There are colder places in the world, but QuebecCity in winter is cold enough for most travelers,especially this one from southern California.Quebec can be cold, even for the locals, and January2004 was apparently the coldest month the city has everrecorded. But the natives don't complain about cold;they embrace it and rejoice.
The annual Winter Carnival, now in its 50th year,allows Quebecois to show their irrepressible They chatter happily to each other on the sidewalksas they lean into biting winds that would makecitizens in a Chicago winter take to their beds. In frontof their shops, locals carve ice sculptures of, the logo of the winter festivities who'salways waving a cheerful hand.
Quebecois even build a hotel of ice blocks and sleepin it, nestled on frozen waterbeds. They encouragetourists to join them. And tourists do. For the past 4years, the Ice Hotel in Quebec (877-505-0423;www.icehotel-canada.com) has lured guests in for theextraordinary experience of sleeping in a building madeentirely of 400 tons of ice and 12,000 tons of snow.The builders and ice carvers start in mid-December andfinish a month later. The 32 rooms then open for whathas to be the shortest tourist season for any lodging.The hotel is bulldozed in early April.
Guests arrive in all forms. One inquired, "We can'tfind the thermostat in our room. How do we adjustthe heat?" Others jump in the hot tub, dry off in thesauna, and wander back to their rooms wrapped onlyin a towel, and then sleep naked in the sleeping bagsprovided. The tapered bags, worn tight around the faceand neck, are not for the claustrophobic. The guestbookcomments reflect the different attitudes. Americansoften write comments like "We'll be backâ€”in thesummer!" The French, with perhaps more bravado,cryptically inscribe, "Une expérience unique!"
It is quite unique. Over the past 3 years, more than160,000 visitors have come to wonder at the only icehotel in North America. About 7500 guests havechecked in for the night, most making it through untildawn. They've admired the beautiful ice sculptures,hung around the Absolut Bar, and more brieflychecked out the ice cinema and ice chapel. Some haveeven been married in the hotel, couples braving thewalk down the aisle without cold feet. This year, 16marriages have already been planned.
Travel and Leisure
For a different kind of cold feet, the immediateneighborhood offers activities like dogsledding, snowmobiling,snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Just45 minutes east lies the walled city, Vieux-Quebec (418-641-6654 ext 5423; www.letacanada.com/company/index.php/5), which is a United Nations Educational,Scientific, and Cultural Organization World Heritagesite. Indeed, readers have declaredQuebec the fourth best destination in North America.
Visitors who arrive warmly dressed for the annualWinter Carnival at the end of January find the citywith its hair down, flaunting indoor concerts, dogsledand sleigh races, and a soapbox derby. Visitors canalso engage in snow carving, snow rafting, ice fishing,and trampoline bouncing.
But at all times, a walk around the old city revealsunforgettable streets and buildings going back to the17th century. The Chateau Frontenac Hotel, the city'ssymbol, towers like a signpost above the old town asif showing the way to Place Royale, the first permanentFrench settlement in North America. The trompel'oeil mural there leads in one direction to the shopsof the Rue du Petit-Champlain and in the other to theworld class Museum of Civilization.
Nearby stands little Notre-Dame-des-Victoires,built in 1688, the oldest stone church in NorthAmerica, and above it, in the new city, the magnificentNotre-Dame-de-Quebec Basilica, whose glory showsthe influence of the Catholic Church in Quebec, ourforeign neighbor.