I didn’t mean to disappear like that last week, especially after blogging so consistently every week since September, but I got sick. And this happens so infrequently that when I do get sick, my body must think it needs to make up for all the years in between where I wasn’t sick and really stick it to me. I won’t give you details except to say that thanks to a week of misery, I’ve finally hit my goal weight – silver lining!
Now that I’m back and feeling more like myself, I can get into one of the craziest trips we’ve ever taken. Not ripping the heart out of a cobra and swallowing it while it’s still beating crazy or anything like that, but crazy as in traveling 18 hours one-way to spend less than two and a half days freezing our tails off 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle.
That’s right, you guys – I went somewhere cold. Somewhere so cold my eyelashes kept freezing together, and anytime we left the warmth of our cabin for more than a few hours, our guides would periodically check us for frostbite. I’m sure you’re all just dying to know where this exotic destination exists so that you can hop on a plane right away, right?!
For this year’s winter season trip, we decided to hit Abisko National Park way, way up in the frigid, barren Swedish Lapland.
We started planning for this trip back in November because, well, Abisko just isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to, and traveling during the February half-term break when everyone else is, too, adds an extra level of difficulty to the task.
Only two airlines fly into Kiruna, the closest city airport to Abisko, and we took the cheapest of these (Norwegian Air), but our tickets were by no means cheap, and we only had one choice for when to go – way too freaking early on a Sunday morning. I got up at 3:45am which is about 4 hours at least before I should ever be expected to do anything more than flip my pillow to the cold side.
Because the tubes weren’t even running yet, we had to hire a taxi to take us to Victoria Station where we caught the train to Gatwick and waited for our flight to Stockholm to depart. This was when I noticed I was feeling kind of funny, and by the time we boarded the plane, I knew something was wrong, like possible alien about to erupt from my belly wrong, and my heart sank. Of all the times to get sick.
For the next two flights and the long layovers at both airports, I slept every chance I got, hoping my body might miraculously heal itself from sleep alone. Sleeping on hard airport chairs, feeling two steps from death – this is definitely the not-so-glamorous-side of traveling. Not that any of our travel is what most would call glamorous, but this was so far from fun, I just wanted to cry and go home. There was nothing I could do, though. I had started this trip and I was going to finish it, sick or not.
When our plane landed in Kiruna on their one, tiny little airstrip, the sun was setting and as we exited the plane, I was left breathless – not because of a pretty sunset, but because of the cold. It was like breathing in tiny shards of ice! And we still had somewhere even colder to look forward to.
We had missed the last train to Abisko, so we had to wait for four hours in the airport for a bus to come take us an hour away to our final destination. It’s always those last legs that are the hardest! We finally made it to the Abisko Turiststation, where we would be staying for two nights, around 10pm. We checked in and hurriedly changed into all of our layers before heading straight to the top of a mountain in hopes of catching a glimpse of the northern lights from the Aurora Sky Station. We did (yay!), but for now, check out Abisko!
Now, when we were planning this trip back in November, I was all gung-ho about an Arctic Circle vacation, even the far below freezing temps. I enthusiastically bought us all thermal clothing and snow boots and booked fun daytime and nighttime excursions. I even added Abisko’s weather tracker to my iPhone app. And then somewhere along about late December when I saw the temperatures dip to -20°F/-29°C, I began to realize maybe I had overestimated my ability to withstand the cold a little bit.
I’d never been in anything colder than 10°F before, and even then it was only long enough to break up the ice in the chickens’ water bowls before tucking tail and running back into the house. This was going to be entirely different. Still, at that point, our trip was six weeks away. I had faith it would warm up, and it did…a little.
During the day, our temps were usually around -2°F/-19°C in Abisko. (That doesn’t include the wind chill, which was brutal.) What the temperature registered the night we went on top of the mountain, I don’t even know, but I do know I had never felt anything like that before and it took me hours after getting back in the cabin to warm up enough to fall asleep. The weather really was something else. Our last day in Abisko it snowed and, ironically, this actually made it warmer. It got up to a balmy 14°F/-10°C that day!
Weather aside, Abisko National Park is just wild. There’s snow as far as you can see and the only thing dotting the landscape are trees, and the occasional moose. Where we stayed in the park, there was a giant frozen lake on one side of us and great snowy mountains everywhere else.
Besides a little bitty town with a pub and a restaurant about a mile away, the Turiststation was pretty remote. Being in the middle of nowhere allowed for plenty of options for outdoor activities, though. While in Abisko, I had us booked to see the northern lights from the Aurora Sky Station, go snowshoeing, and spend an afternoon dogsledding, but there were countless other activities available, too – cross-country skiing, regular skiing, snowmobile tours, photography classes, ice fishing, moose tracking expeditions. Pretty much anything you can think of to do in cold weather, you can do it here. It’s easily a place we could have stayed for weeks and not been bored. You just need to be tough enough to survive the weather.
Not everything on this trip went according to plan. I mean, it never does anytime we travel, but getting sick on the way there certainly wasn’t on the itinerary. Over the course of the next 2.5 days, I ate only one real meal in an attempt to keep what I knew was coming away as long as possible. I am in no way condoning purposeful starvation under normal circumstances, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and thankfully I was able to do almost everything on the trip (and enjoy it!), before coming home and finally allowing the virus to unleash its fury.
Poor Lexie didn’t have the same luck. At least she got to enjoy playing in the snow on our first day in Abisko before coming down with whatever was gunning for me, too. In the end, we only had to skip one planned excursion – the snowshoeing – which really can be done anywhere, so no great loss. With as often as we travel, I figured the day would come when one or all of us would be sick on a trip. I’m just grateful we didn’t have to cancel the whole thing. And if we were going to be sick and stuck inside more often than usual, this was probably the place to do it. At least we had some beautiful scenery to gaze out on from the quarantine of our mountain cabin! Stay tuned for more Sweden adventures in the weeks to come!
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