I left off my previous post, which concluded my adventure along the northernmost section of the Kungsleden in Sweden, on the afternoon of September 10th. I shall pick up my story here.
Folke, the teacher who I had befriended on the hike, had offered me a ride into Kiruna, which he said would be a much nicer place than Nikkoulakta to stay for the next two days, on the bus the class was riding back on. He also offered to put me in touch with his aunt, Karin, who lived in Kiruna! I gladly accepted his generous offer and it was arguably the best choice I had made on my trip up to that point.
I slept most of the bus ride into Kiruna but when we got to the station Karin was there waiting for us. I had hardly said my name before I was putting my pack in the back of her car and she was pulling out of the lot. Folke only had about 45 minutes before his train to Stockholm so the tour had to begin immediately! I could tell that Karin was very interested in the history of Kiruna as she showed us the iron ore mine (the largest in the world!) that was basically solely responsible for the city’s existence. Other stops on the tour included the first house built for the mine, the personal history of the mine’s founder, and general facts about Kiruna’s past and present. It was really interesting! The part I found most incredible was that the mine was relocating a massive part of the city so that it could continue operating deeper. Karin was able to point out which buildings were getting relocated, torn down, replaced, and the timeline for the entire operation!
I had assumed that I would be dropped off somewhere near to the city center before we took Folke back because no other plans had been discusses but I rode back, said goodbye to and confirmed seeing Folke in Malmö in a few days, and prepared to go find a camping spot. But Karin encouraged me back into her car and drove me to her home! It was funny because I just thought I was getting a bit of an extended tour until she stopped in front of a row of houses and said I could stay with her. I was so relieved and truly thankful for this offer. I couldn’t believe my luck and made a point to myself to never forget how many opportunities a smile and friendly demeanor can unlock for you.
Karin was feeling under the wearher from battling a cold (yet she was still more than happy to host me! Incredible!) so she set me out with directions to the city center, told me that I could join her for dinner at 6pm, and then laid down to rest. But not before nearly exposing my biggest weakness… bike riding. She had been pretty insistent on pulling her bike out so I could use it to get around despite saying I would be more than happy to walk. I was saved the embarrassment of her finding out that “I haven’t ridden a bike in forever” actually meant “I don’t know how to ride a bike” when she couldn’t find the key to unlock the wheel lock. Whew.
I was on cloud 9 on my way into the city. Despite my terrible night and running on mere hours of sleep, my smile didn’t break the entire afternoon. I relaxed in the Scandic lobby to use their wifi most of the day. The next part of my trip would be a doozy of city hopping and I needed to get a plan formed. Plus, social media addiction is a real thing.
When I got back to Karin’s, I almost laughed out loud at my luck. Sitting in the oven was a heap of chicken! I had missed fresh protein, especially chicken, so much that I actually spent a portion of a hike the previous week thinking of ways I could transport it. And there it was filling my nostrils with gorgeous, delicious frangrance. Hopefully Karin wasn’t expecting to have leftovers! *don’t worry she told me during that she hadnt* This fantastic woman even busted out the ice cream for me!
After a scalding hot shower and a lengthy back stretch, I passed out in a real bed before it was even 8pm.
Thursday, September 11th
I slept for 12 hours that night and I have no regrets at all. Totally unlike my sleeping habits for the past few years but I wasn’t going to complain. After breakfast with Karin, during which she read me the international affairs section of the newspaper, and some tent repairs, I accompanied her to City Hall where she needed to pick up supplies for the voting station she’d be running that Sunday. While we were there I learned she had served in the local government for several years and got a tour of all the meeting rooms as well as the incredible artwork, placed there by a unique scholarship the city gives out every year, that covered every space of wall in the building. The scholarship essentially gives an artist a sponsored exhibition by the city and a guaranteed purchase by the city from said exhibition. The place was literally an art museum. They had so many pieces that they were even in the individual offices!
After that, Karin dropped me off at the head of a nice little trail that circled around and up the back of the ski hill that overlooked Kiruna. She was feeling poor again, so I was more than happy to get out of her hair for awhile.
The hike, called the Trail of the Midnight Sun, was only about 4 kilometers but still gave some great views of the surrounding mountains and, once on top of the ski hill, Kiruna itself. The sun was accompanying me on this hike, too, so I wasn’t going to miss it! At the top of the ski hill there is an abandoned hotel construction site (Karin said they didn’t get all the right permits before breaking ground) that was a lot of fun to explore. It was there I realized my inability to decipher graffiti (a conclusion that would later be reinforced in Copenhagen). Overlooking the city and mine was also very cool. I was able to see a lot of the buildings, relocation efforts, and historical sections of the city that Karin had told me about. Then I got to run down! A pair of skis and some snow wouldve been more convenient, though. Maybe thats what I will do this winter…
I laughed at the snow machines that were being stored at the bottom of the mountains. Of all the places in the world, the last place I figured I would see a snow machine was in northern Sweden.
I kept the trail up all the way until it dropped me off in the city. I explored the shops and looked for a nice cafe to have lunch in. I decided on Cafe Rost, which sat above the bus station. I spent my entire afternoon researching the Mont Blanc hike (I had to make a decision about whether to do the hike at the very end (and slightly past) of the season or go to Spain and Portugal). I also splurged on a piece of carrot cake and it was heaven.
I picked up a few groceries on the way back to Karin’s and cooked a quick dinner. Karin got back shortly after so I made us some tea and we sat talking about politics, particularly the Palestinian/Israeli conflict (another example of my Jewish identity showing itself on this trip). Then it was another night of glorious sleep!
*While I recognize that this post is being written well past the actual date and covers multiple days, I want to make a special note about the unique experience I had remembering the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in an international environment.
Karin only made one mention of it at the very beginning of the day and I saw a few articles in her newspapers but it was weird to not have it at the focal point of everyones day. I read an article about the different ways counties covered the attacks and it was an incredible insight. While I am far from the guy who thinks the world is obsessed with the US, it was surprising to not have a lot of dialogue or news or memorials. It was eye opening to see a cultural blindness that is so obviously there but rarely admitted. And I am talking about me! It was ignorant of me to think that Sweden or any other country would mourn or cover the attacks the way that the States would. To prove my point, who can tell me what Anzac day is without googling it?
But I do believe that, particularly in a European environment which is seeing a horrifying revival of hateful, racist, and violent thoughts and politics, the hate-fueled attacks that literally changed the world as we knew it back then should have been given more emphasis. On that day 13 years ago and remembering it just a few weeks ago, I was, as a US citizen, a son, a brother, a Jew, and all the other facets of my being, shook to the core by the idea that anywhere in the world there was a harbor for such hateful ideology. Especially when I thought about all the language, cultural, religious, and socio-economic barriers that I had broken with so many people (and how it is something we don’t spend nearly enough resources on doing on a mass scale) it blew my mind that something like those attacks could happen. Because the unavoidable truth is that we have far too many historical examples and present resources for these ideas to have any presence in society whatsoever. Yet here they are, not dying out but gaining more support!
It is through educating and remembering the horrifying results that hate brings to the world that we can begin to push back these ideas. Yes, it is a painful and daunting task. Why would anyone want to remember such things? So you dont have to relive them. And dont join in the pointless ‘Merica chanting and unproductive quote retweeting that has unfortunately gripped my generation. DO SOMETHING. Engage in new dialogue about what you truly feel and push your limits to expose yourself to new opinions and views. Toss away your air of superiority and the bald-eagle-badass persona and actually take a stand against the hate that has consumed far, far too many lives. Because whether they were soldiers or office workers or children or parents or Christians or Muslims doesn’t matter. What matters is that they were human. And their memory needs you to see through the titles and stereotypes and realize that.*
Friday, September 12th
After another great night’s sleep and a huge breakfast with Karin, I took some more time in the city center to check off things on the to do list. Mainly my Turkish visa which was honestly just an annoying, money grabbing, five minute process online. But it is done and accepted so hooray!
I would be departing for Ostersund that afternoon so I looked over the tent repairs and finished packing things back up. Karin took me to see the incredible church that sits overlooking Kiruna. The all woof, angular structure had been built by the mining company as a sort of tax break with the city. It was gorgeous. I particularly liked the different approach it took to its spiritual identity. The statues were not of the saints but rather the different human emotions, the horoscope could be seen on the altar, and Karin told me that the one, foot long cross resting on the altar was the only identifying religious symbol in the entire building. In a way, its lack of outward symbolism made it a more spiritual place.
After that final part of my three day Kiruna tour, Karin dropped me off at the rail station. I gave her a huge hug, thanked her for her sharing her knowledge and story and home with me, and promised to say hi to Folke for her before stepping on my train!