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.