Tag Archives: camping

The Best Holiday Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birtavarre, Norway

After chatting with Christian, our campground host, about how best to see aurora, we put in a concerted effort last night. It was cloudy, but there were patches of sky visible most of the time, and we hoped that the cloud might just clear away. It didn’t, but we drove 8kms out of the village to the end of the (cleared) road to see if it was any better there. It wasn’t, but along the way we noticed that most of the houses had lights on inside – when we drove along here in summer, we had assumed that most of the houses were just holiday places, but apparently not. The Scandinavians have a lovely tradition of putting a small light or a standard lamp in every window. Around Christmas and New Year, there were a lot of decorative lights,  nearly all of those have gone now, but there are still lights in a lot of windows. And indoor plants too.

We set the alarm to wake up every 2 hours overnight to check the sky and make sure we weren’t missing anything. At 5am, we both saw Lights behind the clouds, but the cloud was too thick to give us a decent show. We gave up after that and slept in until dawn … at 9am.

Greg walked around the campground this morning, taking some of the photos that are in the previous post. There are moose/s around here. I saw one last night and Christian showed us bare patches on trees around the cabin where they had stripped the bark off to eat. There are footprints around the cabin, and I’m being careful when I go outside in the dark – I don’t really want to meet a moose up close. We donned several layers of thermals and other clothes and walked into the village, which has 2 ‘supermarkets’, a car mechanic, a pretty church and probably a few other shops that open when there are more tourists around. The mobile library bus was at one of the supermarkets when we were there.

January is the worst month, according to Christian.Long, dark, too cold to snow and not enough snow to make things interesting. December is good because of Christmas, and February is good because the days are longer and the snow sports people start arriving to do their snow thing.

Tonight, the sky is completely clear and we’re hopeful. It’s our last night here, tomorrow (Tuesday) we have to do the 1600km drive back to Stockholm, which will mean a very long day’s driving, a stop somewhere along the way for some sleep and an early start on Wednesday to get the rest of the way before midday. And then we fly to Dubai for a couple of days to thaw out before heading home on Friday night.

Trees with the bark stripped and eaten by moose
Greg sitting out in the snow watching for aurora

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Inside the Arctic Circle – in winter

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

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

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

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

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

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


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