Sweden, Travelogue

Life above the Arctic Circle

Winter landscape outside the train window

≫ this is a sponsored post in collaboration with SJ ≪

I’m currently on a train headed far north. I have music in my ears, warm coffee in my cup and the beautiful Swedish landscape passing by outside.

This way of traveling through Sweden by train is it, I love it. Being on the road and on my way to new adventures, knowing I’m headed off to new experiences. Traveling by train is sustainable and slow, it becomes a part of the adventure instead of just a means to reach my end destination.

And I’ve been traveling all over Sweden by train ever since I was young, I was probably about six years old the first time. I was born in the far north and had my relatives spread all over the country so we traveled around to visit them. Later I moved down south and started traveling north to go back to visit.

Which is what I am doing now. Going back home to where it all started.

When I leave in the morning a snow storm blows in over the city. The train ride from Sundsvall to Kiruna takes about 10 hours which is a lot but I don’t mind. What I like so much about traveling by train is how homey and comfortable it is. I am fortunate enough to have created a job that I can do wherever, so while the Swedish landscape pass by outside I sit and work on writing blogposts and editing images.

SJ is the biggest train company in Sweden and I feel like I’ve been on one of their trains more times than I can count! It’s so easy to book tickets through their website or app, and I use their app all the time while traveling.

Train station in Sundsvall
SJ train entering the platform
SJ Mobile App
Woman on a train
Working on a train

Kiruna

I arrive in Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, in the evening. It’s cold and quiet, except for the sound of snow mobiles in the far distance. Mining carts occupy parts of the railways and the signs of the mining industry is ever so present. Houses are being moved or torn down and people leave to live somewhere else.

I am here to shoot a wedding at the magical Ice Hotel, located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. I don’t do weddings very often but when the location is as special as this, saying no was not an option.

The hotel was founded in 1989 and is the original hotel made of ice and snow. It’s also Sweden’s most unique and probably most extensive private art hall. Each year it’s reincarnated in a new guise, carefully designed and hand crafted by some 40 artists from around the world. Since 2016 you can sleep inside year-round, cooled by solar power from the midnight sun in summer.

Thor sitting in his hall at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi
Wedding at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi

After my work is done in Kiruna I get back on the train and go back south a little bit to Gällivare, the place where I was born. It’s always nice to see Dundret come into view as the train rolls into the station. It is a mountain most of us highly associate with this city, it’s always there in the background watching over you.

Winter landscape outside the train window
Woman on a train

I have the sternest face ever here cause trying to hold a big DSLR with a big lens with one hand AND take a proper selfie proved… difficult, but I was enjoying the views I promise!

Gällivare

Gällivare train station and Tourist Centre
Gällivare Tourist Centre

This town has the pretties train station I’ve ever been to. Not only is the building beautiful though, they’ve really put it to good use!

They’ve recently moved the tourist centre to be in here which I think is great since all travellers pass through the train station. I talked to Anton who work here and he tells me that they’ve doubled their amount of visitors since they did so.

Here you can get help with what to see and do in town and they also have a store that sells local art and products. For example you can get Lemmelkaffe here. It is the worlds first dark roasted “kokkaffe” that is for boiling over an open fire, and as a huge lover of coffee I have to say I feel proud that this is from my own small home town.

Kokkaffe is the traditional way of preparing coffee in Sweden, in a coffee pot and preferable over an open fire. It’s how I prepare coffee on my stove every morning. It’s a very slow way of making coffee and I really like it.

On the second floor is an ongoing exhibition about the world heritage site Laponia. It’s free and so worth seeing, I truly enjoyed it!

“Laponia’s different types of nature have formed the habitats of plants, animals, insects and people. Profound knowledge of the constant changes in nature has been developed, and has for millennia been a prerequisite for human survival in Laponia.

Laponia contains a wealth of stories and experiences. We who live and work here, and we who come as guests, each contribute in our own way.

Many questions rise in the forms of life in nature and the history of the landscape. To live and survive near nature requires knowledge which has been handed down from generation to generation. Thanks to different types of knowledge we can together better understand , explore and preserve Laponia World Heritage Site.

-Laponia Exhibition

Gällivare Tourist Centre
Gällivare Tourist Centre
Laponia exhibition at Gällivare train station and tourist centre
Laponia exhibition at Gällivare train station and tourist centre

As I walk around the exhibition all by myself, reading stories and looking at the photos with the sound of mosquitoes in the speakers being the only sound I hear – I start to understand something…

I’ve felt anxious trying to write about this town because in all honesty there’s not much to do in the city and I’ve always felt that I don’t like it, and I’ve expressed gratitude towards the fact that we moved away when I was young. But see the town is not why people choose to live here. It’s the nature that’s surrounding the city.

People are proud about the nature and the old ways. About their crafts and their food. When the weekend rolls in people head out to ski, snowboard or hike at Dundret. They go to their cabins or drive away on snow mobiles to go fishing, hunting and to enjoy nature. People live outside here.

A voice in a video on the exhibition talk about how they’re not in tune with the monetary society, but maybe nature should be the one to set the pace instead…

I think about all of this as I walk through town, trying to see everything with new eyes. Malmberget, the sister town of Gällivare, is slowly closing down due to the mine. Houses are being torn down or moved to new areas. Shops close, some for good, while others will re-open in Gällivare and new things are being built – so they are putting a lot of effort in trying to make the town come to life again.

The town Gällivare
The town Gällivare

Dundret is always there, peaking out in between the houses – a strong reminder of nature and the active lifestyle people lead in tune with the outdoors.

Magazin du Nord is my favourite shop in town, and I always make sure to visit them when I am here. The owner tells me people were surprised when she opened her shop up here, they thought it was a store more fitted for a bigger town like Stockholm. But that’s why she’s managing to stay alive here, there’s no other store like it.

Magazin du Nord, Gällivare
Magazin du Nord, Gällivare
Magazin du Nord, Gällivare

After my visit in town I meet up with Amanda who just finished a photo job for one of her clients. She runs Explore More Media and if you want to read more about life up here, you should definitely check out her blog Explore A Little More!

I talk with her about my thoughts about town and nature, and what I’ve learned during the day. She agrees and says that they sometimes complain about the fact that nothing is available in town, but then they realise that it’s hard for stores to survives since she and people her age don’t really spend time in town anyways – cause they go outside.

Amanda recently got a new office space in Repisvaara, a brand new neighbourhood that’s being built from scratch. It’s not even on Google Maps yet, and they’re still waiting for a bus stop and a grocery store. Her office is in a beautiful old building that was moved here from Malmberget and from the windows she has a wonderful view over Dundret.

She plans to keep her skis and snowboard at the office from now on. She can sit there and work but if she sees that the weather is nice, or the light is good, she can easily head out to the ski hills or to hike and take photos.

Living up here is about embracing the long, dark winters and the mining industry. Seeing the magic of the northern lights and enjoying the many winter activities available. Revelling in the bright summer nights under the midnight sun, making coffee over an open fire and swatting mosquitoes away while picking cloud berries in autumn.

Living above the arctic circle is about more than being close to nature, here you’re a part of it.

Woman drinking coffee infront of her computer
Laptop, calendar and coffee
A dog in front of a dinner table
Snow and fir trees on Dundret, Gällivare
Hiking sign on Dundret, Gällivare
Woman on a winter walk with her dog
View over Gällivare

≫ this is a sponsored post in collaboration with SJ ≪


Published by Rania Rönntoft

In the forests of Sundsvall, the small northern town between two mountains, Rania found herself and her passion: living a slower life rich in experiences instead of things. Here she works as a freelancing photographer, content creator and photography teacher. Through her pictures she wants to inspire others to spend more time outdoors and show that the adventure is not far away. She travels a lot in Scandinavia and works with other destinations to promote our beautiful country, she also arranges workshops on visual storytelling and local adventures.

4 thoughts on “Life above the Arctic Circle”

  1. Emelie says:

    Som vanligt, otroligt fina bilder!

  2. ulrica says:

    Fantastiska bilder, som alltid :). Och inlägget är riktigt härligt skrivet, jag känner att jag bara vill läsa mer!! Får jag vara fräck och fråga vilken brännvidd du kört på? Gillar känslan av riktig vidvinkel men ändå utan förvrängningen.

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