A trip to Swedish Lapland will not only bring you memories of endless days and midnight sun, but also an insight into the richness one can find when travelling – I suggest alone – on a night train passing through the Swedish forests.
Travelling by train more than 20 hours to reach the city of Kiruna located in Swedish Lapland, 67°51'20N, and then go back to the south of Sweden, is an experience which I would advise everyone to do. The view from the train is simple and random, yet it will not have you bored for the entire journey, as eventually you will meet people with sleeping issues just as you, other solo travellers, or people just commuting between cities. If not, the landscape will leave you speechless and you may like to start a competition with yourself on how many reindeers or moose you spot while the train eats kilometres in the Lapland jungle.
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My trip to Swedish Lapland had started only a few days after the last pages of yet another book about cultural differences. The experiences collected on the Arctic Polar Circle train were thus even more mind-blowing than the experience itself already would have felt, not to mention the unexpectedness of these meetings. I was carrying an enormous backpack, shoes hanging from it, with a black-shorts-and-t-shirt outfit. Wandering about in Kiruna the last few hours, buying some reindeer meat and sunbathing in Kiruna's unusual 25C sunny weather, I was going to end my journey in Malmö the following day, so I stepped on that black, old-fashioned train. Imagine my smiling face when I realized that the people I was going to spend my next 15 hours with were a group of tourists from the eastern part of India, making their way from Narvik in Norway to the last stop of their organized trip in Stockholm.
At first glance, wearing traditional dresses, they all looked to me as members of the same family, as their eyes warmly met and corridors were being filled with familiar chats. I knew then that my trip was not going to be boring, nor would I not find someone to share my sleepless night with. Coming from Italy and living in Malmö, where diversity is noticeable everywhere, the immersion I was going to have talking to my travel mates was going to be way different from the one I had in Kiruna, where mostly white people crossed the streets.
While I was preparing my bed for the night, songs which I would later get to know as Bengali folk music were sung by some men in the cabin next to me. Straight after, I got the chance to meet some of the kind and friendly women part of the group, as they popped their heads into my cabin. A few minutes later I was sharing long discussions with some of them. In fact, I first got out from my room eating an apple while admiring the landscape through an open window, the blast creating a perfect mixture of sounds from the railway tracks and words in a foreign language making their way to my ears. Afraid of disturbing their intimate atmosphere, and probably of abandoning my solo-traveller setting for one of incredible hospitality, it took a few minutes for me to enter their cabin.
But I had missed the fact that for them, I was already part of a family. As everyone else in the group already knew each other's name and education title, I was introduced and welcomed in their little community. From out discussions, I got to know that my living alone back in Malmö was for them synonymous with loneliness. Something I recalled later, when I saw many of the corridor folding seats occupied by old men siting opposite to each other, either talking or not, but never alone.
I spent most of my time sitting next to a lady from Kolkata with a name for me still difficult to pronounce. In that cabin I talked with the older people about multiculturalism, education, living habits and the meaning of success. I had a long enjoyable chat with another guy my age about our countries and what it means to live alone for a 'European'. Some of the others talked ironically about the stress which every Indian undergoes since they are children, as they should decide what to study based on a choice of two, either a doctor or an engineer.
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During the night, the wind brought in a healthy and tasty smell of coniferous forests. It is funny that what once reminded you of Christmas time, may on the following day give you unforgettable memories of sunny summer nights. And you experience the bright nights just like a child, not wanting to sleep and almost jumping around the train's narrow corridors to shake your legs from time to time.
The mist on the lakes is called "älvor som dansar på sjön" in Swedish, "fairies dancing on the lakes", and it will keep you company through the hours spent on the night train from Kiruna to Stockholm. The brisk air hitting my cheeks was the same meeting the water surface of the lakes. I admired it from the train window as it created an effect of steam and uncertainty, as a limbo between daylight and darkness, in a Swedish Lapland still touched by the Midnight Sun.
Rossella Tatti is a travel writer from Italy, studying International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö University. She blogs at My North Way to Sweden.