JOURNAL TRAVEL / OCTOBER 3-8, 2007
Entrance to the Ice Hotel in Quebec, constructed totally of ice.
In Quebec City
Special to the Journal
I don't do cold. When the temperature dips below 70F, I grab
a sweater‹sometimes a coat. But I kept hearing so many great things
about the Winter Carnival and the Ice Hotel. I decided to be brave it and
see what February in Quebec City
The Arctic Canadian air is what gave the Quebec City Ice
Carnival its birth. In 1954, the winter was so bitter, locals decided to
liven things up with a festival. Every year, for three weekends in
February, folks come to enjoy 300 different activities, contests and sleigh
rides. Parents haul bundled-up toddlers around on sleds to marvel at ice
sculptures like Moby Dick, the ice castle and Bonhomme,
the festival's snowman mascot. The wind stings your face when ice rafting
down a snow hill or zipping on a cable line but hard-core Quebecians still do it en masse. Even climbing the
slippery slope to the cable zip can take some effort. What are these
This carnival transforms the sane into insane. The "Snow
Bath" is a good example. It is 5F in the carnival grounds and scads of
people, clad only in hats, tennis shoes and bathing suits, dance and romp
in the snow. Between the winter wackiness and all the events, I chill out
about the weather.
Funny thing, the paraders at Quebec City's Winter
Carnival feel the same way. Bonhomme, noisy bands
and scantily clad twirlers and dancers do their stuff.
It can't be more than 10 degrees F. My friend's camera lens
freezes. Clad in a down coat, hood, high-tech hat‹which makes my head
look like a bowling ball‹shirt, heavy wool sweater, plastic bags
wrapped around my legs, snow pants, cotton socks, then plastic bags under
wool socks, heavy boots, and two scarves doesn't keep me from feeling like
Locals will tell you that no matter what the temperature, a good pair of shoes or boots and lots of
stamina is the only requirement to walk around Quebec City. All winter long, Lower
Town‹the old port which now contains small boutiques and
hotels‹and Upper Town‹the more
upscale part of town‹are rarely empty.
Surrounding the city is a 2.8 mile-long, 20-foot thick and
40-foot high wall. Construction was started by the French, but when the
Brits took control, they finished the job to keep the French out. Climb to
the wall's top and walk the walk. It is an open air museum of British
and French architecture, battlegrounds and the city icon, Chateau
Frontenac. Of course, walking at ground level isn't too shabby, either.
Take a stroll on Grand Allee Street, the
"in" place for beautiful people, restaurants and discos. Local, bars,
restaurants and, the oldest grocery in North America,
J A. Moison are on Cartier Street. Ice sculptures adorn
many store fronts. Nearby Duchesnay offers dog
sledding. Boots, pants, gloves and a pre-sledding orientation are supplied.
Barking sounds fill the air. Translation: "I want to go sledding. Take
me!" Those dogs that get left behind cry.
The sledding experience will be forever etched in my mind.
After sliding under the sled blanket, the guide takes his place behind the
reins. Off we go, the freezing air nipping at my face. (Why am I here? I
think to myself.) At the first turn our sled gets stuck in a snow bank.
I jokingly ask our driver, Jerome, "is this your first
time doing this?"
"No, it is my third", he replies.
I think he is teasing until we veer off the trail a couple of
times. He says that this is his internship and is dead serious. He can't
get the dogs to move. The dogs behind us are impatient and want to pass.
Maybe ours is the senior citizen dog team. If only he was a veteran driver.
We survive and make it to the warming hut for some hot chocolate.
I think of my next adventure, a night in the Ice Hotel, as
the precursor of the Ted Williams treatment. (Remember the Boston Red Sox
icon whose family froze him when he died?) Constructed totally of 500 tons
of ice and 15,000 tons snow with walls four feet thick, the Ice Hotel is a
phenomenon. Its 36 rooms and suites can accommodate 88 people. Every year
it is rebuilt because the sleeping rooms, chapel, ice bar, disco and art
gallery are mush by April. At night, colored lights illuminate a huge ice
chandelier and rooms. It looks surreal. The ice fireplace wouldn't last
long with a crackling fire, so forget that. Chairs are covered with animal
skins, so you won't freeze your butt off. Drinks at the bar are served in
cubed-shaped ice glasses. They chill vodka just perfectly.
Sleeping in the Ice Hotel is a singular experience. You can't
just check in and curl up with a good book. There are procedures to follow.
For example, before you hit the sack‹um, ice‹it is recommended
that you jump into an outdoor hot tub. That is supposed to elevate your
body temperature. No thanks. Someone I know did it and her hair turned to
You must stay dry. Even a drop of sweat, says our instructor,
can cause the shivers. I think to myself, what if I drool? Will I get
Each of the suites has a theme ‹ an igloo, a
chessboard, a medieval castle and a cave. My friend Lorry and I share the
Concerto, which is sculptured with musical notes and clefs. At bedtime, one
just doesn't climb into bed. No, first separate mummy bag from its
covering. Clothes and shoes are removed. Clothes sans shoes are put in the
bottom of the bag. Slide out the silk liner and pillow, shimmying into the
bag and pulling the strings shut.
As I lay on my slab, the silence is deafening. I look over at
Lorry. Steam comes out her mummy back every time she takes a breath. Unable
to sleep, I wonder how long a human can survive single digit temperatures.
Suddenly, I feel the call of nature. As cold as I am, I
almost work up a sweat getting out of the bag. I forgot where the toilet
is, but my thrashing has aroused Lorry. She joins me on a search through
the snowy walls.
Because it is not made of ice and warm, the bathroom is a
happening place at 3 a.m. Blow dryers are popular - forget about hair, they
are body warmers. Guests sprint out on the way back to their rooms. One
lady dressed in boots, a fur hat and pajamas with sheep on them runs right
past. She makes a quick U-turn to the warm potties.
Some cannot tough it out. They escape to the lodge to try, the key word is try, to warm up at the fireplace. I
make it through the night on my freezing slab but am totally done with
winter. My preference is palm trees and warm sea breezes but my fun
memories of Quebec City
are chiseled in my memory like an ice sculpture.
IF YOU GO: Hotel reservations for both the Hotel and Quebec City's Winter
Carnival should be made well in advance. For information contact: Tourisme Quebec:
www.bonjourquebec.com Quebec City Tourism: www.quebecregion.com or Carnaval de Quebec, www.carnaval.qc.ca.