Scandinavian Christmas – Part 4

Last year our family spent Christmas in Scandinavia. The post will be divided into five sections, starting in Stockholm, then south to Gränna & Jönköping, by Lake Vättern, then to Abisko for the Northern Lights, followed by Tromsø, Norway for a special Christmas display before heading back to Stockholm





Part 4: Abisko National Park and Christmas in Tromsö, Norway


We made it to Abisko with clear skies in the forecast and made plans to take the lift up Mount Noulja to the Aurora Sky Station.  Would the Northern Lights cooperate?



After arriving at Abisko National Park and checking into our hotel, we all took a nap to prepare for the long night ahead.  

Clear skies in the forecast & a perfect night for viewing - if the lights decide to come out
Clear skies in the forecast & a perfect night for viewing – if the lights decide to come out
 When it was time to wake up for dinner, I was too sleepy to care about food, and didn’t want to leave the cozy warmth of my bed. I’d had less than five hours of restless sleep – tops, over the past 48 hours, and that included my nap on the lobby sofa. But we had dinner reservations and I knew I would be hungry at some point–likely when everything was closed.  When it happens, hunger interrupts everything else, so I had to take care of that. 

Considering the rave reviews, the fact that the restaurant doesn’t stay open all night, and that dinner orders are taken when reservations are made, I forced myself out of the sack, cleaned up, and joined the guys for dinner.  

The meal that got me through the night
The meal that got me through the night

After a heavenly (pun 😉 ) meal that exceeded all our expectations, and some caffeine to power us up for the evening, we went back to the room and dressed in our warmest clothing before meeting our guide in the hotel lobby.  

We walked down the street a few blocks to a station at the bottom of Mount Noulja for viewing info and rules, then we were advised to grab a snowsuit to wear over the clothing we were already bundled up in. Time consuming it was, and quite a struggle. I could barely move, and felt like an overdressed toddler when I finally got everything on.  Always the one who’s cold, even I was roasting in all those layers.

The moment we started the ride up to the Aurora Sky Station, I understood why we needed all the clothes.  

 

All warm and toasty at first, I was ready for a quiet, peaceful, ride with a lovely view as we slid into our seats and pulled down the safety bar.  But that warm, fuzzy feeling changed almost instantly. Instead of enjoying the 30 minute ride, I couldn’t wait for it to end. The bitter cold had me trying to calculate how long humans can survive freezing temps while on chairlifts. My hood kept blowing off, and my son spent the ride up holding it on for me (thanks Will 🙂 so I could keep my scarf from flying away. He seemed to be enjoying the whole experience. 

Now, I’m no wimp in cold weather. I love it. I’ve spent time in midwinter Alaska, where the temperature was way below zero (Fahrenheit), but I don’t know why it felt so much colder at only 29 degrees. I was certainly dressed for the occasion. 

By the time we reached the top, I was frozen, shivering, and at that moment I found it hard to even imagine that I would ever be warm again.
By the time we reached the top, I was frozen, shivering, and at that moment I found it hard to even imagine that I would ever be warm again.
By the time we reached the top, I was frozen, shivering, and at that moment I found it hard to even imagine that I would ever be warm again, but the Aurora Sky Station was ready for us with a nice cozy fire and lots of hot drinks. We thawed out while listening to a northern lights expert give us viewing and photography tips, and it wasn’t long before we were ready to brave the cold again.  

Green streaks appeared out of nowhere
Green streaks appeared out of nowhere

We went out and waited.  And waited.  After half an hour or so, a thin green streak began to appear across the sky. Then more wispy streaks appeared, followed by a green glow.  The display soon grew into a magnetic dance across the sky (cliché, I know). 

It wasn’t long before we were frozen again.  My hands could barely work the shutter release, but this time we didn’t seem as bothered by it. In fact, we tried to ignore the cold so we wouldn’t have to go in and miss anything.  That’s how people end up with frostbite.  

A green glow moved across the sky
A green glow moved across the sky
The Northern Lights began a magnetic dance
The Northern Lights began a magnetic dance
The Northern Lights grew brighter and more active
The Northern Lights grew brighter and more active
Sometime after midnight, clouds began rolling in and it was time for us to take the lift back down the mountain. As much as I love mountains, heights, cold, and chairlifts, I was not looking forward to the ride down. 

We stayed inside the Aurora Sky Station until we were heated to the core (tip:  warm up just short of sweaty since perspiration could make things feel even worse on the way down 😉  ) then we went out to catch the lift. 

The clouds began to move in as the lights waned
The clouds began to move in as the lights waned
  I caught a second wind about the time we got down the mountain, shed our extra layer of clothing, and began the three block walk back to the lodge. The lights apparently caught a second wind too, and reappeared as we were bravIng our way across the ice and snow to our room.  We finally made it to bed around 4:00.

The lights came out for an encore as we walked back to our room
The lights came out for an encore as we walked back to our room
There was sleet and snow the next day–which meant clouds blocking any view of auroral activity, so we took it easy. The guys went for a hike and I picked up some postcards and souvenirs. I also found a warm, cozy balaclava made from a very soft wool that now belongs to me. I wish I’d had it one day earlier. (Tip: always pack a balaclava for cold climates).

The view during our out-of-this world dinner
The view during our out-of-this world dinner
 That evening we had another divine (😉) dinner. We were seated by the window and noticed stars. It had cleared up. We debated taking another trip up Mount Noulja but decided to stick around the lodge. It was dark enough in the area that we would be able to see northern lights if they came out. 

🎶 Oh Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree 🎶
🎶 Oh Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree 🎶
 So, two days before Christmas while we were out walking in the snow and enjoying the Christmas lights, the northern lights came out again.💚✨ 2 for 2. Yay! And also, on that night, I believe I caught a shot of Santa and his reindeer on a practice run 🎄.

Possible snap of Santa and his reindeer (Rudolph's nose disguised in green)
Possible snap of Santa and his reindeer (Rudolph’s nose disguised in green)
The next morning we had our final breakfast before checking out and heading to the station to catch our train to Norway. Frosty was there to see us off ⛄️.  By evening, hopefully we would arrive in Tromsø.  

Goodbye, Abisko ⛄️❤️
Goodbye, Abisko ⛄️❤️

Next:  Christmas in Tromsø, Norway. Clouds and snow in the forecast.  Yay!  I ❤️ snow.  But will we be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in Norway, and before leaving the Arctic Circle? 

Also coming –  what to take when braving cold temps. 

xo ✨💚💙

*The unedited draft somehow was released so this is the edited version that should have posted. Beware editing on two separate devices — they don’t always communicate properly 🙂

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Scandinavian Christmas – Part 3

Last year our family spent Christmas in Scandinavia. The post will be divided into four (possibly even five 😄) sections, starting in Stockholm, then south to Gränna & Jönköping, by Lake Vättern, then to Abisko for the Northern Lights, followed by Norway for a special Christmas display before heading back to Stockholm



Part 3: Jönköping to Stockholm to catch the Arctic Circle train for an 18-hour ride to Abisko National Park.


We said goodbye to Jönköping
We said goodbye to Jönköping
  
Aside from seeing my son and introducing my husband to our new friends, this is the part of the trip that had me really, really excited. There is something terribly romantic about travelling in a sleeper car on a train called the Arctic Circle Express to a place so far north that the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon all day, northern lights dance across the sky, and Santa and his reindeer have a primary residence. 
 

In fact, so excited were we about this part of the trip that I booked the train tickets and hotels in Abisko and Tromsø first, then arranged everything else.  It was already late in the game for making holiday train reservations, and sleeper cars sell out quickly for 18-hour train rides, but we managed to grab one that sleeps four. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start where I left off from the last post. 

Arctic Circle Train route from Stockholm to Abisko
Arctic Circle Train route from Stockholm to Abisko
  The plan to get a good night’s sleep on our last night in Jönköping so we could wake up early, feel refreshed, and not have to rush was wishful thinking.  I don’t know how or what caused the plan to go awry, but it did, and we were all in an insomniac haze.
 

We nearly boarded the wrong train out of Jönköping, and in the chaos, my husband forgot to pick up one of his bags. It was left behind, sitting on the platform. The bag was a gift from me and meant a lot to him, which warmed my heart, but I told him not to worry about it.

“You don’t understand,” he told me. “That bag had nearly everything important except my money and my passport.” Uh-oh. He went directly to the conductor. 

This is what my husband's bag looks like, just in case someone happens to see it :)
This is what my husband’s bag looks like, just in case someone happens to see it 😊
 

“Yes, I saw you leave it on the platform,” she said. “Would you like me to call and have someone pick it up and send it to lost & found?”  Of course he wanted her to do that. “It could be maybe two or three days, but it will go to Stockholm Central lost & found,” she told him.

“We’re never going to see that bag again,” my husband said. I reassured him that may be the case in other places, but he would get it back. We were in Sweden

He checked lost & found nearly every day at first. We filed the required missing bag reports, police reports, and even opened a Twitter account hoping to locate it.

Well, it’s been over nine months now, but his bag still hasn’t made it to lost & found. I’m inclined to believe my husband was right in his initial assessment.

Not sure how I managed to get a selfie & a portrait of hubby
Not sure how I managed to get a selfie & a portrait of hubby
 It’s not easy to relax when a bag is missing, but at least we had hope on our side at that point. We made it into Stockholm Central in plenty of time to grab a quick pizza in the station before boarding the Arctic Circle train. 

Boarding the Arctic Circle Express in Stockholm
Boarding the Arctic Circle Express in Stockholm

Efficiency experts obviously built the sleeper cars, and every last inch of space is utilized. Not quite the fancy James Bond luxury cabins and dining cars, but we had no complaints. 

I lowered the window and we bundled up with the cozy down comforters for the full winter experience. It was already dark when we chugged past the stunning view of Stockholm all lit up in its Christmas glory, and when we finally got out of the city, we pulled down the beds and crunched ourselves in for (hopefully) a long winter’s nap. 

Goodbye We're Leaving Stockholm
Goodbye Stockholm ✨
Leaving Stockholm
Leaving Stockholm
 Leaving the Christmas glitter of Stockholm
Final glitter of Stockholm

 We all woke up at about the same time, frozen.  That’s the first time I’ve heard my son’s teeth chatter since he was little. The temperature had dropped, and the train was screeching to a stop. Surely we hadn’t been asleep eighteen hours. It’s hard to keep track of time when there’s so much darkness & nighttime. I looked at my watch and realized we had only been on the train for five hours.  Just thirteen to go!

We all woke up frozen--Could we have travelled 18 hours already?
We all woke up frozen–Could we have travelled 18 hours already?

 

I loved being on the train, and couldn’t go back to sleep in spite of my exhaustion. The only thing to see was the moon reflecting off the snow, but I was glued to the window. There was nothing to take pictures of, but that didn’t stop me. Of course, every time I moved it disturbed everyone else. I really tried to be on my best behavior, but I always seemed to need something just out of reach–water, sweater, blanket, extra pillow, etc. I’m sure my family members wished they could have spiked my water with some knock out pills. 

There was nothing to see or photograph, but I couldn't tear myself from the window
There was nothing to see or photograph, but I couldn’t tear myself from the window
Our plan was to spend four nights over the Christmas week in Tromsø, the northern lights capital of Norway according to a guidebook, but decided to cover our northern lights bases by also spending three nights in Abisko, Sweden. There was high likelihood that it would be cloudy the whole time in Tromsø because of its location on the coast. 

The Aurora forecast looked good.  We only needed clear weather
The Aurora forecast looked good. We only needed clear weather

This was important because the chance for the clear skies needed to see northern lights increases when you are inland, where Abisko is located. We could improve our northern lights odds and see the beautiful Abisko National Park if we were able to route our trip accordingly.  So that’s what we did.

Morning sun - Our last sight of it above the horizon for a while
Morning sun – Our last sight of it above the horizon for a while
 
Morning sun - Our last sight of it above the horizon for a while
Morning sun – Our last sight of it above the horizon for a while

The sun never rose above the horizon once we we made it north into the Arctic circle.  The sky was at its brightest, a deep blue twilight with shades of pink on the horizon, when we arrived at Abisko Turistation.  The first thing we noticed when we disembarked was the extreme cold. The tradeoff to potential cloudy skies of the coast was bitter cold inland.

 
We had to walk about three blocks to the hotel with our bags, in below freezing temperature. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that Abisko had some unusually rainy weather, leaving every surface frozen over and dangerously icy. Everyone was literally sliding into the hotel, some right off their feet. The ambulance even had to make a few runs. 

We arrived!  Abisko National Park
We arrived! Abisko National Park
Abisko Turistation
Abisko Turistation

It was a little early for check-in, but the Abisko Turistation hotel had cozy lounging areas to relax and warm up with a hot drink, and a safe place to store our luggage. The guys had slept for most of the train ride, unlike me, so they went out for a hike and some exploring, while I napped on a sofa.  They also grabbed a list of activities so we could plan the next few days.

 Icy roads had everyone sliding about
Icy roads had everyone sliding about
  A weather check had some good news and bad news.  The good news was, clear forecast for the evening; bad news, likely cloudy for the remainder of our stay. So much for clear skies most of the winter. We booked a Northern Lights excursion atop Mount Noulja for the night, and opted for a nap before dinner since we knew we would be out way past our bedtime.

Christmas lights reflecting off the snow
Christmas lights reflecting off the snow and Snow people everywhere
Greetings from the snow family ⛄️
Greetings from the snow family ⛄️
Our Room with a View
Our Room with a View
Next: Will the Northern Lights come out to play? And then on to Tromsø, Norway for Christmas.  Also, What to pack so you can brave the cold in comfort. 


Details:

There are many ways to travel to Abisko, but if you choose the train, these were available options at the time:

Arctic Circle Train – Two night trains daily from Stockholm to Kiruna   Abisko National Park is enroute to Kiruna

https://www.scandinavianrail.com/scenicrail/sweden/arctic-circle-train

Or

Stockholm night train to Narvik – Train 10094 with stop at Abisko National Park

https://rail.cc/en/night-train/stockholm-narvik-nt-94/106

 

Definitely memorable dining ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Definitely memorable dining ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Kungsleden Restaurant is one of the best in the region.  Locally produced, organic food is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dinner is a set menu (there are choices). The bread and desserts are homemade, so save room.  This is not the place to hold back. You’ll burn the calories shivering through the outdoor activities.  

Abisko STF’s Restaurant has amazing panoramic views of Lake Torneträsk and the mountains. 

Lovely view from the restaurant
Lovely view from the restaurant

*We chose to eat breakfast & dinner at the restaurant during most of our stay because the food was outstanding and the set menu had items we would never have tried otherwise. If you do this, I recommend booking all dinner reservations at check in. You can change the times or cancel later if necessary, but you’ll have reservations. 



Scandinavian Christmas – Part 2

Last year our family spent Christmas in Scandinavia. The post will be divided into four sections, starting in Stockholm, then south to Gränna & Jönköping, by Lake Vättern, then to Abisko for the Northern Lights, followed by Norway for a special Christmas display before heading back to Stockholm. 

Part 2: Stockholm to Gränna and Jönköping, Lake Vättern

Christmas red
Christmas red

After spending our first few days in Stockholm, it was time to head south for Gränna. We checked out after breakfast and walked to Stockholm Central Station to purchase our tickets and board the bus for the 3 1/2 hour ride to Gränna. I rode the train over the summer and wanted some different scenery, but forgot about the early sunsets. We didn’t see much, but Swedish buses are especially comfortable with wifi and a loo, so all was well even without sun to light the way.

Peppermint candy throughout Gränna
Peppermint candy throughout Gränna

Gränna (population around 2600) sits on the eastern shore of Lake Vättern and is famous for polkagris, a traditional red and white striped peppermint candy that has been made in the city for over 150 years. Imagine stepping off a bus into a city that smells like a candy cane…my idea of Christmas heaven.

  

The polkagris industry started when a widow made the candy as a way to support herself and her daughter, and over the years others eventually followed. The main street is now lined with candy shops. Most offer tours allowing visitors to watch, or even help, the candy makers. But peppermint candy wasn’t the reason we had to stop in Gränna.
When I was there during the summer to help my son move to Sweden, we took a weekend trip to Gränna as a final hurrah. We left early on Friday and planned to return on Sunday so he could make it to his Monday morning orientation and classes.
 

We took a bus from Jönköping to Gränna, then to a lovely little town (population ~310) called Örserum. The schedule we saw listed the daily bus schedule with one or two buses each on both Saturdays and Sundays. Of course we didn’t understand Swedish, so we made assumptions that ended up getting us into a bit of a bind. When we didn’t see those Saturday and Sunday buses listed on the posted schedule at the bus stop, we went into the Örserum General Store on Saturday to grab some sandwiches and find out the actual weekend bus schedule.  

That was when we learned from a very kind lady who happened to be shopping that there were no buses at all on Sunday. Or Saturday. Neither were there trains or Ubers. Taxis? If we could get a taxi out there, we were warned it would cost us about as much as a plane ticket back to the States.  

At least we were stuck in a beautiful place, I joked to my son, but he wasn’t the least bit amused with my wit. He was devastated thinking he was going to miss his first day of a new school, in a new country. All we could do was go back to our room and try to find a solution.   

Örserum:  At least we were stranded in a beautiful place
Örserum: At least we were stranded in a beautiful place

We had barely gotten back to our room and finished our sandwiches, and were about to search for options when there was a knock at the door. It was the lady from the general store who had given us the bad news about the buses. She took the time and trouble to find us, and invited us over for drinks with her family and friends. Not only that, they offered to drive us back to Jönköping the next day. How can you ever express gratitude for an act of kindness such as this?  Is it even possible? 

The next day after we checked out of our hotel, we went over for the best lunch we had while in Sweden, then they drove us back to my son’s place.  It was important for me to take my husband to meet them.  

Hotel Gyllene Uttern by Lake Vättern in Gränna
Hotel Gyllene Uttern by Lake Vättern in Gränna

Traditional Sweden at Hotel Gyllene Uttern in Gränna
Traditional Sweden at Hotel Gyllene Uttern in Gränna

On the summer drive back to my son’s place, we passed Hotel Gyllene Uttern in Gränna. Located by Lake Vättern, the hotel had tall grass and weeds growing on the roof, just like photos I had seen in a grade school book. I knew if we ever came back that’s where we had to stay. When I tried to book online for December, it didn’t look as if they had a vacancy, but I called and discovered they had a room with a lake view available.  I learned that the hotel restaurant is known by locals for its excellent buffets, especially at Christmas. 

 Hotel Gyllene Uttern at Christmas
Hotel Gyllene Uttern at Christmas
Lucky for us, our new friends were able to join us for an authentic Swedish Christmas buffet, or smorgasbord spread. The meal consisted of Sillsallad (herring & beet salad) and Julskinka (Christmas ham) on the julbord (the Christmas table), along with meatballs, wild game, fresh vegetables, soups, salads, and all the delectable Swedish desserts. There was also Swedish Glogg, a hot mulled wine spiked with brandy, vodka, or Aquavit, and garnished with raisins. Certainly an evening we’ll never forget.  Cheers to good food shared with friends!

 Julbord (Christmas table) Smorgasbord fit for royalty!
Julbord (Christmas table) Smorgasbord fit for royalty!


My son finally finished up his exams, so the next day, we headed to Jönköping to meet him.   Jönköping is at the southern tip of Lake Vättern and grew to modern prominence because of a thriving match industry from 1845 to 1979. It’s now an important logistical center, with central warehouses for companies such as IKEA, Electrolux, and Husqvarna located in the area.  

Jönköping decorated for Christmas
Jönköping at Christmas

We stayed at the Hotel Clarion Victoria, just a couple of blocks from Jönköping Central, and close to shopping and restaurants. Buffet breakfast and dinner were included with my stay over the summer, and not only was the food outstanding, but the staff made me feel at home.  They went above and beyond the call of duty to help me deal with lost luggage, find hotels in other cities in Sweden, and they took excellent care of my son during a minor emergency after I had returned home. So of course, that’s where I returned over the holidays. 

Sofia Church of Sweden, opened in 1888
Sofia Church of Sweden, 1888

The hotel is next to the Sofia Church, a lovely building that opened in 1888. Birds like to congregate in the churchyard every morning to give the wake up call. On Friday evening after dinner we attended a Christmas concert. It was a packed house, and we recognized many traditional holiday favorites, only with Swedish lyrics.

The next morning we joined our friends, and the guys spent the entire Saturday in a traditional Finnish sauna, going back and forth from the heat of the sauna to a dip in the icy cold lake, while we girls stayed in town for shopping and food.  If there’s one thing the guys wanted to bring home, it’s the Finnish sauna tradition.
  
After two nights, we packed up and it was early to bed for our trip back up to Stockholm the next morning to catch the Arctic Circle train to Abisko.  Brrr….it certainly feels like Christmas as we go from cold to colder. Will the northern lights be out?  

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas 🎄

Part 3:  Adventure aboard the Arctic Circle train from Stockholm to Abisko National Park.  Will the northern lights be out?

___________________________________

For those who inquired:

Stockholm

Sheraton Stockholm Hotel, Tegelbacken – Sheraton’s 360° Restaurant is excellent

Gränna

Hotel Gyllene Uttern Hotel on Lake Vättern

Tour the candy factory at Polkapojkarna 59 Brahegatan. This is one of many wonderful choices

Örserum

Smålandsgården Gästgiveri Hotel on Lake Örensjön.  Great restaurant but Remember:  There is no public transportation into or out of the city on Saturdays and Sundays 🙂

Jönköping

Hotel Clarion Victoria – Breakfast & Dinner buffet is outstanding 

City Hotel, Familjen Ericsson – Comfortable & convenient location with free buffet breakfast

Elite Stora Hotel beautiful 19th century building across the street from Lake Vättern 

Visit the world’s only Match Museum Tändsticksgränd Matchmuseum@jonkoping.se

A Scandinavian Christmas – Part 1

Last year our family spent Christmas in Scandinavia. The post will be divided into four sections, starting in Stockholm, then south to Gränna & Jönköping, by Lake Vättern, then to Abisko for the Northern Lights, followed by Norway for a special Christmas display before heading back to Stockholm. 

Post 1 of 4:  Starting in the winter wonderland of Stockholm. 

Stockholm:  Landing in a Winter Wonderland
Stockholm: Landing in a Winter Wonderland

Christmas is my favorite holiday so I tend to go a little overboard on everything associated with the season, but last year things were different.  One of my sons was studying in Sweden and his schedule didn’t permit him enough time for a visit home.  He seemed just as down about it as we were, so my husband and I decided to splurge on a family trip to see him. That is how we all ended up flying into Stockholm for Christmas last year.

It was late September when we made the decision, so we didn’t have much time for planning.  We had to work around blackout dates to use frequent flier points, so the choice was to either stay three weeks, or spend big bucks for a shorter stay.  After running the numbers, it was actually cheaper to stay longer and pay for hotels than to purchase airline tickets for a shorter stay.  Yes!

Once we got the airline tickets booked, my husband asked each of us to make a list of the top five things we wanted to do while there.  Surprisingly– or not– we ended up with similar lists. The top three were:

  • Northern Norway to see the fjords, watch the whales & view the northern lights.
  • Abisko, Sweden to see the Northern Lights.  
  • Take the Arctic Circle Express Train on an overnight ride up to the Arctic Circle. 

Having seen the Northern Lights on a family trip to Alaska earlier in the year, we all had been mesmerized, hence the family’s collective desire to see them again. If you’ve ever experienced auroral activity, you understand why. 

Lucky for us, Scandinavia is famous for northern lights, but unfortunately, many places are also notorious for cloudy weather this time of year.  So we covered our bases. I’ll get to that in another post,  but I’d like to start from the beginning, flying into Stockholm.  From that moment, the whole trip became a magical experience. Yes, “magical experience” is such a cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason…often because they are truths.  Of course, there are always the normal family moments of bickering, but that’s part of the whole travel experience, yes?   


Unless there is a compelling reason, I (& everyone else in the family) like to go to places we haven’t been when choosing a family vacation.  I had travelled to Sweden that summer for a month.  After completing a rigorous MBA program I needed a break, so I travelled for two weeks with my son, then helped him get settled in before travelling on my own for the remainder of my time.  We had not thought much about him having to stay in Sweden over Christmas at the time, but when we began to make holiday plans, we all really missed him, and I think he actually missed all of us — so, compelling reason for returning. 

Stockholm at night; Photographer's delight
Stockholm at night; Photographer’s delight
 During the summer, I really loved the sunsets.  Mark Twain said, “Happiness is a Swedish sunset; it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it.” Perhaps he was speaking metaphorically, but I found it hard to look away from any sunset on my first visit; however, flying into Stockholm during the winter when they occur around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and are filled with shades of pink and coral against the crisp twilight blue winter sky…well, it felt like we were flying right into a Christmas card.  

We caught the Arlanda Express from the airport to Stockholm Central. That’s where we got off for the two block walk in freezing weather to our hotel by the water.  It didn’t matter that my teeth were chattering and my fingers frozen, I had visions of snow, exotic feasts, northern lights (maybe), and a child I hadn’t seen in a few months.  I caught myself absentmindedly humming “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”  What jet lag?

Stockholm dazzles through the long winter nights
Stockholm dazzles through the long winter nights
 Hotel reservations had not been too easy to get when we were planning, but we discovered the Sheraton Stockholm on Tegelbacken.    Perfectly located by the water and only a couple blocks from Stockholm Central, we were thrilled when we checked into our fabulous room with a view.  Not only was the room quiet and comfortable, but the food in the restaurant was outstanding– especially the traditional Swedish fare. Breakfast buffet was included with our package.

I was photographing this lovely tree when guards suddenly came out to (very nicely) reprimand me.  Wonder who lives there?  Their lips were sealed
I was photographing this lovely tree when guards suddenly came out to (very nicely) reprimand me. Wonder who lives there? Their lips were sealed
We texted our son to let him know we made it. He still had a couple of exams to complete, so we spent our first two nights in Stockholm getting over jet lag (it finally hit hard), acclimating to the short days, and learning our way around the city. Stockholm’s lights, water, and long nights make it a photographer’s dream, but it’s even more so with the added dash of Christmas sparkle.  Without a doubt, it’s impossible to capture the beauty of Stockholm on camera. But I sure tried!
Next post:  We leave Stockholm & head south to see our son and meet friends made over the summer 
xo

Roanoke – City off the Blue Ridge Parkway

Roanoke from the Blue Ridge Parkway
Roanoke from the Blue Ridge Parkway

There is no better time than fall to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile (755 kilometer) scenic drive that links the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The lovely city of Roanoke, in southwest Virginia, is a nice stopping point when traveling along the parkway. 

Mill Mountain Star at night
Mill Mountain Star appears suspended in the air at night
Historic H&C Coffee sign
Historic H&C Coffee sign

With over 310,000 people in its metro area, Roanoke has the restaurants and activities of a much larger city while maintaining the friendliness and charm of a small town.
Use caution when driving!  The white-tailed deer will run right in front of your car!
Use caution when driving! The white-tailed deer will run right in front of your car!
 Due to the different elevations in the area, fall colors dazzle throughout the entire season.  Blazing reds and flourescent yellows kick off the autumn show as early as September at higher altitudes, and descend down the mountains throughout October.  From year to year the temperature and rainfall combine in some magical way that makes it impossible to predict  how vibrant the leaves will be, or when the peak of color will occur.

Mabry Mill fall foliage in full color
Mabry Mill fall foliage in full color

With the clear Carolina blue sky as a backdrop, you’ll be pulling over frequently for the perfect Instagram shot. 

     Mabry Mill - Milepost 176
    Mabry Mill – Milepost 176

    Speaking of the drive, be prepared for the many twists and turns–especially if you or anyone else in the car are prone to carsickness. Take some saltines & ginger ale or Coke. There are numerous turnouts and areas to pullover and walk or hike.  If hiking, be on the lookout for wildlife!

    Cute baby bears high up in the tree
    Cute baby bears high up in the tree
    I didn't see Mother & was about to walk right into her until a kind motorist warned me :)
    I didn’t see Mother & was about to walk right into her until a kind motorist saw her and warned me 🙂

    As for Roanoke, there is lodging and dining in all price ranges.  Here is a list of things to do:

    • Mill Mountain Zoo & Star are both just off the parkway in Roanoke. You can take a chug around the perimeter of the zoo in a miniature choo-choo, see the animals, then walk over to the city’s iconic star, which sits atop Mill Mountain.  Mill Mountain Star, perched 1,045 feet (319 m) above the city, was built in 1949 and is the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star.
    • Center in the Square is a seven-story non-profit cultural center in downtown Roanoke. It’s home to the mid-Atlantic region’s largest coral reef aquarium, filled with colorful fish and live coral.  The building also houses the Science Museum of Western Virginia with IMAX & planetarium shows, four cultural museums, and the Mill Mountain Theatre. Outside there is a farmer’s market.  Activities and events are always going on, and unique restaurants are scattered within walking distance throughout the area. 
    • Dixie Caverns, in the neighboring city of Salem, was discovered by two boys in 1920 when their dog fell into a deep hole, which turned out to be the cavern. This cave filled with magnificent limestone formations is open for tours 364 days a year. Its main feature is called the “Wedding Bell” and weddings do take place under this formation. 
    • Mabry Mill is a picturesque grist mill on milepost 176 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A 45-minute drive south from Roanoke, the mill was built in 1905 and is the perfect place to grab a souvenir bag of grits or corn mill, and a quick bite to eat. For dessert, there is an ice cream counter with some of the most delicious natural handmade ice cream in several flavors. I highly recommend the butter pecan –and then, a long walk around the grounds to walk off the calories. 
    • Château Morrisette Winery, near Parkway milepost 171, is not far from Mabry Mill. There is a tasting room and tours of the winery, and a restaurant on the grounds. The winery has many different seasonal activities, such as music festivals, art exhibits, etc., so check the calendar at http://www.thedogs.com/Events.
    • Natural Bridge can be found about 35 miles north of Roanoke. Natural Bridge is a Virginia Historical Landmark. While there you can visit the Natural Bridge Zoo, which has a wealth of exotic animals. It’s a beautiful area to spend a day. 

      Roanoke City Market
      Roanoke City Market
      Roanoke Center in the Square
      Roanoke Center in the Square
      Mountain Lion at Mill Mountain Zoo
      Mountain Lion at Mill Mountain Zoo
      Château Morrisette Winery
      Château Morrisette Winery
      Château Morrisette Winery
      Château Morrisette Winery

      This is only the tip of the iceberg of things to do in this area of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Depending on how much time you have, plan to see as much as you can, or simply take a leisurely drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping whenever you take a fancy. Either way, you will experience the magic of Southwestern Virginia. 

      Blue Ridges of the Parkway
      Blue Ridges of the Parkway
      xo

      Jaclyn

      Planning a Northern Lights trip

      Fairbanks, Alaska
      Fairbanks, Alaska
      Are Northern Lights on your Bucket List? ✨ If so, maybe it’s time to plan your adventure to Aurora territory.  I’ve been lucky to have experienced them in Alaska, Norway, and Sweden, and now that I’m thoroughly hooked, I would like to add Iceland, Finland, or Canada to that list next. 

      Follow along over the next few weeks as I choose one of these places, and then make my travel plans.  Of course I’ll be writing about the whole shebang📝 😊 .

      I may be on my own for this one since it looks as if it will be impossible for the whole family to get away together anytime soon.  In a previous post, I wrote about our family experience together seeing the northern lights for the first time. Please take a look at that if you haven’t already. 💚💜💙

      So… stay tuned 💫 And if any of you have suggestions, tips, or comments, please feel free to let me know.  Instagram is the best place to find me 😊

      Jaclyn

      xoxo

      Tromsø, Norway
      Tromsø, Norway
      Abisko, Sweden
      Abisko, Sweden
      Fairbanks, Alaska
      Fairbanks, Alaska
      Follow the journey on Instagram.

      Instagram.com/jsf021/

      Instagram.com/somethingfortravel/





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      On Canadaopoly 


      Playing Canadaopoly
      Canadaopoly
      This week I was reminded of one of our favorite family trips to the Canadian Rockies.  We flew into Calgary, Alberta, and drove up through Banff to Lake Louise.  It was late June, so the days were long.  We packed in canoe rides, hiking, and long walks around the lake.  The boys saw their first marmot in the wild, up close and personal.  Mountain goats & sheep were everywhere. They would fight, then spring up and down the steep rocky cliffs like superheroes.
      Bighorn sheep fighting over a mate
      Bighorn sheep fighting over a mate
      Can you find the sheep in this picture?
      Can you see the sheep?

      After Lake Louise, we headed to Jasper National Park, stopping at Bridal Veil Falls, Big Whirlpool and Whirlpool Ridge.  In this part of Canada, there’s a new adventure at every turn.  We rode a giant snow coach up to the Athabasca Glacier and spent the day slogging around  a tiny part of the vast Columbia Icefield. We listened and watched for avalanches and ice calving in the surrounding mountains, and drank pure water from meandering glacial streams. We desperately needed warm, waterproof shoes to navigate the glacier due to all the streams hidden beneath the ice.  Our feet were soaked by the time we boarded the snow coach back down the mountain.  Thankfully, we had extra pairs of dry shoes for all packed in the car. 

      We were quite exhausted by the time we reached our next destination– a little cabin perched by the Athabasca River.

      Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park
      Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park

      We unloaded, went into town for dinner, then made a quick stop at the general store to pick up snacks and picnic supplies.  I think we all noticed the lone Canadaopoly game perched high on a shelf at exactly the same time.  The clerk had to find a ladder to get it for us, but what can I say?  We’re a board game family 🙂

      We were up early the next morning for a rafting trip down the Athabasca River.  The weather was chilly, and we nearly froze after a drenching from the rapids.  Thankfully, the rain held off until the end of our raft ride.

      Everyone was tired and cranky, so we decided to spend the evening in.  We lit a fire, ate sandwiches, and played Canadaopoly while listening to the Athabasca River flow and the rain fall.  I had planned to leave the game in the cabin for the next visitors, but the boys pleaded to bring it home. They won.

      The next day we took a gondola ride up Mount Whistler and hiked the rest of the way to the top. The morning was clear and beautiful.  We had a nice picnic lunch, then hiked as high as we could go before a thick fog suddenly rolled in.  We made our way back to the gondola just in time for its final run down the mountain.  



      As we left the park, a black bear and her cub pranced in front of our car. We pulled over so I could get some photos, and we watched from the safety of our car as the curious little guy tried to figure us out. 


      Mom finally nudged her little one into the woods, and we left for our last stop at the Banff Springs Hotel before saying goodbye to Canada. 

      Banff Springs Hotel
      Banff Springs Hotel
      It’s fun to see the sights, but it’s more important to slow down and enjoy being with each other.  Travel is one of the few times a family has together without the distraction of daily routines. Make time to play.  Not every moment of your vacation needs to be orchestrated.  Leave the packed schedules at home. Filling every moment can be stressful and exhausting, not the best way to create fun, happy memories.

      This week we had a major storm that left us without power for a couple of days. We turned on our battery operated lantern and spent the next two and a half hours playing Canadaopoly. We pretended the creek out back was the great Athabasca and we reminisced about all of the other adventures we had on that trip.  We were surprised to learn that we all had the same favorite memory — playing Canadaopoly together by the fire.
      Map of Alberta
      Wishing you fun family games and memories to last a lifetime ✨❤️😊
      Jasper National Park

      Jasper National Park
      Jasper National Park

      There’s been a massive Equifax breach.  Now what?

      Protect yourself with a credit freeze
      Protect yourself with a credit freeze
      I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss  the recent Equifax breach.  Over many years as a volunteer for a local radio host and consumer advocate, I’ve never before seen so much sensitive personal data stolen from so many millions of people.  And to add insult to injury, Equifax appeared to have knowledge and information about the breach for well over a month before any of us were warned. For those of you who may be affected, it’s important to take steps to prevent or minimize any potential harm to your finances.

      What can you do? A credit freeze with all three bureaus–Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian–is one of the best options to start with. A credit freeze can’t prevent all forms of identity theft such as IRS tax fraud, but it can prevent potential thieves from opening up accounts for credit in your name. 
       
      It’s important to pull a copy of your credit report first at annualcreditreport.com to check for any errors or accounts that don’t belong to you.  If you find something amiss, follow the procedures listed to correct any mistakes. Then follow the instructions on the site to freeze your credit.
       
      The credit bureaus are bombarded right now, so you may not get through by computer or phone on your first try. Don’t give up, though. This is important. 
      It’s impossible to completely stop all forms of identity theft, especially with the vast amounts of information out there about you (if you haven’t googled yourself, do it to see what I mean), but here are some quick tips to help out:

      • Limit personal information you post on social media
      • Change passwords frequently
      • Go over all credit card and bank statements in a timely manner for unauthorized transactions 
      • Pull a copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com at least once a year 


      Clark.com is an excellent resource for further information and instructions for freezing your credit. 

      This is the only breach you want to see
      🐋 This is the only breach you want to see

      Here’s hoping this is the only kind of breach you see 🐋✨😊

      xo

      Tips for t-shirts and travel memories

      T-shirts and travel memories
      T-shirts and travel memories
      When our family travels together, and even when we don’t, one thing is a constant — t-shirts. No matter where in the world we go, we always bring home souvenir t-shirts. Each shirt becomes filled with special memories. 

      Over the years, the shirts that didn’t end up with ketchup stains or holes were quickly outgrown. Some were passed down, but I knew I could never give them away or toss them.  So I devised a plan. 

      I purchased a bin for each child. Every time one of the t-shirts reaches the end of its useful life, I treat the stains, wash, dry, and then pack it away into the proper bin. 

      Travel t-shirts properly stored
      Travel t-shirts properly stored

      My plan is to use the t-shirts to make (or have made 🙂 a quilt for each child so they can wrap up and stay warm in their travel memories. 

        
      Do you have any special tips for travel t-shirts?  
      Here’s wishing you many warm (literally) travel memories ✨❤️

      Solar Eclipse 2017

      Our family–we are all planners, but we generally don’t plan too far out. Usually a month, at most, for a trip. So when we started looking for a place to stay in the eclipse totality zone a half a week before the eclipse, our chances of finding a room didn’t look too good. Never before had I seen every single room booked everywhere.  Online there were pages and pages of completely booked hotels. Still stuck six hours ahead in the Swedish time zone and cranky, my husband and I were awake into the wee hours Thursday morning before the big event searching for a room–any room–in the eclipse totality zone.  Just as we were about to give up and call it a night, one room popped up at the Chestnut Hill Inn in Cherokee, NC.  

      Yes!  The price wasn’t jacked up as high as I assumed a room would be, and we could cancel up until the night before our stay. I could barely get my credit card out quickly enough to book it. We went to bed pleased with our triumph.  

      But I began to feel a rare dissonance as I fell asleep. Why was this room available?  What was wrong with it that no one else had booked it?  We read the online reviews and it sounded just fine, but still–was it good luck or bad luck?  

      My husband said not to worry, that things would work out, and they did. The room was pleasant, and the location perfect. The weather cooperated and all the stars–along with the moon–aligned to make eclipse day perfect. 

      One room left at the Chestnut Hill Inn
      One room left at the Chestnut Hill Inn

      The first thing we noticed just before the moon began its transit in front of the sun were several white cloud-like rays to the right of the sun — some were perpendicular and some were at angles to the horizon. Although not as numerous, they were very similar to the white cloud-like rays we saw on an Alaska trip during the night just before the northern lights made an appearance (see former Northern Lights post).

      Cloud-like rays before the eclipse
      Cloud-like rays before the eclipse

      We situated ourselves under a shade tree on a giant rock to await the eclipse.  Our spot. The moon seemed to be taking its sweet time moving across the sun until suddenly things began to happen at warp speed.  Almost at once, the sky darkened, street lights came on, and the temperature dropped a few degrees. Shadows sharpened then disappeared during totality.  Chills and a shiver of excitement lasted throughout the duration of totality, which was over almost as quickly as it began.  A couple of minutes, tops. Then the moon again seemed to slow as it completed its path across the other side of the sun.  

      Moon in front of the Sun during Totality
      Moon in front of the Sun during Totality
      Diamond Ring just after Totality
      Diamond Ring just after Totality

      I had been unable to locate a solar filter for my dSLR camera, so the plan was to simply enjoy the eclipse and forget about taking photos, but the photographer in me just couldn’t do that. With my solar glasses on, I located the eclipse in my viewfinder, shut my eyes and snapped away. I ended up with a couple interesting shots, but I still enjoyed the experience. 

      Sun's Corona Totality during Solar Eclipse of 2017
      Sun’s Corona Totality during Solar Eclipse of 2017

      I can’t help but think that the hotel room was meant for us. We spoke to several people who were staying at the Inn, and nearly everyone had booked their reservations at least a year in advance. 

      The location made it possible for us to spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains and on the Cherokee Indian reservation. We hiked, drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and went mining for rubies and sapphires. I found a ruby that is the perfect size and color for a small pendant. I plan to have a lapidary cut the stone and mount it for me. Not worth much, but the memories will last always. 

      Blue Ridge Parkway overlook in the Great Smoky Mountains
      Blue Ridge Parkway overlook in the Great Smoky Mountains
      Mining in NC Mountains - Sapphires (left) and Rubies (right) Ruby on top right is cutting quality
      Mining in NC Mountains – Sapphires (left) and Rubies (right) Ruby on top right is cutting quality
       

      How was your eclipse day? I hope it was lovely. If you missed it, there’s another one coming in 2024. 

      Maybe I’ll start earlier next time. 🙂 ☀️🌑💫❤️

      ©2017 jsf somethingfortravel.com