Archive for February, 2009

the Ice Hotel and Stockholm

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Sorry for the delay, but I’m better now, so it’s time to upload the Ice Hotel pictures. Warning, lots of images below!

We flew in from Taipei to Bangkok to Stockholm to Kiruna, then caught the shuttle to the Ice Hotel – as you can imagine we were pretty tired! And what a change – from about 50 degrees F and damp in Taiwan to bone dry and well below freezing (I think the coldest we encountered was about -20C or about -5F. We spent the first afternoon figuring out what activities we wanted to try, then walked about 1km down the road to a buffet dinner in a 200-year-old farmhouse.

The hotel has warm rooms (which were nice and toasty, after unheated Taiwan interiors) as well as the ice rooms; we stayed in a small cabin for three nights, then in a snow room for the last night. There are art suites, ice rooms with a bed that has a wooden platform on an ice frame, and more basic snow rooms – we were in one of these, since the art suites are open to tour all day and it didn’t seem worth paying the extra for a room we’d only sleep in. In addition to the art suites, there is a grand hall, an ice church, and of course the Absolut Ice Bar:

The hotel issues snowmobile suilts, hats, balaclavas, mittens, and boots to all guests – that’s what you see us wearing in most of these photos. Since Absolut sponsors the ice bar, the drinks are all vodka drinks made in improbably bright colors and served in glasses made of ice.

On the first full day, we went snowmobiliing with a Saami guide. This day had the best weathr during our trip; the sun is only up for about 6 hours and it never rises far above the horizon, so there’s lovely sunrise light all day. After we crossed the lake, we were out in places where there are long views, and no sight of humans or buildings in any directions. (It would be incredibly easy to get lost, making us very grateful for our guide. At lunch afterward, we got to hear a bit more about Saami ways – most people can’t make a living from the reindeer any more, but they still each own their herd and help relatives take care of them – and ate salmon soup and dried reindeer meat.

On our second day, we went dogsledding – fortunately we’d chosen to take a shorter ride than our 6-hour snowmobile day, because it was much colder. We did get to warm up with a stop for coffee and tea in a traditional-style tent.

That night we went out to tour the Esrange Northern Lights research center, but as you can see from the day photos, the clouds had rolled in and we never did get to see any aurora lights. (Well, Ted saw a faint smudge the first night, but he said it was so dim his eyes needed to be adjusted to total blackness. Unfortunately we didn’t think to look out later that night, and we heard that they were great at about 1AM.) We did get to eat a tasty moose stew dinner in a forest cabin with a warm stove in the middle of the room and reindeer hides lining the benches, though.

The final day there, we learned to carve ice sculpture, though I think our technique needs work – here you can see Ted’s oar sending up a splash and my biplane.

That night we slept in our snow room – basically you hang out in a warm lounge until bedtime, then brush your teeth, change to your longjohns, collect your sleeping bag, and go to your room. We found that the sleeping bags were entirely up to the task and kept us nice and toasty – I’ve been colder camping in Utah, and we certainly were when we slept out on Antarctica!

We were sorry to leave the Ice Hotel, but we liked Stockholm a lot – in some ways it’s a much more comfortable city for Americans than Amsterdam, and people speak English nearly as well. We found reindeer and salmon were nearly as common on menus as they had been in the North, but there was also food from everywhere else in the world (including American food, which A’dam does *not* have). Our hotel, the Best Western Kung Carl, was in a well-renovated old building and we had a charming tiny but very comfortable garret room. It was also right in the center of everything we wanted to see and we were able to walk to museums and the old town. Unfotunately a few things like the Royal Palace were closed, but we were able to see the outside of the Riddarholmkyrkan, walk around Gamla Stan, the Old Town; and visit the Nobel Museum, the Armory Museum and the Coin Museum on our first day.

We spent most of the second day in the Vasa Museum – the Vasa ship was built in the 1600s, during the reign of Gustav Adolphus. It was meant to be the marvel of the fleet, a super-warship; it was launched to much ado … and promptly sank. In recent decades the ship was brought up from the floor of the harbor, researched and restored. In the last photo you can see a model of how it’s meant to look.

I really would like to go back in summer, to both the Ice Hotel and Stockhold – to see the Arctic in summer and to see all the things that were closed or that we didn’t have time for in Stockholm. I liked the city a lot. And I still want to go back north some time when it’s not summer, to get another chance at seeing the Northern Lights!!

small apology

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Sorry not to have updated and posted Ice Hotel photos yet. We had a fantastic time but unfortunately the cough I picked up in Sweden has turned into bronchitis, and I just haven’t felt like doing it. Once I’m feeling more ambitious, I promise I’ll get to it.