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. 



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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

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/





Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved.  Reusing content from this website, for any purpose whatsoever, is prohibited without express permission from the author. 

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

My Ultimate Bucket List – What’s on yours?

Bucket List item:  Get My Picture in the Newspaper 

My Ultimate Bucket List is a book I picked up and added to my list of places to see and things to do. Not only does the book have blank pages for my own list, but it is filled with lots of fun things to accomplish.  The items I’ve been writing about are mostly from the resulting list of completed adventures.

These aren’t in any particular order, but simply in whatever way that I can make them work.  Some are quick & easy; others, not so much –like Start a Blog and Keep it Going for at Least a Year.  Most are related to travel in some way, with a few exceptions 🙂
This is one of those exceptions: Get My Picture in the Newspaper 

Bucket List item:  Get my picture in the paper
Bucket List item: Get my picture in the paper
 Do you have a list of places to see or things you hope to do one day?  Writing it down is often a good first step toward completing something. And know that every good adventure starts with a first step.  #goals 
Here’s hoping you’ll get through your List ✨❤️

Castles, Châteaux, and Palaces, oh my!

Château du Gué-Péan - Loire Valley
Château du Gué-Péan – Loire Valley
Bucket List item:  Spend the Night in a real Castle 

We were modern day intruders, I decided, as we passed through a thicket of trees on our drive to le Château du Gué-Péan.  Fog was beginning to circle the château, consuming the light cloak of misty drizzle.  The birds sang louder, determined to be heard as the rain began to pour.  Singing in the rain–an opera for our arrival, no less.  I wondered if the songs had been passed down from their ancestors.  Cars and motors were out of place here. Instead, horses, shining armor, and a sword for my husband would have been more appropriate.  For me?  Well, a proper lady should be riding sidesaddle, dressed in a ruffled blouse, with corset and petticoats, of course.  Les vêtements appropriés du jour.  But alas, we were a few centuries too late.  Really, flowery writing is appropriate for this place.  I started thinking in sonnets as we pulled in. 

Located in Montrichard, in Loire-et-Cher, the fortified castle stood just as it was in 1600, except for the dry moat.  It’s stuck in time.   

Built on the site of a Roman camp, Le Château du Gué-Péan is not nearly as well known as some of its neighbors.  Tucked away like a secret, the château served as the private residence of Monsieur le Marquis de Keguelin, or Raymond, until his death.  It was rumored to have been the private meeting place of King Francoise I and Mary Queen of Scots.  Presently, the château is open only for guided tours.  

“Ah, oui. The turret room will be yours for your stay at the chateau.  You will dine with Monsieur le Marquis tonight, oui?  There will be drinks before we dine.”  This is one time I was thankful to have overpacked– the extra dress I stuffed in my bag at the last minute just happened to be perfect for drinks and dinner with le Marquis.  

Unlike the exterior of the château, our grand round room had been updated– up to late 50s-early 60s style–just a few decades short of present day.  But what the room lacked in modern style was more than made up for in comfort and overall hospitality. 

The Turret - Le Château du Gué-Péan - Loire Valley
The Turret – Le Château du Gué-Péan
Both evenings we met le Marquis in the study for drinks. He had been a member of La Résistance and was kind enough to share with us some of his amazing stories and memorabilia, including letters from Sir Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.  We also got a glimpse of a letter by Marie Antoinette written from prison to her children shortly before her death.  Dinner followed in the grand dining room–truly a setting fit for a king.

 
The food was outstanding, and the conversation delightful.  Monsieur le Marquis’s thickly accented English was difficult for us to understand at times, but our meals with him were the most exciting events of our trip.

We spent the next two days roaming the place, inside and out. I could feel the ghosts of past inhabitants.  From WWI graffiti left by soldiers in the turret, to the paintings hanging throughout, history could be found in nearly every nook and cranny. We were even joined by a friendly, unseen presence that insisted on persistently tilting our bedside lampshade.  With a history as long and storied as that of le château, there’s no telling who — or what — else was hanging out with us.  🙂

Château du Gué-Péan ghost of tilted lampshade :)
Château du Gué-Péan – On the lookout for lampshade tilting presence
We booked the château knowing that it was off the beaten path, and it took quite a bit of difficulty to arrange (understatement).  But both my husband and I just had this feeling about the place and decided to put forth the effort in spite of the obstacles. It paid off. Experiences like this are why we travel. Let’s face it, travel is hard work and can be a lot of trouble, especially in the planning stages.  Our stay could just as easily have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. That’s just the chance one takes when hitting the road. 

My tip?  Follow your instincts and don’t give up if you encounter obstacles. Too many people look at obstacles as a sign that it’s time to give up, but often the most difficult experiences are among the most satisfying. You may even get a tip of the hat–or lampshade–for your trouble.


To locate a Château, Castle, or Palace, research online or contact your travel agent.  


Here’s wishing you safe and happy travels ❤️✨ and an obstacle worth surmounting 💫

Stables on the grounds of Château du Gué-Péan
Stables on the grounds of Château du Gué-Péan


Copyright © 2017.  All rights reserved. Reusing content from this website, for any purpose, is prohibited without express permission from the author.

Did you really see the Northern Lights if there’s no picture?

Constellation Orion Fairbanks, Alaska
Orion the Mighty Hunter – Fairbanks, Alaska
Bucket List item:  Experience the Northern Lights and See a Shooting Star 

“We’ve been doing it all wrong!” said my son as he shook my husband and me awake from a deep slumber. “We need to be out there now! Right now!” he shouted. “We’ve been doing it wrong and I figured it all out. But we’ve got to go now!”

 

It was nearly three o’clock in the morning in Fairbanks, Alaska. My husband, the boys, and I had finally peeled off layers of Michelin man coats and itchy wool and settled in for what was left of the night. After two unsuccessful northern lights viewing attempts stretching into the wee hours of the morning, I was exactly where I wanted to be — in bed in a deep and satisfying sleep. Were our sons not exhausted too?

 

“No, thank you,” I said to my son. He had already gotten the same response from his older brother (like mother, like other son).  But my husband dutifully got up. The two of them once again piled on all their layers of arctic gear and headed out to brave the twelve below zero temperature. They wanted to see what we had flown all the way across the country to see.

 

Several hours later, they returned in a flurry of excitement and pulled out their iPhones to show us the evidence. I could see the disappointment as they flipped through the photos. “These are terrible!” they both agreed. “They didn’t look anything like this.”

“This is not what we saw.  What we saw was so much better!” said my son.  “How do they get those shots to look so good on the postcards?”

They learned the hard way that iPhones aren’t the best cameras for photographing the northern lights. Fortunately we had the rest of the week.  Now we were also privy to insider information on aurora timing since my son had learned to read the online chart.  I had my dSLR camera, a tripod, and a little bit of experience with night shots and long exposures.

 

Several years before, I had spent many long evenings photographing a comet.  I was trying to make the comet appear as if it were about to crash into our home. I never got the shot exactly as I envisioned, but the experience came in handy for this trip.

Comet crash into home
Practicing long exposures / Comet crash
So the next day we took a long nap, ate a late dinner, and got out when my son said it was time to go.  The weather was clear.  It was ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit, so I got out of the car to set up the camera, got back in, and we waited. Ah, family togetherness. We chatted about our travels, pointed out constellations, and watched for falling stars, but the northern lights weren’t cooperating.

 

“We’ll stay just fifteen more minutes so I can get some shots of Orion and the Big Dipper. Someone give me a warmer baklava,” I joked.

“It’s called a balaclava, mom!”

“No, it’s not. It’s a baklava I want,” I was laughing as I jumped out of the warm car to take down the camera. That’s when I saw the cloudy white rays of light, much like sun rays appearing from the horizon. It was around 2:30 am mid-winter and the sun wasn’t due up until around 10:30, so we knew they weren’t sunrays. Something unusual was happening. Everyone jumped out of the car.

White rays of the aurora
The first white rays of the Northern Lights
“Awesome!” said one son.

“I thought they had colors,” said the other.

It would be an understatement to say the cold got to us all very quickly. We were out for twenty minutes, tops. At ten below, even with the best gear, that happens to those of us not accustomed to arctic temperatures.  They piled back into the  car.  I had to get that one last shot.  That’s when I saw the green glow behind them.

northern lights family car
The Northern Lights are behind us!
“Get out! Get out! It’s glowing green…the lights are behind us and they’re green!” It wasn’t long before the white streaks and green glow exploded together into a shimmering, magnetic dance of green and shades of purple across the sky. Nature was treating us to a bucket list performance.

 

Of course, my photos with the dSLR didn’t turn out as I had hoped. Even under the best circumstances, they rarely do. My shutter release cable was broken, and between my shivering hands and wobbly tripod there was quite a bit of camera shake in most of them. Out of over 100 photos, about ten turned out okay.  But that’s fine with me. One decent shot makes me happy 🙂

 

One of the best Fairbanks northern lights pics
The Northern Lights putting on a show in Fairbanks
I have since seen and photographed the northern lights from Abisko, Sweden and Tromsø, Norway. My photography skills have improved a bit.  I’m certainly not an expert but I have learned a few things that may help you.

 

Tip 1—If you’re going mainly for the northern lights alone, make sure you choose a destination with a high likelihood of clear weather and many hours of darkness. Fairbanks, Alaska and Abisko, Sweden are two places that fit that bill.  And not in summer– there’s not much nighttime darkness that far north.

 

Tip 2—If you want to take quality photographs learn about photography; night photography and long exposures in particular. Make sure you understand your camera settings and practice, practice, practice before you leave. There is a wonderful website I wish I had discovered before my first trip to see the lights: www.davemorrowphotography.com.   I don’t know him, but his photos will take your breath away. Also, it’s good to have the following camera accessories:

  • Extra batteries for your camera (the charge runs out more quickly in freezing temps)
  • Tripod
  • Shutter release cord
  • Wide angle lens

 

Tip 3—Dress warmly, in layers. You may spend many hours standing still in freezing temperatures so you need the proper gear. Hand and foot warmers are a lifesaver and can be found at a local camping/outdoor store.  Camera equipment can get really, really cold. 

 

Tip 4—The final tip is to keep an eye on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute forecast at gi.alaska.edu and learn how the map works so you will know the best time for viewing.

 

Here’s wishing you safe & happy travels ❤️✨and, if you’re looking for them, cooperative Northern Lights 💚💜💙💫✨

© 2017 jsf.