Sweden - Kiruna

by Kimp 13. February 2013 20:33

Photo Blog

In the 1700's, a large Iron Ore deposit was discovered in Sweden, 120 miles (200 km) above the Arctic Circle, however, there wasn't any way to transport the ore. Around 1900, Sweden built a rail line to Kiruna and sent several mine engineer's and miner's there to start the mining process. The government of Sweden has always owned and operated the mine. In the early days it was above ground strip mining.

During WWII, the German's had taken Norway and the Russians had taken Finland. Kiruna is close to both of those countries and during the war, Iron was an important resource for both sides. Sweden was scared that one or both would come after the mine (There was a short period in WWII when Russia and Germany were secret allies). Sweden sent troops to Northern Sweden and some poor soldier had to stand watch at each bridge, at the ready, to blow it up if the enemy was coming. Them winters are long, cold and lonely when you're inside. I can't imagine standing watch up there for a whole winter. Sweden continued to sell their ore, but put up the illusion that they weren't allowing any German troop transports inside of their borders. Discretely, Germans were allowed to transport soldiers from Denmark to Norway via Swedish rail. Sweden remained neutral for all of WWII and was never attacked.

It's the largest Iron Ore mine in the world and even after 100 years of mining it's still going strong. Now there is one big problem. Strip mining, eventually became no longer an option. So underground mining was undertaken. Apparently the city of Kiruna was built on top of very large underground Ore deposits. Now Sweden is getting ready to move the entire town of 20,000+ several miles away. The current plan is to salvage a few key items, like the city hall clock tower, which is made of Iron, and an Iconic church that is similar to a Sami hut.The rest will either be moved or rebuilt. People will be relocated, the old building's will be demolished, and the land will be reclaimed.

Snow Festival:
Kiruna hosts a large week long snow festival, the last week in January of every year. It features a snow sculpture competition that brings artists from all over the world. They add reindeer racing, crafts and drinking to the mix, and everybody has fun.

Summer Festival:
Kiruna hosts a large week long summer festival as well. I asked a young native what was at the summer festival. He gave me a one word response with a big smile, "Drinking!!!". I asked a few other people and was told that its a music festival, that brings in some pretty big names. I'm guessing, big names to them, that I have never heard of myself.
Before the Ice Hotel:
Jukkasjärvi is a town about 12 miles (20 km) away. They have a sami museum, some great local people and at one time had an art gallery that was built out of ice. In 1990 a French Artist gave an exhibition there and so many people showed up, that there wasn't enough space in the single small hotel to house them all.

The guy who owned the Art Gallery Igloo, called around to a few good friends, who showed up with sub-zero sleeping bags and showed them how to camp, in an igloo without freezing. The men then took shifts, all night, to make sure their guests were comfortable.

The next day, all had said, "That was an awesome experience that you should start selling."
Ice Hotel:
The biggest problem was talking the bank into believing that enough people would actually show up, to turn a profit. Each year, it has grown in size and 23 ice seasons later, it's about 50 very expensive rooms.

I talked to an attractive young Swedish women, who proclaimed that her father was so inspired by the first one, he built his own igloo in the front yard. She was proud to say that she had stayed in it, when she was 5 years old. One young women who worked in the restaurant, said that she held the record amongst all of the staff. I forget the number, but it was pretty high. Workers get to stay in the unused rooms for free, so that they can calm the scared first-timers. "Oh, its not bad at all. I've stayed there like 30 times. I love it !!!".

To bring in the most profit, they needed to build the hotel early in the season, before the ice freezes thick enough to make the walls. Sounds like a good engineering problem.

Torne River Ice:
The Ice hotel is located next to the Torne river.
The speed of the Torne is perfect for making clear bubble free ice. If water is flowing too fast, water doesn't freeze, and if it's flowing too slow, bubbles freeze in it and its also murky from the sediment that is settling to the bottom. The right speed removes all of the bubbles and washes the sediment away with it. The Ice is harvested in April (when it's thick enough), so in order for the Ice hotel to be built in the fall, spring harvested ice needs to be stored all summer. On sight are two huge ice warehouses just for storing ice. They also make a million ice glasses out of this ice, for use at all of their year around Ice Bars. Several large cities in Scandinavia, have ice bars, that are built inside of large freezers and are open year around.

The hotel is far too large to be made of only ice. Much of it is made of snice. Snice is frozen water whose physical characteristics make it an intermediate between snow and ice. It looks like snow, but has the same physical characteristics of ice. This can be made before the ice freezes, and it is strong enough for construction. The Ice is used mostly for walls that need outside light to provide ambiance, and for ice sculptures.

There are about 20 rooms called artists suites, that artists from around the world compete for, to have a chance to design. The Ice hotel also employs a team of four staff artists, who travel to some Ice and snow sculpture competitions, around the world and complete. There is also one luxury suite. This year the luxury suite was a variation of kind what I would call an "Alice in Wonderland" theme. It was called absinthe. Absinthe is 150 proof alcohol that is usually green from a medicinal herb that is added to it. It has a mild psychoactive quality to it, that has been much exaggerated.

During your stay in the Igloo, you are provided with a locker in a heated building next to the hotel, for your belongings. In addition to the locker, this building contains the toilets, changing rooms, a sauna, showers and a lobby with a nice wood burner for warming up.

Ice Fire alarm:
Swedish law now requires all hotels to have fire alarms. This is the first year that they were installed in the ice hotel. One of the guy's who works there, said that they are not designed for the cold, and have gone off about 20 times this year.

The hotel is rented out until it starts raining on the inside. At that time, about 10% of the Ice is reclaimed and stored for next years hotel, and eventually the rest melts and goes back into the Torne river.

The beds are made of wood, which is placed on top of the ice. The wood is covered with a sheet, then topped with Reindeer pelts. The hotel provides the same sleeping bags that the Swedish army uses. They are good to about -40 F (-40C), but it's always about 23 F (-5 C) inside of the ice hotel rooms. In the evening, the staff provides instructions to keep first timer comfort levels up.

I slept in just long johns and was too hot. I was considering taking them off. Rob and Linda (from the wedding album) meet me in Jukkasjärvi and we all stayed in the same ice suite. The hardest part was the trek to the bathroom and back. The bathroom is in a warm building next to the hotel, which is a walk of about a football field (in my long john's) to relieve myself. Plus my boots were freezing because they were in the freezer with me, all night.

I get back from going to the restroom, and a bigger pain then the walk, was adjusting the reindeer pelts that I was laying on. Very slippery and have lots of abnormalities in them. I can't use my hands to move them, because my hands are inside of the sleeping bag. I needed to use my body weight and butt to move them around. About 20 minutes of jostling and I finally had them just right. Relieved, I closed my eyes and that was when Rob says, "Hey dude, you got any aspirin?". My reply, "Dude!!! Why couldn't you have asked me that, like 20 minutes ago???". But there was no way I could go to sleep without helping him. So I got back up, made the 100 yard trek to the warm storage and back for him. I brought him a glass of water. He drank a little and by morning the water was frozen solid. Satisfied with a deed well done, I jostled the pelts around from another 20 minutes, then passed out.

Linda slept in about 15 layers of clothes (coat, hat, scarf, gloves and all). Rob and Linda were exhausted both went to bed several hours before I did, so I didn't see her until she got up to use the rest room. That was so funny. It looked like she was too worn out, to take her coat and hat off.
When I went in to use the rest room, there were several people who could not take sleeping in the igloo. They had brought their sleeping bag into the warm building and slept on the floor in there. The next time they feel like spending a lot of money to sleep on the floor, I'll put them up at my place. All I need to do, is put two people up for one night and my whole months rent will be paid.
The best part of that experience for me, was the attractive Swedish women who woke me up. She comes trotting in very jovially, with a big smile on her face, and says, "Good morning :) :) :) Would you like some hot lingonberry Juice?", as she is pouring the piping hot liquid into a cup. "Why yes, I would!"  Later in the day, another dude was telling me, "Dude? Oh man! I need to get woke up like that every day!!!"
The next morning, we meet an older couple (60+), who were from a small town near Stockholm. The male didn't have any problem sleeping in the igloo, but his poor wife said she was claustrophobic and the sleeping bag was bothering her. They were in an art room called "cube cubed" Sticking out of the wall over the bed, the snice was carved to look like a bunch of stacked ice cubes.  She was sleeping on her back, looking up at those cubes and said she couldn't sleep because it looked like they were going to fall on her. I couldn't help, but laugh.

Her husband said that when he was in the Swedish Army.  They would go on training exercises, where they would climb an ice wall, carve out a small cave in the side of it, and set up camp there for the night. I would definitely be up for that experience, but with my size, I don't have the upper body strength to do anything like that.
Ice Chapel:
One of the out buildings near the hotel, is an ice chapel. It's main purpose, is for weddings.  Not sure what the attraction is, but maybe if you start the wedding cold, it gets hotter, the longer it goes on. I would be in for that :)
A very funny Swedish women I was talking to said, "Sometimes they just wear normal dresses for the wedding service. That tends to make the ceremony very short. "They just kind of say, 'I do' and it's over".

A Slovakian women there, kept calling me Craigish. I have heard a lot of bastardizations of my last name over the years, but that and Sicily where the only attacks on my first name. Both were what I would call, on the cute side, and were wearing favorably on me.

Dog Sled Luncheon:
Rob, Linda and I went on a lunch time dog sled ride. That was a great ride. We stopped at a camp for lunch and Rob was telling another couple who was with us, about a guide in Iceland, back in the 1800's, who would take people on trips, then kill them out in the middle of nowhere. Keep this in mind, because a variation is coming up later.
Snowmobile ride:
Rob, Linda and I went on a night time snow mobile ride as well. Our guide was about as red neck as they come. Everything he did was slow. He talked slow, moved slow, and thought slow. It was like being in slow motion. He also said lot of quirky things. He said, he doesn't care much about the weather outside, because he is always down in the mine, where it is the same temperature year around.

Rob, says to him, "So, I hear at there are 24,000 people in Kiruna.", like he's asking a question and trying to get a local dissertation on the subject. Red neck thinks for a minute, then replies with, "If you say so.". Linda and I just about fell on the floor laughing under our breath. Rob, the perpetual nice guy, still trying to get some conversation going, say's, "So, is this a town, where like, everyone knows each other?" Red neck, thinks for a few seconds and just say's, "No !?!?". The look on red necks face was one of like, "Dude, do you know 24,000 people by name?" I'm not sure who was funnier, Rob or Red neck? Cause, they both had Linda and I laughing.

That was a really bad night to be out on a snow mobile. Lots of cloud cover and very dark. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. Everything was black around us. The snow was seriously deep and some of the trails had been drifted over, nearly to obliteration. I could tell the guide was having a difficult time seeing the trail markers. For some reason, the red necks had taken a black trash bag and shredded it to make the trail markers. They probably thought that was a good idea, since it contrasted with the snow. To me, that didn't look like a good idea at all. Like, maybe bright orange, which contrasts with everything in nature, would have been a much better choice.

After about an hour, the guide stops his snowmobile and shuts off the light. Rob and I stopped 50 yards back, because I wasn't sure what was going on. Red neck signaling to Rob and Linda and I to shut down, and turn off our light. Then he motioned for us, to move up where he was on foot. It was so black, I can hardly see him.  As we are trying to moving up to him in the pitch dark, he say's, "It sure does get kinda derk ouch here! Don't ya think?" and lets out a freaky, distorted laugh. All I'm thinking about, was the story Rob had been telling earlier in the day. About the Iceland Axe Murderer who doubled as a Guide. Damn it Rob, did you really have to tell that story!

Turns out, he had some sandwiches and juice for us. To me, that seemed like a really odd place, to have a picnic.

After that, we saddled up and made it back safe and sound. But I don't think any of us had a great time on that trip, other then the awesome Swedish red neck experience. 




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