Dog sledding is definitely a highlight, but Quebec City has a lot more to offer, especially during Carnival.
Unlike Toronto, winter has not gone missing in Quebec this year.
Our arrival in the middle of a storm, that dumped 15 cm of snow, not only meant a bit of a white knuckle drive from the airport – drivers in Quebec not being the most sane to begin with – it also made walking the streets a little more treacherous.
We saw more than a few spectacular pedestrian wipeouts. One poor woman went from standing one second, to having her feet above her head the next. It was so fast, it took a minute for her friends to realize they were talking to the soles of her boots. That kind of fall always brings the same reaction. After the polite hesitation to see that she wasn’t going to need a trip to the hospital, her friends burst into laughter. As passersby we did too, we just tried to be a little more subtle.
Burn off your poutine by staying in Vieux Quebec
We stayed in Lower Town in Vieux Quebec. It’s my favourite part of the city. The pedestrian streets and old buildings give it a particularly European-feel, which is nice. It also made it easier to pretend a quick weekend getaway was a longer trip to a more exotic location. A word of caution if you’re considering staying there. It’s separated from the core of the city and the Plains of Abraham, where the Carnaval events take place, by a sizeable hill so be prepared to climb and walk. There is a funiculaire but, well, we’re to cheap for that. Besides, the walking gives you justification for the poutine and beaver tails.
Quebec City traffic is for the dogs.
The sun is a giant ball of fire, right? So when the sun comes out it gets warm, right? Hmm, not so much. The same north wind that brought the sunshine also brought temperatures that freeze the snot in your runny noses in 30 seconds flat. Fortunately we came prepared. So, bundled in so many layers that taking a pee becomes a workout, we headed out to explore Carnaval.
Our first stop was the dog sledding races. I thought the races would take place up on the plains of Abraham. Instead, what seemed like thousands of people ended up lining the streets where the course was laid out. I have admit that I was a little disappointed to find that the format was a time trial. I was hoping for something more like skicross, but I guess that wouldn’t be very safe for the dogs, or those of us standing on the sidelines. The good part is that, because they’re outside the actual Carnaval venue, the races are free for everyone to watch.
What do you say when you meet royalty?
The paparazzi have really made it tough to be a celebrity these days. I’m sure there was a time when Bonhomme could wander among his people at Carnaval without an army of handlers, but no longer. I’m pretty sure it would be easier to bump in to Prime Minster Steve wandering the streets of Ottawa. Far less exciting, but easier. If you want an audience with Bonhomme, you need to follow the rules.
Bonhomme has a tight schedule, but he does make time for the little people. Sure, most of them are little because they’re under 10 years old, but we were allowed to get in line too. The good news is that Bonhomme’s handlers are a well oiled machine. As you approach the front of the line, there are people assigned to take your camera, while you set up with the big guy. Then before you know it, your picture is taken, your camera shoved back in your hands and you’re being ushered off stage. So, if you have important geopolitical questions you want to put to him, you better be ready. Me, I was caught-up in the excitement of the moment and barely got out a “salut Bonhomme” before it was all over. It was worth every minute though. Look at that smile, who wouldn’t love a moment to bask in his snowy joy?
Bonhomme puts on a good show.
There’s no shortage of things to keep you busy at Carnaval. Not only can you watch a dogsled race and meet Bonhomme, you can ride a ferris wheel, go for a toboggan or tube ride, play giant foosball, or even sit in an outdoor hot tub. Ok, the last one is a little odd. Even odder is that there we’re actually people who had come to a winter festival with swim trunks and bikins to take advantage. For the big kids, there’s even a bar if the hot chocolate isn’t enough to warm you up.
Heading North in the middle of winter may sound like an odd decision, but it’s worth bundling up for. If you really want a cold experience, there’s always the ice hotel, but that’s another story.