My eyes open sluggishly and adjust to the new interior around me. Pastel pinks and greens fill my view. A peek out the window tells me it’s still early. It’s dark outside, or as dark as it gets in this winter wonderland. The window sills are thick with snow. I realise it must have snowed more during the night.
I slowly uncurl my body and lie in my bed on my back, thinking about how I got here.
My plane landed late and I took a bus into town. This tiny little town is called Skellefteå, and it lies far north in Sweden. The bus driver dropped me off at the Quality Hotel, and I walked the last kilometre to this little Bed & Breakfast. It was quiet then as it is now. I can’t hear any traffic, any bells, or even any birds. The snowscape douses any sound.
The walk was quick and quiet. The only noise came from the crunch of snow and the snarl of my carry-on bag as I dragged it through twenty centimetres of snow. My way was lit by a few scattered streetlamps and the generous lights from the houses. Each still boasted an array of Christmas lights dripping from every balcony and windowsill.
My arrival was punctual and polite. My host greeted me, and let me tuck myself in for the night. I familiarised myself with one of two rooms in the Brunnsgården Bed & Breakfast. I was surprised to find I had a companion of a furry nature for the night. One of the house cats kept me company on my bed until her prompt feeding time at five a.m.
I rolled out of my bed and walked to the window to draw the curtains. Thick swirls of snow were in a flurry in the sky. It was falling rapidly. I could see the first commuters cycle to their work. Others were cross-country skiing past. I decided to take a slow morning and wake my body up with yoga.
I am new to the yoga routine. It would be a good habit to feed, especially if I am to be living this far north in a land of extremes. I need to ground myself in the morning. I used the carpet in the room and worked in a good stretch. Then I got dressed and prepared for my day.
Breakfast was also a slow affair. The cosy kitchen offered me some eggs, orange juice, local butter, ham and Ryvita. I set about preparing my meal.
After working out the egg cooker, I scraped a slice of butter onto the Ryvita. I also sourced a jar of apple and orange marmalade, which I heaped generously onto the dry bread. Orange juice splashed into the glass and water boiled in the kettle. Soon I had a full breakfast.
I took my time. I surveyed the room around me as I ate. It was light and warm, which stood in stark contrast to the view outside. A rack of razor sharp pine trees broke into the sky on the horizon, thickly decked with snow. It was a frozen forested wilderness. But inside the houses, it was different, with ample light to freshen up the morning.
Before heading out into the freezing cold, I layer everything I’ve got. I start with thermals, then a top, a fleece, a woollen jersey handknit by a friend, and finally my coat. I pull on my jeans, my two layers of socks and my thick hiking boots. My head is similarly layered with a winter buff, a scarf and a beanie. Finally, I swing my camera over my back before pulling on my ski gloves. I was ready to head out.
I think I have forgotten the charm of the early morning, even in the extremes. Stepping out into -26°C is a very humbling experience. The first breath of icy air snaps into my lungs, but soon enough, your body adapts. I take small steps on the ice, shuffling forward towards my sunrise expedition.
The sky is glowing orange and pink, building anticipation for the rising sun. The land and air are hungry for its warmth. I can feel it. I trudge along the snow-filled streets and snap some pictures of the dawn glow.
Today, my feet take me through the old town, called Bonnstan. I wander through the ghost town and wonder at how the morning light plays with the wooden structures. Soon enough, the sun peeks over the horizon, cracking through the narrow streets and glancing off the snow. It looked magical.
I continued to walk through the sunlit town. Skellefteå is halved by the Skellefteälven river. My little Bed & Breakfast lies on the northern shore, overlooking the wider birth of the river, which was all frozen at this point. The rising sun splits the river, buttering the north with light while the south remains muted.
A little valley near Brunnsgården calls me. I slide down the slopes. The cold still clings to every corner here. My breath twists into the air, adding to the greyness. But the landscape here was stark. Bold houses stand out against the snow. Tall pines have strips of black bark between the snow. The snow on the sides of this little valley seems to fold over itself, like bread dough being prepared for baking.
Then the sun catches the frozen tableaux, slowly stroking it to life. I see the houses flush with colour: deep reds, burgundy and bright yellow. People stir, dogs bark. I can feel the life rise up through the warming ground, animating the scene around me.
Suddenly, I realise that my toes are being animated too, with pain. Fearing frostbite, I turned my back on the sun and walked back to my B&B for a second breakfast and a warm cup of coffee.