Monday, February 10, 2014

Being treated like a celebrity at the Ice Hotel

Yesterday I went to the Sweden Hills "Ice Hills Hotel" that was featured in the TV show I was on last Monday. There are four buildings built from ice and snow, three that are rooms that you can stay over night in and one that is an "Ice Bar".

The (blue) Ice Bar and the three Ice Hotel rooms

The Sweden Hills ice hotel is inspired by and built in cooperation with the Ice Hotel in Sweden, which apparently is the oldest ice hotel in the world. This Swedish connection, and the fact that the new ice hotel is located in "Sweden Hills" was why they asked me to be on TV (being Swedish).

Me and the staff
Me and a cocktail

When I got to the ice hotel, the staff there recognized me from TV and said they were very happy about me promoting them on TV. They showed me around the hotel rooms, and several of them came up to me and asked if it was OK to take a photo together with me. Next time I should go there wearing sunglasses and look more like a celebrity, I guess, haha.

Selfie. They said that you could not have your drinks "on the rocks", only "in the rocks"...
Selfie. The hot cocoa was also good, but not served in ice

I wanted to try the glasses made of ice, so I ordered a cocktail in an ice glass. I also wanted to try the hot cocoa. I was wondering about what kind of system they had, since they did not seem to have a tab where they wrote down what I ordered, but then again when I showed up there with my friends we were the only guests. Later, other guests also showed up and it became quite crowded. I looked at them ordering and they had to pay for everything they ordered at the time of placing the order. It turned out they just gave me everything I asked for for free because they thought I had done a great job on TV...

Flowers and a bunny
Colored lights in blocks of ice
Staircase to a cold bed

The hotel rooms were very nice. They were all designed by different local artists, and one had a plant theme with carvings in the walls. One had colored lights, which looks very nice with the ice and snow. My favorite room had a staircase leading up to the bed. All the beds were made out of ice, though you have a fur blanket on top so it is not that hard to sleep on.

Fur lined door
Other people waling around in the hotel rooms

So far they have had quite a few guests, and the only ones to make use of the "give up" policy (they drive you to a normal hotel and let you stay there instead if you want to give up) was a family with very young kids where the kids could not take the cold the whole night. The roof of the buildings have holes straight out to the night sky, so you get new snow in the room when it snows, and the temperature (while warmer than outside) is not that high.

Ice counter
Ice seats
Ice table

The ice bar was also very nice. The counter and all the furniture are made from ice. The room looks very white when you are in there, but it is actually blue. So all the photos have people looking very blue in the face. The chairs are made from ice but have fur covers so it is quite comfortable to sit there.

Ice glasses
My ice cocktail

The ice glasses are cool (haha). They are a little bit inconvenient to drink from since they are so thick, but they give you a straw to drink through too, so no problem. The hot cocoa was very good, as expected since it is produced by the Royce chocolate company (which has a factory just outside Sweden Hills). All in all, it was a very nice place and I want to go back there again before the facility melts.

Hot cocoa comes with Royce chocolate
They recommended melting some of the chocolate in the cocoa to improve the experience of bot the cocoa and the chocolate.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Susukino Ice Festival 2014

At the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, there is also a Susukino Ice Festival. In the middle of the main street of the Susukino Red Light/Entertainment district they put up lots of ice sculptures. These are usually very beautiful, but they are also usually the same shapes as last year.

There are also some illuminated tunnels and other things where you can take photos of yourself and your girlfriend in romantic settings. I was asked by several Japanese couples if I could take a picture of them (with their camera, of course). During the festivals when lots of tourists come to Sapporo people always speak (broken) English to me, which is a bit confusing at first, haha.

Photo Opportunity Spots

Ice animals and ice car to sit on
Me sitting on the ice car
Me sitting on an ice animal
Heart and Cinderella carriage to take romantic photos in
Not that romantic photo of me in the Cinderella thing


Sapporo Snow Festival 2014

The Sapporo Snow Festival has started again. This is one week with crazy amounts of tourists, and since I have to pass through the festival area to get to work it takes me 10 minutes longer than normal to commute. The festival has a few big snow sculptures, a huge amount of smaller (2x2x2 meters) sculptures, and tents selling festival food. There are also performances in front of some of the larger sculptures from time to time. There were slightly fewer big sculptures than last year.

Skate rink
Snow board jump slope

There is also a skate rink just under the Sapporo TV Tower, where you can borrow skates and skate around. Nearby, they also build a huge snow board and ski trick jumping slope.

Lots of tourists
People passing in front of lots of smaller snow sculptures

Since there are lots of tourists coming to Sapporo during the festival, during this week everyone (naturally) assumes I am a tourist too, since I am obviously not Japanese. This means lots of people come up to me and talk to me in English for various reasons. This year I was asked to answer a questionnaire about miso soup. "Have you ever tried miso soup before?" ... "Yes". If you manage to avoid miso soup for several years in Japan, you would have to be trying very hard, I think, haha.

Selfie in front of one of the smaller sculptures
Photo taken by random tourists that were impressed that I could ask them to take this photo in Japanese

This year's new trend was projection mapping. Last year there were two areas where they used projection mapping on the snow sculptures and this year this was the biggest theme. The Audi snow sculpture and projection mapping was the best, though the other ones were nice too.

UHB snow sculpture
When I went to the UHB (the TV company that broadcast the program I was in on Monday morning) I took some photos of the sculpture myself, but I thought it would also be nice to have a photo of myself in front of this sculpture. I usually ask random strangers nearby for help, but there is also a small platform where you can stand so that the sculpture and you are well balanced and where staff will take photos of you. This kind of service is available in front of all the bigger sculptures. There is usually a huge line, though. This time, there were only 10 people or so standing in line, so I lined up behind them and had my photo taken by the "professionals".

Two funny girls taking photos of tourists

There were two young girls there, asking people to say "雪祭り" ("yuki matsuri", snow festival) to make smiling faces (normally, in Japan you say "cheese" when having your picture taken). They took photos of you with a professional setup they had, and then they took photos of you with your camera or cellphone or whatnot. When you leave the photo area, another girls comes up with the printed version of the photo they took first using their own camera, and you can buy it (though it is expensive) to get a photo with good quality (most cellphone cameras are not that great in dark conditions).

Photo of me in front of the UHB sculpture holding a snowman, taken by the funny girls

The two girls thought it was funny that I knew "a little Japanese" (since I asked them to take a photo with "this camera" in Japanese when handing over my own camera). There were lots of toys in a basked there, and I asked if I was supposed to hold something when having my picture taken. They said that indeed, I should. I picked a snowman, and one of the girls asked if I should not have a penguin too. There are no penguins in Hokkaido (outside the zoos), so I am not sure what connection to Hokkaido that would have, so I said it would be fine with just the snowman.

The photo taken and printed out while the photo above was taken

The girl asked med to say "snow festival" first, and for the second photos she suggested "イケメン" ("ikemen"), which the other girl also thought was funny. When I was leaving, they asked if I understood the word, which is a word you use to compliment men (it means roughly "cool man" or "good looking man"). I said that indeed I did understand the meaning (this is a very common word, so if you live in Japan and do not know this word, I would be surprised), and they laughed even more. But then again, even after telling people I have lived several years in Japan, people are sometimes surprised that I know even very rudimentary Japanese.

Photo wrapping

The girls were funny, so I bought the expensive printout of the photo they took too.

Projection Mapping

Big Sculptures

Children dancing in mini-skirts

Small Sculptures

Sculpture with characters from the Lupin the 3rd manga, but not including Lupin himself!

Takikawa Christel doing her now famous "omotenashi2

Every year someone makes a Japanese 9 with a funny title