Monday, March 17, 2008

Sweden's Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi

The small town of Jukkasjärvi is a few miles from Kiruna. Kiruna is one of the fastest growing towns in Sweden due to an Iron Ore mine. Ramona, the beautiful, short red-head wearing a reindeer pelt poncho and mittens, also our guide on the transport bus from the Kiruna airport, told us that Kiruna's town center is scheduled to be moved as a great amount of the ore is immediately beneath the town. She said this move was to be completed in about four years ( I believe--don't quote me on this).

The airport was so cute that I couldn't resist taking a photo of it. It seemed everything we passed on the outskirts of Kiruna was painted in the particular color of red.
Phil and I were completely smitten by the snowy landscape and dry, cold climate before we stepped off of the airplane. We enjoyed watching the trees go by and seeing similar things--even a space station--as we would see in Fairbanks, Alaska. We felt like we were home!

But we were headed for the Ice Hotel, a popular and well known place to go for an exotic vacation. The average stay is usually two nights, which we planned to do, as well.

One of the key features of the landscape is the Torne river. This river is a mode of transport, the water supply and the ice supply for the Ice Hotel and all of the Absolut Icebars available even as far as Tokyo (yes, the ice is actually transported).

Here is a photo of some dog sledding on the river.

We had the opportunity to go dogsledding. This photo is taken where we stopped for coffee and cinnamon buns within a teepee. Hunter enjoyed a much needed nap on the way back. It was perfect, too, because we were nestled into each other as a family and he was cozy as could be.
Our first day in Jukkasjärvi the sky was exceptionally clear and sunny. This is a photo, just before sunset, of the entrance to the Ice Hotel ice rooms, Absolut bar and amazing ice artwork. The double doors are covered in reindeer hides. The handles are reindeer antlers.

This is a photo of the main road into Jukkasjärvi on a snowy evening at dinner time. We were headed to The Old Homestead restaurant for dinner. We discovered it to be much too ritzy for four year olds...
Ice, snice (combination of ice and snow), and snow are the main ingredients used to build the Ice Hotel. This photo gives you a view of the sidewalls and how much the snow has compressed and compacted since it was built in November (this is Ice Hotel number 18--they let it melt in April and May, right back into the river, and build it back up again each November with the ice blocks they harvested from the river in March).

The Ice Hotel provides outer winter gear for its guests. This is a group of people wearing their winter gear on the way to some kind of adventure--maybe to see moose or reindeer or go snowmobiling.

The free outer winter gear was a selling point for me because the Ice Hotel in Finland charges extra for these things, which is inconvenient for travelers who don't usually have such things on hand.

The Ice Hotel Restaurant was classy, efficient and fluid enough to handle every kind of person without being stuffy. It was there we enjoyed our included breakfasts and a wonderful lunch buffet. Even Hunter could find food for his own palette. I enjoyed visiting with a woman from London over the toaster, one morning, as she fretted over those who attempted to retrieve their fresh-baked bread with knives and forks after toasting.

There are 10 design suites and 20 art suites at the Ice Hotel. I realize, now, that I don't know the difference enough to tell you if this is a design suite or an art suite. But I can (and am obligated to) tell you that the title of this room is "Operation Blade: Sci-fi and fantasy," by Ben Rousseau and Jai Drew of England. Hunter especially liked this room. The blue thing in the foreground is a large desk, as if it were a control panel desk in a space ship complete with a large bench.

Once inside the Ice Hotel entrance, a reception desk is to your right, a model of a room sits on an ice pillar to your right just before the entrance to the ice bar, then two electric sliding glass doors part for you. It is breathtaking to enter this amazing space of sculpture leading down a long corridor toward light filtering through outer blocks of ice off of the Torne River. This was a popular space for professional wedding photographs. We passed quite a few photo sessions on our way in and out of the ice room corridors which jutted out from this inspiring space filled by Lena Kriström Kulin's work, titled "Mellanrum: Mind the Gap." For more information about the artwork and artists and more details, visit The Ice Hotel site.

The first night we stayed in "warm accomodations." It was a cute chalet with beds for four. It was incredibly warm and mostly comfortable. Immensely more comfortable than an ice room, that is for sure!

Here are photos from the second night, when we slept in a family ice room. The bed is a wooden platform covered with an egg shell mattress and reindeer hides. Your belongings are stored in lockers to which you have the key. You are also provided these bright blue mummy sleeping bags with an inner liner. There is actually a tour titled, "How to survive the night in an ice room." The room is usually no colder than 22 degrees Farenheit.
We slept well. A lot of it is mental--once tiredness takes over, you and your warm self (because you have followed the advice given on the web site and worn thermals and fleece) sleep just fine. The beds are quite firm, so if you prefer something softer and warmer, this is not your experience. Hunter has jumped out of his sleeping bag after a good night's sleep, here, and is not freezing to death, yet. Very soon, I had him in his outer gear (which had been in the room all night, was cold, but soon warmed up with him) and he was singing and ready to run around. Phil said he has spent colder nights at Elk Camp than this experience.

Part of the instructions are to wear your sleeping bag into the reception to turn them in. This couple is doing so. They look cute wearing thermals and heaving their heavy sleeping bags back to the reception desk, I think.

Phil and I carried our sleeping bags under our arms. It must have been easier to wrap them around you than try what we did. Too often Phil and I do things the hard way...

When you stay in the ice rooms, you shower in a room much like an open gym restroom with exposed showers and benches lining the room for dressing. This is no private experience. Off to the side is a hot sauna (a Scandinavian experience not to be missed) and an ice sauna out the door. Unfortunately, I didn't discover the ice sauna until minutes before we had to leave (see pic, below). I regret not trying the hot to cold sauna experience. That would have been an experience, for sure!

The main reception, just off of the road from Kiruna to Juddasjärvi, is a practical space which includes check-in for your stay or simply a tour, as well as the ICEHOTEL Adventure group where you can sign up for any number of interesting adventures and a Lounge. Displayed on the ice wall outside are some of the sculptures from the ice sculpture class with Sweden-residing French artist, Patrick Dallard.Here I am with a sculpture I attempted. You wouldn't believe how readily the ice responded to the chisel and how easily one could carve a desired thing. I chose to make a hole into my block of ice and attempt to create a hand reaching through the ice. This worked great except that I could make no natural finger bends with a straight chisel, nor could I create rounded ends for the fingers. All in all, though, it was great fun and I'd love to try it again! Though this class went on for three hours, I only had one hour because one of our adventures was only available during this class.

The photo below is from the bus window while we waited to be shuttled to the airport. You can see the entrance to the ice portion, the curio shop on the left, one chalet to the right and the fenced deck to the Main Reception in the foreground. The canvas you see is stretched over the top of a small wagon which is connected to a four-wheeler for transporting luggage. It snowed two of the days we were there, including this day, thus the water on the window.

A family with three young boys had also stayed at the Ice Hotel the same nights we had. However, it was not until we were on the bus leaving the hotel that the boys were able to visit. This ended up being a God-send because the boys played the guessing game on the bus and built lego structures together while we waited at the airport. Without those boys, Hunter would have been difficult to deal with (which he had been on and off during our stay)!

Really, there is so much more. We took the Northern Lights Snowmobile tour the first night we arrived. Because it was night, I didn't even attempt to take my camera. Phil and Hunter were on a snowmobile near the end of the line of snowmobiles and I rode on the back of the tour guide's mobile because I felt uncertain about driving the thing for four hours.

Included in this deal was dinner. The tour started at 7 pm and we had no idea when dinner would be. After stopping several times to observe the Northern lights beautifully displayed in a starry, sliver moonlit sky and bumping over snowmobile washboard for what seemed hours, we finally ended up at a Sami hut for dinner. This was well after 9 pm. I had not dressed properly (because I kept sweating in my gear during the day), so I was especially glad to warm up with the rest of our group around the fire. Hunter ate his Sami round, flat bread and Salmon sandwich without complaining because he was so hungry (and cold). Our guide had a warm fire going in the middle of the round hut, a moose soup simmering over the burner and "cheese rolls" for dipping in the hot soup (they were like cheese burritos, but with Sami bread). We enjoyed warm blueberry coffee cake and hot tea or coffee for dessert.

Afterward, I felt the need to use the outhouse, which was a two door set-up with homourous heart-shaped windows in each door. The seat was a bit higher than I could easily reach and the step stool not much help. The hook-latch was bent such that I could not force the hook into the eye to lock it. Mind you, I had to go badly, and there was a lot of gear to remove in this small, unlocked space. I sat down on a wet seat, to boot, and wished there were some way to simply hover over these silly things. I attempted to step down from the seat, my full body suit down to my knees, etc., but my snowy boots slipped on the step stool and bumped against the door that I had not been able to latch. Of course the door flew open, banging loudly against the other door. I had to attempt a quick door-grab and one-pull dressing dance at the same time, but the arm of my snowsuit caught between the frame and the door at the floor. Since I'm no longer a skinny rail, I got to open and re-open the door until I could get my coat out from under the door in my not quite dressed state. Yesserree, I had my own personal Northern Exposure experience right there in Northern Sweden.

No comments: