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Archive for the ‘Lappland’ Category

It probably goes without saying that the Ice Hotel is cool, to make a really bad pun. But I also have to say that it is also an unbelievable work of art. Located outside of Kiruna in ice-hotel-3284Jukkasjärvi , the hotel and church next to it are sculpted entirely out of ice and snow. Thus every year, it is built out of blocks of ice farmed from the Torne River and then as warm weather comes back to Lappland, the ice melts back into the river from which it came.

The process starts in March when the blocks of ice are cut out of the river and put into freezer storage. Then as soon as winter begins, a team of artists from around the world begin sculpting and designing the rooms. By December, a completely new hotel is crafted and ready for guests.

As you walk into the hotel, there is a lobby as you can see at left as well as a reception area where you are greeted. The chandeliers are, of course, also made of ice. There are standard rooms with just a bed in them (a mattress covered with reindeer skins) and then there are also art suites where artists and designers have been given free rein to create spectacular flights of fancy such as the queen’s bed below. Would I like to stay in one of the rooms, a friend asked? Maybe it sounds wimpy, but I think that it would be awfully cold to sleep on a block of ice. I think I would enjoy designing one of the rooms instead. But I did enjoy having a drink in the Ice Bar, where I sampled some Absolut Vodka with lingonberry, served up in a glass made out of – you guessed it – ice. When I was done, I threw it against the wall. Very satisfying.

One of the many art suites in the hotel.

One of the many art suites in the hotel.

Some of the many ice sculptures in the gallery outdoors overlooking the river.

Some of the many ice sculptures in the gallery outdoors overlooking the river.

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Racing on snowmobiles across a frozen lake in the middle of the Arctic was exhilarating to the extreme. And like so many similar adrenaline rushes, it was also somewhat scary and I held on tightly, rather geekily fearful of falling off. The weather was perfect–sunny and -8C as we started out on our expedition with friends from the wedding. We were riding in pairs and I was behind Robert. Thanks to the reception the night before and dancing until 3.30 am, everyone was moving rather slow, so we started slowly on the snowmobiles to get used to their handling. Soon we were going up and down small hills, bouncing around over the ruts in the snow and leaning in the opposite direction of  the turns to avoid toppling over. After three of us tumbled over in deep, fresh powder, we all had a better feel how to manipulate the ride.

After riding for about 1.5 hours, I think we were all happy to stop and have a break from the noise in the middle of a frozen, snow-covered lake. Our guides spread out reindeer skins for us to relax on and then began drilling small holes in the ice so we could fish. Fairly quickly, several of us caught perch–including me–and then things quieted down.

As the guides cooked reindeer and potatoes in a huge pot, we all relaxed, chatted and napped. The hearty home cooking (husmanskost) was delicious and just what we needed to warm up with in the cold before packing up and racing back across the snow and ice. Our return route

My rather small contribution to the lunch.

My rather small contribution to the picnic lunch. Given the hat, I am not sure how I was able to see what I was doing!

was hilly and bumpy and I thought that I was definitely going to fall off and be run over by one of our fellow snowmobilers. I think I heard Robert laugh at my screams, but I’m not sure about that. He did rather sensibly remark that we had to keep up with the rest of the group or we would get lost. It may be necessary, I remarked, but it is still scary.

Luckily, I am happy to tell you that we all survived. And it truly was a fantastic experience.

Preparing for an Arctic picnic

Preparing for an Arctic picnic in the middle of a frozen lake.

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On the second day of our adventures in Lappland, we headed out for some dog sledding with friends. As the teams were being attached to the sleds, the chaotic noise of dogs barking was beyond deafening, so much so that I thought there was no way I wanted to ride behind them for two hours. But as soon as we started moving, the dogs quieted down with the task at hand. It was a glorious ride through the forest and fairly smooth for the most part, although the ice on the lakes did get a bit rough at points. We moved fairly quickly across the snow thanks to our team of racing dogs–a mix of Alaskan and Siberian huskies. Hills didn’t seem to faze the dogs at all and we all enjoyed the downhills, sitting on our warm reindeer skins on a sunny day in the Arctic.

Taking off across the snow.

Our initial take off across the snow.

Checking out the dog sled teams as we take a break in the forest.

Checking out the dog sled teams as we stop for a break in the forest.

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This reindeer walked along the highway, just beside our car.

This reindeer walked along the highway, just beside our car.

As we put the luggage in our rental car, the sound of dogs barking filled the wintery air. We were directly next to the sled dog parking area and a team of huskies was eager to take off. I understood their excitement as I was also ready to check out this winter wonderland. Somewhat perversely, we had left the start of spring behind for a few days and traveled north of the Arctic Circle to Kiruna. We were back in full-on winter.

There was more than two feet of snow on the ground and more was lightly falling as we drove toward Gällivare to attend a wedding. Periodically, we passed snowmobiles alongside the highway. And we also passed several reindeer, bottoms up and head buried in the deep snow, looking for something to eat. It was all rather idyllic. And it got even better.

That night, the wedding couple–Adam and Marie-Louise–hosted a traditional Lapland style dinner for us outside in the Arctic light. A reindeer was slow cooked over an open fire in one of the teepees while we enjoyed hot glogg and punsch, traditional Swedish drinks, and some toboggoning on the ski slope. It was the perfect start to a long winter weekend.

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