Guest post and first ever blog! Melissa Bridge
As promised to a good friend of mine and inspiring blogger (ye-that's me!) I was asked to write a blog for her on the Northern Lights, 5 months or so later and I am finally getting round to doing it, and felt it appropriate to be my first blog . It is also special to me as I celebrated turning the big 30 with going to see the lights.
The year of the 30’s, as I keep calling it, needed a trip of mega proportions to see fit. For my 21st I was living in New Jersey and celebrated in New York City and the following weekend flew to Las Vegas as I was finally of age to drink legally, for my 25th I flew to Boston to visit a friend and we made a wee trip back to the big apple so for the mile stone birthdays I like to ‘treat’ myself. So for the 30th I needed to do something big, something amazing for me to look back on. I also have a very big travel bucket list that I am working my way through and so to combine a big wish list and a special birthday – a trip to Sweden to see the elusive green lights- seemed a pretty awesome, but risky way to do it.
Why the urge to see them, what’s so special and why the big price tag to go with it???? And was it worth it???
The urge – If you know me or have read my ‘about me’ spiel, you will know that I love travelling and sense of adventure. The days of going on a package holiday no longer appeal to me – I crave adventure and new experiences. I blame my mother. Ever since I went to Secondary School I have been most fortunate and spoilt to have gone on a school trip every year. Whilst I never received lots of presents for Xmas or birthdays my parents had a modest approach to our upbringings, but I was rich in holidays. My mother wanted me to experience every trip going and one of those being Russia at 15/16 years of age was a pretty impressive start to my travels I think, and certainly wet my appetite. It is also because of her, that I would watch travel programs such as ‘Holiday’ with Judith Palmers and Jill Dando and remember to this day watching them visit ‘The Ice Hotel’. Looking back, that was around 20 years ago when it most likely first was built. I have been fascinated since. Although back then I did not know about the Northern Lights, that came later when I watched a program with the lovely Joanna Lumley and I was instantly enchanted with her story and desire to see them, that I promised I would too see them one day.
What’s so special?
Right, for a very quick Big Bang Theory on the Northern lights or Aurora Borealis as they are correctly known and why it is so exciting to see them this year (last year and next year apparently):
The frequency and strength of the Northern Lights depends largely on the number of solar flares emanating from the sun. The sun goes through an activity cycle lasting approximately 11 years and the peak of that cycle is known as Solar Maximum. NASA’s latest prediction is that Solar Maximum will occur in late 2013 meaning that the coming winter could very well see the most frequent and spectacular Northern Lights for a decade’’ (www.activitiesabroad.com, 2013).”
The Price tag – Lets not beat around the bush, to witness this spectacular natural air show comes with a hefty price tag. There are cheaper ways of doing it, and depending on the location, and type of activities can all influence the price. Unfortunately to see the lights they are best seen in some of the most expensive countries to visit (unless you are lucky enough to live there). Sweden is not a cheap country, add the hype of the Maximum solar to the mix and February half term and you have yourself a very costly four day adventure break. Let’s just say I treated myself very well for my birthday and what I spent for the four days could easily be my spending fund for my seven week trip this summer – ouch! Basically it is a HUGE risk as there is no definite guarantee that you will see them. For a year I held my breath and no doubt a lot of people think I am bonkers to spend that kind of money, but for me it was a risk that paid off. With not many outgoings or commitments, now is precisely the time to go. The next time the maximum solar is around, hopefully I will have a sprog or two by then, and luxuries such as this will be a good memory.
So the trip itself. Well I’ve let the cat out of the bag, it was worth it and I was extremely LUCKY to have seen them two nights in a row. I went with a very good friend of mine and her husband as he had always wanted to see them too, so a trio we went.
After a lot of research (there are so many great companies) on countries and resorts to go to, I chose Abisko, Sweden as it was rated as Number 1 out of top ten best places to see the lights according to Google. The bonus point for me, was that I could add a night stay at the world famous Ice Hotel (the original one that I had seen on TV as a young girl) located in Jukkasjarvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, achieving two ticks off the bucket list in one trip. The stay at the Ice Hotel added extra £££ to the trip but again was money well spent in my opinion. I could go on about how wonderful the Ice Hotel is for ages, so I think I will save that for a blog on its own…. (shortly to feature at http://missysmisdemeanors.wordpress.com/)
In Abisko we stayed at a wonderful lodge – Abisko Mountain Lodge. Small, homely, very Swedish and in the most beautiful scenic remote location. The food was locally sourced and the company we travelled with only book with responsible companies, something I fully support. The food really was out of this world, 5* ratings and every dish was different, Fillet of Reindeer and Moose Meat Balls. Lunch was simple but wholesome. We arrived to a very cold Kiruna Airport and that was surreal landing on a ice and snow filled empty runway. A beautiful coach transfer showed how remote the area was, passing small towns and I really felt I was seeing a part of Sweden that most people would never experience. We are so far north we could almost be in Northern Norway.
When we arrived we were kitted out in our sexy all in one thermal overalls, special boots etc. Ladies, leave the glamour at home, it just does not apply here. Warmth is the only thing on everyone’s minds! The actual bedrooms were a slight disappointment, especially for the price I had paid, but the beds were extremely comfy, lovely hot showers, and when you are out all day in minus 20c, suddenly that’s all you need. The main part of the lodge is very homely and encouraging of guests to mingle and talk. Most of the other guests were mature in age, and very few young guests like ourselves. I guess not many people seek this out at our age preferring to wait till later, or some people don’t even know much about it. Despite the big age gaps, we got along just fine with the other guests and found we had our first activity that evening, snowshoeing trek with a experienced local guide.
After dinner we geared up, excited with the suspense, and off we went with Claude’s dog, and adjusting to the cold as a shock to the system, and if you were sleepy from the heavy dinner, you soon were wide awake and fresh! Our first night was a huge success, with lots of promising activity and the guide pointed out the signs of the lights forming. What I didn’t realise was they start off white and over time form the gorgeous green haze that it is most famous for. The lights themselves are a bit misleading, what we saw came out much brighter, stronger and dramatic on camera, but we were extremely lucky with the show we saw that night. It really was quite magical and lasted for the whole time we were out which was a good couple of hours. We had trekked to a good advantage viewing point and were giving a hot lemonade drink to warm us up and just sat and marvelled. We just couldn’t believe our luck at seeing them and on our first night! To think that some people miss out and come all this way and may not is such a shame and made it all the more special knowing we were the lucky ones.
Going to bed that night, I was ecstatic and dreamt of the pretty lights and was really excited for the adventures ahead.
Tuesday was a full on action packed day. We had signed up for the level 2 trip, slightly more advanced (and again more expensive) level. Our first activity was husky dog sledding. We were not passengers but were in charge of our own team of dogs so four each and our own wooden sleigh. To be honest I was so excited about the lights and the Ice Hotel, I had not given too much thought to the other activities. I hadn’t really considered what riding my own sleigh would really entail. Listening to the safety briefing all we could hear was the feisty dogs howling away and the reality dawned on us that this was on level 2 for a reason. My friend bailed out as she is scared of dogs and hearing them bark made her nervous. The Swedish young couple who owned the dogs were very nice but strict, these dogs meant everything to them, and if we were unsure now was the time as we were told the two hour ride would not stop, and once the dogs are set up and you are off, there is no going back and under no circumstances should we EVER let go of the sleigh. Considering I do not drive and have never had a lesson, I thought I was being brave.
So it was me, my friends husband, and another couple who seemed pretty nervous but their daughters bailed out too. The Swedes seemed pretty pissed with us for changing their plans, but off the four of us went with the husband guide and his wife took the others back to a different sleigh and we would meet them later as they would sit on one together and be pulled that way. I have to say the dogs were a huge highlight of my trip. It was such a unexpected fun activity, nerve racking, quite intense and hard, but exhilarating, dangerous and soooo much fun. I felt the benefits of knowing how to ski, and my legs would bend naturally with the corners and balancing with the speed and lightness of the sleigh. It was quite difficult balancing on tiny ledges with a big brake to step on that would go directly into the snow, so was quite challenging, add the bitter cold and it was certainly an experience.
By the time I got used to the motion, I was finally able to look up and appreciate the stunning forest surroundings and cloudless blue sky. Not a bad way to spend the day and one I will never forget.
Later that afternoon, our action packed day continued with Ice Rock Climbing up a frozen Waterfall! This was my friends husbands choice and one I was least bothered about. I have done similar things before but not with Ice, and at times a little scared of heights. But we had the delightful Claude as our guide again (not going to lie, he was easy on the eye, shame he was married though) it was just the three of us and him, so it was really personal. The bonus of being the youngest (and fittest) guests at the lodge, we got the experience to ourselves. We were taken to a lovely isolated area, and we had to climb down to this frozen lake with a small opening which you could see the fast flowing river and definitely would not want to fall into that to never be seen again. The waterfall was not particularly high but in minus 20c, shortness of breath, it adds to the challenge. I definitely gave it my best shot, and did freeze at one point but I refused to give up, and felt I overcame a personal feat by giving it a third attempt and getting higher. It was extremely tough going and the next day my arms and back were in muscle agony and I had a few bruises as souvenirs.
That night we went out on our own, and were lucky again to see a fleeting display of lights but more vibrant then the night before but only for half an hour. We were so exhausted from a full on day, and the coldness that we retreated to bed early when they disappeared. They may have reappeared but we could barely stay awake which is a shame and something I regret now, but we did see them, so with that another satisfying day and evening.
Wednesday, our last full on day in Abisko, was a bit more subdued. We had snowmobiling adventure first thing for a couple of hours. This time I was sensible and did not risk driving one, despite being giving the option even though the guide knew I had no licence. With my luck, I knew something bad would happen and then my insurance would not pay out. As it was my friend crashed her snowmobile within first ten minutes or so, and was so upset from it, had to give up and leave the bike to be collected later on, and became a passenger behind the guide in a seated sleigh. I was seated behind her husband as I trusted his abilities more (and wisely so) but after a break I joined her in the sleigh as it was warmer to snuggle up to my friend and share the reindeer blanket because boy I was COLD. The sun was not out today, which was a hint of no lights that night as it needs to be cloudless, and the temperature really seemed to drop. Bitter is the only way I can describe the cold and had it not been for the warmth of the heat packs in my gloves it would have been unbearable. Once again we went through beautiful scenery but I definitely preferred driving the dogs to being a passenger! We stopped for a warm up drink in a mountain hut for walkers etc to sleep in, which was interesting to see and even experienced a long drop in a wooden hut so that was a chilly toilet stop to say the least!
That afternoon and evening was free time, we did try to book on to some Ice fishing activities or to go up the cable car for views and photography course but everything was fully booked up for weeks. So for that point I would not recommend a self organised trip, as I couldn’t pay to book on to anything extra and we did hear of some young guests who had rocked up, had the accommodation but nothing else booked, so seemed bit of a waste really. That afternoon we took a stroll around the beautiful village and witnessed wild Moose strolling aimlessly around which was pretty cool! We went down to the frozen lake which is massive and had fun walking on that and taking some photo opportunities. We warmed up in the only local pub/petrol station and had a drink to reminisce of what we had experienced and sad to leave the next day. That evening we unfortunately did not see the lights and never again on the trip. I can’t complain as to see them twice is pretty lucky and for those who came out after us then would not likely see them for at least another five days. A chilled out evening and then ready for a early start to the Ice Hotel via a Sami Culture experience listening to a Sami Elder telling folk stories and having reindeer stew whilst at a Reindeer Farm! (Note – not Vegetarian friendly here….). Three truly amazing days that I will never forget.
This is where I leave the story, as I mentioned above, the Ice Hotel needs a blog on its own, although not as long as this one! To be continued….
It was a brilliant trip and I really was feeling Thirty and fabulous during this trip! 🙂
For more like this you can check out Melissa's new blog at http://missysmisdemeanors.wordpress.com/