First Rattle Out of the Bag

Pilsner Korv are beer sausages and apparently Mr. Bullens has nice ones

When I awoke this morning, I remember thinking for the first time in a very long time, "It's too early, I don't want to get up!" even though it was nearly 8:00 a.m. - well past my usual rising time.  It felt so good under that duvet and six hours of sleep seemed to have done little to mitigate the deep weariness I had arrived with.  But I had a few chores to attend to, the first of which was finding something tasty for breakfast and so grudgingly evicted myself from the warm nest I had been curled into.

I was dressed and headed to the dining room in short order to scope out the hotel's complimentary breakfast offerings, but memories of various free breakfast atrocities from budget hotels across the U.S. made me skeptical of what I might find.  My trepidation couldn't have been more misplaced, however, as I was greeted by a sumptuous spread complete with a gleaming candelabra whose burning tapers lit the charming room with a soft yellow light (remember, the sun wouldn't rise for several more hours). The tables were loaded with a wide range of intriguing foods, many of which were new to me.  I opted for a sampling of items including a deviled egg topped with caviar and scallion creme fraiche, a wide ribbon of house-cured salmon and a knob of cheese with deep blue veins.  Needless to say my breakfast was absolutely delicious.

After breakfast, I ventured out to visit a nearby grocery store to pick up some provisions since I would be cooking for myself most of the next week and wasn't certain what supplies I'd be able to find in Abisko (official population: around 100).  The grocery store is always one of my favorite destinations to visit when I travel since what people buy to eat and conduct their daily lives transmits so many nuances about a culture.
Shopping at the grocery store in Kiruna quickly reminded me that what I had read about the Swedes paying a good bit more for their foodstuffs than we do in the United States was absolutely true.  For example, having enjoyed a pear at breakfast, I added one to my cart and was a bit shocked to see the final price come in close to $5.  Swedes are not apparently big consumers of fresh produce, but  as a result, diced bacon was considerably more affordable, to my surprise and delight.  As I stood in the check out line with my selections I was relieved to discover, as I'm sure you are, that Tom vill ha Katie tillbaka!  Some things are the same the world over, aren't they?

I returned to the hotel where I rounded up my suitcases so I could make my way to the Kiruna train station,  My first stop was the bus station where I was tickled to find a ROCKET in the parking lot!  I had forgotten that the Esrange Space Facility is 40km from Kiruna and that outer space is one of the big employers here (besides the iron mine - more on that later).  If you look at the horizon behind the rocket in the photo at left, you'll see the setting sun - at 1:00 p.m.!  When we pulled out of  the train station shortly before 3:00, the last tenuous rays of light were disappearing and the darkness allowed me to watch as sparks thrown from the rails illuminated the clouds of snow that were being stirred up by the passage of the train.

It was a short hour and a half ride to Abisko, where I had to haul my bags up another snowy hill (when will I learn to pack lighter?) and was soon ensconced in a tiny but busy hostel near the train station.

After settling in a bit to my bunk in a six bunk room, I decided to prepare some dinner using my precious groceries.  Diced bacon, mushrooms, onions and zucchini with spicy tomato pesto over pasta.  It was delicious, but I was still so weary that I couldn't eat much.

As I was picking through the remainder, trying to muster interest enough to finish, other hostelers began coming in to excitedly report that the aurora was awake and active.  That managed to divert my weariness in an instant and I threw on my coat to run outside and see what all the fuss was about.  Sure enough, the aurora was pulsing from one side of the sky to the other!  I ran back inside to suit up properly and get my camera gear assembled.  I was so excited I forgot the memory card stuck in my computer and had to trek back down the hill I had just hiked up to get a better view in the full darkness.  No matter, though - I was so thrilled that it didn't even register.  When I returned to the top of the hill behind the hostel (where a helipad is conveniently located for sky watchers) I started taking photos and watching the skies.  I was amazed to see that it wasn't necessary to focus my attention to the north, there were auroras firing off in every direction I looked.  The persistent but thin cloud cover diffused the light sufficiently that the color photographed as a dull aqua, I however was not able to see any color with my own two eyes.

As I was making the photo above, I realized that I was looking directly at the Big Dipper.  It took a moment for me to take in how incredibly large and bright the dipper was from these northern climes.  Check it out in this poorly executed photo - even though it's a bit blurry, you can see the intensity and size of the thing.  No telescopic lens needed!

I spent a good hour in the freezing cold drinking in the dance of light above me and snapping photos.  My photos didn't turn out very well, but catching a good image of the aurora borealis is almost as ephemeral as the phenomena itself.  I didn't worry because I knew I'd likely have several other good opportunities to do a better job.  It was really enough to stand under the pulsating heavens and be so, so, so happy to be alive.

1 comment:

Austin Condos said...

Great pics and what an adventure so far!

I'll have to share Sarah and my story about chasing the Northern lights 2 summers ago in Wisconsin. We never saw anything like what you photographed.