By Zachary Moses
Shortly after I woke up, a staff member showed up in our room. In his hands were two cups of hot lingonberry juice. There are few times in my life that a hot beverage has been received by me with more welcome. As soon as we finished our drinks, Jason and I gathered up our sleeping bags and returned to the warm locker rooms. We had the most wonderful hot showers ever! Several of us were using the sauna and going on and on about how wonderful it was. Amazing what a little deprivation does for the soul!
One night in a frozen room, and I was looking at everything with a new appreciation, no longer taking the little luxuries of our modern world for granted. Breakfast was somehow more delicious this morning. The walk to get there a bit more enjoyable. Everything looked a little more beautiful. Every single thing was better…except the Swedish meatballs at the buffet. Those were weirdly, positively, the foulest things I’ve eaten since black pudding in Ireland. BLEH! Those meatballs practically ruined not just my experience, but very nearly my entire life. Luckily, this wasn’t my last experience with these famous little balls. Sweden still had another chance to win me over for this national delicacy, and the next time, they were fantastic!
Around 10:00 am we met up for snowmobile riding. My passenger had no interest in operating the snowmobile, so I got exclusive control of it. Which was wicked awesome! The excursion started off a little too slow for my taste, but I totally understood given the group dynamic. Many of us were not confident on the snowmobiles, and our guide took her time getting everyone used to the machines. It was so absolutely gorgeous careening along on top of the frozen rivers and lakes. When we turned and started moving through the forest, it was absolutely magical. All the trees were piled with mountains of snow that sparkled with sunlit reflections. I loved it so much, that I dropped and made snow angels.
We spent most of our time cruising through the woods. We passed dog sleds and other snowmobiles, but mostly we moved along through a silent and peaceful world. After about an hour on the snowmobile, we stopped at a picturesque mountain hut.
Our guide built a fire in the most complex wood burning stove I’ve ever seen. It was full of cranks and pulleys and looked like the old time stove of the future. Does that make any sense? Or is that just absolute nonsense? LOL!
The logs she used for the fire lit with just one match. She used absolutely no kindling. The Boy Scout in me stared with disbelief, filled with my own personal suspicion. The fire burned incredibly hot, and soon I quit whining about my cold and frozen toes. As soon as we were warmed up, our guide prepared us a delectable reindeer stir fry. The appetizer was reindeer wraps…If you ever visit north of the Arctic Circle, I certainly hope, for your sake, that you’ve got a taste for these monsters.
The return trip to the Ice Hotel was much faster. We skipped the scenic route through the forest and let the throttle out on the frozen river. I got my snowmobile going about 70 km per hour, which is the maximum limit in the region. I’m glad it was frigidly cold, because it froze the what flowed from my runny nose in my beard, which kept fluid from streaming across and freezing on my cheeks.
Upon our return to the Ice Hotel, we were invited into a tepee dedicated to ice sculpting classes. We received a quick introduction, then were handed a chisel. We immediately set to work making our very own ice sculptures.
I was amazed at the way the chisel glided through the ice. The chisels were so sharp, that the ice just melted away. Everyone in our group except Jason, Danny and I were trying to wrap up the projects as quickly as possible, and they soon left. The remaining time became a competition among the three of us to create the most fantastic ice sculpture in the world.
At one point, I broke off part of my sculpture and we learned how to re-attach it using liquid water and holding the piece in place. I managed to re-break the spot about 9 million times. The teacher kept telling me to slow down, her voice filled with progressively more exasperation each time.
We kept sculpting as long as we could, but eventually our teacher stated “you are done now.” It was blunt, and we got the message. The Swedes don’t mess around. They just say what’s needed. It’s very refreshing. The locals don’t waste time in conversation. When you ask a yes or no question to the locals, if the answer is yes, they just suck air in. That’s it! No words at all.
Now that we were done sculpting, the teacher expected us to select the winner of all the sculptures. The winner would have their sculpture displayed at the farewell dinner. Seventy five percent of our group had already left and I was not about to be the demon who chose myself as the winner. All three of us refused to pick. When we got to dinner 4 of our sculptures, including mine, ended up on the dinner table. Apparently our teacher didn’t want to be that demon either. I laughed and laughed knowing that my sculpture was being looked at by everyone. They obviously didn’t understand what my sculpture really was…when looked at from the right angle. *snicker*
At dinner, I sat next to the marketing director for the Ice Hotel. Our dinner was filled with riotous laughter. We joked about what would be the most hilarious ways to decorate the ice rooms. The crowd favorite was my suggestion that we design a room to look like an ice morgue. There would be frozen open drawers with sculpted ice corpses on top covered by sheets. The beds would be another set of ice drawers topped with reindeer skins, and the sleeping bags would look like body bags. The marketing director actually thought it was a really good/funny idea, and told me to enter the competition to make my own room. Every year, artists submit their ideas for rooms, and if you win, then you get to spend two weeks putting your room together. I’ll admit, I’m really tempted, and I might actually apply.
Dinner was absolutely fantastic, and the food was served on plates of ice cut from the river. Dinner of course included reindeer, but it also included strange foods like deep fried lichen. We met the chef, and were given one of the fondest farewells I’ve ever been given by a host.
When we left dinner, we could actually see the stars. Up till this point, it had been nothing but cloudy and snowy. Our hosts suggested that we walk down to the river and try to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). We waited and waited, but never saw an aurora. However, the late night out on the ice was a lot of fun anyway!
While we were laughing and joking, Kelcie saw something moving on one of the roofs.We watched as it climbed down and came over to observe us. Everyone thought it was a dog, but as a lifelong dog owner, I knew it was a fox. The group did not believe me, but when it got close, I used my cell phone light and sure enough it was an arctic fox! It hung around us for about an hour. It was curious, but never got too close. Danny kept trying to call it over, but luckily for every one of us (and the fox), it wasn’t stupid enough to answer his call.
Tonight we slept in warm accommodations. I could hear EVERYTHING! The room in the ice hotel had been so eerily quiet. I could hear water pipes, the furnace and electronic buzzes. They were all the usual sounds we experience in all modern buildings but they all suddenly seemed so loud now.
In the morning we boarded a plane for our adventure in Stockholm. I can honestly say that my short experience at the Ice Hotel was one of the most memorable and amazing experiences of my life. Congratulations on 25 years of craziness! I will definitely make this one into a public tour. Stay tuned.