By the end of this week, I will be moving to Lapland to work as a guide throughout the winter. As I’m getting pretty excited about it, I thought back of my first trip to the region. I ended up in a cosy cabin in Junosuando, a small village on the less frequently visited eastern side of Swedish Lapland. Unlike Abisko, this area hosts no mountains. It is flat. It is remote. It does not have great attractions such as Lapporten, the gate to Lapland. But if you really want to know how life is up north, this is where you should go. The experience in this less touristic region is all the more real.
Back then, I assumed it would be this once-in-a-lifetime magical experience I could not miss out on. Funny to think of that idea now, after four more trips above the Arctic circle that led me to look for a job in the area and move there for the winter.
Anyway! Knowing nothing of the region, together with some friends I started looking for affordable and available accommodation between Christmas and new years. This is one of the busiest weeks in winter, as many people want to spend their Christmas holidays in a snow-covered environment. After a while, we came across a small guesthouse called the Aurora Retreat. Upon closer look we found out that this guesthouse also runs a small hostel just next door, with a possibility to rent the entire place for just a 1000 crowns per night. As we were a group of 8 people, this was perfect.
The hostel itself is very spacious, and still very cosy. Staying there implies self-catering, and as Junosuano only hosts one tiny (and expensive) supermarket we hauled our food for a week from Stockholm with us on the train. Every time I traveled north it has been by train and I would recommend it to anyone with a bit of time on their hands. The train service is run by SJ. Usually the trip takes about 15 hours (depending on where you are going), unless you are unlucky and you get stuck in the snow or your engine derails as in our case.
Through the guesthouse we booked several activities such as dog sleighing and snow shoe walking. The owner of the guesthouse guides the snow shoe and skiing tours, while they work together with a small dog sleighing company owned by a Sami family. They took us on an amazing 7-hour trip through the forest and over frozen lakes. Some of us had 2-person sleighs, others had their personal dog packs. For lunch we stopped in a tippy-like cabin where we were served the best reindeer stew I ever ate.
We were very unlucky with both solar activity and weather on this trip, so no northern lights dancing in the sky. Luckily this provided the perfect excuse to return to the high north the year after.
The last day we spent in Kiruna, the biggest city in the area. Kiruna is more than worth passing by on a visit to the north. It is a very strange, dark place built around an iron mine. Decades of mining have caused the ground under Kiruna to start sinking, and due to the risk of the city collapsing into the mine they started moving the entire place a couple of kilometers away. This includes the impressive wooden cathedral, one of the main sights.
We only had one day so we were left with the choice for a visit to the mine or to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi. We opted for the latter and went to have a look at the icy suites and sculptures. I’m not sure if I would be in for a stay, but a visit was most definitely worth the effort.