The Arctic Circle, Ice Hotel 27 and Husky Dogs
If you want to see the Northern lights Sweden is an excellent area to go to see this interesting phenomenon and the Ice hotel in Jukkarjarta makes for a doubly wonderful experience.
The Northern lights or ‘Aurora borealis’ is a natural phenomenon which occurs when there are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres, these are called the ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and the ‘Aurora Australis’ in the South.
Aurora displays appear in many colours with green and pink being the most common however shades of red, yellow, blue and violet have also been reported and are seen in various formations from patches of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays across the night sky.
According to researchers, the lights of the Aurora generally extend from 50 miles to as high as 400 miles above the earth’s surface, an astounding distance.
For many years I have been intrigued and drawn to The Original Ice Hotel in Sweden just off the Arctic Circle and this year (2017), is its 27th Anniversary, so it is referred to as Ice Hotel 27.
The original Ice Hotel is totally unique as it is reformed every year, designed by a team of artists, architects and snow builders Worldwide, it comes from the Torne River and is built with approximately 1,000 tonnes of Ice and 30,000 m3 of ‘snice’ a mixture of ice and snow.
The structure is put up then each ice room is hand crafted uniquely, there are great long hallways with chandeliers, made of ice of course, an ice chapel where you can legally get married and an ice bar with ice glasses for drinks.
In the springtime, it is left to naturally melt away back into the Torne river from where it came.
My dream has long been to experience staying in an ice room at the ice hotel so I put a tailored trip together and decided that it would also be interesting to visit another part of Arctic Sweden and experience the Tree Hotel where they have some extraordinary treehouses, the most interesting three being the UFO, the Birds Nest and The Mirrorcube.
Set up on a hill in the forests of Lulea are these fabulous little retreats, the UFO was the one that appealed to me so I put together a customised 5 day trip via Arctic Direct to visit both places and travel across country by train from Lulea to Jukkasjarvi.
I flew from London Heathrow Airport to Lulea via Stockholm, there were no direct flights, however this journey was effortless to make and the airports were easy to navigate around.
In January the days last approximately 4 and a half hours in Lulea and in Jukkasjarvi the daylight lasts around 3 and a half hours.
As the plane started to land in Lulea I looked out and saw nothing but miles and miles of snow covered forests, the natural beauty was staggering along with the vast space in comparison to the UK where everything feels tightly packed in.
The Tree Houses
Arriving at the Tree Hotel in Lulea was exciting, there is the main house at the foot of a snowy hill which is a homestead, you can have a glass of wine there or a lingonberry juice and this is where you will eat.
There is no set menu, it is whatever they are serving on the day, but there is an option for vegetarians as long as you let them know in plenty of time prior to the meal.
The Homestead is a family run place and is decorated with memorabilia of the 1950’ it is warm and welcoming in there and you can sit and enjoy a drink by the open fire.
The light was fading fast when I arrived, about 2:30pm in the afternoon so I left my bags in the homestead hall and went off to find the tree houses.
To get to them you will be walking about 500 metres up a steep hill through the forest, it can be slippery where people have trodden in an icy path so there is a rope tied to the trees to help you pull yourself up or hold onto when going up the hill.
I entered the next lot of trees and got my first view of the tree houses, I could see the more conventional ones first of all, beautiful wooden structures and there was the smaller colour changing one which goes from red to blue depending on the outside temperature.
Next I saw the stunning Mirror cube, this one was superb as it had the reflections of the sun setting in the trees making them a dark golden orange in its sides it was really well camouflagued and if you blinked it disappeared blending into the forest.
I wanted to find the UFO which is where I was to stay and so continued on just a little further up the hill until it came into view, this one is spectacular, if you were a believer in UFOs and did not know about the tree houses, you might well think that the little green men had stopped by.
The UFO is huge, five people can sleep inside, there is a step ladder up into it, to get in you must climb up the icy metal rungs then push the heavy wooden trap like doors upwards, it is not very easy to do so not the most accessible thing to get into. You will struggle to take anything up there apart from essentials, it is best to leave most of your things back at the homestead down the hill.
Inside the UFO is definitely not as exciting as the outside, it has very basic Ikea décor inside and I think that it could be made to look a lot more interesting although the round windows are a nice touch, however you are not there to spend too much time inside, the best views are definitely from the outsides of these unique tree houses.
Climbing back down I went to find the Birds Nest tree house, this one was so cleverly disguised that I walked past it twice before I spotted it as it is literally designed to look like a giant birds nest with huge twigs sticking out everywhere.
I made my way back down to the homestead, it was now dark and I had a glass of wine by the fire and sat and made some notes and chatted to a local Swedish man who told me he has started his own business as a travel guide for tailor made trips.
At dinner he came and joined me and we talked about the Ice Hotel and adventures in general, he was great company for that meal and I wished him luck with his new travel business.
The food was fantastic, gourmet style oysters, potato and vegetables, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious.
The next morning I had a breakfast of herrings, cheese and bread with olives and then set out to explore for the last hour there before my pickup. The dawn started at around 9:00am and the sky started to light dramatically with streaks of orange, red and gold through the darkness.
I raced around in the snow looking for the best places to take pictures and capture the sunrise and managed to get a few just before my taxi turned up.
I then left one beautiful place for another and made my way in the taxi to Boden Train Station and got a train from there on to Jukkarjarta where I was met by another taxi to head to The Ice Hotel.
The Ice Hotel
Stepping out of the taxi I looked around in wonder and excitement at the huge archway that marked the entrance to the Ice hotel areas, it was an extraordinarily beautiful sight.
There is the warm hotel area where you check in, you can leave your luggage in a locker, you get two huge lockers and the keys to keep with you.
There are wooden Nordic chalets, these are warm areas which you can hire and I had one for two nights, but my first night before that was to stay in an Ice room in the cold hotel and I could not wait.
The Original Ice Hotel has a real air of mystique about it, the outside looks like a giant igloo with two huge doors at the front and two huge doors at the back, of which are covered in reindeer skins with huge antlers for door handles.
Inside is a long corridor dotted with chandeliers made of ice, careful not to slip, walk slowly, along the corridor are doors into different worlds, each one as amazing as the last, I walked into vast rooms full of ice carved sea creatures, a Casablanca film setting, there was a Victorian suite with books of ice, mythical beings, mountainous landscapes, each door led into a space that felt like a well-kept secret.
I found the ice chapel with rows of ice pews covered in fur throws and an ice alter, it was really impressive.
This year there is also the new 360 degrees Ice hotel which, unlike the original ice hotel, does not melt back into the river but instead stays open all year round and is kept cold by freezing generators inside.
This was rather grand looking with huge impressive doors which looked like stained glass windows, inside was the Ice bar, a superbly done area, where you can order a cocktail or a glass of wine in an ice glass.
You can also walk around and see the deluxe ice art suites in the 360 ice hotel, it was so interesting and fun to see all the different rooms, one was a Victorian Suite with Ice books and ice lanterns, another was called the Casablanca with some intricate ice carvings inside, truly stunning pieces of work.
There was a room with Jellyfish carved out everywhere and another called Pick your Moustache with different sized moustaches carved into slabs of ice, each room was so uniquely different to the next.
The Sugar Suite was really pretty with its ice bed lit up pink and other areas of ice lit in different colours for a pop look, my favourite was a suite called Living with Angels and had a blue light to it, this one felt so calm and peaceful, whereas some of the others felt a little crazy.
There was one with huge spikes of ice from the ceiling and the floor, I am not sure I would have got much sleep in there with huge spikes of ice set above me, but it was beautiful to look at.
I had a meal at the ice hotel restaurant which is over the road, again the food was exquisite here, it is very pricey with a glass of wine costing from £16-£20 for one small glass.
The food was gourmet and in a league of its own for fine dining, one of the best dishes I have ever tasted, my dish was called Arctic Char (as recommended to me by a local) and consisted of Arctic Char fish, fine vegetables and cod roe with a truffle sauce.
For afters I had a lemon mousse dessert with local cloudberries, it was a delicious melt in the mouth dish, the meal cost me £88 for the two courses but it was a divine one off, the next day I found a Swedish co-op and bought a loaf of bread and a tub of Philadelphia spread for £8.50.
Here is the 5 course classic set menu from there served on a plate of ice if you want to push the boat out:
Frøya salmon, wakame salad, wasabi mayonnaise, soy jelly, rice vinegar gel, served on ice.
Arctic char, parsnip purée, browned butter hollandaise, dill powder.
Slow cooked- & cured fillet of elk, blueberry jelly, spruce shoot mayonnaise.
Fillet of reindeer, juniper sauce, almond potato purée, carrots, shiitake purée.
Chocolate & arctic brambles, served on ice.
My Ice Room
I was filled with excitement about sleeping in an ice room at the ice hotel, having spent the afternoon admiring and photographing the deluxe art suits there, I had expected my room to be like an igloo with nothing fancy to it, just plain.
Getting ready for bed was fun, you had to get changed into your nightwear, some people hired extra thermal clothes, but I decided to wear my Marks and Spencers pyjamas, a bobble hat, gloves and warm socks.
You wash your face in the evening (Nordic style) but not in the mornings as the cold weather dries out your skin, so skipping a wash keeps it supple.
The Ice hotel will give you an Arctic sleeping bag to take in and there were three reindeer furs on the bed of ice, my room number was 201 and I made my way out the back door of the warm part of the hotel, into the snowy outdoors across walkway then through two covered doors into the ice hotel.
Along a corridor of ice, again careful not to slip, huge ice chandeliers hang above every couple of metres, when I saw where my room number was and walked in I was so excited.
It was stunning!
My room was far from the basic ice tomb I had imagined, instead there were huge ice columns that had been carved out around the ice bed and at the end of the room, these I found out represent mountains. I was in a room full of Ice Mountains, lit up blue, it was so beautiful.
I took my boots off and tucked them into each other, so that they would not freeze too much, then set my sleeping bag ready and got into it, then after zipping myself in, pulled over two of the reindeer skins, using the third one as the base to lay on.
I certainly needed both reindeer skins, but it felt peaceful and restful in the room, I did not hear any sounds at all in the night, it was totally silent.
It took me a while to get off to sleep as I was so excited and enjoyed laying there just taking in the beauty of the room, it really does feel very special to sleep in an ice room and it is difficult to portray by the written word.
I woke up three times throughout the night from the cold, usually my face feeling cold, but each time would curl up into a snug ball and use my body heat to warm up, it seemed to work well enough.
The next morning I awoke about 7am, I went outside and across to the warm building as I needed the loo and saw a few people in their sleeping bags fast asleep on the floor of the shower areas, these people did not make a full night in their ice rooms the receptionist told me, so they had to sleep on any floor space they could find.
I went back to my ice room one last time and took some more photographs of it, I would have happily stayed there another night, but they generally recommend one night only in the ice rooms, it was a fantastic experience
The Warm rooms – Nordic Chalets
After handing back the arctic sleeping bag and sorting out my locker, I had a shower and a lingonberry juice before going to check in to the warm building for an allocated Nordic chalet.
These are great little places to stay with bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen/lounge area, my bedroom had a huge window and I could lay in bed looking at the stars, it was superb, although I got little sleep as I set my alarm for on the hour every hour to get up and look out for the Northern lights.
Outside in the grounds there are little kick sledges that you can use to get about on and I would take one and sledge over to where the Northern lights are said to appear with my cameras.
The Northern Lights
The Northern lights did appear, I was lucky enough to get a sighting three nights running, the first night when I had set the alarm on the hour every hour was the best sighting as they seemed to be strongest at about 1am -3am with green swirling streaks cutting into the black starlit sky.
Husky Dog Sledding
I was very excited about Husky Dog sledding, it is something that I have wanted to do for years and today was the day to do it.
As you approach all the dogs start to howl with the excitement of a run and to greet you, they sound exactly like a pack of wolves and I recorded this sound.
I was with two teams of dogs, they all have very different personalities and characteristics, there are two dogs who really have a love for each other and even when they have been separated these two dogs have escaped to be together again, now the dog handlers always ensure they are kept together.
Both of those dogs were in my team and I noticed that they do look out for each other the whole time and as soon as we stopped they lay in the snow to cool off and nuzzled up to each other, it was very sweet to see.
The dog sledding is a wonderful experience, the dogs respond to simple commands and off you go, all you can hear is the whoosh of snow as the sleigh cuts through it.
The dogs are trained not to stop until commanded, if they need to wee or poo they have to go as they run, I though this a bit cruel, but the instructor says that they soon get used to it and otherwise you would be stopping every few seconds as they do it such a lot.
We went across The River Torne and under a semi-circular bridge out over the snowy wilderness, it was so peaceful, you will need a balaclava and some snow goggles though as the cold breeze is biting.
Eventually we stopped at a Tepee and once the dogs were secured we went inside to warm over a camp fire and toasted cinnamon buns on sticks over the fire with hot tea, it was great to warm up.
I went outside to stroke the dogs and one of them jumped up and bit my hand, I was told to be careful, some like to be stroked but others do not, I need to read the dogs more carefully.
I think that because I had a camera hanging from my snow suit it was seen as a threat, I should have remembered this as wolves are also the same about cameras.
On the way back I rode at the very front of the sled and that was really nice, it was a great experience and one that I will never forget.
Horse ride through mountain forest
Following my Husky Dog Sledding day, I wanted to sign up to something for the following day and opted for horse riding through a mountain forest to look for wildlife.
I am not by any means a horse rider, I have ridden twice only in my life and was terrified on both occasions, however this was a chance to get further out and explore the forests so I took it.
A car picked me up with three other people and off we headed to the stables, it was a 2 hour drive there, on the way we saw a pure white Arctic Fox run across the road, it was too quick to get a photo, but great to see.
By the time we reached the stables daylight had come and the light was very beautiful, it had a beautiful glow to it.
We were greeted by the owners and a friendly black husky dog and were taken to a field where the horses were and each given a horse to suit our heights and weigh, my horse was a male, dark brown almost black, he was quite a grumpy horse but we worked well together.
I was given a stable for him and shown how to groom him so I brushed off all the snow that he had been covered in, then I was shown how to fit the saddle and bridle, in the bridle room a huge fat cat sat high up on one of the saddles, a great place to watch everything or sleep from.
We took the horses back out into the snow to mount them, once on I took the reins and we were off, accompanied by the black husky dog who led us out through the forest, it was wonderfully peaceful, weaving our way through the snow covered trees, there were just 4 of us so it was quiet and good for looking out for any wildlife.
Occasionally we would go up or down a steep hill and the horses often slipped on the ice, that was a little scary for a novice like me, but most of the time the horse just followed the leader with no problems at all.
It started snowing heavily and at one point it was hard to see the person in front as the snow was so thick coming down, much of that time I tucked my camera under my coat to protect it from the elements.
After a couple of hours we were lucky enough to see some wild mousses, a mother and a baby, they were through the trees further up but I managed to get some zoom pictures of them and a single adult who I got a clearer photo of, I had to be careful though as my camera would only work intermittently in the cold and damp snow fall.
We saw a couple more Mousses, one was laying down in the snow, almost out of sight then we saw another mother and baby huddling together, despite their thick fur they also looked cold.
The ride got colder and colder as the snow continued to come down, I kept brushing it off my horse as he was getting covered in it and he must have been cold too, it was a beautiful ride though through that quiet forest with just the sound of the horses breathing and walking, however it was now so cold that I felt pleased to be heading back to base, we had been out several hours looking for the Mousses.
The black husky dog stayed at the back this time, then just as we got nearer to his home he raced to the front and led us all back proudly, it was nice to have the dog leading us.
Once back at base, we cleaned down our horses in the stables and took off their saddles and reigns, then led them back out into the snowy field where there was fresh water and hay for them, the other horses neighed loudly and ran to the fence to greet them.
Afterwards we went into the farmhouse and had a homemade tasty meal and hot drinks to warm us up.
The Snow Mobile Ride to look for the Northern lights
This was a trip to look for the Northern lights away from the grounds of the ice hotel across the river Thorne further up near the mountains, to get there it meant travelling on a snow mobile to cross the great iced river and speed off beyond, it would be a 6 hour round trip getting back to base at around 01:00 hours.
I took the advice of the locals and wore the snow suit provided by the ice hotel for that extra bit of warmth, as well as my own balaclava and gloves, two pairs of socks and ski goggles, all of which was needed as it was bitter out at night, especially when you had the breeze biting at you as you whizzed along, the motorised snow scooters go at quite a speed.
We were warned that the great river which we would be crossing twice had many weak spots in it due to the weather not being as cold this year and to follow the leaders tracks exactly, as he knew where these weak spots were and not to venture off from his tracks, if your snow mobile goes down under that ice you are not coming back .
Most people were paired up and I was put on the back with a Swedish man to share the snow mobile, there were quite a few people on this trip, it was very noisy with all of the engines going, we looked like a line of Ice Hells Angels travelling along with our head lights all switched on.
It was once again bitterly cold, as expected, but this ride felt very, very long, an Irish couple I had met had already done this trip and warned me of it, now I knew how they had felt, after about 4 hours I was bitterly cold and had had enough.
The fun bits were whizzing through the forest tracks over the ice, it was really pretty to see the snowy trees come out of the darkness as they lit up by the head lamps one by one, the noise became wearing after a while though, like being at a Grand Prix, the Northern Lights could be seen at the point of destination, but in honesty I saw them clearer the two nights prior to this back at the Ice hotel grounds.
Finally we all stopped and had a meal of reindeer meat and berries, I had the vegetarian equivalent of spicy beans and berries with hot lingonberry juice to warm up, then we set off again for the journey back, I had not been able to warm up sufficiently in that time though and still felt shivery getting back on the snow mobile.
Even in two pairs of gloves my hands were bitterly cold, as was my face and although the snowsuit proved to be a good shield, I found my whole body shivering more and more as the cold set in.
We started the long snow mobile drive back to the ice hotel, myself and the Swedish chap were at the back of the group but speeding along nicely through the forests and over the snowy plains, after what seemed an age we finally hit the big Torne river, where the ice is a metre thick in places.
Suddenly there was a loud crack and a popping sound, I knew exactly what it was but the driver stopped and asked me if I had dropped my camera in the ice, I was panic stricken and shouted back to him that ‘no the sound was from the ice cracking’, he looked terrified, quickly re-started the engine, and still to the sounds of cracking ice, we sped off, the cracking underneath seemed to follow us for a bit then stopped.
I had been petrified for those for seconds, with grim thoughts of going through the ice down into that river and disappearing into the icy depths.
When we finally got back to the ice hotel outer grounds I felt very relieved and jumped off the snow mobile, clutching my camera and trying desperately to warm up by jumping up and down, the driver also was very happy to be off that ice river, in fact everyone looked relieved to be back, I think it had just been a particularly bitter night, around -30 with the added wind chill on top.
I walked back through the grounds alone and as I looked out across the skies, there were the Northern lights dancing about right in front of me it seemed, greener and brighter than I had seen them before now, I felt as though they were almost taunting me after those long hours out in the cold, but they were also a very welcome sight.
Back in my Nordic chalet I brewed up a hot chocolate, it took a while to get warm and stop shivering, it felt great to be back and to have experienced the snow mobiles but I was soon to be back outside, camera in hand trying to capture images of those Northern lights.
I found the Northern Lights difficult to photograph, more practice needed for me, but if you fancy trying it, below is the recommended process to capture the Northern lights on your camera:
1. You must have a tripod
2. Set your ISO to between 400 and 1000
3. Adjust the aperture to as wide as your lens will allows, i.e. you want the smallest number, ideally f2.8 or f1.4
4. Switch to manual so that your lens doesn’t keep moving back and forth trying to latch onto something (no autofocus)
5. Focus on a distant line of silhouetted trees, the moon, a brightly lit log cabin etc. to test it out
6. Start with a shutter speed of about 30 seconds, but be sure to review each and every exposure and make adjustments accordingly
7. Keep spare batteries snug in your coat pocket! – freezing temperatures and long exposures drain camera batteries rapidly
8. If you take your camera from a warm building out into the freezing Arctic night and try to take pictures straight away you will end up with a distinctly ‘soft focus’ effect due to condensation forming on the lens. Avoid this fogging by keeping your camera at as near an outdoor temperature as possible.
I stayed up until about 3am popping out every 30 minutes to see the if the lights were there, but they got fainter and fainter as the night went on so I finally gave up and went to bed, at least I had seen them strong, even if it was for those brief few minutes coming back in.
The next morning I was to head back home, so I made the most of the morning by roaming the grounds and taking some final photos of the area, the light looked amazing and I felt sad to be leaving, I took my backpack to the ice hotel check out point via a kick sledge, but still had a couple of hours to enjoy and take a few last photos, it was so incredibly beautiful there.
Its amazing what you can pack into 5 days and with years of travel behind me this short trip proved to be one of the happiest and most exciting that I have ever been on, I hope to go again one day, perhaps next time to experience the midnight sun but I shall no doubt be back to have another go at photographing those Northern lights.
Tailored trip – two flights over and two flights back with a train journey across country once there
Monday 16 January 2017
Flight Info: London Heathrow / Stockholm, Arlanda
Check-in: 04:40 London Heathrow Terminal 2 for Flight SK1530 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 06:40 London Heathrow Terminal 2
Arrive: 10:05 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 5 – Monday 16 Jan 2017
Flight Info: Stockholm, Arlanda / Lulea
Check-in: 09:25 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 4 for Flight SK008 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 11:25 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 4
Arrive: 12:45 Lulea – Monday 16 Jan 2017
Transfer Information: Tree hotel
Transfer will be from Lulea at 12:45 arriving Tree hotel at 13:45
Room Type: Treehouse The UFO
Transfer Information: Boden Central
Supplier: Tree hotel
Transfer will be from Tree hotel at 10:00 arriving Boden Central at 11:00
Train Info: Boden Central / Kiruna Central Train Take train across country
Check-in: 11:37 Boden Central for Flight 95 –
Depart: 11:37 Boden Central
Arrive: 15:09 Kiruna Central Train –
Transfer Information: Ice Hotel
Supplier: Ice Hotel
Transfer will be from Kiruna Central Train at 15:09 arriving Ice Hotel at 15:39
Accommodation: Ice Hotel
Room Type: 1 x Ice room
Please arrive at 09:30 – 18/01/2017
Experience the dogs tremendous desire to run and pull as you travel through the beautiful
landscape of northern Lapland, the silence is broken only by the runners whooshing through the snow end up in wilderness by an open fire.
Accommodation: Ice Hotel
Room Type: 1 x Ice hotel Nordic chalet
Northern Lights Tour on Snowmobile
Please arrive at 19:45 – 19/01/2017
a night excursion in search of the magical northern lights. For the best
chance to see this phenomenon you will head out into the untouched wilderness on
Transfer Information: Kiruna Airport
Supplier: Ice Hotel
Your Transfer will be from Ice Hotel at 12:30 arriving Kiruna Airport at 13:00
Flight Info: Kiruna Airport / Stockholm, Arlanda
Check-in: 12:15 Kiruna Airport for Flight SK1045 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 14:15 Kiruna Airport
Arrive: 15:50 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 4 – Friday 20 Jan 2017
Flight Info: Stockholm, Arlanda / London Heathrow
Check-in: 16:15 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 5 for Flight SK533 – Scandinavian Air
Depart: 18:15 Stockholm, Arlanda Terminal 5
Arrive: 19:55 London Heathrow Terminal 2 – Friday 20 Jan 2017
For the complete gallery of Ice Images, please go to www.amanda-king-akimages.com