Northern Norway Part 4 – A cathedral, skiing, zip line & the ice hotel
I instantly regretted pickled fish over breakfast. After a quick transfer of luggage to our new hotel, we visited the imposing Northern Light Cathedral, Alta. This spiralling titanium-clad building was opened in 2013 and perfectly represents the Northern Lights inside and out. From the outside, the titanium tiles reflect whatever colours are in the sky, the spiralling concrete base curls up like an upturned square snail.
Inside, slate tiles line the curved entrance way, a large concrete column with a gold ladder inside dominates the centre, a modern-looking organ on the left hand wall stands proudly above the rows of seats sat on upended oak-blocked flooring. The centrepiece of the main room is a bronze statue of Christ in front of a strong blue background.
Jon from North Adventures gave us an incredibly informative talk about the cathedral, with a few humorous tales. The bronze statue of Christ was designed and created in Tuscany and was shipped over by lorry. It is the law that vehicles in Norway are fitted with winter tyres, so when the lorry arrived it was not allowed to enter at the border until winter tyres were fitted. The newspapers got a hold of the story with headlines such as “Christ not allowed to enter Norway”.
On January 2000, a stone was laid to mark the centre of the proposed cathedral, with a ceremony that the whole town turned out for. Five years later once plans had been finalised, the stone was picked up moved five metres to the actual centre of the cathedral.
There were concerns about the acoustics of the cathedral, so a sound engineer suggested vertical strips of metal placed on the curving concrete walls. Lights were then placed on the underside of the strips which inadvertantly (or not) has a distinct resemblance to…The Northern Lights of course!
We were picked up by bus (the longest bus I’ve ever seen) from Alta, we past through a wintry landscape, over frozen rivers and past snowy peaks. Crumpled sheets of thick ice lined the fjord shorelines, liquid movement frozen in time.
Our first stop was a ski and multi-activity centre near Alta where our first activity was skiing. We got issued with skis, boots and poles, then hit the slopes. The T-bar proved a little problematic but we were soon at the top of the main run, with incredible views down onto the fjords below.
There were only a few runs, but Seraphina (Mountain Kingdoms), Richard (TK), Nat (Exodus), Lizzy (TK) and I did a few laps while the rest of the group took photos and relaxed in the small cafe at the top of the lift. We all regathered in the hut for a quick coffee.
Back at the centre we handed back our skis and popped on a harness, helmet and snowshoes. We followed an instructor through the snow to our first short zip line.
Our instructor explained how our lanyards operated and which carabiner attaches to which cable. We all felt clumsy with the snowshoes as we made our way up a steep slope which was also the only black run in the small resort. Passing through the trees, Nat, Seraphina and I were glad to get the snowshoes off.
Our instructor had been heating a well-received pot of coffee on a tripod over a fire above two wires and a small platform. We sat and waited our turn on the second zip line.
One-by-one we were connected up to the cable and held onto the pulley before whizzing off down the 50-metre wire, lifting our legs high to avoid the snow trench that had been dug just below the platform. The end took us all by surprise and was far more aggressive than we’d imagined, flinging us up in the air as the pulley took our momentum.
Back in the lodge, we were served probably the most delicious stew I’ve ever tasted, a Sami traditional dish that was the perfect tummy-warmer for a chilly group of adventure seekers.
Once we’d dried out and warmed up, we thanked our hosts and made our way to the Sorrisniva Ice Hotel (TK).
We began our visit with a tour around the wooden outbuildings that houses the restaurant, reception, showers and lounge. On the patio a couple sipped champagne in the hot tub whilst our host explained how the Northern Lights were visible from that very point. He also described the spiel he gives to all guests upon arrival, about the sleeping bags, how to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, and how to stay warm whilst sleeping in the ice hotel.
Outside was an eight-foot high mass of snow and ice roughly the size of four tennis courts. On the front was am arch and door, the entrance to the actual ice hotel itself. I really didn’t know what to expect from the ice hotel but knew that each year a theme was chosen for the ice art within the hotel. This year was Ice Age.
The moody-blue lights illuminated the main area within the hotel and numerous beautiful ice sculptures adorned the walls and ceiling.
To the left lay a corridor along which openings led into a variety of different rooms. Over each archway hung a curtain with a room number and ice-encased light to show the way.
Each room was different, with some very basic 8×8 feet cave-like spaces through to much larger rooms with fancy bed design and couches.
Each bed was made from strips of wood embedded on the bed base, on top of which lay a foam mattress and reindeer hide for warmth. I found the rooms to be incredibly claustrophobic and was expecting more from just a foam mattress somehow.
Back out in the main hotel area, I visited the in-house chapel (weddings have been conducted in the hotel) before the group congregated at the bar. Our host poured us a shot of vodka and blue caracao in a cubed shot glass made of ice. The shot didn’t taste too strong, but I love the ice crockery and bottle holder behind the bar.
Back in the domed restaurant we were treated to a delightful meal next to the roaring open fire. I got my hopes up when we were each given a traditional Sami knife for our main course, only to later realise it was not in fact a present and just for cutting our food.
The night was certainly not over. We were met in the foyer by two Sami men dressed in colourful traditional dress. After getting another fantastic boiler suit and insulated boots, we were led around the back of the ice hotel and introduced to a group of reindeer who would be pulling our sleds for the evening. I sat with Sandra from Innovation Norway on our two-person sled as our rather wild and slightly crazy reindeer towed us through the night. I had mixed feelings about the whole experience, the reindeer didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as the huskies from the previous evening (in fact I don’t they enjoyed it at all), but luckily the ride wasn’t too far.
We stopped at a traditional Sami lavu (TK) tent and gathered around the central fire as one of our guests explained the traditions of one of the oldest cultures in the world.
We were also treated to some throat singing from the wife of one of the Sami men leading the reindeer. The sound was rather abrasive and atonal, but very unique. Back outside we mounted our sleds and made our way back to the ice hotel. We said goodbye and thanked our hosts, then got the bus back to our hotel for a much-needed rest. It had been a full on day and we had another action-packed day ahead!