By Zachary Moses
This is one of the most fun flights I have taken across the ocean. I was in the Norwegian Airlines equivalent of a First Class cabin. I thought I had both seats to myself, but right before the doors closed, my seat mate showed up. He was disheveled, wearing sweatpants, but turned out to be Inia James, a prominent Internet videographer.
We had the most hilarious/raunchy conversations about life, sex, rock and roll, and of course…the Internet. It’s rare that I ever hit it off with a seat mate enough to invite them to my home town of Key West, but this is how life goes. You never know who you’ll meet, when or where. All you can do is put yourself out in the world.
This was one of the most intense trips I’ve ever taken. It was packed with adventures from start to finish. The trip afforded me some of the funniest moments of all my travels. For instance, I took a picture of a great iPhone ad while on layover in the Oslo airport.
The ad boasted “4G-fart”. Tell me that it doesn’t bring you the tiniest chuckle, even though intellectually you know that it’s Norwegian.
When our plane touched down in Kiruna, Sweden, the runway looked as though it hadn’t ever been plowed. I thought briefly that we were landing on a frozen lake. I stepped out of the airplane to an experience colder air than anything I’ve ever felt before in my life.
We had to walk briefly across the frozen tarmac. Nothing I had purchased in the “winter section” of my Key West, Florida department store was sufficient for the realities of the Arctic Circle. By the time I had walked 200 feet to the terminal, I was convinced I was going to die. Everyone told me I was just being melodramatic (which of course I was), but the worst cold I’d ever experienced previously was when I had a frozen tilapia fillet shoved down my shirt at a cookout.
Once inside the terminal, I unpacked my suitcase and layered every item onto my tiny frame. I looked like the Michelin Man. I wish I’d used the toilet before I’d done this, because I caused an equally embarrassing scene about 5 minutes later at the urinal.
We walked about 100 yards across the parking lot to a small building where warm Arctic gear awaited us. The walk felt like 10 million years, and a silent film in my mind showed the rise and fall of civilizations during that walk to the heated shelter. I asked what the symptoms of frost bite were, and everyone laughed at me.
“You’re fine,” Our hosts Andre and Magnus kept assuring me. “It’s usually WAY colder than this.”
I began dreading the thought of sleeping in a hotel made of ice. As I put on my gear, Magnus recommended that, given my Southern misunderstanding of what “cold” actually feels like, that I keep ALL my layers on. I was so happy that I did.
From this moment on, I was warm, toasty and happy as a polar bear.
When we walked back out into the cold. I was amazed! I felt fantastic. I looked as silly as could be, but I also looked like a serious Arctic bad ass. We boarded dog sleds. DOG SLEDS!! Can anyone say “Awesome!”
I even got the front seat! We took off on an adventure that was one of the most magical hours of my entire life. The beautiful snow-covered woods moved by in silent beauty. The only sounds I could hear were the occasional quiet pants of these fantastic dogs as they pulled our sled through the crisp night air.
As our sled moved over hills and through banks of snow, I couldn’t believe how much weight the dogs could pull. I’ll admit, that it was kind of stinky up front, because the dogs poop while they run. They stop for nothing, I watched them occasionally taking bites of snow along the trail when they needed water. There were four of us, plus a driver, being pulled by at least a dozen dogs.
We stopped at a small wooden hut with a huge fire roaring inside. Our hosts brought out steaming hot lingonberry juice and fresh fish stew.
We sat around warming up. When it was time to go, it was totally dark outside. I was informed that it was 2:30 in the afternoon. There had been only two hours of daylight. Crazy! It felt like midnight.
When we arrived at the hotel, it was much different than I had expected. I’d been imagining a castle made of ice cubes. It was more a series of self-supporting gigantic igloos. The entrance, however, did have ice block walls.
One of the first features we saw was the Lutheran Ice Church.
It was absolutely stunning inside.
We had to vacate shortly after we entered to make way for a Russian wedding. The bride was in a summer-cut wedding dress. Maybe it’s way colder than this where she comes from.
Our next stop was the Ice Bar.
Our barman mixed us cocktails in glasses cut from river ice, the experience was amazing!
The drinks were so cold, which is always the hardest thing to achieve in a good cocktail. The barman told us that he’d never dreamed he would get the chance to work at such an amazing place. Everyone who works at this hotel seems to have a certain reverence about it.
We then toured all of the rooms. Each room is designed by a different ice artist.
Every year, artists submit plans, and the winners spend two weeks designing their room. At the end of the season, the art melts away as summer comes.
Our next stop brought us to visit the Sami, the indigenous people of the region (formerly called Laplanders). We sat in a teepee with a fire burning in the center. We had fire-roasted coffee with cheese melted in it. This is the prized drink of the Sami people. It was horrible. We also ate reindeer jerky as we learned about the customs of the local people.
When we were finished, we got on sleds that were tied to reindeer who then violently pulled us around a race track.
It scared the crap out of me! They are only semi-domesticated animals! I’ll say that the ride was incredible, but few things in my life have frightened me more than being pulled behind a semi-wild reindeer!
Afterward, we entered a paddock and each got to feed the reindeer handfuls of lichen. There are very few things in life that bring me general fear, but tonight I discovered that reindeer are the creatures of my nightmares. Everyone else seemed to be having a blast feeding the adorable reindeer. I was acting like Indiana Jones in a temple full of snakes. I couldn’t have been happier to leave that horrible paddock.
When we got back to the hotel, we prepared ourselves for sleeping in our ice rooms. Showers, toilets, and changing rooms are located in a heated building adjacent to the hotel. Since we didn’t want to sleep in our winter coats, my roommate Jason and I ran through the cold in our underwear. We laughed like crazy when we arrived in our snow cave. We joked and posed for silly pictures with the ice sculptures in the room.
After ten minutes of hilarity, we both suddenly realized how extremely cold we were.
We quickly set up our sleeping bags on the reindeer skins atop the ice beds.
We couldn’t sleep. The experience was too crazy! Finally at 1 am we ran back to the locker rooms for Ambien. We didn’t want our sleeping bags to get cold, so we carried all our crap with us. Once I got back I realized I should have peed while I was up. However, nothing on this earth was going to make me brave the cold again.
The Ambien soon kicked in and I snoozed away. In the morning I woke up next to a frozen bottle of urine. Apparently I’d filled one full in a moment of Ambien induced amnesia. I wouldn’t say it was the world’s most comfortable evening, but I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life had a more amazing night at a hotel. I highly recommend it!
Click HERE to read Part 2!