We arrived in Kiruna for a second time, late in the evening. We had planned this so we’d already be in Kiruna the next morning to start our day’s activities. We got a little lost walking to our destination and had to ask several people along the way, as some had never heard of Camp Ripan. I found this a bit of a surprise coming from a small town, as this was one of the best accommodation options we could find. Camp Ripan was a great choice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We stayed in a small cabin, which was cleaned daily, and had an all-you-can-eat breakfast included every day in the main dining room. We did have trouble closing one of the windows on the first night which was letting cold air in, but they came around and fixed it for us promptly.
It was a lazy first night, and we dug straight into some left over pizza we had bought with us as we were starving! Most days we had been on the go so much that we skipped straight past lunch for dinner, something Mum and I were fine with but Johan struggled with a bit as Swedes have their main meal in the afternoon and not in the evening. After our tummies were filled, we got some directions from the staff on the best spots to hunt for the Northern Lights. If you do ever stay there, ask if it’s possible to get a north-facing cabin which can offer you views of the aurora straight from your window if you’re lucky – we weren’t aware of this and booked a little late, meaning our cabin unfortunately just looked onto more buildings. That said, we went out every night, hunting for those elusive lights. We once again found them among the forest, away from the city lights, but once again, saw nothing but blackness and grey clouds for two hours between midnight and 2am. The photos turned out much nicer.
The next day brought with it the coldest day yet. -36 degrees. We rugged up in our thermals, two pairs of tracksuit pants and fleece jumpers, and our outer layers, and headed for breakfast. Cereal, yogurt, sausages, pancakes, reindeer meat, eggs, knäckebröd, you name it. And this was the outlook from the windows:
We had been planning on trying skiing, but we were informed the ski slopes closed when it hit -20, so instead we took some kicksleds out and drove them around and up and down a hill. I’m not entirely sure they are meant for this purpose – more for carrying kids or groceries or bags, and once was enough for me after I slipped, but Mum enjoyed herself, and Johan too (though he didn’t like the part about walking back up). The views were beautiful.
Later in the afternoon, we took the local bus to Jukkasjärvi to visit the Ice Hotel for the evening. The local bus is the cheapest way to go, you just have to be careful with your timing and triple check the schedule so you make the bus back. It got down to a further -38 degrees at the Ice Hotel, the coldest they’d had in 15 years, and we were starting to feel it! But it is warmer inside the snow and ice buildings than it is outside.
We had been saving up for a hot chocolate here, inside the famous Ice Bar. And were sorely disappointed to find they didn’t sell them! We had previously seen hot chocolates sold both at the Ice Gallery in Santa Park, and at the Ice Bar in Snowman World, but we’d been saving up for this only to find they weren’t sold! It might possibly be something to do with fake vs. real ice glasses that you drink out of (these were made out of real ice and I’m not sure if the other ones were), but you’d think they could incorporate something, because all you feel like at this sort of time is something hot and soothing to the throat!
They change the designs in the Ice Hotel every year, and by far one of the most impressive designs this year was the elephant below. However, it just seemed so… out of place, being an African animal. It wasn’t exactly what you’d expect to see, but was nice none the less. The other most exciting room was the “Counting Sheep” room, which had about 15 sheep sculpted in ice around the room you had to try and count.
But overall, we were actually quite disappointed in the designs from the Ice Hotel this year. Many of the rooms had basic, abstract designs and you couldn’t make out what they were supposed to be and just a curtained walkthrough. Of course, they have different price ranges for different rooms – a basic room with no sculptures, to the more exclusive rooms some of which you can’t visit – but even the most basic rooms cost two or three times the price of what we paid for our two igloo rooms at Snowman World, which came with arctic-inspired sculptures and a wooden, spring-latched door. Even the Ice Chapel, which had a planetary, solar-system inspired design, we would’ve had no idea what it was supposed to be if the guide hadn’t told us. The Ice Hotel is one of the must-do things in Kiruna, and a quick look on Google Images will tell you why, but the designs we saw were not nearly half as extravagant as the ones often photographed. We were sorely disappointed after Snowman World, and we honestly could’ve done without the visit. We did end up picking up nice, instant, steaming hot chocolates from a coffee machine which was the cheapest thing you could find in the gift shop.We found and enjoyed our first thai meal of the holiday at a restaurant in Kiruna, called Artic Thai and Grill, which I had seen recommended on TripAdvisor. The food was delicious and reasonably priced, which included your meal, salads, a drink, tea, coffee and biscuits. If you’re a lover of hot food though, beware. My Mum loves hot and spicy, and ordered a hot thai red curry. A few mouthfuls in and she was shoveling it down with juice, water, cold salad and bread, but still determinedly eating her way slowly through it, cooling it down after ever bite. It was hilarious to watch, because nothing is ever too hot for my Mum! Even I found the medium dish I had ordered a little bit too hot. But it was lovely and we were grateful as we’d had trouble finding any nice thai restaurants in our whole time away.
The next morning was a bit warmer, it was above -20 at least, so we headed to reception again to ask about the ski slopes. This was the view outside, with the reception on the right, and the main dining area you saw earlier on the left. Lots of lovely, large, soft piles of snow to jump in!
“The ski slopes? Oh, they’re not open on a Friday.”
Um. “What, why?”
“I don’t know… because people don’t like working on a Friday?”
Okay then. Seemed a little strange to me, but it didn’t worry me too much as I wasn’t much liking the idea of skiing – I was getting much too used to the idea of my glasses fogging up in the cold air, more so, whenever I was wearing a scarf or mask over my mouth to keep my face warm, which is sort of a necessity in the downhill wind of skiing! Johan didn’t like skiing, so he was quite happy with this, but Mum had been looking forward to it, and this was our last chance to do it as we were all booked up for the remainder of our time.
Instead, we hired out some ‘toboggans’ (though these were simply plastic mats and not the hard plastic ones) and joined a few others sliding down an empty road. Johan in the distance.
It was great fun just running backwards and forwards, sitting up, lying down and sliding down together! We were at it for ages. When we finally did return them, the staff person said, “Oh! I’m glad you came back! Turns out the ski slopes are open, because of the peak holiday period”. Um… you think?! Thanks for the information, but it’s a bit late now. It was very odd, that in their peak holiday time, they couldn’t tell us this itsy bit of important information. But oh well.
We headed for a walk into the city, one we took every day along this road with all these picturesque houses.
Kiruna is actually known first and foremost as a giant mining town, and it is a town which is being moved, because of the mining making the land unstable. So in order to keep mining, they are moving the town two miles east, and rebuilding houses and a church built in 1912, which will be rebuilt piece by piece. They have a tour you can take inside the mine, which is what we did, and is recommended to learn more about the history and heart of the town, and is quite interesting. It is the world’s largest iron-ore mine, having extracted over 950 million tonnes of iron ore since 1898. They have so far mined 1,365 metres underground, and intend to go further. They take you by bus to the Visitor Centre, which is just 500 metres below the surface, and you get to leave with your own bag of iron pellets.
Near the bus stop, Mum spotted yet another empty, snow playground. Don’t see why it’s empty, do you? Look how much fun there is to be had! Slides and swings and frosty bridges!
We returned to the Arctic Thai and Grill again, where the lady at the counter remembered Mum from the previous night, and we ordered mild dishes. Yum yum!
Cold and tired, we retired to the lobby area of Camp Ripan, where they have a room upstairs with ceiling windows and lie-back deck chairs for watching the sky. We were told if we wanted any hope of seeing the lights we’d have to go out though, so we took it in turns to go outside on northern lights watch, to no avail, starting to fear our chances of ever seeing them. We met a lady who had seen them the night prior – the sky was dancing green about an hour before we went out hunting for them! They should have some sort of alarm system you can sign up for! 😛
Our next day in Kiruna was a little more successful. We had booked a Horseback Moose Safari through Camp Ripan, and it was great! I did horse riding for about two and a half years when I was younger, and it felt so good to be back in the saddle. Johan had ridden a few times, but Mum had never done so. There were two other inexperienced riders in the group, but these Icelandic horses were so gentle and bombproof. That’s us with our horses Birtingur and Hvellur, below. 🙂
We got to brush down the horses and tack them up (Mum, erm, put the saddle on back to front, which I thought was a thing that only happened in movies!) and then we rode for at least an hour through the forest, hunting for moose. Because you are with the horses, they do not get spooked the way they would with snowmobiles. And guess what? We filled up the SD card on the GoPro! Oops. Sooo, no photos or videos of the moose! 😥 But we saw plenty, a dozen at least, including one or two with their calves. Our guide was very good at telling us when to be quiet and pointing them out. The ride was mostly at a walk, though we trotted a few times, and it was nice to take it slow and have time to take it all in. It’s quite a different experience, riding in the snow. The horses would follow the path set out by the horse in front, stepping into the same hoofprints they had already been made, though occasionally they’d miss and you’d feel their feet sink into the soft snow.
We returned all too soon, I felt I could’ve been out there much longer than we were! And surprisingly, none of us were really sore when we hopped off which was something we’d been expecting! We were treated to broccoli soup and more moose meat and potatoes, veggies and round bread.
Back at Camp Ripan, we had booked to use the Aurora Spa for the night. It is an additional fee to your stay, and while we felt it should have been included, it was well worth it if you can plan your day around it – you can stay as long as you like on the day you book, and so we booked for the late afternoon and stayed at least 4 hours into the evening. They have one small heated indoor pool, three different types of saunas heated in different ways, and the highlight, an outdoor spa. You build up the nerves to walk outside in just your swimwear, and you can’t run, because it’s slippery. They have matting down to stop you falling, but the steps into the spa are slippery, and the handrail is covered in ice. But once you get into the nice warm water, it’s lovely. And you just play around in the spa. And because your hair is above water, it starts to freeze. And sometimes, it would start snowing, and it was just such a great feeling to be warmed up in this nice heated spa, with snowflakes falling all around you.
Mum was a bit more adventurous, getting out and rolling in the snow and ice half a dozen times and jumping back in! The same goes for doing that and then running into the sauna. I did attempt it, but my bare feet on the snow was enough for me! Yet again, no northern lights, although we did spot a snow-white hare on the walk back to our cabin!
For our final day in Lapland, we had left one of the most anticipated activities – dogsledding! We booked a 4 hr tour, “Musher for a day” and had a blast! There was just one other couple in our group, and with our guide we were 6 people, 2 to a sled of 5 huskies. Johan drove on the way to our picnic-spot, and I drove on the way back. You spent about an hour on the sled each way, and the dogs do most of the work! They are so eager to run, we had to keep using the brake to slow them down so they didn’t run into or ahead of the sled in front.
We stopped for hot drinks, delicious mushroom soup and melted cheese sandwiches cooked on an open fire inside a tent, but enjoyed the time outside playing with the dogs and enjoying another heavy snowfall. Another group joined us for drinks who had been travelling on a group sled pulled with about 12 dogs, so there were almost 30 dogs in the clearing at one point, all yelping and howling excitedly. They were all so friendly and loved the attention they received with many pats for a good journey! Such an incredible experience if ever you get the chance!
We were pushing it a bit tight for time to get back to Camp Ripan to pick up our suitcases and make our train back to Luleå and Haparanda, but the inbetween-guy that picked us up from the husky farm a little late was understanding and dropped us back at the door, and somehow, half running to the train station, we made our train in the nick of time again. And it felt very depressing to leave such a wonderful place, knowing our adventure in Sweden would soon come to an end.