Ice Hotel - Nice 'n' icey

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Sweden  , Norrbotten,
Thursday, January 19, 2006

It's as if I wasn't cold or remote enough coming across Mongolia or Siberia, and that another burst of -30C weather would do the trick before heading down to the Middle East for more beachside shenanigans. Why not head up to the Arctic Circle and see if there is a big dotted line marking it in the snow?

Long term readers will know that one of my goals on this trip was to stay in the fabled Ice Hotel in the very north of Sweden. I'd heard about it from friend Olof, probably when we were downing a few beers melting in Singapore's sweltering 32C and humid heat. I tucked that away in the back of my mind, envisaging some ice castle much like the one in the Superman movie, and that it would be pretty cool to stay there sometime. Yes it would be indeed.

And winter is the time to do it. Probably not in January because it is too damn cold (even the ski resorts up here don't open til March), but now's when I'm here and there's no time like the present. In the lead-up to our journey there had been dire predictions of -36C temperatures accompanied by 40 knots of wind - equating to about -60C with wind chill factor. Fortunately that didn't eventuate, and all was good, so we set off on the northern train and arrived to a pleasantly overcast sky in Kiruna the next day at 11am.

Kiruna, population 30,000, is a mining town that lives on iron ore. So much so that when the miners discovered more ore under the town, they thought it most economically feasible to move everything in the town 3km away (yes, piece by piece then reconstruct it) so they could dig the old one's foundations up. The move hasn't happened yet - it will do in a few years - so don't blame me if you turn up and the ATMs are all left handed.

Anyway, in it's current form it's a pretty place. Unusual architecture but pretty clean and neat. Everything is blasted with powder snow, much the way Irkutsk was giving it that winter wonderland appeal. While Olof looked for VBs (Australian beer, as you do up here), new friend Dr Clara from New Zealand (we'd met on the train) and I tramped up to the old wooden spaceship-looking church to take some frosty snaps. Then we boarded the bus of our combined fate.

The Ice Hotel itself is located about 20km away at a place called Jukkasjarvi (pron Yukkasyaravi). It certainly wasn't the Superman ice castle that I'd imagined for so long, more like a couple of snow-covered rounded-metal aircraft hangars you see about the place. But in its way it is beautiful, and the surrounding village and countryside also aim to please.

As you'd expect it has a 'warm' reception and other amenities like restaurants and bars that you don't have to freeze to eat or drink in. No detail required there. The Ice Hotel itself however is a long (60-70 metres) semi-circular corridor with guest wings branching off it one both sides. In the entry corridor is an ice reception and what would best be described as an ice dining hall, complete with ice table, chairs and chandelier.

There is also a church (above right, including spacey supernatural aura whisping about) and the all important Ice Bar located inside. All of it is hewn out of man-made blown white snow that is completely opaque when packed, carved and moulded into the superstructure.

The bar more resembled the ice castle of my aberrant conception. Big bricks of clear ice making a grand hall, where the bar serves Absolut vodka drinks of every variety in ice glasses that end up sticking to your hand. Lounge alcoves with reindeer skin covers on the seats are found down one side, but apart from that there is (not surprisingly) very little seating, as the whole complex maintains a temperature of between -5C and -9C.

On to the bedrooms. We ordered the basic room (above right) which was little more that a frosty alcove with a rough bed (again covered with reindeer skins) plonked in the middle. Sleeping bags and inners are provided because there ain't no electric blanket!

But it is the deluxe rooms that you come to see. I'll post a bunch of photos with little description in the next entry but they have to be seen to be believed. Management secures ice artists from all over the world to create their own little fantasy in one of the 30 or so deluxe or super deluxe rooms. There doesn't seem to be any theme so some of the creations are quite bizarre. All are very nicely executed so it's a shame to think that they will all melt away before mid year.

There are quite a few outside activities too, although we wisely stayed indoors as most involve tearing around the countryside at a great rate of knots and freezing bodily extremities within minutes at this time of the year. We did catch some huskies racing down the frozen river next to the hotel and there is snow-mobiling, ice fishing and a few other traditional pursuits to keep the energetic or tee-totalling occupied.

We were here for just over a day in the end and all in all it was a successful mission. I did opt out of the nudie sauna/snow-roll (wisely methinks) but we'd seen some pretty unusual art, met new friends and survived a night in our very own designer igloo. It was great fun but had a royal price. Still, what more could one ask?

Next entry -> Pictures from the Ice Hotel Deluxe Suites - well worth a look

Freak of the Week

This is a Japanese dude called 'the Walkman', a name actually coined on his behalf before Sony starting using it for their world-famous portable music players. Anyway, although based in Tokyo he is an extremely well travelled man, and has done most of it walking across various continents and countries around the world.

His first journey was in 1970 (he's 78 this year) when he crossed 76 countries in a 2.5 year walking bender. A later trip included a 487 day pilgrimage to Mecca from the west coast of Africa, with his only company being four camels (including one called Liz).

Why does he walk? He regards it as a form of prayer and meditation - a search for the truth. "Walking is the proof of my existence. I walk to stare into my life."

Olof and I returned to Stockholm from Kiruna with the Walkman in our compartment. He's drinks like a fish and is en route to Amsterdam to pick up some pot. He has plans (well, algorithms at least) for a nano computer he's building in the next few years. He acts Shakespeare to earn money back home. Very deservingly the freak of the week...
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technotrekker on

Re: COOL!!!
Yep, that was one fun stop. Am glad you liked the pics and I'd reckon your uncle has the better idea doing it in wood as carving ice would be COLD!

Keep trekkin'

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