We’re standing out on the frozen river at midnight, with a small crowd of people who’ve all splashed out on a lavish New Year’s Eve at the Ice Hotel. Everyone seems strangely subdued. We’re watching two men in dinner jackets, carrying brooms and wearing antlers, walking around on a stage. We’re trying to work out what the men are doing, and we’re trying to work out why we’re standing there watching them. We’re told this is a very important local ritual. Some kind of joke, obviously, only no-one is laughing.
Then a tractor arrives with (we’re told) the Ice King and Queen. But the brief hope that something entertaining might happen is dashed when they start disagreeing with the men with brooms over something (we’re not sure what) and join them walking aimlessly around the stage, backwards and forwards, while we all watch.
We’re losing the will to live. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating something?
Then it’s midnight, and the ice figures ‘2105’ are smashed with a broom. Someone lets off some fireworks for a few minutes, each of them heavily laden with expectation and disappointment, and then, that’s it. Is this really the best the Ice Hotel can do?
We’ve been here at this time before and quirkiness usually wins over boredom, but this year the event has zero charm and minus zero entertainment value. The new year has begun with a very long drawn-out and painful whimper. It feels as if we’re in a kind of theme park, only ‘on ice’. At breakfast tomorrow our guests will struggle to be polite about it all.
We escape to a quiet area just a few minutes away, outside the old village church. Lying on my back in the middle of the river, I stare up at the black sky. The aurora are active but hidden by clouds. The snow is cold but soft underneath me, and I try to remember that I’m actually lying on a frozen river. A real river, turned to ice by the elements, covered in snow by the elements. Underneath the snow and ice are deep blue cracks snaking down to the pebbly river bed, cascading bubbles of trapped air trailing through the ice, frozen green algae, pink shimmering fish, and huge soft-contoured rocks that have been sculpted by centuries of water and ice just passing by.