Canada, Québec, Québec City, Uncategorized

Quebec Winter Carnival 2020

The Quebec Winter Carnival, or rather the Carnaval de Québec, is held annually in Québec City, Québec, Canada. At one time, it was the largest winter festival in the world. It’s been held annually since 1955 and intermittently before that since its birth in 1894. It boasts of events like street parades, ice palaces, snow sculptures, food and bars, ice skating, sledding, and unique activities like ice canoe races and ax-throwing. The Carnaval’s famous mascot is Bonhomme (who we were lucky enough to get a photo with our first night!), and he also shows up on the Carnaval’s effigy, which is a pass to get into many of the events.

Courtesy of Quebec Winter Carnival website

The 2020 dates were Friday, February 7, until Sunday, February 16. We went from Tuesday the 11th until Friday the 14th. I went with two of my college friends, and we started the drive up from southern Maine around 1 AM Tuesday.

Day 1 – Tuesday

We were driving through most of the night, covering about 300 miles (approximately 482 km) over about six hours. We arrived in Quebec City around 8 AM and went downtown and immediately saw familiar sites like the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac and the shops along Quartier Petit Champlain.

We couldn’t check into our Air BNB until noon, so we decided to find a small breakfast place. We landed on Creperie & Cie 5.0 right on Rue de Petit Champlain.

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After a quick trip to Walmart for some groceries, we checked into our Air BNB and went right to sleep! We woke up around dinnertime and were shortly out the door to head downtown near the Plains of Abraham area to begin exploring the Carnaval. To be more specific about location, here is the description according to the website: “The sites are located in the heart of Old Quebec. The main sites are the Parc de la Francophonie, Place Assemblée-Nationale and Place George-V, but some activities take place elsewhere.”

During the weekdays, most of the Carnaval is only open until 9 PM, so we were only there a couple of hours. We also had missed some of the events, like the opening parade and ice canoe races and wouldn’t be there for the closing parade. But, there were still plenty of festivities going on!

We started at an area referred to as “Jos’ Camp Presented by Videotron” which has some virtual reality games, outdoor bars and food stands, ax-throwing, and the Christie North Slope. As we were walking around, we spotted Bonhomme!

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We listened to some of the bands, took a snow tube down the Christie North Slope, and a few minutes before close, decided to get in line and try our hand at the ax-throwing!

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Day 2 – Wednesday

Day 2 was our spa day. My last trip in Quebec City (which was with two of my friends, one of them being an attendee on this trip, too), we had gone to the Strøm Spa Nordique, which was heavenly. So, we decided it was a must-do on this trip, too! We got there right after opening around 10 AM and stayed until around 6 PM.

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The spa is a mix of indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, saunas, cafes, and resting areas, with options to add on massages, body treatments, facials, and hand/feet treatments. All of us did the traditional thermal experience (pools, hot tubs, rest areas, etc) and two of us (myself included) added on body treatments. I did a volcanic body scrub, which was fantastic. The three of us also added on the Laga flotation bath, which is a large salt water pool with a density that matches the Dead Sea, so you float effortlessly.

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Photo courtesy of https://www.stromspa.com/

After a relaxing day, we were off to the Air BNB to have dinner and prep to go back out to visit some other Carnaval sites, but of course, we had to make our first Tim Horton’s stop of the trip first!

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Next, we headed back downtown. This time, a few blocks over and in front of the Parliament Building at Place de l’Assemblée National. This is the location of Zone Loto-Québec, which is home to Bonhomme’s ice palace, the ice slide, the PIXEL experience, another SAQ Bistro, and a common place to have a Bonhomme sighting!

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Place de l’Assemblée National

Entrance and beginning to the Ice Palace and Loto-Zone

Exploring PIXEL

Checking out the ice and snow sculptures

Taking a trip down the ice slide

Drinks and hot chocolate from the SAQ Bistro

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Souvenir shopping

After 9 PM, we headed back to our Air BNB after a long day!

Day 3 – Thursday

We woke up bright and early and headed to Restaurant L’omelette for breakfast!

Our Thursday destination was the Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel), another iconic site about 40 minutes outside of Quebec City in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier. This annual site is a large “hotel” consisting of dozens and dozens of intricate ice sculptures and actual hotel rooms that can be rented – completely made out of ice.

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After our trek back, I decided to stay in and take a nap while the other two hunted (unsuccessfully) for a sugar shack a few towns out. After dinnertime, two of us went back out to the main Carnaval area, but after a little while there and it being 12* F (about -11* C), we decided to call it a night and went back to the Air BNB and defrosted for the night.

Day 4 – Friday

Our last morning, we headed back to the Quartier Petit Champlain and explored some of the shops along that street and surrounding ones.

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After sufficiently stocking up on maple-flavored, -themed, and -scented items, along with additional souvenirs, we made our way back to the car. This is when we discovered – *gasp* – a parking ticket, which we probably very much deserved as we had been parking pretty riskily the entire trip. Ah, when in Canada!

After one last Tim Horton’s stop, we were on our way back to Maine!

Sad you missed it? Mark your calendars for February 5 to 14, 2021!

Canada, Montréal, Québec

Introduction to Montréal Day 2

June 15 – 20, 2019 

To start off our second day in Montréal, we had breakfast at Tim Horton’s – obviously! This is a very popular chain, comparable to Dunkin’ Donuts in the northeastern United States. They used to have some locations in mid and southern Maine but just about all of them have closed. I don’t know what it’s comparable to in other parts of the US, but basically, it’s a fast food coffee/breakfast food type shop. Nothing that exciting and to write home about, but they are notorious for their “iced capps” (iced cappacino) which are delish. When I lived in northern Maine (which is close to the Canadian border so they have Tim’s there still), my coworkers and I had a weekly (or, uh… biweekly sometimes) iced capp date to decompress. Anyway, long story short, Tim’s is a must-do if you go to Canada.

Even though we drove to Montréal, we primarily used public transportation to avoid a few things: parking issues, traffic, and driving in a congested area that we’re not familiar with and signs not in our language. We drove over to Tim’s because it was right down the street, but then we went back to our Air BNB, parked, and walked about five minutes down to the Du College orange line subway station to take the 30-minute train ride downtown to get started on our adventures for the day!

If you are traveling in a city with public transportation, I highly highly highly (did I say highly?) suggest downloading the Citymapper app. You can also utilize it as a website, but I’m not familiar with using that feature. I’m know there are some apps/websites that are similar, but this one has helped me for years without fail. Not every single city is on there, but just about everywhere I’ve been to has had it, including out of country locations. You enter where you want to go, and it guides you step-by-step on how to get there. If you are utilizing public transportation, it tells you what station or bus stop to go to, where and when to transfer, how many stops, etc. It literally has saved me. I wouldn’t have survived living in Boston without it. (Okay, Citymapper, I hope you’re listening; I want some funding for promoting you).

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We started downtown at the Tourist Information Centre of Montréal. This is in the Old Montréal area. I typically like to start my trips with a bus tour to get an overview of the city, some history, and my bearings on my location. While these tend to be pretty touristy and don’t show you everything, it’s a good start. We overlapped our bus tour with the Montréal Passport, which gives you access to quite a few major attractions in Montréal. Again, these are pretty touristy, so it’s important to explore other things as well. This is something I’m constantly learning – how to get “off the path” so to speak and see more of the city and a better sense of life and culture. You tend to mostly see the “hub” of things and major sites but not the neighborhoods and things like that. But, I certainly enjoy a lot of the common touristy things to start off.

We bought bus tour tickets for the Gray Line 48-hour hop-on hop-off tour. So this is deceiving. It’s not actually 48 hours. It’s two days. So if you buy it on a Monday afternoon, you’re only covered for the rest of Monday and then Tuesday. This was fine because we only planned on taking a few rides. We started by doing a full loop of the bus tour (rather than hopping off, hopping on) and hearing some interesting history from the guide. This was in English, although most things in Montréal are offered in English and French or just French. With this being a common tourist bus tour, it made sense they offered it primarily in English, but I believe they also had bilingual tours. The bus tour was about $44 USD for each person, coming to a total of about $85 USD (or approximately $112 CAD). Before we hopped on the bus, we took in a few beautiful sites around the Tourist Information Centre.

I can’t find a map online that has a visual depiction of the route that the bus takes, but it stops at the following locations:

  • Dorchester Square
  • Old Montreal
  • Place Jacques Cartier
  • Old Port
  • Square Victoria
  • Place Ville Marie
  • Chinatown
  • Village
  • Latin Quarter
  • Quartier des Spectacles
  • Downtown
  • Fine Arts Museum
  • McCord Museum
  • McGill University
  • Saint Joseph’s Oratory
  • Mount-Royal Park

While we were at the Tourist Information Centre, we also bought the Montréal Passport, which gives you access to a few dozen attractions/sites. Unlike the bus tour, this is actually for a full 48 or 72 hours from the time that you first use it. We got the 72 hour pass figuring this would cover most of the sites we would see over the first few days. It was fairly pricey, about $98 a person (for a total of $195 USD) or approximately $255 CAD. While it is a bit pricey, it covers quite a lot:

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After taking our bus tour, our next stops for the day were the Observatoire Place Ville Marie and the Parc Olympique (Olympic Park). Check out the next blog post to read more!

Canada, Montréal, Québec

Montréal: Day 1

June 15 – 20, 2019 

While I’ve had many recent travels to Canada, I had yet to go to Montréal! This was an impromptu trip with no real plans ahead of time, and I was excited to go on this adventure with my partner, Brady! This was his first time in the great land of Canada, so that was another exciting part of the trip.

Montréal is the most populated city in Québec and second most populated in Canada. Its name comes from the large mountain in the city, Mount Royal. The city was originally named Ville Marie (“City of Mary”) when early settlers founded it in 1642 and was formally incorporated as a city in 1832. Montréal is actually an archipelago, with the heart of the city being on the Island of Montréal. It is between the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. The city has a population of approximately 1.7 million (2016) with a total of 4.1 million (2016) in the greater Montréal metropolitan area.

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We left early Saturday morning for the 220 mile (355 km) trek to Montréal! It took us about 5-6 hours with stops added in. First step was saying our goodbyes to our doggo, Sage! Then we were off!

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First stop was lunch at Friendly’s in North Conway, New Hampshire!

To be honest, I slept most of the way there, even though we were going to split up driving. Whoops. So, I can’t speak to much of the drive, but it went fairly smoothly! Border patrol is intimidating as always, but it’s pretty low-key at Canadian borders so I’m not sure why I get so tense everytime!

We arrived late afternoon and headed to our Air BNB to get settled in! This was my 6th stay in an Air BNB, and it was a great experience! Our host, Dominic, was super friendly and responsive, and the place was great (see listing here and pictures below).

Next stop was making plans for the evening! We decided to head downtown to the busier part of the city. One of the great things about our Air BNB was that it was literally a five minute walk to the Du College subway station (they refer to the subway as the Metro, and the bus as… the bus). This was surprisingly my first time ever taking Canadian public transportation!

It being a Saturday night, I wanted to check out the nightlife! We bought tickets to go to Newspeak Montréal and headed downtown! First things first, it was nearly impossible to find the place. It literally wasn’t labeled at all. This became a recurrent theme in Montréal like everywhere. We finally found the place after circling a few blocks, but then we ran into a pickle with not having our IDs on hand. So, the bar/club scene ended up being a no-go for the night, but we made the best of it!

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We walked around more in the “nightlife” area (which is primarily centered around Crescent Street and the surrounding streets). We stopped to have dinner at an Italian place called Da Giovanni. It was good, and then we headed back for the night to rest up for the next day!

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