Our lodge in Abisko last night was very convivial, with a restaurant serving delicious local cuisine. The home-made fennel and seed crisp breads were sensational – we asked for second helpings, and the chef gave us his recipe. Howard, yet again, ate reindeer. I don’t think Father Christmas will be calling on him, this year.
As we headed out of Abisko, we took a last look at Lake Tornetrask, which last time we had seen it at New Year 2015, had been frozen solid. The night we had stayed there, we had watched an amazing display of the Northern Lights – very memorable. From just behind our lodge, helicopters had been taking off and landing at regular intervals since the early hours. We wondered if perhaps they were being used to fight the many forest fires that are currently raging throughout Sweden, but unusually, in Arctic Sweden too.
We headed east towards Kiruna, whose raison d’être is the enormous iron ore pit mine – the largest in the world. This mine alone supplies 90% of the iron ore used in Europe. The railway that connects Kiruna with Narvik, on the coast in Norway trundles freight car after freight car along the tracks, day and night. The mine has grown so large, that since 2004, the town of Kiruna has been subsiding into numerous sink holes around the town. As a result, the bold decision was made to relocate the town 3km to the east. Mining is the primary source of employment and income for the town, so it made sense to move the town, rather than close the mine. Some buildings are being moved in entirety, and others, like the church, are being dismantled and then re-build. But the architects are also using this as a huge opportunity to re-generate the town and make it more eco-friendly and more of a sociable pace, with plenty of green spaces linking the buildings. Since mining is the main employer, there is a disproportionate number of men in town, and the gritty utilitarian appearance does not encourage women to stay. So they are taking this re-development over the next twenty or so years, to make the place more appealing to women too – I guess to keep the men happy!
After passing Kiruna, we couldn’t resist taking the short diversion up to Jukkasjarvi, to see the world famous Ice-Hotel. It is here where we had stayed back in 2015, in the depths of winter, when it had looked like a winter wonderland, sitting besides the frozen River Torne, and covered in Christmas lights. Since we had stayed there, they had built an all year round Ice-Hotel, to cater for summer guests, as well as still building the traditional Ice-Hotel every December for the season.
It certainly looked very different on the approach – a wide open road with pine trees everywhere, rather than the white snow-scape we had remembered. The half kilometre wide RIver Torne, which we had cross-country skied cross on our last visit, was a fast flowing river, with motorised canoes running across it. We opted to take the tour inside the new all-year Ice-Hotel, maintained at constant minus six degrees. The main difference was that they had incorporated the Ice-Bar into the hotel itself, rather than being sited in a separate building, but apart from that, the Art-Rooms were just as magical and quirky, each with it’s own theme. We made the error of not accepting the thermal capes on offer, and after forty five minutes or so, we were starting to get very cold indeed. I’m not sure it would be the same experience staying in an Ice room in the summer, but it was fun to take a look around nevertheless.
After grabbling a quick roll, we then had the long drive to our next campsite at Jokkmokk. We headed south, through mile after mile of thickly forested land. First beech was the predominant tree, then turning to pine. It was endless and very tedious. Our only bit of excitement was when a herd of young reindeer wandered into the road, and stopped dead, whilst the mother suckled one of the youngsters. They took absolutely no notice of the traffic trying to pass by them – stupid animals!
We eventually arrived at Jokkmokk. I t looks a pleasant enough town, famous for it’s Sami culture. We will explore more tomorrow, since it wad getting late, and we headed straight to the campsite. For the first time on this trip, the campsite was full. There were no electric hook-ups left. They offered us a pitch by the lake with no electricity, which is fine, since we have a solar panel fitted to the roof, and frankly, it is much more pleasant down by the lake itself. The site is huge, as seem to be many of the residents – unusual in our tip so far. There are also hundreds of screaming children – summer holidays are upon us! I think we are going to have to start booking sites in advance, or at least, opting for child un-friendly sites – being surrounded by all this humanity is perhaps a step too far, for me at least. We have been totally spoilt for most of this trip, selecting quiet panoramic spots.
Our one piece of excitement is our new pice of kit. It is an insect repellent lamp, powered by a small butane cylinder, which lets off an odour undesirable for flies for up to 20 metres, or so it claims! We were spurred into buying it this morning in the supermarket, whilst picking up bread, when we saw that the local postcards had large photos of mosquitos on them! A variation on ‘Wish You Were Here’, I guess!! So far, it is working. Howard and I are sat inside the van, mosquito nets up, gas-powered repellent lamp on, lathered in fly-repellent spray, armed with our zappy bats. I bet you wish you were here too?!!!