Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

One of the main reasons we went up north was to stay at the Ice Hotel.  We had both heard about it before and thought it would be a really neat experience.  We only booked the trip about a week ahead of time so we were a little worried we wouldn't be able to get a room at the Ice Hotel but they had one available and we were pumped.  You can tour the hotel for for $50 a person or you can stay there . . . for even more.  We decided to stay for one night to get the full experience and I am so glad we did.

After we got back from dog sledding we had a nice lunch at a cafe in Kiruna and then we took a bus to Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. We arrived at the Ice Hotel around 3:30 pm. We wanted to get there before the 4:00 pm tour because it was the last tour of the day and thankfully it was in English. They give two Swedish tours and two English tours each day. Guests that are staying at the hotel get to take the tour for "free" but if you aren't staying there you have to pay.

I was SO excited to see the hotel.  
We checked in and got a quick tour of the warm building before heading to the hotel tour at 4:00.  On the quick tour they showed us the lockers where we could put our luggage (because keeping it in your hotel room which is 23­­°F isn't the best idea), the men's and women's locker rooms, changing rooms and the charging lockers.
The area where the lockers were located (bottom left picture) seemed to always be a stressful place.  There was never enough room and people were trying to get into lockers and others were in the way.  It wasn't too bad since we were only staying for one night but again I was thankful we didn't have big rolling suitcases like everyone else because it would have been a hassle.  The locker rooms were nice and big.  There were two bathrooms in the locker room but there were other bathrooms in the hall and down another hall.  The locker rooms had 8 showers and a sauna.  The interesting thing about changing and showering in Sweden, or Europe for that matter, is no one seems to care about being naked, except for maybe me :).  The showers had individual stalls but there was just etched glass in between each shower so you could definitely see others showering while you showered.  Thankfully I showered when the bathroom was mostly empty.  They had changing rooms where you could change clothes since you didn't do this in your room but you could also change in the locker rooms.  If you were staying in one of the Art Suites, the fancier rooms that I'll talk about a little later, then you got your own 1 meter by 2 meter room to put your luggage and change.  They had charging lockers where you could plug in your phone and lock it while it charged so it was safe but they were always full.  We charged our behind the desk overnight since we couldn't charge them in our room.  They had a tag system to mark our phones and everything was very organized.  You could tell they put some thought into how to handle guests needs since the hotel isn't your typical hotel.

Our tour of the Ice Hotel was pretty quick but it was good.  I think I would have been a little disappointed in the tour had I paid $50 to see it.  This is the 24th Ice Hotel.  It melts every year, obviously, so they have to make a new one each year which means the layout changes.  The biggest one they've ever built had over 90 rooms but the one for this year had 64 rooms.  They build the Ice hotel out of blocks of ice from the Torne River which runs right by the hotel.  They cut the ice in blocks, about 1 meter thick x 1 meter wide x 2 meters long, from the river around March every year because it thick enough by then.  Then they put the blocks in a big freezer to keep it frozen until they build the hotel around November of that same year.  So the ice from the hotel we stayed in this year is from last March.  They also use a snow machine to make a mixture called "snice" which is snow and ice mixed together.  They have forms that they use when they build they hotel.  They put the forms in and then add the blocks of ice and snice and let it sit for about 3 days until it gets really solid and then they remove the forms.  In the past few years they also used wood in the walls of the main hall to help support it but this was the first year they didn't do that.  They add support pillars in the main hall the about every 10 feet since it is so wide and those are made of blocks of ice.  As the main hall ceiling settles they add more support pillars in between the existing ones.  They start building the ice bar and one corridor of the hotel and when it is finished the first guests can stay.  They continue to add more corridors in the weeks that follow until the hotel is complete.  The first phase is open in December and entire hotel is usually complete by January.
After the quick talk about the history of the Ice Hotel they let us walk around and visit the rooms.  Since the hotel is open to the public for tours from 10 am to 6 pm your room isn't really yours during those hours.  Anyone can walk in to any room during those 8 hours.  In fact the rooms don't even  have doors. They just have curtains so you can't stop anyone from just popping in.  At 6 pm they close the main entrance to the Ice Hotel and after that guests have to use the night entrance which is through the warm building on the right of the hotel.  I was worried about our hallway since it was leaning and the temperature was above freezing that day.  Jake didn't believe me when I said it was leaning but after he took the pictures he agreed.  We were the first corridor on the left side of the main hall so it had probably just settled more than the others since it has been up longer, at least that is what I told myself.
They hotel did have to have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors but they don't have sprinklers in the hotel.  The lights in the hotel are LED lights since they produce pretty little heat compared to other bulbs.

They have different types of rooms in the Ice Hotel. The most basic room is the Snow Room. It has four walls and a bed. The rooms are pretty small but you aren't in the room much so it doesn't really matter. The next room up is the Ice Room. It is a little bit bigger than the snow room and it has furniture, two chairs and a table, made out of ice of course. Then they have Northern Light Suites which has a bed, no furniture, but they project lights on the ceiling to make it look like Northern Lights. When we first read about this we thought it seemed pretty lame. After visiting, it still isn't that awesome. The room does have a cool curved half wall going around two sides of the room to hide the lights that they project onto the ceiling but the lights seem really cheesy.

Then they have the Art Suites. There were 24 Art Suites. Different artists are brought in to design the suite so each suite has a different theme. Most of them were really cool. There were a few that I didn't care for but overall they were really neat. The rooms were bigger and you got your own luggage and changing room inside the warm building that you could use as well. The last two rooms were Deluxe Suites. There was one regular deluxe suite and one sponsored by Mini Cooper which gave you the added luxury of driving your own Mini Cooper around Jukkasjärvi while you stayed in that suite. I have no idea what those rooms look like because they are only for the eyes of the guests who paid to stay there. They had actual doors on the rooms where as the rest of the rooms just had a curtain. Another perk of the deluxe suites was your own bathroom and sauna, obviously through a door in your room which lead to an adjoining building since there wasn't any plumbing in the actual Ice Hotel.

We stayed in an Ice Room.  The snow rooms were booked so we got to enjoy two chairs and a table in our room :).  Our room was a handicap room so the door was a little wider and the room was a little bit bigger.  It felt less claustrophobic than the snow rooms but I'm sure one of those would have been just fine too.  We did ask about an Art Suite when we got there to see if there was one available but there wasn't and that was for the best anyway since you spend so little time awake in your room anyway.  The high during the day when we stayed at the Ice Hotel was 43°F . . . not what you want to have happen when you are sleeping in something made of only ice and snow.  We were told that when it melts each year it does it slowly and the ceiling opens up first since they are thinner than the walls so it shouldn't just come crashing down on us.  Awesome.  I was already a little nervous to spend the night under ice and snow and the unusually high temps for the day didn't help.  
Of the four nights on our trip the only one where we were supposed to sleep in the same bed was at the Ice Hotel.  We were in different bunks on the night train, we were supposed to sleep in a ski room in Riksgränsen which had bunk beds but then we were upgraded to a hotel room with one bed, and then our night at Camp Ripan had two beds.  We thought that it was funny that the one night we were supposed to share a bed we would be in different sleeping bags and it would be literally freezing!

They have an Ice Bar which is open to the public.  The drinks were ridiculously expensive.  It was $22 for one drink and the amount of liquid you actually get was maybe 5 oz.  Jake had one drink and that was it. The glasses are cube of ice with a cylinder cut out to hold the liquid.  Since it was above freezing the day we were there the glass was melting while Jake was drinking out of it and it was really slippery.  The above average temperatures also caused some melting and dripping to happen in the Ice Bar.  They had two buckets on the floor catching the dripping water.  Not really what you want to see.  You could say I was even more nervous after seeing that.

After a quick drink at the Ice Bar we walked around the outside of the Ice Hotel for a little while before heading to dinner.  They have an Ice Church where you can get married.  There was a wedding the day we were there.  We saw the bride and groom taking pictures in the hotel and we were touring their Art Suite when the groom walked in and said that is where they would be spending the night.  That was a bit awkward.  I am glad we didn't spend our wedding night at the Ice Hotel :). 

They have an ice sculpting class you can take which we didn't do but we saw some of the sculptures while we were walking around. They also had kick sleds that you could use. When we stayed at Camp Ripan we saw that they had kick sleds but we didn't have time to use them. Jake thought they were kind of gimmicky but while we were walking around Jukkasjärvi we noticed that people used them to go to the store. It is basically a sled with a chair on the front so you can push someone or it could be a great place to put your groceries. We saw several people using kick sleds on the main street as they headed to the store or to dinner. One person would be sitting and someone else would be kicking on the back of the sled. We tried using it together and it was fun but I had a hard time pushing Jake on it. Since the snow on the ground melted and then refroze it was really icy and slick around the hotel so I couldn't get enough traction to push him. But we each took one on a little ride around the outside of the hotel before dinner.
They also had two igloos.  The top picture was taken behind the hotel on the frozen river that they take the ice out of to make the hotel.  We saw teams of dog sleds lined up behind the hotel as they were getting ready for some tours.  The dog sled tours through the Ice Hotel were very expensive and if you wanted they would pick you up from the airport and take you to the Ice Hotel on a dog sled.
We went to dinner at the Homestead restaurant which is affiliated with the Ice Hotel. The restaurant was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel. There were three dinner choices: fish, meat or vegetarian. I had the meat and Jake had the fish. When our waitress came to our table she greeted us in Swedish. We have gotten to the point where we understand enough Swedish to not give the deer in the headlights look when we hear it but we don't always know enough (or I might be scared to death) to answer back in Swedish so we just answer in English. Our waitress asked if we understood Swedish or if we would rather speak in English. We told her we knew enough to get by but then asked her if she wouldn't mind speaking in Swedish and we would try ordering in Swedish. It was scary and I felt silly but it was our 6 month anniversary in Sweden and you have to start somewhere. It was fun ordering in Swedish and she did a good job making us feel comfortable speaking it. My dinner was really good and Jake said his was okay. We also had dessert after dinner. Jake's dessert was better than mine so it is a good thing we share :).

After dinner we tried to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. They had an Aurora balcony at the Ice Hotel where you could view the Northern Lights. We felt like this night would have been our best chance to see them because we were away from any big city lights and the sky was clear but unfortunately the strength of the Northern Lights that night were the lowest of the whole trip so we weren't able to see anything.

We headed back inside around 11:00 pm to get ready for bed. It was funny seeing the looks on all of the faces as people headed to their rooms. You were supposed to sleep in just one layer of long underwear, socks and a hat if you felt like you needed it and of course a sleeping bag. Since your belongings were kept in lockers and you had to change in the locker rooms which meant you saw lots of people in their long underwear. You weren't supposed to bring anything to your room at night because it would freeze overnight.  So we saw lots of people in long underwear and boots that the hotel provided while they walked to their rooms carrying sleeping bags.  I was nervous about sleeping for several reasons: being too cold to sleep, not getting much sleep, having to pee in the middle of the night, the hotel melting and collapsing on us and hearing dripping sounds or other noises since we couldn't use Jake's phone to play white noise like we do every night. Thankfully the night went better than I thought it would.

Once we picked up our sleeping bags and our sleeping bag liners we headed to our room.  They told us to drape the sleeping bag over our shoulders to keep us warm while we walked to the room.  Once we got to the room we got in our sleeping bags as fast as we could.  Our bed frame was made out of ice but we actually had a small foam mattress to sleep on and reindeer skin on top of that to keep us warm.  The reindeer skin didn't smell very good but once I got in the sleeping bag I didn't notice it.  The main problem I had before we fell asleep was that I was hot.  Not kidding.  Laying in a room made of ice and I was starting to sweat.  I couldn't just throw my leg outside the sleeping bag and drift off :).  I took my socks off and unzipped the bag just a little bit and then fell asleep.  I did have to figure out how to somewhat cover my face with the sleeping back sheet so my nose wouldn't be so cold.  I was worried I would be cold but I've actually been colder camping out at Tuttle Creek in Manhattan, KS during football season than I was at the Ice Hotel.

It was the quietest nights sleep I've ever had.  It turns out that walls made out of snow that are around 4 feet thick are pretty insulating and quiet!  Also, since there isn't any running water, heating or air conditioning running it is very quiet.  I woke up a couple of times in the night but I was able to fall back asleep.  I did have to pee in the middle of the night but there was no way I was getting up.  I think it was more a mental thing of knowing I didn't really want to get out of bed couldn't go so then I felt like I needed too.  

They wake you up in the morning between 7:30-8:00 with hot lingonberry juice.  After sipping on that I headed back to the warm building to grab our camera to take a few pictures of our sleeping bags on our bed.  That was a cold walk since I was just in my long underwear and I left my sleeping bag on the bed for the picture!
On my way to the warm building I saw that they were adding another support pillar in the main hallway.  Nothing makes you feel more secure about sleeping in a melting hotel than seeing them put up supports after you're done spending the night.

Staying in the Ice Hotel was something we will never forget.  Was it expensive?  Yes.  Would I recommend it?  Definitely.  It was unlike anything we have ever done.  Touring the hotel isn't the same as staying there.  Since the hotel isn't your typical hotel you interact with the other guests more than you would in a regular hotel.  You can't just go to your room and hangout like you normally do so you are forced to see and talk to other guests which I thought was neat.  They had an area in the warm building where you could hang out and talk, play on your phones, read or do whatever you wanted and not be sitting in your cold room.

Before we flew home on Tuesday, February 25th we decided to see some reindeer. They had a Sami Siida Visitor Center where you could learn about the Sami people and meet some reindeer. The reindeer were really excited that Jake brought them some food. I feed them a little bit too but as soon as the food was gone they were no longer interested in us.

We took a bus to the airport at 11:45 am and once we got to the airport we found out our flight was delayed by 30 minutes and by the time we actually left we were over an hour and a half late. The flight was only an hour and a half compared to the 18 hour train ride which I was very thankful for. The airport was so small that they made everyone on the delayed flight leave the secured terminal area to make room for another flight that was now leaving before us.  Both flights couldn't fit in the secured gate area at the same time which meant we had to go through security twice but we made it home safely.

After we got home Jake thought it would be fun to divide up our things and weigh how much each of us brought since we carried it all on our backs. For whatever reason I agreed. Did I really think mine would weigh less than his?  He brought 13.2 pounds of stuff and I brought 20.4 pounds. We also weighed how much stuff we brought that we didn't end up using. I also won in that category at 4 pounds versus his 0.6 pounds :).

We had a great time and I can't believe how many different things we were able to experience in one trip.  I am so thankful I have such an adventurous husband to encourage me to go on a trip like this! 

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