Tag Archives: walking

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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Walking in a winter wonderland

Oh, I know you’re all humming that song now …. and my dad is probably remembering the corny photo I emailed to him just before Christmas, of Christopher Walken in the snow.

We’re still at Katterjokk, leaving tomorrow to nip across the border into Finland for a few days. We went aurora-hunting last night, but it was mostly cloudy and misty and we didn’t get to see much even though we headed closer to Abisko in case it was clearer there. It wasn’t.

This morning we went for a walk up the hill from the apartments, to the Katterjokk train station. On the other side of the railway line is a ski-lift which isn’t working yet as there’s not enough snow. There’s enough for us, but it’s a bit patchy on the slopes and there are still rocks sticking out, which probably isn’t ideal for skiers. There is also a tourist information office up there, and about half a dozen caravans. I think they might be for the people who run the ski-lift when it’s ski season. We walked along snowmobile tracks, which are probably walking tracks in summer, and met the friendly woman who works at the supermarket. She was going home at lunchtime on a new snowmobile that she and her husband had bought yesterday.   She was very pleased with it, but they need to get another seat so 2 people can sit on it at once. And there is room at the back to carry stuff as well.

I attempted to make a snow angel, but the snow wasn’t powdery enough and I was laughing too much, so it didn’t really work. We walked through the rest of Katterjokk village, which consists of about 20 houses. They all seem to be holiday houses – some have people staying in them, some haven’t had anyone there since it started snowing. I noticed a snowmobile with a lot of snow on it, and then 2 others with covers over them, and concluded that the snow-covered one is the equivalent of a wrecked car in a front yard at home.

There is also a large caravan park/camp ground here, and most if not all the caravans are empty at the moment. This time of the year seems to be in-between the main seasons – too early for skiers, too cold for people wanting to walk,fish,  kayak. So there are just a few aurora-watchers and a few snowmobilers.  I think we’re the only people who have stayed here for more than one night.

What do we wear when we go outside, I hear you ask. Or maybe not,  but I’ll tell you anyway. The day before we flew here (which was the day after I found out we were coming), we went to a fantastic closing down sale at the Columbia store in Adelaide. We each bought a pair of snow boots, a couple of sets of thermals, a warm jacket for Greg (he had already bought one for me), and other bits and pieces including gloves and scarves.

If we’re only going to be in the car, and then indoors, I just add a jacket to what I’m wearing (on the advice of my cold-weather dwelling friends David and Mickey – thanks for that excellent tip, it’s saved a lot of hot flushes!).  If I’m going to be outside for a while, I wear a layer of thermals, a warm top, a lightweight pair of pants (jeans take too long to dry and I never take them travelling), my warm Columbia jacket, a scarf, hat, a pair of thick socks (my feet have never felt cold in my snow boots), and a pair of possum/merino gloves that my gorgeous friend Sally brought back from New Zealand. If we’re planning on sitting outside for a while, I’ll add at least another layer of thermals, a polartec top and a down jacket. Current temps here are around -5 to -8C. And then of course, as soon as we get back inside, it all gets peeled off again.

judy-snow-katterjokk (Small)


Katterjokk Station (the building Judy is outside is the heated waiting room
Katterjokk Station (the building Judy is outside is the heated waiting room
the lady from the Supermarket taking her new Snowmobile home
the lady from the Supermarket taking her new Snowmobile home
Ice crystals on the trees
Ice crystals on the trees
Everyone has a snowmobile
Everyone has a snowmobile
Caravanning in Sweden
Caravanning in Sweden