Winter is a hideous, ugly monster. This has been my stance for about… oh… my life? Maybe more. Most of which was lived in the American South where “winter” means occasionally having to wear a hoodie and that Kroger is sometimes out of bread. Now, I live in New England and I know what winter really is. It’s casually crashing your car into things (“Nothing to see here, people! Move along.”), being scared TO DEATH that you’re going to slip on ice, and the horror of accidentally bumping into your car – your black outfit suddenly stained salty white. Winter is a hideous, ugly monster. Enter: the ice hotel.
2016 marks my fourth New England winter and I’m finally at the point where I’m attempting to embrace it. Attempting. I promise nothing.
This is major progress. I’ve tried denying its existence through the copious use of space heaters, tropical island computer wallpapers, and coconut scented air freshers – that didn’t work. I’ve cursed it, spat on it, kicked it, and cried hot, angry tears for ruined car bumpers and pale skin. That didn’t work either. The locals insist, “Just learn to ski and you’ll love winter.” To which I say, “Screw you and screw your skis. I will never love winter.”
However, four years into this mess and I’m beginning to understand what they’ve really been trying to tell me. Not “Get outta the way, slow ass!”…. but the other thing…
Typically a hardcore hibernator, I leave my house for nothing less than the essentials, work and beer and because sometimes I know there’s a Victoria’s Secret catalog in my mailbox with a coupon for free panties. I don’t even attempt to travel in the winter because the air travel and black ice situations are utterly out of control. You think fishtailing in your Honda is scary? Wait until it happens to your airplane. On a runway that drops sharply into the Atlantic Ocean. “OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! I’m never gonna get my free panties!!!”
This year, I threw all caution to the blustery wind and booked a trip to Québec City in January. CANADA. In JANUARY. What was I thinking? Well, I was at Disney World when I got the email so I was knee deep in international cocktails and I guess I was thinking I will give this winter thing a try. Easier said than done when you’re in Florida and it’s 1 billion °F. None of my methods to end winter’s existence have worked so far. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? That sorta thing.
I’ve had three years to figure out how to dress to not die and to stock up on thermal underwear. God bless you, Uniqlo. Maybe this winter thing won’t be so bad? Shit, do not tell 2015 Ashley I said that; she’d kill me.
And you know what? I still have all my fingers and toes. AND some color on my face! OK, it’s actually pretty serious windburn, but pink cheeks are pink cheeks!
Part of my adventure in the Great White North was touring the magical Hôtel de Glace, Québec City’s own ice hotel, with my travel blogging pals from Camera and Carry On. And – I am snow in love with this place. It’s an ice palace. A winter playground for dorks of all ages. A short-lived monument to some of the greatest talent around. Most importantly, it has shown me that winter is not always a hideous, ugly monster. With the right design team, winter can be quite charming.
This is me, trying to be nice. I’ve found that when you’re nice to people (or seasons, sure) sometimes they are nice back. And sometimes (in Massachusetts) the person you stayed back and held the door open for walks right through it without an ounce of acknowledgment.
Also, I asked for 70 °F for Christmas and I GOT IT!!! I think winter wants to be friends.
CANADA’S ICE HOTEL: HÔTEL DE GLACE
Hôtel de Glace is the western hemisphere’s only ice hotel and it’s located in one of my all-time favorite cities, Québec City, Québec, Canada, the birthplace of poutine.
It’s 30,500 tons of snow and ice expertly molded into one of the most unique hotels you could ever visit. It’s more an ice art gallery than an ice hotel, really. But none of that modern art, I could totally make that, garbage. More a fantasy land, a playground for grownups, a dream world. A cold escape from an even colder reality.
How often do you drive six hours with three sleeping passengers and a box of Ritz Bits Sandwiches to another country to visit a hotel simply for the sake of looking around? Probably not that often. A hotel is a hotel – I spend most of my time trying to find ways to keep out of them. But this one is different. This one is close to a lot of poutine.
Thousandssss of people visit Hótel de Glace each year just to see it for themselves and I’m sure to act out scenes from the movie Frozen. It’s an incredible, temporary m-ice-terpiece that is built from scratch each year, enjoyed for just short of 3 months like all Rihanna songs, then violently destroyed by a snow monster named Marshmallow. The ice hotel’s design is unique each year awarding over a million visitors since its opening in 2001 with a literal once-in-a-lifetime ice-perience. I’m gonna do this until it’s not cool anymore. See what I did there?
Each December, massive snowblowers churn and, well, blow 30,000+ tons of snow over molds in a design completely unique from the previous years. The result is a building material hard as concrete. I know this because I punched it. I’m weak to temptation.
Case in point – you would think deconstructing the ice hotel would be simple, right? It’s snow. Just let the spring sun do the damn thing. WRONG, fools!
Come spring, the hotel must be deliberately destroyed, a task much harder than it sounds. One year, a bulldozer was brought in for just this purpose and instead of plowing through the structure with ease, the ‘dozer drove right up and over the hotel effortlessly. That’s how strong this shit is, yo. Also, I feel this is an appropriate time to remind you that this is WATER.
THE ICE HOTEL TOUR
OK – so the thought of sleeping under a thick pile of solid snow and ice makes you a little uneasy? It’s fine. We all have our things. Mine is sleeping under a thick pile of spiders. If this is the case, opt for a guided tour.
Hôtel de Glace offers tours perfect for exploring all the ins and outs of the ice hotel as well as learning all of their icy little secrets. Our group took the behind-the-scenes tour to learn about the hotel’s construction, visit the ice workshop where the elves work, and to make our own ice glasses for the bar. Because nothing says fun like the combination of alcohol and power tools! Man, sometimes the Tennessee just oozes out of me.
Each year, Hôtel de Glace is designed with a different theme in mind. For 2016 the theme is: Rivers. Underground rivers, African rivers, river animals, people who like to hang out near rivers, on and on and into every hotel detail. Thankfully they left out the muddy Mississippi River, Joan Rivers, and Matt Foley’s motivational speech about living in a van down by the river. The water used to create the hotel was borrowed from the nearby St. Lawrence River. Full circle here. I’m sure they fully intend on giving it back.
Of all the icy fun facts I learned during our time at Hôtel de Glace, my favorite came after our guide told us to take our gloves off.“Lady, you’re crazy!”
“Now touch the columns…”
“B-b-but… it’s so cold.”
Eventually I stopped whining, did what she said, and got my mind blown. Because there is no humidity inside Hôtel de Glace, the ice is completely dry. It felt like touching glass or a granite countertop only with less spilled Ovaltine powder than mine. It wasn’t the slick, wet surface you’d expect from a chunk of ice. Your lips don’t stick to the ice glasses and your tongue doesn’t stick to the ice columns. I was told. I didn’t lick it. I thought about it.
Time to get the really cold party started, eh? Ice Cube on the track!
Hôtel de Glace has 3 bars, I assume one for each degree above zero.
- Neige – with an impressive apple tree and some stunning snow-inspired artwork. My allergy to apples is thankful for the invisible force field. I know, who’s allergic to apples?!
- Heineken – with its insanely Canadian ice carvings and lounge area
- Amarula – the bar based on the African creme liqueur I just happen to be obsessed with
WE LEARNED THE BEST STUFFS:
- Tipping the bartender with the loonies and toonies in your pocket? (You better be!) Don’t be surprised when the coins, warm from your butt heat, melt into the bar and become part of it.
- The most important tool at Hôtel de Glace is a typical household clothing iron just like the kind I never, ever use. A quick swipe across almost any surface will have it looking smooth and like new. Like a tiny zamboni. “What is this? A center for ants? How can we be expected to serve people ice cocktails if they can’t even fit inside the building?”
MAKING OUR OWN ICE GLASSES
This is Pierre. Our tour guide extraordinaire with the most intensely Canadian gloves and boots that aren’t pictured, unfortunately, because Canadians have super cold-resistant digits and those damn things just keep getting in the way. Bonjour Pierre!
Pierre is teaching us about ice. Pierre is about to show us how to carve our own drinkware from solid ice blocks without harming our neighbors or ourselves. Most of us will listen. One girl will not and will send a block of ice flying around the room. Listen to Pierre.
I am now a trained ice artisan. I will soon be drinking out of this. It’s whatever.
Look at our handiwork! WE MADE THESE! What now? Maybe I’ll carve a canoe out of a tree? A naked man out of a block of marble? I’m so drunk on power tools right now.
This is a Hôtel de Glace signature cocktail – Windshield Washer Fluid. Mmm, sounds delicious! The ice hotel bars have full drink menus but I went with the one staring me right in the face. Regardless of the fact that it was vodka and vodka (and coincidentally windshield washer fluid) makes me do this…
But look how pretty! The drink, not my face.
Soon enough it was on to the Amarula and my husband’s “Ski-Doo Accident.” Since nothing at Hôtel de Glace is half-assed, there was a whole presentation involved. The pine branch represents the tree you hit and the grenadine, poured slowly over the pine needles, dripping red into the liquor, represents your blood. Yay!
SUITES // ROOMS
Hôtel de Glace has 44 themed suites and standard rooms. The standard room is your basic, everyday igloo with ice bed and ice nightstand.
Did I ever tell you about the time my husband and I built an igloo in our backyard? What started out as a joke with some Tupperware turned into a desperate, 7-hour race against frostbite that dragged well into pitch darkness. It was awesome but yeah, these rooms are way better than that.
Each of the suites is an architectural masterpiece of its own built upon the river theme and was probably not created using plastic food containers. I’m not positive. This is all speculation. These are the questions I always forget to ask until it’s too late. The rooms are all cleaned, prepped, swept, and stocked with arctic-grade sleeping bags before the overnight guests arrive at 21:00. That’s French for 9 PM.
WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE IN THE PHOTOS:
- There’s a mattress on the ice bed. They don’t make you sleep on a block of ice. Canadians are super nice.
- The ice hotel’s suites and rooms have heavy curtains in place of doors, just like the igloos of yore.
- At night when the lights are out and the curtains are shut, the silence is palpable. I’m talking DEAD SILENCE. It’s so glorious. I want to bottle it, sprinkle it all over my workspace, and dump it carelessly all over our current president.
- The darkness is as intense as the silence. How many spiders are on you? NOBODY KNOWS!
- Me kissing a polar bear while my husband watches
HÔTEL DE GLACE ALSO HAS:
- An ice chapel – They host tons of weddings here that were totally the bride’s idea.
- Arctic spas – hot tubs, saunas – Our guide told us to soak in the hot tub, get out and roll around in the snow, and repeat.
- Indoor and outdoor ice slides
- A sugar shack for some maple taffy on snow because that’s a thing.
- The warmest bathroom in Canada
So you see, that bitch winter isn’t always so ugly. Sometimes she surprises you with snowflake walls and polar bear beds. On the rare occasion that I’m dressed appropriately and mentally prepared, winter isn’t such a monster and can actually be fun. If my husband were here as I write this he may be like, “What? I never thought I’d hear you say that!” or “Wow, that’s shocking!” He would also, most definitely, ask, “Are you ever going to give me my sweatshirt back?”
Wanna know what it’s like to actually sleep here? Read these reviews!
Heading to Québec City? Read hotel reviews on Tripadvisor or book your room now!
But where do I recommend? The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, but of course!
What else have I covered in Québec City? Check out these posts.
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