Friday, February 28, 2014

Night Train to Riksgränsen and Alpine Skiing

We had been talking about taking a trip up north to see the Northern Lights, experience some colder weather and to see some actual snow since the winter in Stockholm has been pretty mild.  Jake started planning this trip on his own but then he decided maybe it would be best for us to plan it together to see what we really wanted to do.  We actually booked the trip about a week before we left so we didn't have much time to prepare.

We took a night train from Stockholm to Riksgränsen on Friday, February 21st.  Our train was supposed to leave at 10:40 pm on Friday night by once we got to central station we noticed the train had been delayed until 11:53.  Thankfully we didn't have any plans on Saturday that would be ruined but we were supposed to switch trains in Boden.  We only had 10 minutes to switch trains which was a problem considering our train was an hour and 13 minutes late.  While we were waiting on the train we thought about skipping the night train and just taking a flight.  The train takes 18 hours to get there and the flight is only an hour and a half.  We thought that train would be a fun way to see more of Sweden than we would be able to see from the air. We ultimately decided to just take the train and hope that it would all work out.  While we were waiting for our train I saw two of my students.  One from each school.  Schools in Stockholm had sport break during week 9 (in Sweden they use week numbers which actually makes lots of sense, but for my American friends that is the week of February 24th) which just means they have a week off from school and most of the kids go skiing.  I knew a few kids would be going up on a night train at the same time as we were but I didn't think I would see them.  

When it was time to head to the platform we noticed a family with three sleeping boys, it was almost midnight, and lots of luggage so we decided to ask them if they would like some help.  Jake and I took some of their luggage while the parents woke up their kids and carried the rest of their luggage.  Their youngest son, who was maybe four, had a hard time waking up.  He was standing in front of his dad and fell back asleep.  It was hilarious watching him try to stay standing while sleeping.  We made it to the platform and they were able to load the rest of the luggage without our help.

We reserved a sleeping car since it was a night train and we don't sleep well in chairs :).  We found our cabin and when we walked in it smelled like stinky boys!  It was awful!  The lights were off and there were already three people sleeping.  Awesome.  Jake and I had the two top bunks and the third person that got on in Stockholm had one of the bottom bunks.  We decided to go use the restroom and brush our teeth before we started making our beds so that we didn't have to climb up more than once.  While we were waiting for the bathroom Jake said he thought the top bunks should smell better and I was really hoping he was right.

It ended up smelling much better on our top bunks.  We had a nice shelf to put our backpacks, we made our beds and then tried to get some sleep.  I had a really hard time falling asleep.  When one of the train workers stopped by our cabin to check our tickets the other girl in our cabin asked about making the connection for the other train since we were over an hour late.  He said that we would still make it.  That made me think they were going to go really fast to make up the time so every corner we took I was paranoid that we were going to fly off the tracks.  Over analyze much?  We survived and it was better than we thought it would be when we first walked into our cabin.

The two stinky boys left before we got out of bed so we didn't get to meet them but we hung out with a girl from China who is studying in Stockholm and a man who was moving back north after living in Stockholm for the past 49 years.  

Here is a short video from the train ride.

Jake thought we should try to pack in backpacks since we would be staying in a different place each of our four nights and we didn't know how much snow we might have to roll bags through.  I am an over-packer.  I like to be prepared and we were skiing which meant we would have ski pants, ski gloves, goggles and lots of layers but we did it.  Two backpacks for 5 days and 4 nights.  By the end of the trip I had mentioned several times how thankful I was that we didn't have rolling bags. 

We ate breakfast on our first train.  I had an apple and a cinnamon roll and Jake had a roll with cheese, a yogurt drink and some coffee.  The food choices were lacking a bit and we started to get a little bit worried about what the lunch choices would be.  We thought they choices would be similar to a ferry that we took in the fall that had actual sandwiches but it wasn't looking like that would be the case. 

We were on the first train from 11:53 pm on Friday until 12:00 pm on Saturday.  They held our connecting train in Boden which was great since we originally only had 10 minutes to transfer and our first train was over an hour late.  We were on the second train for about 6 hours so our total time by train was about 18 hours.  We had lunch on the second train.  It wasn't great.  We noticed that most people brought food so we made a mental note to do that next time.  Our lunch was a whole bag of chips, an orange, another cinnamon roll, coffee and some candy. 
Another video from the train.

Here was our route.  We started in Stockholm, switched trains in Boden and got off the train in Riksgränsen, Sweden which is on the border of Sweden and Norway.  We didn't get to Riksgränsen until 6:00 pm so our plan for the night was to hang out at the hotel, eat dinner at 8:00 and then go to bed early so we could ski the next day.  When we checked in we found out we got a room upgrade.  We were supposed to be in a ski room which basically had bunk beds.  So the upgrade to the hotel room sounded great to us.  We went to the ski shop to get fitted for our skis and then headed to dinner.  We had reservations for 8:00 pm but since breakfast and lunch were both less than nutritious we decided to go down early to see if we could get a table and thankfully they were able to seat us.
I had a moose steak with potatoes and Jake had the buffet.  The moose steak had good flavor but it was pretty fatty.  After dinner we walked around outside hoping to see the Northern Lights.  I didn't know much about the Northern Lights before our trip other than what I've seen in pictures.  The lights are on a scale from 0-10 as far as intensity goes but then you also need a clear night and a dark place to go see the lights.  We saw some lights on our walk but they weren't as brilliant as we thought they would be.  It was hard getting away from the lights of the ski resort and I got a little freaked out walking to darker places.

We woke up early the next morning to grab some breakfast and then hit the slopes since we only could ski for half of a day.  The lifts by our hotel only had blue and red runs so we asked if someone could take us to the other lift that had some green runs so we could warm up a little.  I've only been skiing twice and Jake hasn't ever been to a real mountain to ski, only to the little hill in the Kansas City area, so we definitely needed to ease our way into it.  They took us to the other life on a snowmobile!  Jake road in a cart attached to the back and I road behind the guy driving.  It was really fun riding on the snowmobile until we went straight down a hill.  I was terrified but we survived :).
The view from our window our first morning in Riksgränsen.
When we got to the mountain we were the only ones on the slopes for at least 30 minutes.  It was opening weekend for the ski resort but most people were heading home since it was a Sunday so the slopes were pretty empty.  I was confused as to why this was their opening weekend because they have had snow for a while but after talking with someone I realized it has been too dark and too cold to ski that far north.  

We went down three greens and then Jake was ready to move on to bigger and better things.  We headed over to a bigger lift to go down some blues.  I'm used to using chair lifts when I go skiing.  They had platter or button lifts where you put a pole between your legs and it pulls you up mountain.  We did fine on the one to the greens but the bigger lift was a little awkward and we both wiped out trying to get on the lift.  I have a nice bruise to show for it now.
A Platter or Button lift.  I picked the one picture I could find that didn't have a kid as the model :).
We spent the rest of our time going down blues.  For Jake's first time skiing he did awesome.  I on the other hand was a little bit of a mess.  I get so nervous when I ski.  I'm afraid I'm going to blow out a knee or fall off the mountain.  This is my third time skiing and I'm just not sure I really enjoy it.  Part of my problem was that I felt like I was holding Jake back and since it was just us we had to stick together.  He did a great job of waiting for me whenever he would get ahead.  I think if we do go skiing again it would be better to go in a bigger group so he can go try crazy things with other people who aren't terrified and I can go down greens and easy blues :).
We only have a few pictures of us skiing because it was so cold we didn't want to bring our camera and anytime we I wanted a picture Jake would have to take his gloves off.  It was 14°F when we started skiing and 17°F when we finished so it was pretty chilly.  We were plenty warm in our layers but Jake wasn't a fan of stopping to take pictures since we only had a few hours and his hand would get cold.

On our last run Jake wanted to do another blue but I was done for the day so we split up.  I was nervous that one of us would get hurt but I was going down a green that I had already done twice so I thought I would be fine and Jake was going down a blue and there were actually a few people on the blues so he should be okay.  We were going to meet up to take the very last run down to the resort.  I ended up accidentally following him too far and I had take my skis off and climb up a little hill or end up going down another blue with him.  I decided climbing would be best :).

We met up after our solo runs and then headed back to the resort.  The last run was a blue to get to the resort and there were at least two fences up to catch you because the drop off on the side of the mountain was so steep.  You could say I was not a fan.

We returned our equipment, had some lunch and hopped on another train headed to Kiruna, Sweden.

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