Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sleddin' in a Winter Wonderland

After checking out of the ice-room - unfortunately without a place provided to shower after a night in a sleeping bag - I headed up to the cafe for breakfast, leaving Chris to sleep in.

Outside the reception area I saw someone with a large malamute and rushed over to say hello. The dog (I don't know its name) was very friendly and talkative, appreciative of a good ear rub. His owner said he'd taken him out for a 160 mile cross-country ski last winter.

To the north I could see a plane dropping parachutists, making several passes over the frozen river Torne.

Today being my birthday, I had something special lined up that would surpass even being woken from an ice slab with warm lingonberry juice. Last year on this day, I had begun 2 months' of French lessons in a lovely little kitchen in Paris; today I was going dog-sledding for 4 hours.

Our Norwegian sled-leader took our party of 6 of us via snowmobile and sled across the frozen lake up to the kennels, where we were distributed between various dogsleds. The dozens of dogs here seemed to be all cross-breeds, huskies and their Scandinavian brethren crossed with more familiar types. (Malamutes like Bondi are used for hauling, not more-rapid human transport.)

We set off very quickly, downhill and back across the lake. The day was turning out some special glories for us: clear blue skies, bright sunshine, and no wind. And so we continued for an hour or so, through open spaces, under snow-laden branches in quiet forests, with only the sound of the dogs, the rustle of sleds and the occasional direction from their masters.

We crossed another frozen lake and fetched up at a small cluster of cabins around 12.30, just as another group of sledders came through, this time with more distinctively husky and laika dogs doing the work. My toes and fingers demanded time by the fire, and so I stripped off my outer overalls and boots to let the heat in. My camera was gently warmed too, because even shuffling it in and out from under my armpit to keep the battery alive through our journey, it was sitting close to a nil charge.

Our guides were also handy in the kitchen and made us blueberry soup, some stew and plenty of cafe and coffee to fuel us for the return journey.

The sun was sinking quickly behind the hills, giving a different cast to the trip back to the kennel. Even our guides said this was the best day out they'd had in a long while. [Postscript: video of the day added here].

Back at the Ice Hotel, Chris had left his handiwork from Ice Sculpture class out on the railing in front of reception: a small frozen malamute. We also had our room for the next two nights, so could properly unpack and relax away from the comings and goings of the Luggage Lounge and the reception area.

Dinner tonight was at "The Old Homestead" - another Ice Hotel-owned restaurant, about 20 minutes walk into Jukkasjärvi. The menu was very similar and equally expensive (especially with the 25% tax that drops avalanche-fashion at the end of every bill). We shared the table with an English couple, who were very keen to exchange banter with us - as they attempted to elevate themselves to our level of conversation, part of their regular, but futile, expedition to another country to "acquire taste". We wish them well in their future visits to Butlins by the Baltic ;-).

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