Tag Archives: Canada

Baby, It’s Cold Inside: My Night in the Ice Hotel

“YOU are going to sleep in a hotel made of ice,” questioned my friend Colleen?  “But, you’re always cold, even here in Florida.”


Icy-Bed in Hotel de Glace
Icy-Bed in Hotel de Glace

“True,” I said. I never wear shorts to the movies and always carry a sweater into the grocery store so I don’t shiver in the frozen food aisle. But, I’ve become quite an adventurer and staying in Quebec’s Ice Hotel sounded like a challenge.


I arrived at the Hotel de Glace (as say the French speaking Canadians), a 44-room “icetablishment”, along with three others at 8:45 p.m. Not a time I would ordinarily check-in at a hotel, but rooms don’t open for overnight guests until 9 pm.  In retrospect, why sit around a frosty 10-15 degree Fahrenheit bedroom?



My group decided to explore the annually constructed attraction on the grounds of Quebec City’s former zoo. Construction takes a team of 50 people working day and night for six weeks. They start by making 15,000 tons of snow and laying the foundation. Then, snow is blown around arched or dome shaped metal molds. After three days the molds are removed. Finally, 500 tons of crystalline ice blocks arrive to be carved into furniture, columns and sculptures.


We meandered around and soon discovered a vaulted chapel with a stained ice-glass window and etched ice altar. Apparently some die-hard brides get married inside the frozen sanctuary, arriving like the Snow Queen on a sleigh pulled by white horses. Might be picturesque, but shivering through vows doesn’t sound like a good start.

Next, we hit the disco and bar where pulsating music and neon lights bounced around the snow encrusted walls. A glass enclosed fireplace flickered near the corner drawing me to the flames like a true thin-blooded Floridian. But, I realized it didn’t emit any heat. Of course not, the bar would melt if wood burning embers produced warming rays.



Bartenders in fur hats served drinks in oversized ice cube glasses with holes drilled three-quarters through the center. I ordered a Nordique – a combination of vodka, blue Curacao and lime juice. The glass chilled my already numbed and gloved fingers and proved awkward to sip, but the libation slid a welcoming blaze down my throat. I could have sipped another, but I was going to sleep in a room more comfortable to a polar bear than human. I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag for a bathroom call.


Around 11 pm, we attended a training class, a requirement for all overnight guests held in Celsius, the hotel’s heated lobby, locker room and dining facilities. The instructor explained the secret to staying warm was to start warm. I was told to take a 15-20 minute hot tub (in an outdoor spa, no less) and then dash into a dry sauna. This two-step process would warm my body before donning sleepwear and hopping into a specialized sleeping bag as quick as possible.


Hot-Tub and Sauna

Easier said that done. “Make sure you are very dry before putting on your PJ’s,” she coached. I used the locker room blow dryer to thoroughly dry my piggys before putting on high-tech fiber socks. The hotel sends notice to bring breathable synthetic fabric clothing and emphasized a no cotton rule because damp cotton would freeze.


Once clad in my outfit, I threw on my jacket and boots and raced down the snow carpeted pathway to my room- at the opposite end of the complex.  I entered an alabaster world; a white arched ceiling and open space dominated by a bed of ice. The bed was topped with a thin piece of plywood, a small mattress and brown fuzzy bedspread. The mattress added some softness but felt stiff from the below freezing temperatures. So, how did I survive?

My Ice-Bed
My Ice-Bed

Guests receive sleeping bags which contain a liner made from material resembling eyeglass cleaning cloths. You finagle your way into this thin shroud before getting into the mummy shaped outer bag. The process is tricky because you must stand on the bed or your stocking feet will get wet from the floor. Once in, you pull the liner up and tighten the sleeping bag’s face straps to completely encase your body.


I tugged and twisted but couldn’t get the straps snug against my head, so I put on my spare ski hat with ear flaps and tied it under my chin. The only thing exposed to the arctic air was my face.


And, baby it was cold. I’m sure my schnoze looked like Rudolph’s with frostbite. I tried to add a scarf around my eyes and upper nose for warmth, but it kept falling off. The North Pole like air chapped my skin and I fought with myself to relax and go to sleep.


So, I lay still and tried slow meditative breathing. However, lying in this inhospitable dark environment made me feel very alone, an emotion magnified by my recent divorce. “Debi,” I thought to myself, “you must be strong and tenacious.” Eventually I ignored the discomfort, managed to let go and nodded off.


Who knows what time it was when I awoke in total darkness. I could see nothing. Had I freed my cocooned arm, I could have turned on the one light bulb in the room. But, I knew I was in snow cave. I had no need to see. Instead, I hummed a song that came into my head, that rather annoying tune from The Poseidon Adventure: There’s Got to be a Morning After.”



The next time I awoke I questioned hallucinations. I swear sunlight was creeping into my room. How could that be? My room had no windows. I rolled from a side lying fetal position onto my back and looked up. There, off to the right side of the bed, gapped a hole in the roof. Snow was gently falling as if Tinkerbelle was shaking fairy dust down the opening. The sight was mesmerizingly beautiful, but only for a minute. I was chilled and my bladder was full.


Alas, a thought occurred to me as I scampered back to warmth; I’d slept the night in the Ice Hotel. I survived persistent cold and raw aloneness and if I could withstand that, I must be resilient. What next?


Shopping in Quebec City
Shopping in Quebec City

Canada – A Delightful Day in Halifax

Canon Firing at the Citadel in Halifax

Following a delayed and circuitous route to Nova Scotia (don’t get me started with airline delays) I arrived in Halifax, Canada by evening. So did my friend, Barb, from Colorado and that left us with a day to explore the city before our photography workshop with Bryan Peterson. But, I was also left without my luggage.

We began walking in the direction of the Old Burying Ground across from Government House (circa 1799) which reminded me of civic buildings in Belfast or Edinburgh. I’d passed a statue of Queen Victoria on my taxi ride into town, giving another UK feel to the city.

The Old Burying Ground, Halifax

The haunting old cemetery dates back to 1749 and holds over 12,000 graves but only 1,200 headstones. A number of the markers are carved with detailed motifs common to the 1700-1800’s and contain poignant epitaphs honoring the deceased. Stopping here brought a  personal connection to the early maritime history of the province.

We strolled along Barrington Street to St Paul’s, the first church built in Nova Scotia and the oldest building in Halifax. The church survived the tremendous explosion of 1917 when two warships carrying TNT collided in the harbor. The resulting fire, said to be the largest blast before the atomic bomb, caused a death toll of 1,900 with an additional 9,000 injured.

Reaching City Hall, we headed uphill toward the Citadel, one of the most visited National Historic Sites in Canada. Rightly so;  this stronghold presents living history, costume and color, plus a grand view of the seaport below. The star-shaped enclosure was built in the19th century as a British fortification with multiple lookouts. I reckon it would be nearly impossible for a surprise attack.

Every noon the 78th Highlanders perform a gun ceremony and blast the canon atop the Citadel. Unfortunately, we just missed the event but encountered a friendly bagpiper dressed in a green plaid kilt.  Another member of the regiment, festooned with an ostrich-feathered hat, took us on a  tour of the musket galleries, garrison cells and parade grounds. Barb and I snapped away at the photo worthy changing of the guard and smaller canon firing by the royal artillery.

Changing of the Guard, The Halifax Citadel

We then stopped at corner of Argyle and Sackville Street for lunch at Durty Nelly’s, an authentic Irish Pub which was designed and built in Ireland and shipped to Canada. The restaurant sports an elongated wooden bar and apparently is ‘ the  place’ for listening to the Craic, what the Irish call storytelling and partying. FYI- My seafood chowder was mighty fine, too.

Halifax boasts a deep, natural harbor, actually the second-largest in the world which called for investigation.  A ferry crosses the harbor to and fro Dartmouth so we grabbed a seat and began photographing the skyline and waterfront. Apparently you can ride all day on your $2.50 ticket. Sadly, we did not leave time for  The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the city’s signature museum. To be honest, my feet were killing me as I’d worn heeled boots on the plane and they were my only shoe choice.  If I ever return I’d like to see the Titanic displays in the museum. Halifax was closest to the tragic sinking of the oceanliner.

The Great Halifax Harbour

We strolled along the restored buildings on the wharf, a popular tourist haven, and stopped into Nova Scotia Crystal. To my surprise, we found crystal being mouth blown, hand-cut and etched right there in the factory. Irish artisans hoping to keep their craft alive opened the facility in 1996 and  it remains the singular crystal manufacturer in Canada. Each master craftsmen, from glass blower to cutter, have apprenticed their skills for a minimum of ten years. The  showroom pieces glisten in the light and tempt purchase, but watching the operation remains the best part.

Etching a goblet at Nova Scotia Crystal

After just one day in the walking- friendly city, I felt I had it under control. The layout is straight forward and pretty directionally unchallenging.  The thing I will remember was the aura of welcome emanating  from the citizens: the baristas in Starbucks,the regimental members in the Citadel, the waiters and waitresses and workers on the ferry. They couldn’t have made a tourist feel more appreciated, something I don’t usually perceive in American cities.   At the time, I did not know the awe inspiring sense of wonder  I would garner from the Oceanstone Inn near Peggy’s Cove, but, I left Halifax grateful to have taken the extra day to tour and connect.


If you go:

Beautiful Nova Scotia Crystal

The Halliburton, a boutique hotel, became an excellent choice for downtown lodging within easy walking distance of all the sites. The inn, now connected with three townhouse-style buildings, was built in 1809 for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court’s first chief justice. Their small restaurant offered service and food far above expected and really quite sensational.

Read also about lodging at the Oceanstone Inn in my previous article here: A Mystical Escape in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia ~ A Mystical Escape to Oceanstone Inn

When one arrives in Nova Scotia they enter the spellbinding zone of tidal time. On this Canadian province Mother Nature takes charge with clocklike precision, her tides ebb predictably and massively.

In fact, the miraculous shift of water in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy is the highest in the world. Twice a day 115 billion tons of water move in and out causing a rise and fall of 20, 30, often 40 feet. During a full moon and high winds, Bay of Fundy tides rise as high as fifty feet as if to emphasize the smallness of man relative to nature.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with beguiling moonlight and the seductive sloshing of waves lulling me to sleep as they broke near my door. The fullness of the beach emerged with morning’s low tide, reminding me of the regularity of the universe:  spring follows winter, rain falls, the sun rises.

If you head in the direction of famed Peggy’s Cove, a tiny fishing village known for its iconic lighthouse, you pass Indian Harbour where the sprawling Oceanstone Inn dons the landscape. Seven maritime cottages pepper the estate creating a private, romantic retreat, one of simple, rustic splendor and homey comforts. You kick-off your shoes and feel at ease, time slows and distractions fade. Nature’s vibes seep through my toes and feet.

Owners Ron and Carole Ron MacInnis manage the establishment with a benevolent spirit. They welcome each guest as family and coax them to relax and enjoy the glorious gardens and magical coast. Ron, the resident Thoreau, is a peaceful environmentalist concerned with discovering life’s spiritual needs. He’ll quote a line of poetry to make a point in the most charming way. Carole, on the other hand, darts about the grounds like a fire-fly. She is Goldilocks delivering baskets of breakfast goodies or offering help whenever needed.

Oceanstone Inn and Cottages from the water's edge.

I decided to venture along the property’s shoreline, negotiating a challenging, tiered mound of rocks.  A torrent of random thoughts entered my head: be strong and tenacious, withstand the gusty storms just like these stones. But at the same time, be free to wander akin to the pebble I tossed in the ocean. I picked up another and rubbed my fingers along its smooth worn edges, perhaps a reminder to soften my own. Then, I simply sat, breathed, absorbed the sun’s warmth and began to feel radiant.

Next morning, I awoke before sunrise and slipped out on the upper deck of my two-story cabin, the Crow’s Nest. I stared to my right at the stalwart beacon of a tiny dilapidated light station. Paddy’s Head Lighthouse shined brightly within the vibrant, planetarium-clear night sky. I tiptoed down the cottage stairs to a small kitchen and brewed morning coffee. Sinking into a dreamlike stupor, I surrendered and relished the nothingness of the moment.

At dawn, my group and I departed to photograph the famous red and white lighthouse of Peggy’s Cove. Ghostly filaments of mist gradually evaporated as lavender skies awakened the coast. We carefully crossed over massive granite slabs; their elemental strength bespeaking ancient age. The Cove thrives as a stopping place for tourists, the most photographed destination in Canada, but also offers a pause for inward reflection. I listened and heard the repetitive beating of my heart as it matched the rhythm of the sea.

The wonderment of a new day emerged with gulls flying and squawking a cheery greeting. The treacherous taunts of the Atlantic turned more playful, frolicking and shooting salty spray over the gray behemoth boulders, only to retreat with a whimper. Again, I aligned with the ebb and flow of the tides.

Waves crash below the famous lighthouse at Peggy's Cove.

Nova Scotia is home to some fabulous fishing and luscious lobster beckons as a decadent treat. After indulging in the savory crustacean, I practically dove onto a bed of yellow-green kelp to capture a picturesque shot. As kelp sustains sea life, I found  it nourished my soul.

Kelp covers the Cove

I returned to the lighthouse in the late afternoon and eyed purple hues and shades of mauve glittering off the water. They danced a sensuous bolero that I longed to join. The wind’s chill bore down on my skin stealing my concentration and resisting my attempts to stay warm.

Suddenly, low angled rays hit the windows of a small house reflecting a fiery golden glow. The scene looked so hauntingly dramatic and surreal. Was I actually in such a mystical place?

Eventually the sun set and an ancient Celtic ballad rose in the air sounding like a bagpiper’s lament. It’s been said there are thin places where the dividing line between the spiritual and ordinary come closer. Indeed, Nova Scotia is such a place and I lingered betwixt and between.

Afternoon sun in Peggy's Cove

If you go:  Oceanstone Inn and Cottages