Monday, February 13

day 10664: ice ice baby

[ed note: Before I go any further, I want to thank My-Boy-Bacon for being so sweet and wonderful the entire weekend… for driving the 9 hours to Quebec City (and the 9 hours back)… for letting me pick the things I wanted to do even though this weekend really was supposed to be all for him… for being there while I fulfilled MY DREAM of sleeping in the Ice Hotel, and letting me use him (and his Christmas present) as an excuse to do it… for walking through half the city of Quebec looking for a restaurant I wanted even though the one he wanted was the first one we passed by which we eventually made our way back to… and most of all, for entertaining me during the long hours we spent in the car, because heaven knows, I really suck as a passenger… oh, and for not getting sick of me despite all that I put him through this weekend… ]


I’m not sure what took my breath away first: the frigid cold of the teeth shattering -28˚C night, or the utter astonishment I felt when I first laid eyes on the giant ice cube in which I was supposed to sleep.

Ok. I lied.

It was the cold that did it. Snatched the breath right out of my chest and left me gasping and shivering like a mad woman. Teeth chattering, bone shattering, fcuking-can’t-even-talk-because-I’m-so-cold-ing, whatever the heck you want to call it, it was cold. Bitterly so. I don’t think I’ve ever felt my eyelids so close to freezing before.

Blizzard in NYC, bah… try driving up winding country roads where the snow banks are taller than your car, then we’ll talk. Toronto, schmoronto… call in the army, why don’t you… no wonder we’re the laughingstock of the country. I’ve been cold, and I’ve been colder, but somehow the thought of spending a night in the deep chill of Quebec did nothing to warm the blood in my veins (the bottle of wine, and the vodka drinks, on the other hand, was another story). But it was an adventure of a lifetime, and something that I’ve wanted to do for years.

Like most things Canadian, the exterior of the Ice Hotel was unassuming. I experienced a pang of mild disappointment as we drove up. That was it? Gosh darned it, the pile of snow in the middle of the parking lot seemed bigger. Where were the multi levels like in the James Bond movie? Where were the Aston Martins in the parking lot? Reality check… maybe my expectations were a little high.

We checked in and took care of all the administrative details before we attempted to breach the sentinel guarded gates. Arranged for dinner reservations, orientation sessions, dogsled excursions; my credit card receipt signing hand was a little shaky (from the cold). We hadn’t even stepped foot into the hotel yet.

“I feel like a Japanese tourist.”

“Bon soir. Good evening.” The sentinel greeted us with a warm smile and a casual glance at our zipper passes. We walked through the torch lit gateway and the metre thick snow walls into the compound that would be our home.

With fifteen minutes before we had to depart for our dinner reservations, it was a race against time. We wanted to explore everything. There was so much to see in that deceivingly huge complex. The ice sculptures, the Absolut bar, the N’Ice Club, the spa, the rooms – my God, the rooms. Everything glittered and sparkled in the brightly coloured lights; one moment red, another blue, and then green.

The elegance and the artistry were astounding. The subtle curve of one wall would meld in with another. Figures were carved in relief in the snow and ice, and highlighted with a carefully arranged spot light; lighting so casual and warm that you almost forgot that you were in a giant igloo. Indeed, after a while, it almost felt warm. -5˚C “indoors” was bearable.

It was late. The majority of tourists had already departed for the day. The only people still wandering about were other guests, like us, who had time to kill before braving the cold for the night. Our footsteps crunched beneath us. It was time for dinner.

apr├Ęs une cozy dinner for two

Warm again and stuffed to the gills, we left the Hotel Duchesnay for our orientation session. The problem (or benefit) with living in a bilingual country is that you get to hear everything in both French and English. We watched while she explained everything to the French couple, and then watched as she explained things again in English.

My French n’est-ce pas bon.

First you take everything out of the stuff sack. There is a pillow, a sleeping bag, and a cover for your sleeping bag in case you get cold. The “sheets” are inside the pillow. Step one, crawl into the “sheets.” Make sure it’s facing the right way if you want to see anything as you lie there in the dark, encased in a mummy bag. Ha ha. Step two, squirm into your sleeping bag. There is a fleece pocket for your feet. Don’t wear shoes. Yes, wear socks. Steps three to a hundred, get into your sleeping bag, zip it up halfway, attach the cover to the velcros, lie down, do up the Velcro near the top, zip up the rest of the bag, pull the cordalette that keeps the bag snug around your neck, don’t pull too hard if you want to breathe, ha ha, pull the cordalette on the hood so that only a small part of your face (i.e. nose and mouth) are showing. Good night, sleep tight, it’s too cold for any bed bugs to bite. You can arrange for a wake up call at the front desk.

PS. Don’t wear too much clothes. You don’t want to sweat because then you’ll be REALLY cold. Ha ha.

Wow. That was a lot of information. As accustomed that I am to camping and doing outdoor activities (or so I claim, but you really can’t prove it), I was floored. I’d never gone winter camping before. I didn’t even own thermal underwear. -30˚C rated sleeping bags… OMFG… brrrrrr… it was going to be one cold night. Morning might find me frozen solid in the fetal position huddled under a billion layers of clothing, and burrowed so close to My-Boy-Bacon so as to… um… yeah… onto the club.

alcohol helps, but so too, does a nice long dip in a hot tub

It takes a brave person to walk outside in -28˚C weather in nothing more than a swimsuit and a toque. It takes an even braver person to get out of the hot tub to streak across the frozen ground and into the sauna when your feet freezes to the ground if you stand still for a mere moment.

There’s something about a clear night in the middle of winter when the moon is almost at it’s fullest and feeling like you’re the only two people in the world that makes it seem worth it. Your troubles melt away and there’s nothing left except to sit back and enjoy the moment… if only to postpone the actual process of getting into bed.

We had pruned, and we had sauna’d ourselves until we were dry. It was past midnight, and finally time for bed. Dressed for bed (tights, socks, fleece jogging pants, dry-fit shirt with perspiration wicking properties, cotton t-shirt, fleece and a toque), we began the semi-arduous process of squirming into the various layers of bedding. Sheet, sleeping bag, tuck feet into fleece, zip half, cover, Velcro, zip other half, pull cordalette, arrange pillow, etc etc etc…

god help me if i have to pee in the middle of the night...

Finally settled, and actually feeling warm and toasty, we drifted off to sleep, snug as a bug, in a rug.

[ed note: We actually slept in a much, much simpler room. Picture above is a theme room… another $100… yikes… but I think definitely worth it had I known the difference… ]


teahouse said...

Wow, sounds like a lovely evening!

That photo looks like the scene from Superman, where he and Lois Lane get jiggy in the ice-walled building...

jay said...

dang, that ice hotel is pretty cool... although i'm not sure i'd want to sleep in a refrigerator... and i'm not so good in places where there's rules about how i can sleep! (I'm a one-foot out from under the covers kinda sleeper, so my foot would freeze and fall off, i guess)

i wonder if the eskimos (inuits, i suppose) have thought about using their igloos as a tourist attractions... get people to go up to the arctic and rough it in their igloos, and charge $200 a night...