I love my country and am extremely proud to be Canadian but every winter I curse both….a lot. I hate the cold, the snow, the wind chill, the laying of clothes and of course the frickin’ shovelling. So it’s no surprise then that I’ve always passed on the opportunity to go anywhere in winter that requires me to be outdoors. However, I recently drove with a friend to Quebec City for the famous Winter Carnival. I even think it was my
dumb bright idea.
So there we were, wandering through the city at a balmy -25 Celsius. How could anyone have fun in such frigid temperatures? …some good winter clothes + a lack of good sense + the allure of the Bonhomme Carnival I’ve heard about since childhood…that’s how.
There are various Carnival sites spread out over the city, but the main one had every quintessential winter festival necessity. Aside from the obligatory music and food and beer tents, there were ice rinks and tube slides, fishing holes and outdoor hot tubs.
Everybody and their mother looked like the abominable snowman while trying to look like it was all a part of the fun. But the strange thing is, everyone was having fun. The droves of squealing children hanging out in a castle made of ice and the cackles of adults roasting their chestnuts by open fire pits, was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The atmosphere was downright jolly.
We were so-so prepared – no snow shoes or ski poles – but we did adorn long johns and toques and of course headed straight for the famous warm caribou wine to warm us up and keep us moving. We may not be locals but we were no chumps….
We also got the hot maple taffy treat that everyone talks about as a Carnival staple. A bunch of insane dudes, who stand outside for hours, pour hot maple-caramel goop onto big slabs of ice. You have to wait about 20 seconds and then you put the little popsicle stick thingie you’re given and roll it up until you get a hard-ish treat of gooey fabulousness.
I say hard-“ish” because my friend KGB had a bit of a maple malfunction we aptly referred to as “mitten-gate” since more ended up all over her mittens (and coat and hands and hair and ground) than in her mouth.
After our Carnival blitz and a quest for new mittens, we walked the upper and lower sections of Old Quebec for what felt like days. This was no easy feat considering the amount of hills and the fact that they are like ice rinks in February. Nonetheless, every street and building and monument was prettier than the next. I think I uttered “OMG, that is absolutely beautiful!” about as often as I said “OMG, I think my eyeballs might actually be freezing off!” which was quite surprising, considering the arctic weather.
I was really impressed with Chateau Frontenac, the architecture of the old buildings, and the gazillion churches that seem to line every street. And I was equally impressed with the restaurants and locals. I had heard in the past how people from Quebec City are not the friendliest. Not one to give in to stereotypes, I still was in no rush to get there just in case it was true. However, everybody was welcoming and helpful, and the kindness of the people became one of the highlights of the trip.
I don’t know if hell exists, but I think whoever conjured up the images got it all wrong – it’s not hot down there, it’s cold. Like Quebec City in February type of cold, but minus the beauty and warm reception. So, if you are cracked enough to love winter, then Quebec City and the Winter Carnival is for you. And if you loathe it like I do, you’ll find the silver lining on a visit there, but you’ll be hell bent on going back when it’s blanketed in humidity and sunshine.