A Night in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel – Part 2

Ever wonder what it’s like to sleep in an igloo? Read on!

After finishing up with the dog sledding covered in my last post, we walked around the facilities a little more, stopping to see all of the dogs and resting a bit before the actual Snowhotel program started. An important thing to note here is that there are two sides to this place:

  • The Gamme cabins, which are heated and I’m sure provide amazing views via their panoramic windows
  • The actual Snowhotel, comprised of ~20 rooms carved out of snow/ice connected by a long walkway, which ends at the ice bar.

We chose the colder option and booked a room in the Snowhotel. If we were going to make the trip up there, we were definitely going to make it worthwhile! This isn’t like checking in to a regular hotel, as the program is specific and has set times when you can be in your room. You also don’t drop your luggage off in your room on arrival, it’s shuttled from the small building at the entrance to the luggage room, located in the main building at the far end of the snowhotel and held there throughout your stay, but more on that later.

So how does this work? Well, at around 5pm, everyone staying in the Snowhotel met in Gabba restaurant near the dog sledding area to find that out! Upon arrival, we took a seat and were given a brief history of the facility, along with a basic timeline of events for the evening. Snowhotel guests pretty much do everything together, including eating dinner and breakfast, so we were all on the same schedule. While in Gabba, we also had the chance to cook more reindeer sausage for ourselves as a little pre-dinner snack. Yummy!

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After finishing up in Gabba, we headed over to feed the reindeer. On arriving at the platform, we were all given some food and were able to reach over the fence to feed any that came our way. The reindeer knew what was coming, and were more than happy to take the food off our hands.

After the feeding, we had some time to walk through all the Snowhotel rooms, but having done this earlier in the day when no one else was in there, we used it as a little downtime before dinner, and just walked around outside a little more. Here are a few of the other rooms that I’d shot earlier in the day:

At dinner time, everyone met in the first floor dining room for the group dinner. We had a set table where the 20 or so of us staying in the Snowhotel sat. Now, one thing I’ve never mentioned here is that I’m not a seafood guy. Like at all. Before this trip, the last time I’d really eaten fish was well over 20 years ago. I knew going in to this trip that I’d likely be stuck eating seafood at least one, if not most nights on the trip, it’s the nature of being in a coastal country known for it. This was one of those night. On the menu:

  • Reindeer carpaccio
  • Arctic Char with potatoes
  • Ice cream with caramel sauce
  • Northern Light (hot cocoa with peppermint liquer – we ordered this as an extra)

It was all really good, including the fish. While I didn’t eat all of the char, I ate quite a bit of it, and was surprised at how good it tasted. Congrats to the Snowhotel on getting me to like a seafood dish!

After dinner we had a bit of free time before bed, so we walked around the complex a bit, followed by a visit to the ice bar. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a bar made entirely out of ice. Only being open for an hour, we got there pretty early, and found our bartender all set up and ready to serve. With Bayley having just turned 21, she partook in a few drinks with me. We opted for a 4-shot package, where he poured Bayley and I each 4 different shots, telling a story with each. I really wish I could remember those stories, but no such luck. I can say that it was pretty fun, and included 5th shot at no charge, with him also giving Bayley a 6th “birthday” shot for free. Drinking at an ice bar was an awesome experience, one we all enjoyed and won’t soon forget. Our excellent bartender made it that much better 🙂

I almost forgot, when you’re done with each drink, you have to clean up after yourself, which consists of smashing your shot glass (also made solely of ice) on the bar. Nice touch :). Here’s a little Boomerang of Bayley “cleaning up” after one of her shots!

When it came time for bed, the real fun began. First, you head in to the luggage room and grab what you want to change in to. One key thing here is that you do not want to overdo it with what you wear. My dog sledding guide had warned me that when she stayed in the hotel, she overdressed and was hot most of the night, so I just grabbed a short sleeved t-shirt, and my flannel pajama pants. After changing, we each grabbed a sleeping kit, which consisted of a thermal sleeping bag, sheets (basically a bag made out of sheets that you put yourself in), a balaclava, and some heavy wool socks. Here are a couple of shots of the area where the kit items are, the sleeping bags, and the showers:

At that point, everything else you have goes back in to your luggage, and you head to your room with your sleeping kit and boots to get ready for bed. Once you arrive at your room, it’s a matter of getting into the sheet “bag” (felt like I was getting ready for a potato sack race), and then into the sleeping bag. This part was harder than I expected. After laying down in the sleeping bag, it took a lot of effort to get into the sleeping bag properly to ensure you could get it zipped up and cinched around your head properly. Once complete, however, we were ready for bed. Here’s a 360 degree look around the room with us all bundled up and laying down:

I slept pretty good most of the night, and that sleeping bag definitely keeps you warm, even though you’re laying on a bed carved from ice! The most common question we’ve been asked is: what happens if you need to get up during the night to go to the bathroom? Well, you get out of your bags, put your shoes on, and walk the hall (inside, but still in the snowhotel) to the main building. Sure, you may get a little cold in the hall, but once you’re back, it’s into the warmth of the sleeping bag once again.

The next morning, if you’re still asleep at 7:30, a woman comes in ringing a bell to wake you up, as you still have a schedule to keep. This is where I can see it getting pretty busy, too. Once awake, you grab your sleeping kit and make your way back to the main building. At this point you’re basically getting ready for breakfast, and yes, there are showers with warm water as shown in a previous picture, but when the hotel is full, it could easily feel crowded in here, as the luggage area and bathrooms are really only sized for 4-7 people max in my opinion. It wasn’t really bad for us, as some people had gotten up earlier, and some were still making their way up the hall.

After getting dressed, it was time for breakfast. We all headed to the same little restaurant we’d eaten dinner at, just that this time with the sun up we could see the amazing view out the panoramic window. Breakfast itself was pretty good, with a selection of breads, meats, cheeses, and some eggs and bacon. All delicious!

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Once breakfast is over, that’s pretty much it for a single night program in the Snowhotel. You’re still welcome to make use of the facilities until departure, and with some time before we had to head to the ship in Kirkenes, we made use of it. Another nice thing at the Snowhotel is the use of the snow equipment. You can take out snowshoes and/or cross-country skis at no additional cost, so after walking around and petting the dogs again, complete with a visit to see the 3-4 week old puppy, we went snowshoeing! We put some of their cold weather gear on, grabbed the snowshoes, and stopped at the entrance building to see where the trail was. I admit we didn’t stay out long, but we got quite the workout. It’s a hilly trail, and not being used to walking in these things, we were all exhausted after about 45 minutes or so.

After we got back and returned the gear, we relaxed in Gabba for a few minutes before it was time to head out on our bus. Looking back on our time at the Snowhotel, it couldn’t have provided a better start to the trip. We loved every second of it, and if you’re headed to Norway during the winter, I highly recommend a trip up here, it’s well worth the money and will provide memories that last a lifetime!

In my next post, I’ll be covering our (very) brief time on Hurtigruten’s MS Nordnorge, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy a few more pics of the Snowhotel!

A Night in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel – Part 1

Read about our stay at the Snowhotel in Kirkenes Norway, starting with our dog sledding excursion!

As mentioned in my Norway kickoff post, our first real stop on this adventure was in Kirkenes for some dog sledding and a night at the Snowhotel. We’d gone back and forth on the latter part, as it’s not cheap to stay there, but in the end decided that it was a once in a lifetime that we just had to do while we were there. We couldn’t have been happier with that decision :).

After flying up to Kirkenes from Oslo, we grabbed a cab from the airport to the hotel at a cost of around 250NOK. On arrival to the Snowhotel, we checked in to the main building, dropped our luggage, and were given a quick tour of the place by one of the hostesses. She did a really solid job of explaining how everything was going to work, walked us over to the actual snow hotel building, pointed out the heated cabins for those who don’t want to sleep in an ice cave, gave us a quick tour of the main area where dinner would be served, and where the private lounge for snow hotel guests was. Some shots from the walk:

We were also told that we were the only ones staying in a family-sized room, and as a result we’d have our choice of rooms in that category, so we should check them all out and let them know which we wanted. After walking through each of the family rooms, Bayley easily made the call, we were staying in the Frozen-themed room, which you can take a 360-degree tour of!

The artists who carve these rooms do amazing work, even down to a thinner ceiling to allow natural light in, visible in the above photo.

With that out of the way, we had some time before our dog sledding excursion began, so we walked over to the Gabba Restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat, as we hadn’t had lunch yet. Just grabbing a snack, I had a reindeer sausage, Jen had a salmon sandwich, and Bayley had a piece of cake. Not exactly a full meal, but enough to tide us over for the dog sledding, and delicious to boot!

When it came time for the excursion, we stepped out of Gabba to find the group already assembling. The dogs are all onsite, so we basically were leaving on the sleds from just a few feet outside of the restaurant. The guides were busy getting the dogs all sorted out, so after putting on the insulated overalls and balaclavas they provide, we headed over and waited by our assigned sleds. Jen and Bayley were in the lead, with me in the second one. After getting everything sorted and meeting our guides, we were off, sort of. Jen and Bayley’s dogs weren’t too keen on working with each other, so we did have a couple of early stops shortly after leaving to get that sorted, but they got it taken care of pretty quick.

I have to say, this is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and gave us some amazing views of the snow-covered landscape. Just check out some of this video!

At one point, we had the option to drive the sled (as shown in one of the pics above), and I jumped at it. I actually got to drive for two stints, since I was the only passenger on mine, and had a blast the entire time. I even managed to keep the sled upright :). Shortly after I gave the controls back, however, that changed. Right before the half-way point, we hit a corner faster than expected and took a tumble. I wasn’t expecting the shift in the sled, so I totally forgot to lean against it, which I’m sure didn’t help. Falling out into a bunch of light and fluffy snow meant no injuries, but the dogs were still running, sled in tow. Fortunately, the driver of the sled ahead of us was able to stop our sled as it raced by.

That was about the point where we were stopping for a break anyway, so the guides locked down the sleds, handed out some yummy warm juice, and set up a fire for us to warm up next to for a bit. It also gave us a chance to give the dogs some love, which we were all to happy to do:

After the stop ended, we continued on through the snowy tundra through the back half of the course, with scenery just as beautiful as the first half. Upon our arrival back at the hotel, all of the dogs who were left behind welcomed us (or their fellow pups) back rather loudly, as well!

After arriving back, we returned our cold weather gear, and went to rest for a bit before our Snowhotel stay really began. The trip was a ton of fun, and we were all really glad we spent the money. I highly recommend trying this if you get the chance!

Next up, I cover our actual stay in the Snowhotel, complete with dinner, drinks at the Ice Bar, and sleeping on a large block of ice!

Hotel Review – Holiday Inn Laurel West

Once again, life gets in the way and causes me to write this up a lot later than I wanted to, but hey, at least it’s finally done 🙂

While on our last minute trip to D.C. two weekends ago, we spent a night at the Holiday Inn Laurel West. We had to book the night before, so there really wasn’t much time to do research, other than reading a few reviews on some of the travel sites. One other factor limiting our options was the presence of our dog, but fortunately this hotel was pet friendly. Unfortunately, that was one of a very small number of positives of the stay.

Driving up as late as we did on Saturday, and stopping in the city for dinner before going to the hotel, we were both pretty tired when we arrived. After checking in, we grabbed our suitcase and the dog and headed up. The lobby itself was fine, but as soon as we got past the main desk, we could see that the hotel was definitely under renovation, as a number of reviews we found online mentioned (apparently this hotel is being converted to a Doubletree). No biggie at that point, it wasn’t busy when we got there, so the fact that only one elevator was operational wasn’t an issue. Arriving at the room, we realized they’d given us the wrong room type. Instead of a single bed, we had two doubles. Too tired to deal with it, we pretty much just changed, chose our beds, flipped on the TV for a while to relax before going to sleep. It wasn’t until Sunday that we really got a look at the hotel itself. Before I get to that, I’ll mention my other main positive of the stay, the mattresses. Both were Tempurpedic, or had Tempur toppers on them, and we found them very comfortable. We have a knock-off version at home that we love, so it was nice to not have to switch between memory foam and spring, even just for the night.

Here are my initial shots of our room, which had not undergone any renovation yet. Sorry about the blurry desk/TV shot, I was tired:

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The next morning, Bayley and her boyfriend were set to come meet us at the hotel just before 11am, so we had a chance to take the dog out for a walk and check out the hotel. The renovation is real, as we saw all of the old furnishings from some rooms stored on the back side of the hotel as shown below. I’d have liked to see an updated room, but we just had to deal with ours, which really looked dated compared to other Holiday Inns we’ve stayed at in the past. The inside of the hotel was more of the same. The hallways looked pretty run down, and as mentioned, only one elevator worked, so each time we went to use the elevator Sunday morning, we had to wait. One time we just gave up after watching two full elevators arrive, and took the stairs down. I never did get interior shots, other than the renovation sign, so here’s what I got outside:

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I can’t say how the cafe in the lobby or the steakhouse attached to the hotel were, as we didn’t use either, since both of our meals in D.C. were at the previously reviewed Scion Restaurant in DuPont Circle, but apparently the steakhouse, which is currently an All American Steakhouse and Sports Theater, used to be an Outback based on the signage in the hotel. No biggie, as I said, we didn’t eat at either place. We did notice that the breakfast buffet here, like other Holiday Inns we’ve stayed at, isn’t free. Not a huge deal to us since neither of us are really breakfast eaters, but with all of the work going on, maybe make that free during renovations as a way to thank guests for choosing to stay.

I can’t really say anything else about the place, other than we likely wouldn’t stay again while it’s undergoing renovations. We’ve been pretty happy with other Holiday Inns we’ve stayed at in the past, so this one was a bit disappointing. Overall thoughts:

Pros:

  • Comfortable Tempurpedic mattresses (or topper), at least to us
  • Clean room
  • Staff was friendly
  • dog friendly hotel
  • Stable (but slightly slow) internet access

Cons:

  • Obviously dated, both inside and out, but undergoing renovations
  • Only one working elevator, makes it hard to get in/out of the hotel during busy times like check-out
  • Paper thin walls, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. Not long after we got there, some family that apparently had rooms on either side of the floor started running down the halls and talking loudly. Not quite sure why they felt why that was warranted at 11pm, but after a few minutes or so, it subsided.
  • Very few available outlets in the room (and none on the nightstand), and the ones that were available had loose plugs, making it hard to keep devices connected. Normally I carry two of my favorite little Belkin accessories with me to counter this, but being so short notice, I forgot to grab them.
  • No fridge or microwave.
  • The security/privacy lock on the door didn’t work. In fact the cutout in the metal plate (receiving side) wasn’t even close to lining up with the latch.

I think that about covers it. It served the purpose of a quick overnight stay, but if we’re able to make it back up for a longer trip near the end of summer, we’ll be looking elsewhere. Anomalies happen within any brand, and overall it doesn’t sour us against staying at other IHG properties in the future.

Good Eats in DC – Scion Restaurant

Last weekend we made a completely unscheduled overnight trip up to DC. Bayley’s two weeks working at Woodward had come to an end, and both of her options for a ride home fell through, so early Saturday afternoon we hopped in the car and headed up to DC to get her. We decided to take our dog Indy with us, so before leaving Jen did a quick search to see if she could find a restaurant in the area that was dog-friendly (the search was literally “dog friendly restaurants in Washington DC“). The first hit in the results took her to BringFido, which led her to Scion Restaurant in the Dupont Circle area. It wasn’t all that close to our hotel, but we liked what we saw on the menu and decided to stop there for dinner as soon as we got to the city, so on the way up I used OpenTable to make a reservation for 7:45pm, noting that we had a dog with us.

When we arrived, parking was a bit of a hassle, but after hunting a bit we finally located a space on the street a few blocks away and walked over to the restaurant. When we got there, I stayed outside with Indy while Jen went to check in. While they had our reservation, the note that I put in OpenTable about having a dog with us apparently didn’t get transmitted to them, and as a result they weren’t quite ready to seat anyone with a dog since the end sections of the patio where they allow dogs weren’t set up. No matter, with a very friendly attitude they jumped right on it and set up the corner that had an awning over it and seated us quickly. Definitely a good start to the evening!

After being seated, we ordered our food and drinks. I decided to try something on draft, and chose the Sun King Wee Mac Scottish-style ale. I’m not a huge beer guy, so I don’t often call out what I drink, but this was one of the best beers I’ve had in quite a while. For my dinner, I ordered the Scion burger (sans onions and pickles) and Jen got the LBJ Mac and Cheese. I should also mention that when they brought our water out, they brought a plastic bowl full of water out for Indy, too, and kept it refilled while we were there. Nice touch!

While waiting on our food, it started raining pretty good, so we ended up switching tables in that same little corner area to avoid water runoff. I think due to water running in on the ground, Indy got a little wet (but not a big deal), but we stayed dry the whole time, even with the downpour it turned in to. Once the food arrived, we dug in. My burger was excellent, as were the garlic fries, which were some of the best garlic fries I’ve had. Jen’s mac and cheese was really good too, although she realized something we already knew from past experiences, that she’s not really a fan of lobster meat. Oops 🙂

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Overall we really liked everything we had, and the service was outstanding the entire time. Our experience that night led us to come back for brunch the next day with Bayley and her boyfriend. Thankfully it wasn’t raining this time, but the food and service were just as good. It was noticeably busier, but they had space for us in the opposite corner of the patio, so even at noon, we were seated right away. While I was tempted to get the Scion burger again, I ended up going with the cinnamon vanilla french toast. In a word: wow. It was absolutely delicious, and one of the only times that I’ve eaten french toast without any syrup. The vanilla drizzle was more than enough to top it, and I enjoyed every bite. Jen got the New Orleans Benedict (See the above ‘brunch’ link for a description), and while she enjoyed most of it, she wasn’t a big fan of the Cajun Hollandaise sauce that was on it. Bayley went with a side of mac and cheese and breakfast potatoes, both of which were delicious, and her boyfriend had the Scion burger.

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As mentioned throughout this post, both meals were absolutely delicious, and the service was outstanding. The Dupont Circle neighborhood that the restaurant is in is pretty cool, even if it was a pain to find parking (all parking garages we found were closed both times). We wish we could have spent more time in the area, but being on a compressed schedule that had us arriving in DC around 8pm Saturday and leaving right after brunch on Sunday, we simply didn’t have any time. Hopefully we’ll get some time to drive back up late in the summer before Bayley goes back to college. If we do, we’ll definitely be stopping at Scion again!

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