I sat, sipping on a frosty libation. There was no chance of it losing its chill, as it rested in a glass made of ice. The table below it was also a thick slab of frozen water; the floor below my feet, a bed of snow, and the walls around me, amazing snowy constructs with art carved into the expanses. We’d made it to the Kirkenes Snow Hotel in Norway’s arctic circle.
I watched my kids crush the glasses at the urging of the hotel staff and squeal in delight, and it struck me what a once-in-a-lifetime adventure we were on. I thought about my grandmother who always wanted to travel abroad, but never could. Here we were, not only in the places she would have gone, but toting along small children who could barely synthesize the magnitude of the trip.
As I finished my drink, I realized that the highlight of this trip was not the reindeer feeding, snowmobiling or anticipation of aurora borealis sightings. There was something deeply inspiring, and it came from the understated and humble Norwegian people. In just the past few days, they had reinvigorated my faith in humanity. Let me explain.
I’d given strangers plenty of chances to take advantage of us up until this point. When I lost my cell phone on the plane, a stranger turned it in and I somehow got it back in Oslo. When I left my phone in an Uber that same night, the driver worked for three days to track me down and return it. When I lost my backpack with all of our cash and passports, another stranger turned it in — not a krone missing.
But these strangers were not just moral and kind. They also had a knack for making the most out of their circumstances. We were shocked to see that in the same weather conditions we have back home, Norwegians would choose to dine on outdoor patios. Lovely tables and chairs donned heavy blankets for each patron and they’d bring their dogs along for the meal. The busiest place in Oslo on a chilling day was Korketrekkeren, a thrilling 2,000-meter sledding hill with views of the city. Frogner Park was no less populated. I took in the amazing statues of the park as my toes froze solid, but the passing lovebirds seemed unfazed by the conditions.
The technology and infrastructure left me wondering why we didn’t tunnel all of our freeways underground back home. The food left me wondering how the best meal of my life could be five courses of cod! This place was brimming with talented, smart people who would never dream of telling you so. They lived rich, progressive lives and were humble in their riches.
Perhaps the most potent inspiration came from the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, where my husband bought books to remember all of the people who had dedicated their lives to uplifting others. We talked for hours about how young these people were when they made their impact, and how most of their contributions were made by simply speaking up. What a great reminder that we all have that ability, and are thus on the precipice for change.
As we left the artsy Oslo airport for home, I felt a sense of lightness I hadn’t felt in awhile. With a renewed sense of faith in others, I was inspired to work on myself. There’s something to be said for surrounding yourself with good and positive people, and that’s exactly what we did in Norway.
What it’s like to sleep in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel?
- Hotel staff take you and the other guests for a tour of the grounds and snow hotel — which sits a few miles from the Russian border, and needs to be rebuilt every year — showing off the icy artwork in each of the 20-or-so rooms.
- Dinner is served in the lodge’s large dining area, where you get to know the other guests and eat super fresh local courses, including reindeer.
- The bartender at the ice bar serves up after-dinner cocktails in glasses made of ice.
- After playing games or winding down in the lodge, hotel staff show you how to best keep warm during the night. They advise just one layer of clothing, one pair of hotel-furnished wool socks and head and face coverings. You’d do best to burrow into your sleeping bag, which keeps you toasty up to -20 degrees.
- Once in your room, it’s cold enough that you’ll want to immediately hop into you bag. Good luck staying warm if you need to get up and head back into the connected lodge for the toilet!
- In the morning, wake up to a frost-covered sleeping bag and immediately scurry into the lodge. Get your certificate signed that proves you braved a night in the freezing cold snow hotel!
Linsey Birusingh, 500 RYT, leads retreats and adventures through her company, Yoga Thrill Adventures. She also teaches at Power Life Yoga and guides trauma-sensitive yoga for women around Des Moines. Off the mat, she is a journalist, TV host, traveler, adventurer, mother and wife.