Far up in the north, it feels like being on another planet. The sun does (nearly) not set, it is light 24 hours per day. In some places you see no people, no houses, no signs of civilization. Only the rail tracks are visible. Everything looks a bit unreal. This is how it feels when you visit Kiruna and Narvik, which I did this weekend.
Getting to Kiruna
To get to Kiruna, I took a SAS non-stop flight. It was pretty cheap (approx. 100 EUR return) and went from Stockholm-Arlanda (ARL) directly to Kiruna’s airport (KRN). There is also a night train, which is a bit cheaper, but it takes around 15 hours to go to Kiruna by train. The flight took only 1 1/2 hours. Although it is a flight within Sweden, the distance from Stockholm to Kiruna is about 1000 kilometres. So that is really far north.
The plane was quite empty, however, I met a very talkative women from Hawaii in the airport prior to take-off, who told me in every single detail why she and her husband were going to visit Kiruna (she had some relatives there). At the airport, I was unsure how to get to the city centre, which is 7 km away. A few internet sites mentioned that the only way to go there is by taxi, which costs around 30 EUR. Fortunately, there was a Norwegian bus service that offered the same service for only 4 EUR.
If you want to know the exact schedule of this Norwegian bus (whose final destination is Narvik), don’t go to the local bus company. I went there and wanted to know when this bus leaves on Sunday back to the airport, and I was told “no, there is no bus service to the airport”. After I told them that I had taken a bus, the women replied “yes, there might be this Norwegian bus, but I don’t have the time tables for it…”. Finally, the tourist information could help me and gave me the correct times.
An Amercian exchange student from Uppsala called Kiruna “a waste of money” and in that respect he is right. The city is not really nice and has the charme of a truck stop. There are lots of parking lots, many petrol stations, a few hamburger/pizza/kebab restaurants and, of course, the local ICA supermarket. On the streets was a lot of garbage like broken beer bottles and newspapers. I have never seen such a dirty city in Sweden before. So no place where one wants to stay.
Kiruna “is” bascially LKAB, the mining company. Many inhabitants work for them or for mining-related industries. The few people I met were also a bit strange. In on shop, I bought four postcards and told the guy that I needed stamps to send the postcards abroad. He gave me three correct stamps, which he nearly destroyed when he tried to tear them off his folder. The fourth stamp was not correct, it was only valid for domestic postcards, but he gave me two of it. When I wanted to pay, it took him some time to calculate the correct amount.
A simliar thing in the hostel I lived in: I was told that a bed in a four-bed room (i.e. the cheapest option) was not available because the hostel was fully booked. However, the hostel was totally empty, only me and four other Swedish people where there at the time. Apart from that, the hostel was really nice. The room had a big TV set and a fully-equipped kitchen. A kitchen is an absolute necessity in Kiruna, since if you cannot use one, you have to eat hamburgers and kebab all day.
On Saturday, I travelled to Narvik by train. It takes about 3 hours from Kiruna and the route was just amazing: You pass by mountains, lakes and you really get to see breath-taking views. It feels a bit like in wild west movies to go by train in areas where hardly anyone lives, untouched nature all around. On the train, I was standing nearly half of the trip on an opened window, in my right hand the video camcorder, in the left hand my digital camera. The pictures I uploaded to my site are neither edited nor improved in any way, it really looks like this.
In the train I also met a couple from Kiruna who told me how it was to live there. In winter it is dark and you see light only for a few hours of the day. If you then have to work in the mines during these hours, it is even harder. In summer, the opposite happens and it is light all day long. This is what I also realized: At night, 0.00 o’clock, it is still light outside. You cannot see the sun, but the sky is still bright. Very weird since you always think you have to wake up even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning.
Narvik as a city is also nice and the nature around it is really stunning. Here you do need a car to see it, though. I was totally unprepared to be actually in Norway, I didn’t have a map of Narvik, nor did I know the exchange rate for the local currency NOK. I didn’t have any money in cash with me, either. Fortunately, Visa and the European Maestro card are accepted nearly everywhere. But only nearly. I still feel sorry for a girl in a bakery who prepared me a sandwich, but then the card reader of the shop failed to read my card (of course I had asked in advance whether they take Visa). So no sandwich. :-)
Back on the train to Kiruna I was a bit tired because I had been walking throughout the day. But again, the views were so stunning that I was standing most of the time to take pictures and film.
In such a remote area, I asked myself how the communication works there. To me it seems that everything is done via radio links. You see a lot of these “dishes” on the tops of hills and on normal houses, which deliver normal and mobile telephone services and internet connections (not to be mistaken as normal BTS for mobile phone networks).
The best Swedish mobile phone network up there is for sure Telia, since my Comviq card was constantly searching for a signal. But my German card “roamed” with Telia, so I had connection during the whole trip.
Back to civilization
Today I went back by plane to Stockholm, in the plane also the married couple from Hawaii and some German “adventure” tourists, dressed in everything the outdoor shop back at home had sold them. I will definitely go again to the northern parts of Norway and Sweden, it was really one of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen so far (apart from the Rhine valley :-) ). The people from Kiruna told me that the best time to visit the area is in September, when the leaves begin to turn red and the mosquitoes are gone.
Look at the extensive picture gallery here.