Well, you always do budget how much a trip costs and you plan your finances accordingly. But what happens when you go slightly wrong with those calculations? Well, you get royally screwed, especially if you are a student on a shoe string budget.
We were towards the fag end of the euro trip you know that time where the complacency and the arrogance get the better of you?! We were on our last trip before we had to head back to India in the Croatia – Prague- Hungary trip and we reached Zagreb on a Saturday evening after a long hauling journey from France via Germany, Austria and finally reaching Croatia.
The problem with travel is that you very soon lose all track of which day of the week it is. We had planned to go to Plitvice Lake the next day and had to pay the vendors for the travel etc. for the same. We went to the ATM and we got an error message when we tried withdrawing 100 euros. We said okay, could be a problem with the machine, like big social service workers we told people behind us in the line saying there is some issue with the machine. We walked another 200 metres and came across another ATM, we tried the transaction again and we again got a failure.
Now curious, we decided let’s try a lower amount, we put 75 euros and again the same error. We wondered what could be the concern, we tried more times and finally decided we will pay and get a balance confirmation, turned out we had 2 euros on the card (we were hedging the euro and converting it as and when the rates dipped against the INR and forgot to keep enough buffer, aren’t we thoughtful) and some coins as cash with us. And we could not do any bank transaction as it was Sunday the next day and all banks were closed and we could not buy any more euros till Monday morning in India. And so started the day strapped with no money in Zagreb, thankfully we had free breakfast at the hostel and some nutri bars from Germany to munch on. We saved our 2 euros to get us a slice of pizza in the night and I must tell you it was the most delicious pizza I have ever savoured.
So always, always, keep enough money to keep you going for a few more days than planned, trust me it helps!!
If you are in Europe and have gone all the way to Scandinavia, there is no way that Northern Lights cannot be on your agenda.
What is the Northern Lights?
Northern Lights or Aurera Borealis is a natural phenomenon that happens when electrically charged particles from the sun enter into the earth’s atmosphere and collide with our gaseous particles simply put. Aurora Australis is its southern counterpart. A scientific phenomenon that lights up the skies in hues of green, yellow, pink or purple. While the common colour is green or greenish yellow, some rare occurrences of purple have also been spotted. Oxygen emits yellow, green hues while Nitrogen emits red, purple hues. The earth’s magnetic field channels these solar particles towards the north and south magnetic poles and hence the occurrences are restricted to solely higher altitudes.
Now Aurora is not something you can spot so easily. There have been multiple references of Aurora to a Diva and rightly so, you have to pursue her patiently and wait for her to open up in the skies and take her swirl.
Essentials for its occurrences
Aurora can be best visible only when it is pitch dark – 10 pm to 1 am is said to be the best time to view the Aurora
Clear Skies – The basic necessity for visibility of these colours is clear skies, cloudy weather and rains reduce the impact of the visibility of these charged particles
High Altitude – As the particles are drawn towards the magnetic poles, their spread is limited to places nearby the arctic circle
Best places to catch the northern lights
Well if you are in Europe, Scandinavia is your best bet to view the northern lights. Both Northern Norway and Northern Sweden offer amazing places to catch the Aurora. After a lot of research I would recommend these 2 options
Never go only for the northern lights. Choose a destination where you have something to do and ensure spotting the aurora is just a brownie point over and above that. The weather in the Arctic is very unpredictable and could change in the blink of the eye. So ALWAYS CHOOSE A DESTINATION where you can explore during the day and manage to catch the Aurora as well to avoid disappointment
Railway connectivity to Abisko from Stockholm suited our travel schedule
They have a beautiful National Park in Abisko
The weather forecasts showed clear skies in Abisko in the week we chose to hunt the northern lights
Where to check for weather forecasts?
We constantly followed the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the best forecast to view the aurora. They had recommended a chance of 6 on 9 to view the aurora in the week we had planned to travel and it was the highest they had predicted in the entire month of October in 2013. You can view the forecast here before travel. http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/NorthPolar/20160909
How to get to Abisko?
The beauty of the Scandinavian countries is the amazing rail connectivity. Abisko is around 1300 kms from Stockholm, however, direct night trains are available from Stockholm to Absiko. There are a couple of stations in Abisko – Abisko Ostra or Abisko Touristation, so pick your destination depending on your accommodation arrangements
Places to stay in Absiko
Though the population in Abisko is just around 100 ( Yes, I am not exaggerating, The recorded census of population in Absiko as on 2005 was 85 and there are more dogs there than humans), there are multiple options for accommodation in terms of hostels, hotels & cottages in all price ranges.
Amazingly responsive and absolutely friendly. Just about 2 minutes walking from the Ostra station in Abisko and beautiful spots in and around the hostel to view the Aurora.
The much awaited Aurora
After all this planning now comes the worst part, the wait. We reached early evening and settled in into our lovely accommodation provided by abisko.net and went out for a walk to explore the town. The streets were long, cold and empty. The views enthralling, you could see snow capped mountains far away, a completely different kind of vegetation and oh, not to forget snow ledges pulled by dogs. The owners of our property were an elderly couple who had 60 dogs, yes, you read that right, 2 human beings and 60 dogs, that was pretty much the ration in the entire town. It was like the whole town was painted in a blue filter and before you knew, the night was setting in and it was getting pitch dark. We made our way back to our hostels, made some hot noodles and all hostlers gathered around trying to find the best spot to camp for the night.
The beauty of the accommodation is that you can view endless skies from all around the building. We even heard stories of how people caught it sitting on their beds through the windows. So we each picked our spots and sat there just staring at those skies. The first few minutes were lovely looking at the skies, but you need patience. We waited hour after hour in the freezing weather, it was a long wait. Alas, as the night grew it became more and more cloudy and started to snow, and with heavy hearts conceded to ourselves that there was no chance we would view it. Given our tight schedules, we could not afford extending or modifying our schedule. We had taken our best bet, selecting the perfect place, the perfect day, the perfect time. But, I guess somethings are beyond all the planning when it comes to the Aurora. But we had the best time in the snow in the deserted town of abisko.
It is not an easy hunt. Plan a long duration to give yourself the best chance to view the northern lights.
It is very very unpredictable. The weather can change at any point in time, so always be prepared for that.
Camp to different places where the Northern Lights can be spotted. Many a time the phenomenon occurs but is not visible in certain areas due to unclear skies or places not being sufficiently dark
Keep your faith up! It will eventually show, at least that’s what I am still hoping
No matter what happens, Do not forget the Golden Rule – Always travel for the destination.