airbnb, normally preferring booking.com, and I had only been tempted to use it on this occasion because the apartment I'd found was a mere £60/night which by Norwegian standards seemed like an absolute bargain. I had been a bit nervous about it all day though, because I hadn't had any information from the host about how we were supposed to check in, save for some instructions in Norwegian on the reservation which, when Google translated, gave the address, explained that we needed to enter via a back door and that the apartment was on the second floor, with a key in a key box. That was all well and good but I assumed that there was a code required for the key box, so I'd messaged the person on Airbnb yesterday morning, explaining what time we were arriving and asking for instructions. I hadn't received any reply, so I was hoping that it would turn out to be obvious when we got there. Getting there turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Nothing I had read about Narvik in advance had mentioned the fact that the town is built on a steep slope. The apartment was only 1km away from the bus station and a couple of streets away from the town's main street, so I'd figured it was in a pretty central location. It may be, but we spent most of the kilometre walking uphill on pavements which were covered in frozen snow. Our snow boots have a good grip and some of the pavements were gritted, but even so it was a difficult walk. We arrived at the address on the reservation around 22.15, cold and out of breath. Following the limited instructions we did have, Tim went in through the back door of the building, and found what might be the apartment; a door on what to us was the first floor (but could possibly be the second floor in Norwegian) with a key safe inside it. The key safe was, of course, locked with a code and we didn't have the code. Oh dear The Airbnb app had a "call the host" option, so Tim attempted to give them a ring. Nobody picked up initially, but we did get a call back shortly afterwards as a result of which we got the key code and were able to get inside. Yay No apology or explanation though as to why we hadn't been given this information in the first place! Once I'd recovered from the stress of check-in, I could see that the apartment actually is quite nice. We've got a little kitchen with a dining table... ...a comfortable living area... ...and a slightly cramped bedroom where there's only just enough space to walk around the bed We'd been travelling for 17 hours at this point, leaving home at 04.30 and getting into the apartment around 22.30 Norwegian time, so we decided to call it a night
  9. Today's activity was centred on skiiing, one year to the day since our previous attempt. As with snowshoeing, we'd decided that we'd try it ourselves by renting our skis, rather than pay for a class. We weren't sure how well we'd remember what we did last time, but it was cheaper to rent the skis for the week rather than pay for a lesson and we liked the idea of doing it by ourselves rather than as part of a group. Clare knew that there was a beginners' course on the lake, so that's where we headed off to, once we'd worked out how to put on our shoes. If we'd been experienced skiers we could have joined a trail as soon as we stepped out the door but since we're not, we had to carry our skis with us the kilometre or more to the lake. No mean feat! Clare's skis were soon on and she was ready to go: This was about 11-ish, so the red tinge noticeable in the background is the sunrise: Slow and steady wins the race. It was slow going at first but we reached the end of the first leg: The skies were clearer today, so we could see the fens from where we were standing: Then it was time to come back. You can see that Clare had picked up a bit more confidence: Soon enough she'd made it back to the start: I soon found it relatively straightforward: My Fitbit wasn't happy, though, noticing the increase in heart rate and ordering me to relax! We did the same trip several more times. Clare became a lot more at ease with it, although stopping was still a bit nerve-wracking: Soon she felt happier: 'One more time' became 'one more time' several times, until we'd spent an hour and a half going backwards and forwards. After having done the final final leg and turned the corner, Clare rightly looked rather pleased with herself: We were considering resting for an hour and then coming back to do some more but as soon as we got home we realised how sore we were. The good news is, though, that since we've rented the skis for the week, we'll be back out in a couple of days' time to do some more
  10. 2019 started with a lie-in for me and Alfie because we were going husky-sledding, courtesy of my parents, who treated Alfie to this for Christmas. Clare didn't fancy being a driver, so instead set off snowshoeing in the woods, leaving us behind. There was fresh snow on the ground, which always gives a lovely crunch when you walk on it: For once, we didn't walk in the direction of the supermarket but instead took the opposite turn walking uphill to our bus stop. The scenery is just as pretty: We got there with plenty of time to spare, nearly half an hour before the bus was due. I remember from last time that it's not the easiest bus stop to find but we were there within minutes and awaiting 12:30. We ended up waiting longer; the bus arrived at 12:43, forty minutes after we did, but was still earlier than last year. We boarded and there was only a family of four there. I thought our luck was in! Not quite so. We drove to the main office whereupon the guide explained that we were picking up some more people and that we were free to use the toilet, get a drink and even pick up some equipment. He made a point of suggesting to me that I might quite like to borrow a jumpsuit to protect me from the cold. Clearly he's not aware that this is the man who forswears gloves and a jacket at minus 17 if he's required to do any form of exertion! Alfie asked me how long this was going to take. Theoretically, it shouldn't have taken any time at all; the information on the ticket stated that we would be picked up at 12:30 and that the event would start at 13:00. However, we didn't leave until 13:20, arriving at 13:50. It was a lovely journey, though. We were quickly welcomed off the coach and given our safety instructions. There really wasn't a lot for passengers to learn, other than sit down and keep your extremities within the sled: Drivers had a bit more to learn, including hand signals for stop, go and slow down, and how to brake: We were even further delayed because the safety instructions were being translated into Spanish. I grew a bit restless and had a peek at some typical Sami accommodation: The dogs were all tied up and ready to go: There are 160 dogs at the farm. Although they're there to work, they each have names and personalities. Some of them bark in excitement because they want to run, others are more restful and have a quick nap between tours, whilst still others pull at their leads to try to get the tour started earlier! We happened to have the first sled in line and were soon off with our team of six: Sometimes there are eight dogs in a team for when there are more people on the sled. The dogs might have liked to have another couple added to their number once we hit the uphill stretch! The dogs are partnered alongside the dog they live with. Usually the whole team are neighbours. If the team works well, the dogs are kept together but changes are made if required, such as if the dogs fight. It's rare but it can happen. Our own team was soon broken up because of a problem. It didn't involve fighting though: Ours was a team of five boys and a single, solitary female. Apparently a "heat team" had been out a couple of sessions before and it gave two or three of our males ideas about the female in our group, so she had to be removed and replaced! Soon we were off and running again. The dogs nearest the sleigh are wheel dogs. They tend to be males, since this position requires the most strength, the dogs taking weight on their shoulders. The dogs in the middle are the fastest. The first dogs are the leaders, the brains of the team, planning the route. Usually these are females. Don't worry about the cold and how much you would hate to be out in it. The dogs live outside and love Arctic conditions, tolerating up to minus 45 degrees. Optimum weather for running is minus 20. When they get hot, they just grab a mouthful of snow on the move to cool off: One of the few things you have to do as a driver is apply the brake when bends come up so that the dogs, in taking a corner at pace, don't end up swinging the sleigh off the track. The guide on the snowmobile gives you the hand signal to slow down, which you then relay to the people behind you: Before long, darkness had descended and the dogs led us home: Everything looked beautiful with the magnificent sky behind it: Our own dogs were too keen on grabbing a drink to want to play with us, so we went and said hello to some of the dogs who were already in place for the next tour. There were some really friendly dogs there! We then got a chance to warm up by a fire: Our guide served us some hot berry juice and gave us some information about the farm and the dogs there. She explained that the dogs don't eat in the morning because their guts might twist when they run. In the evening they get a kilo of raw meat and dog pellets. They work quite hard in the winter, running 20 to 30 kilometres a day. The season starts in early December until mid-April. In summer the dogs get to play outside because they don't do any running in the heat. Training for the new season starts in August. After that we got to meet the 13 puppies, born and raised there according to a strict breeding programme, where males are matched to females! Sometimes, however, there are surprise puppies. Otto, who is 14 and the oldest dog on site, used to escape by scaling a wall and then would open the door of the cells of the bitches in heat. You know what happened next. The puppies are kept as pups until they're one. They start training for a year and join a team at two, racing until they're ten. Old retired dogs typically live with the puppies, doing grandparenting. Sometimes they get a new home because there are people in the area who collect retired sled dogs. Once they get a taste of it, the puppies love running. The relative calm can quickly be broken by puppies chanting in unison once they catch sight of another team getting ready to head out! One final look at the farm with that wonderful combination of snow and sky, and then we were back on board our coach, returning home after a really fun day out!
  11. As we were walking back from the supermarket after doing the blog last night, we hit a new temperature record for this holiday - minus 28! It felt significantly warmer when we stepped out of the apartment this morning, and the thermometer in the village confirmed that it was a comparatively mild minus 14 We just caught a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise as we left the apartment and started walking towards the lake. Our plan for today was to give skiing a go on our own. We carried the (heavy!) skis as far as the sports shop, before getting changed into our ski boots and temporarily leaving our own boots behind in the shop. The advantage of doing it this way was that otherwise we'd have had to have walked all the way to the lake in the ski boots, skied, then carried the skis back to the apartment, changed into our actual boots, and carried the skis back to the shop. This way we could go skiing, then hand the skis back in and collect our own shoes once we'd finished Walking in the ski boots is actually really difficult because they don't have very good grips on them. Crossing the main road and walking through the supermarket carpark were particularly tricky, because the snow is quite compacted and slippy there, but we made it all in one piece and were soon on the lake, ready to begin. Alfie got off to a strong start I needed a bit of time to warm up Alfie was out-performing me and Tim so much that he was soon just a little black dot on the horizon! He may have managed a few more laps than we did We spent a bit of time catching our breath before setting off again. Once we'd skied to the far side of the lake, Alfie and Tim decided to practise their skills at skiing uphill... ...and downhill. Some attempts at going uphill were more successful than others Going downhill wasn't without challenges either! Once we were all thoroughly exhausted, we skied back across the lake, handed back our equipment and indulged in a large amount of pizza By the time we'd finished eating, it had started snowing outside. As we walked back towards the apartment, the snow got increasingly heavy, to the point where we couldn't even see the lake (it's normally visible in the distance here). By the time we got back to the apartment, it felt like a proper blizzard. There was lots of fresh powdery snow on the ground. We were able to walk through the untouched snow to the door of our apartment It was a fun end to what has been a great holiday. Tomorrow will be a long day of travelling, with our first at 10.50 from Kittila and then our second at 17.05 from Helsinki. Lapland is always a destination which involves a lot of travelling, but we definitely think it's worth the effort
  12. Nearly everybody does something to celebrate the New Year. But how many people get to do it on a lake? This was our plan for the night. It was snowing when we left the apartment: The flakes were tiny but there were a lot of them coming down! We already know the walk to the lake very well but it was even clearer tonight because the path had been lined with candles: We were some of the first people to arrive and so didn't have to queue to buy some warming drinks. These were apple juice which was heated with cinnamon, cloves and aniseed: There was still plenty of snow as we walked the short distance to the lake: And there we stood with our hot drinks until, all of a sudden, a fireworks display launched from the middle of the lake! There were all sorts of fireworks! There weren't too many people there and soon we all started to walk home. But not before recording a message:
  13. It felt very cold when we stepped out of the house this morning, and sure enough once we got to the village thermometer we found it was showing a temperature of minus 23. We were walking towards the frozen lake to try and find a snowshoeing path that we'd seen signposted while we were skiing in the woods the other day. On the way we passed a sign advertising ice swimming in the lake, but we decided to give that a miss and stick with our original plan of snowshoeing instead The lake looked beautiful again in the snow. We put our snowshoes on and then we were ready to set off. Tim's beard had already started to freeze I was looking rather cold too! As we set off across the lake, we could see a slightly pink glow in the sky, although the colours weren't as strong as they had been the other day. After a while we reached the far side of the lake and found the start of the trail, marked by blue poles. The path led us through the trees. The snow was pretty deep here... ...especially if you strayed off the path It was beautiful here, but extremely cold! Tim and Alfie decided that they were too cold and that they wanted to head back to the shopping centre to look for some souvenirs. I decided to carry on on my own and explore some more of the path. Once I was on my own, I may have got slightly carried away taking photos of trees again The further I went, the deeper the snow seemed to be. It definitely wasn't getting any warmer; if you look carefully in this photo you might be able to see the ice on my eyelashes, as well as my white hair The path became narrower... ...before leading up a snowy slope into the forest. Now I really was right between the trees. I was glad of the blue poles; without them it might have been difficult to tell where the path was going. The path continued along a little ridge for a while, but then started to lead quite steeply downhill. I decided I'd better turn back, because I might not get down the slope - or if I did, I might not get back up again I started making my way back towards the lake. It was coming up to 2pm now and so there was an orange glow in the sky... ...and a bit of pink over the big fell in the distance. I tried a sunset selfie As I emerged back out onto the lake, I was excited to see a herd of reindeer crossing the lake. They were quite a long way away, so it was difficult to get a good photo. Once they'd moved off into the trees, I continued on my way and was over halfway across the lake when I saw a single solitary reindeer in the distance. He started getting closer. Was he going to walk towards me? Wow, he literally walked right past me! I've never been as close to a reindeer as this By this stage I was in danger of turning into an icicle, so I headed back towards the supermarket. Tim and Alfie had had a successful shopping trip and discovered that, while we'd been out, the temperature had dropped even lower, hitting minus 25; a record low for this holiday!
  14. I hadn't fancied joining Tim and Alfie at the huskies today, not being a huge fan of dogs. That meant I had to find something else to do instead. I decided to opt for snowshoeing, and re-do the trail which we had all done together on Sunday. It had been snowing all through the night and so as I left the apartment behind and made my way towards the woods, the ground was covered in fresh snow. When I got to the point where the path began, I could see that a machine had been along to flatten the snow down a bit, making it easier to walk on, but it still seemed a lot deeper than on Sunday. Time to put snowshoes on! I set off on the path through the trees It was very cloudy today so the colours in the sky weren't as impressive as they have been on other days, but it was still really lovely. The trees seemed even more laden down with snow than they had earlier in the week. We've been told before that they bounce back once the snow melts, but it looked like it was going to be harder for some than for others. Some looked like they were never going to bounce back at all! I had a go at taking a selfie with snowy trees, but it wasn't terribly successful I could actually have spent all day taking photos of trees Some of them were really huge... ...while others were barely poking up through the snow. By this point I felt like I must be getting close to the cafe. Sure enough, I soon got confirmation that I was getting to the icy part of the walk. I figured if I'd got across the ice once, I could do it again I managed it without any problems and was soon back on the snow. I passed the cafe without going in; it was starting to snow again, so I thought it seemed best to press on. The most exciting thing about the next bit of the path was that I was the first person to walk on the fresh snow It was such a beautiful walk. The path led past a stream, which wasn't completely frozen... ...and then under some more bent-over trees. I had another go at a selfie here Then I got to the downhill slope part of the walk. This actually seemed easier today, with more snow to dig the snowshoes into. After that, it was back up through the valley of trees... ...and back to the road. You can't really tell from the photos, but at this point there was a minor blizzard, with lots of snow falling and a rather strong wind. By the time I eventually got back to the apartment, I was rather cold It was a great walk though and wonderful to walk in the fresh snow
  15. If yesterday was all about snowshoeing, today was all about skiing! Tim and I had tried cross-country skiing in Lapland a couple of times before but it's very easy to forget everything you've learned from one year to the next, and this was going to be Alfie's first time on skis, so we'd booked a beginners' lesson for this morning. The good news was that the weather was a bit warmer today, and so it was only about minus 12 as we made our way to the starting point for the lesson. We had to carry our skis down to the frozen lake, which has the advantage of being completely flat, so is an excellent place for beginners to practise Although it was 10am, as you can see in the photos it was still quite dark and the street lights were still on. We soon got to the lake. As you can see in this photo, cross-country skiing is done within tracks which are carved into the snow by special machines. You place each of your skis in the tracks and then follow them wherever they lead. First of all we learned how to clip into our skis... ...and then we were ready to go... ...although we were temporarily distracted by the beautiful pink colour of the sky This time it was sunrise rather than sunset. The instructor told us to put just one ski on first of all and to practise gliding in one of the tracks. Whilst we practised, the sky turned an even deeper shade of red. Once we'd mastered one foot at a time, we progressed onto skis on both feet. The instructor was a bit mean and confiscated our ski poles so that we had to work on our balance! Alfie was a bit better at it than me The sunrise continued to be incredible as we practised going up and down the tracks on the lake. With practice I was maybe getting a bit better Eventually we were given our poles back and I felt a lot happier. There was just time to have a last look at the sunrise, before we skied right to the far end of the lake. From there we had to learn how to move uphill with our skis, which was rather hard work. You have to stick your feet outwards like a penguin and try very hard not to slip backwards as you take small steps up the slope. Once we'd managed this, we were off the lake and onto one of the ski tracks beyond it. The terrain here was a bit more uneven, but it was exciting as we were skiing through the trees. At this point only one more challenge remained; skiing down a very steep slope! It looked way too steep for me so I opted out, but Tim and Alfie both managed it Alfie got most of the way down before falling over (but managed to stand back up again straightaway, using a technique we'd been taught at the beginning of the class). Tim's attempt went a bit wrong when he managed to come out of the tracks and descended the hill very fast indeed, although he somehow succeeded in getting back into the tracks in the end and remained upright throughout. Unfortunately no videos of this! That concluded the lesson, so it was time to head back to the lake. We were all rather tired by this point, so headed back to the apartment for a much-needed rest. Later this evening we'll be setting off for the lake again, this time to celebrate New Year
  16. When we picked up our equipment from the rental shop yesterday, the man there warned us that today was going to be a cold day. Sure enough, when we got up and ventured outside this morning, we found it was very cold indeed! Minus 20 was a big change from yesterday, which had felt comparatively mild for Lapland. It was so cold that I could feel my eyelashes starting to freeze. Our plan for today was to go snowshoeing in the woods behind the village. There's a really good path which we've used in previous years and is perfect for snowshoes. First of all we had to walk along one of the side roads out of the village, just wearing our normal boots. Then when we got to the start of the path, it was time to put our snowshoes on Tim might not have felt cold, but we could already see his hair and moustache starting to freeze! The path leads through the snowy trees and is criss-crossed at different points by ski runs and tracks for snowmobiles. Most of the time we were just completely alone in the forest though As always, the hardest part about snowshoeing is getting the straps on the snowshoes attached tightly enough that they don't fall off. It's the sort of thing which is easy to do when you're sitting down inside, but really difficult when you're outside in the snow and your fingers are numb. We got there in the end though After a while the path leads down into a snowy valley. We were surrounded by enormous trees on both sides. And we could just see the bumps of smaller trees poking up through the snow. The sky wasn't quite as bright as yesterday, but there were still some beautiful colours in it. It didn't come out in the pictures, but we could actually see the moon in the distance as well. After pausing for a while to take some photos, we were off again! In this part of the forest there were some trees which were really laden down by snow. Although it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, we knew that we were now only a kilometre or so away from a cafe. That was good news, because we were now all starting to feel very cold. It wasn't just Tim's hair that was starting to freeze; mine was as well! The snow was deeper on this part of the walk, so we were glad that we had our snowshoes. There was just one final obstacle for us to cross before we could get inside in the warm for a bit 😮 I didn't like the look of that at all! We decided to send Tim across first to see whether it would bear his weight He got across without any problems, so Alfie went next and then I brought up the rear. The sign showed that we'd walked 4.8km from the village now. That meant that finally we were at the cafe and we could relax with a warm drink It was nice looking out at the snow from indoors for a while. We couldn't sit still for too long though, because we only had a couple of hours of daylight left to complete the rest of the walk and get back to the village. The return walk follows a slightly different route, which took us past some trees that were completely bowed over by the snow. It also required us to climb down quite a steep snowy slope. From there we rejoined the same path that we'd been on previously... ...and retraced our steps back to the road, where we paused to take off our snowshoes. It was starting to get dark by this point, so we'd just finished the walk on time. We found that while we'd been out the temperature had dropped even lower, hitting a very cold minus 23! All that remained was to get into the warm again for some very well-deserved pizza
  17. When we woke up this morning, we found that it had been snowing overnight, so there was lots of fresh powdery snow outside our apartment. It was still snowing a little bit by the time we finished breakfast and went outside, in fact. Our first task for today was to walk to the sports shop from which we were renting our snowshoes and skis, so we set off into the centre of the village. It was fun walking through the snow to the shop. It was slightly less fun when, having collected everything, we had to carry all the rather heavy equipment back through the snow to the apartment! Once we'd recovered from our exertions we set off once again, this time for a more leisurely stroll. There were people skiing past us as we made our way back to the centre of the village. Before long we caught a glimpse of the frozen lake in the distance. We'd been for a stroll down to the lake last night when we'd been taking advantage of the supermarket Wi-Fi to post our blog. It was different seeing it in the daylight though Part of the lake isn't completely frozen, where the local river flows into it. That part of the lake is completely fenced off with warning signs though, so there's no chance of you making a mistake in the dark! The partially frozen river is very pretty too, as Alfie and Tim found when they crossed the road for a closer look. We'd come to the far end of the village now (it's only small!) so we turned around and headed back towards the supermarket. The carpark outside the supermarket is home to this enormous reindeer... ...and from the far side of the car park, you can catch a glimpse of the local reindeer farm too. Some of the reindeer had huge antlers. A path leads down from behind the supermarket to the frozen lake. As you descend onto the lake, you can see the boathouses where people keep their boats in summer. And then all you can see is the enormous frozen lake itself, and some of the snowy fells in the background. There are a couple of paths to follow to walk across the lake. There are also a couple of ski runs, which are marked by red poles so that you don't stray onto them by mistake. As we made our way into the middle of the lake, we started to notice the unusual pink colours in the sky. The further we walked, the pinker it began to look... ...until suddenly it was very pink indeed! It was after 1pm by this point, so perhaps it was the beginning of sunset! It was beautiful anyway, and the most unusual colours we've ever seen in the sky in Lapland Tim was taking a picture of Alfie with the view... ...when I turned around and realised there were some reindeer walking across the lake! We were quite a long way away, so it was difficult to get a good photo, but they were definitely there. How exciting! As we finally got to the far edge of the lake, the sky looked increasingly dramatic. We followed a smaller path up into the trees on the other side of the lake for a while. This took us up past some cabins and to a small road... ...from where we had a view back down towards the lake. We couldn't really risk exploring any further in case it started to get dark, so we turned around to come back. Once we got back down to the lake, we could see that it was indeed starting to look like twilight. We did a bit of shopping at the supermarket and then headed back to the apartment just as darkness fell and the street lights started to come on again. We were quite tired by this point, having walked about six miles in the snow, but it was definitely worth it for the amazing views
  18. As soon as we got back from Lapland last January, we knew that we wanted to go again. Because the flights can be so expensive, we started looking at December 2018 prices straightaway and soon found an unexpectedly cheap option to fly to Helsinki with British Airways from Heathrow. There was a twist this year in that we also wanted to bring Tim's oldest nephew, Alfie, with us on the trip and so it was that less than a month after getting home from last year's holiday, we had already booked three return flights for this year. We managed to find reasonably-priced connecting flights from Helsinki to Kittila with Norwegian too, so we were all set to return to our favourite destination of Äkäslompolo. The thing which gave us the most trouble was finding accommodation. When we've booked in the past, apartments in Lapland have been quite flexible about the start and end dates for rentals. There seemed to have been a change this year, with the majority of accommodation only wanting to rent from Saturday to Saturday, at least for the Christmas week. We eventually managed to track down one solitary apartment which it was possible to let from a Friday to a Friday (which was what we needed to take advantage of the cheap flights we'd booked) and the good news was that it had room for three people. There was only one catch - it didn't have any Wi-Fi Could we survive an entire week without internet?! There were no other affordable options, so we decided we'd have to give it a go and hope that there would be some free Wi-Fi somewhere in the village of Äkäslompolo! Our flight from Heathrow to Helsinki was at 11am on Thursday, so we had a fairly civilised start to the holiday by our standards, not needing to leave home until 06.30. That was still early enough to avoid most of the traffic, so the drive down to Heathrow all went well and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Our flight took off almost exactly on time and three hours later we touched down in the Finnish capital. Finland is two hours ahead of the UK, so it was just after 4pm here and already almost dark! More surprising than the darkness was the fact that there was a little bit of snow on the ground in Helsinki. There had been lots of articles in the British newpapers over the past month about a lack of snow in Lapland, following an unseasonally warm and dry November, so it was a relief to see that the weather was getting back to normal. If it was cold and snowy as far south as Helsinki, then we should be guaranteed lots of snow in Äkäslompolo Our onward flight to Lapland wasn't until Friday, so we stayed overnight in a hotel a couple of kilometres away from the airport. There was a free shuttle bus to the hotel from outside the main terminal, which was nice and convenient. When we checked in we found the rooms were a little on the small side, but nevertheless fine for one night. The other good thing about the hotel was that it was less than a kilometre away from a large shopping centre complex, which we'd discovered when we were in Helsinki this time last year. As soon as we'd got settled into our rooms, we set off through the snow to find it. It really wasn't far and we found a restaurant where we were all able to have a burger and chips for around €15 each, which is a bargain by Helsinki standards We then headed back to the hotel for an early night, because we had an early start for our flight on Friday morning. Our flight from Helsinki to Kittila was at 08.45 and the free shuttle bus was coming to take us to the airport at 06.00. That meant we had to arrange to meet for breakfast at 05.15, which felt a little bit painful! The hotel had a good breakfast buffet though, even if it was a bit difficult to take full advantage of it so early in the morning. Once we got to the airport, we had to track down one of the self check-in machines to print our boarding passes and baggage labels. This was the point at which our holiday all started to go wrong last year, when we failed to attach the baggage labels to our suitcases securely enough, with the result that Tim's label fell off and his bag didn't make it to Lapland! We weren't going to make the same mistake this year, and Tim made sure that all three labels were 100% stuck before we went to the baggage drop-off desk to hand them over. The flight to Kittila took around 90 minutes and soon we were landing in the snow The pilot told us before we got off the plane that it was minus 13 outside. That didn't stop someone getting off just wearing a T-shirt though! We soon discovered that all our bags had made it to Kittila as well (yay!). It was only about 10.30 at this point and we weren't allowed to check into our accommodation in Äkäslompolo until 16.00, so we decided to strategically miss the 11am airport bus and have a drink in the airport cafe, catching the bus which was scheduled to meet the flight after ours instead. Tim and Alfie also used the time to get changed into all their proper thermals! The next bus departed shortly after midday. Like all airport buses in Nordic countries, this one is a little bit on the expensive side, and it cost almost €70 for us all to buy tickets. Those are returns though, so now we just need to not lose the tiny slip of paper they gave us before next week... Once we left the airport behind and started driving through the snowy countryside, the views were amazing. We definitely needn't have worried that there wasn't going to be enough snow Now that it was finally daylight, it was a clear sunny day and so we had some great views of the fells in the distance as the bus drove us towards Äkäslompolo. The driver dropped us off in the centre of the village just after 1pm and we headed to our favourite restaurant to get some food. Alfie and I had enormous ham and pineapple pizzas, while Tim had another burger. By the time we had done a bit of shopping in the nearby supermarket as well, it was after 14.30 and so we decided to try our luck at checking into the apartment a bit early. We didn't have to meet anyone for check-in, having already been sent the code for the key box outside the property, so with luck we might be able to sneak in at 15.00 without anyone noticing! As we set off towards the apartment, it was already starting to look a bit like twilight and it felt very, very cold. We passed one of the village's public thermometers, which confirmed that it was in fact minus 17! Luckily we didn't have too much further to go and our run of good luck continued when the key code I'd been given for the apartment actually worked (another huge improvement on last year, when we were locked out after the rental company sent us the wrong code!). The apartment is nice and comfy inside; almost identical to the ones that we have stayed in in previous years, except that it has a staircase to a separate floor with an additional bedroom for Alfie Most importantly it's extremely warm inside, so we have all been able to thaw out. There really is no internet, but we did discover earlier that there is a free Wi-Fi network at the supermarket. This may be the first time I'm keen to be included in all the holiday shopping trips and probably also the most excited Alfie has ever been at being taken to a supermarket
  19. All good things come to an end. That's the case for our latest visit to Lapland. It didn't get off to the most auspicious start, with my luggage staying in Helsinki and the apartment company giving us the wrong code for the keysafe (twice!) but that's all in the past and the week has been exceptional. I think we're getting this down to a fine art now. Since it was the last stroll we'd do for another year, we thought we'd head out in the evening for a stroll across the lake. (It will never not feel wrong typing that!) In contrast last night, we were the only ones out there on a cloudy night. Suddenly the sky changed to the west: A bright orange light appeared! It could've been sunrise: It would've needed several suns, though, because the same thing happened in other parts of the sky too: There was a hint of green between splashes of orange, though it was faint: Sometimes the intensity made it look like there was a searchlight: After admiring for a few minutes, we took one final glance and went home: We'll be up early tomorrow for a day of travelling. It's all worth it to come here, though. We're already making plans for next year!
  20. For our final day we decided that we wanted to have another go at cross-country skiing But first of all we had to sort out the logistics of how we were going to get all the equipment we'd rented back to the sports shop by the end of the day. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to walk to the shop and hand back the snowshoes and poles first, then walk back to the apartment and collect our skis. Tim asked the people in the sports shop whether we could leave our normal boots with them while we went skiing, and happily they agreed. The advantage of this was that it meant once we'd finished skiing, we could just go back to the sports shop and hand in the skis, ski poles and ski boots, then put our normal boots on to walk back to the apartment. The alternative would have been to walk back to the apartment in the ski boots, change into our normal boots and then walk all the way back to the sports shop again carrying the skis. Skis are quite heavy to carry (and it's about 1km from the apartment to the sports shop) so it was a definite bonus to avoid an extra trip. When we got down to the lake, we could immediately see that it was a lot cloudier than the previous day when we were skiing. It was still pretty though, even if we couldn't see any of the hills in the distance. We were soon clipped into our skis and ready to go. Tim was off... ...and I wasn't too far behind. It felt a bit easier than it did the other day. Or at least, I felt more balanced and less like I was going to fall over We stuck to the same flat bit of track on the lake, which is perfect for beginners Tim was managing to go a bit faster than me! Skiing is hard work and after a while we felt like having a break. While we were catching our breath, we tried another selfie Then we decided to do one more lap of the track before calling it a day. We went back to the ski shop, handed everything over and retrieved our normal boots. There was still some daylight left, so we went for a stroll around the village, past the supermarket in the direction we had explored the other night. As we were walking along, I suddenly caught sight of something moving in the trees on the opposite side of the road. It was a reindeer, just wandering around That's definitely a first for us! We continued along the path, to the point where the river flows into the lake. The water isn't completely frozen here. Tim went across to the other side of the road to look at the view in the opposite direction. It was really beautiful here too Before long we came to the end of the village and had to turn around and head back. It was starting to get dark now anyway and the street lights were coming on. We've had a really wonderful holiday in Lapland yet again, despite the fact that it didn't get off to the best start with the delay to Tim's suitcase last week Tomorrow will be a big day of travelling, as we have an internal flight from Kittilä to Helsinki in the morning, followed by a flight from Helsinki back to Gatwick in the afternoon. It will be tiring, but this is a destination that is definitely worth the travelling, and I have a feeling that we may be coming back again...!
  21. Our legs didn't feel up to skiing two days in a row, so we decided to revert to snowshoeing again today. We had really enjoyed the walk in the woods which we did on Saturday, but in places it had been quite difficult walking on such powdery snow in normal shoes, so we thought it would be fun to re-do the walk, but this time on snowshoes. We began walking along the side road which leads towards the path. We were carrying our snowshoes at this point, as the snow on the road wasn't very deep. When we got to the path, we stopped to put the snowshoes on. Putting them on is still the most difficult part, but we seem to be finally getting the hang of it now We managed to get all the straps pulled tightly enough that we only had to stop once to adjust mine during the whole walk, and they didn't fall off at all. You'll see from the picture that we had decided to bring the snowshoe poles with us today as well. Or rather, I had now realised that we actually had snowshoe poles Originally when Tim brought a pile of poles back from the shop I assumed they all related to the skis, but then realised belatedly that we had a set each to go with the snowshoes as well. That should make going up and downhill a lot easier Snowshoes on, and we were off. It was about minus 4 today and Tim was finding it a bit warm I was still happy I had all my winter gear on though, as we made our way through the forest and towards the little valley we'd walked through the other day. It was just as beautiful there today Quite a lot more snow had fallen overnight (we'd had to grit the path outside our apartment this morning) and so I think the path would have been really heavy-going in places with normal boots. With the snowshoes on we were speeding along though, especially once we got into a rhythm with the poles. Partway round, we decided to stop and try another selfie Then we were off once again... ...until we got to the little ski cafe which marks the halfway point of the walk. From there, we continued on the narrower path with lots of bent-over trees Some of them seemed to be even more bent over this time than last, and there were a couple of places where the trees were now so low we had to duck under them (which we definitely didn't have to do the other day). It was about 2pm by this point - and it hadn't been a particularly bright day in the first place - so we needed to walk briskly to get through the rest of the walk before darkness fell. The snowshoes definitely helped with that We soon came to the place where there is a steep downhill slope to negotiate. It was loads easier with the poles! Finally we were almost back at the road, where it would be time to take off the snowshoes again. We made it, just as the street lights were starting to turn on It was another really fun day in the snow
  22. We went out again just after 11pm last night, to see what was happening in Äkäslompolo for New Year. Although it had been quite a clear and sunny day, by evening the sky had clouded over once again and so there was no chance of seeing any northern lights. The village still looked very pretty though, with little candles placed in the snow at regular intervals to light up the path along the main road. We were walking towards the frozen lake, where last year there had been a big release of lanterns at midnight. We had no idea what might be happening this year! The lake is just beyond the supermarket carpark, and I'd had the impression that last year there had been a man there selling Glühwein (but that we couldn't buy any because we'd forgotten to bring any money out with us). We were better prepared this year, and when we arrived we found there was indeed a man in the carpark, but that what he was selling was hot berry juice with a shot of vodka in it. Not quite Glühwein, but I gave it a go anyway and it was quite nice We walked down to the lake, where there didn't appear to be a big organised display of anything this year, but lots of people individually either letting off lanterns or fireworks. Some people's fireworks weren't very impressive... ...but others were more successful. It felt quite surreal to be watching fireworks set off from a frozen lake. When it got to midnight, someone set off the best firework of all. It was a great start to the new year
  23. This afternoon I casually fired up Amikumu, an app for finding Esperanto speakers nearby. As it happens, I know a Finnish fella who speaks the language and I haven't seen him since 2004 ... and guess who our nearest neighbour happens to be? My mate, Pekka! He's moved from where he used to live, a town in the far north called Enontekiö (I've remembered the name from how it was enscribed on a pen he gave me) to Rovaniemi, which is the town that most people will have visited if they've been to "Lapland" but which is now no longer part of the Arctic Circle because that zone is shrinking. I contacted my buddy and explained that I know getting a message to meet up on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day 150 kilometres away with no notice would probably be tricky for a man with a family, but since we're coming back next year I could give him a bit of notice next time. He seemed happy with the idea! (I love Pekka but I'm going to have to have words with him about moving from Enontekiö before we had a chance to get that far north!) Clare and I decided to go for a stroll this evening, since we hadn't done a stroll in the darkness so far on this break. We stuck to doing what we know by walking in the direction of the supermarket, which meant we passed things which we already know: We hit upon the idea of walking a little further once we reached the supermarket. After all, we didn't know what lay beyond our self-imposed idea of the town limit and the weather was a comparatively mild minus 2. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes to spot what appeared to be a tower in the distance, so we headed towards it, across a river. We found an attractive display: The building with the bridge was a jewellery shop and the whole site was a caravan park: There was also a Christmas tree in the parking area:As is usual for car parks, there were piles of snow amassed:And then we headed home for a glass of wine. Tomorrow we'll be breaking out the skis!
  24. Today we decided to re-do one of our favourite walks from last year, in the woods outside Äkäslompolo. Given how cold it has been over the past few days, we got dressed up in our warmest clothes this morning, prepared to brave the Arctic conditions once again. I was wearing my new pink waterproof trousers As soon as we stepped outside though, we realised that.... it wasn't actually that cold The air didn't feel painful to breathe, even without a neck gaiter. Sure enough, when we got as far as the main thermometer in the village, we saw that today the temperature was a mere minus 2. You could definitely feel the difference! The path we were looking for starts from one of the side roads leading out of the village. Last year we got a bit lost when we were looking for it and managed to walk up a hill in the wrong direction, but this year we found the correct road without any problems. After a few minutes we turned off the road and onto the path, which starts out quite wide to begin with. As with yesterday, everywhere we looked we were surrounded by beautiful snowy trees After a while the path crosses a ski run and becomes more narrow, as it begins to lead through a little valley. It's really beautiful here, and again almost completely silent; we only met a handful of other people walking the whole time we were out. It wasn't snowing while we were out but it obviously had been overnight, because there was a fresh layer of powdery snow everywhere. It was quite difficult to walk in at times; we should probably have brought our snowshoes! It was a really magical place to walk though, even if it did feel like hard work at times The path leads towards a small restaurant hut for skiers, which is about 4km outside of Äkäslompolo. From here, the path circles round back towards the village again. This part of the path leads through a denser part of the forest and we saw lots of trees which were bent under the weight of the snow. Some of them definitely looked like they would be able to spring back once the snow melted.... ...whereas others looked like they had been snapped completely... ...and others we weren't completely sure. We carried on through the forest. Eventually the path goes down quite a steep snowy slope. Tim decided to take the running approach... ...whereas I went down more carefully After this, we were back on the same path as before, leading up through the valley. It was just as beautiful going in the opposite direction As we got closer to Äkäslompolo, we could see the light starting to change. It was after 2pm by this point and starting to get darker, so the photos almost looked like they had been taken in black and white. We were starving by the time we got back to the village and so we decided to go out for a meal. We both had pizza this time, and they were huge! All in all we've had another wonderful day in the snow
  25. Shortly after I finished blogging last night, our doorbell rang and there was a lady outside with Tim's missing suitcase He was very happy to be reunited with it. It turned out that the original baggage label had indeed fallen off, so I'm going to be extremely paranoid when using self-service baggage check-in desks in the future! When we woke up this morning we both felt more energetic than yesterday, so we decided to try out some snowshoeing. The snowshoe expedition which we'd been on last year now cost €68 whereas renting the snowshoes had only cost €50 for the length of our stay, so even if we only used them today we would save money We decided to start on the Äkäslompolo lake, where we knew from last year that there were definitely some snowshoe trails. Last year we went on this walk, but had to turn back when we got to a slope that was too steep to climb without snowshoes. This year we thought we should be able to do better The thermometer in the centre of the village showed -19 today, so it was a bit warmer than yesterday. It didn't really feel much warmer, but whereas yesterday had been quite bright and clear, today was very cloudy and it was starting to snow lightly. It didn't take long for Tim's beard to freeze again When we got to the lake, we strapped on our snowshoes. Strapping them on is actually the hardest part; the straps are quite stiff and it's difficult to pull them tight enough to keep your feet secured, especially when your fingers are going numb. We managed it in the end, and set off across the lake. Whereas yesterday we had been able to take photos of the fells in the distance, today we could hardly see across to the opposite side of the lake We made our way across the lake, towards the forest on the far side. I remembered from last year how beautiful the trees looked, all covered in snow. We could see occasional people skiing past on the some of the ski runs in the distance, but for most of the time we were completely on our own and when we stopped it was absolutely silent The air was so cold that it was almost painful to breathe, so I was very glad of my neck-gaiter We made our way through the forest, following the snowshoe trail. The path was marked with intermittent blue poles, which made it easier to follow. Some of the trees were completely bowed down by snow... ...and others were just so perfectly covered in snow that it was hard to see any tree at all In some places we saw animal tracks in the snow, though not sure what this one was. Eventually we got near to the place where we had turned back last year, when the path started to go quite steeply uphill. Equipped with our snowshoes, we managed the uphill no problem this year and were soon following a narrower path along a little hill. It was very pretty, although I had to pay attention not to trip over my own snowshoes What hadn't occurred to me in advance was that if we followed a path uphill, we'd have to go downhill again at some point. Sure enough, we soon came to a point where the path led downhill very steeply indeed (though you can't really see it in this picture, because everything is so white!) Tim managed to get down the slope but it was way too steep for me, even with snowshoes, so we had to turn around and return the way that we had come. That was fine though, because there were other snowshoe paths to explore The snow had started to intensify by this point, and we could no longer see all the trees quite as clearly. I did spot these little ones though, which were so small that the snow had covered all but their very tips. We were rather cold by this point, so we decided to call it a day. If you look very closely in this picture, you may be able to see that the little bit of hair poking out from under my hat is completely frozen We walked back across the lake and towards the warmth of the apartment. We've discovered that it has a special drying cupboard for wet clothes (it's a bit like a tumble dryer, but in a cupboard) so we have been making use of that this evening; our clothes were surprisingly wet after a few hours of being snowed on. It was a lovely day, and really good fun to be able to snowshoe on our own rather than in a group
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