Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Scandinavian Holiday 2010-2011

At the beginning of January I mentioned that the Architect and I spent the Christmas holidays in Sweden and Denmark.  Given the 100+ degree temperatures in Texas these days, I thought this would be the perfect time to recap our vacation (and dream of cooler climes).

Why did we go to Scandinavia in the middle of winter? What would possess two Texans to fly halfway around the world where there is only daylight for a few hours a day? In a word Icehotel. For years I had been wanting to stay here but never had the means or the time to get away. Well, last summer we decided we were going to ditch our families and go on vacation because we didn't get a summer vacation. First, we talked about beaches, sun, and fruity drinks. But then I suggested the Icehotel to the Architect and the decision was made. The dogs went to their grandparents and we were off to Scandinavia.

Our first stop was Stockholm for Christmas. We arrived Christmas Eve and hung out in our virtually empty hotel. We knew there would not be too much going on, but we were just happy to be on vacation and out of Texas. Above you will see the Architect enjoying a nice scotch before the fire at the Nordic Light Hotel. The next day we had reservations at The Veranda at the Grand Hotel for a traditional Swedish smorgasbord (at Christmas it is called a juhlbord). If you go to Sweden, you must eat at a smorgasbord, you won't be disappointed. The Veranda's smorgasbord is top notch and you should partake in their house made akavit. Another day of sightseeing and shopping then we were off to the Icehotel.

The Icehotel is located 200km north of the ARCTIC CIRCLE. Arctic Circle as in no sun during the winter, snow, ice, and frozen rivers. Upon our arrival we are issued snow boots, snow suits, and mittens. You wear this ON TOP OF all your other winter clothing. Being from Texas, we spent quite a bit of money at REI and Whole Earth Provision Co. gearing up for this trip. After we get our gear we head out for a late dinner at one of the 2 Icehotel restaurants. We had dinner at the Old Homestead Restaurant, which is an old cabin about a mile or so down the road. When you check-in you are issued a lanyard with ID holder that contains a map and your reservation number to show when you are paying for meals. Or as I joked to the Architect as we were trudging to dinner - "So the locals know where to return us, if they find us frozen on the side of the road." As if the snowsuits with ICEHOTEL embroidered in 3in. letters wasn't enough of a giveaway.

After dinner we walked back to the Icehotel to spend our first night. You have two options at the Icehotel: 1) sleep in the actual Icehotel or 2)  stay in a "warm accommodation." Most people spend 1-2 nights in the Icehotel and then spend the rest of their stay in a warm accommodation. The reason is you can't take anything with you into your room at the Icehotel. You are issued a locker to store your gear. There are no bathrooms in the ice part either. Those are at the lodge next door. But it seems miles away when you are walking to it late at night in nothing but your long underwear.

Wait, you don't sleep in that snazzy snowsuit in the Icehotel?! Nope. You are issued a thermal sleeping bag and a pillow. Your body heat is what warms up the sleeping bag. If you were to wear that snowsuit and your down jacket, etc. you would never get warm. I was dubious about only sleeping in my socks, base layers, a hat and gloves but it worked. It wasn't the most relaxing sleep I had, but I was warm and able to get some sleep.

The next day was our dog sled ride on the frozen Torne River. Oh and it was one of the coldest days during our entire stay at the Icehotel. MINUS TWENTY FOUR DEGREES BELOW ZERO. Even the locals said it was COLD. When people who have spent their entire lives living above the Arctic Circle say it is cold, it is cold. Dog sledding was awesome. Ever curious about whether you ever make a pit stop while dog sledding to let the dogs go to the bathroom? You don't. The dogs poop while they run. A bit of unexpected knowledge I learned from this trip.

After the dog sled ride we made our first trip to the Absolut Ice Bar. The yummy drinks are served in glasses made of ice. Then it was off to dinner at Icehotel's fancier restaurant across the road, where we had the Ice menu. It was a tasting menu where every entree was served on a block of ice carved from the Torne River. The cocktails we had came in a martini glass with a huge diamond shape piece of ice. After we finished our drinks the waitress left the glasses on our table so we could watch the ice melt. The ice cube melted but didn't overflow the glass as we had expected. Ahh, that Scandinavian design.

The next day was our horseback ride to see the Northern Lights. By the way this was the first time I had ever been on a horse. I know, Texas girl and never been on a horse. We didn't get to see any northern lights, but we saw a moose and had a nice hot meal in a Sami hut. After the horseback ride it was back to the Absolut IcebariTunes. Dan and I looked at each other and said "Oh really?" And guess what he did have everything, including Texas locals - the Old 97s, Salim Nourallah, and David Garza.

Our Icehotel experience came to an end and it was off to Copenhagen for New Year's Eve. We stayed at Hotel Twentyseven which was right in the middle of everything and a quick walk from the Central Station. A tip to know: do not take the train from the airport into Central Station. It gets cancelled ALL THE TIME. After waiting 45 minutes and a question to the ticket office we learned this annoying fact. So either take a cab or take the Metro.

The hotel was great. There was a complimentary breakfast AND dinner buffet everyday. Attached to the hotel was the Honey Ryder Cocktail Lounge and adjacent to that was Icebar Copenhagen. But for NYE most of our days were spent shopping and walking around the city admiring the architecture and sights.

The best part of the Copenhagen leg of our trip was New Year's Eve dinner at a|o|c.  a|o|c is located in the basement of what was a 17th century palace.  The Architect and I have had some very nice dinners in some very nice places, but dinner here became the new place to beat.

As we arrived, all we said to the waiter who took our coat was, "We have a reservation."  The response was "Welcome Mr. Day."  Um, he didn't know what we look liked until we got there.  We could have been the only Americans dining there that night and that is what gave us away, but the personalization was a nice touch.

The dinner was to be a an 8 course meal with wine pairings.  But before we could even get to the actual courses we were met with some of the best champagne I have ever had - Pol Roger, Cuvee Winston Churchill.  If you see a bottle of this, don't look at the price and just buy it.  It is awesome.

a|o|c is into molecular gastromony, which unfortunately is lacking here in Dallas.  Lots of ingenious ways to use flavors and foods in new way for a completely different eating experience.  I would say the most interesting course of the evening was the "Oyster leaves with red wine vinegar."  You are thinking a salad, how weird could that be?  Texas has red wine vinegar.  Um, salad ain't served this way in Texas.  First off, they deposit a spoon on our table with a hole in it.  Then comes the fishbowl.  This fishbowl is filled with water, some river rocks and two salad leaves floating on the water, each with a bead of red wine vinegar.  The spoon with the hole was used to fish out the salad leaf.  It certainly wasn't the most filling salad course I have ever had, but the experience made up for the minuscule meal.  This was an experience dinner, not a gorge yourself silly dinner.  If you find yourself in Copenhagen, be sure to get a reservation here.  We ended the evening/early morning with champagne at the Honey Ryder Cocktail Lounge.

And so it comes to the end of our little adventure.  We had another few days in Copenhagen, then it was back to Stockholm to catch our flight back to Dallas.

You can see more pictures from our Scandinavian adventure here.

Images: 1st row (l-r): Nyhavn, Copenhagen; the Architect at the Nordic Light Hotel; Copenhagen Opera House.  2d row (l-r): Me at the Modern Museet in Stockholm; Radhausplan, Copenhagen; us at the Absolut Icebar at Icehotel.  3rd row (l-r): Grand Hall at Icehotel; Huskies; Stockholm Library by Gunnar Asplund.

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