Friday, January 20, 2012

Love for Luleå -- the Tundra

Out for a walk in Luleå.

  Mid-January, and it seems like winter is finally making an appearance in various corners of the world.

  Depending on where we grew up, we all have different ideas of what winter looks like. Growing up in Portland, winter to me, is a dreary, gray, rainy day (not much different than what a typical spring day might look like).

  But I'm sure for most, winter means at least a little snow, and some chilly temperatures.

  For two of my seasons abroad however, I experienced the most-extreme and hardcore of winters. That's Luleå, Sweden for you!

Frozen eyelashes.
  People who have never been to Colorado might think that the Rockies have a 'harsh' winter.

  Think again. My two years in Northern Sweden was something I had never before seen.

The 'Tundra'
  Before ever setting foot onto Swedish soil, I didn't think it was possible for human-beings to live under 2-3 feet of snow, sub-freezing temperatures, and 20 hours of darkness for 5 consecutive months. But the proud Swedes were happy to show me otherwise.

Riding 'kickers' with my teammates.
  My teammates and I didn't dub Luleå the Frozen Tundra without reason! From November lasting through April, the temperatures are unlikely to rise above freezing. As a matter of fact, from December to February the highs will only reach about 20 degrees F (-7 C), with the lows hovering around 3 degrees F (-16 C). Talk about a deep freeze huh?

  As cold as that sounds, freezing temperatures weren't the biggest obstacle when living in Luleå for the winter.

Four Hour Days
  Adjusting to the ever-shrinking presence of sunshine was. On the shortest of days, I seem to remember sunrise being sometime after 10am, with sunset not too far behind. On most winter days, the sun had completely disappeared into the horizon by 2pm. Leaving you with a solid four hours of sun.

  Since it's such a short day, keep in mind, the sun never fully rises in the sky. Never giving your body that, 'it's one o'clock in the afternoon' cue. It's a difficult thing to explain.

Luleå city behind. On the ice road.
  Cold and dark. Doesn't sound like I should be writing for the Luleå tourism magazine, does it? I'm sure you're probably thinking what a depressing place to live!

  But it's not. Trust me when I tell you Luleå is a place you want to see.

Always Be Prepared 
  You learn to put layers on. You wear long-johns. You never forget your hat and gloves. You make sure to wear extra-heavy socks. And you have a parka that can withstand anything!

  I remember being able to really feel the difference between 23 degrees F (-5 C), and 14 degrees F (-10 C). At 14 F, if you're outside longer than five minutes, you feel your eyeballs start to freeze. Now THAT'S cold!

The ice road!
  As ludicrous as it sounds, the ice and snow brightens things up. I looked at the Luleå-born-and-raised like they were crazy when they first told me that. But I learned that it actually rings true (or maybe it was just a mental thing I convinced myself of).

Use Your Resources
  What I learned to appreciate the most about Northern Sweden, and Luleå in particular, is that they found ways to turn, what might be perceived to be a negative thing (the ice and snow), into a positive.

  Luleå is completely surrounded by water (Lule River and the Gulf of Bothnia). In the freezing winter temperatures, that water obviously turns to ice. Once the ice becomes thick enough, the city creates ice roads that surround Luleå, and that lead to small islands just outside of the city.

My first, and only attempt at cross-country skiing.
  It's on these ice roads that the city comes alive in the winter. You can ice skate, ski, snow mobile, drive a car (!), walk, sled, and do anything else you can think of on these ice roads.

  It was a very surreal feeling going out onto the ice for the first time. I was more than a little nervous, but grew to enjoy the feeling of freedom you felt when out on the ice.

No Seat Belts...Just In Case 
  One of the more-amusing stories I can tell about Luleå came when driving onto the ice roads for the first time with my teammate, Ise. As we drove onto the ice, she turned to me and said, 'ok, seat belts off!'

  You can imagine my thought process: 'why do we need to take our seat belts off?!' 'If the ice breaks, we will have to be able to get out of the car quickly' was the response I came up with in my head.

  But all I could muster up as a response to Ise was: 'whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt??' She laughed at me, and said, 'just in case....' with a big smile. You guessed it, just in case....the ice breaks!!

  Thankfully I never experienced the 'just in case'.

  I'm know I did my fair share of complaining, but Luleå is truly one of the most unique places you can live. Drive ten minutes outside the city, and you have a good chance of seeing a reindeer on the side of the highway. Where else in the world can you do that?

  They love their hockey. And thankfully, they also love their basketball. I had a fabulous experience for two seasons in Luleå. But I'm convinced it had a little more to do with the people I was surrounded by than it did the snow and ice.


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2pm sunset.


Another early sunset.
A reindeer in the city!

Advent in Luleå.

Sun's out, the ice will be busy!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sabrina,

    We are searching for pictures to market Luleå and found your picture here from the ice road in Luleå which is really great! We wonder if it would be possible for us to use it in a printed material about Luleå, and if you in that case have it as an original with high resolution?

    P.S. We are missing your basket skills here in Luleå :)

    Kind regards,
    Petra Pihl
    Project leader Co-TOUR