When I accepted my current teaching job in Sweden almost a year ago, visiting Northern Sweden was the #1 trip on my bucket list. So when Sportlov came the last week in February, and the international borders were still closed, I knew it was finally time to take the trip.
Swedes, for a week at the end of February or early March, celebrate a holiday called “Sportlov.” This holiday is intended to have people spend some time outdoors doing “sportsy activities,” such as skiing and snowboarding, to celebrate the start of spring. Google came up with my favorite description of the holiday, “(Sportlov) is an opportunity to brush off the cobwebs of winter, illness, and the grey mush of the city and head out to the slopes, the country, or, if you are lucky, sunnier climes.” A holiday closely comparable to Spring Break!
My Spring Break in Sweden was as Swedish as it could get. A few friends and I planned a trip up to Kiruna, Sweden for a few days.
Friday evening, after finishing a long day at school, the 6 of us hopped on a sleeper train headed North. After dropping off our bags in the room, we headed to the dining car to mingle, play some card games, and eat endless snacks until it was time to call it a night. Splurging on the sleeper cars, vs traditional seats, was well worth it for the sleep we got that night. Although at first finding a comfortable position and getting used to the rumbling and jolts of the train was difficult, in no time the lull of the train put us to sleep.
The next morning we finished our snacks from the night before while admiring the view out our window. Everywhere we looked were blankets upon blankets of fresh, white snow. You felt like you were amidst the heart of a snowglobe.
After a seemingly quick 14-hour train ride, we arrived in Kiruna! Kiruna is the most Northern, populated city, in Sweden. It is home to the largest mine in all of the world. (Read here how this entire town of 20,000 people will physically be moved in the next 5 years!www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/dec/02/kiruna-swedish-arctic-town-had-to-move-reindeer-herders-in-the-way) Kiruna is a very quaint, and cute, city. Small cafes, sledding hills, and boutiques dot the city. The most unique thing we found was the abundance of sleds available to the public to borrow. What a fun idea!
After checking into our hotel for the night, the 6 of us grabbed some Fika and wandered the streets of Kiruna. We found snow sculptures from the town´s Winter Festival the month prior, as well as a beautiful church. We were all giddy with excitement with the amount of snow around us. Apart from the piles of snow, we saw the most perfect snowflakes. Due to the cold temperatures, the snowflakes kept their delicate form even on the ground. It was something out of a movie!
That night, half of us layered up for our snowmobiling trip. With being in the Arctic Circle, our odds of seeing the Northern Lights were higher than ever. We booked a tour bringing us to the middle of the woods where we would hopefully have the right conditions to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, due to it snowing, the sky was too cloudy prohibiting us to see them. Nevertheless, we had an incredible time flying through the forest and warming up in a lodge having hot chocolate and grilled cheeses.
The next morning we woke up and filled our bellies with brunch. That day we would be headed to the woods again, this time dogsledding. After filling up with more Fika, we suited up for our adventure. Our guides showed us how to harness the dogs and drive the sled. In no time we were breezing over frozen rivers to our cabin for the night.
Our cabin for the night had neither electricity nor running water. The bathroom was also an outhouse. We knew we would be “roughing it” for the night, but didn't realize how much work it would take. Upon arriving at the cabin, we divided into different groups to feed the dogs, chop wood for the fire, and collect water from the lake. These jobs took a couple hours and left us quite hungry. Luckily that night we filled up on German potato balls called Kartoffelklöße.
Before heading to bed, we warmed up for the night in the sauna. Although the outside temperature was just 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the sauna was quite warm. So warm, we took breaks from it by rolling around in the snow outside. Lots of laughs were shared by everyone. We were all exhausted and ready for bed that night!
The next morning we were awakened by the dogs excitedly barking and ready for the day. We packed our things, filled both the dogs and our bellies, and were on our way back to Kiruna.
After saying our goodbyes to our new doggie friends, we were on our way to a small town called Jukkasjärvi. Our first stop in Jukkasjärvi was at a Sami village. After paying an outrageous amount to get into the museum and see the reindeer, we headed inside the teepee area where they were serving lunch- reindeer. Although a bit weird to us after having just pet and fed some reindeer outside, we gobbled down our food before heading to our last destination of the trip, the world-famous Ice Hotel.
The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi has been around for 31 years and is both the first created and largest Ice Hotel in the world. The Ice Hotel is really 2 different buildings. 1 part of the hotel is located in a large freezer-like building. This is to ensure the rooms and bar inside will not melt year round. There are a dozen hotel rooms located here, all elaborately designed by different people. Inside the freezer is also a movie theatre solely made out of ice and a bar. We enjoyed a drink at the bar and sipped our beers and cocktails out of mugs, also made out of ice. What a unique experience!
The second half of the Ice Hotel is located outside, and not in the freezer. This part of the hotel is rebuilt each fall from the ice formed in the river nearby. Each spring, when the temperature rises and the Ice Hotel melts, the remains of snow and ice get pushed into the river. It is a no-waste hotel that gets recycled and remade each year!
The rooms in this half of the hotel are just as elaborate and unique as the other half, with this half part of the hotel having a sanctuary built inside as well. Each room in the Ice Hotel must be able to sleep at least 2 people and have some sort of a theme. Some of our favorites were the Strawberry, Sauna, and Moon rooms. Due to a room going for hundreds of dollars a night, we decided we wouldn´t splurge and spend the night there, but instead take the sleeper train home once again.
We took the bus from Jukkasjärvi back to Kiruna, before grabbing some pizza for the train ride home. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a headache trying to find the train station and navigate public transit. By the time we made it to the train station, our pizza was definitely no longer warm. We ate our cold pizza exhaustedly, while the train set out for the 14-hour ride back to Uppsala.
Some of us took a shower and called it a night, while some others fit in a few card games. Exhausted from the fun-filled past 72 hours, we were all off to a night of deep sleep by 10pm. Throughout the night our train got delayed for unknown reasons, making our arrival in Uppsala get delayed a few hours. This wasn't a huge deal to us since we had no plans for the day, and was a way to extend our Spring Break Trip in Sweden instead.
That late morning, when our train finally pulled into the station, we all stretched our legs and jumped off filled with a head full of memories. Was our Spring Break trip to a traditional warm place sipping margaritas on a beach? No, but it was equally as enjoyable and a good story to tell my students to come Monday when I´d be back to school. Although, I could now use some sun to warm up from the cold...
*I do not own the lyrics or music in above movie.
**All pictures are mine and are not to be licensed or distributed elsewhere without permission.