I don't like ice. I don't like cold. And of course, when paired together, I triple don't like them (throw in one extra because I can't figure out how to make bold print on this thing!). I figured my fascination with the bright blue ice scattered across the black lava beaches in Iceland came from its uniqueness - and the security of our warm car that sat close by. I'd told myself that our night at the Ice Hotel would be tough, but I'd manage by wearing every item in my backpack. I couldn't have been further off. I need to rewind one step before I jump in...
We had a bit of a rough patch on our travel here. We had spent the night in a small town called Narvik, Norway. We stayed in a teeny guesthouse with a great window that allowed us to watch the snow fall on the lighted ski mountain through the night. We got up early for our journey to Sweden, walked to the train station, and were welcomed by an Irish gentleman named Rob. Following suit with a number of other Irish characters who have joined our storylines in years past, Rob soon became a friend on our journey. This friendship began by him kindly pointing out the pieces of paper posted around the train station indicating that an avalanche had shut down the trains that were to be going into Sweden. Hmmmm. There was nothing posted about what we would be doing (instead!) - the papers simply told us what we would no longer be doing.
It's good for us to have a moment or two like this every trip. It seems that they always arrange themselves in a timely fashion around very important areas of concern - like how we can enter or exit a country - not what's for lunch. This gives Luke and I the opportunity to gracefully and respectfully communicate in open, public places, in front of our children - and Rob - like the very calm, articulate, and well-put together adults that we are. It allows us to show off how well we understand one another after 20 years together and demonstrate what an amazing job we do managing our emotions. It allows us to shine up our Jesus skills and show how much we trust in His ability to pull a train through an avalanche (or you know, something miraculous of the sort). As history (and Jesus) would have it, I love a good challenge.
Adapt. Adjust. Overcome. Hopefully, these are the 3 life skills that the kids have picked up from several of our 'uh-oh' situations that have left us stuck in countries or even in separate hotel rooms. Thankfully, I got a hold of someone via phone around the same time a sweet little Norwegian man came into the station and we were told by both that a bus would be here for us. Thank you, Sweet Jesus and little Norwegian Angel (we didn't see him again, so we are pretty sure he was sent for reinforcement). One other couple hopped on the private bus that had been rented out to fetch us, so we had plenty of space! Unfortunately, Rob's intent was to purchase his ticket at the train, so the bus driver kicked him off, as he didn't have one. The other couple must have done some serious norsk-convincing ('vær så snill' usually does the trick!) because they said something to the bus driver, the doors opened back up, and Rob joined us for the ride! The snow banks were above our eye level (in the bus!) and passing other trucks and semis was not exactly pleasant, but we made it safely!
I don't know if it was the first ice carving, the smell of the wood-burning stove, or maybe the combination of both - but the avalanche and the hectic ride were already fading from my memory as we stepped onto the beautiful grounds of the Ice Hotel. It wasn't until we were checking in that we saw them. They had a whole room and checkout counter for these precious black goods. Avalanche? What avalanche?! I don't remember a thing about it. I was looking at something amazing...
Remember the babies in buggies and the kids on field trips that we saw tromping all over Norway? They all wore these brilliant winter snowsuit onesies that Luke said he thought we ought to get for the kids. I concurred and then put myself on the onesie wish list as well. The Ice Hotel had already taken stock in these life-saving-contraptions-with-zippers and added a warm pair of boots and a massive pair of mittens to the menu as side options. We ordered up the full-size meal deal and J and I couldn't get ours on fast enough. We also both shed a tear when leaving them behind at the desk today. Being fully suited was amazing! It must be what Iron Man FEELS like! It could also be what Luke’s warm wife would SOUND like (e.g. quiet, not complaining about the cold). Regardless, it was amazing. Oddly enough, the snow wasn't falling as forecasted. In fact, the sun was out! Nonetheless, it was chilly, but it didn't phase me a bit. In fact, I marched around taking pictures, as happy as could be!
We toured the Hotel and saw each of the rooms, all individually carved from ice harvested down at the Torne River, which the Hotel sits on. The artists and their designs are selected each year and given a brief period of time to bring their sculptures and the rooms to life. This year's Ice Hotel was done in 4 weeks! Reindeer furs cover the double doors (don't get too close - just grab the antlers instead!) and the main hall / entry is lined with thick, square pillars that look like blue glass and exquisite ice chandeliers. At the far end of the hall is the gorgeous Ice Chapel, which the sun shines into and lights with a beautiful white. Forty to fifty ceremonies are held there each year. The main hall / entry offers access to an additional 6 hallways, each lined on both sides with Art Suites, which is where we stayed. Don't worry, I took a picture of every single one of these, since they will no longer be in existence as the sun continues to shine. Yep, that's right. The entirety of the Hotel is wiped out with the summer sun! Artists will start with new visions as the fresh snow falls in the winter and new blocks are harvested from the Torne. Absolute insanity.
After dinner, we headed to the Ice Bar to grab drinks. Reindeer furs kept the seats dry, beverages were served in square cups and hand-carved champagne glasses, and even the kids were able to order up delightful versions of our cocktails! Justice happily sipped a 'Once Upon a Time' drink, while Jaden worked more diligently on licking his ice cup down than he did at polishing off the beverage that was inside.
A young British couple hustled by us toward the door and the gentleman stopped briefly and said that the aurora borealis was to be out any minute and he simply didn't feel right knowing such wonderful news and not sharing it - particularly with someone holding a camera (ahem, me). I thanked him and told him if he could just get my camera ready for that wonderful moment, we'd be in business! You see, this is a skill I hadn't quite mastered yet and I figured I'd wing it on the spot if and when the time came for some serious northern light watching. My real theory was that I’ve got a ton of memory cards and a really fast pointer finger! How's that, Kodak?!
Fortunately, we had met the right couple! Jazz was a professional photographer for a period of time and his girlfriend, Jenn, is a nurse in the ER. Both live in Nottingham. Jenn said there was nothing much to see in Nottingham and with the same breath used the words ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Sherwood Forest’. GASP! I told her I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to remain friends - especially if Jaden heard such slander. We took our drinks outside and started gazing at the stars and chatting happily. It was beautiful night, but a very silent sky. Two additional ladies joined us and decided they'd had enough of the grumbling they were hearing from some of the others in the distance about "no Aurora" and "weak lights". It was Zoe that decided that no one (including the Aurora Borealis) should be spoken to in such a negative way and so she started the cheering... "Let's go, Aurora, let's go!" (Clap / clap!). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Our frozen bodies needed an excuse to move, so this was perfect. We cheered! We waited. It was nothing but silence in the black star-filled sky.
We decided to work in shifts. Some of us would stay outside with the cameras on tripods, while others would take a shift in to the Ice Bar, which was actually slightly warmer than it was outside because there was no wind! Strange. The kids made a couple runs back to the warm lobby to heat themselves to the core. We cheered and high-fived in between. Just when we thought someone was going to lose a finger, or tonight might not be the night... Guess who showed up?!
They call her Aurora and oh my, can she dance! I've never seen anything like it! Jazz had me set up for pictures and I couldn't take them fast enough. I knew I was was bound to lose a finger, but God gave me 10, so I was prepared to sacrifice. The greens spread across the sky over the Hotel like a rainbow, with a splash of magenta brushing the tips on some of her appearances. She'd disappear for a few minutes - just long enough to remind us that she liked to hear us call for her - and then she'd join us again, colors blazing! God has done some surreal work in His days, but I sure hope He hung this one on the refrigerator! It was hard to believe what we’d just seen could be for real.
After Aurora headed to bed, we all cozied up in the warm lodge with hot mugs of coffee and cocoas so we could chat, look excitedly through our photos, thaw, and prepare for bed. We heard others talk about how they've lived in this region a lifetime and not seen lights like tonight - if at all. How very fortunate we are!
The Ice Hotel has a sleek system in place for bedtime routines. Rooms are closed off from public viewing at 6 p.m., which then opens them up to guests for bed. The wake-up call is between 7:30 and 8 a.m. (Warning! If you somehow missed it, 12+ hours on reindeer fur and ice is far too long! After chasing Aurora and thawing, it was nearly 1 a.m., which we believed to be a semi-appropriate bedtime!) All luggage is kept in the warm lobby, which is also where you can find the big living room, fireplace, bathrooms, showers, and saunas. I had hoped to wear my super-onesie to bed, run like hell across the courtyard to our Art Suite, dive bomb into my sleeping bag, and not come up again for air until morning. Apparently, you're supposed to strip down to only your wool base layer, walk calmly across the ice, and fall asleep peacefully in your warm sleeping bag. Our situation worked kiiiiiiind of like that. I needed two layers of clothing. I still ran. And the warm and peaceful sleep did finally come in the early morning hours. Everybody else slept great! We were awakened by a cheerful young Swedish girl (think Disneyland-style character, but this girl was for real!) as she skipped into our cave with a Ghostbuster pack on her back filled with warm lingonberry tea that she served up through a tube with a smile. I shook my head in awe as I started to wake up. It was just the kids' noses that were pink from having been touched by the cold night air, but I could see their breath as they were talking quietly to Luke. He reached over the edge of our huge bed for four (or 6?) and flipped on the lights in our room to accent our sculptures. We all sat quietly and snuggled in for a few to let the lingonberries warm our souls and take the moment in before we brushed off the reindeer fur and headed to the saunas.
Nordic Nirvana? Absolutely YES.