Sugar & Spice and Everything IceWritten by Adriane Berg
Sugar and Spice and Everything Ice-
A Warm Visit To The Arctic’s Icehotel
There are many ways to have the adventure of a lifetime. Surely, one of them is to spend a few days across the Artic Circle at the Icehotel. My journey begins in Stockholm’s squeaky-clean Arlanda airport, enroute by Skyway Plane to Kiruna, Lappland. Already I am too bundled up in anticipation of the extreme cold, rumored at forty-three below zero Celsius. After the hour and forty minutes flight, I am over heated. But the taxidermy bear and antlers that adorn the terminal assure me that I was correct to consider the climate. Scott, whose Saami (indigenous people) name is Urbi, meets us. I imagine him in the days of Norsk legend, his waste length hair flowing, his long stringy beard oiled. Today, he looks very handsome in a micro fiber jumpsuit and a fur hat.
The adventure starts here. My eleven-year-old daughter, Rose and I walk the few steps to the airport’s clothing room. No need to spend a fortune on insulated clothing. It’s all free, for those staying at the Icehotel. You get warmly lined boots, a fur lined hat, a fully insulted jump suit and special gloves. So what if they are a little too big, you wear your own clothes, including jacket, underneath. All I suggest you bring is thermal underwear and a face protector.
After we are properly clothed our dog sled awaits us. We ride nearly an hour through the frozen countryside. I have mushed on a Glacier in Alaska and Rose is a passionate dog lover. But neither of us expected the thrill we got when the dog Tequila and her dozen pals took off at fifteen miles an hour past islands of pine trees, traversing lakes of solid ice, then on to Jukkasjarvi and the famous Icehotel.
The Icehotel looms from the tundra like an igloo on steroids. First there is nothing, then you see a hub of activity: people, cabins and finally the facility itself. The Icehotel is a massive sculpture, offering imaginative rooms carved from ice by invited artists. The beds are slabs of ice covered solely by reindeer skins. There is no bathroom, or water, or heat. Temperature is constantly five below, because that’s the way ice is. Our room was called the “spheres” and was the only one with sound effects, and lights reflecting from the spears of ice. Other rooms featured giant ice dogs pulling the bed like a sled. I recalled Urbi yelling, “Hike” to the dogs, or “Go” and wondered if the entire room would take off if I yelled, too.
There is nothing so quiet as ice. A British Mom told me “she slept like a log.” Brochures tell you that the Icehotel is a “source of unforgettable sensation.” But for me, its fascination is its impermanence. The entire structure melts every spring and must be rebuilt by human hands. The Ice Bar boasts 150,000 hand made snowballs to cover the walls. It is sponsored by Absolute Vodka. The entrance is a mysterious opening in an ice wall, shaped like an Absolute bottle. We drink from glasses made of ice, and ponder the fact that every year they must rebuild. I wonder at the effort, at the symbolism of life’s impermanence, at the idea of this ancient place where no artifact will be found by the archeologists of tomorrow.
So much for philosophy, I am off to the gift shop. As usual, Swedish and Nordic crafts are simple and exquisite. I buy an ice cube necklace made by the glass artist in residence. Once home, I find I can wear my ice bauble on any occasion. It is one of my best $20 souvenir purchases in thirty years of travel
It’s cold outside, and it’s cold inside. You store your bags in a heated luggage room where you can access any item you need at any time of day or night. The building sports showers and bathrooms and is just steps ways for the Icehotel. If you need the facilities in the middle of the night you must hop out in your sleeping bag (provided free) like a potato sack racer. Every step takes thought. Getting in and out of your clothes, which has many layers, may take twenty minutes.
The tours you can book at the hotel will serve as cocktail party talk for many years to come. Take a skimobile to see the aurora borealis and eat at a Saami camp. Take a dog sled adventure and visit the kennels. Stay a few days and mush with a guide through the wilderness, visit copper mines, and see underground gourmet mushrooms grow, or follow the reindeer.
At night you can enjoy a performance at the open air; Globe Ice Theatre, allied with the Globe Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon, England. They alternate “Hamlet” in Swedish, with a Saami opera and dance where you can hear “yoik,” an ancient folkloric song, much like the Phaedo of Portugal. In the midst of the haunting chants, under the Northern Lights, you sit, candles burning nearby.
Rose and I opted for a wilderness dog sled trek, where under a typical Saami tent, drinking coffee over a fire, I learned of the Saami life. They are the nomadic, indigenous people of this Arctic area. Each year, they herd the reindeer from one side of the Artic to the other. The children have compulsory schooling. Each week they are flown to Kiruna with a Saami Mom. They return to the group each weekend, and another mother takes the next shift. Talk about soccer Moms and car pools.
Saami dress colorfully to please the reindeer “whose lives we control and therefore must assure them a happy existence,” muses Urbi. “We were told that deer are colorblind, but our ancestors have been dressing in color for 1000 years. Finally, scientific tests proved that reindeer are the only animals in the deer family that see color.”
Back at the Icehotel it was time to eat. There are two choices, beyond the Saami tent meals you get on excursions. There is the general canteen and a high priced, high quality gourmet restaurant where I feasted on bleake roe while Rose had mashed potatoes and Swedish meatballs.
You can return to Kiruna by bus or dog sled. Back in Stockholm, observing the ice floats on the Baltic Sea, I am nostalgic for a place I have been for only a few days. Where are the colors of the night and the barking sounds of far away dogs? In Stockholm’s Old Town, I happen upon a shop associated with the Icehotel. I ask if they have the ice cube necklaces. They do, but you cannot get the exact design unless you go to the hotel itself. I have a badge of honor as proof of a unique experience in a unique land.
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