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Published: February 27th 2006
Our weekend to Sweden began with a 4:30am alarm on Saturday morning in order to get to Heathrow in time for our 7am departure. Luckily, no dramas on this occasion, such the expert travellers we’ve become.
Tim and Greer were supposed to have joined our flight, but dreaded an early start so cheated by booking a flight the previous night and staying at the Sheraton! We arrived to a snow covered Stockholm late morning and headed straight for the town to meet Greer and Tim at their hotel. After dragging them out of the warmth of the hotel and the spa, we headed for the shopping district (Matt needed thermals, Greer wanted a beanie, and Tim wanted a jacket. I, as usual, just wanted the alcohol for the long train ride that lay ahead!)
After venturing in and out of shops (where Greer insulted a Swede by mistaking him for a shop attendant - ha!) we went and had some Thai for lunch. From there, we followed Greer’s Swedish friend’s hand-written instructions of what to do/see in Stockholm. First of was the Vasa museum. It was described to us as a ship that had been recovered from
View from the hotel
the harbour in the 1960’s. I wasn’t too keen at first after my disappointment with recovered old ships in Denmark. As the cab dropped us off, we could see a mast sticking out of this huge building and wondered whether this was any indication of what we were about to see. It was.
The museum was very dark inside - primarily to slow the decay process of the wood. The dark, however, helped to enhance the enormity of the structure - a 50 metre ship that had been built in 1628 and like the Titanic, had not survived its maiden voyage and sank into oblivion in the harbour. Some Swedish guy, after finding out that the Baltic Seas were favourable at keeping sunken ships in good condition, set about locating it and discovered it’s exact location in 1956 . With the help of the army, they were able to pull it off the harbour and set up the most amazing museum for it. It looked like the ship out of the Goonies, it was incredible.
Afterwards we took a cab over to the Old Town, which is a maze of medieval streets, and houses Stockholm's cathedral and the
royal palace. The whole place was covered in snow and added to the gothic feel. It was really pretty. I went crazy with the photos not realizing the how quickly the cold drains the batteries, and soon our camera was dead!
After wandering a while we realized we had to make our way to catch our overnight train to Kiruna. The train was not exactly luxury, but we had our own sleeper for six to share between the four so we made it home for the next 14 hours. We had a bottle of champagne which we managed to keep cold by filling a plastic bag full of snow. This worked great until the snow started to melt! The champagne was great though! We also checked out the dining cart with its ‘pre-packaged meals’. I’m pretty certain the four of us ordered something completely different but somehow all our meals looked and tasted the same! We then headed back to our sleeper to finish off the wine :-)
The next morning we woke up in time as we passed the Artic Circle (no line on the ground - but there was a cute little sign saying you just
entered the artic!). We got to Kiruna around 10am. As we alighted the train we were met by -22 degree temperature. The train had shaken up the snow on the ground which reflected on the sunlight and it made everything around us look like it was glittering. It was like we entered wonderland. After almost taking someone else’s booked cab (Greer ignoring the driver holding a sign with a surname on in started to load her luggage in the boot!) we made our way to the Ice Hotel 20km away.
The hotel looked like 2 giant igloos and it was made completely of ice and snow. We checked in and were given our special weather gear. Next to the hotel room there is a building which houses the bathroom and lockers, so no, we didn’t have to change in the snow or much less sit in a toilet made out of ice in case you were wondering! The hotel inside is absolutely amazing. The rooms are designed by different artists who pick a particular theme for each room. During the day we were able to see all the rooms, and some were so inventive, making clever use of light
Matt can't escape KPMG!
After a guided tour of the hotel and the ice bar, we made our way to our first tour which was the Saami excursion. We were fetched by a Saami guide and taken by snowmobile (on a cart no less, and the temperature by now had dropped to -30 degrees!), and driven to the Saami viste at Sautosjohkka. Here, we ‘experienced’ traditional Saami culture which included driving reindeer sleighs and tasting traditional Saami dishes, and more importantly losing feeling of all limbs and practically suffering frost bite! It was still fun though - although those reindeers are really lazy - I kept hitting it and it still wouldn’t go fast! They make better use as food! Ha ha.
After eventually getting my core temperature back in the tent, we headed back to the hotel.
Our next experience were the hot tubs! As we booked at dinner time, we were told we had the whole place to ourselves, including the sauna! Greer was the first to jump in the tub - but quickly jumped out after practically scolding herself. After taking turns of dumping snow on the tub, we eventually got it down to 40 degrees. I
Cute little streets
decided to go and get the camera for some pics, and whilst getting it, Matt yells out to me - ‘Ed, come and see this!’. Earlier on the day the Saami guide had explained that the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) were visible at this time of the year - but they were so unpredictable and sometimes only lasted 2 minutes that people often left without ever seeing them. I wasn’t going to be one of those people, so I started to run (forgetting that I was dripping wet and standing on tiled floor!) and I took a slip and as I fell the back of my head hit the corner of the wooden bench! Ouch!
I was determined not to let that stop me, so I came out and managed to see the most amazing sights. The sky was lit up with shades of green and pink hues that moved up and the down, growing stronger and brighter with each passing minute. It was just remarkable.
So with a mild headache, we headed out to the restaurant and enjoyed traditional cuisine, then afterwards to the ice bar for some vodka cocktails. We met some rather strange people here,
The snow never ceased!
a couple in particular that we so obnoxious made us all decide to have an early night just after 1! So we grabbed our sleeping bags and settled in our cosy -5 degree temperature room!
The next morning we were greeted with a warm cup of lingonberry juice. However, we noticed one of the members of our group missing. Greer appeared a few minutes later, explaining that she couldn’t bear the snoring of three men so she went a requested her own room in the middle of the night! Waahh!
After breakfast, we went to meet our guide for our snow mobile excursion to the airport. That was the most fun experience! We were given balaclavas and goggles, and brief training on how to use the mobiles. After about 20 minutes, the guide tells us that we picked it up faster than usual, and at the rate we were going we would arrive too early to the airport - so he then leads us to a frozen lake and tells us we can have some free time! Yay! He gave directions about where to stay clear off and to stick to some course - but I was so
Overnight train to Kiruna
excited I just hopped on my snow mobile and took off at a speed of around 100kph! I was James Bond! Ha ha. Before I realized I lost sight of everyone else… but I just kept going! At one stage I slowed down and felt the snow mobile sinking, and I figured it was soft snow so kept the speed up until I got back to the group. It was here that I was informed by the guide that I had diverted into the dangerous part of the lake and there was water right below the soft snow! Oops! No harm done though!
We got to the airport in plenty of time and got our flight to Stockholm. Plane was a bit delayed so had to make a dash for our connecting flight in Stockholm back to London. As we lined up for passport control, I realized I was on the EU only line and I bent over to go under the divider to join the other guys and BANG! I didn’t notice there was glass underneath it and smacked my head - again! I was more embarrassed than hurt… and Matt kindly reminded me it was Karma for
Arrival in Kiruna
Glitter, glitter everywhere!
laughing at all those times that he fell! Do’h!
When we got to Heathrow, was time to say bye to Matt again as he had to board another plane and head to Manchester for work that night :-( .
Anyhow, Sweden was amazing and overall the Ice Hotel was a fantastic experience which we
would recommend everyone to do at least once in their lifetime.
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