Europe

Europe, Photography, Sweden, Travel

Swedish Lapland Itinerary – Artic Circle For Just $218


No Comments

A train trip up to the Artic Circle can be an experience of a lifetime. It is not the cheapest train trip around in the world but for the type of experience it offers, I say that it is relatively affordable. Read about my experience with a Syrian refugee on my previous post here. I chose to travel the Swedish Lapland by SJ, their world class train system. My trip Stockholm-Bjorkliden-Copenhagen came up to a total of SEK1793 (about USD218) and total traveling time on train was almost 2 days, implying that I was paying USD4.54 per hour of train ride.

IMG_9096

Stockholm Central Station

P1080905

This overnight train went on to Lulea after I got off at Boden for my transfer.

P1080918

Looking out can be addictive

P1080908

I woke up at 6am to witness the changed landscape, a start contrast to Stockholm. 

P1080904

P1080894

I bumped into two guys from Hong Kong and they offered me their place in Abisko. It was totally unexpected and very kind of them. I declined because I already got my ski lodge booked in Bjorkliden. 

P1080923

P1080900

Kanken bags are popular all around the world, definitely in its home ground Sweden.

P1080942

IMG_9123

My day transfer train stopped by Kiruna, the famous spot for the Ice Hotel.

P1080940

P1080943

P1080948

P1080975

After a day of traveling, I was finally deep in the Artic Circle – Swedish small town of Bjorkliden.

P1080967

P1080969

IMG_9134

Thankfully for this ride, I didn’t have to walk more than 1km upslope in the slippery ice.

IMG_9136

IMG_9141

P1080981

I was greeted by a lovely sunset as I walked to my lodge.

P1080979

P1080963

My eyes caught a faint glow of the Northern Lights. I wasn’t sure about it so I used my camera to capture it. 

P1080956

My lodge for the night, the price for a single room was affordable by Swedish standard at about USD60 per night.

P1080959

P1080997

P1080984

P1080996

I got up the next morning to witness this ridiculously beautiful sunrise.

P1090005

P1090028

The winter lapland is beautiful. The scene was straight out of National Geographic.

P1090008

It was breathing -10 degree celsius outside.

P1080960

IMG_9204

It was snowing heavily when the train arrived at the platform.

P1090045

IMG_9209

Your eyes are your wonders to the world. Shortly right after this shot, the train broke down. It turned out that the train was going to be delayed because of a problem with the electrical box. I waited for two hours, glazing into the enchanting landscape ever few moments. Then an announcement came and it mentioned that they needed eight hours to repair the problem.

IMG_9213

They sent a bus and a taxi to ferry us from the breakdown point to Kiruna, followed by a taxi ride that cost in excess of USD1500 from Kiruna to Boden. 

IMG_9227

The following four hours of taxi ride was a total privilege because I got to experience what it felt like to be driving in the Swedish Lapland. We reached Boden just in time to catch the last overnight train to Stockolm.

IMG_9262

Stockholm Central Station, on the platform waiting for the train to Copenhagen. 

IMG_9263

I was put on the bistro car because I missed my previous connection. I was offered a USD15 food voucher and couldn’t feel happier about it. Furthermore, I got a full refund of SEK1118 as compensation for the delayed part of the journey. 

IMG_9266

P1090025

Truly fantastic experience

Europe, Inspiration, Sweden, Travel

Journey to the Artic Circle: An Overnight Train Experience With A Syrian Refugee


No Comments

21st march, 2016. I got into Stockholm Central Station from Skavsta Airport and had two hours of waiting time until my overnight train to the Artic Circle. The public bus was more than an hour late. I decided to get some much-needed calories and experience the famous Scandinavian prices at Burger King. I was more hungry that I expected and quickly devoured it. I booked a 3-bed compartment sleeper to Bjorkliden (a ski town 10 minutes away from Abisko; Lonely Planet’s top place for viewing the Northern Lights) to avoid the ridiculously-priced accommodation and hordes of other tourists at Abisko.

BK

Around SGD 13

P1080906

The train pulled to the platform on time and people started looking and hustled for their carriage. I got to my carriage and became the first who went into my assigned compartment. Before I could start snapping photos of it, a middle-eastern looking man whom looked like he was in his forties walked in. I did my “Hi, How are you?” routine. He stared me for two seconds and gestured back. He didn’t seem to speak English or Swedish. Out of curiosity, I asked where he was from and he replied “Syria”. “Wow, Syria!” I kept it to myself and then realised that he only spoke Arabic, simple Swedish and barely any English. All kinds of negative thoughts started to flood my mind, I was expecting to meet certain kinds of people in my journey but not someone from Syria.

The last person assigned to the compartment came in and he looked way older than the first, probably in his fifties. He told me he was from Algeria and had been living in Umea for thirteen years as a translator. He asked me some questions about Singapore, I thought he sounded pretty interested. His English was conversational and we talked for a bit despite the age gap. Right before I went under my blanket to retire for the night, the Syrian offered me a banana and I gladly took it. That sparked a tingle of warmth in my heart and comforted me. I closed my eyes and felt grateful for this very experience, the gentle chugging of the train worked like a charm to send me into deep sleep.

P1080918

P1080894

Morning came, I looked at my watch and it read 5.30am. However, the compartment was brighter than I thought. The Algerian got off at Umea, that left me with the Syrian in the compartment. More space to move around I thought to myself. I put on my jacket and went to the corridor to check the surrounding scenery. I had to relieve my curiosity about the changing landscape as the train moved up north. Everything out there was completely covered with snow, a stark contrast to the scenery around Stockholm. I breathed in the cold Artic air and felt the euphoria down to my bones. This indeed replenished me after a busy spring term. I was engrossed in watching the snowy white landscape sweep by, pulling my mind along its tempo. The Syrian woke up not long after and greeted good morning. He introduced himself as Omar and he was 45 years old. It turned out that he was heading to Boden for a visa interview. He was on his way to there and then back to Linkoping straight after the interview. I thought he flied to Sweden, but in fact he did an overland journey via trains, buses and on foot. He told me that it was cheaper to do it this way and had been on the move for the past three weeks.

As we talked and gestured to communicate, he took two apples out from his backpack and offered one to me. I declined his offer. My guess was that he understood less than a quarter of what I had said so far. Knowing that I speak zero Arabic, he begun to teach me his native language and Swedish which he said he learned it from YouTube. He wrote numbers in Arabic and I was surprised with how they looked like some Chinese numerals. In return, I showed him Chinese numerals. It made me realised that I had not written Chinese for a good ten years, since my O Levels. As our conversations trudged forward due to the language barrier, my impression of him changed for the better. I asked him about the situation in Syria and he replied that it was bad, which was why he wanted to move elsewhere. The expressions that washed over his face as he spoke gave me a tiny glimpse of his world of thoughts, a tiny glimpse into his life. I was in it for a few moments. I couldn’t help it and asked if I could take a picture of him. My hands reached for my camera and froze his smile in the following picture. He’s someone’s son. Someone’s best friend. Someone’s father. Someone’s entire world. He had triumphs and adversities. Then he asked if I wanted his help for a picture which then took place. I excused myself and I went back for a nap knowing that there were a few more hours to go.

P1080927

I woke up for the second time. This time round I was feeling hungry and took out my oats bar for breakfast. I passed Omar one and he declined. He then took out a new pack of danish biscuits and shared it with me. I took one and he pushed a few more into my hands, just like how a mother will stuff food into her child’s hands. As we ate our breakfast, he pulled out his phone and showed me pictures of his family. He told me that his family was in Lebanon and he had four daughters, the eldest married to a Lebanese-Australian guy and moved to Australia after. He complained how he wished that there was WIFI on the train so that he could at least talk to his wife and daughters. He did not earn my respect through offering me bananas, apples or biscuits. He earned it through sincere conversations and friendship, the primitive fundamentals of humans. Throughout our conversations, it didn’t feel like he was a refugee. It felt more like a friend and a fatherly figure, or simply someone who was seeking better life elsewhere.

As the train pulled to a stop at Boden Central Station, I bided him farewell and wished him good luck for his interview. He was washed away by the crowd pouring out, as another poured onto the platform for the connecting train to Narvik. One flight, three busses, one overnight train, one city train and 24 hours later, I’m almost at where and how I wanted to be; deep into the Artic circle. Except that I fell in love with humanity and had an experience that one is unable to get from academic years.

P1080940

P1080904