Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sleeping on ice at the Hotel de Glace, Quebec

Popsicle for a night


Levelers, many have asked what it was like to spend the night at Hotel de Glace, our continent's only ice hotel. Here it is.

Hotel de Glace. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Imagine a queen-size bed of ice in a room of compressed snow. Now imagine sleeping on it after wrapping yourself in a shroud-like lining and encased mummy-like into an aptly named mummy sleeping bag.

Kind of like being a tightly-wrapped Popsicle in a deep freeze.

Me with Tom Griffith of Deadwood, S. D. Photo © by Judy Wells.
That was me at Hotel de Glace, North America's only ice hotel, outside of Quebec City, Quebec.

What they don't tell you on the website or during the tours fills the 25-minute session on how to sleep in below freezing temperatures and wake up breathing.

First, enjoy the hotel's amenities:  

• Drink up at the ice bar. Photo © by Judy Wells.

      • Dance in the adjacent disco. Photo © by Judy Wells.

• Slip down the ice slide. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Chapel. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 • Tour the hotel.

• strap on a pair of snowshoes or skis and hit the trails.

2. Get your body temperature up by hitting the hot tub followed by a session in the dry sauna. Oh, and you'll have to put on a bathing suit and hustle through the snow to get there. Don't get your hair wet or it will freeze. It did. Fortunately, it doesn't snap off like icicles.

3. Come back into "camp," the heated Celsius, dry off thoroughly - wet is what makes you cold - and get dressed for bed in anything except cotton which holds wetness. Better yet, wear nothing. No one was that brave or foolhardy.

Sleeping chamber in Hotel de Glace. 

4. Go into your room - sleeping chamber is a better term because you don't linger here - and get the big black bag. Pull out the lining, pillow and sleeping bag, replacing them with anything you don't want frozen such as your shoes and coat. Store an extra pair of socks and valuables such as cell phones and cameras at the bottom of the sleeping bag. Don't put your glasses on the bedside table; it's ice and they'll freeze to it.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
5. The best way to line and bag yourself is to stand atop your bed.
Photo © by Judy Wells.

Oh, the bathrooms are a snowy trek away in another building.

Sweet dreams.

It's an experience like no other, one best suited for young, agile bodies able to stand on the "bed" to step into said shroud and bag. The less agile will be constantly reminded that the bed is ice and the floor is snow and their bodies are not going to keep those drinks inside all night.

Do tour the hotel; it's quite beautiful and every year there's a different theme to the decor. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Take my advice, Levelers. Go have a look. Try a drink in a hollowed out ice cube glass and take the tour. Then go back to your nice, warm, comfy hotel room with its bathroom for real sweet dreams.

Tip: The compacted snow makes a decent surface for walking but there are icy spots so wear those snow boots and be careful.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winter traveling in Quebec

Montreal. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 Montreal and Quebec City in winter?

Winter travel into snowy, icy climes send chills down the spines of Levelers and not from the cold. It's the very real specter of slipping on that ice.

In some of us, though, the travel urge can be stronger than common sense and we find a way.  Here are my recommendations for visiting two beautiful Quebec cities.


 An island like few others, it harbors an incredibly active and well-supported arts community, high fashion and a world's worth of cultures within the 1.5 million on the island itself, 3.25 million in the greater Montreal area. Namely 117 different languages, 152 nationalities, 17 religions, 90 different cuisines among the 5,000 restaurants.

Montreal is very human in scale with no buildings allowed higher than Mont Royal.

It's hilly. though, anathema to Levelers, but it's still doable even in winter thanks to the relatively mild climate. (Relatively means there are enough winter days above freezing that most of the ice skating rinks require refrigeration to maintain a safely frozen surface.)

Our guide, the extraordinary Ruby Roy,  gave us some tips for getting around safely.

Use the Metro; a travel carte costs $8.
The #55 bus cuts through all neighborhoods and one comes by about every 10 minutes.
• There is an underground city with shops, restaurants and everything you'd expect to find in a mall.

My tips.

Dress appropriately. That means gloves, hats, layers and boots with soles designed for gripping.

Each neighborhood is an entity unto itself. Have breakfast and wander around one, lunch and look around another.
Museum of Fine Art. Photo © by Judy Wells.

If the weather is particularly nasty, spend the day in the Fine Arts Museum with its many wings and buildings on both sides of the street.

When in doubt, take a cab. It's cheaper than risking a spill.

Don't misses include, for starters:
Basilica of Notre Dame at night. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Basilica of Notre Dame. It's a stunner that faces the Place d'Armes Square. Take a good look by day and return for the sound and light show inside at night.

• Take in the island in the St. Lawrence River where World's Fair Expo 67 was held. Even if you don't gamble, dine in one of the excellent restaurants in the Casino of Montreal  in what was the French Pavilion. The Biosphere is in the U.S.A.'s Geodesic Dome by Buckminster Fuller and Expo Habitat, the innovative housing creation of Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, holds up extremely well.
Don't miss the fromagerie at Atwater Market. Photo © by Judy Wells.

• Graze through one of Montreal's four markets. Atwater was our choice; 90 percent of the products come from less than 30 minutes away.
Smoked brisket from Schwartz's Deli. Photo © by Judy Wells.

• Speaking of food, and in Montreal you do that a lot, try smoked brisket at Schwartz's and fresh from the oven bagels at St-Viateur or Fairmount Bagel.
Get your bagels piping hot. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Next, Quebec City.


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