Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 2 : Ice Hotel and Swedish Lapland

It’s still winter in Scandinavia. And it’s still freezing in Stockholm, where I live. Or rather, where I hibernate. While the natives would merrily make way to the Mediterranean, or to the beaches of Gran Canaria, to pump in some necessary dose of Vitamin D, we had apprehensively jumped on to a plane flying further up North to some more brazen winter and icy winds. Read about how I mustered courage for this adventure, in my first post on Crossing the Arctic series, and revisit some pictures of the snow-white land of Kiruna.

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As a matter of a stunning fact, the whole city is being moved to another location currently, in order for the largest mining company in Kiruna (LKAB) to continue with their mining operations, since it is the financial backbone of the place. So a lot of buildings in the city centre have been or are being brought down.

In my previous post, I promised my readers to share some tips for a short visit to the Swedish Lapland. Needless to say, one weekend is not sufficient to even scathe the surface of the Arctic landscape, let alone getting into the skin of it. But like I confessed my fears in my first post, I didn’t think my body was designed to battle the snow and ice for a period longer than that, especially on my first trip 🙂 More might come, perhaps after a cool-off period!

So, are you ready for some highlights? Here we go!

  1. Guided activity tours
    The best and only way to explore Kiruna in winter is to join a couple of the activity tours, like snowmobiling, dog-sledding or mountain hiking – organized by the various tour companies. They take you deep into the forests laden with dense snow, where it’s unthinkable to get on your own. They also offer all sorts of warm overall clothing to beat that chill head to toe. So there you go! No hunting for a life-saviour winter jacket if you don’t already own one. Snowmobile and Dog-sledding tours are the most popular. We took a snowmobile tour from the company kirunaguidetur, and I can’t begin to say how exciting the experience was, driving the snowmobile in the middle of snowy wilderness. Choose between day or night tours depending on the time of your visit.

    From October to March, there are good chances of catching the Northern Lights when the sky gets dark after 6pm. I’d love to share that we caught a glimpse of the Lights from the plane just before landing 🙂 but unfortunately, nothing during the stay, due to dense clouds and rain 😦
  2. Ice Hotel
    Trust me, even if you don’t get to see the Northern Lights, a visit to the Ice Hotel will make your trip to the Lapland complete! Situated in a small Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 18 kms from Kiruna, 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, this hotel made of fresh ice and snow, is rebuilt every year in December and lasts until April when it begins to melt away. Every winter, large blocks of ice are cut from the frozen Torne river close to Jukkasjärvi, and sculpted into the ICEHOTEL – everything from the hotel facade, hotel rooms and galleries, hotel art and decorations, and an Icebar!  ISN’T IT AMUSING? New art, new sculpting, new hotel every year! Every room is designed based on a different theme, and showcase some intricately beautiful patterns made of ice. And what more, if you’re the courageous and adventurous kinds, you can rent the rooms and stay over on beds made of ice.
    What a thrilling, and chilling experience! 😉

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    Ice Hotel entrance

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    Decorations inside the IceHotel

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    Themed rooms
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    Inside one of the Icehotel rooms. Fancy sleeping on that bed, eh? 🙂
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    Ice Hotel entrance view from a distance

    Don’t forget to gulp down some cocktails in their ICEBAR, served in glasses made entirely out of ice! Warm up the blood before starting your stroll around the icy ice hotel 😉

  3. City highlights

    We went around to see a few highlights of the town, one of them being the Kiruna Kyrka (Kiruna Church), one of Sweden’s largest wooden buildings.
    There are a couple of other buildings like the Kiruna City Hall with some interesting art and paintings, but like I mentioned in the beginning of the post, the whole town is on the move, and the building is getting demolished to facilitate the move.
    If you have an additional day, you could consider visiting the LKAB underground iron-ore mine, which is the world’s largest and it’s operations provide financial sustenance to the entire city of Kiruna.  Guided tours lasting about 3 hours are organized to take visitors 540 meters down into the mountain, and walk them around. Tours run only on certain dates, so it’s good to check online in advance.

  4. Abisko Sky Station for Northern Lights watching
    Roughly 100 kms from Kiruna, is a Swedish village, primarily known for being one of the places with the highest likelihood of Aurora or Northern Lights watching, due to its relatively clearer skies on most days. They even have a chair-lift ride up to their Aurora Sky Station, situated 900 meters above sea level, which takes visitors high above on a mountain with no disturbing sources of light. We didn’t get a chance to visit the Sky Station due to time constraints, but if you can, then do try! Who knows, you might get super lucky! 🙂

Read also : Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 1

 

Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 1

”I will see you again on Monday if I survive”, were my words to my colleagues on a cold Friday afternoon in February, as I made my way to the airport to catch a flight to Kiruna, a city perched in the far north of Sweden, famous for its thick snowy landscape, brazen winter, some freezing bones, plenty of ice chills and well, if one manages to live through it, then other exciting things like dog-sledding, snowmobiling, skiing and catching the Northern Lights.

Trust me, it wasn’t a fanciful, over-imaginative and unrealistic construal of my mind. I was gradually and craftily brought to this state. This Swedish salesman from the ‘Five Seasons’ store once told me, ”I’ve been out in the cold quite a lot, right from childhood, but well, Kiruna is a different story.” I was at his store to look for the warmest jacket ever manufactured. His words, as you can tell, weren’t of much help.

I believe the only motivation for me to travel was the thought that this place is exotic, as it goes beyond the Arctic circle. And living so far up in the north, one would only be a victim of circumstances, or a slave of the couch, or perhaps a native of cold climate places, to not want to travel further up there. How many of us really get a chance to go nearer to the poles, and experience its life and landscape? There was no reason for me to miss it.

If that sounded any brave, it was my courageous side talking – to my freakishly petrified side, who I know would happily agree to being labelled as a couch slave. I think I would have spent more time packing the zillion layers of warm clothing, than figuring out the quintessential things-to-see/do. I’m not trying to dissuade, but I count myself as one of those who defy the scientific theory of mammals being warm-blooded.

I was so pre-occupied arranging for things to keep me warm, that I did not travel with a lot on the agenda, or with much expectations. Now when I look back, I see how unique this experience was, as it pleasantly surprised me at every step, and how it has become one of my favorite trips to talk about!

I will, for sure, say all about what we did, and share some tips on itinerary planning in my upcoming post. So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, how about a glimpse of the dense snow all around which greeted us with all the chill that it had? 🙂

And here I give away my pretending-to-be-cool pose, trying to brave the -30 degrees celsius! 😉

Yaay! #justcrossedthearctic

Read alsoCrossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 2 : Ice Hotel and Swedish Lapland