Tag Archives: Stockholm

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!

South to Stockholm

It was a long cold 1500km drive south from Birtavarre Norway to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. We spent another fruitless night looking for Aurora. It was a clear night with the temperature dropping to -18C, but no sign anywhere of Aurora.

We left Birtavarre at 5:00am, and within a couple of hours we were back in Finland, refuelling the car with cheaper Finish Diesel (about $A2 a litre) rather than expensive Norwegian Diesel ($A3 per litre). When we refuelled it was -24C  and we worked our way through northern Finland for about 100km with the temperature dropping even lower. The temperature finally dropped to -36C with the cars clutch starting to play up getting heavier to use. We thought it might be the cluch fluid freezing , but it turns out clutch fluid does not freeze until -59C, so something else caused the clutch to play up when it was very very cold.

We crossed south into Sweden with the temperature still hovering around the -36C level. We drove through a town where a couple were taking their baby out for a walk in a pram, and it was still -36C.

We finally had the sun rise over the horizon in northern Sweden, unfortunately we drove straight into the low sun for a couple of hours.  By the time it got dark at about 2pm we had covered 500km, but we still had a 1000km to go. Once we got to Lulea the road got wider with more overtaking lanes. Around about 600km from Stockholm it started snowing again and you have difficulties overtaking the trucks on the overtaking lanes. The trucks kick up light snow that billows around like dust on an Australian dirt road when you follow them. When you overtake the outside lane has a lot more snow sitting on the road because not as many cars use the outside lane. So you pass on the outside lane driving through layers of snow trying to peer through the snow being thrown up by the truck you are passing. Very difficult.

We stopped at a parking bay about 11pm and slept in the back of the car, waking again at 5am to do the last 350km to Stockholm. We refuelled the car at a Service Station about 40km from Arlanda Airport with only 2 hours before our flight left. We asked the service station attendant if he could take some our of discarded camping equipment, and he kindly volunteered to take it to a local charity. With a very fast and rough repack, and a very superficial clean of the car (it was still caked with ice on the rear) we rushed  to Avis to return the car. Hopped on the bus from Avis to Terminal 5, checked in, did the usual long wait in security, changed out of our thermals, and by the time we made the gate, they had started to board the plane.

-36C. The cars clutch started being very heavy and we did not dare turn the car off.
-36C. The cars clutch started being very heavy and we did not dare turn the car off.
Dawn and -36C. Judy staying in the wamer car (which still had ice on the inside of the windows however)
Dawn and -36C. Judy staying in the warmer car (which still had ice on the inside of the windows however)
Trees covered in snow in the pink light of the low morning sun
Trees covered in snow in the pink light of the low morning sun









In Stockholm

Exactly 6 months ago to the day, we arrived in Stockholm to begin our month-long Scandinavian road trip. It was just after the Northern summer solstice and it seemed like it was light all the time. We didn’t see any stars for a month.This time, it’s the complete opposite. We arrived yesterday morning and it was overcast, rainy and the light was dim. We went for a walk in the afternoon and by 4pm it was completely dark. Which was fine by us – we were ready for bed, although flying here this time was a much nicer trip. The first time, we flew Malaysian Airlines, stopped at Kuala Lumpur and Heathrow and arrived 34 hours after we left home. This time, we flew Qantas/Emirates, stopped at Dubai and arrived 22 hours after we left home.

We’re staying at the Hotell Dialog again. We stayed there night before we left Stockholm to start the Russian part of our trip. We know this part of town, it’s near the largest Ikea in the world and a heap of other shops – we need to shop for a few things before we head north in search of the Aurora. Food, snow shovel, more food, booze …. I’m beginning to understand why schnapps is popular in cold weather climates, it certainly gives one a nice warm glow.

It’s not actually very cold here, and there isn’t any snow in Stockholm. Yesterday the temperature range was 2 – 5C, and the forecast is similar for today. I haven’t quite worked out how to dress for both walking outside AND being inside heated shopping centres. Yesterday I wore a pair of thermals and a couple of other layers to walk  to the shops, then peeled most of it off when we were inside, and piled it all on again to do more walking. I guess I’ll just get it all worked out, then we’ll head north and I’ll just want to wear everything I brought with me, all the time.

Greg is watching the Space Weather website for signs that we’re going to get to see some lights soon. There is a lovely video which was taken on Christmas afternoon, from the lake we’re heading to, so we’re feeling hopeful that we’ll be lucky enough to see them. The customs officer told us that he had never seen any in Stockholm – too much light pollution in the city. Greg will do a post soon about the technical stuff, with some of the websites he’s following for information.

It’s almost 8.30am and there’s a glimmer of light outside. Time to get this day started.

One more thing, for Sam and Brianna … and any other Scrubs fans reading. We’re sitting having breakfast at the hotel and back-to-back Scrubs episodes are playing on the TV, with Swedish subtitles.