Let It Go at the Ice Hotel, Swedish Lapland

After two years of trying to get my friends to mush huskies with me, and not being able to afford to take my carers, I opted to go on my first solo trip abroad. Discover the World offered solo travellers the experience without a single supplement. It is definitely a single rate, as when I was told there was no-one else doing my experience, I transferred to a different date so it was viable to run. Better to go a week early than not go at all.

Katie, my main contact with DTW, was very reassuring about my first solo trip. Sensible people may opt for a neighbouring capital city. I opted for remote Swedish Lapland in the Arctic Circle. Alex spent an hour chatting to me about his experience of the wilderness adventure package, as he’s done it seven times. He gave me the ‘hidden’ details of a trip, such as how expensive the food is in Kiruna and the Ice Hotel, and how far you have to walk to get it. These are considerations when you’re on a health budget and a money budget. I was talked out of a cold room at the Ice Hotel in favour of a locked door, electrical sockets and a private shower, which I certainly appreciated at the end.

London to Kiruna

I did treat myself to a night in a swanky London hotel – the Double Tree by Hilton at Heathrow. I had a free warm cookie on my arrival. I had the first room and could pick up the reception Internet from the comfort of my bed. I have never had a TV as big as a king size bed, and nor have I had a hotel bath that size, either. I was surprised I couldn’t hear any other guests, or the planes flying overhead.  As a Saturday morning, breakfast was an hour later than weekdays, which made getting to the airport a bit squeaky. When the Hotel Hoppa bus said it was a frequent service, I imagined the London Underground. In reality, it was one bus to my hotel going in a 40 minute circle via T1, T2, and T3. The bus driver loaded my cases and took me to the correct lift to get into T2.

I get the feeling not many special assistance passengers go to Kiruna, as Steve the DTW representative knew me as I walked to the check in desk. It’s a surreal experience only needing your passport and no plane ticket, but it’s a nice one as it’s one less piece of paperwork. A wheelchair took me through Heathrow airport, and the various Omniserve staff had a chat with me through security, and then for the hour delay for our departure due to a catering issue. Amazingly, we had such a strong tail wind that we arrived twenty minutes earlier than scheduled!

I have realised that solo travel means you chat to people more, for a richer experience. I have also realised that fellow travellers are nice and are eager to help you. On the plane, a shoulder blade injury I thought had fully healed released the final bit of inflammation as I expanded with the changing air pressure. The people sitting next to me helped me clip my elastic luggage strap around my chest in order to keep the pressure on and restore function. It also led to many conversations about survival tips, including only taking things with you if it has more than one purpose, and 156 ways to use gaffer tape.

Scandinavian Airlines have lovely staff, lovely leg room and lovely food, though the reclining seats continue to annoy if you’re the person behind. I had chosen to learn some Swedish, as everywhere I go, people speak my language and I feel a bit guilty about a colonial heritage so try to remedy it. The staff were very encouraging at my attempts at their native tongue, and their English was superb. En kopp kaffe, takk, to finish off my warm bread and butter, chicken pasta salad and lingonberry cheesecake meal.

Kiruna airport is very small. So small, that border control is not permanently staffed. The police come when a flight is due in or out to check passports and that is it. Once I was in the next wheelchair, people on my tour were very keen to help me with my luggage and help me stand up. At that moment, I only knew their names as they were written with mine on a piece of paper held by our first host, Pit. My human pack for the experience was Emma and Bjorn, a married couple originally from Australia, and Clare, and from that moment we did everything together.

Musher’s Lodge

We arrived by van to the Musher’s Lodge, a wooden and extremely well insulated building surrounded by 200 husky kennels, some of which had puppies in them. No surprises where we spent most of our time. The family and staff told us it’s good for the puppies to be socialised with new humans on a daily basis, and they have no malice towards humans. You could take their food bowl from them and they wouldn’t bite you. Most of them stuck their heads through the food holes for a head rub, and some barked nervously. They all had names hung on their cages, painted on tree slices – mostly Swedish, but some English and even some African such as Zimba.

Pit, a grey bearded man now wearing an apron, asked if any of us were vegetarian, and when we wanted to eat. He freshly prepared a smoked ham and pasta bake full of cheese and vegetables, of which we could have had third helpings. Coffee is the drink of choice for Swedes, but they do provide a water kettle for the weird English people who drink tea, and the French who drink chocolate. Extras were available to buy, such as wine in drinks cartons rather than glass bottles, and global chocolate bar brands, and some souvenirs such as knitted gloves and carved bones.

A long wooden sled was being harnessed up for a night view of the Northern Lights, but a few people arrived 20 minutes late. The barking at us being the afternoon strangers was nothing compared to the racket of them being harnessed up and not being allowed to run. No sooner had the musher taken the anchor out, they were off down the path into the forest under a full moon. We, on the other hand, were being total light weights and all went to bed at 8pm being warm and full, but not before Pit asked us if 9am was okay for breakfast. I think the only things that rush in Swedish Lapland are the huskies. All the humans seem sedate when on their own two feet.

After an exceptionally toasty night in a room for two, breakfast was cold meats, cheese slices, cereal, lingonberry juice (of course), coffee (of course), hard and soft boiled eggs, and arctic bread with butter and soft honey. Powell, our guide, told us we only needed to pack a swimming costume for the sauna, a camera and a change of underwear as everything else was provided. I had tried to fit my camera into my rucksack, thinking the sled wouldn’t take it, but they are roomy and can take many small bags.  Being a trained environmental scientist, I had contingency packed for being stranded in -40. As it was, it was a balmy 0 degrees with light snow. The long list of things suggested in my invoice and itinerary, such as ski goggles, were surplus to requirements. The only thing I hadn’t packed was a thin cotton layer, as I assumed I’d never leave my thermal base layer. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. I sweated. A lot. I was running the record for dehydrating in the Arctic Circle before leaving the Musher’s Lodge. Unknowingly, I had become a husky.

On the first day of mushing, the humans were kitted out first in a snow suit, snow boots designed for -70, and leather gloves without finger definition so the cold didn’t go up to your hands. It was all soft and comfortable, though difficult as a woman if you needed the toilet. Nearly all of the huskies were out on different activities, so combining equal teams of pulling power for us was a trial experience on the run. Huskies have four paw drive, so you have to lift them off their front legs by their collar in order to stop them from dragging you along the floor from the kennel to be harnessed. I learned this the hard way, and laughing doesn’t make it easier to get back on your feet. We had a piece of paper with our husky team on it. I had Debbie and Lea leading, and Alja and Camo bringing up the rear. After our briefing about how to control the sled – deceleration with the rubber mat between the runners and the hard metal spike brake – and what to do if you came off it – grab the anchor and dig it in – we got to fuss our team so they would respond to us for the day.

Then we were off. After 100 yards, we stopped, as my team had tangled wires in their enthusiasm, and someone had lost their sled due to their team’s enthusiasm. The huskies want to run, all the time, and the first hour is the most boisterous as they have been in kennels and have worked up a desperate need to go. The first hour was also peak time for them to go to the toilet on the run. Husky output smells pungent as its passing under your sled. I dread to think what it’s like in summer when it’s warm. We had a few stops to rearrange the teams. I lost Camo and gained Hana, an old dog who was just out for a Sunday stroll as her lead was always slack.

Mushing team

Running through the forest is very warm. I only noticed this when we went onto the frozen river where nothing stopped the wind from reaching us. The huskies also noticed, and periodically took mouthfuls of snow from the banks to cool down, as they regulate their temperature with their tongues and their paws. We alternated between the river and the forest in different circles, marked by twigs in the open and ribbons on branches respectively. None of the trees had snow on them as it had all melted off, yet some of the trees were arched over with their tips buried in two metres of ground snow. I imagine it’s quite cool when the tip is released to see snow catapulted with the trees returning upright.

Our guide periodically used his phone, as he was checking where other teams were in the area so we avoided each other. It added to the experience of wilderness isolation. We made a stop for lunch after 35k. While it’s better to put the anchor around a tree rather than in the ground, the huskies fight against being pulled back in order to unhook it – the drive is always forwards. Initially, we were going in a tent on steroids, but our guide had his summer jacket on and didn’t have matches. I wish he had said at the time, as I had matches. Instead, we moved on to a wooden cabin another group had recently left, as it was already heated and the coffee and water pots were very warm. Lunch was lentil and ham soup with coffee and Swedish Jammie Dodgers. I couldn’t take photos inside as my camera couldn’t adapt fast enough to the temperature difference, but the map showed with pins were we had started, the circles we had done, and where we were going next.

Our guide had noticed I had a professional camera, so he volunteered to take photos of us now the dogs had steadied themselves out to a steady 10k an hour. He had a lot of experience in taking photos with professional cameras.

Around the bend

I managed to take a video on the river, to capture the speed and the tranquillity while the huskies followed the leader. The forest track required more concentration with the undulating surface and tight corners. Even corners on the river needed attention, as the huskies liked to cut them and disappeared into the snow. They became dolphin like, arching from the white depths, until the sled got stuck. Soft snow offers no leg purchase to push it back up. I had to jump off the runners and simultaneously pull the handle up to dislodge it, before kicking off the ice build-up on the runners where I stood. Tip – it’s easier to kick with the side of the foot like football than it is with the toe or heel. It was easier to lift the soft brake pad up to stop the snow build up from slowing the huskies down on the river, but the forest parts needed the speed control. Our guide also liked to challenge us to add to the experience, so he would take us over ice patches and up hills where you needed to assist the dogs by pushing along with one leg. It was a very adaptive and responsive tour.

Wilderness Lodge

The Wilderness Lodge was very cosy. There was no electricity and no running water, so water was brought up in containers from the river – the cleanest river in Europe – and the toilet was outdoor compost with paper roll on a branch screwed to the wall. After taking the harnesses off the huskies by gripping them with our thighs to stop them running, and chaining them to their kennels (it was too warm for them to eat a second meal), the next priority was the fires for the sauna, dinner and the lounge. We walked to a nearby igloo and were surprised at how warm it was inside, when outside was still -1 at sunset. After a few snowball fights and snow angels, the sauna was ready. It was warm enough outside to walk in our swimming costumes, towels and snow boots. The sauna fire heated rocks that heated the air. A milk pale had cold water in it, and a separate fire heated warm water. The two were mixed together in a bowl and poured over you as a shower, and small bars of soap and shampoo were available, then the sauna heat dried you off. Candles were under the sauna benches, held in wine bottles of very good vintage. Saunas are good for you, as the heat tricks your body into thinking it has a fever, so it produces white blood cells to deal with any infection.

Wilderness Lodge

Dinner was reindeer mince from our guide’s Sami friend, mashed potato and lingonberry sauce. Dessert was ice cream with lingonberry sauce, and he offered Jammie Dodgers put there was no room in our stomachs. Our guide apologised that the ice cream was soft set, as it was too warm in his sled for it to be firmer even though he had made it that morning and travelled with it all day across frozen land and water! Powell was very chatty, and I think he enjoyed that we were interested in him, rather than ignoring him as staff. He had many humorous tales to tell, including taking the Queen of Sweden out to mush, and needing insurance for her £10,000 bottles of wine. It was a nice thought to think we could be mushing the same dogs as used by royalty, though sadly the empty bottles of wine were not in the sauna. He also had serious tales, such as there being no prospects for young people in North Sweden beyond mining and tourism, as the nearest University was 100k south. A new mining project would create 800 jobs and attract international workers, but there weren’t any houses for them to live in. The town itself is sinking with mining subsidence, so they plan to move the whole town. No mean feat, given the land is either frozen in winter or a marsh full of mosquitoes in summer. Incidentally, cloudberries are expensive as no-one wants to face the mozzie gauntlet to pick them. To Powell, the best kind of beer is an open one, but we couldn’t as we were snowmobiling and Sweden has a zero tolerance policy on drink driving.

Our guide didn’t sleep in the lodge with us, but a solo cabin nearby. While it had a fire, he took his favourite bitch with him for comfort and warmth. All his private dogs were house trained and responded to international calls for racing rather than Swedish commands. He retired one of his dogs to a couple in London, who send him picture updates of how she’s doing, such as her new kennel. In Northern Sweden, common sense is being eroded with legislation about minimum insulation for husky kennels. Remember that huskies die from overheating, not the cold, and husky kennels have huge entrances to let all the cold in.

In a place far away from the modern world, it was wonderful to reconnect with people and with nature in front of a fire on a green leather sofa whilst drinking coffee from the stove. The birch was very dry and rich with sap, and the log lasted until 3am. I know this, as that’s when I relented and went to the toilet. I didn’t need my head torch, as the snow reflected the full moon so I could see clearly in the pale blue light – a total absence of light pollution. All the dogs looked at me, with their eyes glowing green, but they didn’t bark. Not even the puppies on their first trip out seemed bothered by the wind blowing through unfamiliar trees. Everything was calm, and it was the best sleep I have had in a long time. There were no locked doors, as in a storm or in a moose attack, the difference between life and death could be an open door. Such is the freedom to roam belief here, unlike in Canada where you can get guillotined by fence wire on a snowmobile for trespass. It is possible to survive a moose attack by climbing a tree, but birch are vertical poles with no lower branches surrounded by soft powder. I suppose if my life depended on it, I could do anything.

As a TMI note about being a lady in the wood, I am grateful for the day I decided to use a menstrual cup. There are no facilities for tampons or towels in compost toilets, and you would have to take them with you all the way back to our way of life in your sled.

Breakfast was a leisurely 9am for us, but our guide had been up from seven to start the fires and boil coffee for the humans and water to unfreeze the dog food. It was continuously snowing lightly, and you could see perfect snowflakes on the dog’s fur. Most of the dogs weren’t hungry as it wasn’t cold enough for them to work up an appetite, but they needed the water so they didn’t dehydrate from overheating. My youngest dog was too shy to eat in front of me, but as soon as I had a harness in my hand, she sat in front of me and looked up excitedly. This was before I said Jag alskar dig – Swedish for I Love You, which they do understand. It resulted in a face lick and a crotch sniff, and this was true for all the huskies I said it to. They get emotions more than words, so I meant what I said. It was me relying on them in the wilderness, in air so clean and fresh you can identify different camp fires from miles away by the smoky wafts at dawn.

Dog's Breakfast

The huskies have unique personalities. My sister huskies liked each other, so it wasn’t a problem that Debbie’s collar had snapped in the night as she went and slept in Lea’s kennel rather than running home. Of course, once one dog was in a harness, all the others were jealous and started barking and howling the call to run. They are extremely obedient about having their front legs put through the harness. The only trouble was my puppy Alja having a large head to get it on. After a quick game of winter golf – where you putt husky poo into a bucket to clear the path – we were ready to go.

Debbie didn’t want to lead on Monday, and decided to look at me for direction, which meant she kept bumping into her sister who just had her ears down and was in running mode. Debbie was changed with Hana, and while Hana led, she didn’t take up the slack. Still, I didn’t need to give them a leg up the hills as I had the previous day. We took the shortest route of 11k back to the Musher’s Lodge. Like most places on Earth, Monday morning is a busy time to travel. We encountered many mushers, skiers, snowmobilers, and long sleds. Thankfully for us, the huskies get priority on the tracks over skiers and snowmobiles, who are meant to get out the way. One skier didn’t, and it was nearly a human skittle incident, as while the dogs are trained to pass on the right, the sleds can slip on compacted snow to the left. We were told to speed up the dogs past other dogs, as at slow speeds they were likely to stop and inspect each other.

The best comedic moment was out on the river, when Bjorn’s sled came up to me with his gloves still attached to the handle bar. A gentle “easy” halted their progress, so the married couple could ride together to catch up with us. The four dogs had no qualm pulling twice as many people in the open. I proverbially fell at the last hurdle, as a blind dip and corner meant my feet bounced off the runners. Thankfully, I fell on my knees on my runners, and I never let go of the handle except the put the anchor in the ground. This was funny, as the woman behind me came off her sled at the same point, and I caught her dogs as soon as I’d anchored mine in.

Lunch at the Musher’s Lodge seemed to be the soup edition of our first meal there. I forgot to sign in the guest book. We kept our snow boots for the snowmobile, but didn’t the snowsuit. In my over packing, I assumed I would have access to my baggage at the Musher’s Lodge to retrieve my driver’s license, but it was already on its way to the Ice Hotel. In reality, I only needed six things during my mushing – spare socks, my swimming costume, camera, chap stick, matches and driver’s license. There’s even a handy chest pocket in your snowsuit for quick access to small cameras.

Snowmobiling

Onto the snowmobile through the forest and over the river to the Ice Hotel, I quickly wanted to be back with the huskies. Hearing a powerful engine going “RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR” detracts from the peaceful wilderness, and the continuous vibration is not pleasant to sit on for extended periods. I can see why our guide stood up on his snowmobile, but we were sharing a machine and standing isn’t an option as a passenger. Snowmobiles are no different to most motor vehicles in prioritising driver comfort over passenger comfort. The hand bars for passengers are behind you, and you get a tricep workout holding on over the bumps and the side skidding over ice and in the wind. I suddenly understood why the track had rapid undulations in it, as there’s no such thing as gentle acceleration or deceleration on a vehicle that is essentially a tank chain at the back and skis at the front. Ten kilometres an hour was fast enough as a passenger. However, as the driver, the experience was enjoyable. The handlebars were warm – to the point I didn’t need my gloves – and 30k/h was a comfortable speed.

James Bond

I couldn’t hear a thing in my helmet beyond the engine, so the only time I knew my passenger wasn’t comfortable was when she squeezed me with her thighs very hard, as you don’t dare let go of the hand bars for fear of being thrown off. She told me at the Ice Hotel that she’d been shouting “Slow down!” but I hadn’t heard. I was too busy avoiding trees on tracks that seemed huge mushing huskies but now seemed like a branch away from £800 excess for damage. We fell off twice into soft snow avoiding huskies – once on each side of the track for good measure. It is a lot harder to shift a 250kilo machine out of soft snow than it is a wooden sled. You have to get off as you’re an extra 120k the machine can’t do on its side with nothing to grip to. Always remember to zip all of your pockets, as it is a hard walk through thigh deep snow to retrieve gloves.

Ice Hotel

I did feel like James Bond driving across the river Torne to the Ice Hotel. Long husky sleds were also arriving in style, and we were converging on the wild entrance to the complex. I didn’t see the Ice Hotel at first, as the river side is the ice room part. Such is the connection with nature. It’s only when you walk through the wide pathways past the church and ice bar that you then see the wooden chalets and reception, and the restaurant is the other side of the main road to Kiruna.

Ice Hotel Grounds

We had arrived in time for an English tour of the Ice rooms. The concept started 25 years ago, when there were more guests than rooms, so they built igloos. The snow, ice and snice keep the inside at a consistent -5, which normally would be warmer than the outside, but not when we were there. The entrance staff had the thankless task of raking the footprints away, as if they brought snow in from outside, it would freeze and become slippery ice!

Crystal Palace

To mark the 25th year, a competition was run in the Telegraph to design a room. The winner said he had no idea what to do, so the manager asked him to tell the most important stories of his life. The art suite was designed on his most important memory – a cathedral in Spain. The other art rooms were “business as usual”, and this year 200 artists submitted their ideas. The best ones were picked, and the artists invited to create their art. I was surprised at how well insulated against sound the snow rooms are, especially as the entranceways are just curtains. It was a place of quiet meditation of snow art, much like the stillness of an art gallery. It is a living art gallery with people coming and going to rest on their beds of ice and reindeer skins.

Firm Bed

Some of the art suites looked like forests with fairies, others like geometric squares rotating, some like snowballs captured in ice, some like hidden tiger faces behind ice walls. We were told the same artists also do the ice hotel in Canada, but they always put their best work here! Art is a way of life here, and Mother Nature is always honoured. Everything comes from her, and everything returns to her in the spring. The ice blocks that everything is made from is harvested in 2 x 1 metre blocks from the river a year before in order to have the thickness. Some of the blocks mark the end of walls outside, and they are turquoise and transparent in their purity and compression.

Huskies on Ice

Some of the ice hotel aspects remain the same, and they have moulds for these things, including the central archway. The arches are self-supporting, and while they do lower over time, they never suddenly collapse. They had put ice pillars in to keep the arches high, as coming in to something igloo height just wouldn’t be dramatic. The church is a gift to Kiruna parish, and the priest comes to conduct ceremonies, including weddings. This year, the church had an altar of a sunflower to represent eternal life, a fern of 144 chromosomes to remind us of the complexity of nature, and a forest of snow pillars for us to symbolically enter nature’s domain. The snow trees were bending like vines, and did run the risk of falling down, so they were taken down the day we left. The ice bar was a bit different this year, in that they blew up a balloon and slowly covered it in snice to build up the layers. Everything is lit by cool LED lights, some coloured and some bluish white. A band from Mexico had come to celebrate 25 years, but no-one had told them their breath would freeze in their metal trumpets!

Nature Worship

In the evening, I had made a dinner reservation at the restaurant, with three guests of my adventure buddies. It was a shift from the homely experience where everyone helped, to sitting pretty in fine dining where everything is done for you. You don’t even fill your own water or wine glasses (but you do put food in your mouth…). I always feel a bit weird in fine dining, as usually when people do things for me it’s because my health isn’t good enough to do it myself. The bread filler came with salted butter and cream cheese. My starter was a selection of river fish, and my main was moose steak. I have watched enough fancy cooking programmes to know how they make sauces into freeze dried powder – yet another way to serve lingonberry! – and how they make liquid look like caviar. Pudding was an expensive filler of mostly non-native flavours, and I had run out of money after my hot chocolate. A two course dinner and soft drink with no change from £70… I’m grateful I don’t like the taste of alcohol, though it always fascinates me hearing people discuss the heaviness of wine relating to it overpowering lighter foods.

Eat Central

River Fish

Moose Steak

There was a stark contrast between us in our thermal base layer sitting next to locals who were in their fineries. Two of us also smelled of huskies, as they were advised against showering to sleep in the cold rooms in order to keep their grease layer. I was enjoying my warm chalet comforts of charging sockets, private shower and multi-language TV channels, and they were in no-man’s land as they weren’t allowed into their rooms until the tourists had finished, and there was nothing to do in them other than sleep. It seemed natural to let them stay in my room to charge their electrics and have a hot drink and keep chatting, as they soon tired of drinking spirits in ice glasses in the Ice Bar. Quite simply, Australians are only used to winters of 8oC, and this landscape meant they never left their hats. A good proportion of people never left their Ice Hotel snowsuits – black with a silver snowflake on the back – so I was quite the novelty walking around in one layer.

We each had a “thing to do” on this trip. For Bjorn and Emma, it was snowball fights. For Clare, it was a snow angel. I was tasked with photographing my regional flag by the Ice Hotel…

Do you have a flag?

… and dancing my belly dance routine to Frozen’s Let It Go. The church was closed, and the Ice Bar wouldn’t let me use their speakers as it’s not covered by their insurance. So I did it outside the iconic Ice Hotel doors at midnight. I don’t think many people can say they have belly danced in the Arctic Circle. Apart from one wardrobe malfunction when the wind took my skirt before its big reveal, its debut went alright. I wasn’t in a hurry at -5 to do it again, and I wasn’t well enough the following day to do it in daylight. I wonder if the guy who had stepped outside the Ice Bar for a fag wondered if he’d had too much to drink…

Despite my midnight escapades, the person in the chalet next to me came in after me. While there is 40cm of heat insulation, the warm chalets offered no sound proofing to the adjacent room. First they fell over in the bathroom, and then they snored in bed all night. I went and slept in the other bedroom my chalet had, as even though the window was smaller, it was permanent cloud cover so there was no chance of the Northern Lights. There was a map on the kitchen wall of the constellations for both hemispheres, and I wondered how unusual it was that I didn’t get to see a single star, let alone the Northern Lights. Still, I’m British and snow is a fabulous novelty in its own right. The small window also blocked the view of the orange glow from Kiruna.

The final morning was an early start in order to do ice sculpting. The breakfast part of the restaurant had an art installation in the ceiling that mimicked the Northern Lights with periodic green light flashes. The tables had tea light holders that reflected the ice point logo of the hotel, which you could have brought in the souvenir shop for £21. I just had to have the Swedish meatballs (when in Rome…), coffee and lingonberry juice, though I did notice my output smelled like the huskies. Maybe we ate the same things. I think every international style of breakfast was catered for.

Morning Lights

Alex was the resident artist of five years who chose to be our humble assistant during the ice sculpting. Naturally, we asked which room he had designed but he said he hadn’t done one as last year he had done unicorns and fantasy and didn’t think he could ever top it. My original intention was a TARDIS but I chickened out of that when I saw the size of the chisel compared to the ice block. My back up plan was a Lego brick, but that was already on display in the reception. Plan C didn’t exist, so I meditated on ice until I thought of a Gameboy. When in doubt, go back to your childhood. We had all chosen something that mattered to us, be it a heart or a car. Apart from a quick lesson in making sharp corners, Alex left me to it. Nothing else existed in the room apart from me and my creation until it was finished, at which point Alex sawed it off the block and displayed it outside with all the other creations over the season. It joins a lot of hearts, chess pieces, squirrels, abstracts and geometric infinity shapes. Next time I’m doing a Dalek, and possibly picking a block with less visible layers in it. There’s nothing more disheartening than nearly being finished and a whole fracture plane coming off because the river freezing in layers hasn’t fully compressed.

I know you're going to dig this

Alex at DTW gave me the helpful advice that warm room checkout was before the ice sculpting finished, so I had packed the night before and had to finish the sculpting early. I didn’t feel well on the final day, so I sat in reception by the fire and closed my eyes. Somehow I had managed to sit in an Internet blind spot. It was a very long time from 7am breakfast to food on the plane at 3pm, and I had no health to walk to the Co-op in town, and 64 Korona (Swedish for Crown) to spend, which would buy me two cups of tea and no food. Everything in Kiruna is expensive for the most basic food or drink – the hot chocolate is thin on cocoa, made with water rather than milk, and costs 34K. The fine dining is only a small mark up for much better quality than the basic level. Next time, I’m pocketing fruit and pastries from breakfast so I don’t feel ill in the wait, and making a vacuum flask of hot water from my room before check out.

I had an abundance of people offering to take my luggage and my arm to help me home. The airport staff gave me a window view of the plane (whose logo of the Scandinavian flags reminded me of a Rubix cube, and whose plane logo looked like airplanes in snowflake formation) and put me next to people so I wasn’t lonely. They even wheeled me to the gate so I was always with people rather than abandoned. It was snowing when we left, and the plane was calmly gritted on the runway before taking off. Most of us fell asleep after food until the turbulence of the holding pattern over Heathrow. The baggage was slow to arrive, and I didn’t touch my baggage until I was home due to special assistance. It was only then I noticed there was a hole where the padlock and zip close used to be. In future, I may protect my padlock under my luggage strap. I think it’s a small price to pay for a successful and memorable first solo trip of the variety of lifestyles in Swedish Lapland, and the kindness of strangers.

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