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I spent ten days straddling January and February in one of Europe's most remote areas in northern Sweden, partly to attend Umeå University's Arctic Science course, which is a fantastic 6-week course with a 4-day in-situ component in the town of Kiruna. For the other six days I took the opportunity to have a short holiday!

Staying in a condemned building

The course provided us with subsidised accomodation, which was great. It was within the next-up area to be demolished as part of the town move, so while this hotel was still in normal shape, it was quite exciting.

I don't have a photo of the place but here is some shop-bought prinsesstårta instead.



The first night we were there we had an amazing Aurora display above the hotel (thanks to Emily for waking me up!) where I saw red and green shimmering bands across the sky.


Abisko

While most of the course was in the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) campus in Kiruna and was the usual university lecture fare, on one day we took a trip out to Abisko where there was often less cloud than in Kiruna, in order to hopefully get some aurora sightings in the evening.

The first thing we did was use the ski lift to the Tourist Station up one of the nearby mountains. This was fun and we got to see sunset along with great views of the nearby lake Torneträsk, which had not frozen over this winter for the first time our course coordinator Carol had ever seen (global warming is skewed towards the poles).



When we got back down the mountain it was properly dark and we were lucky; a green aurora arrived during our quite lengthy walk to a lecture.




The Ice Hotel

The next day we had a day trip to Jukkasjärvi, the town in which ICEHOTEL is situated, for a tour of the facilities. (It was educational because we watched a promo vid of how they made it beforehand!)



The hotel is rebuilt every year, except for a new section which is being kept in basically a large cool box, and there are two tiers of room, the "basic" design where all the rooms are roughly the same, and the top tier, where a different artist has designed and sculpted each room. During the day the rooms are open to tourists. I'm not sure how they decide who gets which room, because the rooms vary wildly in taste.



Check out this merman's abs; he sure is.



And who doesn't want to be stared at unblinkingly by the damned while they sleep?

My favourite was in the cool box section, which had a bit more in the way of lighting effects; here's one that looked a bit like the 2006 TARDIS:




Feeding reindeer

With a bit of free time, we visited the Sami museum, which was very interesting and worth remembering that Europe too had (has) an indiginous people that were treated badly by newcomers. We paid for some lichen to feed the reindeer there, which was definitely worth doing. They were adorable.




We made an igloo!

The day the course finished we whisked ourselves off to Kiruna Husky's igloo-building experience, which was fantastic. The guides gave us the instructions we needed and then left us to it, so we really felt we'd done the whole thing ourselves.

To build an igloo you will need:

* Snow
* Shovels
* Plenty of sticks

The idea is to build a dome wide enough for yourself to sleep in. The snow you dig up is quite light and fluffy, so periodically you have to have a good ol' stamp on the top of the dome to flatten it, then continue.

When compacted, the snow undergoes a structural change, making it very strong. Before it gets too strong, you must drive several sticks about 30cm into the dome, which is how you know how thick the walls are when you are digging it out later.



Our guide provided us with thermoses of hot drink, firewood, and, later, bedding, and helped us hollow out the dome as it get getting quite late by the time it was complete.

A couple of good jumps on top of the quinzee confirmed the snow had set, and we were ready to sleep!



The view from inside was quite pretty in the morning.



I got claustrophic during the night and ended up sleeping in the equipment room, but Emily slept pretty well. ("It was nice and warm!")

Finally, in the morning, it made a good slide.



The quinzee would stay there, along with previous people's homemade hotel rooms, until the snow melts in the summer.


I passed!

A few months later, this letter from Umea University arrived in the post.



I passed with distinction!
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