Nikitas Arctic Top 20
When I first booked my tickets to Scandinavia and the Arctic, the first thing I did was establish my Arctic Top 20 – Or my Nordic Bucket List! I had never seen the snow before, so a lot of my bucket list items are probably really boring to most people, but they were all something that my heart was aching to experience!
For as long as I can remember, I had dreamed of some day exploring Norway and the Arctic Circle. Lands long dominated by family feuds and viking raids. The wonderment of old Norse Mythology. And of course, those illusive Northern Lights.
Throughout 2014, I felt as though I had lost all sense of who I was as a person. I had lost my passion for life. I decided to bite the bullet, and finally book my DREAM trip to Scandinavia, and I wanted to do it all on my own. I had this massive itch to get up and explore, and to reconnect with myself. To switch off social media, and discover what life has to offer. My boyfriend joined me for two weeks, but I was adamant that I was doing the rest of the 2 months by myself. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone. Challenge myself in areas that I normally wouldn’t challenge, and just basically spend two months just being. I had very loose plans, no accommodation booked, and no set itinerary – all of which I concluded would be ingredients to help me get back a zest for life!
Before my trip started, I wrote myself the following letter to refer to when I was feeling lonely and sad (which is bound to happen when you spend 2 months with only yourself for company!)
“Dear my future-self,
This is the trip you’ve been waiting a lifetime for. Time for solitude, reflection and to re-kindle your relationship with yourself. Find your independence and truly live! There will be times when you’re sad, or lonely, unmotivated, tired, bored and wishing that you weren’t alone. But just remember: you are EXACTLY where you need to be and experiencing exactly what you should be. It happened now for a reason. Forget the feelings above and remember that there will also be times where you’re excited, overwhelmed, grateful, ecstatic, buzzing and your jaw-dropping at this incredible experience – LIVE IN THESE MOMENTS. Truly enjoy the company you keep. The world is your oyster”
THE ADVENTURE STARTS HERE:
1. Make a Snow Angel
The obvious choice for someone whom has never seen the snow before – you make a snow angel. What the movies don’t show you, is the shock to your system when the freezing cold snow manages to creep up your pants or down the back of your jacket!
2. Pet an Icelandic Horse
When you’re sitting in front of the computer at your day job that you don’t necessarily like; a common activity may include google-searching images of far away places that you long to travel to. You know, just to make yourself that little bit more miserable about your life (guilty!). While I would sit there and trawl the internet for pictures of Iceland, the Icelandic Horses always caught my attention. They’re so inquisitive and such good models for the camera! Naturally, you will see them everywhere in Iceland, so petting one was definitely on the to-do list!
3. Stand at the foot of an amazing waterfall, and feel the raw power of mother nature
There is something about large bodies of water, that helps instil a sense of calm throughout my being, like nothing else can. Whenever I am on holidays, I am always drawn to visiting lakes, creeks, swimming holes and of course, waterfalls. To the point that the running joke between me and my boyfriend is “not another f*cking waterfall” – direct quote from Mitchs mouth, that manages to exit his lips at least 906181808 times when we travel! haha
Iceland has some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, formed over thousands of years throughout this ancient volcanic land. Skogafoss (pictured below) being one of the most famous.
Legend has it, that there is a chest full of treasure, hidden behind this glorious fall! Apparently, one of the first Viking settlers, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a chest of treasure in a small rock cavern behind the fall. Many years later, the locals found it, and grasped the ring on the outside. The ring gave way, and the chest fell deep into the cavern and disappeared.
4. Fjord Cruise
Of course, when visiting Norway, you HAVE to take a Fjord Cruise! It’s one of the must-dos. So I made sure I booked myself a trip on the Hurtigruten fromTrondheim to make my way through the fjords and sail up the coast of Norway in to the Arctic Circle. The Norwegian coastline is unlike any other coast line I have ever seen – and that is probably because I come from Australia, and our coastlines are golden all year round! I literally sat for hours, just sitting out on the deck and watching the forever changing scenery before me. Truly Spectacular!
5. Take up writing
I have always loved to write. I’m not very good at it, but it has always been a meditative tool for me. I haven’t written in many, many years, so when I embarked upon this trip, I wanted to make sure that I spent time writing again.
I took this picture, while sailing up the coast on the Hurtigruten, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything to write:
“I came here to write. But with every ripple in the sea beneath me, one-thousand thoughts are washed away. Hours have passed now, and I have been starting at blank pages with a blank mind. Hypnotised by the ever changing landscape in front of me, I submit myself to the captivating charm of the Norwegian coastline. I am yours.”
Funnily enough, after a while of gazing out at the coastline, I was inspired to write. I wrote a childrens story. I have never told anyone that until now, because if you knew me, you would know how bizarre it would be to think that I could have written a childrens story. Even now, I still think it was really bizarre, but it came so fluidly. Perhaps one day when I have children, I can read it to them.
6. Visit Viking Ruins
I’m not going to bore you with details, but basically, I use to read a lot of the old Norse Kings books and Icelandic Sagas – ancient stories and accounts from the Viking age. So I desperately wanted to try and visit a lot of the historical sites that I read in these sagas. The image pictured below is Eiriksstadir, one of the most historic sites in Iceland. The home of famous outlawed Viking: Erik the Red, and birthplace to Leif the Lucky (the first European to discover America).
7. Find peace and solitude in an unexpected place
The Lofoten Islands is crawling with picturesque scenes like this. I remember reading that the hike to Kvalvika Beach only takes around 2 hours return, so when I was locking up the car I was a bit silly and left my water and snacks there. I probably could have used those when the 4th hour of my hike rolled around!!! Not to worry, the views were well worth the fatigue and dehydration I experienced in the middle of the remote Norwegian wilderness haha! The walk was pretty rugged, and in some parts the path was still snowed in – so this inexperienced snow bunny, probably should have been a little more prepared for this hike!! I witnessed my first avalanche, I almost collapsed from fatigue, I ran out of daylight, and I didn’t even make it half the way to where I wanted to go (can you say: rookie?). But absolutely none of that mattered, when I perched myself upon this rock, and realised that I was the only person for miles that was fortunate enough to be witnessing this breathtaking view at that very moment in time. Sitting there and listening to the wind sweep through the valley, the sound of the waves crashing gently on the beach, and hearing the tiny little creek trickle down the side of the mountain beside me. This is truly one of my most favourite images in the world, because every time that I look at it, I am instantly transported back to that peaceful moment in time.
8. Polar Plunge!
I can honestly say that this was one of the best (and worst) experiences of my life! The exhilaration that comes from doing a polar plunge is electrifying! When you strip down and battle the freezing cold winds right before you plunge your body in to frozen waters, you can’t help but think “is this the worst idea I have ever had?”. Once your body hits the water, you can instantly feel all of your internal organs beginning to shut down. You feel lethargic and out of breath. Your body keeps sinking and you have to fight the urge to just let your body give up – it feels like it takes such an enormous effort to find the energy to move your body in order to swim to keep yourself above water, and essentially, alive. You answer your question “yes, this is definitely the worst idea I have ever had” – you get out of the water, freezing. Thinking about how it was such a terrible idea to want to do a polar plunge, but at the same time, you feel so alive that you can’t help but jump back in and do it all over again! One of my most memorable bucket list experiences to date!!
9. Couchsurf at least once!
10. Stay up all night on “Aurora” watch
I don’t exactly know why I put this as number 10. Quite clearly, it should be number 1!!
Old Norse tells of the lights being caused by the flicker of the Valkyries armour (Odins sky maidens) as they dash across the sky, searching for warriors killed in battle. Finnish tales suggest its the magical arctic fox, who causes the rainbow lights by flicking up snow in to the sky with his magical tail as he darts across the land. Neither of these seem very far fetched when you finally get to capture a glimpse of this breathtaking phenomenon! Its as though you can see music for the first time. A truly magical experience that everyone MUST experience in their lifetime!
11. Stay in a Tipi Tent
Spending 3 days in the remote Swedish Wilderness, with no one else around within a 20km radius, may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea. But for me, it was a truly unforgettable experience!
Whenever I visit cities and big towns on my travels, I feel out of place, and bored, and crave escaping to a new adventure in lesser-known places. So I went off the grid and escaped to the Swedish Lapland for a few days. I’m pretty sure I was the only person camping in the whole of Lapland. I had to share my tipi with a wood mouse, who I assume was trying to escape the meter of snow that dropped overnight. I had to hold in going to the toilet, because it was a 200metre cold cross-country ski through very deep snow to the outhouse. I became an expert at campfires (and also an expert at setting my socks on fire). I became fairly well acquainted with the sound of my own voice (or lack thereof). I am learned how to fashion a tea cup out of a baked beans tin and I had a hole in the roof of my tipi, where the snow would fall through and help keep the freezing temperatures up in my tent. And I burned many holes in my sleeping bag from cramping up so close next to the fire to sleep.
12. Take an unexpected turn (sway off the itinerary)
So, my unexpected turn took me across the ditch to Germany. Or Bavaria, rather. I did a quick dash through this scenic country – 2756kms in 3 days to be precise – but I am definitely looking forward to returning one day to explore a bit more! What a magnificent country! A setting that evokes wonderment, romance and adventure! I explored medieval towns and castles. I searched for werewolves, sorcerers and other supernatural beings from the Grimm Tales in the Black Forest. I ate Black Forest cake at the original cafe it was first made (apparently) and I’m pretty sure it made me drunk. I got to hike through the Bavarian Alps switching between the German and Austrian border. I slept in truck stops. I narrowly escaped getting murdered in said truck stops. I got to use “Nein” in an actual sentence, and, funnily enough, I know more German words than I thought I did.
13. Sleep in a car
I really wanted to get away from creature comforts on this trip, so I set myself a goal to book as little accommodation as possible and to sleep in a car. Probably a weird thing to have on your bucket list, and probably not the smartest thing to do in Winter – but I did it! Many times, in fact!! It became my go-to accommodation once I finally got over the fear of being murdered in a foreign country, and I can totally understand why people do years of travel by sleeping in the back of their car to save some pennies! Probably not the best to do it in the back of a tiny Toyota Corolla – cramp city much!?
14. Walk on a frozen lake
After being completely traumatised by seeing Siggy die from trying to save Ragnars son after he fell through the ice in the third season of Vikings – I was a little concerned about this one. The only reference of icey lakes I had was from what I had seen in the movies, and to me, it always seemed like a really silly idea to willingly walk over a solution that could crack and kill you in any given second. After having my Swedish guide, Sonny, roar with laughter at me questioning him about whether or not I would die, he politely informed me that the ice is frozen solid for about 3 metres beneath us. Update: I didn’t die.
15. Visit an Ice Cave
Isn’t it funny that I was fearful of falling through ice, but it never crossed my mind the tonnes of ice above my head could collapse in and kill me at any second while I was exploring an ice cave. Melodrama aside, this was as spectacular as any image you have ever seen of an ice cave! We visited the Vatnajokull glacier while we were in Iceland, and organised for a local guide to take us through the ice caves. One word comes to mind: WOW!!!
16. Visit an Ice Hotel
There’s not really much reason to visit Kiruna, apart from the fact that just outside of Kiruna, is the original Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi. I visited the Ice Hotel with Linda and Samira – two lovely lasses that I met at the hostel, who were visiting from Germany. I’m pretty sure I took around 1000 images this day, because the whole place is such a beautiful work of art, and we were running around like kids in a candy store! Strangely enough, it is quite warm inside (well, much warmer than it is OUTSIDE) and I highly recommend visiting this place, to make yourself feel like a kid again!
17. Travel by foot, car, air, land and sea
The travel by foot part was really hard considering I was carrying around 40kgs of luggage on my back! But this is me walking across the Swedish border in to Finland – HEI!
18. Sleep in a Glass Igloo
If this isn’t on your bucket list, THAN IT SHOULD BE! I had to live off of protein shakes for a week after this, because the cost of staying in one of these is your soul + your first born child. I am so grateful for this experience! This was just after Winter had ended at the Arctic Igloo Hotel in Sinetta, Finland. So the ice hotel and the igloos were closed, but you can book the glass igloo all year round. Seeing that Winter was over, there wasn’t much hope to see the aurora – but I guess I got lucky! You can arrange with reception to get an aurora alarm, so you don’t have to miss any of the action if you decided to get some shut eye. So at around 1130pm, my igloo started vibrating – it was the aurora alarm – and all I had to do was open my eyes and look up, to watch the aurora dancing majestically above my bed! An unforgettable experience!
19. Try traditional Scandinavian cuisine
And committing a Vegetarian cardinal sin! When I was camping out in Swedish Lapland all by myself, my guide Sonny (who also runs local ice fishing tours) decided to do a drive by on his snowmobile (which had a trailer attached and was packed with big burly men, all looking to do some ice fishing right near where I was staying) and pick me up. I spent the day with the guys, in the freezing cold, being shown some beautiful parts of the forest, and stopping off at multiple frozen lakes so the men could drill a hole and cast their tiny little fishing poles. Afterwards, we stopped off at what was supposed to be a local picnic site, but the fire/bbq was hiding under 1.5metres of snow. The guides cooked a traditional Swedish meal for the fishermen. It entailed frying off a giant nob of butter, to cook the thickest pieces of bacon I have ever seen. They then tossed in these square piece omelette looking things (which I later learned were pancakes) to make a dish they called “Pork n Pancakes”, which they served up with Ligonberry jam. I had really wanted to try some traditional Scandinavian cuisine, but of course, being a vegetarian my options were very limited. When they offered me a plate, I didn’t want to be rude. These men had taken me in, and let me be a part of their adventure all day, I felt like part of the team (and I was actually starving!), so I ate the Pork n Pancakes. And then of course, I ate another serve after they kept insisting it had to be eaten. And I must say, it was delicious! And I can’t imagine the experience could have been more authentic and “traditional” than that!
20. Reconnect with my true self
Probably the most important part of my entire trip. I had been through a pretty rough year mentally, and I truly felt so disconnected from my true self than I had ever felt before. I didn’t feel like me. I stopped smiling. Stopped laughing. Worried all the time. Which were attributes so completely opposite to what I am used to experiencing within myself. So one of the main things I wanted to achieve from this solo adventure, was to reconnect with my true self. Learn to love myself again. Learn to love life again. I can tell you now, if you are ever feeling lost, or wish to learn about who you truly are – than you need to travel alone. Solo travel gives you the kind of self-growth and self-knowing, that no other life experience can offer! Get out there and see the world!