laplands day 1&2: umea-kiruna

My journey to the Laplands began late on a Tuesday night, as I, along with many others from the Alidhem bus stop, made our way to the downtown area to greet the bus that would be taking us up to the very north of Sweden.  As we were waiting for the bus, I thought to myself how great it would be if we had a bus like the Knight Bus from Harry Potter.  As it turns out, we didn’t have a towering purple bus, but we did have a double decker bus which I thought was going to be quite fun.

We left Umea at 10:00 p.m. and drove all night, arriving in Kiruna at 7:30 a.m.  To say it was one hell of a night is an understatement.  Although I did manage to procure two whole bus seats to myself, I was still forced to create some awkward, fetal-position like sleeping arrangements.  The girl across from me also had two bus seats to herself.  We were quite spoiled.

Once we arrived in Kiruna, bright eyed and bushy tailed, we gathered our luggage and stored it in an room at the hostel.  Those who were doing both the combination tour (dog sledding and snowmobiling) as well as the iron ore mine got to get off the bus first and eat first because we had to leave the hostel at 9:00 a.m.  Unfortunately after breakfast I came back to this, and had to use the mighty forces from above to retrieve my bag and winter gear…

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There were quite a few people who were doing both excursions, which I was happy to see.  We drove about 10 – 15 minutes outside Kiruna into the woods where we were met by some pups that seemed very excited to get to run today.  Honestly though, I can’t say I blame them for jumping all around. If I had to put up with that kind of weather I would probably also take up running just to stay warm.  The dogs were all Alaskan Huskies.  When I first saw them I thought they looked so small and frail – you could see their ribs!  The men working at this place assured us though that these dogs are very well taken care of, especially when it comes to their food.  In fact, one man even said they often feed them fish from Norway because it’s so good for them.

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We were given some heavy snow suits to wear as well.  So, on this day, I had on a pair of spandex, a pair of leggings, a pair of sweat pants, a pair of snow pants, a snow suit, a sweater, another sweater, a jacket, and the top of the snow suit.  With this I instantly looked like I had gained 30 pounds.

I went first with dog sledding and sat on a sled with three other girls and a guide in the back.  It was an amazing feeling to be on this sled with the dogs running so quickly and smoothly.  A little more than halfway through we took a break and enjoyed a fika at a little campsite that was set up.  At this point I was definitely in need of some campfire time because my feet were so cold, I wanted to make certain that all of my toes were still in tact.

I love Swedish fika.

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It was so funny to see the dogs after they had been running for awhile and their faces were covered in ice from their heavy breathing.  They whiskers were particularly amusing because they looked like long, limp icicles. 

After the fika we switched over to snowmobiling.  I hadn’t done this in ages, and as it turns out, snowmobiling is a lot more difficult than I remember.  It was still fun though, all the same.

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Something interesting I learned from one of the men at the camp was that there is a dog there named Rumba who was and is still considered one of the best dog sled dogs in the world.  They said that he has ran the world’s longest dog sled race five times.  This dog also cost 50,000 SEK or about $7,500 USD.  I’m not sure if that is considered a lot for a dog with such a title, but considering how many dogs they had at this camp, I would assume that is a lot of money for one dog.  Nowadays, Rumba is kept inside (all the dogs live outside) because he is getting old, but they still use him for breeding.  Lucky fella.

Overall, I was dog sledding considerably longer than I was snowmobiling.  The halfway point was more like a “three quarters way point.”  Once we were back at the starting point, we undressed and went back to the hostel.  It was a great way to start the trip.

Once back at the hostel, we had a little bit of time before heading out for a walking tour of the city of Kiruna.  This city is the northernmost city in Sweden, it has a population of roughly 25,000 people in the entire municipality, and was founded in the early 1900’s.

We began our walking tour at the local church.  Our tour guide, Alex, told us a little bit of history of the church and also began an introduction about the effects that the iron ore mine has on the city of Kiruna.  Much of the city is going to need to be relocated because of the way the mine slopes into the ground and how it could affect buildings and landscaping in the future.  Kiruna has plans to begin relocating parts of the city next year.  This church is one of the buildings that will need to be moved, in addition to many of the buildings downtown, such as the town hall.  Alex also told us that once, this church was voted one of the most beautiful churches in Sweden.  (It was very rustic.)

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Snowy bell tower

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(Not exactly church appropriate attire)  The painting in the background is a depiction of what the artist imagined Paradise looking like

From the church, our group walked to a park-like area where there were some historical buildings around such as the first “hotel” in Kiruna and also the home of the founder of Kiruna.  (Both of these buildings are being relocated as well.)  After that, we went to the downtown area and visited the tourist office which had a lot of nice information on the iron ore mine, our next stop for the day.

Much of what Kiruna is, is the iron ore mine located in the two main mountains, of which one is no longer used for mining.  The name of the mining company is derived from the names of the mountains, and is thus an acronym for said titles.  LKAB, the company, is named from Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag. 

It was unnerving driving into the depths of the mountain, even though I knew the environment was safe and we wouldn’t be going that far beneath the ground.  Workers at the mine work around the clock, producing enough iron ore in one day to build over six and a half Eiffel Towers!  Now, I have been to Le Tour Eiffel before and there is not a small thing on there.  To be able to produce that much iron ore in one day is astounding, especially because the iron ore is manufactured into pellets.

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Hard hat anyone?

We watched a short video on the history of LKAB as well as the production of the iron ore.  I never realized that Scandinavia would have had such an impact on World War 2, but surprisingly it did – especially because of this important export.  LKAB has two ports, one located in Narvik, Norway, and the other one located in Lulea, Sweden.

LKAB has put together a very organized display of different billboards of information and some machinery.  I learned more about mining on this day then I think I will ever learn another day in my life.  Unless I marry a miner, or something.

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Beep Beep

We had another little fika partway through this tour.  My lunch on the first day of the Laplands consisted of ten cookies courtesy of the LKAB kitchen.  Blood sugar spike much?

If you want to check out the LKAB webpage, click here.

For dinner, I joined three girls from the Netherlands who I had started getting to know as the day progressed.  Daisy, Lotte, and Anna-Marie are all studying in Uppsala for the Fall semester.  We went to a pizzeria, and while they all tried the reindeer pizza, I stuck to my comfortable favorite – Hawaiian with ham and pineapple… and extra garlic and onion.  What?  It’s not like I had anyone to kiss that night.  That pizza really hit the spot, but is there ever a time when that isn’t the case?  I ate the entire pizza, savoring every last mouthwatering bite.

I made the mistake of signing up to share a room with one of the guys I knew from my Culture and Media class.  I say mistake meaning, I didn’t know that he and his girlfriend would be sharing a double bed for the night, with me on the side acting like a third party.  It was a little bit awkward, but we made the best of it and they were pretty good roommates for the first night.

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I slept like a baby this first night.  It was the best night’s rest I think I had the entire trip. 

I apologize if this post may seem a bit scatter brained.  I just got back from the trip and it is currently 1:30 a.m.  If you are reading this within the day I post this I encourage you to check back in the chance I make any changes for the better.  Also, I will be uploading photos to Flickr as soon as possible.

Day 1&2 in the Laplands: success!

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