Joe and Holly's Wedding

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Alas poor Lapland.

Sitting here, Lapland coffees in hand the dulcet strains of the piano caressing our ears, we prepare our final overseas blog entry.

First of all we must apologise. Holly lost her leg of the bare knuckle brawl for the single Internet connected computer at the hotel, and as a result we were unable to bring you an update to yesterdays entry. So here it is (better late than never):

After posting yesterday's entry we set off for some cross country skiing. Buoyed by our earlier successes we decided to spread our wings a little and set off on the medium difficulty "nature trail" (that's "nature" not "naturist"...). Even before reaching the trail we were rewarded with the nature - not a naked Finn, but a naked male and female Reindeer at the side of the track.


We pressed on to the nature track which turned out to be a narrow path with ski tracks winding through the forest. The scenery was beautiful, and with the narrower tracks you got a much more intimate experience. Sadly we didn't see any more nature (although there were plenty of "natural traces" scattered across the tracks...).



We arrived back at the Hotel just in time to catch lunch - today was chicken soup followed by a coffee, some liquorice sweets and a big bar of chocolate (which we didn't eat all at once). Well, we needed to keep our strength up...

We then received the key to our 5 man cabin. It was the furthest away from the Hotel ... blah blah winter wonderland ... blah blah Narnia ... It's hard not to repeat ourselves, but it was just magical and wonderful and perfect. It has a kitchen, dining area, lounge with a huge fireplace, bedroom with bunk beds, shower room, and a master double bedroom with an en-suite bathroom AND SAUNA! Wow. So we made immediate use of the sauna (once it had warmed up), had a nap and then got ready for an early dinner at 18:00 (Russian soup with olives, baked perch with veg and fruits of the forest mousse). We had to go for the early dinner this evening because at 20:30 we were off out again...

And so 20:30 rolls around, the roll-call is called and we're off on our snowmobile powered Northern Lights expedition. A taxi drove us to a nearby town where a car-park full of snowmobiles was waiting. We got changed in to snow suits and crash helmets, had a quick lesson (thumb lever on right = accelerate, handle on left = brake) and set off in to the night. I drove first, winding our way along snowy tracks towards the highest darkest point in the local area. The couple in front were the slowest slowcoaches in the world, but despite their best efforts we made it to the viewing point in one piece. To our surprise, despite the clouds we saw the sky lit up to the north. It turned out to be Ivalo Airport, but I'm not fussy - light in the sky in the arctic, good enough for me!

We continued on to a lappish tent in the wilderness, where our guide impressed us with his woodsmanship and whipped up a couple of feather sticks (pine logs skilfully cut with a knife so they can be lit with a single match) and quickly produced a roaring fire. On this he warmed up some "brutal" coffee and handed round some ham and cheese sandwiches (only our fourth meal of the day).


After this short (but very cosy) break we set of back for home. This time Holly drove, and despite the driver in front's best efforts to lose the leader due to his lack of pace (and to kill us all on the downhill sections with a combination of mad swerving and erratic braking) my new wife's skillful handling of the throbbing machine got us back safely.

We got a taxi back to Kakslautannen, where we trudged back to our cabin and settled in for the night. A good night's sleep was required because we had an early start the next morning...

Breakfast the next day was a quick and functional affair as we awaited the pick-up for the Husky safari. A quick taxi ride down the road and we were at the Husky farm. The guide suggested that those without proper clothing (i.e. everyone apart from us!) should get some extra coveralls and warm shoes.

We then had a quick driving lesson (stand on the runners to go, stand on the brake to stop, don't fall off) and wandered through the bedlam that was a hundred happy huskies in the farm. We came to our team, straining at their harnesses ready to go, gave them a few quick strokes, got on the sledge and we were off. Although the two humans on our sleigh had no idea what they were doing, the five canines were old hands and set off along the trail with no guidance from us at the back. I drove first through the beautiful Narnia-esque winter wonderland (sorry - if you have any better way of describing it let me know). We stopped for rests every now and again when the dogs got tired (it should be noted however that toilet duties were performed en-route with hardly a break in stride).


After 45 minutes or so it was time to stop for lunch. Our Husky guide showed himself to be every bit as good a woodsman as our snowmobile guide had been and a few minutes later some feather-sticks were burning away and a roaring fire was growing in the fireplace of another lappish dwelling (this one a more substantial winter hut, but built to the same design as last night's tent). He prepared us a lunch of hot berry juice and frankfurter soup followed by coffee and traditional Finnish cinnamon sugared bread. At this point Holly decided to brave our most dangerous challenge yet - the Lappish toilet.

After a very entertaining and informative chat with our guide (who was a really nice guy) we headed back to the sledge and I took up the passive role, while Holly took over the reins (except there weren't any reins - just a brake). Our original team having been swiped we introduced ourselves to another group of happy Huskies, who promptly got over excited and tangled up their harnesses - can you blame them? In a last ditch attempt at freedom, one of them gnawed through half his harness in between his wild acrobatic jumps (we later learnt that to avoid fights he had to be put in an all girl team as he could get a bit boisterous). Having been assured that this was nothing to worry about, we were released and set off for home. My beautiful and accomplished driver handled the dogs like a pro, coping well with events such as "stopping mid-run for a poo" and "not starting when we want to go".

We shortly arrived back and had a quick look at the puppies (who stole a glove clean off my hand and only gave it back very reluctantly) and then returned to base. We had hot chocolate with a cake in the bar and, inspired by the fire-lighting skills we had seen over the last 24 hours, I bought a knife (with a sparking stick included) and some firewood and set off back to the cabin. Four feather sticks and one match later we had a real roaring fire going (and the smoke alarm - I think the fire was a bit too roaring for the little fire place). Holly had a nap, and then we set off for our moonlit round-trip cross-country ski expedition. This was the first time we actually did a full circuit, rather than going and coming back along the same path.


Of course nothing can be easy or simple for us, and one of my skis started freezing up - picking up ice and snow on the underside so that it didn't run properly. However, this only meant a few stops to clean it off, and undeterred we completed our 4 mile trek with skill and speed and arrived back at the Hotel in time for dinner at 8pm (smoked salmon salad, pan-fried pork steaks with cognac and cranberry sauce and potatoes in cream, topped off with pancakes and jam). As it was our last night we treated ourselves to a bottle of Finnish "Champagne" flavoured with a hint of cloudberry - actually pretty good!

And so we bid you adieu from Finland. We catch our taxi back to Ivalo tomorrow at 11:20 and should be back at Stansted by 19:30. No more honeymoon. Poop.

However, we plan to drag every last scrap out of what little time we have left, so it's a ski back to the cabin now for more fire making and a sauna!

Catch you later,

The last-night-of-honeymooners

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Kakslauttanen here we come!

A good night's sleep set us up for the long journey ahead - 1.5 hours from Helsinki to Ivalo Airport. After grovelling out of bed at the inhuman hour of 7:30 we were ready to get the 9:00 Airport Taxi to Helsinki Airport.

Left with a couple of hours to kill after check-in, we had a coffee and picked up some essential honeymoon souvenirs - a full set of moomin figures. The journey had one notable innovation for us - the seats were unallocated. So we made sure we were at the head of the queue and had pick of the seats - an emergency exit aisle providing some extra legroom in this case.



A taxi picked us and some other holidaymakers up from Ivalo airport and transported us to Hotel Kakslauttanen - about 20 minutes south of Ivalo. The drive through snow covered woodland slowly preparing us for where we were going to spend the next few days. After check-in we went to find the glass igloo where we spending the first night. Surprisingly warm, the little igloo gives wonderful views out on to the wooded surrounds of the Hotel (and if you don't close the toilet door, wonderful views _in_ too!). We were ideally placed for viewing the Northern Lights later that evening...



We had a quick look around the grounds, including a snow igloo hotel and restaurant (not quite up to Ice Hotel standards) and returned to the main building for a spot of lunch - a wonderful rustic pork soup with bread. After lunch we hired some cross country skis and headed out in to the snow-covered forest. The beautifully maintained tracks took us through a Narnia-esque wonderland of snow laden pines. Apart from a few difficult uphill stretches we quickly picked up where we had left off and got in to the swing of things (although we did discover something new on a downhill stretch - Holly is faster downhill than I am , so to avoid collisions it's best if she goes first!). We must be getting better as today we don't ache all over - unlike our first day skiing!




After a quick siesta in the igloo we walked over to the main reception building for the 20:00 sitting of dinner. The information sheet had told us that dinner was at two sittings, one at 18:00 and the other at 20:00. This turned out to be a mistranslation from the original as watching other guests the true instructions seemed to be "turn up whenever you feel like it for dinner". As has become our custom we began dinner with some aperitifs - vanilla vodka and blueberry liqueur for me, and cloudberry liqueur with cranberries and some local spirit whose name I can't pronounce for Holly. The set menu consisted of Thai salad, Thai chicken with rice and veg, and apple fritter, and was surprisingly good. We finished off with a lappish coffee (an Irish coffee made with that local stuff) and a Bear Baw (cream, chocolate and more local liquor).

After fighting other guests in a bare knuckle tournament to get a go on the Hotel PC we managed to upload some pictures (see all posts updated below!) for your viewing pleasure. We walked back to our igloo and settled in to enjoy the spectacular display the Northern Lights had put on for us this evening. And I would have really enjoyed it too, if it hadn't been for the 500km thick layer of clouds between us and the night sky. AAARRGGGHHH! Even with alarms set for 2:00 and 4:00 the clouds lasted all night denying me my arctic dream. But never mind, we did make one discovery that brightened our evening. While picking my book up off the floor I spotted what appeared to be a remote control attached to the bed. Yes, we had Kraftmatic adustable beds! Half an hour later, with the motors thoroughly burnt out and having tried every possible combination of heads and legs raised and lowered we drifted off to sleep, watched over by the encircling arctic forest.



And now we have just got up, tried out the Kakslauttanen breakfast (very nice, but nothing new) and are killing some time before our log cabin is ready. Depending on when that happens we will either go for a sauna or do some more cross country skiing before going on our Northern Lights snow mobile extravaganza this evening (fingers crossed!).

See you soon,

Joe and Holly.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Helsinki, daughter of the Baltic

A new day, a new city. And today the city was Helsinki.

And a new city means a new hotel and a new breakfast buffet! This one was nothing special. The only noteworthy items were the delicious smoked salmon steaks (heavily smoked, like braden rost) and some little orange flavoured madeleine style cakes.

Suitably fortified we then went on to make our most important discovery of the day. Museums and art galleries in Helsinki are closed on Mondays during winter. At least that made choosing what to do a lot easier! A guide book helpfully provided by the Hotel made the excellent suggestion of catching the 3T tram. This tram takes the "tourist route" around the city and so for 2 Euros you get a drive by of all the major attractions - the Olympic stadium (built for the 1938 games but not used until the 50s due to the war), the train station (a wonderful art nouveau structure), a church built in to the solid rock (we only saw a bit of the roof, but we still saw it!) and the city's two imposing cathedrals (one Lutheran and one Orthodox).

After an hour and a bit's round trip we got off the tram at the dockside market place. The wares on sale left us a little disappointed, but we spotted the ferry to Suomenlinna (the fortress isle off the coast of Helsinki) and decided to jump on.

The ferry set off, carving it's way through the heavily frozen Baltic waters. Lumps of ice the size of a dining table and up to a metre thick were thrust under the ferry and bobbed up to the surface again in its wake. It was a bit like sailing through a giant slush-puppy. The journey took around 15 minutes and at the end we arrived at the main quay of Suomenlinna.



We headed straight for the tourist information kiosk, where a very kind lady told us that although the museum _was_ open today, it would be closing in just over an hour's time. Everything else was already closed. Apart from Chapman's Cafe, which was closing in 15 minutes. A quick dash to the cafe brought us a hearty (if somewhat speedily dispatched) buffet meal of puttipanya, seafood pasta, meat "soup" (huge chunks of meat in a thick sauce) and a selection of really nice salads. We also had a nice coffee that tasted somewhat of caramel. It reminded me of some Arabic or Turkish coffee I have tried recently.

After lunch we literally ran back to the Museum to catch the final showing of the Suomenlinna video presentation. This discussed the history of the fortress, from it's construction as a Swedish strong-hold through its capture by the Russians, reclamation by the Finns and its modern status as a UNESCO world heritage site (due to it being a unique example of military architecture). See more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suomenlinna .

After the video we had a quick look around the rather text-heavy museum (all in Finnish and Swedish, although English translations were available as a leaflet) and we set off to explore the islands that make up the fortress.



As it turned out this meant taking more photos than is strictly speaking necessary and risking life and limb on treacherously slippery slopes and steps. Snow has melted in Helsinki and re-frozen a couple of times, so what looks like soft snow can in fact be a solid mass of frictionless tourist killing ice. Especially helped by the friendly 20 foot drop to the frozen waters below. Somehow we managed to survive this trial of balance and our reward was the most amazing views of the late afternoon sun, glistening over the frozen Baltic. Just stunning, and we have some photos to prove it!



We caught the 18:10 ferry back to Helsinki and once I had confirmed that I didn't have frost bite in my face, we did a quick walking tour of the city, checking out the cathedrals and the train station. We also visited the underground shopping precinct in the tunnels beneath the train station and picked up some edible souvenirs. Naturally our thoughts then turned to dinner, and we were determined to avoid the multitude of Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Indian and other international restaurants and to seek out some genuine Finnish food. It was a plan that once started we intended to Finnish! We found amazing little place on the way back to the hotel. I just Lapped up the atmosphere. I Finnished every bit on my plate (Holly: Stop that right now!). Sorry. The meal was delicious. We started with some aperitifs (as has now become our custom) blueberry liqueur with sparkling white wine for Mrs Kilner, and cloudberry liqueur with whisky and crushed ice for Mr Kilner. We were then presented with a delicious "amuse bouche" of smoked salmon tartare and a selection of really nice home made breads. Cep soup was the starter of choice for Holly, while I partook of a selection of Finnish fish. For main course we both had grilled lamb ribs with a goats-cheese and potato rosti. For pudding we shared a blueberry parfait with baked apple ice cream and waffles - rounded off with an arctic bramble flavoured vodka. The bill came with fresh chocolate truffles. Delicious. Finland has certainly not disappointed in the food stakes so far.

We walked back to the Hotel, passing some really stylish home-wares shops. Why can't you get this stuff in dear old Blighty (or at least not without spending an arm and a leg)? Taxi for the airport is now booked for tomorrow, luggage labels updated, and the Kilners, globe-trotters extraordinaire, are preparing to enter the final leg of their arctic expedition - the frozen north (again).

Not sure what the internet access will be like up there. We will attempt to keep the blog updated, so you can at least know what we have to eat! Just in case there is no way for us to provide you with the quality coverage you have come to expect from us, we will let you know that we plan; Husky sledging, snowmobile expeditions, northern light seeing (please), cross country skiing, sauna taking, cold water bathing and more snow filled fun.

See you soon,

Kilners - over and out.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hej Finland!

So picking up where we left off yesterday...

Disaster Strikes!

After retiring to our room, Holly's decision to slum it with the local fast food came back to haunt her. Quite literally... A half hour praying to the porcelain god convinced her that only 5 star restaurants were good enough from now on.

And as if my new wife's intestinal eruptions were not enough we had to contend with the pulsating beats of the Hotel nightclub well in to the night. And just in case we had managed to drift off to sleep, we also had a nice little wake up call at 01:36 - for a few seconds the earth really moved as the daily blast from the mines shook the building (actually we probably wouldn't have noticed this if we hadn't already been awake - but we like to make things sound dramatic)!

After a well deserved lie in we ambled down to a late yet comprehensive breakfast. In case we didn't mention them yesterday, we really must highlight the self-service waffles with cloudberry jam - just delicious.

At this point I must digress to take issue with those who have suggested that this blog is just a long list of items that we have eaten while we have been away. We have included at least two other incidents over the last week! Anyway, back to breakfast...

Our lovely start to the day was only slightly marred by the two plague victims sat on the table behind us who had obviously not yet heard the phrase "coughs and sneezes spread diseases". Maybe it hasn't been translated in to the appropriate language yet.

A bit of packing later, and we were off to Kiruna airport (which, being Swedish, was substantially more stylish than Heathrow or Gatwick, despite being only about one millionth the size). We flew from Kiruna to Arlanda Stockholm, and from there on to Helsinki. While on the plane Holly and I realised that we were travelling further east than either of us had ever been before! And through clear skies and skipping across frozen arctic vistas we made our way to the home of the Moomins and Eurovision champions Lordi.

We arrived at the Radisson Seaside Hotel at around 19:30. The hotel is a converted cheese factory! It is very stylishly decorated throughout and has huge pillars that were required to take the weight of the massive Emmental cheeses that used to be stored here.

After lounging around in the room for a bit we sloped down to the Hotel restaurant for one of the best meals of our honeymoon so far. Parma ham bruschetta, veal carpaccio, a couple of fillet steaks (to die for) and topped off with "french toast" basically panetonne fried in butter with cinnamon, sugar and blueberry ice cream. All washed down with a Bloody Mary, some local Finnish beer, an espresso and a shot of limoncello.

And now we are off to catch a film and get some sleep!

See you tomorrow,

The honeymooners. (and if I ever find a PC with a card-reader I _will_ put some photos up, I promise).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Last full day in Sweden

First off, we have received an internet-ready photo from mum:




We will put up some more pictures once I have re-sized them...

Now on to the real business. Today started with a quick breakfast at the Hotel (meatballs, waffles, pickled herring, bread, cheese etc.) before heading to the tourist information to try and book the day's activities. We signed up for a tour of the Kiruna iron ore mine at 3pm and decided to spend the morning relaxing around town. After a quick second breakfast (coffee, juice, bread, cheese, pate) we booked ourselves in for a full body 1.5 hour Swedish massage (no, not that kind of full body massage...!) to relieve ourselves of the aches and pains we inherited after yesterday's skiathon.

The massage place was across town and we managed to find it with not too many false turns. I blame the iron ore deposits for putting off my internal compass... The masseuse was lovely and ushered Holly in for the first massage. I sat in the waiting room and read my book with a coffee and a cake. To the dulcet tones of pan pipe hits of the nineties (not as bad as it sounds) Holly was pummeled and stretched for a full ninety minutes. Then it was my turn. Despite my attempt to point her at the leg and arm muscles that I hurt a bit yesterday, the skillful masseuse quickly found the real problem areas in my shoulder blades and fore-arms (the legacy of a lifetime spent at a PC) and pummeled the offending tissue in to oblivion. The pain was worth it though as afterwards muscles that had been permanently tense for 15 years got to relax and stretch again.

Fighting the urge to melt in to the floor, Holly and I thoroughly relaxed then had to dash back to the tourist information office to catch the coach in to the bowels of the earth. A short coach ride later we began the descent "to the underworld" (as promised on the side of the coach). 10 minutes saw us half a kilometre below the surface at the LKAB InfoMine http://www.sweden.se/templates/cs/Article____12864.aspx. Our guide kitted us out in hard hats and led us around the information centre where we saw an LKAB propaganda video (did you know that LKAB iron ore requires 80% less carbon to turn it in to steel compared to other iron ores?!). A little walk in to the pitch black of the tunnel, round the corner and we were suddenly face to face with the huge tunnel digging machines used to work the mine. Plenty of photo opportunities there.



An interesting point here is that the iron ore seam that they mine in Kiruna is a lot deeper and richer than was originally thought. As a result the mining is continuing deeper than originally planned. The downside of this is that Kiruna is built on the hanging face of the mine, meaning that in the next ten years or so, much of the town will have to be moved to avoid encroaching subsidence. Plans involve moving the town hall in one piece!

A quick coffee and biscuit was then followed by a look at the products extracted from the ore dug up in the mine, and a quick wander around a little museum showcasing the history of the mine. Then, carrying one small bag of iron ore pellets as a memento of the trip, it was back on the coach and back to town.

We freshened up in the room and then moved out in to the VIP Champagne lounge on the 5th floor to use our 2-for-1 coupons that had been in our room. After enjoying a couple of beers, strawberries dipped in chocolate, and half a ton of spicy nuts, we decided to brave the icy chill of the north and head out in search of some dinner. Not much was on offer (the best restaurants are apparently a pizza place and a Thai restaurant) so we opted to sample the local fast food establishment and had a burger and a kebab between us.

After dinner we took a walk up to the gorgeous church which is built in the style of a lappish tent (a lavvu) http://kiruna.se/mun/kiruna/Start.nsf/high_kiruna_church_winter_exterior.jpg. I tried to take some pictures, but I doubt they will come out. Still no northern lights. Then on the way back to the Hotel we dropped in on an exhibition of snow sculptures in the park. They were a little the worse for ware as they look to have been out there for a while, but were still very beautiful.

And now to bed. Tomorrow, Finland awaits! Helsinki, here we come...

Joe (and Holly)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Winter wonderland

Wow, the Honeymoon experience continues! And what an experience it has been!

Picking up where I left off last time, we wondered off in to the old town again. First stop was the palace forecourt, where a gathering of people alerted us to the fact that something was imminent. What we had just turned up on time for was the changing of the palace guard, accompanied with an amazing drum band! Then it was off to see the crown jewels. They were sparkly. After that, to make full use of our combination ticket we moved on to the Tre Kronor museum where we learned all about the history of the palace from its beginnings as a watch tower over the waters of Stockholm, to it's destruction by fire in the 17th century and its rebuilding in its present form.


We then moved on to Stortorget and had a coffee, a chai latte and the largest cinnamon bun that I have ever seen. The square is famous for being the location of the Stockholm Bloodbath and the place we had coffee is the red house in this picture http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Stortorget.jpg


Then we headed back to the Hotel, stopping off at the Body shop for a bit of emergency makeup and picking up a few postcards as well. We also popped in to the Coop (they are everywhere in Sweden - it's the socialist tendencies...) to get some goodies for the train journey ahead.

Checking out from the Hotel landed us a free notebook as a honeymoon present from the staff at the Rival! Then it was a taxi to the station where Holly went in to near meltdown mode as she panicked about not getting our ticket in time to get the train. As it was we picked up our tickets before we were even scheduled to get to the station...


We then boarded the overnight sleeper, found our cabin in carriage 11 and settled in for the night. After a nap we went to the restaurant car and had a lasagna and beer each while watching the Swedish countryside speed by. We also sampled some WildMan WildChips - reindeer, moose and elk jerky - not fantastic and a bit too salty for me, but OK.


A good nights sleep later we awoke to the arctic morning sunlight glistening on the deep snow. One quick breakfast (cheese sandwich in case you want to know), and some frantic packing, and then we were off the train in Kiruna at 10:30. A taxi took us and a very excited Japanese couple to the Ice Hotel 20 minutes down the road in Jukkasjarvi. The taxi driver made good time, but he did get caught by a roadside radar speed trap! We checked in, dropped off our luggage in the warm luggage shack in our own lockable cubicle (the privileges of having a suite) and went to explore the Ice Hotel and find our suite.

The Ice Hotel was every bit as breathtaking as we hoped it would be - a giant structure of snow and ice, silent, cold (but a lot warmer than outside) and beautiful - just like Holly! This year's theme was celebrating Linnaeus - the inventor of modern taxonomy.


Our suite was number 312, called room 606 and designed by two German industrial designers. It was themed around the movement of ice floes in the arctic ocean - striking but minimalist and very nicely lit!

We then explored the other suites and the Absolut Ice Bar and then attempted to find the "old wardhuus" a rustic restaurant just down the road. The Ice Hotel staff did their best to thwart us by giving us the most useless "not to scale" misleading un-detailed map in the history of cartography, but we were undeterred and prevailed in our quest for lunch (we've not been known to let anything get between us and our victuals!). Judging by the small number of clientele, we think others may not have been so lucky. Small mounds of frozen bones by the side of the road marking the final resting place of hungry visitors to the Ice Hotel (not really!). Lunch was exactly what was required. Hot bowls of nourishing soup (meat or salmon) with bread, butter and some side salads, all topped off with tinned pears, chocolate mousse and a nice coffee. Simple but really good and hearty.

After lunch we explored Jukkasjarvi which didn't take long! The church there is the oldest church in Lapland, and is interesting as the bell tower and the main body of the church are separate buildings. We then walked back to the Ice Hotel, excited about joining 16:00 Snowshoeing expedition, only to find out that the information (on the back of the hugely successful map) was wrong, it had been at 11:00... Undeterred we bravely soldiered on the Ice Bar for a drink - two fruity vodka cocktails. On the way we stopped off to see them videoing some men cutting the ice for next year's Hotel out of the frozen river Torne behind the Ice Hotel. There was then a very interesting little talk on how to survive the night at -5 degrees C (Celsius was a Swede by the way). After that we picked up a couple of kicksledges that we had concealed earlier (when you have found the best ones, you don't want anyone else to get them!) and went out to explore town a bit more. These were great fun (and free) and we were very glad that we had missed the overpriced snowshoeing!



We then popped in to the warm bar at the Ice Hotel - the N'Ice bar for a few drinks and some reading time. Dinner was at 20:30 in the Ice Hotel Restaurant and delicious (if a little pricey). Holly started with foie gras and brioche, and I sampled some arctic char.for main course we both had a grouse stuffed reindeer joint with a smoked reindeer sausage, creamed savoy cabbage, special mash and cranberries stewed in port (served in a bowl made from Torne ice). For pudding we tried a couple of icecreams - both served in Torne ice as well. I had rosehip ice cream in a sea buckthorn sauce and Holly had Rowanberry ice cream served on a bed of stewed apple.

As night fell, we made our way back to the Ice Bar for a couple more drinks to the cool beats of the evening. Suitably fortified we then went back to the warm luggage room, stripped down to our thermals, collected our double sleeping bag and made our way to our ice suite (OK, we kept our boots on too!).




Once there it was quickly off with the boots and in to the sleeping bag, which turned out to be a bit broken, so we couldn't close the top fully. After worrying about frostbitten heads for a bit, we decided to pull the liner over our heads and settled down for a night's sleep.




Two hours later, bursting for the loo I had to make the mad solo dash back to the warm luggage room (actually it wasn't as cold as you might think- most of the problem was building up the courage to get out of the sleeping bag!). Then back to bed for a surprisingly good nights sleep (if anything too hot more than cold, but opening the sleeping bag to let some air in wasn't an option!).

At 7:30 this morning, a nice lad wandered in with a hot lingonberry dispenser tied to his back and a couple of cups for us - a very welcome morning call. We had slept very well on our mattresses and reindeer skins. Well, I had, Holly had slept very well on the slats beneath the mattress, having somehow pushed all her warm layers off the side of the bed during the night! Up and about, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the restaurant (our first sample of Swedish meatballs), packed our bits and bobs, checked out (where we received our Ice Hotel Survival Diploma) and met our taxi to Kiruna.

Our room at the Scandic Ferrum wasn't ready yet, so we freshened up in the loos and headed off to Ripan for some cross country skiing. Our guide was the lovely Birgitta who spoke perfect English and had moved to Kiruna back in the sixties to teach English and German. We picked up our skis and poles along with a rucksack of lunch and set off in the car, taking in the sights of Kiruna with our knowledgeable guide. We got to the more gentle cross country routes where we got out and set off. Holly was a natural. After I had got over the intense jealousy, I too began to relax and got the hang of it (Birgitta said we were the fastest learning beginners she had ever had). For lunch we sat in a sunny spot under a tree and had hot chocolate, hot coffee, cold lingonberry juice and some cake, dried fruit nuts and chocolate and an orange. Suitably reinvigorated with caffeine and sugar we attacked the afternoon with aplomb! A bit more skiing at the tracks and then back to Ripan, where we bid a fond adieu to Brigitta and sped off on our own around the tracks there (avoiding the bigger slopes). I fell about 3000000 times, but had great fun (although my ankle and knee are a little sore) . Holly fell about 4 times, and one of those was deliberate.



Tired out we returned to the Scandic Ferrum for a well needed shower! We checked in to our suite (on the top floor) with amazing views out over Kiruna and the surrounding mountains and some vouchers for the VIP champagne bar waiting for us. A few sweets and a hot shower later we fell asleep to the comforting tones of the Swedish news...

A quick nap later we popped down to Momma's Steakhouse (the bar at the Hotel) for some live music, a beer, a pear cider and some dinner. Holly tried Momma's Burger and I had some Pittypanya (a traditional Swedish "home cooking" dish - a hash of meat, potatoes, bacon and onions) with two fried eggs on top. They eat well in Sweden! We certainly have...

And now you find us at the Hotel PC typing up our last couple of days. We are Looking forward to exploring more of Kiruna tomorrow.

Catch you later.

Joe (and my able assistant/wife Holly)