I spent this weekend in Kiruna, Sweden. If you don't feel like looking at a map that's really far north. We're talking Lapland, the arctic circle, whatever you want to call it. Here are some highlights:
-Kiruna is obsessed with reindeer. I sat on top of or under a reindeer skin at least 4 separate times on my trip, I ate reindeer jerky and I ate a reindeer wrap. Families in the north herd these beasts and can have like 5,000 each.
-I took a ride in a one horse open sleigh. Literally. I sat under a reindeer skin in 5 degrees (fahrenheit) and rode through the woods on a sled being pulled by a north Swedish black horse named Rambo who was afraid of camera flashes. By the end he was sweating because 5 degrees is really hot for him. I also accidentally took a flash picture next to him because I'm an idiot and don't know how to work my camera but Rambo kept his cool.
-Kiruna has a hotel made of ice. Of course. Like literally the entire building is made of ice and snow. It includes rooms with reindeer skin covers (obviously), suites, an ice bar, a church and a reception desk. I got so cold taking pictures I can't even imagine trying to sleep there. It was sweet though, and those people can do insane things with ice.
-I went dog sledding. BOOM. Thought about Balto the entire time. It was just as cool as you would imagine. We rode across huge lakes and through woods and these dogs absolutely loved it. Halfway through our journey we stopped at what looked like a teepee (though that would probably be offensive to the lap-landers aka the Lappis) and our guide made coffee over a fire and told us all about the dogs. He said that they were the happiest dogs in the world because they are pack animals that love to run with their friends.
-The Northern Lights are possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. When they first start you think they might just be a cloud and that you're just imagining them, but then you realize that clouds aren't green and they don't grow and swirl and stretch. The first time I got to see them was just by happenstance when my roommate stepped outside and started freaking out for us to come look. Seeing the lights stretch across the sky after hearing so much about them and never really believing that this phenomenon could be real actually made my tear up a little. And I'm only a little ashamed by that.
-Kiruna is so far removed from anything I've ever known. It really does feel like you're on top of the world. Standing out on a frozen lake with miles of white and sunshine and trees and hills and not a sign of modernity in sight. In "town", everything closes at like 4pm, nothing is open on Sunday and there are approximately 2 cab drivers for the whole area. We had to book cabs hours in advance if we wanted to go anywhere. Kiruna has over a month of complete darkness in the winter and over a month of complete light in summer. They also have snow the entire year except July. Despite having only about 25,000 people, Kiruna is about as big as Mexico city, As one of the guide's put it: "we've all got a lot of space to live up here."
-I'm not the only one who's fascinated by this alien community. The horses of Kiruna, the dogsledding in Kiruna and the city itself have all been featured on multiple discovery channel shows and similar things. Plus they get tons of tourists (like myself) visitng every year. It's like these people are just living their weird, secluded, reindeer filled lives and people keep showing up like, "Holy crap, this is so cool! You live here? Lemme hang??"
- I also got to bond with one of the coolest girls my sister was friends with in high school (who I've always been intimidated by), a tiny Indian man, a ridiculous British guy and an Iranian girl who knows three languages better than I know one.
This trip was far more expensive than any other trip I've taken or am planning to take while in Europe but I have to say, it was worth it. Lapland is a magical place that hardly seems real even if you've been there.