After a day spent exploring (and a much needed nap) I woke up in time to see the sun disappear from the sky. I had a few hours to kill before a snowmobiling trip, so I took the opportunity to take as many pictures as I could – some of which were so much more special in the darkness than they had been during the day.
The chapel was especially lovely at night. With no outside visitors around, I had it all to myself. I am not the kind of girl who wants to get married (not ever, and please don’t leave a comment telling me that I’ll change my mind, it induces both nausea and annoyance) but if I was, this would be the sort of place where I would want to do it. A bit of non-conventionalism would certainly not go astray!
As much as the chapel was beautiful, the best thing about it would have to be the presence of a fire alarm.
I mean really? Is that not the most redundant fire alarm in history?
After snapping away at the beautiful hallways and chapel, I took the time to settle into what would be my room for the night – the beautiful ‘Lapland Waves’ by Luca Roncoroni.
When I say ‘settle in’, I mean that I spent a while taking pictures of it. You really don’t want to ‘settle’ any of your stuff into these rooms. The temperature hangs out at around -5 to -8 degrees Celsius, so if you were to leave your clothes in there overnight, it wouldn’t exactly be pleasant to put them back on in the morning! Instead, you leave your stuff locked up in a locker or dressing room as I mentioned in the previous post.
At around 7pm it was time to get dressed and ready for an evening spent snowmobiling in the forests surrounding Kiruna. It was a nippy -30 (or less) degrees, so it should go without saying that I ended up with about a billion layers on. Two layers of thermals, pants, an extra top, a jumper, a thick winter coat, a massive winter jumpsuit, two balaclavas, two pairs of mittens, three pairs of socks and two scarves were what I ended up wearing, and to say that I very closely resembled the Violet Beauregarde (the girl who blows up like a blueberry in Willy Wonka) would be the understatement of the century.
It may sound like overkill, but believe me, some unfortunate circumstances meant that I ended up being so happy that I had overdone it.
The snowmobile tour was a group tour run by the Ice Hotel. It included a traditional dinner in a cabin in the woods, and the night started off rather well. Yes, I was absolutely bloody freezing on the ride there, but dinner was delicious, and the forests of Northern Sweden are a pretty stunning place.
The ride to the cabin took about 1.5 hours, but on the way back we were taking a shorter route which would supposedly only take 20 minutes. However, this is when the evening went astray.
I had been on the snowmobile at the back of the group (of 8 snowmobiles) and one of the very clear instructions we were given at the beginning of the tour was to not break formation and not to overtake each other, as this can cause accidents.
Around 10 minutes into our drive back, the snowmobile in front of me stopped unexpectedly as the people on it had spotted the Northern Lights. The couple in the snowmobile ahead of me tried to yell out to the vehicle in front of them to let them know of the beauty in the sky, but they went unheard.
As per the instructions I had been given at the beginning of the tour, I also stopped my snowmobile. This then led to me getting separated from the group – which is certainly not ideal! I followed the trail until I came to a point which showed four different snowmobile tracks – all of which appeared fresh. I didn’t know where to go, so I stopped.
Another piece of advice that we had been given was that if we do get separated, stay put! As if you go off and get lost it makes it harder for people to find you. So I stopped, thinking that someone would be back to get me in 10-20 minutes and lead me back to the hotel.
Luckily, this crossroads of sorts was also near a road, which made me feel better about things.
So I waited.
And continued to wait.
After thirty minutes I began to really worry that nobody was coming. I was freezing cold and though that is something I usually enjoy, at this point I was genuinely concerned about getting frostbite.
After 45 minutes it became blatantly obvious that nobody was coming to get me, and if I wanted to make it back to the hotel, I was going to have to do it myself.
I was by a road, but at midnight in a smaller Swedish town, the roads don’t exactly get a tonne of traffic. The first car that went passed didn’t stop. However, the second car thankfully did. A Swedish guy hopped out and asked what on earth I was doing outside in -30 degree weather. Believe me, I was the wondering the same thing.
After explaining to him what had happened, and having him extremely worriedly shine a bright light over my face to check for white spots (the first sign of frostbite), he told me to wait a few minutes. He ran to his home, got his own snowmobile and led me back to the hotel. Talk about a Swedish saviour!
Upon walking into the reception area, part of me was holding out hope that they would be relieved to see me. I wanted them to have been looking! At least if they had been looking (and just hadn’t been able to find me) I wouldn’t have had any true reason to blame the hotel.
However, no such luck there.
The tour guide had gone home to the warmth of her bed while I waited out in the freezing cold.
It makes for a good story now, but at the time I was absolutely livid. It wasn’t just the discomfort that came with the experience, it was the total dangerousness of it.
If I had gotten separated in the forest and not by a road, I legitimately could have ended up dead or in hospital with severe frostbite. So, when the reception staff finally managed to get in contact with said tour guide, I probably wasn’t in the best state to be talking to her, and as such, made some comments that were rather harsh.
I think I said something along the lines of ‘if you aren’t capable of doing basic math and counting your snowmobiles, maybe you should consider a different profession, maybe something more menial’ before calling her a fricking idiot.
Not exactly a nice thing to say, but I was pissed!
I was so annoyed that I ended up just having to walk away from her as she tried to explain herself. I was tired, I was angry and after being so cold for so long, when you do finally get into a warm place and defrost, it bloody hurts! My feet, hands and legs were in real physical pain for a good two hours following my arrival back to the hotel, and it certainly put a dampener on my experience sleeping in the room made of ice.
In the cold rooms, you spend the night in a sleeping bag while on top of reindeer skins. Your own body heat is what heats up the inside of the sleeping bag, and if I had been nice and toasty warm before I got in, I am sure my night would have been comfortable.
However, as I had become a literal icicle, it took several hours for my sleeping bag to warm up, which meant that it took ages for me to nod off.
When I woke up in the morning I was incredibly warm though, so I am sure that if I had been a warm human upon getting into my sleeping bag I would have slept like a baby.
The next day I felt less grumpy about what had happened the previous evening, and decided to let it go and make the most of my remaining time in such an incredible place. After an early morning sauna (seriously, why was that not open at night when I really needed it?!) I donned my Arctic attire once again and set off to try my hand at the art of ice carving.
Three hours of ice carving later and it became obvious that I would not be uncovering any hidden artistic talents in the near future. Look at my poor excuse for a bunny rabbit!
Though, despite my complete and utter lack of talent, ice carving is actually a really fun thing to do. It is relaxing, almost meditative, and three hours goes by in what feels like 20 minutes.
By the end of my ice sculpting class, news of the previous nights events had spread around the hotel. Hotel management were rightfully distressed with what had happened, and I was assured that the tour guide responsible would be dealt with accordingly. As an apology, they offered for me to indulge in the Torne River Ice menu. A speciality of the hotel, this 5 course tasting menu is served on plates of ice and prepared by a Michelin-trained chef.
My 5 course meal ended up being around 7 courses, and I gotta say, it was kind of the perfect apology. Every course was absolutely delicious, and even things that I normally couldn’t imagine myself ordering (reindeer fillet anyone) were so good that I had to stop myself from licking my plate clean.
As I was eating, one of the chefs came out of the kitchen and started chatting me up. He seemed nice, so when he asked me out for drinks after his shift, I wasn’t gonna say no. He ended up taking me to the Ice Bar for a couple of drinks, which was a really fun way to end the night.
My stay at the Ice Hotel was a bit like riding a rollercoaster, it certainly had ups and downs! But despite the down parts, it was a travel experience that I will not be forgetting any time soon, and for the most part, was pretty wonderful.
It wasn’t perfect, but not much in life is, and for anyone thinking about visiting the Ice Hotel in the future, I would still highly recommend that you do so…
…but if you go snowmobiling, make sure you stay with the front of the pack!
Getting to Kiruna: SAS airlines have regular flights (1-2 times daily) between Stockholm and Kiruna
Getting out of the Airport: Contact the Ice Hotel in advance to organise a transfer
Ice Hotel: The hotel provides both ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ accommodation starting at around $360/night AUD – click here to learn more
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Threads: You will need to pack Arctic appropriate gear – click here to learn more
Remember: Book in advance, it is not unusual for the cold rooms to book up weeks (and even months) early
Disclaimer: My stay at the Ice Hotel was provided FOC by the hotel and its management, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are unbiased and in no way influenced by the Ice Hotel, its management or its affiliates.