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.
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.
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.
“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. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Stockholm night train to Narvik – Train 10094 with stop at Abisko National Park
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.
*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.