The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence -by Sherryanne De La Boise

Trains & Hotels Made of Snow

Marriage is all about compromise. My husband loves to travel from place to place, touring around. I hate all that packing and unpacking. I would much rather go to one place and live amongst the natives for an extended period of time. We rented the same villa two years running. I thought he would go mad, he was soooo restless.

Then, one of his college buddies suggested that a group of us take a train where we all had sleeper berths. The first thing that sprang to my mind was the bunk berths with draw back curtains in those black and white movies. I snore. Loudly. There was no way I was going to hear about my snoring keeping awake all of his college buddies and their wives.

I was re-assured that each couple would get a private cabin with ensuite bathroom. Count me out. I had been on Amtrak. I think they call it a "head," because the toilet was right by the pillow of the lower bunk. So embarrassing! I trekked to the lavatory in the passenger car instead of using that luxury.

But, no. This was a British train. The brochure had pictures of lovely little rooms with fold away beds and a private toilet and shower in a tiny adjacent closet. We would travel at night to the next point of interest. During the days, our private car was to be put onto a side rail, while we went out touring. This sounded perfect. My husband got to move about, while I only unpacked once.

As we crossed the Karakum Desert, wind had blown sand across the tracks, causing the train wheels to lock. The train screeched to a halt. Heaven forbid you occupied the toilet seat when the train lurched: You would find your bare bottom lurched right to the floor. Even though we were not supposed to use the toilets when in a station, after the first night of lurching, every single one of us did. Not a one of us used our showers for two days, as no one wanted to be thrown, buck naked across the bathroom (‘though on the plus side, since neither one of us wanted to be thrown from a top bunk, so I got some cozy time with my stinky husband). When we finally went on our honeymoon (We are old. Getting married was exhausting. There was no energy for honeymoon activities. We slept for days afterwards. We went a couple of months later), I wanted to go to the Snow Hotel in Norway and sleep in an igloo.

So, I booked a trip from St. Petersburg to Norway on a train under the guise of seeing the Northern Lights. A very elegant Russian train with beautiful dining room, piano bar, interesting international travelers and university astronomers as guides. We would just leave the train for two nights to stay in a Norwegian hotel (the Snow Hotel, wha ha ha haaa" evil laugh). That year was the cloudiest year on record in Northern Russian. We never saw the northern lights. The cloud cover was so thick, that we never saw any stars in the cold crisp air of January.

The closest we got was by using an app on our cell phone that told us what constellations were lurking behind the clouds. The professors droned on about what we would see the next night and nothing. Thank heavens for the piano bar!

Now, I can tell you about my honeymoon, because when we returned, one of the jokers from the Men's Saturday Morning Breakfast Group at church asked my husband to do a short presentation on the Snow Hotel. And, he did it. Yes, that husband got up and told all about the trip he took on his honeymoon, complete with pictures of our bed.

The bed was indeed a block of ice. They put a thick mattress filled with glycol upon it and gave us sleeping bags instead of covers. We were to strip to naked. If you get warm and perspire, the evaporation will cause you to freeze. I decided to take the risk. What if you had to get up in the middle of the night? There is not always time to find nightclothes at the base of a sleeping bag, put them on, and then run down the hall. Yes, run down the hall. The Snow Hotel only has bathrooms at the far end of the corridor.

It was a great sleep, until about 4 am, when my husband decided his nose was cold and he wanted to go sleep in the warm community rooms adjacent to the bathrooms. I went with him to get him settled. It was full of folks who had decided that sleeping in a hotel made of snow and ice was not for them. He found a giant Lazy chair, a pile of blankets and was back to sleep.

I went back to our room. The walls had been coated in snow that was carved to be a woodland scene all around the room. Some of the rooms had Disney figures, mythical beasts or modern décor.

There was a ventilation hole cut, so the air was fresh and crisp. The doorway was a sheet hanging from a curtain rod. It opened into a long hallway along with 35 other private rooms.

At one end was the three story restaurant were sleeping rooms and bathrooms. At the other end was an ice bar. Each overnight guest was given a shot glass made of ice. You could drink until the glass melted. My husband figured out that alcohol melts ice, so we should toss back each pour very quickly.

While others were lucky to get two shots, Mr. Frugal tossed back six or seven, including a drink of Finland called "Reindeer's Blood." We were in Norway, but most of the employees were Fins. This is because the government says that Norwegians must be paid a living wage. Everyone else, nope.

We had to be out of our rooms by 8:30 am, which was no problem, as we were not allowed to take our luggage to our rooms. A warm sauna before breakfast and then off to go dog sledding. The night before, we had taken a sleigh ride across the ice in the fjord to ice fish for Russian crabs for our dinner.

This Snow Hotel is a business on the model of an amusement park: Keep everyone moving about to different activities so they don't realize how many tour bus loads of people are on the grounds. The reason we had to be out of the rooms, is the first bus loads (of people from the cruise ships) arrived at 9 am to peer into the 36 rooms of the Snow Hotel, eat a meal and do an activity before being bused back to their ships.

The Norwegian government recently gave the Snow Hotel the money to double to 72 rooms. This is so that the cruise ships will have one more place to visit, instead of losing tourist revenue to Russia (People about to go home drop a lot of money).

There are Ice hotels in Sweden and in Canada. I'd like to visit them, but my husband says that it would distract from the memories of the romance of our honeymoon (in separate sleeping bags).

Once again, I have gotten off topic, so I will tell you my version of the train with the flat tire last Tuesday, in Stronghurst another time. Have a good week!