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  • When Minus 5 Degrees C Feels Warm

    Jukkasjärvi, Sweden is far north, close to where Norway, Finland, and Sweden intersect. If it weren't for the Ice Hotel, very few people would know of, or care about, this small village. The Sami (Sweden's native people) named the town and have inhabited the land for generations before anyone ever thought of building the hotel.

    I traveled to Jukkasjärvi thinking the trip would be all about the hotel—the experience of tossing back a vodka in the Ice Bar, of crawling into a cold bed, and of perhaps seeing the aurora. There was so much more. Yes, the hotel is amazing. It was much bigger than I expected. the hotel is built around a long hall, with chandelier and siting areas that most people don't sit in because they are ice.

    There are six corridors off the main hall, each with about 12 rooms. Half the rooms are standard ice rooms. They are each decorated with the same small ice sculptures. So each room looks alike, much as you'd expect in a Hilton, but with ice.

    The other half of the rooms are art suites. Each one is designed by an artist from around the world. Each features a unique, elaborate design. One night I stayed in the Dragon Suite. Another the Bedroom Story suite. To get an idea of what it looks like, watch this music video of the Ice Hotel that I made.

    The bed is a normal mattress that's placed on wood slats and then covered with reindeer skin. The room is "yours" between 6 PM and 10 AM, which is when tours for non guests are over. In reality, no one stays in the room unless they are taking photos or in a sleeping bag.

    The outside temperature in Jukkasjärvi varied between –25 and –30 Celsius, so the the inside temperature of –5 degrees C felt relatively warm when I first went into the ice building. Still, –5 is pretty cold. The trick to being perfectly comfortable when sleeping is to wear long, wool underwear, socks, and a hat to bed, and nothing more. Otherwise it's too hot. I got my sleeping bag from the warm hotel when I was ready to sleep. That way, the sleeping bag was warm when I crawled into it. It stayed warm all night from my body heat. In the morning, a staff member woke me with a cup of hot lingonberry juice.

    I found two "problems" sleeping in the cold hotel. The first is that the room is so beautiful that I found it difficult not to want to stay up and gaze at the art. The second problem is needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, which I did on both nights. There are no toilets in the cold hotel, so I had to walk to the warm hotel. It's not that far, but the thought of leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag can make it difficult to get up. My advice: Just do it and get it over with. When I got up on the second night, I noticed the aurora, so I went to the roof of the ice hotel where they have an aurora-viewing porch. Spectacular.

    What I didn't expect on this trip was to learn so much about the Sami. I went horseback riding twice with Sami women and reindeer mushing one day with a Sami man. Those stories I'll leave for another post.