Arlanda & Kiruna
The pills and super comfy bed did the trick in bannishing the previous night’s hellish migrane, and I woke bright and early in Stockholm, ready to head north to Swedish Lapland.
I’ve always been a fan of the cold continental breakfast, and the Swedish savoury version suited me just fine – cucumber and tomato were exactly what I needed, I’d deprived my body of anything remotely vegetable for too long. Even though I was virtually at the airport, I didn’t have a huge lot of time before my flight, so did a very quick camera run-around the STF Jumbo Stay before leaving.
God morgon Arlanda! Spent the night in a jet turbine of a #747… Amazingly novel experience, tack #jumbostay vi ses hoppas igen :)… Ni kan skratta om ni vill/ håna oss vi rör oss ni står still…#stockholm #plane #boeing #boeing747 #kent #kentlyrics #arlanda #selfie #totalrourist #bigfive #classybeanie #kapstadentillkiruna
Once at the airport and waiting for the flight (the self check-in thing practically blew my mind…) I tried to spot any other obvious Kent fans heading north for the concert. There were a few possible candidates, but mostly the passengers seemed to be pensioners…and some even with small dogs in-tow.
The flight was short (around an hour I think) and pleasant enough. Arriving in Kiruna was pretty trippy – such a tiny airport!
And the tundra-like landscape was also an instant change. Saw this colour palette everywhere up north.
Kiruna was so strange in so many ways. The most remarkable thing about the town is the fact that they’re slowly moving it, building by building, before it all sinks into the mines below. It’s pretty crazy!
Wish I’d had more time to find out more about the Space Programme, another one of the bizarre things Kiruna has going on…
I got off the bus and managed to lose my bearings….ended up exploring a bunch of small neighbourhoods before finding my hostel, which was like 500m from where I’d started in the centrum. Behold, the Yellow House! Overall the best value for money stay of my whole trip.
Check-in was at 2, and as I was a few minutes early, I had to wait in the lobby for a while. The owner was a bit eccentric and generally pretty friendly. The place was odd in so many ways I can’t begin to remember let alone list, but I had a large double room which was great. Not so great was the cold shower and the towels that stank of cigarette smoke…
However there was a kitchen and a stove! Which was the important thing for me – eating in restaurants was not something I had a budget for. So I set off to explore the town and get some groceries.
Still not sure what these were about…the blue moose’s necklace has the LKAB logo on so I assume it’s an art piece commenting on the mines…
Behold “Cafe Safari”, in the least African place ever…just one of the delightfully strange sights of the delightfully strange town of Kiruna…
There was also all this mini public art gallery…not sure what any of it was about but I think it was related to the drippy moose I’d seen previously by the square.
I was excited to see some of the town’s landmarks, including the town hall and its distinctive tower and clock, since most of them will either be relocated or rebuilt in the coming years. From what I’ve read, only the tower will be kept from the old town hall and added to the new one they’re building.
The other iconic building I was keen to see was the church. Though the areas I was exploring felt pretty much deserted, I was at the church for about 20 seconds before a flock of people descended and did the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen: they ran towards the church in delight (I couldn’t really hear them but they sounded Swedish to me) and began smelling it…as in, placing their noses against the building, inhaling deeply and exhaling with many sounds of satisfaction. It was totally bizarre…
Of course in hindsight I regret not smelling the church too to see what all the fuss was about but at the time I just left them to it!
While looking for a better view point (which I didn’t find) and escaping the scent tourists (which I did), I followed a little path behind the church to a beautiful clearing and a stone circle. Though it looked old it was a relatively modern memorial.
The sunset light was lovely. I didn’t know it at the time but my 2 nights in Kiruna would be the only proper Swedish sunsets I’d see till the last leg of my trip.
After shopping (which was a culture shock in and of itself) I walked back during the sunset proper which made the dated buildings and lamps look quite lovely.
Kiruna is not a pretty town, it’s a mining town and I imagine it can get pretty depressing there, especially in the winter. Still it has an undeniably unique charm about it.
Back home I examined and organised my grocery spoils – I’d gotten an email from my hostel in Abisko saying to buy food before coming through as their supermarket was closed, so I bought in bulk for the next few days.
I’d been warned that food prices in Scandinavia (like all the other prices, really) were very high and had indeed found this to be true. The ZAR and SEK exchange rate was pretty close at the time, so the prices on the shelves almost snuck up on me a few times. I’d look, see a number and it’d make sense in Rand value. 20 for pasta, yes that’s about right….but then I’d forget I was essentially doubling everything. This budget limitation, plus the relative isolation of the town meant the selection wasn’t overwhelming.
We’re spoilt for fruit and veg in Cape Town, so I found Kiruna’s fresh produce pretty sad. I imagine most of it is imported…I bought some slightly musty onions and garlic and some rather nice tomatoes. The cucumbers all looked awesome though, as did the Brussels sprouts (which I bought because they were on special, woo!).
The dairy section probably took the most of my shopping time – the different milks seriously confused me (I had to re-read everything to be sure I wasn’t buying yoghurt) and the cheese only came in 100g grated packets, or 1kg…this turned out to suit me just fine though as the 1kg of gouda was epic. Also epic: the stodgy pearl-wheat bread. That stuff was amazing!
Feeling pretty smug about my haul I headed to the kitchen to boil some pasta and brussels. I had ambitious plans for an accompanying tomato sauce but these were cut short – the stove managed to confound me for longer than it should have (multiple things needed turning on before it would boil) and by the time I was finally getting somewhere the other residents of the hostel (we had the whole building to ourselves) appeared and wanted to use the stove when I was done. I sheepishly increased my cooking speed and my dinner stopped at pasta, brussel sprouts and some cheese. Meanwhile my Argentinian housemates’ pasta was accompanied by an amazing smelling garlic and tomato sauce.
We ate together and chatted a bit, while the eternally-on ‘Mix Megapol’ radio station whispered 80s hits in the background. The two Argentinians guys (one of whom only spoke Spanish) were joined by a local girl they’d met in a pub. The guys were in town especially to see the northern lights. Sofia was a Kent fan but was going to the concert in neighbouring (and apparently more exotic) Luleå – she generally seemed pretty sick of small town life in Kiruna. She told us about all the amazing auroras they got up there all the time and a short while later she took us for a drive around the outskirts of town looking for the lights. Funnily, her car was tuned to the same radio station.
As we drove up a dark hill, Madonna’s Like a prayer playing softly in the background, she turned off her lights and pointed over the lake in the distance. They were very faint over the horizon and looked like clouds initially, but after a while I started to notice the unique movements.
We stopped on top of the hill, a ski slope out of use till the winter, and spent a good while taking photos.
We then drove on to a field by the trainline where we watched a few iron ore trains drive by and inspected a very odd sculpture.
I’m really grateful to have met these 3 and to Sofia for taking us out to see the lights! It was an experience I’ll never forget (and will forever associate with Like a prayer!)
[footnote: when we got back just after 1am, the owner of the Yellow House was not only still up, but was outside painting the building…oh, Kiruna.]
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