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. 


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


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. 


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 😊



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

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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:   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 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.