Week 28: Scandinavian Adventure. Ice Hotel in Kiruna review.

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.

Good news!

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.

A Song of Ice and Fire? 

A Song of Ice and Fire? 

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.

Breathtaking Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland!

Side bar:

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

Ice Hotel Kiruna review

Week 28: Scandinavian Adventures. Stockholm Travel Guide

Stockholm Travel Guide for Bloggers

We got back from Northern Europe two weeks ago, but I only now finally sat down to write and edit the ‘Scandinavian Adventures’ guide. I will also share a trip video my husband made, so stay tuned and enjoy the plunge into the land of Vikings!

Ben and I flew to Stockholm via Moscow right after Christmas. The flight was long, so when we got to Stockholm, all I wanted to do was unpack and sleep. However, the freezing air of Skeppsholmen Island where we were staying (did you know that Stockholm is an archipelago and consists of 14 islands?) and delicious coffee in a pretty mug brought me back to life.


Ok, I am lying, because what really woke me right up when my husband said we need to check out a few boutiques so I can pick out a new bag for myself :)

There are a few nice boutiques at Birger Jarlsgatan, including Louis Vuitton and Gucci. If you live in the USA, you will definitely want to buy something in these boutiques as prices are lower and you will get a VAT return (just don’t forget to ask for a Tax Refund form!).

Our first days in Stockholm were cold, but quite manageable. I did expect Scandinavian countries to be much colder in winter than they actually were to be honest, so I was pleasantly surprised with the mild temperatures and absence of snow in the capital cities of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Of course I did pack wisely, and brought a very warm wardrobe that saved me from freezing, but I will talk about it in one of the next posts!


is an undeniably beautiful city, stunningly decorated around Christmas and New Years. I could talk a lot about its narrow colourful streets, breathtaking castles, little cafes with delicious, sweet pastries and hot chocolates, but you probably read that many times before in other travel guides. Therefore, I will focus on just best places Ben and I visited and share some photographs I took on our journey.

Skansen open-air museum outdoors, immersive activity Sweden
Stockholm Travel Guide by blogger Ulia Ali and Benjamin Pillmore.
Period costumes in Skansen, Sweden.

1. Skansen Museum

I absolutely fell in love with Skansen! Apparently it is the world’s first open-air museum, and was founded in 1891. The museum territory is huge and has many different, interesting parts covering five centuries of Swedish history. There are churches and houses, shops, bakeries and farmsteads, all authentic to the period each depicts. 

Skansen Избушка на курьих ножках в Стокгольме.
Red house Skansen

Skansen is a remarkable ‘immersive experience’ place. While you walk around the historical buildings or a beautifully decorated merchant’s house from the 19th century, you can easily stumble across actors/characters in period dresses who will answer all your questions. 

The museums also have a zoo with wild bears, reindeer, wolves and other beautiful animals.

Skansen zoo, Stockholm guide.
Skansen Guide

Cafe Stockholm desserts

2. Wienercaféet

There are many cafes with delicious deserts and traditional Swedish food around Stockholm, but my favourite one was Wienercaféet. Their smorgasbords with salmon and avocado were amazing, and I liked their pastries so much, that I had to take two pieces of cake to our hotel and devour them in bed while watching Vikings.


3. Hotel Skeppsholmen

By the way, speaking of hotels! Ben and I were staying at the Skeppsholmen which is situated on the beautiful and very quiet island of Skeppsholmen. Our room had a great Scandinavian minimalist design, big shower and in the mornings we were ate a very, very tasty breakfast with various choices of food.

The hotel has a very colourful history and is a government listed historic building. To read more about hotel’s history click here.  

4. Gamla Stan

Probably the most photographed area of Sweden, Gamla Stan or ‘Old Town’, is one of the largest and most gorgeous medieval city centres in Europe. Come here for charming little streets, churches, pictures in front of colourful buildings, souvenirs, cafes, museums and old-fashioned romance. The Royal Palace is also located in Gamla Stan, and you surely don’t want to miss it!

Gamla Stan Travel Guide

5. The Royal Palace

Kungliga slottet, the Royal Palace is one of the largest and most lavish palaces in the world with its 608 rooms. Although the Swedish Royal family, the House of Bernadotte, reside in the much smaller and modest Drottinghom Palace, the king and the queen still hold audiences and host some official ceremonies in Kungliga slottet.

Kungliga slottet, the Royal Palace

6. Djugarden

The island of Djugarden, once a royal hunting ground, doesn’t only have Skansen. The Nordiska Museum, Junibacken (which is a museum dedicated to fictional characters from Astrid Lindgren’s creations, e.g. Karlsson-on-the-Roof), The Abba Museum, Vasa Museum with its massive warship, Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, and other smaller museums and galleries.

I think Djugarden was my favourite island in Stockholm, and I would definitely love to explore it in summer next time.

Djugarden, Stockholm Travel Guide by Blogger Ulia Ali Pillmore. Scandinavian Adventures.

7. Fartygsmagasinet i Stockholm AB

I LOVE antique stores, and Fartygsmagasinet immediately caught my attention when we were walking around Gamla Stan. This antique store specialises in nautical antiques and maritime interiors, and has a large selection of unique pieces you just want to peruse. 

Nautical store in Gamla Stan, Stockholm. Best maritime antique store in Europe.


Next, I will share my Lapland and Ice Hotel review, and also my Copenhagen guide, so stay tuned!

Week 20: Kauai Island. Adventures with horses, scuba diving and flying high.

Adventures on Kauai Island. What do in Hawaii?

When Ben and I were deciding on which Hawaiian Island we wanted to spend our vacation, we were torn between Maui and Kauai. After giving it some thought, we decided that since Maui is more developed and touristic, we can visit it in the future. Kauai, on the other hand, is the most wild and adventurous island in Hawaii. Now seemed to be the perfect time to explore Kauai while we are still young and a little reckless :)

Scuba Diving

The most important part of out trip was getting PADI certified. Soon I will tell you how to get your PADI certification, and share my diving experience and learning process, but today I want to focus on the actual dives we did in Kauai.

I have always wanted to go scuba diving, but I had no idea that I needed to learn so much and pass so many exams beforehand. Luckily, Ben and I had already finished our scuba course in Manhattan (here). Make sure you apply for the exam and pass confined water skills portion in your home city before you go on the vacation. Afterwards, I suggest you pass your open water skills portion (4 dives in total, usually takes two days) somewhere you are really excited to dive, like we did in Kauai. 

We were diving in Koloma Landing. The surge was incredibly strong, but we still had a great time and really impressed our instructor. We passed every skill, never freaked out and weren't afraid to descend deeper (so far my record is 50 ft).

I think the highlight of our dives was seeing a few GIGANTIC sea turtles. I have a huge obsession with them, and I think I screamed underwater in excitement when I saw a turtle for the first time. We even swam next to each other which was an incredible experience. 

Now Ben and I are planning our next diving trip and thinking about taking the advanced scuba diving courses. Ben is interested in the Rescue Diver course, and we are both excited to get the Wreck Diver license. Wreck diving allows you to dive deeper and explore ship and aircraft wrecks underwater. We are also talking about getting Dry Suit certified this winter, as it allows you to scuba dive in icy cold water. My SO heard diving in Alaska is amazing. :)

Horse Riding

If you are ever in Kauai, I recommend you visit the Silver Falls Ranch on the north shore. The ranch is beautiful and it has many exotic birds and cute, little boars running around. But of course, our main reason for visiting the Ranch were the horses. Ben and I took the horse riding tour that travels through the wild, tropical land and lush gardens and takes you to Silver Falls. It was a long and beautiful ride and I loved my horse so much. 


Helicopter Tour

Kauai helicopter.

I was so grateful to Ben for organising such a wonderful Hawaiian trip that I surprised him with a helicopter tour over the whole of Kauai Island. Kauai is the oldest and the greenest Island of Hawaii. Over 80% of Kauai is uninhabited and wild, which makes it the epitome of savage beauty. Seeing the lush island in all its magnificence from a bird's eye view is something we will never forget. 

It is hard to describe all the wonders of nature we have seen, but I guess the most famous sightseeing was the Jurassic Park Falls in Hanapepe Valley. We were also lucky to see Waialeale MountainWaialeale, if you didn't know, is the second wettest spot on Earth and it receives about 450 inches of rain every year(!).

The helicopter tour was great and we loved our pilot/guide. I booked the tour from the Safari Helicopters and definitely recommend them.

I would also suggest you go zip lining and maybe even try skydiving in Kauai. In the next post I will tell you more about the St. Regis Resort we stayed in and suggest places to go (and not go!) in Kauai. 

P.S. I had to rewrite this post at least three times because Squarespace was crushing and deleting my progress. Anyone else experience the same problem with Squarespace when using Chrome?

Read my other TRAVEL posts here / Читайте мои другие посты о путешествиях ТУТ.

Week 20: Kauai Island. Allerton Garden Review.

Allerton Garden Review. Kauai Island.

Allerton Garden, also knowns as Lawa'i-kai, is a gorgeous botanical garden located in Poipu, on the south shore of Kauai island. The Garden was created by Robert Allerton and his adopted son, John Gregg Allerton, and was transformed into an exotic, lavish paradise with the help of the Hawaiian Queen Emma in 1938. 

Queen Emma was queen consort of Hawaiian King Kamehameha IV until his death in 1863. A year before the King's death, their son Albert also died, leaving Queen Emma mourning and lonely for the rest of her life. After the death of her family, Queen Emma shortly retreated to Allerton Garden, where she planted beautiful bougainvilleas that you can still see now!

The botanical garden is definitely worth visiting if you are on Kauai. Ben and I really enjoyed our 2.5-3 hour guided tour ($50 per person) and we were fascinated by the original garden rooms, exotic plants and fountains. Allerton Garden also has many hidden little treasures like old, intricate stone benches and dreamlike sculptures. It was so easy to imagine how lavish and exotic balls and receptions must have been on this transformed Hawaiian plantation.

Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii. Fig, banyan tree.
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii. Couple together.
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii
Allergen Garden Kauai, Hawaii. Banyan trees.

The picturesque garden has been used in many films and TV shows, including South Pacific, Starsky and Hutch, Pirates of the Caribbean and Jurassic Park. I am sure you would immediately recognise the Moreton Bay fig trees/banyans that impressed Steven Spielberg back in the 1990s so much that he included them in Jurassic Park. 

Dress - Vintage Dress from 80s (found in Topshop on Oxford street, London).

Similar here and here.