Exploring a Magical Ice Castle in Edmonton, Alberta

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Wandering through an acre-sized ice castle is no longer only possible in a Disney movie — think Elsa’s icy escape in Frozen. The Utah-based company, Ice Castles, started creating these incredible structures in 2009, and for the first time ever, has brought the incredible frozen wonderland to Canada.

I recently had the chance to meet Brent Christensen and Ryan Davies, the architect and CEO of the company, who explained how it came to be and how these incredible structures are created.

Brent’s inspiration for the company began in his own backyard, when he and his kids started playing around with running water and ice. It exploded from there, and soon; he was creating giant castles for the public.

Icicles are grown on custom frames before being fused to the castle

What makes these castles unique, is that instead of being created from blocks of ice, Brent’s castles look like frozen waterfalls or glaciers. They are built with icicles that are sprayed with water to create huge, incredibly strong towers of ice and caves that are filled with icy stalactites. More than 15,000 icicles are used to grow a tower just two feet!

Putting together the castle involves a 10-step process:

  1. Find a location and design a layout for the castle
  2. Lay a foundation of pipes and lights that will go inside the ice towers
  3. Create an icicle farm on custom frames
  4. Harvest the icicles
  5. Fuse the icicles by hand onto the castle
  6. Spray the icicles with water to add height and build strength
  7. Repeat steps 3-6
  8. Let nature (wind, temperature, etc) influence the look of the castle
  9. Carve out pathways in the ice so that it is safe for the public
  10. Open the castle!

I got to explore the castle before it was open to the public and was struck by how much the colour of the ice looks like the blue that I’ve seen in glaciers. Apparently, this is because of how thick the ice becomes. At night, lights that have been buried deep in the ice make the structure glow with all colours of the rainbow.

Visit the Ice Castles website for information on where they are located this year. 

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Travel Tales: Visiting Buckingham Palace in London, England

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Though I usually avoid tours at all cost, after some urging from my travel buddy — and since were only going to be in London for a few days — I agreed to take the classic Red Bus Tour. We boarded the double-decker bus first thing and spent the morning being whisked past some of the most iconic buildings and monuments in the city.

By the afternoon, I was only half listening to the tour guide’s non-stop narration of the city scenery when I caught the end of a sentence "…visit the state rooms of Buckingham", as we passed by the iconic symbol of London itself.

“Whoa! What did he say!?” I asked my friend.

“Those white tents over there,” she pointed, “are where you line up to visit Buckingham Palace.”

Visit Buckingham Palace… VISIT BUCKINGHAM PALACE!!!!

How did I not know that a normal person could actually go INSIDE the Queen’s official London home!? 

I reached over and yanked hard on the yellow wire, signaling to the driver that I wanted off.

“Hurry!” I yelled at my friend jumping out of my seat, “we gotta go visit the Queen’s house!!”

She looked at me bemused and smiled apologetically at the tour guide who, for the first time all day, had paused his monologue and seemed a bit taken aback by my enthusiasm. 

Jumping out of the bus, we practically ran towards the white tents covering a twisting line of tourists patiently waiting for their turn to see how the Royals lived. My friend sighed when she saw the line, but I determinedly took my place at the end of it.

I didn’t care how long I had to stand there, I was getting into that palace.

For a month in the summer, when the Queen and her court head to Balmoral Castle in the Highlands of Scotland (Fun Fact: If the queen is at the palace, the Sovereign’s Standard is flown, if not the Union Jack flaps proudly in the wind), the lavish and historic State Rooms of one of the few working palaces in the world are open to the public.

For those of you that have walked through the halls of the palace in Versailles or the Hapsburg summer palace in Austria, you might be wondering why this is such a big deal.

A palace is a palace right? WRONG

What makes a visit to Buckingham so incredible is that it is actually someone’s home — an incredibly wealthy someone. The rooms are clean, kept, and full of priceless furniture, art, and other treasures. They have not been looted or vandalised by mobs during uprisings (like Versailles) and are painstakingly taken care of by over 450 members of the Royal Household. 

No mater what your opinion is of Royalty, there is something amazing about walking through rooms that generations of rulers from all over the world have dined in, danced in, and lived in. 

The Royal Arms on the bronze entrance gates, 1905          Bromsgrove Guild

The line moved surprisingly fast and after only about thirty minutes, we entered through the Ambassadors’ entrance, normally reserved for foreign ambassadors, senior government officials, and high ranking members of the armed services.

After walking through a narrow passageway, we stepped into the breathtaking Grand Entrance, all marble, columns, sculpture, and red plush carpeting.

Peeking through the windows, I could see a stone-filled square, called the Quadrangle, where the Queen receives exalted guests, and through that, the inside of the gates that, until that moment, I had seen only from the other side.

 The Grand Staircase, Buckingham Palace

The Grand Staircase, Buckingham Palace

After walking up the stunning grand staircase literally made out of marble and gold, we entered the rooms on the first floor.

My mouth gaped open stupidly from that moment on, as we slowly wandered from room to room taking in the elaborate curtains, patterned walls, gilt mirrors, painted murals, and master works of art (the frames alone could have kept me travelling for years).

We passed through Drawing Rooms, The State Dining Room, The Ballroom, and The Throne Room — I could have stayed in there forever (seriously, I tried to keep my eye out for a place to hide).

The Throne Room, Buckingham Palace

Oh, the photos I would have taken if only I was permitted to! There is no taking photos in the Queen's house. (The interior photos used in this post are photos-I-took-of-photos found in the ‘Official Souvenir Guide’ by Derry Moore).

It took a lot, but (after a few hours) my VERY patient travel companion finally managed to drag me out of the palace and into the fresh air of the royal backyard. The 40-acre garden stretched out in front of me as I stood for a moment enjoying the Queen’s patio.

Buckingham Palace from the back

My mind instantly flashed to a picture that I had seen when I was younger of Princess Diana, Prince Charles, a young Prince William, and an even younger Prince Harry sitting on the grass together smiling.

The sides of my own lips turned up at the enchanting memory, which was broken as my friend tugged me down the stairs towards a path that led through the garden and ultimately back to the other "normal" side of Buckingham’s walls.

(Insert exaggerated sigh here)

What. A. Day. 

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