The idea, as usual, came out of the blue. Apparently, we got itchy feet. Our passports were simply yearning for another page to be filled. Just at that time, there was a series on Svalbard and polar regions on BBC Earth. Whiteness everywhere. A bear to your left, a fox to your right. You need to carry a gun when you have to use the pit toilet. Everyone is making angels in the snow on -40 ̊ C. Absolutely idyllic! That’s it, I thought, they positively struck the right note, and Gaga immediately gave me that harsh look cause she ain’t so mad about winter.
Three months later, the eight of us headed off for Kiruna, although barely two in the whole group are keen on winter. We managed to find travel buddies, so that someone could file a missing person report in case Rudolph whacked us with his antlers.
There was a hitch by the way – Kiruna is not exactly dirt cheap. Sweden is expensive, especially the north. Our principal guideline when it comes to money has always been the price of a bottle of domestic beer in the supermarket. It costs about 2 euros and we advise you not to buy it. A Swede can make a bed, a table or a chair, but when it comes to brewing beer, he absolutely sucks at it!
This called for major cuts in expenditure! There were eight of us, so all the extreme methods like hitch-hiking, cape fly or couchsurfing were out of the question. The group was simply not composed of that sort of people. But never mind. There are other ways to spare a euro or two.
As far as the flight is concerned, there’s nothing much to say about it. You’re basically travelling to the Neverland. There is only one flight to Kiruna per day. Domestic airlines exclusively. So best to start this story from Stockholm if you are coming outside of Europe. From Sweden capital to Kiruna return tickets can be purchased for less then 80 euros.
If you are in Europe on a road trip or just living there prices are between 150 and 250 euros to get to Stockholm and then Kiruna. We cut the price of the flight as much as we could by taking multiple flights with long layovers. We travelled for 13 hours from South-East Europe (Serbia), but if the gang is great (and ours definitely was), it can all turn into an exciting little adventure.
Could it have been cheaper to travel from Europe? The answer is yes. Lufthansa, for example, has a chatbot on FB Messenger called Mildred, which enables you to find information about the cheapest flight within the next nine months. We weren’t so flexible when it comes to flights and checked baggage allowance and you’ll see why in the lines that follow. If you travel lightly and if the time of departure and layovers are of no concern to you, you can lower the price of the ticket. I really can’t get it why people don’t like to spend the night at the airport and cleanse themselves with with wet wipes. We’ll talk more about these I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-travelling-for-two-days options in one of the upcoming posts. Been there, done that!
The accommodation is a story in itself. This is where we got so close to giving up on the whole idea. €50-150 for a night! That’s a rip-off, if you ask me! We couldn’t even find a cheaper place to stay on AirBNB. No need to mention that the offer is extremely limited. Staying in flat far away from all activities is just stupid. It’s not easy to roam around when you are in Arctic circle.
Browsing the net, we figured out that Kiruna is in the vicinity of the Abisko National Park, which is on almost all of the world’s must-see locations for observing the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. Then, as it usually happens, we came across a piece of info that literally made our day. I’m not sure whether you’ve noticed that social networks can often direct you to some under advertised faraway local accommodation services.
The place in question is called Camp Alta and we found it on Google Maps. While we were reading out the names of Swedish lakes, with all those umlauts, we noticed a campsite on the banks of one of the lakes called Alttajarvi. It lay there, waiting for someone to find it.
You can also find them on TripAdvisor, but only if you know exactly what you’re looking for. €25 per night if snowmobile is rented (it’s a must experience). Firewood is free of charge, and you can take as much as you need to keep the fire stoked up high. The sauna on the frozen lake with the ice hole in which you can take a plunge is also available at no extra cost. You can even rent the equipment for Nordic skiing for just a couple of euros. And the view of Aurora Borealis from the very lake is absolutely stunning. The fireplace is also an interesting spot.
Perfect small oval log cabin where everyone relaxes on reindeer hides and indulges in trifle bickering about what is better: Serbian brandy or German liqueur, Serbian sarma or Spanish paella. Anyway, there’s something for everyone.
Camp Alta is neither a hotel nor hostel. It’s not even a B&B, but the so-called Acrtic Wilderness Activity Camp. Basically, you rent a cottage for a couple of days and it’s your responsibility to look after it. This includes cleaning, cooking, making a fire, getting the groceries and all.
As far as the groceries are concerned, the story is quite interesting, because the Swedish obviously allow everytning to be taken into their country – prosciutto, beans, rolling tobacco and home-made brandy. Everything is allowed, just don’t exaggerate. This is something you can save a lot of money on. We spent about €30 per person in the shop in the space of four days. To be honest, more than half of it went on booze. It’s that shitty 300-dinar beer! If we had known how much alcohol the other adventure seekers had brought to the camp, we wouldn’t have wasted so much money. After all, we do have the lowest GDP per capita. We would have stocked up on the brandy, gin, tequila, vodka and whiskey we had brought from Belgrade. This is why we needed heavy luggage (if you still remember the problem we had with checked baggage allowance) The beans and the bottles took up half of our suitcase, leaving barely any space for baselayers!
In conclusion, ou simply have to visit this place! Compared to Greece, where the landlady chases you all over the beach because you left the air conditioning running, here they’ll haunt you because you turned it off due to potential pipe bursts. The Arctic circle is an extraordinary place where the day may last for only a few hours (a couple of times per year the dawn doesn’t even break), where the twilight is rose-tinted and where other rules apply, because the temperature of -40 ̊ C is the chieftain in these places. On the other hand, such cold conditions won’t stop you from running out naked from the sauna in the middle of the night to observe aurora borealis while you’re having a chill, so to say.
We didn’t spent around 600 euros on this adventure. Of course there were people who gave more for experiencing something awesome like mushering. Anyway camp is full of activities to keep you busy and happy.
If nothing else you can always build your own sofa out of snow and ice. Just make sure it’s facing north (because Aurora Borealis is emerging from that side). Our is facing south. How smart are we!
A few tips if you ever stray into these places:
- Darkness falls early, around 4 pm. There’s never too much alcohol when the get-togethers start this early. If you face a shortage of booze at some point, there’s no need to freak out. Just make friends with some German. They always have a miniature about their person. Our German friend was called Sasha.
- Taking a plunge in the ice-holes on the frozen lake after getting out of the sauna sounds a bit spine-chilling, but at the same time it’s a thrilling experience and it’s a downright lie that your heart will stop beating if you venture into that ice-cold water. Athough, we must take into account the fact that draft is a matter of grave concern for Serbian people.
- Do not go ice fishing expecting you’ll catch yourself a meal. The whole practice is very difficult and strenuous because the fish are in a state of dormancy (yes, fish do sleep, after all). Basically, you have to lower the bait right on their head, preferably close to the mouth. The 70 cm-thick ice-holes are drilled at every ten meters and the idea is to spend 10 minutes fishing in each of them. Every 5 or 6 weeks someone gets a catch. Then the whole of Kiruna hears about that person. We took a chance. We’re not that person. We’re the other one. Without a catch and with fingers frostbitten and numb from the cold.
- Be careful when roaming the tundras. You may easily end up in snow up to your waist in a jiffy.
- If you’re looking for moose like we were, there’s a great chance that you’ll only stumble upon their tracks in the snow and an occasional piece of dung. They’re very timid and jittery, but they also produce a lot of heavy grunting sounds, so you can hear them all around you when you step into the tundra.