My New Year resolution efforts started off where I really had to make a decision – do I or don’t I live up to having a true “adventure.” Two friends, Kari and Juliet, and I were going to Quebec for vacation. But barriers kept coming up. First, there was the “polar vortex,” a mean winter storm, descending on the US – and the Quebec area, and news stories about its dangerous cold were everywhere. Second, I had a work deadline. And finally, when my friends texted me at 6:30 am Tuesday to say their flights were cancelled because of the storm, and that I might want to cancel my trip, I assumed I’d be staying in DC. Then I discovered I couldn’t get a refund for my flight (bought with miles) or the tours, all of which were still going forward. I had wanted an adventure, right? And I had already bought some serious cold weather boots. So I didn’t cancel, and luckily Kari and Juliet were able to get flights for Thursday. I just got there earlier.
I’m glad. Quebec is very beautiful, especially in winter. Sure when you land at night in Quebec on a prop plane, and see icy snow whipping off the runway from a strong wind, see airport guys bundled up like they’re at the north pole, and watch the plane driving over sheets of ice, it feels like you’ve landed at the Arctic Circle.
(The St. Lawrence river, frozen over in places)
But it isn’t that cold if you bundle up properly, which I did. (And it is now getting warmer). And I am experiencing a world I never really understood – cold weather climate and how people could live with it. Some thoughts on that:
– It may be cold outside, but Canadians keep those planes and hotels toasty warm.
– The seats on Air Canada have built in coat hooks.
– When you fly in, you can see outdoor hockey rinks and skiing trails every where.
– Snow doesn’t have to stop a city if you actually utilize snow plows, or if you don’t care about slipping and sliding if you’re a taxi driver.
– Sitting in a jacuzzi built to resemble hot springs, surrounded by snow and fir trees, or sitting in a lodge with fire places, is incredibly wonderful. And no – that is not my hotel, but we did get in an afternoon at an outdoor Nordic spa.
– Going to a touristy ‘sugar shack’ (as in specializes in maple sugar) on a wagon hauled by a monster tractor over a small icy road down a small cliff is actually very fun. As is eating maple syrup poured into snow that you roll onto a stick like a lollipop.
(Kari in front of the Hotel de Glace)
I’ve also been learning about the French colonization of Quebec, and how the land system was set up. When I flew in, at night, I saw the lights of houses lined up along roads, with farmland in between. In the US, houses are far more scattered. I thought it was because in the US, especially Texas where I grew up, houses are often in the middle of the fields, with long driveways. But this would be tricky in snow country because of the need to then plow the snow. On a bus tour of the countryside, however, our guide pointed out on maps that the French gave out/sold plots of land in long, linear strips with houses at the end, while the British (and thus the U.S.) system had square plots. The French system makes for a very different type of community as seen from the air, and no doubt, in terms of interactions.
Our guide on the tour was wonderful, and 5th generation Quebec. She provided the history of French settlement of the area, especially as it relates to farming on the L’Île d’Orléans (Island of Treasure) next to Quebec. Its primary role is the “pantry” of Quebec, growing strawberries, wheat, some ice wine, and more, and it is a historical monument, so no additional buildings can be built on the island. It is very beautiful countryside.
Anyway, the historical item that most stood out from that tour is that red tin roofs became popular because sailors coming down the river in winter needed to be able to find their houses. But the first red roofs were created using moose blood. (not yet confirmed via Google).
What else? Tobogganing! In a very quiet, medieval-looking Quebec City, a random walk last night (or we thought it was random, but one of the people I had met had a mission), led us to a toboggan hill. Twelve of us went down in a brilliant race. Pictures to come via Juliet.
Finally, we just came back from touring the Hôtel de Glace – yes a hotel entirely built of ice. The pictures alone will suffice.
(Kari, Juliet, and I, at the -7 deg (Celsius?) Ice Hotel. How I wish I could digitally edit the hat and bulky coat off, but it does demonstrate the lengths that this Texas/Miami/DC girl went to stay warm)
So great decision. Sunday is my final day here, but that day will count towards next week’s adventure – snowshoeing.
Happy New Year.