18.01.2016 -9 °C
We set off for Europe early on Boxing Day via South Korea. Our Korean Air flight had an enforced, overnight stopover in Incheon so all our transfers, meals and accommodation were included in the price of the ticket (which was still much cheaper than all the other airlines!).
Incheon was a very chilly -9 with a wind chill of -16 when we woke up the next morning. We wrapped up as well as we could (our suitcases had gone straight to their final destination) and headed out to have a little explore of the local area before going back to the airport. Opposite our hotel was the lovely Songdo Central Park so we wandered around there and collected some geocaches along the way whilst trying not to freeze!
Our next flight was to Heathrow, another very brief stopover in an airport hotel ready for our morning flight to Stockholm.
Once we landed in Stockholm we caught the Arlanda Express into the city centre. It only took about 20 minutes as we zoomed through the Swedish countryside as the sun set over the snowy fields. Accommodation in Stockholm is fairly pricey, we stayed at HTL Kungsgatan which was in a great location. The room was lovely and modern but compact is definitely the best word to describe it overall!
We explored Stockholm the next day going for a long walk around the city taking in the sights (and geocaching of course!) before heading back to the airport to fly further north to Lulea.
Lulea is small city on the coast of Northern Sweden and all our previous days of travel were in order to reach this destination. Being so far north, during the winter months the days are short and the nights are long making it an ideal location for observing the Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights. This was our primary reason for spending the next 5 nights there.
Gerald and I met up with the rest of our aurora hunters and were issued with our cold weather jump suits to keep us warm in the freezing temperatures. As soon as dinner was over we jumped into the minibuses for our first ‘hunt’. We drove into the dark wilderness and set up our cameras in anticipation of the Tricky Lady making an appearance. The moon was full and was giving out so much light that our photos could have passed for a sunny, winter’s day if it wasn’t for the stars. Despite being out for several hours under a crystal clear sky, sadly, there was no sign of the aurora.
The following morning we had a day trip to an Arctic Moose Farm. We got to feed carrots to the moose and then enjoyed a delicious lunch of reindeer stew. After visiting the farm we drove a little further down the road to cross the Arctic Circle.
That night the cloud cover was so dense we didn’t even attempt searching for the lights and we made the most of it by getting a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a long time after all our travel and time zone differences!
The next day we had another excursion, this time to Svedjekojan to go husky sledding. We were warmly greeted as we arrived and invited into a large, cosy, wooden building to have some warm, berry juice. We then went out to meet their 55 husky dogs and watch as some of them were prepared and harnessed up to the sleighs. It seemed that every dog was desperate to be chosen. Some of the harnessed dogs were literally jumping up and down in anticipation of being untied and able to head off on their run! Gerald and I had been a little apprehensive about whether we would enjoy this activity as we don’t like to ‘exploit’ animals but it was clear to see that these dogs LOVE what they do and are very well cared for. The dogs are rotated so they all get a go and are exercised but none are overworked. We were taken on a half hour ride on a huge frozen lake before heading back to the wooden building for a lunch of smoked reindeer and potato which was cooked in front of us on the fire.
That night we headed out on another aurora search, hoping that we were going to see in 2016 under a sky dancing with green and purple. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the aurora was hitting 8’s and 9’s on the scale, it was dense cloud over all of Sweden and we saw none of the amazing display that we knew was going on. Instead we had to make do with watching an abundance of fireworks lighting up the sky as the locals celebrated the start of the New Year.
Pretty much everything was shut on New Year’s Day so after a hearty breakfast at the hotel we decided to put on our ice grips and go for a long walk around the city of Lulea combining it with some more geocaching. We managed to find lots and they took us all over the city. After dinner we wrapped up warm for another hunt that turned out to be another cloudy and auroraless event! There was much disappointment as this was our last hunt of the trip.
The next day we all headed off to cross the border into Finland. We drove to the Santa Claus Village in Lapland to visit Santa and his reindeer. We were amused to see that sunrise was at 11.49am and set at 12.46pm, so not quite an hour of actual daytime! Santa’s village is a little commercial, lots of little shops selling souvenirs and there was quite a long queue to meet the big man himself but we did enjoy having a chat with him!
It snowed a little bit while we were there which added to the magic of the place. We also got to stand on the Arctic Circle line again.
Once we got back to the hotel the clouds had started to clear and our aurora team decided to take us out one last time. Once again we drove out into the wilderness and set up our cameras under the starry sky. This time we did get to see an aurora albeit a weak one. The sky had a slight green glow which we did manage to capture on camera.
We went back to the hotel in the early hours pleased that we had seen something but I am not ready to tick the Tricky Lady off my bucket list just yet!