Last weekend I went to prison. I was to spend the night in a cell at the infamous Långholmen Prison, Stockholm.
The hallways were long and narrow with row after row of bolted and numbered doors harbouring their confining cells behind. As expected my cell was tiny, two bunk beds lay stacked across the right-hand side wall, with barely enough space to squeeze past them. A small window, high up on the far wall allowed a tiny glimpse of the sunny sky outside. A claustrophic’s nightmare. Despite the confined space, the cell was clean and comfortable. On the opposite wall hung a state-of-the-art flatscreen LCD TV, instructions on how to access wi-fi, a hairdryer, and a row of electric sockets. A door on the left hand side opened up into a clean and modern en-suite bathroom. A full-length mirror hung on the wall, which on closer inspection revealed an ominous guillotine design – a stark reminder that Långholmen Prison, Stockholm, was the venue of Sweden’s last execution in 1910. Clean white sheets lay on the bed, alongside fluffy pillows and thick white duvets: a prison worthy of a Daily Mail headline.
Fortunately for me, I was not entering Långholmen as an inmate, as many have done before me, but as a tourist at one of Sweden’s many novelty hotels. The prison was operational as one of Sweden’s largest prisons from 1874 – 1975 but become a tourist museum and hostel in 2008 and was awarded ‘Best Hostel of the Year’ by the Swedish tourist board in 2009.
I must admit that I am becoming quite fascinated by strange and unusual hotels. A few years ago I visited Dalat, a small mountain town in the Vietnamese Central Highlands. The Lonely Planet recommended a trip to the Hang Nga Guesthouse, a tourist attraction that has affectionately been named the ‘Crazy House’ by the locals, and crazy it certainly is.
The hotel seems to be based on the architecture of the Gaudi house in Barcelona’s Park Guell or something from a Dali-esque dream: curved walls, staircases that lead nowhere, enormous spider webs hanging between the trees and themed rooms all based on various animals – visitors can enjoy a night in the Termite, Bear, Pheasant, or Tiger room, amongst others. The hotel was designed by Hang Nga, who incidentally happens to be the daughter of a former Vietnamese president. Nga’s imagination certainly seems to surpass the confines of Vietnamese communism and because of this some of her earlier buildings were destroyed as being ‘anti-socialist’. Despite this the crazy house has been allowed to remain and still continues to grow and develop today.
I might have expected to find hotels of a more unusual aspect in Vietnam, as pretty much everything else is crazy there but I certainly didn’t expect to find such strange sights in Sweden. Everybody has heard of the Ice Hotel, a hotel built entirely of ice, located far north in Sweden’s Arctic Circle, in the town of Jukkasjärvi, and the home of the Absolut Icebar but surely that is as far as Sweden’s crazy hotels go, right?
Wrong! Whilst the Swedes may have a reputation abroad as being sensible, aloof, cold even, they certainly have a spirited sense of adventure when it comes to spending the night in a hotel. Not only can you sleep in a cell, you can spend the night on a boat, in an aeroplane, a treehouse or even underwater!
That’s right, if you have an early flight from Stockholm’s Årlanda airport, why not spend the night at ‘Hotel Jumbo Stay’, a converted Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet? You can even sleep in the hotel’s prime room, the cockpit! If you wish to visit me in the lovely city of Västerås you can choose from the aptly named ‘Woodpecker Hotel’, a typical Swedish red and white wooden structure suspended 13 metres up a 130 year old oak tree in the local park.
If heights are not really your thing you could try nearby Utter Inn; a small floating platform out on Lake Mälaren with the only bedroom lying 3m below the surface of the water – perfect, an isolated hotel with your own private swimming pool! Both the Woodpecker Hotel and Utter Inn were designed by local artist Mikael Genberg, whose aim is to make art for the public so not only do you get to stay in some of the World’s most unusual hotels, you also get to be a living art masterpiece!
Of course, all of these hotels come at a price – let’s not forget that this is Sweden after all – but it might just be worth it for the experience of a lifetime.