Cabane à sucre (A Sweet Death by Maple Syrup)

maple season cans

Springtime in Quebec means it’s now maple syrup season!

maple heist

Maple syrup here is a serious deal. A few years ago, there was a heist at the Quebec Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve … I know, you don’t believe me. It happened in 2012 and you can read about by following the link!

Springtime means Maple Syrup Festivals!



This is about 2 minutes from our front door … close down the streets, have a festival

If you really want the full maple syrup experience (and really, who doesn’t?), you want to get outside of the city and go to one of the many cabane à sucre located through out Quebec.

Growing up in Ontario, we had “sugar shacks”, which is the translation in words only. You’d go, you’d see how they make maple syrup now and how it was done in the ‘olden days’, then you’d buy some maple candy, possibly get pancakes, go for a hay ride on a horse drawn cart and go home.

Quebec it’s a full experience, with a huge traditional meal (followed by dancing in the discotheque … yea, it’s about as amazing as you’d imagine!)


Of course, you’ll be greeted by the image of thousands of buckets tapping thousands of trees … the old wagon wheel thrown in there for atmosphere?


But it’s inside the cabane that you’ll find all the treats!

First of all, most cabanes are designed so it will feel like a home meal. Big long tables, communal seating.


Now, let’s look at the food you can expect … other than maple syrup



There’s usually ham (glazed in maple syrup), eggs (with maple syrup), baked beans with pork (and maple syrup), sausages (cooked in maple syrup), a myriad of maple based desserts, pea soup (the one non-maple infiltrated food) and the traditional treat oreilles de crisse!


Now, if you understand French, you may be a bit concerned about eating Christ’s ears … don’t worry, these are just pork jowls that are deep fried until super crispy, and then you drizzle maple syrup on them. Yes … a wonderful crunchy, salty, sweet treat that only Quebec would figure out!

The final treat of the night is tire sur neige or tire sur neige d’erable or tire de neige … any way you call this, it’s just this … you take hot maple syrup and pour it on snow …

Then, you let it cool for about 30 seconds, place a stick on the cooling maple syrup, and start to roll it up.


Pure maple taffy on a stick …


you want this …


So good, you may want to steal millions of dollars worth of maple syrup from the strategic reserve … see, now it all makes more sense!

Springtime in Quebec! Bon Apetit!





Madrid – An Unexpected Adventure


Okay, so here’s the backstory …

In October 2013 I was lucky enough to get cast in a commercial that was shooting in Madrid, Spain. (Oh, yea … I’m a professional actor, doing commercials, TV, film, etc.). Like it is with most castings, you find out you got the job just days before you are filming, so this sudden trip to Madrid was not something that had crossed my mind.

My first thought … where exactly is Madrid?


Madrid, as it turns out, is smack dab in the middle of Spain. I can’t think of another big city I’ve ever visited that didn’t have some kind of waterfront. I knew nothing of what to expect. I spent a few days feverishly scouring the internet to find out all I could before I was off to the city for a week.


This is me when I have to get up at a very early hour to get a flight to Chicago, from where I will be getting a connecting flight to Madrid … 14 hours of travel, here I come!


Hmm, the airplane food isn’t terrible … and I’m on the Spanish national airline … this bodes well for what I’ll find there

So, after 14 hours of travel (including a Home Alone style run through Chicago O’Hare airport to not miss my flight from Chicago to Madrid), I finally arrive

After a car picks me up from the airport and drops me at the hotel, it’s a quick shower and then they need me in wardrobe … the driver just waits for me to get ready

It’s about 10am, (though my body thinks it’s much later) and we’re driving through a city that looks pretty damn cool … maybe I’ll even get to see it?

After a couple of hours getting fitted for outfits I would wear on the day, I’m told that I won’t be needed again until Thursday morning. I ask what they need me to do.

“Have you seen The Prado Museum? You should go see that!”  With that advice, I’m given my per diem and sent on my way. It’s Monday, it’s about noon, and I am free to explore this city, one which I never really had given much thought to,  for 3 days.  My first decision, get lunch!

In most restaurants in Madrid, there is a Menu del Dia served during the day. It’s a fixed price meal of usually a soup, main course and dessert with a drink (note, as you can see above, my included ‘drink’ is a bottle of red wine and a bottle of sparkling water to mix it with … yes, a bottle of each!). At about 9 euros for the entire meal, this is definitely the best way to eat while in Spain!

Walking around the city I couldn’t get over how much it reminded me of Paris … with a touch of Rome. I often describe it as what would have happened if Paris and Rome had a child.

All this walking is making me want to stop at cafe (cafeteria in Spanish) and get a lovely pastry and coffee!


Yea, that’s more like it!

Okay, maybe I just get this out of the way with a mosaic off all my tasty coffee and snacks!

Do I know what all these things are called? Nope! I can tell you there’s a tuna pie, a dish that is basically cheese baked on bread and folded over … just good stuff

In the heart of the city is the stunning Retiro Park

Located nearby are the 3 big art galleries … the Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia


No pictures allowed inside … this is the amazing fountain across the street … of course, you didn’t think I wasn’t going to sneak pictures inside, right?

All that art was a bit overwhelming … time for a break

Beer and a lovely calamare bocadillo on a terrace … this will do!

In Madrid, everyone goes out for dinner all the time … after 10pm. The city really comes alive at night

Now, I wasn’t going to go to Madrid and not partake in some amazing paella. First, I had to find the right restaurant …


Yea, any place with a front window like this … I’m gonna try it

Served table side, with chicken, chorizo, saffron …  yes, this was amazing. Don’t worry, next post I’m going to show you how to do a paella at home!

Although I was given breakfast daily at the hotel


I still had to have a treat I had been told many times about in the few days I was hearing about Madrid


Churros y chocolate … yep, a cup of melted chocolate and a plate of hot churros to dip in the chocolate

I got to see much in my unexpected week in Madrid, but obviously there is so much more. One day I plan to go back, this time take Claire … an amazing city that I had never really ever given much thought to, but now I think about it often.


Reykjavík – A Visit to Iceland in February

Reykjavik winter

In February of 2014 we capped off our Scandinavian winter adventure with 4 days in Iceland


Having landed at the airport in Keflavik we immediately got on our shuttle bus taking us to Reykjavik, where we’d be put on another bus to our hotel. Grabbing handfuls of brochures at the airport, we eagerly tried to figure out all the cool things we’d do over the next four days.


I think during that drive the first thing I noticed about Iceland was that there were NO TREES. There also were very few signs of anyone until we got close to the city. This would be a scary place to have your car break down


Here’s what you see as you approach Reykjavik …

We arrived at our hotel, located at the corner of two very unpronounceable streets


The temperature here was around -5C, which coming off our time in the north of Sweden, seemed almost tropical!

Okay, you probably see that picture and wonder what I am so majestically looking out upon … (yea, that’s my best majestic look)



At the bottom of our street was a shallow, frozen lake. This would be great for taking a short cut to the other side!

Looked solid enough. Having spent a few weeks nurturing my inner adventurer, I decided best way to find out was to just walk across it


Brave adventurer has no fear!


This totally looks safe!


Yea, it’s all good. This little island of land is right in the centre of the lake.

In the area behind us, close to shore, there is an area of the lake that has hot water piped in, keeping part of the lake unfrozen for the ducks and swans!

We had come up with a general plan of going horseback riding on the lava fields the next day and visiting the Blue Lagoon hot springs and spa the day after that. Today we would walk around the city a bit, and then find a good place for our Valentine’s Day dinner!


The main shopping street was just a block over, so we headed to that and just walked uphill. Heck, seemed like as good a plan as any!

You want a stuffed animal that looks like a puffin and says Iceland, or perhaps a plastic horned Viking helmet? (must note here, actual Vikings never wore horned helmets!) This was definitely the street to go for that!

Wait, what’s this?


Iceland has a very unique sense of humour and kitsch. Behold, Lebowski Bar. It’s pretty much what you think … a restaurant and bar based on The Big Lebowski. With burgers named after The Dude, Walter, Donny and even The Nihilists (it’s chicken fingers, because they believe in nothing), this is probably the only Cohen brothers inspired restaurant I’ll ever come across … though if I ever see Chez Barton Fink, I may have to check it out!

(Okay, I did go in and have a “Walter” burger … I’m not made of stone!)


This is way better than “NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE”

For Valentine’s Day, we opted for something a little more down to earth. We ended up at a wonderful little place called Cafe Loki


night view


Located across the street from the spectacular Hallgrímskirkjathis cafe offered us a chance at some authentic Icelandic food … which as it turns out, is a mixed blessing

Claire, never one to shy away from a challenge, had heard many times of the Icelandic delicacy Hákarl

For those who don’t know what this is, here’s the basic rundown.

You take a Greenland shark, which is toxic, and let it ferment for 6-12 weeks. You then let it dry, cut away the brown crust, cut it into cubes and eat it. This gives it a very strong scent of ammonia (oh, and taste of it too!). While no longer toxic, it’s a stretch to say it has made this edible!

Time to order, I wisely go for a lovely lamb stew. Claire, goes for a special traditional plate called a  Þorramatur


A collection of traditional dishes, prepared to celebrate during the month of (English spelling here) Thorri, let’s get a run down of the things she’ll be eating …

There’s some Icelandic rye bread, liver sausage, blood sausage, smoked lamb, dry fish. These are all pretty tasty. Then there were a few things we didn’t recognize … and that little square on a toothpick, yea, that’s the hakarl

Note the toothpick with the Icelandic flag … that is attached to a food I will get to in a moment!

At this point I think that maybe if I can just quietly eat my stew …


Unfortunately, marriage is about sharing …

So, Claire tries the hakarl, making sure to save a bit for me, as there is no way she’s going to do this alone. Watching her face, I knew it was bad. Now, as it happens, we’ve got a video of ME trying it!

Imagine fish that has been sitting in blue cheese for a few months and then a cat came over and peed on it … yea, that’s about it

Okay, nothing could be worse than that. Everything’s okay now ….

That innocent looking cube of “food” with the Icelandic flag is known as Súrsaðir hrútspungar. Having just eaten the hakarl, I was feeling pretty confident I had just tasted the worst thing I ever would in my entire life. I was right for 30 seconds.

Súrsaðir hrútspungar is the testicles of a ram, pressed into a cube, boiled and then fermented in lactic acid (the sour part of sour milk!). My best description of taste of that is traumatizing.

Time for dessert. Again, something a bit strange … rye bread ice cream


Now, Icelandic rye bread is not like what you are used to here. Cooked very slowly, traditionally in volcanic steam vents, the starches turn to sugar. Icelandic rye is dense and sweet … and unique. When mixed in with a base vanilla ice cream, the results are fantastic.

Valentine’s Day meal is saved! This almost erased the memory of the Súrsaðir hrútspungar


I think Reykjavik is more beautiful at night


Time for bed. After all, tomorrow we take Icelandic horses out on the lava fields!


Icelandic horses are smaller, more hairy, and hella fast! They have 2 more gaits than horses elsewhere in the world. The unique “tolt” is pretty fast yet totally smooth … for anyone who knows about riding a horse, this means you can sit flat in the saddle while moving faster than a trot!


on horse

Oh, riding in the winter is cold …


This was what most of terrain looked like. You really didn’t want to fall off!

Our excursion included lunch. As we got to the dining room, as Claire headed off to wash up, she jokingly said “Well, hope it’s not another Thorri platter!”




Okay, it wasn’t just the platter … and we DID have brennivin to wash away the taste of the ram testicles this time. Yes, we did eat it … we’re Canadian, and we’d rather eat fermented testicles and cat-pee flavoured shark than be rude.

We got back with time to again explore the city

Some advice to anyone visiting, eating at restaurants is very expensive. Groceries on the other hand (other than any vegetables) are quite affordable. Try to stay somewhere with a kitchenette so you can prepare your own breakfasts … this will save you a lot of money!

Last full day, and we’re off to the famous geothermal spa, The Blue Lagoon


Located in the middle of a volcanic wasteland, time to go swimming outside in -5C weather!

Gonna get into that water quickly when you can see ice on all the rocks!

The water was milky and pale blue … and so wonderfully warm!

Okay, after being sufficiently melted, time to head back and have one last meal before heading back to Canada. This time, really gonna try to avoid ram testicles!

After much exploring, we found a wonderful little bar where our choices for food were lamb stew in a bread bowl … or not eating anything


I think we made the right choice!

So, there’s a very brief recap of our introduction to Reykjavik and Iceland. Oh, we’re definitely going to go back!









Bienvenue à Montréal / Welcome to Montreal


It has now been six months since we packed up our lives in Toronto and moved to Montreal.

Now, for all of you who aren’t so familiar with the distances, it’s about 540km,


The trip takes about 6 hours by car, if you make a couple of pit stops and the traffic is light. Might not sound too bad, but if you do this trip with a dog and cat, well … it feels like quite a bit longer!

When people think of Montreal, they think winter. Winter is absolutely a huge part of the identity of the city. We moved in mid-July, on the hottest day of the year, with temperature getting up to near 40C. My first impressions of Montreal were not of a cold, snowy place!


Just watching the movers carry furniture up those stairs in that heat … they were gonna get a good tip!

Here’s a quick little tip for surviving the heat in Montreal if you don’t have air conditioning … on every corner there is a dépanneur (corner store). Just about every one of them has a walk in beer fridge. When you get too hot, go shopping for beer. Walk around until you are cooled off. You don’t need to buy beer every time … you may want to, but if you’re going there once an hour to cool off, probably isn’t the best idea!

Just for fun, let’s look at this same street, same view on Dec 29th …


People in Montreal can talk about the weather forever, so let’s just come to the mutual understanding that the weather here can be extreme and move on to my favourite topic here, the FOOD!

Okay, it’s breakfast time, which here in Montreal can mean only on thing …


Montreal bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. (If you live in the west part of the island, you oddly pronounce the ‘l’ in salmon … just a thing I noticed.)

Want a big debate here? Ask someone where to get the best bagels! Myself, I go weekly to pick up piping hot bagels from Fairmount Bagel. How much do I like them compared to anyone else?


I trek out in -25C weather to get my bagels!

The other bakery you’ll hear mentioned all the time is St. Viateur Bagel, just down the street from Fairmount. Both bagels are pretty fantastic, but I have my favourite. Also, if you go to Fairmount, you can drop in to the famous Wilensky’s next door for a special. 


It’s a  grilled beef baloney sandwich. It can be ordered with cheese or without … that’s really the only choice you get. Get a side of pickles and a cherry coke (or my favourite, a vanilla egg creme). This is a Montreal classic!

Wait a minute … what about poutine?  I hope that by now, you all know me better than to think I was going to miss poutine!

Here in Montreal, I’d classify poutine into two categories:


Classic Poutine – This is your basic fries, cheese curds and gravy. It’s best if bought at a greasy spoon (or as one native of Montreal put it, a dirty place), or off a food truck! This wonderful mess you see above is from my favourite classic poutine joint Poutine Lafleur right near us in Verdun. It’s done right, where the container is half filled with fries, then covered in gravy, then more fries, then more gravy … then cheese curds completely smother the top … and then MORE GRAVY!

Have it with a beer … it’s not like this is gonna be healthy anyway!


Fancy Poutine – This is the poutine you get where you have many, many choices of toppings. Above some classics from our favourite fancy poutine place, La Banquise! Chicken and peas, or sour cream, guacamole and tomatoes, or bacon and hot dogs … yea, the combinations are fantastic. Claire still talks about the time she got their special Christmas dinner poutine, with tourtière filling, chicken and cranberry sauce on top!

Poutine is also the go to food if you’re heading home from the bar and possibly had a few too many … point of note, if you can’t finish your poutine, you can take it home and heat it up tomorrow


Montreal post party night hangover magic … add a fried egg to your poutine you couldn’t eat last night! Hey, I’m not a proud man …

For some more quintessential Montreal, we have to go to a Habs game!


For any of you who aren’t familiar the Habs is the nickname of Montreal’s legendary NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens

A little background here. The Canadiens have the most wins, most Stanley Cup championships and are the oldest team in the NHL (dating back to 1909, well before the NHL existed). The love for them here in Montreal is unchallenged.

Okay, now you’re starting to fit in (other than your terrible French … or maybe that is actually making you fit in even more!)

Montreal is very much about enjoying the winter.

At Parc Jean Drapeau , you can attend the  Fête des neigesa winter carnival that happens for four weekends starting in mid-January


A ferris wheel? A zip line? Tube slide? Wait, is that maple taffy?!


This wonderful magic is maple taffy, created by pouring hot maple syrup into the snow and letting it cool for about 30 seconds, then you take a stick and roll up the maple taffy!

You know I’m gonna do this …


Pretty sure I could feel exactly where my pancreas was located in my body after eating one maple taffy stick … but worth it!

Now, I’ve just touched the surface of life here in Montreal

The photos above are just a preview of things to come, stories to tell

Hope you’ll join us on our journey!



Kaffeost – Coffee Cheese!


Up in Northern Sweden we discovered a new way to have coffee, and it’s delicious! Yes, it’s coffee with cheese … a sweet, spongy cheese.

Once we got home, we discovered that it was near impossible to find a source for this kaffeost. As I researched importers, Claire came up with what anyone who knows her would call a “Claire idea” … why don’t we just make our own?

Make our own cheese? Like, from scratch?

We looked into it, and as long as we used whole milk instead of traditional reindeer milk … not only was it possible, it really wasn’t too difficult and could done in an afternoon!

Here’s how it’s done.


What you’ll need:

  • 2L of whole milk
  • 60 ml of heavy cream
  • 2 tsp of rennet

and that’s it for ingredients … seriously

You’ll also want a thermometer and some cheesecloth!

Where do you get rennet? It can be ordered online. We got ours from a site called Make Cheese (Our webstore should be up and running soon and hopefully we’ll have some there for sale too!)


Pour the milk into a large pot and place it on the stove top.


Add the cream

Now, we needed to prepare the rennet. Ours came in tablets that had to be dissolved in water first.

1/4 of a tablet dissolved in a little distilled water was supposed to do the trick, but we found we needed half a tablet.


Wait about 15 min for the rennet tablet to dissolve

Warm up the milk and cream to 37C (around body temperature). Remove from the heat.


While stirring add the rennet!


Now, we play the waiting game! Let the pot sit for about an hour.

Internet magic, an hour has passed … did it solidify?


It did, but the curds are small. Warm the mixture back up to 37C while moving the curds towards the centre with a slotted spoon.


Once you have the curds in the centre … or as good as you’ll get … warm the mixture up to just under a boil.

Laddle the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander or strainer.

fold the cloth over top and press out as much liquid as you can!

The curds will be very hot … I found this out the hard way!

The reason for that last round of heating is you need the curds to be hot or when you press them at this stage, they won’t stick together and you won’t have a solid cheese in the end.

Temperatures in cheesemaking are important, much like when you make candy (oh, the disasters I’ve had trying to make candy!)



You’ll want to place something heavy on top of the cheese and leave it pressing the water out for at least a couple of hours.


We found a pot filled with water to be an excellent weight for this!

Again, internet magic … and a few hours have passed.


We remove the pot … now the moment of truth as we open the cloth …




Take your cheese and place it into an oven proof dish.


Place it into an oven heated to 350F and bake until golden.


Dog’s don’t understand that we bake this to add flavour … sorry Pippi, you’re just going to have to wait.

Some more internet magic and …


So grab your knife and your kåsa (or guksi) and let’s have some kaffeost!



cut the cheese in small cubes.


about the size of sugar cubes


Drop a few into your kåsa (if you don’t have this traditional cup carved out of a birch burl, any coffee cup will do, don’t worry!)


Pour the coffee over the cheese. The cheese will float to the top. This cheese does not melt!


This wonderful kaffeost will absorb coffee like a sponge. Take out a piece with a spoon and enjoy. It will squeak when you bite into it and you’ll have coffee and a sweet, creamy cheese fill your mouth.

And there you have it … homemade coffee cheese!


Bon apetit!

Jokkmokk – An outdoor market in arctic Sweden … in February


Jokkmokk, a city just north of the arctic circle, with a population of less than 3,000 residents.


It is the location of an annual market for the Sámi people (traditional reindeer herders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia), held in February, every year, for over 400 years.

An outdoor market above the arctic circle in February? COUNT US IN!

For years, Claire had told me about this market, Jokkmokk Marknad. She told me that one day we would go. Claire’s like that, she doesn’t use words like ‘should try’ to go … we ‘would go’.

Sure enough, in February 2014 we headed up to Jokkmokk and the market!


When we first arrived, I was a bit disappointed. Here I was, above the arctic circle in Sweden … I expected reindeer and dog sleds … and I got Volvos and pick-up trucks.

As we approached the entrance, things changed.

Yes, people in line had brought their own reindeer hooked up to sleds. You know, to pull the kids, because lets face it, kids are really slow (especially in snow).

Okay, THIS was more like it!


First order of business … I heard there were some reindeer races?

Yup, that’s right. Before I knew it we were standing on a frozen lake getting ready to watch REINDEER RACES!

Before the race starts, the people sing a joik. This is a tradition folk music of the Sámi people. The music echoed across the lake and bounced back off the hills … amazing

Now, the race begins!

Let me explain a reindeer race … the reindeer aren’t really totally sure why they are there. They get all decked out, have a sled attached to them … yea, they do that all the time.

The people standing around start to ring bells and make noise. The reindeer, well, they try to get away from all that noise. You can see the people are laying down on their stomachs on these sleds. It’s because, you’re gonna fall off, this way you don’t have too far to fall!

I think I may have seen two people actually cross the finish line still on the sled.

Okay, standing in the cold watching these races made me hungry. Surely there would be interesting food here … again, the market did not disappoint!

I found a few vendors selling Suovas.  Suovas itself is smoked reindeer, sliced thinly. I chose to go to the Suovas Kungen (the Suovas King)  for my snack!  I was getting a ‘street food’ serving.


The suovas was served wrapped in a tunnbröd (a Swedish flat bread), with a creamy lingonberry sauce drizzled on top. Kind of a Sámi shawarma!

How was it? Absolutely delicious! Very smokey, tender meat … nice and hot, which in this situation is probably the most desired thing!

The other way to warm up is coffee. Of course, up north, they do it a bit differently.


This is coffee with kaffeost, which literally means coffee cheese. The cheese has a spongy texture, similar to haloumi. It isn’t aged and it hasn’t been salted or made savoury in any way, so it really is just creamy and a bit sweet.

The cheese is cut into small cubes and placed in a cup. Once coffee is poured on it, the cheese absorbs the coffee (it doesn’t melt at all).

Amazingly tasty … you’ll all get a chance to try it if you like . Tomorrow we’ll be posting a recipe for making your own kaffeost at home!

Okay, so we didn’t come here just to eat … time for us to see the Market!

Winter fair, Jokkmokk, Norrbotten, Sweden

Many vendors from Finland, Norway and even Russia

Lots of traditional crafts, reindeer skins, hats, boots, gloves …


Reindeer pulling sleighs!


also many opportunities to pet a reindeer … having just discovered how tasty they were, I thought it would be better if I didn’t get too attached!

It was getting towards dinner time. I’m not gonna say it was getting dark. We’re talking the arctic in February … so it’s either getting dark or dark most of the day. It had been dark since early afternoon!



What’s more Swedish than pizza?  (Seriously, Swedes eat more pizza than ANYONE!)

Of course, this pizza has smoked reindeer (suovas) and lingonberry cream sauce on it. Certainly never had something like this before! In case you are wondering … yes, it was delicious.

What happens after dinner at the Market?

A beer tent!

This is something a Canadian can understand!




Thus was our day at Jokkmokk Marknad. We came a long distance and were warmly welcomed by the people of Jokkmokk and the Sámi .

This is why we travel! (I don’t think we’ll look at reindeer the same way again).

Hej då!





The Ice Hotel (Sweden)


Located about 220km north of the Arctic Circle, on the banks of the Torne river, is Sweden’s Ice Hotel. This was a destination that Claire had been talking about since we met. In February of 2014 we actually got a chance to do this!


We began our trip from the town of Luleå. We’re fortunate enough to have family there (I’ll tell you much more about the town in a future post!) and they offered to drive us to the Ice Hotel, located in Jukkasjärvi, about 20 minutes outside of Kiruna, a large mining town in Northern Sweden.


The two hour drive was spectacular. The snow and isolation made it seem like a dream. Trees had curved all the way to the ground under the weight of snow. Every so often, we’d pass a reindeer standing along the side of the road.


After about an hour and a half of seeing nothing but snow and reindeer, Claire’s cousin announces that she “knows this great little place to get a coffee and perhaps a treat”  (Fika, as it’s called in Sweden). Sure enough, she pulls off the road and drives up to this tiny little cafe in the middle of this arctic panorama.

Yes, it was a great place for Fika

Half an hour later, seemingly out of nowhere, it appeared.



What seemed like a crazy idea was happening. We had somehow come from Toronto all the way to this remote village 220km north of the Arctic Circle … in February … and there really was a hotel made entirely of ice.


Now, the Ice Hotel has two main structures. One is permanent, and is made of wood and brick and all the things we expect. It’s heated and it’s where you check in, store your bag (your stuff will freeze if left in the rooms), go to the washroom and the sauna.

The other structure is what we came to experience. A hotel made entirely of ice and snow. Carved and assembled every year, as come May the hotel melts back into the Torne river. We were staying at the 24th Ice Hotel.

We checked in, got our guest lanyards (it has become a tourist destination where people come just to see it, but don’t stay overnight, so guests have special lanyards telling staff they’re the brave ones who are going to stay!)

Now it was time to go inside, take a tour of the facility and the special art rooms. These art rooms (a special few rooms out of the approximately 60 rooms), were individually designed and carved by artisans flown in from around the globe. Each had a special theme or story.


Walking inside, first thing we noticed were the ice chandeliers in the hallways. We walked on until we came to our first art room.


This fun room was called Pole Dancing, featuring images and sculptures of dancing polar bears having a party. Claire decided to join in for a while!

My favourte was the room called It’s Alive!


Carved and designed to invoke the laboratory of a mad Dr. Frankenstein, this room was stunning. Not only levers and dials, but the ‘tesla coils’ on either side of the bed would flash with a strobe whenever the big red button was pushed. (I pushed it far too many times for any grown man)


Here, in a room entitled AfterThe BIg Bang , you can go to sleep in a shattered snow globe … okay, so that’s pretty cool

Alright, so we had seen a lot of rooms. Yes, they were all amazing. Now, wasn’t there supposed to be an Ice Bar?


HOLY CRAP, I AM IN THE ICE BAR! (the holy crap moments seemed to happen often here)

The bar was full of interesting and odd sculptures


This ice fish done by a Japanese artisan was a great place to take the obligatory “help, I’m getting eaten by a giant ice fish” picture


This “spin the bottle” table seemed like a cute idea, until some ladies from Liverpool got a bit too drunk and thought that you had to follow the directions … it was law! We don’t have any video of a drunk woman trying to dance on an ice table, but I’m pretty sure how you imagine it turning out in your mind is exactly how it went.


Claire found a nice booth for us to sit in. Yes, it’s all made of ice. Reindeer skins are there for … well, kind of decoration. They neither keep your butt warm nor make the seat soft. BUT LOOK HOW COOL THAT LOOKS!

Enough playing around … this was a bar damn it!


Drinks, as it turns out, were not insanely “gotta sell the car” expensive. At the Ice Bar, you never need ice in your drinks, the glass is a block of ice

Icehotel169 Icehotel166 Icehotel168


(Claire drawing upon her Swedish heritage here, holding the ice cup without gloves … stupid Vikings!)


One last photo in the bar. After all, inside the Hotel it’s around -5C at all times, so eventually you need to go warm up.

Time for dinner!

Icehotel154  Icehotel153Icehotel155Icehotel156

Yes, the restaurant is in a separate, heated building across the street. (the look on my face is “I am hungry, are you finished taking pictures so I can eat now?” You see that a lot in my photos)

With a truly captive audience (where else are you going to go?), this restaurant didn’t have to be great. Happily, it was spectacular


Claire had some amazing grilled Arctic Char. I’d like to be able to tell you all the other side dishes on the plate … but this was almost 2 years ago and I’m lucky to remember what I had for dinner last night!


I am having reindeer filet … trust me, if you ever get a chance to have reindeer, you have it! Best meat I’ve ever tasted. Like a very tender beef with that slight mineral taste of something like liver … okay, that may not sound as awesome as it did in my head, but it was so good!

I can tell you that I have some shitake mushrooms on my plate that were grown in the depleted mines in Kiruna. Amazingly, everything on both our plates was sourced locally.


Sure, it’s cold, but ice cream!  Served in an ice block bowl (because, why not?) and flavoured with arctic berries. Spectacular finish to a spectacular meal!

Okay, it was still early (it had been dark since 2pm). Time to explore!

Icehotel140 Icehotel151

The Ice Hotel has a bunch of these ‘kick sleds’ or ‘sparks’ all around the facility. It’s actually a great, quick way to get around. Also, FUN!

We took them all the way down to the Torne river and along it. We were having fun, and were brave, but weren’t going to get too far from the only heat and shelter we could see in the arctic, in February, at night …

Unfortunately it was cloudy that night, so no Northern Lights (again, that will be another post from when we went even further north after the Ice Hotel!)

After a bit of sledding fun, we went back up to the hotel.


This ominous looking place was actually an Ice Church. Turns out, many people like to use this place for a destination wedding! In fact, there was a wedding going on when we first got there.


The Ice Church, so you can pray you survive the night in the ice.

Now, one thing we didn’t expect when we went here were all the British tourists who had come. Okay, we have British relatives, so I feel comfortable in saying this … Brits are some of the WORST tourists in the world! Before you judge me, let me explain:

While we were out exploring this stunning landscape, the Brits (admittedly, not all of them) had set up in the lobby of heated building, having lager and crisps while texting on their phones. The next morning at breakfast they could also be heard complaining about how cold their rooms were … in a hotel MADE OF ICE! Sigh … okay, rant done.

Time to investigate our room!


The room had light coming from the base of the ice bed. No windows in any rooms, as protection from wind is more important than seeing outside. Also, you have a doorway, but no door, just a heavy curtain. This is because the snow and ice (snice, they really call it that) that make up the walls will be constantly settling and a door would almost immediately become stuck and unable to open.


So, how does one survive a night in a room that is -5C and sleeping on a bed of ice?

Short answer, in a thermal sleeping bag

You place all your belongings in a large locker in the heated main building. Again, anything in your room WILL FREEZE overnight. Next, you strip down to long johns (thermal undies if that makes more sense). You don’t want layers between you and the thermal sleeping bag, or you won’t generate enough body heat in the bag to stay warm.

You grab the bag just before heading to sleep (you want them to have been in the heated main building as long as possible). Now, the run …

There is no direct connection between the building and the Ice Hotel. You have to go outside and through a doorway. This means you are going to go outside in nothing but your thermal undies, carrying a sleeping bag, and heading to your room. Even once you’re at your room, it’s -5C.

Basically, as quickly as you can, you head to your room, unzip the bag, get in and zip it back up … oh, and make sure to shut the light first. You don’t want to have to climb back out to shut that. In case you are wondering, no, of course there is no plumbing or toilet in the Ice Hotel. If you have to pee in the night, you are doing a very cold run back to the main building. Advice … don’t drink too much before bed!

So, how was our night on the ice?

Actually, we both found it incredibly comfortable

Icehotel180 Icehotel179

In the morning, since there are no windows or clocks, one of the staff will come into your room at 7:30am to wake you. I just remember hearing this lovely little Swedish accented voice saying “Good morning”, looking up at a blond haired, blue eyed angel who had hot lingonberry juice for us and was letting us know we had lived!

After our hot lingonberry juice, it was off to have a quick sauna … spending the night in -5C, you need it. Another fun British tourist fact … they won’t ever get naked. EVER. So, the sauna was just me and a nice Swedish tourist. We chatted about the incredible experience of the place, about Sweden in general … making sure we never looked at each other’s junk …

Standard Swedish breakfast of hard bread, cheese, liver sausage and processed meats to follow!

Icehotel186 Icehotel27

So, that was our one night at The Ice Hotel. We caught a shuttle bus to Kiruna that dropped us at the train station. We were taking a train further north, to Katterjåkk, where the family has a cottage. That will be a whole other blog post!

Icehotel188 Icehotel190

Hej då!

If you’d like to have hot lingonberry juice at home, it’s pretty easy.


Grab lingon concentrate from the food section of IKEA. Just add little to water, heat to simmer and pour.


You can always add spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves to add that holiday feel. (Also, as I usually suggest, adding gin makes this a great way to warm up on a cold winter night!)

To learn more about Sweden’s Ice Hotel, click here: TELL ME ABOUT SWEDEN’S ICE HOTEL