View from Plane
I recently took a once in a lifetime trip to Sweden. I visited Stockholm for a few days and then went to experience the Ice Hotel in Kiruna. I am reporting on this amazing trip in a series of feature articles beginning with my trip to Kiruna and the Ice Hotel.
I flew SAS airlines, along with many families and couples, from Stockholm an hour and a half north to Kiruna, in Lapland; the land of the midnight sun. I got more and more excited the farther north we flew as I looked out my window and saw snow, forests and wilderness. We landed at a small airport in the city of Kiruna.
I was greeted at baggage claim with a sign ? Davis, Clark Welcome!. I presented myself to the young man whose name was Tony. He had been sent from the Ice Hotel to pick up and take care of the Clark?s, (a husband and wife with their three lovely young daughters; also from Southern California) and me. The Ice Hotel offers transportation from the airport not in the form of a town car or limousine but a dog sled and the Clarks and I were the lucky ones that had signed up for the dog sled ride.
Once Tony had collected our luggage, he took us to a warming hut, located just outside the airport. The hut resembled a large igloo, which was wooden inside with a large fireplace burning in the center. There, waiting for us, was our warm clothing, supplied by the hotel for all their guests. They issued us a fur hat, snowsuit, gloves and snow boots. Once we were dressed in our warm clothing, we went outside and were introduced to our Musher?s. Each of our parties had their own dog sled. The Clark?s sled had 12 dogs. Because I was alone, I only had 6.
Me Outside the Warming Hut
There were many other dogs, sleds and much activity happening all around us. It seems we had arrived during an annual dog sled race, similar to the Iditarod Race we have in Alaska. The air was filled with the sounds of the dogs yelping, howling, whining and barking in anticipation of their upcoming run. I noticed that none of the dogs looked alike. I later learned from my Musher that they looked different because our sled dogs were Alaskan Huskies.
I sat down in the sled, which was covered with reindeer skins and got ready for what was to be a breathtaking memorable trip. Click here to hear the sounds of the dogs as they start to run. With a jolt we were off, and soon beyond the other barking dogs, beyond the airport and in the middle of a beautiful wilderness. Snow and ice all around, trees everywhere, green and covered with snow. The weather was a perfect +3?C, crisp, cool and magnificent.
With a Jolt We Were Off
The wind was blowing in my face, the visibility was great and nature?s beauty was everywhere. There was stillness all around, except for the sound of the dogs breathing, running and the sleds runners crunching over the snow. The sound reminded me of skiing when there is no one around, just the noise of my skis going through corn snow, a magical crunching sound. Everything was beautiful, breathtaking and exciting. The ride was both smooth and bouncy, as we would often sled over moguls this required a good deal of balancing which only added to the excitement of the ride. While running, except for their panting, the dogs are quiet. They quickly bite the snow on the side of the trail when thirsty and are able to relieve themselves as they run switching their weight to their front legs.
In the Middle of Nature My Musher the Dogs and Me
Initially I noticed huge smokestacks in the distance, according to my Musher, these belonged to the iron mine. He went on to tell me that Kiruna has the world?s largest, most modern underground iron ore mine, and straddles the world's largest known concentration of high-grade iron ore. Mining started there over 100 years ago. Kiruna is the largest city in Sweden in size; however, there is a population of only 21,000 people in town and 25,000 in the area, 1,000 of which work in the mine. Kiruna used to have a commune that for years was the largest in the world, now it is second to one in Australia. There are over 12,000 registered snowmobiles in Kiruna. He also explained more about the sled dogs, Alaskan sled dogs, bred from the gold rush days, were pulling us. They are a hound-type of dog and able to be crossbred with other dogs that are selected for speed and endurance. The Alaskans, a very strong dog, eats less and performs more, so you need to carry less food for them on the sled. The other types of sled dogs are the Alaskan Malamute, the Samoyed, Northeastern Sled Dog, and the Greenland Eskimo Dog.
It took about an hour to get to the Ice Hotel. The magnificent experience of taking the dog sled was one of the highlights of my entire trip. I would encourage anyone, who is lucky enough to visit the Ice Hotel, whether as a family or a romantic couple to book this memorable experience.
The Warm Reception
Upon arrival, I went to the registration building (the warm hut) where I was informed as to what would be happening during my visit. I felt like I was at summer camp with loads of fun and exciting activities to choose from. There were choices of ice fishing, snowmobile riding, snowmobile riding at night to see the Northern Lights, ice sculpture classes, Saami culture, reindeer drawn sleigh rides, cross country skiing, massage and sauna among other choices. I made my choices and was then directed to my warm hut where I was to stay my first night. The second night I would stay inside the Ice Hotel itself.
The warm huts were very charming individual cottages. Mine was a cozy and comfortable two-bedroom cottage with the blond wood you associate with Swedish architecture. It had a small kitchenette and a living room with a TV. Both the bedrooms had huge 3?x 9? skylights where you can see the beauty of the night sky as well as the Northern Lights. The bedroom I selected had a large picture window at the foot of the bed where you can see the sunset and look out at beautiful trees.
Off on the Snowmobiles
My first activity was a snowmobile ride, which took two hours. The guide accompanied me, and two women from England. Similar to our sled ride, there were many moguls we?d pass over on the trails until we?d get to a lake or stream, which were very smooth. While traveling on the lake with my snowmobile, I reached 95 kph. My guide boasted his own custom snowmobile would exceed 200 kph. It was a very beautiful ride. The most memorable part was going up on a mountain and looking down at a beautiful view of the frozen Torne River below and mountains above and beyond.
View of Ice Hotel
The Ice Hotel is difficult to describe, its like you are living inside a piece of art. Words cannot do it justice. You have to see it to believe it, even then, I don?t know that you necessarily believe it. The entire hotel is made from snow and ice. Of course it's cold (the hotel is maintained at -5?C in order to maintain the ice) but you forget about that as you go from room to room looking at the sculptures chiseled everywhere and marveling at the creativity. Each individual room or suite is sculpted differently. All the rooms have beds made of wooden platforms with regular mattresses covered in reindeer skins. Every year hundreds of artists from all over the world present their ideas of how the rooms and hotel should be designed.
Looking towards the Luggage Room
A committee then hand picks the designs of approx. 35 of these artists and then these designs are sculpted in the 60 rooms, suites, bedrooms, colonnaded halls, furniture, statues etc. The feeling is that of a magical, mysterious ice museum.
Cold Entrance to Ice Hotel
When you enter the Ice Hotels? front door you are greeted at the ?cold registration?. You see that it is -5?C. There is a long beautiful hallway with a exquisite chandelier at the end.
Ice Table, Chairs, Chandelier etc.
The chandelier is illuminated with fiber optic lighting so as not to melt the ice. There is a sculpted table and chairs beneath it.
The Absolute Ice Bar
Beyond the chandelier is the famous Absolute Ice Bar. Everything is made of ice including your beverage glasses. There are sculptures of musical instruments, again made entirely out of ice and so authentic people actually play them. There is a guitar, bass, drums, xylophones and a pipe organ.
Glasses Made of Ice
Person Playing Ice Organ
As for the quality and beauty of the items sculpted at the hotel? You basically wander down hallway after hallway, room after room shaking your head in disbelief that any of it is real. I felt like a kid running from room to room wide eyed in disbelief feeling like I was in an alien environment.
There is an Ice Chapel next door to the Ice Hotel. The Chapel is an actual church, a large room with many benches covered with reindeer skins. There are over 160 weddings performed here each year. It is a very romantic place to be.
Inside Ice Theater
A theatre on the hotel grounds is built to resemble Shakespeare?s Globe Theatre in England. It is also made entirely out of snow and ice and they give live performances inside the theater.
View during Night Snowmobile
One of my goals was to see the Northern Lights. When I heard that they had an 8 p.m. snowmobile trip in search of the Northern Lights, I excitedly signed up. This trip was very similar to the 4 pm tour, but takes you to cabins where you will hopefully look up at the Northern Lights through open ceilings while your guides cook you a wonderful dinner. A group of about 30 of us signed up for the tour. After about 45 minutes we were at the cabins. We were split into two groups and our guides proceeded to cook our dinner.
Tony making Dinner
I was happy to see my initial contact Tony was my guide. Our meal started with hot Lingonberry juice. We were then served a Salmon sandwich with cream cheese, followed by Moose soup with
Me in the Laplander Cottage
a cheese roll, and then Reindeer stew. All the food was prepared over a flaming wood fire just as it would have been in a traditional style Laplander cottage. The meal was followed by homemade apple pie. It turned out that on the ride we saw no Northern Lights, nevertheless, it was an enjoyable trip.
When we got back from our ride some of us we lay outside on the snow, and starred up at the sky in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. We got lucky and did see them. It was a small display. Fascinating colors of blue-green appeared out of nowhere, then with much activity, more activity than I imagined, they would dance through the sky bouncing back and forth, up and down, growing larger and smaller, larger and smaller and then simply disappear. Blue-green colors would turn to red, appear and then leave with little trails, looking like con trails across the sky. We watched them for about 15-20 minutes and then they ended. We went back into the Absolute Ice Bar and then went into our warm huts and to sleep.
I will continue the story of my experiences at the Ice Hotel in the next installment.
To learn more go to: http://www.icehotel.com