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)

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is slightly more than keeping it up. UT

3/03/2007 1:53 AM  
Blogger JoeK said...

We couldn't bring you all with us, so this is the next best thing.

Joe

3/03/2007 2:13 PM  

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