Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kiruna, Sweden: Camp Ripan and Dog Sledding

We arrived in Kiruna, Sweden around 3:30 pm on Sunday, February 23rd.  We didn't have any set plans other than walk around Kiruna, eat dinner and hang out.  Our bodies were pretty tired from skiing so I was thankful for a relaxing day.  We took a free shuttle from the train station to the main bus station.  Kiruna a small town which means they have a few buses that run throughout the day but they only run every couple of hours.  So our transportation from the bus station to our hotel . . . our feet.  I was a little stressed out thinking we would have to walk a really long ways in the cold after skiing but it actually wasn't that bad.  The temperature was a little below freezing and I decided to wear my outside pants, aka ski pants, over my regular pants since I knew we would be walking to our hotel and I was not cold at all.  I actually got pretty hot while we were walking around.

First, we headed to see the Kiruna church since it was still light out.  It was a beautiful church and all of the snow just made it even more beautiful.

There was so much snow!  There was a park next to the church that had paths where people had walked through the snow.  If you stayed on the path the snow was packed down enough that you would be fine but every once in a while you would step and your foot would go down several inches.  This was one of the times I told Jake how thankful I was that we packed in backpacks.

Jake decided to have a little fun on the path. (I tried making the videos bigger but I can't figure it out. If you click on the YouTube icon on the bottom right hand corner of the video you can watch it on the YouTube page which is much better.)

We stayed at a place called Camp Ripan.  They had cute little chalets, or cabins, instead of a big hotel and it was on the edge of the city.  On our way there we saw a school so we stopped to play on the playground for a minute.  We walked passed the school the next day and kids were out having recess playing on the mounds of snow.  This part of Sweden doesn't have their sport break until the next week.
Having a little fun on the playground.  Sorry if you get dizzy watching this but try to notice the houses, snow and mountain in the background.

I was really excited to stay at Camp Ripan.  Thankfully I booked this hotel or else I would have been a little worried by the name and the sign for Kiruna camping that we might be staying in a tent :).  We knew this hotel would have separate beds but it was still strange to see once we got there.  The room was really cozy and warm.  We hung out for a few minutes before heading to dinner.  We walked to Arctic Thai for dinner.  It got really good reviews and it did not disappoint.  There are lots of Thai restaurants in Stockholm, and I guess other parts of Sweden too, because lots of people go to Thailand for vacation and they enjoy the fresh food and want to be able to eat it in Sweden too.

Walking to dinner was fun.  We saw the Northern Lights again but they still weren't as clear as we had hoped they would be.  There were so many cute houses in Kiruna.  It was neat seeing all of the snow piled up on the side of the houses and in the backyards.  Jake was fascinated by how much snow there was since backyards were completely full of snow.  They had poles to mark the edges of things since the snow was so deep.  The shovels they used to clear the snow were different than what I'm used to seeing.  They were more like a scoop you would just push instead of a shovel that you would pick up and toss.
We decided to go to the spa after dinner since we were sore from skiing.  I didn't take any pictures of the inside of the spa but here is one of the outside that we took and two pictures from their website of the inside.
They had a dry sauna and a wet sauna.  We did both.  The dry sauna was so hot!  I didn't like that one very much.  After we were finished we walked out and then Jake made me stand under a bucket while he pulled the string and it dumped ice cold water on me.  Maybe that was the part I really didn't care for :).  We went to the wet sauna next and that one wasn't as hot so it actually felt pretty good.  The infinity pool was heated and it was great.  Then we stepped outside and walked through the snow to get to the hot tub.  The hot tub was great.  We couldn't see any Northern Lights because it was too cloudy but it was still really pretty.

The next morning, Monday, February 24th, was our 6th month anniversary of moving to Sweden.  What a great day to go dog sledding and then spend the night at the Ice Hotel!  We had breakfast at our hotel and then we went dog sledding.  We were both really excited to try dog sledding.  Jake wanted to find a tour where we could drive our own team but the one we found that was reasonable wasn't doing that tour on Monday and the others were way too expensive.  Our guide, Stephanie, picked us up at the hotel at 9:50 am and then we picked up another couple before heading to see the dogs.  We drove about 15 minutes outside of Kiruna to where Stephanie lives with her huskies.  We changed into some awesome jumpsuits, hats and boots before meeting the dogs.  It was a really warm day, about 40°F, and sunny so we weren't cold at all on the sled.
All four of us sat on the sled while our guide stood on the back of the sled.  There were 12 huskies pulling the sled.  There was a long rope that all of the dogs were attached to.  They had a short rope going to their collars and then a longer one that attached to the back of their harness.  I was surprised at how aggressive the dogs were when she was harnessing them up.  Some of the dogs did not like the others walking past them.  At one point two dogs started fighting and our guided was trying to pull them apart and she slipped and fell.  She was able to get them apart but after that I was done petting them while she was still hooking them up.  They were being held in a long carrier.  I'm guessing they had been in there about 45 minutes by the time she loaded them up, picked us up from our hotels and then let them out to put them on the rope.  They were all really excited to start running.  They would try to run but she had a brake set in the snow so the sled wouldn't move until she was ready for it.

Here we are getting ready to go on our dog sled tour.  Another team of dogs go by and towards the end you can see the kennels the dogs were in while they were waiting for us to get there.

Once she released the break and said go they ran!  No more barking or fighting just sprinting.  I sat on the front of the sled which gave me a great view!  We started in an area surrounded by trees but then we ended up being in a more open field.  There were paths from other dog sleds and snow mobiles that the dogs followed.  Our guide did yell out "vänster (left) and höger (right)" to give the dogs directions when there was a fork in the path.  After about fifteen minutes of running she let them take a break.  They all jumped in the snow to cool off.  I noticed while they were running they would turn their heads to the side to try to get a mouth full of snow to cool off and some would run right up next to the snow to cool their bodies off.  There was probably a foot and a half or two feet of snow on the sides of us that wasn't packed down for the trail.

It was so quiet when the dogs were running.  All you could hear was panting.  It was so peaceful.  And then Jake decides to tell me that he read reviews that while the dogs are running they poop.  Awesome.  I am in the front already getting hit with snow every once in a while from their feet and I see 12 butts facing me and they could poop at anytime.  I would like to say they didn't but that would be a lie.  Our guide did stop our sled when one of the dogs right in front of me pooped because that would have definitely not been good, sorry for the tmi :), and when he was finished they started running again.

About halfway through our tour we stopped to have coffee and cookies in a hut on a frozen lake.  The dogs were excited for the break since they were pretty warm after running in warmer temperatures than what they are used to.

Here you can see the dogs are getting excited to run again.  She had Jake stand on the back of the sled to hold down the break so they wouldn't take off without her :).
Headed back home.
During the break we asked her lots of questions about how she started doing tours and questions about the dogs.  She actually came to Kiruna as a tourist about 7 years ago and went on a dog sled tour and loved it so much she stayed.  Now she runs her own dog sled tours.  On our tour she was training one of the lead dogs.  The white lead dog had been a copilot with another experienced lead dog but hadn't ever flown solo so this was his first solo trip.  He did great on the way there but on the way back he got a little confused with right and left.  He fixed it once after she slowed the sled down and repeated the directions but a second time he couldn't figure out that he needed to go right, so we eventually just went left.  I guess most dogs are mature enough to be a lead dog around age 3 and they start getting too old when they are around 10 years old.  Not every dog can be a lead dog.  Some are better at just following the lead.  She has 15 dogs total and seems to really enjoy what she does.

After the tour she took us back to Camp Ripan to get our things and then we rode back with her when she dropped off the other couple so we didn't have to walk as far back into town.  We had lunch at Cafe Safari which was really good and then we walked around the town for a few more minutes before catching the bus to Jukkasjärvi, Sweden where we stayed at the Ice Hotel!  You'll have to come back for that post  . . .

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