Whoever wrote the song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” hasn’t spent a summer in the United States. No matter what part of the country in, you’re likely to encounter at least a few days of skyrocketing heat and humidity that make you wish you had a magic carpet to the icy realms of Elsa and Olaf in Scandinavia. While Frozen is only a Disney creation set in Norway, the Arctic, and especially northern Sweden, offer real-life chances to cool off while exploring and, perhaps, travel-dreaming.
Craving some Swedish meatballs, a few cloudberries and a touch of aquavit, I turned on my computer, propped myself on some comfortable cushions and prepared for my flight across the pond to the land of fika and Ikea. While I can’t exactly explore the culture and meet the Sami residents at the moment, I can feed my travel hunger with a virtual voyage that reminds me that “oh, the places you’ll go” waits for me just around the corner.
Virtual itinerary set, virtual passport in my virtual carry-on and no travel border restrictions to worry about, I set off to the chilly realms of Swedish Lapland. Heat wave and travel restrictions be damned — I’m ready to project myself into a world where my mind is open and ready to receive new experiences that are the foundations of travel dreams.
I check in with my virtual tour guides and my exploration of Swedish Lapland begins. This is my third trip to the Arctic and I can’t wait. Being that far north is refreshing, especially now when open spaces and comfortable temperatures are more enticing than ever.
I pretend that I’ve just landed in Stockholm, a city I’ve visited before, where I had my first experience with Ikea, BRIO toys and the wondrous relaxation experience that Swedes call fika. Fika is more than just having a cup of coffee. It’s sitting with friends, catching up with life, and taking a much-needed pause while sipping Sweden’s wonderful coffee. You could say that the entire world is experiencing fika now, albeit without close friends and with a heavy dose of stress. If only we could meld Swedish fika with Danish hygge, we’d have the Scandinavian sense of comfort that we so sorely need. The coffee tastes really good.
My next stop is Kiruna, a little under 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where I’m just in time to see the ICEHOTEL before it melts back into the river. The two-and-a-half hour flight whizzes by with the click of a mouse and I’m at the ethereal hotel, a place I’ve always wanted to experience after braving frigid temperatures at Finland’s Ice Festival in Rovaniemi many years prior. I have fond and somewhat delusional memories of numb toes while standing on the ice at an outdoor theater and of sitting on the banks of the frozen bay waiting for the Northern Lights. At the Festival, I visited ice rooms and enjoyed icy schnapps in an ice bar, but I didn’t have the chance to overnight snuggled under a reindeer skin covering. This was my chance to find out how cold (and cool) it would really be, sort of.
I’m greeted with a wooden cup filled with Swedish schnapps known as aquavit. The drink is powerful liquor made from grain laced with anise and fennel and it has served a purpose for nearly 800 years – it keeps me toasty as I walk through the icy corridors. ICEHOTEL guide Matilda takes me on a personal tour through four of the jaw-dropping, individually designed and carved ice rooms while explaining how the ICEHOTEL comes to be. As I look around in amazement, she describes the transformation from river ice into these beautiful masterpieces, with rooms equipped with icy angelic sculptures and wall carvings. It’s like an architectural museum of ice with rooms that disappear and reappear each year. Just like Brigadoon. As mini icicles form on my uncovered nose, I take another sip from the tiny Sami guksi, attached by a string to tie to my parka when it’s empty. I spot the reindeer covering that will keep me warm throughout the night.
On the second day, we meander south to Lassbyn to the Aurora Safari Camp. I channel the camper in me here and enjoy the camp’s simple lodge and tent accommodations along with a campfire meal of grilled reindeer and Arctic char. Founder Fredrik Broman is a font of knowledge when it comes to everything about the frozen Swedish wilderness. With Fredrik, I suit and glove up (in my mind) and zip off on of my favorite Arctic adventure activities, snowmobiling, visiting two frozen lakes and learning about local wildlife and landmarks on the way. Although I’ve never done this in Sweden, I’m a bit of a snowmobiling veteran from speed-thrilled tours in Finland and Vermont, and I love the exhilaration. I don’t even mind the cold – I’m mentally prepared and I’m craving the chilly temperatures now that the mercury has soared to near triple digits.
After the thrills (and near spills) of the day, I welcome the slower but still exciting visit to another of my bucket-list resorts, Swedish Lapland’s famous Treehotel. At leisure, I take a personal tour inside four of the seven amazing treetop hotel rooms. Each room has its own theme, which is showcased in the design interior with names that convey: The UFO, Mirrorcube, Dragonfly and Birds Nest. It’s icy but I climb up the ramps and onto outdoor decks in structures impossibly suspended among the trees, each affording the perfect chance for social distancing. If I smile all alone in the forest, does anyone notice? Perhaps this is the perfect virtual dreamscape after all.
My last day in Sweden takes me 50 miles to the East to the wilderness around Kroktask where I set off on another outdoor challenge, dogsledding in the icy wilderness. In Finland, I dogsledded both seated in a sledge and standing up on skis with blue eyed, spirited huskies that seemed to be just a few genes shy of their wolf cousins. I’m eager to relive the experience. Erik Hordijk of Yellow Snow Husky tours teaches me how to harness the team and we set off. I’m a little light so my braking doesn’t convince the dogs to pay attention to me, but no matter: they’ve done this before and they know the route. I’m not worried and the exhilaration is freeing.