Did we accidentally fly to France, dear?
Trip Start Feb 09, 2008
1Trip End Feb 17, 2008
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A week from arrival, the grim reality was sinking in - it was going to be COLD. The weather report showed snow and well below freezing forecasts. Ugh.
Well, I packed many layers of clothes and hoped for the best. It was a long day of flying from Seattle; and we arrived at the Delta only to find out they were overbooked. They'd arranged a room at the Hilton and promised an upgrade the next night
Yes, cowboys - the Calgary Stampede was in town - literally. Not sure if it was a convention for organizers or what, but they were everywhere - apparently they even hosted a flapjack breakfast that morning.
Well, the Hilton room was nice and high enough to have a good view. After a quick crepe run into town, we crashed for the night. The next morning, we shuffled back over to the Delta, and checked in for the rest of the week. This is one of those cases where their mistake is your gain - to compensate for bumping us the first night, they gave us a corner room on the concierge level for the rest of our stay, which includes free breakfast in a private lounge and free happy hour snacks. Sweet!
But it was time to get out there and enjoy that Carnival. After breakfast, we bundled up and set off to see the canoe races. Now, the river is at least half frozen over, so this canoe race isn't quite what you think
After that, we wandered off to see a few other Carnival sights. It was cold and snowing nearly all day, and the sidewalk plows couldn't keep up. Walking was quite a workout; we were both glad to have heavy winter boots. The Place DesJardins sponsored area had a lot of carnival activities - we toured some of the snow sculptures, drank caribou out of an ice shot glass, and took a quick ride down a hill in a raft. Caribou and Amarula were everywhere - the first is a semi-medicinal tasting mix of brandy, port and maple syrup (served warm - its saving grace). The second is some ?tropical? liqueur - I never tried it so I'm not sure how it tastes, looks creamy kinda like Baileys. The area also had some outdoor fireplaces so you could stay thawed even if you weren't drinking.
By now, it was snowing on us pretty hard, so we headed back to our warm concierge lounge for snacks
- Yes, they really do speak primarily French - on the menus, radio, TV, everywhere. You would have to learn French to live here (though as a tourist, it isn't hard to get by - lots of English subtitles on menus, etc)
- There is a heavy French culture influence on the food too (not a bad thing, though I was craving teriyaki eventually ;-)
- The Delta (and Hilton) have a good location for Carnival - you are near the city walls (walking distance), and very near the Place DesJardins pavilion, where a lot of events are held.
- We were also near Grand Allee (lots of bars/restaurants)...and with a bit of a walk, Rue Cartier (fun street, more bars/restaurants) and the Plains of Abraham (big park, some xc trails back towards the Citadel and Place DesJardins area.
Monday, it was time to ski. We rented a car and headed out for a nice drive along the river to Mont St. Anne - a ski area with downhill area and a good sized Nordic area. It was a cold day, but sunny - a very nice day to be zipping around on skis. We saw huge hoof tracks on one trail - moose, I'm guessing, but we didn't sport any wildlife in person
Tuesday was a very lazy day. A big snowstorm was pushing through, there weren't many carnival events on weekdays, so we read, relaxed and ventured out only briefly. The old city is split between "upper town" and "lower town" - upper town is on a bluff above the river, the city walls run along the bluff. Lower town is - you guessed it - below that. We took the funicular down, browsed a cute street called Le Petit Champlain, and then rode the ferry across the river - it was really cool to see the ferry's bow crash through the ice. Well, until you started getting numb, and then it was time to get back indoors. But the view of the city from the ferry is gorgeous - especially at sunset. The perfect post-frigid-ferry activity (in my opinion) is enjoying an Irish coffee near the fireplace at St Alexanders Pub. I was cold enough for another round before we stumbled back up the hill to our hotel.
The sun came back out the next day, so we decided to try another outdoor activity - there's a snow park a half hour from town called Valcartier (a water park in the summer). They ran the snow tube/raft rides at the carnival, so we thought we'd give the bigger version a whirl. What a blast! (see video/pics) You grab a tube, plunk your butt into their rope tow system, roll off at the top of the hill, and then decide which run you want to brave - green, blue, black or double black
There weren't that many people our age without kids out tubing on a weekday, but hey, we are young at heart. However, now it was time to get away from the kids - I'd seen a couple "Scandinavian spas" advertised, and they looked more man-friendly than the typical massage and pedicure place, so we gave nearby Siberian Station a try. It was great - they have a bunch of outdoor "stations", each one has something hot (tub, sauna, steamroom, fireplace) and some sort of cold dip. I was more than cool enough just running from hot place to hot place in the snow, but Hans took a couple cold dips and even dipped in the (frozen) river - they had a dock with a cutout for crazy people like him
With all this snow, we had to do one more ski day - so we headed west to Station Duchesnay. It's an old school or camp next to a lake, many of the buildings were made of logs. Rustic but very pretty, a good place to get away and relax. They also had a spa with a Swedish name ("Tyst Trädgård") for after skiing. We did a two hour loop, and headed in for more spa time. This place had the same concept as the other, but just a bit pricier. I think it was worth it - they supplied flipflops (yes!), a robe, some water, lotion, and you got your own private "station". Ours had a hot tub, cold dip, and a funky sauna that looked like a big barrel turned on its side. An hour shuttling between the sauna and hot tub - Hans did the cold dip too, but the look on his face didn't make me think it was pleasant enough to try. Then it was time to head back home
Carnival events were heating back up for the weekend, so more wandering around town was in order. Saturday was sunny but very cold. We watched a couple runs in the sleigh races - including one horse that got a little spooked and nearly tore down the finish line by whipping the sleigh (and rider) around. We tasted a maple covered beaver tail (flat fried dough with maple goo - messy, but delicious), tried the toboggan run near the Chateau Fronterac (see video), and enjoyed some onion soup at a pub in town.
There are two big parades during Carnival - and we headed out Saturday night to catch part of the second one. Parade night is a little rowdy, but very fun. All the bars along the route build an ice bar on their patio and serve various drinks. Or you can buy a "cane" filled with caribou - maybe 5 shots worth? Lots of fun, everyone in a good mood waiting for the parade to wind by. It takes a *long* time for the parade to get even mid-way down the route, and we had dinner reservations at Aux Anciens Canadiens, so we only got a glimpse of the first 10 minutes
Ah well, that was our last night, it was time to go back to our room, pack up, say goodbye to the concierge life, and catch a plane in the morning. A memorable trip, though wouldn't Hans have been happier in a warmer climate where Carnival beads translates into bare breasts? Guess we'll find out next year ;-)