When my husband announced we were off to Sweden to the iconic ice hotel, I couldn’t hold in my excitement…. quickly followed by my dread of being cold and worry that I was completely unequipped to cope with minus temperatures. We had a long weekend booked in to see the Northern Lights, learn how to be a husky musher and ice sculpting, this was not going to be a sit down reading a book holiday!
So HELLO SWEDEN… taking off from chilly UK, where we were worried about the risk of snow delaying our departure to landing on runway completely covered by snow seemed a little ironic. When we landed at Kiruna’s one building terminal/ airport and I’d never seen anything like it before, not being a seasoned skier or cold holiday convert the blanket of bright snow covering everything we could see was magical!
We’d opted to stay for one night close to Aurora sky station, Abisko which is 900m above sea level on Mount Nuolja, according to their website, the best place on earth to experience the northern lights! We were lucky, and caught a fantastic green display towards the end of our dinner and into the evening. The 40 minute ski lift up the pitch black mountain was completely worth it and with the snow suit (imagine a giant black onesie big enough to cover my two thermal tops, two jumpers and two jackets) I felt even toasty at times, all worries were lost of feeling cold on this holiday, at times I was even too warm.
Before we set off up the mountain I had set my digital SLR camera to a long exposure and shutter speed, as well as the camera already hooked up the tripod knowing that in -14 (including wind chill), my sheer excitement at seeing the Northern Lights and it being pitch black would inhibit my photo taking skills. I’d spent a while googling how to take photos of the northern lights, and had even made my husband sit in the living room with me with no lights on seeing if I could use my new fancy remote control to catch tops of the car headlights moving from a first floor window.
It worked! I managed to get a couple of great photos which as a first timer, I am very proud of!
Our next couple of days we heading to Jukkasjärvi where the ice hotel is situated on the side of the frozen Torne River (geography geeks will love this video) , 200km north of the Arctic Circle. Artists and technicians construct the entire site in only 8 weeks with one off art suites being made by pairs of experienced artists.
I was lucky enough to have a ice sculpting class with one of the residence artists. It was fascinating listening to him explaining how to work with ice. He was traditionally a stone and wood sculpture and described sculpting with ice like pulling a knife through butter in comparison, and I can see what he means! This was my first experience at any time of sculpture and I’m a convert, I was joking about changing careers but seriously I loved it! I’m contemplating putting a proposal in for their room number 27 which is open for submissions, open to all creative disciplines, but I think my studio assistants may have something to say if I disappear for 8 weeks during our Christmas season!
As well as being creative there was lots of chance for adventure, with snowmobiling and being our own husky mushers, it was a great time to appreciate the landscape from the frozen lake to the Swedish forests, and experience the frozen nature. My favourite was being pulled along by my own team of 4 husky dogs it was really peaceful once we started moving! These dogs love to run, when they are waiting for you to kit up they bark, howl and pull at the sleigh hoping they will catch you with your foot off the break! They are really easy to drive, they dogs basically do all of the work, you just need to put the light break on every now and again to slow them down, so they don’t overtake the driver in front. As they get warmer they grab the snow from the high banks either side of the path but no matter what happens they never stop running.
I was also lucky enough to head to the Sami Museum (indigenous people of Northern Sweden) and feed the super friendly reindeers, I was determined to get a photo of them looking down the lens which ended up with me getting chased down by the most dominate reindeer just wanting food and not the camera time!
It was lovely to hear the familiar song from the Sparrows walking along to the rivers edge and find the small sprig or branch hiding underneath the white landscape. The birch trees caught my attention with the beautiful pale peach bark, a colour I’m looking at using in my next collection! Up in the mountains there were frozen lakes and waterfall with lots of small footprints in the deep snow, showing trails from snow bunnies, reindeer and other wildlife that thrives along the frozen lake edges.
In summery of this magical trip, it proves that nature, colour and wildlife can be found in even the whitest most barren looking landscapes. I loved my time in Sweden, enjoyed being surrounded my such creativity in the Ice Hotel and ate more lingonberries and cloudberries that I thought possible!