This time, the text has gotten a bit long.
Additionaly, the trip consisted of three different parts, so it's almost like three different travel descriptions.
To make getting to the specific parts a bit easier, here are three shortcut links:
Or you can just read on and have it all as one long story...
And I thought last year's trip was difficult.
Corona was spreading over Europe and nobody knew what was going to happen and how the countries would react. Turned out that almost everyone went into panic mode and started to shut things down. Even in Sweden, which remained the most rational country in Europe, two hotels cancelled my reservations, as those hotels closed down. But this being Sweden, it was the individual decision of the respective hotels, not a mandatory shutdown.
But everyone assumed that this would be a passing phase and one year later, with better knowledge, better diagnostics, better medications and vaccinations being available. We would all back on the previous year as a passing phase, which we all had gotten through somehow.
A year later it turns out that things have gotten worse.
(The next part turned into a bit of a rant about the current situation. Feel free to ignore anything in italics and jump right to the travel related part in regular font below.)
This is not a political blog, so I'll keep this short, but it seemed that politicians everywhere did see this as a chance for more TV appearances and more public exposure, as long as they announced new restrictions to sell themselves as hardliners willing to take tough decisions. (As long as they did apply to those smaller and weaker.)
And it looked more and more like puritan flagellation than any sensible activity. (Flagellants were monks who whipped themselves on the premise that the more they were suffering, the more devout they would seem. And, of course, according to Wikipedia "anyone who did not join in the flagellation was accused of being in league with the devil".
So it doesn't seem that surprising that anything that might be fun was severely restricted. Restaurants were forced to close, public consumption of alcohol forbidden, sale of alcohol restricted, no cinemas, no bars, no theatres, no concerts, no parties, no hotels, no weekend trips.
But, of course, work must go on, and industry was, at best, asked to help. Home office remained optional. Companies could still force their employees to physically show up on site, even if their presence wasn't needed. And, of course, manufacturers remained open. For example, neither Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW nor Porsche needed to close during lockdown. It is hard to explain why it is so urgent to produce new cars. They are not a critical resource and if everyone runs their car a year longer, it won't be a disaster.
(Yes, I am realistic enough to know that not shutting down the big industries has little to do with whether their goods are 'system relevant', but a lot more of keeping the overall economy running at a reasonable level. So you keep away from putting restrictions on the 'big players'. But 'economic necessity' isn't the same as fairness. Not being able to go to a restaurant or go for a short vacation hits the individual much harder, so from a 'puritan' point of view (all work, no fun), that's more individual suffering and hence 'better'.)
And, of course, it turned out that the 'fundamental rights' guaranteed in the constitution (or equivalent document) turned out to any anything but. My assumption was that somehow basic rights are something that is the guideline for everything else. So in the sense that local regulations can't contradict state laws, which can't contradict federal law, which can't contradict EU law, I thought that no law can limit fundamental rights. That's what makes them fundamental.
Turns out that, in practice as well as in legal terms, 'fundamental rights' are only there 'unless limited by a law'. So, in that sense, they are not meaningful rights at all. Of course, it makes sense in some areas. While there is the right to freedom of movement, that still means that criminals can be put in prison. And if someone runs down the street, pointing guns at everyone, the police should at least be able to take that guns away, even though that is violating private property laws. And a situation can be constructed for any fundamental right, where restricting that right makes sense and will be universally acceptable.
But the general rule should be that such restrictions should only be allowed in extreme cases and as limited, well defined and rare as possible.
And here it turns out that sweeping generalizations and vague justifications are enough for massive restrictions of liberties. There's no real proof that staying in hotels increases infection rates. And, even worse, even if it did, there's still no clear reason why they should be forbidden to operate. Especially as visiting a restaurant or going on vacation are personal choices. If you're worried about going there, then don't. There's nothing that's keeping you from doing your own personal lockdown and hide in your house for the next couple of months. The only things that you more or less have to do is to go shopping for daily needs and go to work. And these are exactly the things that are not locked down.
Essentially it's the same as with smoking, drinking or driving a car (or in more extreme cases, abseil down Euromast or go dogsledding). Yes, there is a personal risk to you if you do it. And yes, there's a (lesser) risk to others if you do that. But you are not forbidden to do that. It's your fundamental right to do that. Or not. But the Corona virus seems to be 'magic' in the sense that this can be used to justify almost everything, even with, at best, anecdotal evidence.
And legal principles seem to be no longer valid. While it used to be the case that your guilt had to be demonstrated and you were innocent unless proven otherwise, the burden of proof seems now to have shifted. When I get back to Germany, I will need to go into self-isolation for at least five days. Which means I am not allowed to leave my apartment at all. So, from a practical point of view, I am sentenced to solitary confinement. And after five days, I need to take (and pay for) a test to show that I don't have the Corona virus, or I'll have to stay home for another five days. Of course, it makes sense to force people who have an infectious disease to stay isolated and also to have legal means to restrict their movements. But that should require proof that they have an infectious disease. The burden of proof should be on the side enforcing the restriction.
This might make a slight amount of sense (still not legally, but at least in general) if the virus would be limited to some areas. If there's an Ebola outbreak in Guinea, then testing the people coming from that area seems sensible, to avoid spreading beyond that. But at a point where Corona is about everywhere in Europe, enforcing quarantine after travel seems nothing more than arbitrary punishment.
But there the assumption is that you are guilty by traveling, so you should be punished. And it's up to you to show you are no danger to other people, or there will be more punishment.
(In the end, it was even worse than that. After I went through five days of self isolation and then got the test, showing that I didn't have Corona, I got a call from the local health office. There had been someone with Corona on the same plane back from Stockholm, so I was officially required to go back to quarantine as a 'level 1 contact person'. Having tested negative didn't matter. Even though I could demonstrate that I wasn't infected, I needed to isolate anyway. And as a 'contact person' isolation wouldn't be ten days, but fourteen. And no negative tests could shorten that.)
And, again, quite questionable from a legal point of view. Why don't we imprison all politicians by default because they have a much higher likelihood of corruption than the average citizen? Or lock away someone for murder because they don't have an alibi to show? Well, because the burden of proof is on the state to show that some is guilty. But with Corona as an excuse these basic legal guidelines seem to have vanished.
Ok, that was a long rant and a lot more political than I usually am in my trip reports. And I'll refrain from any more remarks about this in the description that follows.
The basic point I wanted to make is: Travelling was much more difficult this year than expected, at a time where everyone had assumed that we would lead normal lives again. (With approved vaccines on the market and all that...)
So the weeks leading up to the vacation were somewhat tense.
With rules changing all the time, it was hard to say whether I would be able to travel at all. At some point in January, I wasn't allowed to travel more than 15 km from the place I lived. Technically, I could still get to the airport (as that's less than 15 km outside of Berlin) and, oddly, I would have still been able to fly from there.
Some ministers already publically 'regretted' that they couldn't ban all travel and shut down all air traffic. And that they were considering a ban on almost all international air travel. So with less than a month to go until the trip, it wasn't clear whether that could happen.
At some points, it felt more like planning a prison escape than vacation planning, trying to plan for as many contingencies as possible. (For example, I added a couple of vacation days before the trip, so in case flight traffic got banned, I could try to get to a ferry to Sweden instead. That would have definitely been more than 15 km from home, but who knew what the rules would have been where at what time. Also, thinks got a bit bizarre then, as many of the rules were state (not federal) rules. So it might have happened that Berlin forbids going further than 15 km from home, but Brandenburg (which surrounds Berlin) allows it. So it seemed like a good idea to keep options open. Starting the vacation earlier helped a bit when the airline cancelled my flight and gave me a flight a day earlier, as originally the vacation had started on the day of the flight as booked.)
About two weeks before going to Sweden, there was an announcement that Sweden now required a negative Corona test before entering the country. But luckily, that was all that was required. While they recommended going into self-isolation for five days afterwards and then have a second test, this was a recommendation, not a requirement.
As I had things I wanted to do in Sweden (booked months in advance, when travel into Sweden had no restrictions at all on the Swedish side), I didn't follow the recommendation. But I also didn't want to abuse the fact that Sweden was a lot more liberal about this than all other places. So I stayed at home for the five days before going to Sweden, so I was unlikely to bring some infection into the country. Slightly ironically, the only time I had to leave home and risk meeting other people was when I went to take the test.
So everything went well, I got my negative test result and the 15 km rule was no longer in effect, so I could go to the airport and fly to Stockholm and on to Luleå.
After a long time of waiting and looking nervously at the ever changing rules, I finally had started my vacation.
I had been in Luleå before, but that was way back in 1997.
The primary reason for flying to Luleå was that I had been there in 1997 and visited the Icehotel from there. And I wanted to visit the Icehotel again, so I booked a flight to Luleå.
Which turned out to be stupid. But not a problem.
Luleå has a 'proper' airport in the sense that there are regular flights by airlines that I had heard of. Or at least one airline. SAS Scandinavian Airlines is flying there twice a day from Stockholm. I was aware that Kiruna (which is much closer to the Icehotel - a 15 km drive as opposed to a 340 km drive) had an airport, but had considered it one of the 'minor' airports. Like Vilhelmina or Hemavan, with only limited connections by obscure local airlines. So I never considered flying to Kiruna. Only when someone asked me a couple of weeks before the trip "So you are flying to Kiruna?", I did check the connections. And found out that Kiruna is served by SAS Scandinavian Airlines as well and has, depending on the day, none to three flight connections to Stockholm.
But Luleå is a nice place. And as my flight to Sweden was moved one day ahead, I had an unexpected extra day to spend there, so I did some walking around in the snow. And also went to a pub in the evening, which was really good. Due to lockdown, I hadn't been in a restaurant (or any other place with people socializing) for four months now, so even though I was there on a table of my own, it felt great to be among people again. And people having a good time and enjoying themselves. It's one of the things I didn't know how much I was missing them, until I was able to have them again.
I also had a nice rental car (a petrol/electric hybrid, which I never had as a rental car before), with lots of features to play around with (although activating the seat cooling when trying to find the seat heater while sitting in a cold car in the morning is not recommended), so I didn't mind driving for a couple of hours to the Icehotel. The scenery is pretty, the streets good and (except during a short snowstorm) kept free of snow and ice, so it was a relaxing drive.
Also, I crossed the Arctic Circle on the ground (and not in a plane), so I could stop for a quick snapshot. The sign I posed with in 1997 had long gone, but, of course, there's still a photo opportunity.
|2021||Back in 1997|
The Icehotel itself had changed from the somewhat quirky place it was in 1997 to a touristic power hub and the local center of a whole number of touristic support services. But it is still fantastic. And they still haven't screwed it up.
Back in 1997, there was the guesthouse across the street (where you had dinner and breakfast), a couple of wood cabins / vacation homes. And the Icehotel itself.
Now they have the Icehotel 365, which is, basically, a giant freezer (but better looking) with some ice rooms you can visit (and book) all year. They change from time to time. I haven't seen any real numbers on that, but someone told me the rooms are changed about every three years. Looking at some pictures of rooms in the previous years, some still there and some gone for good, that seems plausible.
They also have a 'Riverside Lobby', which is a permanent building serving as a support building for the Icehotel, with showers, toilets, changing cubicles, baggage lockers and similar stuff.
(Back in 1997, the toilets were portaloos a couple of meters outside the hotel, the showers were, if I recall correctly, at the guesthouse. And you put your stuff in one of the cabins or left it in the trunk of your car.)
And then, there's of course the annual Icehotel. This one was named Icehotel 31, as it was their 31st year of operation. They will regret their naming scheme in 334 years, as then they will have the permanent Icehotel 365 (named for being all year round) and the Icehotel 365 (named for being the 365th incarnation of the Icehotel). But, given global warming and all that, it seems unlikely that they will need to worry about that a lot.
I had booked two nights in the 'proper' Icehotel - the one that will be gone in summer.
It seems a bit unusual to have two nights in 'cold rooms'. Most people seem to go for regular hotel rooms (or cabins) for most of the nights, with a night in a 'cold room' to start or finish their vacation.
But as the whole point of going to the Icehotel was to stay in their amazing ice rooms, it didn't make much sense to me to go there and spend the night in a regular hotel room.
So I booked two nights in 'Art Suites'.
There are three classes of ice rooms. The regular rooms, which have a bed surrounded by ice blocks and some ice columns, but little to none decoration. Then there are the 'Art Suites', which are individually designed by snow/ice carvers and have different themes, ice sculptures and snow shapes in them, And there are the three 'Deluxe Suites', which are like the 'Art Suites', but with extra amenities, such as a private warm bathroom with toilet and shower or bathtub and one even has a sauna.
All aren't cheap (with the 'Deluxe Suites' on the seriously pricy side). But then, you are, essentially, staying in a temporary work of art. So, while costly, the price feels fair. You definitely get your money's worth for it. (Especially, if you would book late, there's a pandemic going around and you are flexible with your schedule. I knew what I was booking and I didn't mind the cost too much. But I checked how much it would cost me to book an 'Art Suite' for the next weekend and that's about 250 Euro less than what I paid. [No, not 250 Euro for the suite. But 250 Euro less. Per night.] Of course, I did my booking early. And with all the travel restrictions in Europe, I am sure that they don't get as many international visitors as they usually get. So it makes a lot of sense that they reduced their prices to attract more Swedish visitors and also 'last minute' customers. And, as I said, I found the cost acceptable when I booked it, as I knew the rooms were fantastic. But the price difference still came as a bit of a shock.)
I didn't specify any specific 'Art Suite' to stay in, as the Icehotel hadn't even been built when I booked the room. So the selection was at random. But I was very happy with it, as this was the room I would have chosen, given free choice of all the rooms in the annual Icehotel. So I was very happy with it.
The name was 'Paradice lost' and the idea was that this was an old hotdog stand left standing somewhere in the woods and by now overgrown with vegetation.
The gave a nice contrast between the clean lines and right angles of the 'hotdog stand' (made from ice) and the softer, rounder roots and branches (made out of snow) entangling it.
Opposite the hotdog stand was a little bench to sit down on (presumably while consuming your hotdog).
It also had a somewhat unique 'sleep cave'. In most of the other rooms, the bed was simply standing somewhere. This looked a bit like someone designed a themed room and then someone else installed a bed in it. Sometimes the beds were a bit more integrated into the scene, but essentially, they were free-standing beds.
In 'Paradice Lost', the bed was behind the hotdog stand counter, in the part 'overgrown' with tree roots. So it was like spending the night in a small cavern under the roots of a (frozen) tree, with the roots and branches above.
In the evening, before retreating to my 'snow cave', I went on a snowmobile tour, looking for northern lights. But as there weren't any northern lights out that night (and snowmobiles in the dark aren't that exciting to look at), there are no pictures from that.
Still, it was nice to drive a snowmobile again (even though we drove slow - we never went faster than 30 km/h), it was a full moon, so the landscape was still discernable and we stopped for food and coffee in a wilderness hut somewhere. So it was an enjoyable evening.
And then a comfortable night in a sleeping bag under the 'root roof'.
The annual Icehotel has grown a lot since 1997. It's now one main corridor, with four side corridors branching off. Two of them have the 'standard rooms' on both sides and two of them have the 'Art Suites' on both sides.
And there is also the 'Ceremony Hall' branching off from the middle of the main corridor.
In 1997 the wedding chapel was still a separate building. Back then it also was clearly a chapel, with a big (ice) cross. It's now a ceremonial hall for all sorts of events, without any specific religious symbols. Feels appropriate.
Back then, they still had some 'bunk beds' cut into the sides of the corridors, which were the cheapest form of accommodation available. They don't exist any more. Now the cheapest rooms are the standard rooms.
This is what a standard room looks like.
A bed, some ice columns and a geometric pattern on the wall behind it.
The art suites were usually a lot more elaborate.
Most of them had a pair of artists responsible for them. I'm not sure why they came in pairs. Maybe creativity works better if there's two people bouncing ideas back and forth (in fact, the room I like least was designed by a single person). But it might also be a case of different responsibilities, with one of the names being the designer (coming up with the idea) and the other the sculptor (creating the physical representation).
As expected, the room covered a wide range of ideas and styles.
The visually 'calmest' room was the "Winter Garden". A simple silhouette of a 'flower arrangement' on one side, an ice wall with a geometric pattern on the other. And a small round table. Even though it didn't use any direct visual references, there was a 'Japanese' feel to it.
Another room that had a stylistic 'feel' to it was called 'Vila vid denna källa', after a song of an 18th century Swedish songwriter. It uses a lot of elements of Art Nouveau paintings, but also comes across as a bit unusual. The painting are generally very colourful, in a way snow and ice isn't. It's amazingly detailed and quite 'realistic' looking (at least as much as a grapevine or butterfly made out of snow and ice can be.
The room "Oh, Rapunzel!" also took a simple idea and kept the execution simple.
The idea here was that 'Rapunzel' was not a princess, but a dog with long hair, so the room was girted by its hair. (And yes, I also like the room since it gives me the rare chance to use the verb 'girt' in any other context than the Australian national anthem.)
The bed headboard represented a garden fence.
Other rooms were more based on a general concept than on a specific story or idea.
'A break' was (not surprisingly, given the name) playing with the concept of breaking out, whether it's a figure breaking out of the wall or an icy shape emerging from a frozen 'egg'. The room had a second 'egg' that was open on the back, so visitors could do their own 'breaking free' (sort of) in that room.
Similarly abstract was the typography themed "Journey into letter space", which felt slightly imbalanced. The entrance area was quite crowded with giant sized letters. The area behind it, around the bed, was empty, excepts for the word 'Letterspace' embedded into the wall. Though the typographic conflict between letters and 'white space' might well have been intentional. There also was a space helmet near the entrance as a symbolic aid for travelling through space.
'Auris Interna' played around with the concept of hearing. Starting with a large ear at the entrance, an 'ear canal' in the wall leads to the inner ear and an icy cochlea. While this covers the anatomic side of hearing, the opposite side seems to represent the function, with a stream of words along the wall, telling the visitor to listen. At the back of the room were two 'listening booths' that played ambient sound streams.
The headboard of the bed was an abstract pattern in a snow wall, which was echoed on the other side (and the word 'echoed' feels appropriate in a room about sounds and hearing) by an ice wall with a similar pattern.
The 'Lucid Dream' room turned out to be a lot less dreamlike than the name implies. It's composed of simple geometric shapes and patterns - not at all what (at least my) dreams tend to look like. But the 'staircase' behind the 'curtain' (which leads nowhere) makes a good photo opportunity.
Other art rooms in the annual part of the Icehotel were 'Mr. Ribston', 'Legacy' and 'The Guardian'.
'Mr. Ribston' represents a variety of apple, presumably the Ribston Pippin. As a room, I found it the least interesting of the art rooms. Three bent ice columns and a vaguely peel shaped ice shape on the floor does not immediately (or on second or third consideration) say 'apple'. 'Legacy' had some Viking related elements, such as rune stones, a quote from a Viking poem and a large serpent, possibly representing the Midgard Serpent. From a construction point of view, this seemed the least sensible. The serpent was made from snow, with large icicles acting as spikes. But some had already broken off and were lying on the floor. Finally, there was 'The Guardian', which had a large sea monster (also in the shape of a dragon or a large serpent). But this time made completely out of ice, so it was structurally more stable. It looked great on site, but unfortunate ice sculptures often don't photograph well, so the pictures don't give much of an idea how it appeared close up. (It is a big head with open mouth and large teeth, with human figures to the side and on top of it).
The last room missing here is the 'Strawberry room', where I slept the second night, and I will come to that later.
The rooms so far were in the part of the Icehotel that will melt in Summer, so all rooms will be gone by mid-2021.
There's a second part of the Icehotel, the Icehotel 365, which is cooled all year, so the rooms in there will last through the Summer and, possibly, next year.
As the rooms are more 'permanent' (as far as existing for up to three years can be called permanent), they are in most cases more elaborate than the rooms that only last a season.
My favourite three rooms of the Icehotel 365 were 'Sauna', 'Hang Loose' and 'Toybox', with 'Dreaming in a dream', 'You are here', 'Prelude Raindrop' and 'Danger! Thin Ice' following closely.
'Sauna' is precisely that - a (non-functional) sauna made out of ice. Including a 'wooden tub', an sauna oven (with 'stones' on top), towels and a bath robe. It's by far the most 'realistic' of all rooms, in the sense that real, everyday objects are sculptured to look as much as possible like their real world counterparts. It's also the only suite that has two 'rooms'.
'Hang Loose' is designed as an 'art gallery', with a couple of sculptures scattered around the room and some paintings 'hanging' on the wall. Sculptures and paintings even have little labels and some even have a small marker on the label that they are already 'sold'.
The 'Toybox' deluxe suite is a step back into childhood. It's full of oversized toys (making you feel a bit smaller), including a rabbit, penguins, ABC blocks, a rocket, dice and a fish on wheels.
With the name 'Dreaming in a dream', the room might feature some strange and unexpected things (or an Inception reference). But while the creatures in there aren't realistic, they seem to share an 'ancient and amphibious' theme, with a spiked chameleon like being (being an chameleon in an ice environment is an easy task) with a crown - maybe a precursor of the Frog Prince. There's another blue reptile with something that looks a bit like Corona virus. Which makes it another reptile with a 'crown', although a less popular one. More sea creatures and reptiles in an ice relief around the door. And a slightly scary mer-man frozen in ice.
The idea behind the room 'You are here' resembles 'Auris Interna'. In 'Auris Interna', the content of the room represents the process of hearing using some anatomic elements. In a similar way 'You are here' uses anatomic objects like a brain and a heart to represent 'You'.
It's also a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor for opening your mind and following your heart to achieve your dream (assuming the dream to achieve is not the one from the previous room with all the reptiles...). But any room that has an anatomically correct heart is something to like.
The room for lovers of classical music is presumably 'Raindrop Prelude'. The room contains elements from Chopin's work, including parts of the score engraved into an ice wall.
'Danger! Thin Ice' is the easiest room to explain. The bed is on a dais surrounded by 'thin ice' and can only be reached by means of a bridge.
It's a bit odd that this is part of the permanent Icehotel. As there's solid ground beneath the ice, the 'danger' seems needlessly artificial. The room would work better if it was in the part of the hotel that's built on the river, with the 'dangerous' ice being the actual frozen surface of the river. (Ideally with some underwater lights below, making the current of the river visible.)
Still, a neat and instantly understandable concept for a room.
This leaves eleven more rooms. 'Cabinet in the woods', 'Blue Houses', 'Oh deer', 'Dancers in the dark', 'Early Spring', 'Crescents', 'Téckara', '34 Meters', 'Lost and found', 'Kodex Maximus' and 'The Drift'. Best to cover them in small groups.
'Cabinet in the woods', 'Blue Houses' and 'Oh deer' all have an outdoor theme.
The cabinet is a little cabin built from ice blocks surrounded by a forest of abstract, pyramid shaped trees. Along the inside of the cabin is a row of frescoes depicting woodwork.
'Blue Houses' has a bed among abstract shapes of houses and 'Oh deer' resembles a Japanese landscape with pagodas and, for some strange reason, a deer with a slice cut out of it.
The 'Dancers in the dark' are two ice sculptures of Harlequinade characters, with little snowballs hanging on string from the ceiling to represent stars. 'Early Spring' features abstract, flowing shapes, representing thawing and flowing water. And 'Crescents' features a row of crescent shapes along the wall.
The rooms 'Téckara' and '34 Meters' are based on numbers. 'Téckara' means nine in Kunza, a language from northern Chile and the room has nine pillars and nine 'room levels'. The '34 Meters' room features a winding hallway that is 34 meters long.
And, finally, there are 'Lost and found' and 'Kodex Maximus'. In 'Lost and found', I'm not sure what the name refers to. It's two chairs opposite some abstract sculpture. If you press a red button between the two chairs, a light show starts, accompanied by some music. But nothing is noticeably lost or found and the room is a bit dull. While 'Lost and found' looks a bit sparse with only one sculpture, 'Kodex Maximus' seems to be too full with them. It feels like a storage room with leftover art. Finally, 'The Drift' has some snow shapes with breaks and irregular angles in it, vaguely suggesting ice on a frozen seascape shaped by the collision of drifting ice floes. Compared to the other rooms of the Icehotel, this seems to be the least ambitious. Or interesting. Even the standard rooms without any specific art in it seem a better value. I have no idea why this is in the permanent part of the Icehotel.
Besides the art suites and deluxe suites, the Icehotel 365 also features the ice bar.
The theme here was 'fairground', with a Ferris wheel, a rollercoaster and a carousel, with the bar itself being patterned after a shooting gallery.
After all this walking around and taking photographs, it was time to treat myself to a(n ice) glass of champagne. Clearly they have no problems keeping it cold.
I had put on gloves to drink. My hands didn't get cold at the Icehotel, so I didn't wear them for anything else. But when I had a drink in the ice bar in 1997, satisfied that I didn't need gloves to hold it, the warmth of my hand melted the surface of the 'glass'. And it slid right out of my hand and onto the floor, spilling my drink (I then donned gloves before I ordered a second drink). This time I avoided any spilled drinks.
As I was spending two nights at the Icehotel, I needed something to do in between.
You need to check out of your art suite at 9:00, as the Icehotel is open to visitors during the day.
And you can't go into your room before 18:00 (well, you can, but there'll be visitors walking through - you only have the room to yourself after that).
But then, you also don't want to spend all day in your room anyway. For one thing, there's little to do there.
Some of the day will be spend walking around, looking at the other rooms, taking pictures, eat breakfast or lunch and having a drink at the ice bar, But this is unlikely to keep you occupied for nine hours,
So I went to the activities counter the previous evening and booked something to do during the day. A "Wildlife and Nature Photo" tour and a "Meet the reindeer" activity. (There are a lot more things to do, but as I had been on a snowmobile tour the previous evening and I would go dogsledding in a couple of days, I skipped over everything that included snowmobiles and sled dogs, which reduced the options significantly.)
The photo tour was a fun day out, with some animals as a bonus.
As I had been in the north of Sweden a couple of times, I didn't care that much about whether we would see moose or reindeer. Been there. Done that. Multiple times.
For me it was more about being somewhere outside, having a relaxed time and enjoying my vacation.
We (two clients and a guide) drove out a bit down a street outside of Kiruna (where the old airport used to be) and walked a bit into the forest, where some bird feeders were hanging from trees. The guide filled a couple of them with bird seeds. And soon a few birds arrived.
Maybe not the most exciting form of Arctic wildlife, but it was pleasantly relaxing to stand there, watch the birds and take pictures.
However, I failed to learn the most important lesson of wildlife photography in northern forests: Do not use autofocus!
Most of my pictures turned out to be nice, sharp photographs of twigs and tree barks, with some out of focus animal somewhere in the picture.
After a while, the birds were accompanied by a squirrel.
It looks more interesting than birds and it was more often in focus, so here are a couple of pictures of it.
Then we went a bit further down the forest and spotted some moose. But the dreaded 'my camera autofocus likes trees more than animals' struck again, so the pictures came out like this.
And later on, at a different place, like this.
As a 'Photo Tour', the activity wasn't that successful, but it didn't matter to me. (What was bit humbling, was that the other client mainly used an iPhone and got much better pictures...) However, my main goal had been to have a nice day out somewhere. And for that, the tour was great.
Nice scenery and later a lunch break at an open fire near a river. There are a lot worse ways to spend a Sunday morning.
Later it was time to meet some reindeer.
Taking pictures of reindeer in a corral is so much easier than photographing them in the wild. You have more reindeer to choose from. You can get a lot closer. You can wait until the animals are in front of the tree.
And, by the time I got to the reindeer visit, I had looked at the pictures I took in the morning and turned off the autofocus.
While visiting a reindeer corral isn't that exciting, it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. A bit of walking around among reindeer, some stories of Sami life, hot coffee to drink and some 'suovas' (a bit like reindeer jerky, but not quite).
So far so good.
What was a bit disappointing was driving a reindeer sled.
I had been on a reindeer sled in 1997 (on a trip to Finland that had nothing to do with the Icehotel).
It was an ok experience, but not an exciting one. It was more about using the chance to do it, as the opportunity doesn't come around that often (in fact it took 24 years) than anything else.
In any case, I knew from experience that reindeer sleds are a somewhat leisurely way to move around. Pretty much like walking, except you don't have to do it yourself.
As a result, I was a bit surprised that it was advertised as 'driving a reindeer sled in high speed' and 'a real adrenaline-kick'.
To be on the safe side, the photo before the sled ride was taken with the reindeer tied to a tree for safety reasons.
For the sled drive proper, which takes place along a 200 meter fenced in track, we had to put on helmets.
We also were told that we were not allowed to hold any cameras during the sled ride, as we would need one hand to hold on to the sled and with the other to the rope 'controlling' the reindeer.
After all these precautions, most of the 'high speed', 'adrenaline-kick' ride went along like this:
At that speed, I could have jumped off the sled, walked a bit ahead, set up a tripod and a camera, go back to the sled and take a video of me racing by.
To be fair, for a few seconds after the start, the reindeer are moving quicker. So it's not walking speed all the way.
As long the guide chases them, they get up to jogging speed. For about 20 meters.
It makes sense, of course. While reindeer are prey and usually run away when they feel threatened, they also live in a cold and sparse environment where it is important that you waste as little energy as possible. So while a deer in warmer climates will run some distance before slowing down again, a reindeer will stop quickly after the perceived threat stops.
In any case, I felt that driving a reindeer sled was oversold as an adventure activity.
Fortunately, it didn't matter. I had a fun day out (and a good dinner afterwards) and enjoyed it.
Then it was back to the Icehotel for my second night there.
Before I get to that, it might be worth mentioning some things that are strange about the Icehotel (and hadn't been there in 1997).
By now, it's a proper tourist destination and all building and safety regulations apply.
Every room now has a smoke detector in the ceiling.
That doesn't make much (or any) sense, as the idea of a smoke detector is to wake you up if something is burning nearby. But as the only thing in the rooms that can is the bed you're lying in, by the time there's enough smoke to trigger the fire alarm, it's likely to be much to late that warning you about it will do you any good. And with snow walls a meter thick, it's unlikely that you can hear a smoke alarm going off somewhere else. Also, with the limited amount of flammable stuff in the rooms, it's unlikely that a fire in the next room will pose any danger to you.
But building regulations require smoke detectors, so needed to be installed, whatever common sense says.
For the same reason, there are fire extinguishers in every corridor.
(Btw, the thing in the ceiling on the second picture is no smoke detector - it's a WLAN router. It's Sweden, after all. Just because you're in a building made from snow and ice is no reason to be without WiFi.)
One of the biggest technical advances for the Icehotel since 1997 are LED illuminations.
Back then, most residential lights were still light bulbs with filaments, which were too hot to be used in the Icehotel. So a lot of the illumination was achieved by having the light bulbs outside and then using optical fibers to get the light into the building. Which was a complicated way of doing things.
Being able to use LEDs and being able to put them close to or directly into the ice without melting it opened up new possibilities to light the rooms.
I didn't look in detail at the bed construction in 1997, but I think it was simply an ice block with a mattress and some reindeer skin on top of it. Now there's a proper wooden frame below it (and the space under the bed hides the electrical plugs and sockets for the room).
In any case, it was time for my second night in the Icehotel.
When you book an art suite, you can't specify which one you are booking. The booking is for an 'art suite'.
Which makes sense - by the time I had booked the stay at the Icehotel, it hadn't even been built, so it would have been somewhat difficult to make an informed choice. By the time you check in, they more or less give you one by random. (Probably - if you book later in the season, you can find pictures and descriptions of all the art suites on the web. The booking process still only allows you to book an 'art suite', but I assume that they will try to accommodate your wishes, if you send them a mail and tell them that you want to stay in a specific one.)
My only worry when checking in was that they might give me the same room for both nights (which is, obviously, the thing you do in a regular hotel, but would be odd in this one).
So I asked them on check-in which rooms I would get and they told me that I would have 'Paradice lost' on the first night and then should tell them on checking out which one I would like for the second night and they would try to give me that.
I was tempted by 'Oh, Rapunzel', as spending the night in a room with a big dog head in it felt like a good transition to the dogsledding tour to follow, but I went with the 'Strawberry room'. (I had only considered rooms in the annual part of the Icehotel. There were a couple of nice ones in the Icehotel 365, but I had excluded those from the start.)
Technically, the 'Strawberry room' counts as a three person suite, but as nobody had booked a triple suite, they gave it to me anyway.
What I liked most about the room were the 'ribs' around the bed and the bookcase.
With 'Paradice lost', I liked that the bed was integrated into the room and not simply standing there. And in the 'Strawberry room', there were curved columns on the side of the bed, looking a bit like the rib cage of a whale. (I am not sure what they are really supposed to be.)
The main figure in the room was a boy selling strawberries from a cart.
(The 'strawberry baskets' were all individually done and could be removed from the cart.)
On the other side of the room was a bookshelf with some icy books in them.
On of the books was open at a quote.
"Sell the berries you have, because they are the only ones you can sell."
I didn't know the story behind of the room when I was there and only read about it later.
The elements in the suite refer to Petter Stordalen, a Norwegian billionaire, who started out by selling strawberries in a small town in southern Norway. His companies have all 'strawberry' in their name (Strawberry Hospitality Group, Strawberry Fields, Strawberry Forever, Strawberry Future and so on). The quote about selling strawberries is something his father told him when he was twelve.
I had never heard about Petter Stordalen, but he seems to be something like the Norwegian version of Richard Branson.
In any case, I liked the room and I had a good night's sleep in it.
Next morning it was time to get into the car and happily drive back to Luleå.
From Luleå I flew down to Stockholm and from there up to Hemavan the next morning. I had considered going directly from Luleå to Hemavan, but most places in northern Sweden have only flight connections to Stockholm. So that turned out to be the easiest way.
As in the previous year, I was the only client on the dogsledding tour.
Unlike the previous year, this wasn't planned.
Initially we were planning to be three clients on the tour. The same people as 2019. Koen, Constanze and myself.
But with travel regulations and other restrictions changing almost weekly, Koen and Constanze decided that it was too much a risk that the trip might not be possible. They cancelled their bookings.
Meanwhile, I was going almost the opposite direction. When things started to look complicated, I booked two nights at the Icehotel (not a cheap place) and also two nights in a lighthouse within a nature reserve. (At least, that's what I thought at the time.) While it wasn't the main reason for these bookings (that simply was 'these are amazing places and I want to stay there'), there was always the implicit idea that the trip would be so expensive that I could noy afford not going to Sweden. So, as long as it wouldn't involve a criminal act, I was determined to get to Sweden somehow.
So I made it to Umnäs. But as a result, I was the only client on the trip.
But, as in the previous year, it wasn't only Kenneth and myself (plus a bunch of dogs, of course), out on the snow. This time Chris (a friend of Kenneth, who also looks after the dogs from time to time, when Kenneth and Catte are away for horse related trips) joined us for the tour (as Irene had joined us the previous year). And Karina/Carina (I've only heard the name spoken, so I am not sure about the spelling), who is Chris' partner, also joined for two day trips during the weekend.
This year, our travel options were even more restricted than in the previous year.
While it seemed that most STF huts would be accessible, that was by no means sure. So planning routes that included staying in STF huts was problematic.
But this time, there were 'sports holidays' in Sweden, which many Swedes use to travel to northern Sweden for some winter sports.
This not only limits the amount of available accommodations, but also means that places that still have a cabin or two available, are 'full of drunken snowmobilers'. Not necessarily a good place to stay with two dozen dogs (and possibly not a good place to stay during a pandemic either).
So most of the trips we took were (with one exception) day trips from two bases.
Which might sound a bit dull, but wasn't.
The main thing is that I like dogsledding.
The activity itself.
So as long as I was doing that, I didn't mind much that we're doing most of the trails three or four times.
It's fun to go to other places, of course. But that's a bonus. Not a core issue on which my enjoyment of the trip depends.
It also helps that the scenery around Umnäs and Viktoriakyrkan is already fantastic.
Hence it's not much hardship to see such scenery day after day.
The first two days, we had daytrips on and around Holmträsket lake, close to Umnäs.
This was the area where I did my 'photo day' the previous year.
As we were heading out with four sleds for the tour day tours from Umnäs, I had seven dogs in my team.
My team was team 2.
Easy to spot by having Gran and Harry in it. (And also Fergus.)
Before the trip, there's always the question whether I have specific request about dogs in my team.
I didn't have any real preferences in the past. All the dogs are fantastic and I am usually happy with any dog I am given.
Although there are some dogs that fit my abilities better than others. In 2018 I had Robert as one of my lead dogs for a couple of days. Robert was a fantastically able lead dog and usually Catte's preferred lead, but he expected the musher to be a lot more competent than I was, going past obstacles much closer than I was comfortable with.
In general, however any dog will do.
But then, this was already my sixth tour with them. And after the third or fourth year, I had noticed that Gran was on my team every single time.
As a result, he's now my 'default dog'. Whenever the question comes up which dog(s) I'd like to have in my team, the answer is invariably 'Gran. Because he always is.'
I wrote that I didn't have any real preferences. But all the 'Harry Potter' dogs are lovely, like to be around people and are fun to be with (unless you're some sort of vegetation - in which case you should be scared of Luna).
And they're also distinctive.
Even after six years, I would have trouble picking out Gran when all the dogs are out in the dog yard. Other dogs there look to similar. But in that dog yard, Harry, Albus and Luna are clearly identifiable.
Anyway, on the 2019 tour, each of us had one 'Harry Potter' dog in the team. I got Harry, Constanze had Luna and Koen had Albus. And we all liked having them, so I asked for Harry to be in my team last year and this year as well.
Actually, I had all three of them (Harry, Luna, Albus) in my team last year and Luna was also in my second team this year, but I consider them being 'on loan'. (In fact, I mentioned jokingly to Constanze that Luna had now been in my team for two years in a row and I intended to keep her on my team. I quickly got a "No way, Luna is mine!" reply to that.)
But any team that contains Gran (because he has always been there) and Harry (because he's a lovely dog) is highly likely to be mine.
And also Fergus.
Who always has the tendency to be "oh, yes, and Fergus as well".
I knew that in the first three years, Gran had always been in my team (and has been ever since). But when I looked up my teams in the previous years and compared them, I noticed that Fergus was a constant member of the team since 2018.
Fergus is so reliable and without any odd quirks that it's easy to forget about him.
Once I realized that, I decided that I wanted to have him in my team again. Especially as he's a trouble-free, easily maintained dog. Sometimes something works so well that you stop paying attention to it and it becomes sort of 'invisible'. As a dog, that's Fergus.
By now, Fergus is the third member of the "If I can have him, I'd like him to be in my team' club.
Not sure how long I can have them in the team - Harry was born in 2017, so he's likely to be around for some time to come, and Fergus was born 2016. But Gran is born 2014, so he might only be active as a sled dog for another three or four years. Time will tell.
The other dogs in my team were mostly new to me. I didn't know Ghost, Tufsen and Umba. It was a nice mix, though. Tufsen is one of the oldest active sled dogs they have and Ghost one of the youngest (with Umba somewhere between). I did have Rönn in my team way back in 2016, so it was a bit of a "welcome back" situation, as I didn't have Rönn in any team in between.
One of the reasons for having the first two day tours out of the kennel in Umnäs was that this was the first tour of the season. In a normal year, the first tours of the year, starting in December, would be shorter tours.
By the time the longer tours would start, most of the dogs would have run a thousand kilometers or more before the sled. So dogs would be fit and accustomed to running and pulling.
While the dogs had been trained before the trip, they hadn't run any serious distances so far. And although two day tours aren't enough to get the dogs in shape and their feet toughened up, they provide an opportunity to check on the dogs and see whether there are any problems likely to occur.
Another advantage of day tours is that the sleds are almost empty, so in addition to the short distance, it's an easy run for the dogs.
We were lucky with the weather. On the first day, we started with overcast skies. But by the time we crossed the lake and came to the trails beyond, the clouds had moved aside and we had a nice, sunny tour.
There was still a bit of wind, though, so there were places were the snow was blown up from the ground and created patches of 'snow fog' and little snow vortexes, which were interesting to look at. (They are not that visible on the picture, but there nonetheless.)
By the time we arrived at the kennel, the clouds were closing in again. We had chosen the perfect time slot for our tour.
The next day was even better. We did the same tour, but we had sunny weather throughout.
The next day was a day off for the dogs and a day of preparation for us.
We were moving our 'base of operations' to Viktoriakyrkan and do tours from there. So we needed to have dog food there in easy 'snackable' bits.
And sled dogs need a lot of calories. And there were a lot of dogs to feed.
Chris started to cut slabs of meat in bits of about 300 gr weight (more or less - we didn't weigh them). And I put them in bags with batches of 15 pieces. We prepared 36 bags. So we had about 160 kg of snacks ready.
Which seems a lot, but with 24 dogs 'on tour', that meant 22.5 snacks per dog. As we planned to be away for seven days, that's roughly 1 kg of meat per dog per day. This is not much, given how much work the dogs need to do. (On most days, we also gave them at least one bowl with dry food in water. That's partly for the extra calories, but more to make sure the dogs are properly hydrated.)
This year, we had it easy with the dog food.
Someone was driving ahead with a snowmobile and pull all the food behind them. (Plus some wind protection screens, dog blankets and other miscellaneous stuff.)
So we had an easy run the next day, with near-empty sleds.
It was my sixth trip on the trail from Umnäs to Viktoriakyrkan. So there's not much new I can say about it.
It still has a lot of variety, from wide, almost road-like sections to tricky, winding trails through the forest. Across lakes, along the side of small rivers, over mountain plateaus and through areas sparsely populated with birches.
Being on the Umnäs-Viktoriakyrkan trail in the direction of Viktoriakyrkan is physically a bit harder, as it has more and longer uphill passages.
Going back towards Umnäs is technically a bit harder, as it has a steep and twisty section where it is easy to lose control of the sled. Also, there's a street to cross at the end of it (one of three street crossings on the way to Viktoriakyrkan), causing possible follow-up problems if something goes wrong on the way down.
Crossing streets is always tricky.
While the following pictures are not from a street crossing on the way to Viktoriakyrkan, but they help to illustrate the point.
The two things that work together to make street crossings tricky (besides the chance to be run over by a car, of course) are the lack of breaking on the street and the snow banks on the sides.
As long as the dogs are on the street, things are easy. You can control the speed of the sled with the brake and make them cross slowly. Once the sled is on the street, things are different. You can't use the sled break on the road (all that would achieve would be a screeching noise and damage to the break), so there's nothing to stop the dogs from speeding up - and they will.
You could use the 'sled mat' to slow down the sled on the street. Many people do, but I tend not to avoid that. On a street surface, the mat doesn't have much effect, so I don't think it's worth it. And you're standing with one foot on a wobbly piece of rubber, right before things become tricky and you want as many movement options as possible.
The challenging moment is when you hit the snow bank on the other side. As we're usually following established dog or sled trails, the snow bank straight along the trail is lower than the snow on the sides, as repeated use has removed a bit of the snow where the trail reaches the street. If you don't hit that trail end right in the middle, often one of the sled runners will be on a side with higher snow, causing the sled to tip over to the other side. This can be counteracted by leaning over to the other side. But if the foot on that side is on the mat, you need to lift that foot and step quickly on the runner. And if you misstep, there'll be trouble. So, personally, I prefer to accept a little bit more speed when hitting the snow bank (by not using the mat) for the benefit of standing with both feet on the runners.
Even if you hit the opposite side of the road right in the middle of the track, the front of the sled will bounce up a fair bit. Only a short section of the runners is touching the ground, reducing the stability and maneuverability of the sled.
The pictures below show that clearly. The snow bank on the side of the road is shallow - maybe 20 cm high. But even then, the front of the sled bounces up almost a meter.
The description makes it sound a lot more problematic than it is. In most cases street crossings go without a problem. But it is a moment where it is important to pay attention to what you are doing.
This time, even with three streets to cross on the way, we didn't have any problems at all.
And after about four hours of dog sledding, we reached Viktoriakyrkan.
Arriving in Viktoriakyrkan is easy. Since they have a cabin there for exclusive use, three rows of 'dog boxes' have been installed. So there's no need to set up stake-out lines, prepare straw beds and worry about wind protection and blankets. On arrival, any dog booties are removed, the dogs taken out of their harness and clipped into the lines that are attached to each dog house. And that's it.
Of course, that doesn't mean that all the dogs are happy now.
As Luna is on a personal vendetta against anything wooden, she had managed to pull part of her dog house apart the next morning.
(I had removed the board that she pulled off and put it in the side of the tree, so she wouldn't step into any exposed nails. She's not that tidy herself...)
After fixing the dog house, we gave her a tree branch to take apart.
Harry wasn't that happy about his accommodation either.
The box had partly sunken into the snow, so the floor was sloping and it was a bit wobbly. So Harry had preferred to spend the night outside instead.
The little impression in the snow where he slept is clearly visible. While it would have been better for him to spend the night inside on a layer of straw, it was neither that cold or windy that sleeping outside was an issue. Still, he looks a bit grumpy.
As they were all outside the next morning, here's a picture of the 'back half' of my team (the dog closest to the sled).
From left to right, the dogs are Harry, Gran, Malte and Tufsen.
And as this doesn't match the team list shown earlier, it's time for an update.
For the main part of the trip we used only three sleds (for Kenneth, Chris and me), since Carina/Karina had to go back to work. So the dog teams were reshuffled a bit.
I kept Gran, Harry and Fergus, of course. And in addition to Tufsen, I got Malte. Both are brothers, so they are supposed to run well together. (Strangely, every morning on the first few hundred meters, Tufsen was snarling and snapping at Malte. At least at the start, they were the pair that had the most issues. But that was only for a minute or two. For the rest of the day, they indeed worked well together.)
Rönn ended up with Chris in a somewhat roundabout way. After the day tours, Kenneth had decided that Rönn was a bit of a weak link and should stay home. (That's why he is listed in the 'Hemma' (home) team.) And I got Luna to replace him. But then Zink, who was to be a lead dog for Chris, started to get into heat. So Kenneth decided to leave her at home and replace her with Rönn.
To fill the last position in my team (for the main trip, we were all running with teams of eight dogs), I got Glader in my team as well. I didn't have any experience with Glader before, but Glader turned out to be a reliable dog and a good match for Fergus.
The next two days we did day trips from Viktoriakyrkan.
As we were returning to the same place, these were easy tours with near empty sleds.
We didn't go anywhere new, though.
On the first day we went on the trail towards Ammarnäs, but turned around on the halfway point.
It's an easy run at first - going along a lake for about ten kilometers - followed by an uphill section that is a steep in parts, but fun to do. There are many flat sections between the steeper bits, so the uphill parts last only a minute or two. After that you can relax a bit before reaching the next bit. When we reached the plateau, we turned around and headed back. Going back down to the lake is fun. It's downhill (obviously) and not that tricky (for the same reason that the uphill isn't that strenuous - there are steep bits where you need to pay attention, but they are followed by a flat section where you can recover from small mistakes). And then it's a relaxing time across the lake, usually while listening to some music on the headphones.
It also looked like a wolverine had been interested in what had been going on. When we went back down towards the lake, Kenneth spotted wolverine tracks on our trail on top of the dog tracks. So the wolverine must have been there in the half hour or so between us getting up the hillside and getting down again. We didn't see it, though.
While it sounds strange - I was impressed by the way we turned around. Kenneth commanded his lead dogs and they turned off the trail, ran a smooth curve and went back on the trail into the other direction (with our teams following). It was impressive, since lead dogs mainly do 'right' and 'left' ('gee' and 'haw') and some variant of 'enough'. So the few times I had seen a team turn around, either the musher went up front and lead his lead dog. Or the turn was more like a multi-sided polygon, with the lead dog(s) going, for example, 90° right, then, after a few meters, another 90° right, running in parallel to the original track, then 90° right again, before turning left onto the original track. I hadn't seen dogs do a continuous turn by command only. (I admit, I don't know whether that's something that all well trained lead dogs are able to do. Maybe it's completely trivial. But it's the first time I had seen it done.)
The straight segments in the turn are an artefact of the GPS trail, which only records a waypoint every second or so. The actual trail was a smooth curve.
Next day we went on a shorter run again, this time heading back towards Umnäs. Tough we did go only a fifth of the distance to it, before turning around. That meant following the snowmobile track that runs parallel to a road for a while, then heading up to the first mountain plateau. And back again.
The temperature had dropped a bit, the cloud cover was complete and the wind had increased, so it was time for wearing a face mask - the only time this year where it was not due to Corona regulations.
The next day was a rest day. The dogs didn't really need it. Since the last rest day three days earlier, they had barely run a hundred kilometer with empty sleds, which isn't much. Not even for an untrained dog.
But there was a forecast of strong winds in the mountains. And there was stuff to do around the cabin. And we couldn't go to Ammarnäs yet, as the accommodation there was occupied. So we decided to have a rest day anyway.
Kenneth and Chris went up on the cabin's roof and got rid of the snow layer that had accumulated there during the winter.
There were also some other repairs to be done, including properly fixing the brake in the sled Kenneth was using, which had broken off on one side and had only been 'repaired' with cable binders. (In cold environments, cable binders are quickly replacing duct tape as the all-purpose repair tool.)
I spent some time going down to the lake and enjoying the view.
On the next day we started our only trip with (slightly) loaded sleds. The apartment in Ammarnäs had become available, so we were heading there. As there was no food depot in Ammarnäs, we had to carry dog food for two days with us. Not a big load (at one kilogram per dog and day, that meant roughly 16 kg of food per sled), but more than on the previous days.
The route up the mountain was the same we took three days earlier. An hour across the lake, them uphill on a trail with steep and flat sections.
It got a bit harder up on the plateau. The trail still goes up. Not that steep, but continuously for a long way (about 5 km or so), which gets tiring after a while.
This is also the section of the trail that is a bit monotonous, so you pass snowmobile path marker after snowmobile path marker without the feeling you're ever getting anywhere.
But I knew that would happen - I had been along the trail a few times, so I was prepared to it and had some music on my headphones.
The way down from the mountain towards Ammarnäs is usually fun for most of the way. It's a wide trail with some bends that are easy to manage, so on previous trips, we did this at some speed.
But this time it was a Saturday afternoon towards the end of the 'sports holiday', so there were lots of snowmobiles around. Lots. Previously, we had maybe two or three snowmobiles encounters on the way between Viktoriakyrkan and Ammarnäs. (With 'snowmobile encounters' I mean any group of snowmobiles, not individual snowmobiles. It's essentially the same whether you pass one snowmobile on a dogsled or a group of ten.) This time, it was about ten encounters, and that's only for the downhill part at the end. So Kenneth was going real slow (and we were doing the same behind him) to avoid being surprised by speeding snowmobiles coming the other way.
All sensible and necessary, of course. But it felt a bit like being cheated out of the reward for all the uphill pushing and pedaling.
What was making up for it was that the two worrying bits at the end were easy.
About a kilometer before getting into Ammarnäs, there's a 'parking lot' where a couple of snowmobile trails meet. At that point, we need to make a 90° right turn. Generally no problem, but in one year, there were some cars and snowmobile trailers parked there and I was worried about hitting one of them. Nothing happened, but I knew that the place could be somewhat tricky. This time, even with all the snowmobiles around, the parking lot was empty, so we made the corner without problems.
And a bit further on is the point where the trail emerges from the woods and goes down onto the river. That was always a bit of a worry, as there used to be a signpost right at that point. With a good chance of hitting the signpost if something went wrong when turning onto the river. Last year everything went well, but it's a bit of a risk.
Or was. Because this time - the signpost was no longer there! Easy going...
We drove the dogs to the usual spot next to Peter's house. (Peter runs the Ammarnäs Guidecenter, where we were staying.)
This was the only point where we were a bit unlucky with the snow.
The snow was soft and we sank in deep with our boots. In the end, we trampled down paths between the rows of dogs (while avoiding to step anywhere were the dogs would be sleeping). In the end it looked a bit like there were small trenches between the lines of dogs. (It doesn't show up well in the image below, as that was also taken shortly after putting the dogs on the stake-out lines. By the time we had fed the dogs and gave them all their straw to sleep on, the trenches were more obvious, but I didn't take a picture then.)
Of course, since this was Ammarnäs, it was also time to take the traditional picture on the veranda of the Ammarnäs Guidecenter.
Being in Ammarnäs also gave me a chance to see Idun again.
Idun used to be one of their best lead dogs, so I never had a chance to run with her on my team, as she always was lead dog on either Kenneth's team or Catte's team.
But she's a lovely dog and I had her as a 'house dog' at the end of the tours after Oboy died. She was born in 2008 and is the eldest dog that's still around, so she's retired now and lives with Ida in Ammarnäs.
So in the morning before we left, Ida and Idun came around to day hello (and, as we were about to leave, goodbye as well).
It's not like dogs care to see people again they rarely know, but I was happy seeing her again.
The start back towards Viktoriakyrkan went, as everything else on the trip, without problems.
There were some worries about the 'trenches' between the dogs and that dogs might step into the boot-holes. And we would be out at about a 45° angle from how we were 'parked', so there was the worry that one of the teams might walk over to far and the lines would entangle with those of another team. But the teams moved almost in sync to each other towards the right direction, without any missteps, so we had a clean start.
The way back to Viktoriakyrkan was uneventful. It was a bit overcast and I had sunnier pictures from earlier years, so there aren't many pictures to show.
And then it was already the last day.
Time to pack our things and head back to Umnäs.
On that day we had great dog sledding weather. Sunny. Cold. Firm snow trails.
When we got up to the first mountain plateau, we had a great view backwards towards Viktoriakyrkan.
When we were on the lake somewhere in the middle of the trail, I tried to switch to wearing a t-shirt for a while. But it was windier than I expected it to be. At about -15°C that became unpleasant surprisingly fast. So it was less than five minutes before I put on my sweatshirt and my jacket again. (Didn't even take a picture.)
Back in proper gear, the ride across the lake was a lot more fun.
While we didn't meet many snowmobiles that day, we nearly met another dog sledding team. At least we could hear many dogs barking nearby. Though we weren't sure whether they were on the trail behind us or whether they were running some parallel trail somewhere.
Every time there was barking, my team started to speed up. I am not sure whether they were encouraged by the barking or preferred, with another 'horde' of dogs nearby to stay closer to their own 'horde'. But the effect was clearly noticeable.
When going down to the second lake, there's a tricky bit of trail that I was always dreading a bit.
It's a small, steep trail with a lot of twist and bends. Often with a tree right at the corner, inviting you to hit it. The dogs love running down that trail, so it's a fast ride. And there aren't many straight bits. So when you come out of one corner, you already have to be ready for the next one. And if you don't do a corner properly and you come out the wrong way, standing on the wrong runner or with the sled out of balance, you'll likely fall off the sled in the next corner.
It's also a fun ride. If it works.
I had done this once when the snow had slightly thawed and then frozen again, resulting in a fast, icy trail where falling off would have been like crashing into concrete. And I had done that the previous year with ten dogs, where I didn't have much control over the breaking. The dogs went as fast as they liked and all I could do was to hang on and try not to screw up on my end. Both times went without a crash on that section, but it scary. It's one of those things that are great afterwards, when everything went well, you're still running on adrenaline and the feeling is exhilarating. But not during the run itself.
This time, it was different.
Conditions were near-perfect. The snow had the right consistency (i.e. firm enough for the dogs to run on, soft enough on the sides to fall into) and eight dogs was the right number.
So this was the first time where I had fun while doing that section!
It's also the first time that I have pictures from this section. There's no time to take out a camera. There's not even time to take the hands from the sled handle. So I never had a chance to take pictures.
But this time I asked Kenneth to have a short stop before we entered the section, so I could put on an action camera. (The downside of this - when I showed the video to Kenneth later, he commented "I can see all the mistakes you're making.")
At the end of that section is a short, flat bit, which allows a short stop before having to cross a street. (Which went without any problems this time. Last year, we had a bit of trouble at that spot.)
Then across another small lake, some flat trails through the trees and we were on the 'home straight'.
Another slope downwards to the last lake, but this time a broader trail with wider curves (and the trees at more distance to the trail), so it's a fun bit for dogs and humans.
Then there's one final road crossing. With the higher snow banks, it looks a bit daunting (and I really didn't want to screw up so close to the end of the trip), but we all got over it without any issues.
And then it's past the old Volvo. (Which is standing there, abandoned, at the side of the trail.) And the last 500 meters or so towards the lake.
Down on the lake, for some east running towards the destination.
Then around the church, past the graveyard and then there's one final curve and into the dog yard.
And that was the end of the 2021 trip.
While we didn't get to any new places and the total distance wasn't that long either, it was a good tour and I was immensely relieved that it had been possible at all. And it was the first time that I didn't have any problems at all during the whole trips. Eight dogs seems to be the right team size for me. But good trails and a mostly empty sled will have helped as well.
I also have a new 'I want to have that dog on my team' candidate.
They had a litter of dogs last year and one of the female dogs seems nice and inquisitive. Right now, the five new dogs are too young to be on tours, but maybe next year.
Of course, I am clueless about the abilities of sled dogs. Maybe she turns out to be not suitable for it. We'll see...
Admittedly, on most of the pictures she comes across as somewhat aggressive. But, as dog owners like to point out, "don't worry she just wants to play". Which she does. It might look violent at first, but it is typical 'play behaviour' among young dogs.
I don't know her name, though.
Which is a bit strange. I asked Kenneth and Catte what the dog was called, but they couldn't remember the name either.
But it's an unusually named litter.
In general, litters are named after some theme.
So, for example, Harry, Albus and Luna were named after characters from Harry Potter. And Rönn (rowan), Gran (fir), Tall (pine) and Lind (lind) were named after trees. Bianci, Merida, Simson, Sputnik and Ghost are bicycle manufacturers.
The new litter is a bit more sophisticated.
The names are from Shakespeare's 'The Comedy of Errors'. And the list they used to select names from was: 'Adriana, Dromio, Egeon, Balthazar, Solinus, Pinch, Antipholous', which includes only one female character (Adriana). But they had two female puppies. There is a 'Luciana' in the play, but when spoken, it sounds similar to Adriana, so it might not be a good choice for a dog name, even though it would work well in the theme, as Adriana and Luciana are sisters in the play.
There are only three other named females in the play (the fourth female character is simply referred to as 'Courtesan'), with none of them being on the original list, so the dog is probably called Nell, Luce (both are the same character) or Emilia. I hope to find out before the next trip.
As always, here's an overview of parts of the dogsledding trip.
|Date||From||To||Start||End||Total Time||Pause||Moving Time||Distance||Max Speed||Avg.||Mov. Avg.||Start Alt.||Min Alt||Max Alt||Total Asc.||Total Des.|
The map is a bit confusing, as we covered a lot of it two or four times, so the trail overlap each other a lot this time.
Then it was time to fly back south.
The flight wasn't particularly crowded. This is the Hemavan departure lounge about five minutes before the flight.
Ultimately, there were three passengers on the plane.
Clear skies for most of the way, so I had the chance to take a picture of Tärnaby from above, shortly after we took off.
After arriving in Stockholm, I didn't immediately travel home again. I took a bit of a detour. Quite a bit of a detour.
I had planned to stay another three days in southern Sweden before flying home. And I looked for some interesting place to stay. I did find some lighthouse accommodation on the western coast of Sweden and booked it for two nights.
The plan was to rent a car at the airport and drive there.
Unfortunately, I didn't look at the distances before I booked the car and the accommodation.
Sweden always feels like a 'long, but thin' country, such as Norway or Chile. Serious distances between the north and south end, but not so wide in east/west direction.
And while that is true, with Sweden being four times as 'tall' as it is 'wide', it's not a small country either. The drive from Stockholm airport to Mölle on the western coast turned out to be more than 600 km.
Doable, of course, but a bit more than the 'slightly more than 300 km' that I had expected.
But I had made the booking and I needed to get there, so I spent most of the next day driving along the E4.
It was worth it.
Even though it was a disappointment at first.
They are doing themselves as bit of a disservice by the way the present the place on their web site.
The web page shows a round bed hanging from the ceiling with windows all around, and another round room with a round table, hanging from the ceiling as well. And a picture of the peninsula with the lighthouse on it.
So I had assumed that the lighthouse would be no longer operational and the bedroom would be on the 'top floor' where the rotating light had been located, allowing a 360° view of the area.
When I arrived, I noticed that I couldn't get into the lighthouse at all.
And there was a good reason for that - the lighthouse is still operating as a lighthouse.
The place I could get in was a little gray shack to the side of the lighthouse.
Which was disappointing.
Fortunately it was the last disappointment. The place was great, the views fantastic and the room was neat on the inside.
But with the expectation that it would be a night in a lighthouse, it needlessly started on a sour note.
Of course, the web page does not claim that it's in the lighthouse. But it would be better if they clearly stated that it is not. (And also that it's only one room. The 'other room with a round table' turned out to be the same room with some extra chairs and everything removed from the bed to make it a 'table'.)
However, the room is great and after a minute or two of grumpiness, I enjoyed my stay a lot.
While many hotel rooms have safes in them, this one was larger than most.
But also less safe, as the locking mechanism had been removed.
It served as a cupboard for glasses, tableware and cutlery.
But in that function, it looked a lot more impressive than a simple cupboard would have done.
The Kullaberg Nature Reserve, where the lighthouse and the apartment are located, is on a peninsula, has a view towards the shores of Denmark to the south-east and across Skälderviken bay towards a bit of the Swedish shoreline.
There shore of the peninsula is mostly cliffs, so the whole place has a 'rugged' feel to it.
As I had nothing specific planned for the day there, I spent my time walking along the various hiking paths, scrambling over rocks and cliffs and visiting some small caves.
Nothing exciting, simply a relaxed (but tiring - there's a lot of walking up and down) day out. And as mid-March is still pre-season, I had the place more or less to myself.
When returning to the apartment, I managed to spot a deer in the woods.
When I was back at the lighthouse, it was almost sunset.
So I went to the room end enjoyed the view, sitting on the bed.
And then, after dark, it was time for some loud music.
As there was nobody else around for (at least) three kilometers and there was a Bluetooth sound system, I used the opportunity to crank up the volume a bit.
Next morning, when bringing my bag to the car, I noticed a squirrel helping itself on a bird feeder nearby. Which felt fitting, after seeing a squirrel when staying in the Icehotel at the beginning of my vacation, to finish with a squirrel towards the end of it.
And, according to the original plan and schedule, that would have been it. I would then have driven the 600 km back to Stockholm Arlanda airport, and flown home the next day.
But the airline had different plans.
When I was in Hemavan, I got the information from the airline that my flight home had been cancelled. And that I would have to take a flight a day later than planned.
This made things a bit more complicated and expensive.
But it also meant that instead of covering the distance from Mölle to Stockholm Arlanda in one day, I now had two days available.
I looked for a place about halfway between the two and found to my surprise that Motala was close to that.
Motala would have been the place I would have gone to after last year's dog sledding tour. Like this year (and, in fact, most years), I had planned for a few days in the south of Sweden, after coming back from the dogsledding tour. I already had a reservation for a hotel in Motala, but then things got complicated (even more complicated than this year). All flights to Germany had been cancelled and I drove to Trelleborg instead to get a ferry to Rostock. I never got to Motala.
So it seemed fitting that, after planning to got to Motala, but being prevented by changed flight schedules from getting there, I would now, not planning to go to Motala, go there anyway, due to changed flight schedules.
The main attraction in Motala is the 'car museum'. Well, mostly a car museum. Ok, at least partly.
It feels more like a random pile of things that somebody collected and then decided to put a 'museum' sign outside to get some of the money back.
A lot of interesting stuff inside, but hardly a planned or curated collection. And not exclusively cars.
There were cars, of course.
A couple of luxury cars, including a Koenigsegg.
And tiny cars.
And a car previously owned by Elvis (who most have gone through a Cadillac a week, given the amount of museums with Elvis cars).
As well as a rather odd looking 'boat car'.
Also a car that is able to swim.
And the area full of motorbikes also fits in a car museum (especially since its proper name is Motala Motor Museum).
In a 'Motor Museum', even the corner with new and historical chainsaws may have a place.
But then things get a bit out of hand. There's a corner with early mobile phones, a handful of computers and two dot matrix printers.
A wall display with many mobile phones from the last generation of mobile phones, before the smartphone arrived.
Next to a shelf with mechanical typewriters.
As well as a room full of old radios. (And a few gramophones, record players and tape recorders thrown into the mix.)
And, for no recognizable reason at all, a corner dedicated to the Beatles, featuring some record covers hanging from the ceiling.
I kind of liked the place, but it didn't seem like the museum. More like the kind of junk that I got lying around at home, although scaled up by a factor of 100.
While visiting the museum in Motala had been on my schedule last year, this hadn't been the primary reason to drive to Motala.
I wanted to see Kvarntorp and Motala was a convenient place to stay, after I had visited it. (Örebro is closer, but it seemed a bit more old-fashioned and dull.)
So, when driving to Stockholm Arlanda on the next day, I made a detour via Kvarntorp.
Kvarntorp is a pile of shale, the remains of some oil producing activities decades ago.
After some landscaping, it now looks like a normal hill (although a bit out of place, as most of the surrounding terrain is flat), although steam coming out of the ground in some places betrays the origin of the hill. (The insides of the hill are still hot due to some oil remains still smoldering.)
The more interesting bit is that they have an exhibition of sculptures on top of the hill.
The best known is the church silhouette.
It looks impressive in photographs, but isn't that tall in reality.
Other sculptures cover the usual range from the semi-realistic via the surreal to the dull and pretentious ones.
All in all it's an interesting collection, with enough ideas to make the detour worthwhile.
There's also the 'Ark' which doubles as an exhibition space, but only during the summer months. (Although from some directions it looks a bit like an early model Volvo. Maybe the car a safety conscious Fred Flintstone would have used.)
Not a sculpture and looking a bit lost somewhere on the side of the (open in summer) cafe is a small (ex-)planet Pluto. It is (the final) part of a scale model of the solar system, starting with the sun on the central square in Kumla, about 12 km away.
The first and last 'sculpture' is also the largest and most difficult one.
It's the stairs.
It's roughly a hundred meters tall with, presumably, 427 steps (I didn't count them). It's also a good 'end of vacation' exercise to go and see the sculpture exhibition.
After that, I drove the final bit to Stockholm Arlanda and flew home the next day.
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