My time in Sweden has not been all sunshine and daisies. Do not get me wrong, I have been extremely blessed with good friends here to support me, a good church to be my temporary church home, and wonderful adventures in and around Sweden, and for all of this I am extremely grateful. But there was a not so secret battle going on with my living situation here in Sweden, and it was taking its toll on me. My health and safety (and sanity!) were in question and there were people in Colorado and Sweden all trying to coordinate and find solutions, real solutions, and I was caught in the middle trying to coordinate, explain what was truly going on, all while trying to learn in school and enjoy being with my friends.
Luckily, with the Lords good timing, just as I hit my breaking point I got to take a true break from the chaotic drama: a week-long trip with all of my friends to the Lapland’s of Sweden.
Early Monday morning, Leap Day, we all piled on a bus that would take us on our long 24 hour journey to Kiruna, Sweden. Sitting still that long, even with rest stops, was not comfortable but was worth it once we arrived. We went straight to a little camp where we got to go dog sledding and snowmobiling! The dogs were so excited once they got hitched to the sled that you could barely hear over their barking. We sat 4 to a sled that had reindeer fur on the seat and we had a retired dog sled racer for a driver. The view of the surrounding area that we sled through was covered in diamond like snow, with sparkles dancing in the sunlight. The snow was easily waist deep in places. The trees all had snow frozen to its branches and the rounded mountain tops in the distance seemed that much whiter next to the crystal clear arctic blue sky, a blue like no other.
The smell while dog sledding however, was not so pretty. The dogs literally go to the bathroom while running and so the person in front (luckily not me!) gets hit sometimes with their mess. I think that the dog sledding might have been more exciting had we gotten to drive the sleds because sitting there just was not as exhilarating as maybe I’d dreamt.
We met up at the halfway point with the other half of our group who had just finished snowmobiling. After a quick fika (Swedish coffee break) and spending some time petting and loving the dogs, we switched places and then it was our turn to drive the snow mobiles! I was nervous at first letting my friend drive me since she had never done it before, but she handled it quite well! I was even more nervous when I got to drive because I did not want to hurt either of us! We got going quite fast and the trail was super bumpy which made it fun. I imagine it might be similar to the way driving a motorcycle feels, like you could fall off or tip over at any moment but instead you just go faster and hold on tight!
The next day we enjoyed a tour of the famous Ice Hotel just outside of Kiruna. It stays a balmy -5 C (23 F) inside the hotel. The Ice Hotel is made out of ice from the Torne River just behind the building and a mixture they call “snice” which is blended up snow and ice that makes a strong insulator and structural snow material. Every fall they construct a new hotel and let artists from around the world come in and for 2 weeks they get to design their own room. My favorite designs were the animal ones, there was an elephant, a peacock and a room called “Counting Sheep” that was my favorite!
That afternoon we met a traditional Sami man who owns a reindeer farm. We fed the reindeer, ate reindeer meat, and listened to the Sami man give us advice while we sat around a fire in a little hut. The wind was bitter cold as we fed the reindeer so that wasn’t as much fun as we had hoped, but it still was a good experience! A few of the reindeer were quite pushy when it came to getting the food from us, while others were shy and stood as far away as possible. Then there were the reindeer who would stir up trouble and would cause the whole heard to start running around us! That made me want to climb up in the tree and get out of the way of the mini reindeer stampede.
We then drove even further north to Abisko, Sweden where we stayed 2 nights in a charming hostel with a view of a completely frozen lake and some beautiful mountains. I think the pureness of the blue sky and white snow is what makes the arctic landscape so unique. I could have stared out the kitchen windows for hours taking in the view.
Abisko became a place I never wanted to leave because we were having so much fun. We enjoyed sledding down some steep hills, racing Mario Kart style on these tiny hand sleds, laughing and screaming the entire way. There was also sauna at the edge of the lake with an ice hole that you could “cool off” in.
And we also took a day trip to Norway to see a beautiful Fjord. It was another view that I just wanted to soak in. Give me a camp chair, a really warm blanket and a thermos of hot cocoa and I could have sat there happily for a very long time. The boys on the other hand, much preferred throwing rocks as far as they could and having rock skipping competitions. It was entertaining to say the least.
By the last night of our trip, before the long bus ride back, I had crossed 4 things off of my Swedish bucket list: dog sledding, snowmobiling, the Ice Hotel, and seeing Norwegian Fjords. But one very important item was still on the list: the Northern Lights. Every night had been too cloudy up until this point and we all were hoping and praying that we would see them. We stayed up late in anticipation, and finally went to bed around 1 a.m. setting alarms for 2a.m. and 4 a.m. to check the skies. Just as we had tucked ourselves into bed our phones starting going off, the northern lights were here! So we jumped out of bed, put on our warm clothes as quickly as possible and rushed outside.
We got outside and I think my exact words were:
“Omigosh that’s them!! Omigosh! Omigosh that’s them! The Northern Lights! Thank you Jesus!”
We ran to the clearing at the top of the sledding hill and just watched in awe. The green foggy lights danced across the sky, similar to a heart rate monitor, but more graceful and fluid in moving. The lights entertained us off and on for 30 minutes or so until they gave us their final encore.
This is my favorite picture because 1. It shows the way the lights were dancing 2. There appears to be a cross amid the lights. Professional cameras capture the lights much better than our eyes can process them, so I did not see this cross until I received the photo from a friend with a camera. While watching the lights I was half stunned in silence and awe and half praising God in silent prayer. And so to see that He was right there just as I was praying and thanking Him for His spectacular gift, it makes this picture, and my memories, all the sweeter.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11
Well just like that, in one week I had crossed 5 things off my Swedish bucket list! Six if you count the two 24 hour bus rides, even though they were not on my list to begin with I am counting them! Mostly because I never want to do that long of a bus ride again!
Until next time,
Dream Big! Live Courageously! And Thrive!
(Photo Credits: Nadja, Chud and myself)