Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eliza in Copenhagen!

   I woke up on March 27th to a text message from a dear friend I have known since middle school, notifying me of the times and dates for her trip to Sweden. This was during a time of immense homesickness for me, and the idea that a loved one would no longer be 4000 miles away was exciting. Even more exciting, though, was the idea that Kiruna, Sweden, is only a day’s train journey away from where I am staying in Copenhagen.
 Lærke visiting Nyhavn (Lærke is a feminine name meaning “lark” in Danish.
I furiously researched train tickets and hostels before calling my friend when I knew she would be awake to hear of my hasty scheme. The plan was that I would come join her to share in the experience of (hopefully) seeing the northern lights. She responded with excitement, so I packed my backpack, got some Swedish Krona, bought my train tickets, and began my long journey. -21 hours later- I arrived in Kiruna to see that the path I needed to take to my hostel had not been cleared of snow; instead, the pavement was piled high with snow that went up to my knees. Fortunately, I love snow; unfortunately, I hate when my socks get damp. I pressed on through the snow, using a compass and a map to get to the hostel; I felt very rugged. This ruggedness continued when I met my friend for dinner in a Lavvu (a traditional tent of the indigenous Laplanders, looks a bit like a teepee) made of reindeer hide and ordered a traditional reindeer dish with some hot lingonberry juice. The reindeer was great. It tasted a bit like steak, and the juice tasted a bit like a cranberry tea my mother will occasionally make for family holidays. 

   On the next day, April 1st, my friend and I ate breakfast while discussing the April Fools pranks we had seen so far before taking a taxi to the world-famous ice hotel. It’s built from the ground up every year using the ice from the nearby river and the talents of artists from all over the world. It was very cool (I do love a pun)!
These Ice blocks each weigh more than a tonne!

   We spent some time at the cafe, which was not made of ice, before catching a bus to go dogsledding. The dogs and their colleagues were really friendly. We put our things in the yurt we would sleep in before having a fish stew for dinner. I don’t care for fish, but it was quite nice. The mushers let each of us harness one of the dogs for the journey. The one I harnessed was named Nellie “the Pirate Dog,” nicknamed such because she is missing an eye. She was so calm and affectionate with me. She looked up at me and leaned against my leg as I scratched her ears with one hand and pulled her legs through the harness with the other. Once attached to the sled, each dog became instantly energetic. They were pulling, barking, and wagging their tails like mad. Luckily, the sled was anchored! The minute the anchor was released, we took off down the trail.

When the dogs get thirsty, they lick at the snow on either side of the trail

My time on that sled was magnificent! The sunset reflected softly over the snow as we slid over small hills and frozen lakes. It’s very difficult to capture what I felt while sledding. If you know me personally, you will know that I don’t cry very often. I cried no fewer than 3 times on that dog sled, overwhelmed by the beauty and strength of the dogs tearing through the snow-covered landscape as the stars emerged overhead. We did end up seeing the aurora, but it wasn’t with the dogs. We drove to a small town called Abisko to scope out a spot in the natural park away from the lights of nearby civilization.  We wandered for a few hours, coming across a stunning frozen waterfall, a tiny cave that I could barely fit into, and a bridge high over a still river, the perfect spot for seeing the aurora. 

The whole world seemed to calm down as we stood in the park.

   When we came back at about 10 pm, the lights were vibrant, streaking across the stars like performance ribbons. 
We watched the aurora for about 4 hours before it faded. 

I truly cannot put into words what this experience means to me. I am thrilled that I got to have this adventure with a beloved friend. Oddly, I am reminded of an epitaph I read in Pennsylvania graveyard, “What we keep in memory is ours forever.” I am honored to share this memory with someone I love.