Ice Hotel

I’m back in London and not amazingly overjoyed about it (though, a lovely family dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant has made me feel slightly less grumpy about leaving the land of snow and cold and sparkling magic lights). However, I was terribly delighted to find out this evening that I’m not working again until 7pm tomorrow night, so that is at least a bonus (after so many holidays at such a busy time for my job, I kind of expected to be working a 16 hour day tomorrow. I’m lucky that my work doesn’t dislike me as much as I assume they dislike me. In fact, they rather like me, so that’s nice).

Anyway, I thought I’d take the opportunity of not having to start back at work at 7am tomorrow (and therefore not needing to go to sleep early tonight) to catch you all up on the rest of my Norway trip. I’ve had some requests for reporting on the ice hotel (and, fair enough too, I mean, who doesn’t want to hear about a hotel made out of ice? I mean, apart from people who regularly live in buildings made of ice. And, I’m willing to say that amongst my friends and blog readers, there is a relatively small number of you who regularly abide in buildings made out of ice). I did though, feel that the ice hotel would benefit from a photo spread, so I’ve waited until now, when I can get the photos off my camera and onto my computer, to write something down.

Some facts before we begin. The ice hotel has become a phenomenon in Kirkenes in the last 5 years. I think it may be rated 5 stars (which someone quipped may make it the only 5 star hotel in Norway, however, I am unwilling to say that for certain in case I get sued by Tourism Norway). Obviously, to keep it from melting, the inside of the hotel must be kept below 0 and it usually hovers around the minus 4 to 5 mark. Everything inside is made out of ice. The bar, the glasses you drink from, the chairs, the decorations. The beds are not ice, though it is made to look as if they are. In fact, you sleep on mattresses that lie on boards, which lies on ice. There are no doors on the rooms of the ice hotel, as trapping in heat into a small-ish space (like your room) would cause the rooms and/or ice sculptures to melt.  Instead, there are curtains in the doorways. Claustrophobics may find the ice hotel difficult, as there are no windows, and only small holes in the roofs of your rooms for air circulation. The ceilings are high, but it still may not be possible to stop yourself thinking of tonnes of ice collapsing and burying you. There is a separate restaurant (built in a yurt) that is toasty warm and has a fireplace. That’s where you get your dinner and brekkie, because, of course you guessed it, cooking things in the ice hotel (or in an ice oven, for that matter) would cause it to melt!

The most glorious and interesting thing about the ice hotel, though, I think, is that it, of course, never sees out the summer. So, each year it needs to be re-built. Each year, therefore, it can be designed by someone new and made into a completely different ice hotel. I am assured that this year’s hotel was much better than last year’s hotel, so I am happy about that. I quite like this concept of deliberate impermanence in a building, something that is quite novel for most of Western culture (except, say in the case of festivals or… camping). Buildings, in our minds are built to last (one of the few things these days that are) and it is always a tragedy when they are destroyed. But, not so with the ice hotel. I like that the impermanence is a good thing, something that adds to the charm, something that has been embraced by the ice hotel ‘owners’ (another strange concept for something that is intended to disappear and reappear each year). I have this idea in my head (perhaps wrong, I’m not good with this sort of stuff), that the ice hotel is more environmentally friendly than a normal hotel because of its inherently impermanent state of being and because it is made from the products that occur in its surroundings. See, all the ice used in the hotel comes from the lake it sits next to. It’s not artificially made in anyway, but just using the stuff nature has already made. And, at the risk of sounding like an insufferable hippy, I like this.

Anyway, enough intellectualising. Apart from anything else, the ice hotel was cool. Actually, it was quite cold (bada-BOOM). The day we decided to visit the hotel was the coldest day I was in Kirkenes. Minus 22. Minus 22!!! Now, as you all know, I quite like the cold. I have stated this on many occasions. I am quite comfortable in London’s usual wintery state of 4 – 8 degrees. I am also even quite pleased at the minus 2 or 3 mark, because then there is the possibility of snow. But, minus 22 is like a whole other world. I guess its not surprising really, when you think about similar jumps in temperature (the difference between plus 30 degrees and 0 degrees, for example). Its actually too cold to snow. Too cold to snow! I mean, it keeps the snow and ice that you have, obviously, but you generally don’t see it snowing at this temperature.

But, even though it was too cold even for the snow, we decided to walk to the ice hotel, which was about half an hour away. Because the discussion was had in Norwegian, though, I got my wires kind of crossed and didn’t fully appreciate that we were walking there (‘Oh, you mean walking! Walking with our feet! In the outside air! Without the car! Oh, that kind of walking!’) Of course, this meant I appeared at the doorway to the house woefully under-prepared for the weather and then attempted to get ready at speed. The biggest mistake was taking my thin gloves (no brainer there) and my thick woollen socks (surprisingly enough. I thought I was doing the right thing wearing thick socks, however they were so thick they then made my shoes too tight and therefore cut off some of the circulation to my toes, therefore making it harder for them to stay warm. So, there’s another lesson in keeping warm. Thin, warm socks or thick socks with shoes that are too big for you. Either way). I was able to bury my face in my scarf and put my hands in my jacket pockets, but my poor feet quickly became two painful blocks of immovable ice. Also, my lovely Doc Martens, so amazingly tough-looking on the streets of London, were terribly unsuited to the icy streets of Kirkenes. It was like learning to walk again, slipping every few metres. Eventually I made headway taking very fast little steps on the balls of my feet (which also seemed to warm up my toes), my arms occasionally stuck out at a 45 degree angle from my body, kind of swaying side to side as I adjusted my weight from foot to foot. Meanwhile, my friends played ice soccer with the balls of snow along the road, running and kicking and passing and throwing. I couldn’t quite understand how they were able to move so agilely under those conditions, but then again, they say that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet (a rather painful proposition for Norwegian mothers). Perhaps Norwegians are also born with a spare pair of ice skates or snow shoes for occasions such as this one.

Despite my fears that my feet would drop off from frostbite (I was a little uncertain of the time frame I was looking at for frostbite and naturally assumed that 15 minutes of discomfort was enough to do the job), we made it to the ice hotel with all limbs intact. The relative ‘warmth’ inside was unfortunately not enough to bring relief and comfort to my feet, however, and after rushing around, peeking in all the rooms and admiring the ice art on the walls, we headed back to the cafe/restaurant to defrost and drink some hot chocolate. Here’s a selection of photos:

Outside the Ice Hotel

Outside the Ice Hotel

Ice Sculpture in the bar

Ice Sculpture in the bar

Penguin art in one of the rooms

Penguin art on the wall of one of the rooms

Ice beds!

Ice beds!

Troll art in one or the rooms

Troll art on the wall of one of the rooms

After warming up substantially in the restaurant (though, distressingly, my toes were still cold despite 30 minutes of warmth. I was, at this point, certain that if I wasn’t already suffering from frostbite, I would be by the end of the day), we headed out the back to see the wonderful husky dogs. The huskies were kept for husky sled rides and they were, on the whole extremely friendly and intelligent dogs. The first one I came across, Aarti, jumped right up on his hind legs and fell into my arms in some kind of doggy hug/greeting/embrace. Or perhaps he was also a little cold and was hoping to steal some body warmth. Most of the dogs had lovely Scandanavian sounding names, or at least, mythical sounding names (Achilles, for example) and each were tied up to their kennel, with their names written on the side. One lovely dog sitting in his kennel, however, was called Bruce. Yes, Bruce. Of all the names. I thought that was too funny (in light of the Monty Python ‘Bruce’ sketch… see here, if you’ve never had the pleasure) and attempted to take his photo. However, my poor camera was just not able to function in such cold temperatures. I figured the batteries were probably just too cold (I first discovered this pesky problem with batteries in cold temperatures when driving across Michigan with my family as a 12 year old and attempting to play my Alanis Morisette ‘Jagged Little Pill’ cassette tape on my walkman – oh, how old does that make me sound – so that I could look mournfully out the window at the snowy landscape and think of my unrequited love for my high school crush. However, the walkman refused to work unless I took out the batteries and rollled them around in my hand for a bit and then put them back in. Each roll gave me a few minutes of satisfying, angry teenage girl angst before Alanis would suddenly stop whining again. It was awfully frustrating for my carefully constructed ‘misunderstood adolescent’ routine). Despite some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (blowing hot air onto the batteries) and some wonderful husky poses by Bruce, we couldn’t manage a photo. I was quite, quite sad. We also saw a reindeer, but by that point I’d given up and was concentrating on not slipping down the footpath.

So, there you have it. The ice hotel. I wish I’d been able to withstand the cold a little bit more to spend a bit more time in there (or at least, more time with the lovely huskies out the back) and also that I might have been able to spend a night inside, because that would truly have been amazing. But, I am most definitely grateful for what I did manage to get.

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