An American travel writer details how the Arctic winter in Lapland warmed her heart.
With a childhood affinity for Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” and a desperate need to emerge from the fog of grief following a painful breakup in 2001, Sjoholm (Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me a Writer, 2006, etc.) sought a dramatic change of scene. So the Washington state native decided to take a Norwegian friend up on her offer to spend Christmas with her. “I wanted extremity and silence, a winter world to mirror my sense of loss,” writes the author, “an absence of sunshine while I found my bearings again.” That three-month sojourn led to another two years later, followed by a third excursion the year after; the experiences of all three trips comprise these engaging tales of winter in the northern reaches of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Sjoholm took off for Sweden in late 2001. Her first stop was the village of Jukkasjärvi to witness the annual construction of the renowned Icehotel, a marvelous 60-room structure of snow and ice built by architects and artists each fall to host about 13,000 visitors then melt the following spring—what the author aptly dubs “a fine example of art for art’s sake.” She then attends an unforgettable performance of Macbeth, staged outside in the Ice Globe Theatre in temperatures as cold as -13° F. Other trip highlights include a visit to the post office in Rovaniemi, Finland, the unofficial North Pole and recipient of all unstamped letters to Santa; an enchanting encounter with reindeer; and a traumatic attempt at dogsledding. Sjoholm also offers thoughtful sociopolitical ruminations on the plight of the nomadic Sami—the indigenous people of Sápmi, which today includes parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia—and, somewhat paradoxically for one in search of darkness, numerous moving descriptions of the ever-changing, often ephemeral natural light.
An enticing entrée for those in search of extreme weather in a scenic clime.