Arctic Circle, Travel, Uncategorized

nighttime dog sledding in kiruna

On our second night in Kiruna, we all went dog sledding after nightfall to see the Northern lights! Because I think this is one of those things that everyone knows about but few actually understand – myself included until recently – I’ll give a quick summary: The Northern lights – or aurora borealis – is the result of collisions between particles in the atmosphere. Protons and electrons traveling toward Earth from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere near the poles, where the magnetic field is weaker, and interact with gaseous particles like oxygen and nitrogen. The color of light depends on the type and altitude of the gaseous particles. The Northern lights are most frequently seen as a lime green, which is the result of oxygen particles at an altitude of about 60 miles above Earth. Oxygen at higher altitudes produce red light, and nitrogen produces blue or purple light. They flow across the sky in a characteristic way, which you’ve definitely seen on some National Geographic cover  or Windows screensaver at some point, and are best seen near the equinoxes.

But we didn’t see them. It snowed on and off the entire duration of our stay, which resulted in too many clouds to see the lights. Not only did we look for them during the dog sledding, but we pulled near-all-nighters outside to catch a glimpse. I actually enjoyed keeping watch, oddly enough, because of its absurdity and the bonding in which it resulted. But alas, no beautiful aurora borealis for us. :( But here are some pictures, courtesy of Google Images, of what we should have seen/were going to show people when they asked about them (just kidding…)


Northern Lights

Regardless, the dog sledding was such an adventure! There were about 70 dogs at the kennel we went to, all trained or being trained as sled dogs. We went on two different sleds, which were led by two professional mushers who knew all of the dogs by both name and bark – amazing!




We traveled through a bunch of fields and woods – or at least I think, it was pitch black except for our musher’s headlight – to a little teepee in the woods, where we had soup and sandwiches. It was incredible to be able to talk to our mushers, both young Scandinavians who grew up in the super-small towns of the Arctic, about their lives and experiences. The soup was yummy, too!




Then, we continued on through the woods to a wide open area where a view of the Northern lights would have been INCREDIBLE. But, alas…

We were about to reach the kennel again when our sled went over an exposed tree root, and we all flipped over and tumbled down a small hill. Luckily, none of our limbs were crushed by the sled or broken by the force of the dogs, who continued running until our musher was able to get them under control. I wouldn’t call it a near-death experience, but I would definitely call it a almost-broke-a-bone-6-hours-from-a-hospital experience.


After we got back, we got some snuggle time with the pups and the obligatory group photo:





Despite the rollover and lack of lights, dog sledding was an incredible experience! Totally considering the Iditarod now…


Arctic Circle, Travel

building an “igloo”

How can you go to the Arctic Circle without building an igloo? After our failed ice fishing attempt, we decided to construct an igloo in the remaining minutes of daylight (FYI, this was at 2:00PM). Without the internet to research how to actually build one, we had no choice but to improvise. But I must say, igloo making is easier said than done. We ended up adding things like plywood and shovels for structural support, which entirely destroys any semblance our creation had to an actual igloo. Again, at least we tried?




The girls spent a lot of this time just lounging in our snowsuits, watching the boys work (typical):



After emptying the shed of over half of its available wood and metal signage, we finished the masterpiece! And each took an identical picture inside:







The dream igloo-making team.


Arctic Circle, Travel, Uncategorized

attempts at ice fishing

Neither of these activities were successful, but I give us an A for effort in both and was able to capture some gem photos in the process:



Let’s not pretend like I had any part in ice fishing aside from the taking of this picture, but the picture remains…


Mostly I just lived out childhood dreams of skating around on the world’s biggest ice rink (in the world’s clunkiest boots):578494_10151745929232916_1148335831_n

Then we changed into our snow gear that we rented from the camp: insulated onesies like in A Christmas Story. It’s way too easy to start acting like a complete child when you’re in a big puffy one-piece on a huge sheet of ice:

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In the end, no fish were caught… But I mean, we tried, right?

Arctic Circle, Uncategorized

adventures in the arctic circle

After a grueling post-Halloween flight itinerary, we arrived in Kiruna, Sweden, a mining town well within the Arctic Circle, for a weekend of dog sledding, northern light searching, and frolicking in the snow. We stayed at a campground called Camp Alta, located a few kilometers outside Kiruna. We were picked up at the airport – which only has one terminal and a baggage claim about the size of a dining room table – and brought into town to purchase groceries for the weekend. A few packages of spaghetti, peanut butter, “hot dogs”, cider, and frozen veggies later, we were on our way to the campsite!

Camp Alta has about ten cabins, but we were the only group there for the weekend. I chose to consider this ‘exclusive’ rather than ‘terrifying.’ We arrived midday, giving us about two hours of sunlight. After getting a tour of the grounds – including several saunas, ice fishing and snowshoeing gear, and plenty of winter clothing – we decided to explore. The camp was the ultimate winter wonderland.




Our cabin was equipped to house about fifteen people, with 3 sleeping areas and a large kitchen and living room. It even had a TV! We all slept in the bunk beds in the main room – closest to the fireplace.






Without Ryan to manage the fireplace, I am fairly certain that we would have (literally) frozen to death.

Although there were plenty of activities to do around camp, we spent a lot of our time in the cabin just kind of vegetating. There are several reasons for this: the sun set around 2pm, we savored a travel experience that wasn’t go-go-go, it was SO COLD. Like, as cold as the Arctic. Get it?

The TV had a few things that weren’t in Swedish, we played a few board games (OK I was killing it at Scattergories and everyone was trying to hate on my answers BUT I won regardless…), and we asked each other questions like, “What is your biggest fear?” that somehow seem easier to answer when you’re sitting at a picnic table outside in the Arctic Circle in a one-piece snowsuit than at a picnic table, well, anywhere else. The best aspect of the trip was the inevitable bonding that occurs when you’re essentially stranded in the Arctic wilderness with people that you know, but don’t know. There is no cell service and no Wi-Fi. It’s just the group of you, trying to figure out how to make budget-brand pasta sauce taste good (put a few hot dogs in it) or actually catch a fish in the lake (undetermined).

I didn’t know too many facts about people – like that Simi and Lauren went to the same school, or that this was Ryan’s last undergraduate semester – but I returned to Copenhagen knowing a lot about people. People frequently use identifiers like hometown, university, career, or fraternity to describe themselves, but these are not – as we often learn  too late – the most accurate ways of sizing up an individual. In my life away from Copenhagen (read: Duke), these labels are the most immediate, and often the only, factors used to evaluate an individual and place them within a community. Although my study abroad experience overall was a much-needed escape from this labeling, my little weekend escape made me realize the profound power of getting to know people simply by being with them, rather than considering the things they’ve done, the places they’ve been, or the people they know. And they were great :)


Aren’t we cute?




Copenhagen, Local, Uncategorized

a copenhagen halloween

I aimed for goth, ended up more rocker-with-black-lipstick. After a potential urination in the communal kitchen sink (this has not been confirmed) and two instances of vomiting on public transportation, one of us ended up back home on the bathroom floor… But the rest of us ended up at Butchers! Always a good time. And the night started out so calmly…










And then we woke up at 3:30AM for a flight to the Arctic Circle.


Copenhagen’s “fix rooms” get fifteen minutes of fame

Just came across an article by NPR about the “fix rooms” in Vesterbro! I visited them a few months ago for a field study for my medical course, and am thrilled to see that they are getting some well-deserved attention for their radical approach to drug use. Definitely worth reading!