Day 32 – Narvik Museum, some interesting conversations, and my first sight of the Northern Lights

Narvik – Boden C

The hotel I was staying at had asked me last night what time I’d like breakfast. They only had two rooms occupied so wanted to plan the morning. I offered to fit in with whatever time the other guests wanted, which was 8am.

When I went down, there was no-one there but a buffet spread had been laid on as if the hotel was full, including a beautifully cooked and seasoned omelette the size of a dinner plate, a super selection of breakfast foods, including waffles and a rather delicious light brown cheese that I’d not heard of before, called Brunost, which has a slight caramel flavour (trust me, it works!)

The breakfast room was above mine so the view from the window was excellent, even though the morning was a bit on the damp side. I hadn’t been especially excited by Narvik on first sight, but it was growing on me. It may not be beautiful but it certainly is interesting, and the people are lovely, as is their food – as I’d discovered both last night and this morning.

View of Narvik from my hotel

I had a work call at 10am, after which I headed out. It’s a small town (technically a city, I believe) and I’d seen most of it the afternoon/evening before, but as I had until mid-afternoon for the train, I decided to take a look at the museum.

This tells the story of how Narvik emerged in the late 19th Century with the arrival of the railway, bringing iron ore from Kiruna. There was a good view of the docks and the ore handling equipment from the entrance, as well as of the constant flow of trains coming and going.

The displays were mostly photos and films, with a number of models to illustrate key things. Behind the museum one of the iron ore locos from the 1950s was displayed, and was open so I could nose around inside. Huge for it’s day and not exactly small by today’s standards.

I arrived quite early at the station, a good hour before the train was due. I had some things to do on the laptop anyway, so was quite happy to have a little spare time. Shortly after arriving I got into conversation with a couple of other travellers, one alone, the other was with a group. We were all on 2-month Interrail passes, that we’d bought during the offer last year. Stories were swapped and experiences shared. We were all heading in different directions from Narvik, be that by boat down the coast, to Stockholm on the sleeper or in my case to Finland.

It was really great to meet with complete strangers, this time from Switzerland and Germany/USA, and immediately have something in common. I was sad to have to tear myself away and finish a bit of work.

When we’d arrived, we were the only people in the waiting room (which is how we got talking) but shortly before departing the area rapidly filled with people young and old, single travellers and families, many heading to Stockholm and excited for their night on a sleeper.

When I got on board it was quite chaotic for a while as everyone found their spaces. There was a large school group of varying ages, all carrying musical instruments. I got talking to their teacher who explained that they were split between two carriages but all wanted to be together. I think he was concerned that they were disturbing everyone else’s journey, but they were no trouble at all, in fact they were great company.

In no time at all a number of them had clocked me and wanted to talk. They learn English from grade 1 in school, so even the 9 year old who I chatted to for a while was incredibly fluent, and knew a lot more about my country than I knew about his.

We did get some sightseeing done as well, and as this carriage had a slide down window I managed to quickly grab a few photos that weren’t through a window, without letting all the warmth out.

We were joined at Abisko by three men from Stockholm who were returning from their annual visit to a mutual schoolfriend and they also chipped into the very lively and varied conversations. We talked about everything from the passing scenery, living in Norway and England – about language, music, royalty – a couple of the children were improbably fascinated by the upcoming Coronation.

The journey to Kiruna passed in no time at all. The musical pupils were getting off there to participate in a joint musical event with Swedish schools. We also paused for a time here while the train ran around so that we could continue in the opposite direction. I took a few photos of the surrounding scenery.

The views and in particular the colours across this arctic landscape as the sun set were quite exceptional. I made a point of looking out for where we exit the Arctic Circle. As I thought, there isn’t a sign, though I’ve read that it moves slightly based on gravitational effects, so it’s not really possible to be precise.

I left the train at Boden, where it was being split, with part going to Stockholm and part to a local destination, Luleå.

As we pulled into the station I thought I saw a slight hint of green in the sky through the train windows. I’d been aware that tonight was my best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, despite being further south, but by the time I was off the train I couldn’t see anything.

I dropped my bags and went for a walk. Boden is a tiny place but has large and currently frozen lake in the middle. I went there and looked north, but nothing. I have the Aurora Watch app on my phone which told me there had indeed been some activity, but it had now faded.

There was still light in the sky from the sunset (even though it was gone 10pm) so I went back to my hotel for a while.

A little after 11pm I came back out. After wandering for a while, looking in vain for somewhere dark I ended up back at the lake, and headed for the far end where I could see that there were very few lights. This little town does a great job of illuminating its footpaths and roads, but right now what I wanted was a power cut.

I eventually found path that led off the lit walkway and gingerly headed down there – it was the one path that had not been gritted and there was snow around. I did manage to step into an area off the path that was about a foot deep, but it wasn’t going to put me off now. I found a spot which only had one small area of light but it was not nearby. The sky was clear, and going dark, but there was no sign of activity in the sky.

It took about 10 minutes before a quite faint line of light appeared directly above me. I took a long exposure photo with my camera and it was indeed green, so not a vapour trail, but also very blurred.

Another 5 minutes and there were now a series of lines crossing the sky which were faint but I could clearly see and photograph normally.

Eventually I figured that it was the best I was going to get, and having consulted the Aurora Watch app, reluctantly started to head back.

As I stepped off the side path onto the main path I took one last look over my shoulder and couldn’t believe my eyes, there were green and very slightly purple lights all over the place. I grabbed a few photos. It was too dark to video – I tried – but they lasted about 2 minutes before fading away.

I looked at the app again and it had indeed peaked. Not a red alert but orange, and I was more than happy with that. A really REALLY special evening, which I can only compare with seeing the eclipse in Cornwall.

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1 Comment

  1. Celia Lyon

    So glad you managed to see the Northern lights. I’ve tried on a couple of occasions and not been lucky enough. I did see the eclipse in Cornwall and that was truly magical.

    Looking forward to hearing about Finland 🇫🇮

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