Just last month, Saab invited journalists and others to their Saab Arctic Adventure training course on a frozen lake in Northern Sweden. Autoblog.nl, the Dutch car site, has a great account from Thijs, who along with Onno were two readers they brought with. He shows what an incredible experience Saab gives the international media to show off their cars’ unbeatable winter driving characteristics. One of our readers Boris sent in a great translation of Thijs’s tale, and once you’re done reading it be sure to watch the video below. While it’s in Dutch, it’s still pretty funny– between a few near misses on the slalom, to what happens when you anger Rudolph the red nosed reindeer at the end, the humor definitely isn’t lost in translation (and there should be English subtitles available to read along).
With my eyes only marginally opened to protect them from the bright light I wake up. Moaning I turn over, blinded by the light and searching for the little button that will allow me to sleep a bit longer. Whatever people might say, there’s no alarm clock that makes waking up at 3.30 AM pleasant. As soon as I shut my eyes again and the shrieks the alarm clock makes have stopped I immerse myself once more in the white heaven that are my pillows. Ever so happy I turn around once more and in the faded morning light I can just about make out the silhouettes of a suitcase. Sweden! At once I’m wide awake and quickly put on some clothes that lie at random throughout my room. A couple of hastily made sandwiches later and I stand packed and bagged in the hallway of my apartment building.
Once downstairs I throw my suitcase onto the rear seat of my tax-exempted tin can of a car and dive behind the steering wheel. As the night radio makes soothing sounds I set course to Schiphol airport. These are the last few miles in the cramped interior of my little Japanese car.
Armed with a suitcase, a backpack and overly warm clothes I appear covered in sweat before the sliding doors of departures 2. On the other side of them I see the Saab emblem on the vests of two lovely ladies. “Hello?” I utter gingerly. “I suppose this is where I’m supposed to be.”
“If you’re here to go ice racing in Sweden you are,” she replies smiling. We exchange handshakes, names and boarding passes. Finally I am presented with a warm hat, seemingly modeled after Kyle’s in South Park. No, as long as Saab watches over us our ears won’t freeze off.
To fill in the hour and a half that we were supposed to be here in advance of our departure, I decide to send my suitcase into the depths of Schiphol. With a smile from ear flap to ear flap I hand over my boarding pass. “Sweden, how very nice, what will you be doing there?,” the gate agent asks me. One cannot blame her for being curious, me being a 23 year old, tucked away underneath a Saab hat with a grin that’s starting to hurt.
“Going ice racing with Saab,” I reply. She gives me another look and returns my stuff to me.
“Have fun there then!” “I’m sure I will,” I beam to the row of justifiably jealous people behind me.
The group of people surrounding the two Saab hostesses had in the mean time expanded and more hands were being shaken. Among those hands were the ones belonging to Onno, the other winner, and of course the local (autoblog, red) celebrities Wouter and Patrick. “The press men” as they would often be referred to in Sweden. It’s a diverse collection of people that would report quiveringly at the Kiruna airport a few hours later. Diverse in age, but also in personality. Everything suggests these coming three days in Sweden will be absolutely fantastic.
Five hours of getting to know one another later and the airplane slides down the snow-covered runway of Kiruna. The view through the plane windows doesn’t reveal much more than a whole lot of snow and pine trees. “Welcome to Sweden”, it sounds almost sarcastically over the intercom.
On top of the stairs with which we leave the airplane, the contrast with Holland becomes apparent. In Holland one was guided by five ground crew people through orange ribbons towards the plane, whereas here the contents of said plane flow freely out over the tarmac. Everyone was searching for the reception area, where they’d be sorted by a system cardboard signs held up by numerous guides. In stark contrast to the shabby pieces of cardboard were the the Saab signs. Shaped like sort of a beach tennis racket, they were designed to meticulously conform to the Arctic Challenge design language. The same contrast was noticeable in clothing. Where the bits of cardboard were held aloft by authentically dressed men with beards, the Saab peddle was carried by a bunch of friendly looking people that seemed to have just came off of a ski slope.
Our guide for the coming three days shows us the way to lunch, transportation for our belongings and to our clothing for the the duration of our stay. These clothes were considerably warmer still than those in which we left The Netherlands, which by now I considered to have a very pleasant climate.
Disguised as modern Eskimos we take our places on the barking limousines that have arrived in front of our lunch tent. Before our driver releases the brake that’s been holding back the twelve dogs, we get to hear some safety guidelines that sound suspiciously like those for a roller coaster; “please keep everything on board, or you’ll risk losing it.” Moments later the dogs took off. Before long we pulled our hats even further down over our ears and silently watch the breathtaking landscape. Suddenly the sled leaves the trees behind it and the dogs zip on to a frozen river at break neck speed. “Do you see those two black dots?” Our driver points into the distance. “Those are reindeer.” Like children we try to make out what he points at. We can’t make out either a head or a tail, but blindly believe him. “Is that a reindeer too?” I ask childlike as I point towards a moving dot. “No, that’s a snowmobile.” A half an hour later we arrive at a big wall of snow. We’re told it’s the rear of the Ice Hotel. Our guide will be waiting for us here. We gather around Keke. A meter and a half worth of man, born and raised right in this area. “If he can’t answer your questions, no-one can.” The words of the Dogsled driver echo through our heads.
“Hi my name is Keke.” The beginning of a legend. Patiently he explains life in this climate. How the Ice Hotel came to be, and how it has to be rebuilt every year. Blocks of blue transparent ice lead the way to a gorgeously designed freezer that is the Ice Hotel. Anyone who has worked with industrial freezers knows the feeling. The cold that smacks you in the face when you open the door. Only there you enter a grey box filled with stuff, whereas here you enter a truly surreal environment. Snow as a ceiling, supported by magnificent pillars of ice. Indifferently Keke proceeds. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Perhaps being a guide here for many years has that effect, but as I gaze around I can hardly imagine. The Ice Hotel offers four kinds of accommodation. The sleeping hall, wherein you share the space with a relatively large number of people, the ‘normal suites’, where you have a king-sized bed and a couple of chairs made of ice and finally the Art suites. These are uniquely designed rooms, decorated by artists from all over the globe. At night time they’re suites, at daytime works of art. Then there’s the costly bridal suites to accommodate the 500 couples that get married here yearly.
Saab, determined to give us an unforgettable experience, have arranged the art suites for us.
It’s still quite early as we’re introduced to our bartender. Our new best friend for the following days. Frozen glasses that melt in your hand are being slid over to us over an equally frosty bar. Filled with a drink that accentuates the accomodation perfectly in terms of its color. People sip happily and the thirty minutes of free time we have is being used to take in and photograph every detail of the hotel, for those at home.
After we had had some time to acclimate, we were called together to be moved to the ice lake by bus. Buttocks squeezed together as the bus driver fearlessly drove on to the ice. Driving a car in icy conditions is quite an ordeal for most Dutch people, here a fully loaded bus on a frozen lake is an every day occurrence.
Once we’re out of the bus, we notice the headlights of four cars in the distance and people stop chattering. The Saab in front, a convertible no less, calmly drive toward us on two wheels. The other two wheels come down to contact the ice in a very controlled manner, and the convoy stops in front of us. We stand face to face to the (a bit older) 9-3 convertible and three brand spanking new 9-3X’s on rally tires.
Calmly the four drivers exit the cars. “Hi, we’re the Saab Performance Team, how about a ride?”
We take turns in taking place next to the drivers. To give you a sense of what it was like: These aren’t the kind of drivers that drive on a track day every now and then. These are four extremely rare examples of rally champions several times over, preferably in a row. The kind of driver that knows the braking points of every conceivable track by heart. People that can say with a straight face that they’ve driven Nascars and that they found it boring. In other words, this is where you want to be. The spiked tires dig deep into the ice and the car shoots forwards. With a speed that’s risky to enter a turn with even on tarmac the car is thrown into the first bend. Completely as expected the car goes into a slide and and through the side window we look for where to go. Silently I let myself being thrown around in the car. “Don’t you like it?” my driver asks in English in a manner that reveals this is every day business for him.
“I sure do, but I do this at home too with the handbrake.” Our heads turn from the left side window to the right one as we slide into the final bend.
“Cool, what kind of car do you drive, then?” Sliding the car comes to a halt in front of the waiting people.
“An Aygo,” I shout but I have to let the others have a turn before I could get a reply.
They sure know how to recover from a long day in Sweden. The Sauna is hot and vapor rises from the hot tub. The next three hours we’ll happily stay right here. Nuts, beer and good company is surprisingly easy to find in this thinly populated part of Europe. Scratched up we report three ours later for dinner. A wise lesson for those who are planning to one day visit Sweden: Snow isn’t soft at minus 15 centigrade. When taking a dive from the Sauna into the surrounding snow, it’s not only cold but also very, very sharp.
In the restaurant we encounter a Swedish delicacy, reindeer. Reindeer is used for just about everything around here. Reindeer hide is used as clothing and for beds, the reindeer themselves are used for transport, even reindeer antlers can be used as door knobs and now we’re eating reindeer. A long story short: Reindeer meat is lovely. If free running meat in Dutch supermarkets was as good as this, no-one would still buy industrially grown meat.
Everything one eats in Sweden, with the exception of breakfast is flushed down with alcohol. After liters of wine, beer and champagne, my search for alcohol free drinks always resulted in a humble glass or bottle of water. Only at breakfast the drinks sometimes had a flavor. Nothing negative about that, just a detail I noticed.
After a good meal we returned to our quarters. “Hi, my name is Keke.”
“Hi Keke,” we repeated choir-like. He explained to us how to sleep in this environment. Hats on, thermo underwar on and the zipper zipped right up to your nose. That’s the survival advice we received. Shivering the two Autoblog visitors crawl up on their reindeer hides. “Incredible we’re here”, is the concluding line of the first day. Tomorrow we’ll race.
“Good morning, would you like something to drink?” There’s the woman of my dreams. She got up earlier than me, specifically to wake me up with something nice to drink. I feel the cold on the tip of my nose, the only part of me that was left exposed during the night. I slide my hat up off my eyes and gaze into the friendly face of the girl of the reception that smilingly holds a wooden cup out to me. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did, actually,” I utter. I guess Otto didn’t sleep that well, he consumes the drink in a couple of big gulps and sticks his feet into his boots. A shiver goes down his back at the touch of his freezing boots, but then strides off determinedly towards the warmer part of the hotel. I lay there just fine, so I slide my hat back over my eyes and realize how happy I should be that no drool has frozen to my face during the night. A half an hour I wake up with a shock, thinking of all the Chinese tourists that will storm the hotel moments form now and decide it’s about time to start off the day.
A shower, a breakfast and a bus drive later we report on the ice plane. “Hi my name is Keke.”
“Hi Keke.” Keke is our magic leprechaun. Not because he’s somewhat short, not because he’s a hat with a puff on it, nor because of the fact that he wears an enormous green coat. No, Keke always leaves last, but arrives at the next location first. He’s always there first, but you never see him on the way there. Keke just taps his heels together and appears. That’s our Keke.
“These are your cars.” With a welcoming gesture he shows us a row of 9-5’s that are waiting for us. Smiles appear on the faces of those who heard his voice over the sound of wind. “Pick a car and let’s have some fun.” Walking quickly I try to sneak to my desired car as inconspicuously as I can. Two people per car, and Onno and I lower ourselves onto the black leather of our car, number 13. Hands and eyes inspect every detail of the car. The cockpit surrounds me and the chair folds itself into every shape I can imagine. Grinning I think about the chair I drove around in just a mere day ago and I turn up the seat heating a bit more. Not because I’m cold, but because I can.
Number 12, the car next to us, starts moving and follows number 11. First a reconnaissance lap over the ice. With both hands I grip the wheel more tightly and follow the guy in front. We complete the lap with good speed. A speed with which, in all honesty, I wouldn’t usually drive my first few meters in a €43,000 car. The die has been cast. We’re here to have fun. Better trust the XWD system.
The lap ends where an evasion test begins. Adorned with antlers our guide stands in the distance. Drive 70 kph, slam the brakes and try to drive around the obstacle using ABS. The speedo, resembling an altimeter, steadily rises to the advised speed. The first row of reindeer shaped cones zips past. The second row. I near the end of the track and slam on the brakes. The ABS intervenes and as I slide towards the cones just as fast as before I turn the wheel. Nothing happens. I turn in further. Still nothing. The sound of cones underneath the car resonates through the cabin and I release the brakes. “I guess we’re having reindeer for dinner again tonight,” I nervously say to Onno.
“You steered too much and pressed the brake too little.”, the instructor advises. Oh, that’s it, doesn’t sound very hard. Three orange reindeer made of rubber later I let Otto have a turn, who fearlessly presses the gas pedal hard on departure. The car slides, searching for grip and unconsciously I squeeze the handle in the door harder than before as the speedo speeds towards 70. This time not only the cones are in trouble, our instructor has to step a few steps aside so as not to get run over. Thankfully Onno learns from his mistakes and later he steers tight and controlled around the cones. I just guess Onno isn’t as fond of reindeer meat as I am.
With the run over cones still in our memories we begin the slalom. It’s not very hard at all at 50, but it’s a different story at 70. So first we try it with ESP switched on. As a slalom skier we glide through the cones without problems. The nose of the car sometimes softly strokes the cones, but none fall over and we reach the other side of the track in one piece. The ESP does its work noticeably but not intrusively. There’s noticeable braking going on to keep the wheels that need it in check, so as not to make the car spin out of control. It becomes irritating on the big roundabout, that’s designed with drifting in mind. Every time one tries to get the car to drift, the system steps in to straighten the car out. Two laps on the roundabout resulted in a whole lot of understeer more than anything else because of this. In an attempt to get some drifting going on I throw the car into the bend with far too much speed. The ESP steps right on it and the car disappears in a cloud of snow as I skid off of the track. Embarrassed I look at Onno. “That didn’t go very well.”
“Ya think?”, he smiles as we’re being pulled free by a 9-3X.
“Press the ESP off button for 10 seconds.” Sound the words I was waiting for, coming from one of the racing drivers hanging in through the side window. On the dashboard three rather alarming orange lights appear that tell us it’s all up to us as from now.
“Now show us what you normally do with your Aygo,” the instructor winks and gives us the green light to enter the track. What a difference. The slalom has transformed from a challenge into an impossibility. I can still get past three cones, but by then I feel I’ve really already lost control of the car. From that moment on I’m only trying to minimize damage. We come out wide and I’m frantically turning away at the steering wheel to make the car do what I want. ABS is also disabled and every attempt to brake only makes the slide more severe. I try to brake as gingerly as I can and only just inches away from the snow wall the car comes to a halt. In my rear view mirror I see number 14 dive into the snow wall and throw a huge avalanche of snow over Patrick, who mistakenly figured he’d be safe behind his camera.
As hard as the slalom was with ESP off, the roundabout went perfectly. The side steps out and lets it be controlled perfectly by adjusting the throttle. I feel how the car is on the verge of spinning out, but manage to straighten it out by giving it some welly, thanks to the XWD system. The two laps are over far too soon.
Covered in sweat I press the electric window button and with a gentle ‘zoom’ the glass disappears into the door. Cool wind oozes into the cabin as we wait in the sunlight behind the horizontal taillight of car number 12. “Sometimes I can just hardly believe we’re actually here.” I say to Onno as I gaze to the darkened rear window of the car in front.
“I know exactly what you mean,” Onno says back.
“Alright guys, now you can drive on the track we drove on yesterday. There is no speed limit. Do as you like.”
“With ESP on?” I ask hopefully.
“Whatever you wish.” Intensely happy I watch the three warning lights reappear on the dash and I floor it. Three laps on this perfect track with this amazing car. I go faster and faster around the track and the car goes ever more sideways. In the rear view mirror I see the rear of the car sliding just inches from the snow wall. The track is just 6 or so meters wide and with every lap that passes I try to make more of the available space. Most of the time we see the world through the side windows, and with the golden tip provided by Onno to tap the brake to throw the car from bend to bend, I eventually manage to go round an entire lap drifting all the way. With the nose inches from the snow wall, tightly hugged by this leather seat, the steering wheel turns rapidly through my hands. The sound of the engine fills the cabin, overshadowing the sound of the spikes digging into the ice as we fly through the bends. Whether it was due to me or due to the car we’ll never know, but I have never felt so much in control of a car as in that moment. Reluctantly I slot the gear lever from manual to park and let Onno have a go.
During the break, in which both us and the cars get a chance to cool down, we watch in silence as a B52 flies low over the ice, our hands tightly clutching a cup of tomato soup. “Planes never fly here.” Keke tells us. “They only fly here once a year to practice jumping out of planes” The plane disappears out of sight and our attention returns to the cars. Our silver 9-5 has to make place for a white 9-3X.
Sitting in the 9-3X there’s a distinct difference to it and the 9-5 and 9-4X. The 9-3X is in short ‘more general’. In both other cars you really feel you’re in Saab, whereas the 9-3X depends much on its emblem on the steering wheel to convince you of that. The car is much more of a GM era car and it shows. The brake lights of the car in front of us, driven by one of the instructors, die and and the car starts to move. I too release the brake and thanks to the automatic transmission, the car gently takes off. At a safe distance I follow the car in front, which leads us over a number of obstacles that show off what the 9-3X can do. It soon becomes apparent that there’s a lot of crazy things you can do with it before you run into serious problems. Much of this is thanks to the LSD system the car is fitted with. This system makes sure power is always sent to the wheels that have traction. Combined with the ESP system, this makes sure you won’t be unpleasantly surprised when for instance you go off road or, like we are doing now, drive on slippery surfaces. The car lets itself be easily sent over the most extreme of obstacles only to drop us off safely on the other side. When we stand safely on the ice with all four wheels Keke appears out of the blue. “Now it’s time to see who can drive on the ice the fastest.” Taking turns we take place in a 9-3X to drive an as yet unknown route over the ice track and to come to a hault in front of a row of cones. Hitting those cones means penalty time and going off track means disqualification. “So drive fast, but gently,” is the advice.
I sit down in a 9-3X and notice it’s in sport mode. Enthusiastically I put the automatic gearbox in the manual mode and wait for the green flag to drop. “Ready, set, go!” the official shouts. I press the pedal deep into the carpet and the car barely moves. Sliding the wheels search for grip, which they only find when I release the gas pedal three quarters of the way. The car launches forward as the spikes grip the ice and I’m off. First turn, brake, then steer in. The rear starts to come around and the car slides round the bend. Second gear. I push the gear leaver up and for a whole second I lose all power. The second turn is tricky and playing with the throttle I maneuver around it.
Slam the brakes, shift down and into the third bend. Once again there’s no power for a whole second as the car looks for the right gear. Because of me shifting down, a lot of weight transfers to the front which causes the rear to step out a lot. The ESP steps in mercilessly and brings the car almost to a complete stop. As I try to focus on the track I meanwhile search for the ESP button on the dash, only to conclude it’s hidden too well. I tap the gearstick once more hoping to convince the ‘box of my hurry. Again there’s a huge interval. The flappy pedals behind the steering wheel don’t help to quicken it, so reluctantly I set the gearbox back to fully automatic. Shifting gets quicker, but I can’t rev it like I want it anymore. I dive into the last bend. I do the evasive maneuver and brake hard. I’m used to cars without ABS so I try to approach maximum deceleration by dosing the brakes carefully. I come to a stop too soon, so a I ease off the brakes for a tenth of a second. After that I brake again but the ABS intervenes unasked and I softly run over the cones. So much for my racing aspirations.
“Hi my name is Keke.” Faithfully Keke greets us when we get off the bus late in the afternoon at our frozen hotel. We got a half an hour to refresh, because afterwards we’d go reindeer racing. I splash some water in my face and step into the snow again. Thoughtlessly I watch the driver sliding the bus over the snow. In The Netherlands we collectively don’t dare to drive faster than at walking pace with the slightest hint of wet snow in November and here people happily drive fully loaded buses over a meter of snow at 80 kph.
A traditionally dressed reindeer herder hands us over to Magic Keke who enthusiastically tells us about nature in Sweden and how reindeer work. He attaches a mischievous reindeer to a sled and gives us solid advise. “Be careful.” With us as a payload the animal runs forward only to stop again after only a few meters. We were told to make certain sounds to urge the reindeer to start moving again, but it soon turns out most people are reluctant to make those sounds. Our traditionally dressed man was thus forced to run up to the stranded animal to motivate it in to motion again. An entertaining spectacle to see, lying in the deep snow alongside the track.
After having sufficiently exhausted the reindeer we take our place in a heated tent with a big fire in the center of it. Here we’re introduced to a new recipe for reindeer meat and chewing away we listen to the Sami people’s traditions. The people of this land. We admire how much of this culture has been preserved.
We head over to the restaurant. Our thoughts are still with the people who live here. They have to follow the migrating reindeer around through all the snow and cold for their livelihood. On the other hand I just pop into my car, drive to the supermarket around the corner to get a bag of chips. “Outrageous”, I think to myself. We walk past a lamp post. Five cars surround it. All cars are tied to the lamp post by a cable, making it look as though they’re all plug in hybrids. “That’s for the oil pan heating, so that they can start in the morning.”, my neighbor tells me. “When it gets really cold they often just let the cars run all night.” I sigh in relief. There are worse things than me with my bag of chips.
Only when the light of the last lamp post fades into the dark we notice the skies. Our eyes adjust to the intense light and the northern light becomes clearly visible. Slowly we stop and nobody says anything anymore. Just the whistling of the wind is audible whilst everyone looks up. Green light meanders through the dark night. Accentuated by more stars than you will ever be able to see in The Netherlands. Suddenly the green lines change in light, shape and intensity. Sometimes they disappear as quickly as they came.
A short distance away a door opens and we see the bright yellow ski pants we’d come to know so well step outside. “How about something to eat?” His voice pierces our silence. We gaze one last time at the skies and cover our ears with our hats. Time to eat indeed.
Apart from reindeer meat the Swedes also like fish. No supermarket “fresh fish” but actual fresh fish. You can really taste the difference. Like the free running reindeer, this fish has also clearly had plenty of space to move about before it ended up on my plate. There’s a very nice atmosphere as one of our hostesses stands up. The room falls silent and everyone looks at her. “Thank you all for coming here tonight. Tonight is a special night for all of us, but for one person here in particular, this night is extra special.” For a second she looks at her audience before finally looking at me. “We happen to have a birthday today. Thijs has turned 24!” People roar and immediately people begin singing birthday songs. Overwhelmed by these spontaneous celebrations I sit still in my chair.
“Only 24 and already racing Saabs here in Sweden, good for him!” someone shouts. ”Thank you for this fantastic birthday!” I quickly reply and smile back. One of the racing drivers stands up. ”We have a little something for you too, of course.”. From his bag he grabs the peddle thingy they greeted us with at Kiruna Airport. “We’ve all signed it.”
With a big smile I accept the gift. “Thank you all ever so much.”
Even though the last few nights all were short the evening is far from over. Awards are handed out for our lap times on the ice. Onno comes in third, cameraman Patrick takes the biscuit. Autoblog is well represented. We sing yoiks with semi-celebrity Yana Mangi-Sundgren. We carve out art in a wall of the ice hotel and hang it on the bar. Eventually we fall asleep in our luxurious, heated rooms. The phone rings and I wake up with a shock. This is the first time I’ve heard a phone ring in over 50 hours so I need some orientation time. Light flows in through the window, amplified by the snow outside. Blinded I crawl across floor to the desk where the phone sits. “Hello?” I groan. “This is your seven o’clock wake-up call sir.” Immediately the conversation ends and I watch the thing in my hand. The difference between the wake up calls of yesterday and today is that of the tone. Yesterday they tried to instill warmth, now it seems they want to prepare me for the cold outside. I roll around in my bed before realizing what a lovely breakfast awaits me.
Satisfied I put on my winter outfit. On this final day, or rather this final morning, we go snow scooter racing. No limitations, no training. “This is the throttle, this is the brake and try not to fall off.” I pull the cord of my helmet extra hard for safety and then I depress the throttle carefully. The revs mount and the scooter launches forward. The recommended following distance is 20 meters for safety’s sake. Wouter probably didn’t catch that as he flew past me, waving his hands, almost right away. He could barely avoid hitting the guy in front of me. I laughed, which caused my visor to fog up so I flipped it up. With the visor open I do my best to catch up again and before long my eyebrows and lashes are adorned with ice.
After testing the snow scooters’ abilities and taking in the surroundings for an hour we set course to the Ice Hotel.
For one final time we change clothes. The suits go back to their proper places and the jeans come out once more. The final bits and bobs go into our suitcases and we take our last pictures of the Ice Hotel. It’s about time to head back home to the warm(er) south.
At the airport we bid our guides farewell. There’s an incredible amount of things you can do in three days. It feels like a week, an exquisite week.
From the wind of the airplane I watch northern Sweden, already thinking of the amazing time I’ve had there.
In the busy arrivals hall of Schiphol suitcase after suitcase slides by and we start separating. Even though we hardly know each other, it feels like we’re all friends. The people in the arrivals space start to gradually leave and I am one of the last ones to receive my suitcase. The Saab Arctic Adventure label hangs proudly on the handle. With a big smile I pick it up and make my way towards the exit, carrying my backpack, my suitcase and a head full of fond memories.