pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

I’m back at the sumptuous Merchant Hotel in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, site of a rather infamous party I threw almost three years ago. (let’s just say people are still talking about it, thank you very much.) It’s posh, for lack of a better word – meaning attentive, attractive, and very well-proportioned – with an Italianate sandstone facade of columns and capitals backed by carefully restored High Victorian interiors. In fact, the former Ulster Bank headquarters wouldn’t look out-of-place in London or Paris. For a city which ten years ago had but a single boutique hotel, the Merchant is a perfect example of how much in this city has changed. Even at the height of the property bust two years ago the hotel was able to build an Art Deco extension and more than double in size, adding rooms, a spa, and the city’s only authentic jazz bar. To call it a success would be an understatement. From the soaring grandeur of the Great Room Restaurant (where even the profiteroles are swan-necked), to the perfectly judged and beautifully friendly staff, to the overstuffed beds and ample marble bathrooms, the Merchant is an all-out triumph.

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wishlist: the perfect (un) cube

When it comes to ice – to paraphrase a famous ecdysiast - you either got it, or you ain’t. (And boys, I got it.)  Or rather, I want it. Let the 2011 holiday wishlist begin with this Ice Ball Press Kit from Cirrus. For years I’ve been prattling on about substandard ice and you wouldn’t believe the curious looks I get – as though all ice was created equal. Ha! Too long a staple of only high-end cocktail bars, where a bartender would actually hand-carve them out of frozen blocks, these ice spheres have way less surface area than cubed or crushed ice. Which means they melt slowly, chilling your drink instead of making soup. If you think that sounds just a bit too precious try splurging for an aged single-malt whiskey. It’s something you want to savor, not slurp – and that, dear reader, is what proper ice is all about. The 16lb, gravity-powered, aluminum presses come in 2 sizes to produce either 2”- or 2.75”-diameter balls, and’ll turn out the perfectly round drink-coolers in just under a minute with next-to-no cleanup or attention. Santa, I’m ready to be bowled over.

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escape from planet ice

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live blog: filtered ice

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live blog: perito moreno

After our hike across the Perito Moreno glacier the other day, it was interesting to view the massive north face from the water.

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live blog: glacial views

Yesterday we spent quality time on the ice, today we got to enjoy a different perspective: seeing it from the water.  Departing from Puerto Banderas, we settled into cozy leather recliners and navigated our way through Boca del Diablo along the northern fjord of Lago Argentina.  For close to 90 minutes we sailed among huge icebergs and chunks of drift ice that pulsed with color in the early sun.  If you’ve never seen icebergs – and I’ve not, until now – they’re transfixing.  You want to see them from every angle; you want to touch them, to taste them.

Eventually we came to the imposing glacier in the video here:  the Upsala Glacier, which covers some 370 square miles.  To put that into perceptive, in the 1960’s an Argentine Air Force Captain actually landed a DC3 on the glacier.

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live blog: georgia’s ice

We jokingly nicknamed this crevasse the O’Keefe due to the, how shall we say, interesting anatomical formation.  There was a river coursing down below – no jokes, please – but we couldn’t see down to the bottom.
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wish list: ice hotel

It was back in 1996 that a handful of artists from around the world started visiting Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland to help build  the first ICEHOTEL. About five hundred artists have passed through the tiny Arctic village since then and in November of 2009 another thirty-nine arrived to create one-of-a-kind art suites for the hotel’s twentieth anniversary.

Hailing from Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, England, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the USA, some  of the artists have been before, others not. Many have never before worked with snow and ice. It is a mix of men and women between thirty and seventy years of age: painters, multimedia designers, art directors and interior designers.  And all of them magicians, to an extent; all of them dreamers.

ICEHOTEL is often referred to as a fairytale world – a Narnia in Swedish Lapland.  Is it a hotel or an art installation?  A fantasy or the ultimate in hard-edged environmental realism?  Created each winter through a combination of wild imagination and  backbreaking work, it melts away under the unforgiving rays of the sun come springtime. All that remains are footprints, memories – and a few hopeful possibilities for the next year.

Label it what you will from a distance- it sounds like a place that needs to be experienced in order to be understood.

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