Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Warming up for the shake off at the Ice Hotel...

This afternoon, the games begin! The 9th Annual vodka cup finals, in Lapland, kicks off at the Ice Hotel, in just a few hours. (there are 22 from as many countries).

We got to meet the contestants, last night, at the opening reception. Regional US winners, as well as those from Italy, New Zealand, Australia, England, Serbia, Russia, El Salvador, Mexico - and more - mingled with international journalists, Finlandia execs and the three lovely, blond Finnish models hired to be the event Hostesses, often dressed from head-to-toe in white fur.

Finlandia designed a large, wooden cabin called the "Pure Experience Lodge" for this week's events. One side of the building is ‘winter,’ representing “pure beginnings,” or the pure Finnish water which makes up 60% of the vodka. The other side of the party place is made to look like ‘summer,’ or “pure creation.” In this northern ‘land of the midnight sun’ there are 72 days of constant sunlight. (Winter sees 72 days of darkness.) During the extended summertime, the six row barley grows very rapidly. The barley is then harvested and distilled into alcohol, which is the other 40% of vodka.

At one point, during the party last night, around midnight, there was a commotion on the outdoor terrace of the lodge (where a bar crafted from solid ice stood) serving naturally chilled cocktails. Not wanting to miss out on any excitement, I rushed out to find everyone staring up at the sky, and a chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahs.’
Aurora borealis (aka: the northern lights) swirled across the night sky, looking like slithering, illuminated galactic serpents. The northern lights are a special treat which only last a short time (not all night) and do not appear on a regular basis, though almost exclusively in winter. Seeing that was the cream on the cake I had not yet finsihed eating!

After the party, we journalists went back to the cabin, and piled into the sauna (wrapped in towels, as our group is
co-ed). The heat was a welcome sensation and I soaked it up, staying in much longer than I do back in the states. We debated whether any of us had the gumption to run outside and hurl ourselves into the snow. Finally, two of us stepped out onto the porch and rubbed handfuls of snow on our arms and legs - that was enough – then, returned immediately to the sauna.

This morning we got up at 7:00, for a breakfast of dark bread, cheese, yogurt and meusli. It was still pitch black outside, and remained so until about 9:00 am, when the sun began to rise.

I pulled on three pairs of socks, two pairs of long underwear, sweatpants, a fleece sweater and a whole snowsuit because our day started off with a snowmobile safari. This morning, the temperature was -25 Celsius. By the time we got on the mobiles, it warmed up slightly. But let’s be realistic, who would notice the difference? With levels of cold, colder, coldest and oh-my-god freezing (the latter seeming like summer weather, now) a few degrees don’t make much difference.

Our guides comprised of one very lage Finnish man with a long blond goatee, and a red-haired Finnish wolan named Piliki, or “cloud.” She said her sisters’ names were the Finnish equivalent of “wind” and “sea.” After quick instructions, we all drove off in a line, following the leader into the vast snowy tundra. Snow-frosted, bare tree branches and evergreens lined our snowmobile path, and there was a tiny creek which, amazingly, managed to have a tirckle of running water.

The sun was an inched above the horizon at about 10:30 am. The first five minutes of snowmobiling, for me, were pretty exciting. The next five minutes, I felt I got the hang of it. Five mintues later, I was freezing and ready for it to be over. We carried on for about 45 mintues more, total, stopping once to drink hot “forrest berry” tea.

Upon return we met up with the contestants at the lodge for lunch, which included another healthy abundance of reindeer and potatoes. Now, we are off to the
Ice Hotel (yes, by Ice Hotel I mean hotel constructed from ice! A future post on that is coming...) for the 9th Annual Vodka Cup to begin. THIS, after all, is why we are here...


Libbycookie said...

Vodka, Aurora borealis, exciting new people -- I am so envious I could just sulk! But I can't wait to read more... xoxo Libby

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