North by North North - The Ice Hotel
by Benjamin Pillmore (my hubby!)
When most people think of the Arctic Circle, they imagine a cold, white wasteland devoid of even the smallest signs of life.
The frozen north has a plethora of life (human and otherwise) and is quite manageable if you have a sense for adventure. Ulia and I decided to make the trek up to Kiruna, Sweden which is about 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle and Sweden’s northernmost city. There, resides the original Ice Hotel (Jukkasjärvi): a resort situated on the frozen banks of the Torne River that boasts the world’s first and most famous hotel made of ice.
The hotel is divided into three types of rooms, grouped into three separate structures. The first is the warm, which is, well, warm, as in not made of ice. The second is the newly-opened (November 2016) 365 building which houses a series of rooms that are maintained year-round at -5ºC. The third, and most renowned, is the original Ice Hotel; a building comprised of massive blocks of ice harvested straight from the Torne River but a hundred meters away.
Now, for those of you who are wondering why anyone would go that far north to stay in what essentially amounts to an oversized igloo, let me enlighten ye with the top five coolest things you can do at The Ice Hotel.
1. Airport Transfers
At this point, you have read the heading and are probably wondering what lavish or outlandish vehicle could possibly pick you up from the airport in Kiruna and drop you off at the Ice Hotel. A hummer? A snowmobile? Some Swedish cross-country skiers? Alas, no. But you can have a team of adorable huskies come pick you and three friends up for a dogsled transfer to the hotel!
The dogsled airport transfer is not cheap, but it is an experience unto itself and should definitely be considered if you want a very original method of getting from A to B or have a thing for dogs, sleds, snow and adventure.
2. The Ice Bar
For those of you who drink, you are in luck. The Ice Hotel crafts an awesome bar made of sheer ice every year and serves all of its mixed drinks in glasses made of ice, cut straight from the Torne River. For the hypochondriacs (I’ll save you the google: people who are scared of germs) in the crowd, the ice has been tested and verified bacterium-free before it is cut into the glasses you drink out of. The bar itself has a mascot named Mr. Fuzzy who happens to be the portrait of a lion that overseas the goings on in the bar area. There is comfy seating adorned with animal hides (probably reindeer, I did not get a proper look) and plenty of space and music for both personality types.
Ask for the off-menu drinks and make sure you keep your glass so you can break it later (for fun of course!)
3. Lingonberry Juice
Yeah, yeah: "oh this sounds so boring! ’Tis but juice!". Well, guess what? The idiom: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do', is very applicable here. Backstory: in Sweden, there is a concept known as "allemansrätten" or 'Everyman’s Right" which essentially grants anyone the freedom to roam the land, sail the water, camp, and forage for food, pretty much anywhere in Sweden (this custom exists in many nordic countries). This centuries’s old edict is still just as strong today and as Lingonberries grow quite commonly all over Sweden, consuming them in various forms is a part of life. The Ice Hotel is no exception and makes it a habit of providing hot Lingonberry juice at opportune moments throughout your stay; from your first arrival to your morning wake up call, Lingonberries will be in your face and I recommend you be Roman.
4. The Ice Hotel Art Suites
Every year, ice artists and sculptors (from the cold parts of the world), descend on the Ice Hotel to showcase their woks in the form of exquisitely detailed suites made entirely of ice and snow. Each room has its own theme, ranging from the instantly recognizable 'Casablanca' with its Moroccan geometric embellishments, to the more subtle (and frankly unsettling) 'Faces' room which contains a 3m tall face staring at your bed while another ten faces gaze down at you from the ceiling, judging your dreams and snickering at your snores. The Ice Hotel commissions thirty five unique suites every season and offers one of the few places in the world where you can essentially sleep inside a sculpture.
5. The Northern Lights
The Sámi people have inhabited the northern portion of Scandinavia for a millennia and developed their own belief system, much like any other people, around their environment (think :sun gods, weather gods, ocean gods, etc). In this case, the Sámi people believe that the Northern Lights are the sparks flung from the tail of a fox as it bolts across the sky and represent the souls of fallen relatives.
At this point you may be scratching your head over how we just went from a solar particle phenomenon to foxes, but just bear with me and I will connect the dots! The Sámi people stem from the northernmost portions of Scandinavia which, as some of you geography buffs are aware of, contains a little country called Finland. Now here’s the line between the dots: The Finnish word for 'Northern Lights' is 'Revontulet’ which literally translates as 'fire fox'. Voila! Pretty cool, right? Anyway, this is the main event at the Ice Hotel, this is the once-in-a-lifetime experience you drag your loved ones with you to see. Our guide advised us that it needs to be cold, clear and dark to experience the revontulet at its finest, so bundle up, be patient and keep your eyes on the sky.
The Northern Lights experience at the Ice Hotel comprises three arctic adventures rolled into one. First off, you take a snowmobile on a 2.5 hour journey from the hotel to a secluded wilderness camp with Finnish style cottages. Secondly, your guide will prepare dinner for you and talk about the history and culture of the area. Last but not least: The Revontulet will hopefully make an appearance (I still have a lawsuit pending with the Swedes over the clouds that ruined our chances but I doubt I will hear back from them).
Until next time - BAP