After driving for many hours from Boston, where it was a balmy February day of 25° F, we finally parked the car in front of our hotel in Québec City. I opened the car door to stretch my aching legs, and instantly all the moisture inside my lungs froze. I gasped for breath. Holy shit, was this cold! It turned out to be -40° F, a temperature I had never experienced. The battle to stay warm would underline everything we planned to do here, at the great Carnaval de Québec. Québec’s winter carnival is held each year in February when water stays properly frozen and becomes a building material for igloos, outdoor games, spare walls and beautiful sculptures. You name it.
Sightseeing was a mashup of walking the ancient streets, popping inside quaint stores filled with tchotchkes and stopping for a hot one in a cafe every 15 minutes or so to warm up. Even though we were dressed for winter, this was something else. This was arctic. Québec broke a record low that night, and we were lucky enough to experience it. It was so cold, Bonhomme, the Carnaval mascot, wasn’t afraid of melting and could be found hamming it up with revelers.
The marching bands had special muffs for their hands in order to play their instruments without getting frostbite. Children in full snow suits, adults in full snow suits, the rest of us in whatever, all trying to have a party outdoors, was a sight to see. The human Fussball game was my favorite, with people tied to rods, which were jerked back and forth by their handlers.
There was a huge ice luge that people slid down, to their deaths; I mean, no one died, but I didn’t try it. Let’s say, the ice sculpture park was more my speed.
The next afternoon, we drove to the Hôtel de Glace and checked in. For too many hours, the day trippers were about, taking photos and running havoc over the place. One woman I was speaking to was surprised to hear that people actually slept here. I told her that we were going to be those people. After the riff-raff left, we got to enjoy the fancy igloo in a more serene atmosphere. Sponsored by Absolute Vodka, the logo can be seen carved into the ice walls, and if that doesn’t make an impression, then the ice bar certainly will, where they serve their vodka in chunky square ice mugs.
Carvings and ice sculptures make this feel a bit like a museum, but the bedrooms are really something lovely, with raised ice beds covered in pelts. Many have nightstands and beautiful murals on the walls. Some, like ours, were just simple icy rooms, with an atmosphere like a crypt.
At bedtime, sleep came reluctantly to both of us. Laying supine was the only choice, since we were in subzero sleeping bags. If you can’t sleep in this position, just give up and read a book. I couldn’t help keeping my eye on the snowy ceiling, wondering how it stays up there and will it come crashing down on us. I managed six hours of sleep, my husband, absolute zero (geek joke). At 6:00 a.m., we retired to the sister hotel next door that had real walls and heat. We sat by the fire drinking hot drinks until it was breakfast time. When you book a night in the Hôtel de Glace, you have a solid room booked next door, for people who give up. We were made of stronger stuff though and toughed it out, or at least, our stubbornness wouldn’t let us give up.
After a night sleeping in an igloo, which maintains only a 32° F temperature, it was nice to pack it into the car and turn the heat on for a nice drive home. Saying goodbye to Québec City is like leaving an old friend. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But, next time, we visit in the summer. I hear they have a festival for that too.