cold hands and a warm heart, or, dis arctic excursion

I’ve been looking forward to this past week since literally before spring semester even ended.  I’m, like, 80% sure I signed up for the DIS Arctic Excursion trip before I even signed up for my classes.  And let me tell you, the literal months of anticipation did. not. disappoint.  I think I pinched myself maybe 30 times in the last five days because I couldn’t believe that this was actually my life right now, that I was actually flying through a forest covered in 3+ feet of snow on a dogsled (and that was just the last day!).  Keep reading to hear all about our incredible adventures above the Arctic Circle in Kiruna, Sweden!

During study breaks and on certain weekends, DIS offers “DIScovery Trips” (I love puns), trips to various places around Europe that you might not otherwise see—case in point, Kiruna, Sweden.  Many of the trips are offered to both DIS Copenhagen and DIS Stockholm students, so my group of 14 students was made up of about half students studying in Copenhagen and half in Stockholm!  The trips are also a really good deal for what you get: airfare, transportation, lodging, meals, and the most incredible activities.  You don’t need to plan literally anything except how to get to and from the airport—they take care of the rest!  I’m such a huge proponent of these trips, so if there’s any prospective DIS students out there reading this, drop me a line if you have any questions about this trip! (Or anything else, for that matter).

OK, after this unsolicited shoutout to DIS for the coolest five days of my life, let’s continue.

Wednesday morning we flew from Copenhagen to Stockholm, where we met up with the students who were studying at DIS Stockholm.  From there, we flew from Stockholm into Kiruna.  By the time we landed around 1:30pm, the sun had already set.  Welcome to the Arctic Circle.  It makes 3pm feel like dinner time and 4pm feel like bedtime, so I think my internal clock might need a little adjusting now that I’m back in the light-filled paradise of Copenhagen (the sun setting at 4pm feels so late now!).

We made it to our home base for the next five days: Aurora Camp!  It’s situated along the Torne River and what a home base it was—cabins, hot tubs (!), saunas (!!), and more fluffy, powdery snow than I could have ever dreamed of.  We arrived in the middle of a winter storm which meant that while we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights (though not for lack of trying!) we were treated to an absolute dream of a winter wonderland every single day of the trip.

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Aurora Camp—straight out of a winter wonderland fairytale/snowglobe

The first night brought lots of group bonding (you’d think with two weeks left of the semester I’d be done with icebreakers, but no) along with some cold runs between the cabins, saunas, and hot tubs.  I might never *fully* regain feeling in my feet again, but it was completely worth it to have sat under the stars in a barrel hot tub.

Thursday started with a quick van ride to our morning’s activity: snowmobiling! I’d never been on a snowmobile before but quickly got the hang of it.  By that I mean I quickly got the hang of the feeling of being .2 seconds away from sliding out of control and/or into a tree (neither happened, don’t worry Nana!).  We drove across the frozen river and through the woods and it was so. much. fun.  We stopped about halfway through for a lunch break at a small cabin in the woods (way less sketchy than it sounds, promise) with a roaring fire, soup, and bread & cheese sandwiches warmed up on the coals.  By the time we finished our soup and tea, the sun was fairly close to setting (at 1pm, naturally) and we finished up the last half-hour or so of our adventure in the dusk—by far the best part of the whole morning!

The afternoon brought some more cozy time in our cabins with our wood stove crackling and another night of dinner, group bonding, and sauna time.  It was definitely the most unconventional Thanksgiving Day I’ve had, but it’s a day I’ll remember forever.

Friday morning brought more clouds as we made our way into the city center of Kiruna to learn more about the urban transformation of the city.  We saw the main church of the town—built to look like a traditional Sami tent—and city hall.  Kiruna is home to the third-largest iron ore mine in the world, and the mine is quite literally the beating heart of the city.  Thousands of people are employed by the mining company, LKAB, and the mine pumps out literal tons of iron ore every single day.  However, the mining techniques have rendered the land that Kiruna sits on fairly unstable, so they’re actually in the process of moving the entire city center a few kilometers away from the mine.  The church and the city hall in particular are two buildings that are being moved or reconstructed, along with lots of houses and other buildings.

We then made our way to Nutti Sami Siida, a Sami camp just outside of Kiruna.  After a hot chocolate break (we had a lot of these over the course of five days, and my life is better off for it) we headed over to see the REINDEER, which was the BEST THING EVER!!!!!  Here’s too many some pictures to prove that.

That afternoon (at least I think it was afternoon, except it was dark out so my whole sense of time is a little fuzzy) we drove out to Jukkasjärvi, a small village near Kiruna that’s perhaps best known for its IceHotel, which is where we went!  The rooms are open to visitors to look into during the day, and so our group had a lot of fun walking into every single room to compare the artwork and discuss our favorites.

Saturday started with another van ride, and after a while we pulled to the side of the road, our guides pulled pair after pair of snowshoes out from the back of the vans, and off we went!  The whole morning brought back super fond memories of snowshoeing with my grandparents through the woods near their house when I was growing up; though they happened long ago, they’re still some of my favorite memories of Minnesota winters.  The snow in Kiruna, however, was much deeper than any snow I’d encountered while snowshoeing back home—the person breaking the trail was walking through snow up to their knees! (We switched off on that job since you broke a sweat about four steps in)

The afternoon/darkness brought us to a visit at the LKAB mine, which I mentioned earlier in this post.  The mine has been in operation for years, so as they keep mining deeper there are continually more empty levels.  They’ve transformed one of these levels into a guided tour, complete with a café, visitor’s center, museum, and movie theater…all 500+ meters in the ground.  The whole thing is very dystopian and I’m pretty sure that if/when the world goes up in flames that’s the place I’ll go to hide.

Sunday was our last day (all good things must end, sadly) and we had perhaps our most exciting outdoor adventure: dogsledding!!!! I think my heart grew five sizes when we pulled up on the property and continued to swell as I got to pet SO. MANY. DOGS. At one point when we stopped for lunch I just laid down in the snow and our two lead dogs snuggled up next to me and it might have been the singular best moment of my life.  There were sixteen of us and eight sleds—two people per sled.  One person drove (which mostly just involved breaking every time the dogs got a little over-eager) while one person rode on the sled and we switched off after lunch so everyone could experience both roles.

Pros of sitting: less work, you get to take allllll the cool pictures
Cons of sitting: you get cold as heck, every time you take a turn too sharply you’re 80% sure you’re going to roll into a snowbank

Pros of standing: you’re driving a freakin’ dog sled??????, you don’t get (as) cold
Cons of standing: you don’t get as cold because when there are hills you have to run up them/push the sled to give the dogs less work, sometimes the dogs don’t really care that you’re braking and decide to go anyway

From there, it was off to the airport and back to Stockholm & Copenhagen.  Now it’s just the final push of papers and exams and then the semester is over—two weeks from today I’ll be on a plane back to Minnesota.  I’m deeply in denial.  The semester has absolutely flown by and it doesn’t seem real that I’ve been here for almost four months already!  The DIS Arctic Excursion was such an incredible last trip; when people ask me how it was, I’ve just been saying “the coolest five days of my life,” because nothing else seems to sum up just how amazing it was.  Was it a bummer that we didn’t see the Northern Lights?  Yes, but now I have an excuse to go back to the Arctic one day, which I 140% am going to do.

So thank you, DIS, for the coolest five days of my life (and the best semester of my life, but that’s a post for another day).  Here’s to a cold and wild break.

We did some light-painting with flashlights on one of the nights where we sat out on the river waiting to see the Northern Lights!


4 thoughts on “cold hands and a warm heart, or, dis arctic excursion

    • It was definitely not that warm! It was in the teens every day—getting me ready for winter in MN 🙂 We only saw the sun on the last two days—but it was sooo beautiful when it finally came out!!


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