Auroras in Abisko

Hej! When I first got back to Sweden after going home for part of the winter break, I still had a week left before classes started. I made the most of this time off of school to go see more of Sweden. One thing that I have made sure to do is explore the country that I am living in for a year. It is so nice and fun to go visit other countries in Europe, as they are a lot closer to me now than when I am in Colorado. However, it has been really important to me that I not only take the time to form a life in Lund, but that I also explore the amazing experiences that Sweden has to offer.

One of my bucket list items was to go above the arctic circle, so I got a Eurail ticket for Sweden in order to take an overnight train from Stockholm to Abisko, one of the northernmost villages in Sweden. While I did a ton of fun activities on this trip (and even spontaneously added an overnight cabin adventure), one of the absolute best aspects of this trip was getting to see the northern lights with one of my best friends in Sweden. A lot of the special winter activities that you can do in Northern Scandinavia are the same activities that we can do in Colorado, so they weren’t the unique part of my trip. And while I had seen the Northern Lights during my time living in Iceland as a child, the show we got on our last night was absolutely breathtaking.

My friend Ellen, a Dutch girl who had studying abroad in Lund last semester, and I were staying at a hostel in Abisko and had bonded with some of the other people in our room and others staying at the hostel in general. Ellen met some other Dutch guy, and the three of us walked down to the lake to see the lights around 9:30 (we could see them when we stepped out of the sauna earlier). On the walk down, there were bands of Northern Lights all around the horizon, and most looked green to the naked eye. There were some ribbons moving to the North, and this one horizontal streak that ran from East to South. I was very happy with getting to see this, and was glad that they stayed even after we got to the lake. They were gorgeous and very prominent so I was content. It was solidly a good show. Even though I come from a great place to view the stars, standing there looking at the stars and Northern Lights was still stunning. I felt very small, and that was the first moment when I truly felt like I was at the end of the Earth.

By around 10:30, all of our friends from the hostel had joined us. Some of the lights to the North had faded out, but we were still enjoying all that we were getting to see. Then, the most impressive thing happened. The long streak running East to South broke into lots of small vertical ribbons, and they came towards us, breaking into the most breathtaking show that I can remember seeing. They danced across the sky at various speeds, with ones breaking away as the entire wall of light moved forwards. The colors got brighter, with green, red, and pink showing to the naked eye. I wish I had words to describe the feeling when the wall came directly over us. It was magical and sublime and frightening all at once. When I was taking AP Lit in high school, we had to read a short story about a woman’s experience seeing a total solar eclipse. I remember that in this story, she talked about this unearthly experience as the shadow of night raced up and past her group. She said that some people screamed and that she felt so alive and terrified at once. I have seen a total solar eclipse, and it was wonderful. But it didn’t incite such a visceral reaction in me. I didn’t understand that story, that feeling, until the moment that the Aurora Borealis was above us. 

At that point, it was no longer a band or dancing ribbons, it had become a waterfall of green light pouring down on us. Along the bottom, there were pink waves that weaved their way through the streaks and shards of green. A red cloud formed in one part to the West, and moved along with the rest of the lights. It didn’t just pass us either, it stayed there for what felt like an eternity. There was a part of the band that curved around and formed a curlicue over the lake. It then was fully above us and turned into the giant green cloud, where I couldn’t identify the individual strands anymore. It was just color and movement. It finally did pass, but more thick bands came by with just as much vibrance. We got a solid 45 minutes of this phenomenal show, which then died back down to a genuinely good set of lights. However, we were all cold after having spent 2.5 hours out in the polar night (and ‘”it isn’t as good as it had been”), so we trekked back up to the hostel. I have included a collection of the amazing photos everyone else took of the Northern Lights. My phone camera is too old to work well with the night lighting and extended exposure, so I got to simply appreciate the show while everyone else was trying to take good photos. I then got to enjoy their best pics in the WhatsApp groupchat titled “Green and pink waterfalls”. 

Overall, seeing the Northern Lights with a friend and a bunch of strangers was one of the most magical experiences that I have had in Sweden. It was even more special that I got to see these while in the country that I am living in for a year. I definitely recommend taking the chance to explore the far reaches of the country you chose to study abroad in instead of only using it as a launching pad for other adventures. On top of getting to experience some of the most amazing things this planet has to offer, there is something very comforting about visiting a new place that has the same language and cultural aspects as the place you’re living. While Abisko was vastly different from Lund, I was able to use the little Swedish I have picked up, and I knew what to expect within the grocery store. I didn’t feel as much like an outsider as I would have if I had gone on this trip elsewhere.



The easiest thing to write about is the weather, as it is the thing that I complain about the most these days. I always joked that my Lund year would be the test to see if I could live in the Pacific North West, as the weather is very similar. I have ultimately decided that it is not for me.

Lund weather isn’t inherently bad. In the autumn, it was gorgeous. We experienced a long fall with many changing colors and slightly chilly evenings. It was a happy relief after it had been extremely hot in August when I first arrived (the area was experiencing a large heatwave my first week). There were a couple moody days with rain, which I used as an excuse to enjoy reading inside and drinking coffee. However, the weather started to turn bad in December. It is now to the worst of it (according to people I complain about the weather with), which I had anticipated. I told my family and friends back home that January and February were going to be the worst months for me, as I am currently taking a very intense masters course, all of my one semester abroad friends went home, and Lund has been covered in a damp grey blanket. 

The weather wouldn’t be too bad if it were just cold. In fact, it has been colder in Colorado practically every day that I have been in Sweden since the break (even when I was above the Arctic Circle). As a proper Colorado kid, I am ready for the cold. What I was not ready for was the rain, wind, and clouds. Every morning of the week, I bike to my applied ecotoxicology course that starts at 9:15. Because it is on the opposite side of Lund, I have a 4.4km uphill ride at 8:30. Mind you, the sun ‘rises’ right around 8:00 right now, so the sky is lit up when I am biking. However, there has always been a heavy sheet of grey that feels as though it is right above the buildings. Somehow, being closer to sea level makes me feel like the sky is closer to the ground (yet it still feels so far away when I am on the top of a Fourteener). My weather app always says that it is just ‘cloudy’ but as soon as I start biking, there is water hanging in the air that sticks to me and soaks my clothes through. I still get just as wet if I wear my rain gear, because then I just sweat as I bike uphill. Add to this the wind (which just makes me feel even slower), and you will find me slowly pedaling up the cobblestone path cursing the Swedish weather every single morning. 

The only thing that makes me feel a bit better about my hatred of the Lund dampness is the fact that everyone else hates it too. In the US, talking about the weather is small talk when there is nothing better to discuss. In Sweden, people love to chat about the weather and how it is impacting everything. The weather is so integral to Sweden that they name their streets after it. The street I live on, Blidvädersvägen, means “mild weather road”. The Swedes have the saying “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga klädder” (There is no such thing as bad weather, there are only bad clothes), which is very accurate for how they seem to handle the gloom and rain. While I convinced myself that the problem is that I don’t have the right clothes, Friday proved to me that the Swedes are actually lying to themselves (and me). 

Friday was the most gorgeous day I have experienced in Lund this semester. There was not a cloud in the sky as I biked to class, and it stayed clear all day. At one point, I was remorseful that I had buried my sunglasses deep in a drawer in the apartment, as I felt blinded by the sun while biking. I appreciated so much just getting to see the blue sky again, and I was not alone. It was still chilly (right around freezing all day), but my classmates all wanted to sit outside for our lunch break. During this, the BeReal time happened (I don’t know if that is the correct terminology) and everyone who had it took a photo of the sky. Throughout our hour-long lunch, some people would break away from the conversation to just close their eyes and face the sun. I met a friend for our weekly fika (coffee and pastry break), and we purposefully repeated a cafe with outdoor seating. I have not seen so many people out and about in Lund since September, but they were all outside on Friday. Another friend mentioned that he had slowed down while biking to purposely miss a green light and get to sit in the sun a bit. I have ultimately decided that the Swedes are just little lizard people, soaking up all of the sunlight and Vitamin D that they can on the one good day they get all month. I think it’s really cute that they all make sure to appreciate the little bit of sun that they have.

The good weather held up through the night, and I biked East of town with three friends in hope of getting to see Comet ZTF (a supposedly green comet that hasn’t been by Earth in 50,000 years). We had tried on Tuesday, when we were supposed to have a clear night. However, Tuesday had been clouded over and we were unsuccessful. On Friday, we could see the stars and we convinced ourselves that we saw the comet because we were looking in the right place (so then we must’ve seen it, obviously). Even if the comet was a bit of a letdown, having a clear night was almost as nice as having a clear day. I miss the blue sky and stars I see at home, so it was good to get it for one day here in Lund. 

I do have high hopes as time progresses, because everyone tells me that the spring in Lund is gorgeous. I don’t know how nice it’ll actually be, but I’m certain I will be happy enough if it simply better than the current conditions. Even if I am not loving the weather, I do appreciate how different it is from Colorado. Getting to experience something different is why I studied abroad, so different weather is okay. And, let’s be real, home has the best weather ever, so it really could only be worse no matter where I went. 😉