Welcome to the Arctic Circle!

The entrance to the Ice Hotel in Kiruna, SwedenAs we start to truly get into the winter season, I think it’s time to share about my favorite winter experience from last March.  In the fall of 2014 I stumbled upon a Groupon deal for a 3 night trip to northern Sweden.  This wasn’t just a simple go and wander around a city tour.  This was a chance to learn to drive your own dog sled out to a remote cabin where you would spend two of the nights, and your days would be spent dog sledding throughout the wilderness.  All of this, plus the night stays, meals, and full arctic gear was £600.  I was immediately interested, dog sledding was on the bucket list after all…  I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go, but determined to do it, I went ahead and purchased it.  I’d be joining a tour group after all.

A little caribou they had giving children sleigh rides at the Ice HotelThe entrance to the Ice HotelAfter waiting several long months for this trip, my flight finally landed just after noon in Kiruna, Sweden (just north of the Arctic Circle), and I was picked up along with everyone else.  We were brought back to their lodge where an incredible stew of caribou meat was waiting for us.  They briefed us on our trip while we ate.  We were all getting just a bit excited!
Inside the Ice Hotel

After the meal they took us in small groups to a little shed where we got outfitted with our gear for the trip.  Big, heavy coats, snow pants, boots, gloves, and hats.  After everyone had their gear, we were given the chance to dress up in it to wear for a visit to the ice hotel in Kiruna.  I highly recommend you put the gear on if you do this…Inside the Ice HotelThey took us in a pair of vans (there were 9 of us) and dropped us off, telling us they’d pick us up at a set time.  We all wandered throughout the ice hotel, exploring all of the rooms, each decorated differently from the next.  Some of the ice sculptures were gorgeously ornate.  Although I’ve got to say, those beds did not look comfortable in the least!  I only say this because you can apparently rent one of these rooms for the night…  Talk about a cold hotel room!

Inside the Ice Hotel
After seeing the rooms, we progressed to the ice bar where we got some drinks in glasses made of ice.  You need gloves to hold these, you just can not pick them up in your bare hands, they were too slippery.  Afterwards we still had time to kill so we walked up to the actual hotel where we warmed up with hot chocolates inside their cafe until it was time to return to the lodge.

My drink in the Ice Bar, absolutely fantasticInside the Ice HotelOnce back we were greeted with a large, fantastic looking dinner.  It was some sort of large sausage, I’m talking several feet long and very thick.  It was wrapped around itself and some vegetables in a large pan.  The sausage had then been sliced into every inch or so, with cheese placed into each slit.  I can’t even describe how fantastic that was.
The entrance to the Ice Bar
After dinner I grabbed my stuff and headed for one of the bathrooms to get a shower.  I undressed, went to step into the shower and heard people outside the door talking about an Aurora!  With a muttered, “you’ve got to be shitting me,” I dressed as fast as I could.  I’ve never seen an Aurora and desperately wanted to see one.  By the time I opened the bathroom door and was going for my boots they were coming back inside.  They told me there had been a brief one, but it was gone now…

The Aurora!!!Once more, I returned to the shower…  after, I dressed, picked up all my stuff, and then took it up to my room.  My bed was in a room that I was sharing with two others (don’t count on your own room on this trip).  I had chosen a bed with a window behind it.  As I was sitting my stuff on the bed I looked up and noticed what looked like a thin, wispy cloud, with almost a green hue to it, but a very faint one.  I climbed on the bed, staring at it, and slowly realized it did seem to be moving.  I was finally seeing an Aurora!

What the aurora actually looked like in person...

I grabbed my camera, tripod, and shutter release, and ran down the stairs for my boots.  I picked a spot where the street light nearby couldn’t touch my camera, set up, and took my first picture.  It came out a bright green, and I instantly realized what I had never considered before…  All of those gorgeous Aurora pictures you see online were taken with long exposures in order to catch the light.  For those of you who aren’t photographers, the longer the shutter speed, the longer the shutter stays open, meaning that more light is soaked up by the sensor, which makes things brighter in your picture.  So in other words, the Aurora pictures you see online are not what was visible to the naked eye.  I don’t know why that had never clicked in my mind before that moment, as I do love to play with long exposures.  I felt rather cheated in that moment.

How the camera captures the aurora with a long exposure...But, regardless of that, I was still seeing the Aurora, and kept on with photographing it.  Each picture kept turning out better than the last and the excitement started to build again.  The Aurora started to build in intensity, and started to ripple slowly across the sky.  As I stayed outside longer, not even feeling the cold at this point (excitement is great for that!) the Aurora eventually started to actually appear as a brighter green color.  It didn’t last for very long before it turned back to a pale cloud with barely a hint of green to it.

The Aurora!!!Shortly after this it started to thin out some and the excitement dwindled.  Cold, I packed up my gear and headed back inside to warm up and get some much needed sleep.  In the morning I’d be learning to drive a dog sled (and failing miserably at first).  Check back for that, you’ll want to see the videos!

The Aurora!!!

I have plenty more pictures of the aurora, however I don’t want to bog down your computers trying to load this post with that many pictures.  If you wish to see the rest of the them, check out the Aurora album on my Facebook page.

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4 comments

  1. This is such a great post! I was recently in Iceland and now I’m hooked on Scandanavia!

    1. I started with Iceland too! They’re all such beautiful countries! Check out the Faroe Islands, they’re smaller (less tourists) and similar to Iceland in beauty 🙂

  2. […] kept checking the windows, trying to see if there was any sign of another aurora.  (Check out my previous post for the first night’s aurora, it was much better!)  Eventually somebody spotted it while on […]

  3. Nice photos, it would be great to go that far up north one day. 🙂

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