By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
There was never a truer title because I’m filing this story from about 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle in Kiruna, Sweden. This is not my first foray into all things Arctic. In 2015, when my sister Marcia and I, after taking a detour on our way to Israel that wasn’t on the itinerary, went to Tromso, Norway, the northernmost city in the world. Since then, we’ve had a “jones” for that eerie midnight sun glow. Now we’re experiencing it in Sweden with two traveling companions, Becky and Shelly, both from suburban Detroit.
Marcia and I planned this trip back in January to get out of the California summer heat. We chose Kiruna not just because the sun never sets there in June during the summer solstice, but because it is the furthest possible destination in Sweden, a country where neither of us had ever been.
When friends have asked if we had travel plans this summer, my answer has been “We’re going to northern Sweden for the summer solstice–the longest day of the year–where the sun doesn’t set.” Often the response has been, “Oh, you’ll see the northern lights?” Listen up people: There is NO Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) where it doesn’t get dark!
Getting to the top of the world is not for weenies. We left the house at 10:30 a.m. to fly from San Francisco to Amsterdam (10 hours), with a traumatic layover at Schipol Airport. The throng of passengers standing in line to get through passport control was staggering. Then we took a nearly milelong hike to the wrong gate (posted incorrectly) and a mile back. Miraculously, we did make our flight to Stockholm.
This all preceded an interminably long overnight train to Kiruna (18 hours), both of us crammed into a berth for two, the size of my storage closet at home, about 30 square feet. I couldn’t stretch my arms across the width of the cabin. When the purser came to collect tickets and opened our door, our rolling luggage shot out into the hall where the purser fended them off with her feet.
I “slept” on an 18” bed. I prayed that when the train lurched, I didn’t roll off. In reality, there was no room on the floor for me to land!
Now we’ve been in transit from Monday morning through Wednesday dinner. I haven’t slept in days. The fact that it’s full daylight here 24/7 doesn’t help. But I still love it here. I can’t get enough of this crazy light. I feel like I’m in a movie where the filmmaker has put an odd filter on the lens.
We’re settled into a hotel complex surrounded by nature with individual cabins near the central building, as well as a lounge, shops, and a terrific restaurant.
Our first dinner was stellar. I enjoyed Zander, a local fish that resembles freshwater walleye, in a cream sauce with pickled onions and potatoes. The breakfast the next day did not disappoint. The massive buffet featured a charcuterie that included house smoked gravlax and dill herring, crêpes with lingonberries and blueberries, fresh yogurt, eggs with deep yellow yolks, porridge, and homemade breads, jams and sweets.
After this fabulous breakfast, we visited the schizophrenic town. What makes it so crazy? Kiruna has the largest iron ore mine in the world and because of many years of excavation, the city is sinking nearly 500 feet a year! So, the government is moving the buildings one by one to a new location three miles away. Which one should we visit? The old part is desolate as most of the businesses have already moved.
The new center is a giant construction site with unfinished roads, scarce sidewalks, and very few signs. Where were we? It felt like a soulless city created from nothing. Well, I guess it was!
From there, we visited The Ice Hotel, one of the main reasons for our visit to Kiruna. The hotel, built in 1989, is made out of solid ice and is kept at 17 degrees. We donned heavy parkas before entering. It is a wonderland of stunning ice sculptures. Each guest room has a different theme. Guests sleep on blocks of ice like oysters on the half shell! No thank you. Touring the hotel was enough for me.
Last night, we sussed out one of the best street foods in Sweden from the Stejk Food Truck. Don’t ask. I am not a sub person; however, I never knew a sub could taste so good. Mind you it was reindeer and bacon, not your everyday combination. You could also get a moose reindeer burger.
Today, we took the rare opportunity to visit a dog sledding kennel. They have 100 Alaskan huskies there, which are mixed with different breeds. Very few look like classic Siberian huskies. We were able to take a cart ride through the woods, being pulled by a six-dog team. These animals are thrilled to work. At the end of the visit, we sat in a small wooden structure, with hot coffee brewed over an open fire. Delicious small cardamom cinnamon sweet rolls were served.
Lunch at our resort was a beautifully presented fixed menu that began with a smorgasbord of herring, eggs, potatoes, dill, and trout roe. The main course was roast chicken breast with lingonberry sauce and risotto with asparagus and spinach. Perfect creamy cheesecake with fresh strawberries rounded off the meal.
We’re on our way to Stockholm for four nights, this time by plane instead of the train. Stayed tuned next week for my Stockholm experience. Sorry, no moose reindeer burger recipe today as I do not have the ability to cook here. It’s nice to have someone else cook and serve me for a change!
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.