A REAL Winter Wonderland (part 2)

I’m sure you have been sitting on the edge of your seats to find out how I managed with my overnight stay at the Ice Hotel in Suite 11. Well, surprisingly enough, I slept quite soundly – in fact, it was a rather restful night’s sleep! I think this can be attributed to a couple of things: 1. I didn’t get much sleep 2 days before my trip – and 2. The cold air in the Ice Hotel is pure and rich in oxygen.

Since clocks aren’t standard equipment in the Ice Hotel’s guest and suites, I relied on my cell phone to provide my 6:30am wake-up call. Why so early? Well, I wanted to get a jump on the day – plus, the Ice Hotel has a policy that all rooms must be vacated before 9:00am (after this time, the Ice Hotel turns into a museum until the evening). Even though I used my cell phone to provide my wake-up call, the hotel’s staff will provide a couple of in-person wake-up calls. Anyway, upon waking up, I immediately realized how raw my throat was (this is from breathing extremely cold air during the night). But, within the hour that I arrived in the warmed chalet, my throat was just fine (…I guess I had to unthaw…). As I stated in my last post, BRING THROAT LOZENGES for the overnight stay. After getting ready for the day, the hotel provides a hearty buffet breakfast in the chalet which consists of: A selection of cereals, scrambled eggs, sausage, breakfast potatoes, pastries, juice, coffee, etc. Trust me, in cold weather conditions, a “lite California diet” is not apropos. Dining heartily is encouraged and much needed. Paula Deen fans UNITE!

Each suite at the Ice Hotel are truly unique detailed works of art and they change from year to year! See for yourself…..

And take a look at the intricate artistry at this entryway!

Before heading to Quebec’s Old City this morning, The Travelocity Roaming Gnome and I took a detailed tour of the Ice Hotel. Upon entering the hotel’s lobby, we immediately marveled at the crystalline surroundings (everything and I do mean EVERYTHING is made of ice!). From the front desk, to the bar (replete with ice “shot glasses”), to the “Ice Slide” – that will help you channel your inner child – you will be amazed at every square inch of the Ice Hotel that is truly a work of art and an engineering marvel. This was further underscored when Mr. Jacques Desbois (President of Hotel de Glace) informed me that the Ice Hotel is not made from snow or Ice that is indigenous to Quebec City. The crystal-like ice (which make up the clear bricks along the hotel’s exterior walls as well as the pillars within the hotel) come from a special water processor in Montreal – and – the walls of the Ice Hotel are over 4 feet thick and consists of Snice (a combination of snow and ice) that is created from the hotel’s snow machine.

Look at all of this crystal-like beauty! Sheer magnificence!

To keep their growing roster of guests as repeat guests, Mr. Desbois plans to add Cross Country Skiing as one of the hotel’s outdoor activities, as well as a permanent ice art gallery. Both of which will be unique to North America’s extension of the original Ice Hotel in Sweden. Based on the totality of my conversation with the very forward-thinking and innovative Mr. Desbois, I’m sure that the within the next 10 years, the Ice Hotel Quebec may end up being called the Ice Resort Quebec. I am truly looking forward to seeing Hotel de Glace evolve in the coming years and I am happy to be in a very unique club of folks to have enjoyed a stay there.

The Travelocity Roaming Gnome is about to take a break and enjoy a sophisticated libation at the Ice Hotel’s Ice Bar.

Since the Ice Hotel is new and different every year, everything which is featured in the Winter 2011-2012 Ice Hotel will be totally different from what will be seen in the Winter 2012-2013 Ice Hotel (some things may appear similar, but there’s no guarantee that this will be the case). That said, I strongly recommend that you bring a camera that is designed to withstand cold temperatures because you’ll want to chronicle all of the creativity and engineering of the Ice Hotel as it is truly eye candy!

The Roaming Gnome’s brief moment as an Eskimo.

After checking out of the Ice Hotel, The Roaming Gnome and I headed to Old Quebec for a tour. Being one of the oldest cities in North America, Old Quebec is rich in history and a MUST visit for anyone traveling to Eastern Canada. Donna gives a really nice overview of Old Quebec in our Quebec City episode, take a look:

While visiting here, there many things that you must experience – so plan to visit here for 5 days minimum (6-7 days if you plan to visit in the Winter). Everywhere you look, there’s something new to experience. You see, this town has been around since the 1600’s and the setting of Old Quebec will give you a sense that you’ve been transported back in time…..and in many regards, to a different continent altogether.

Old Quebec City as seen from the top of the Observatoire de la Capitale (Capital Observatory). From here you can also see the winding and ice-filled St. Lawrence River. This is also here where the origin of the name “Quebec City” and the province of “Quebec” comes from. “Quebec” is an Algonguin word which means: “Where the river narrows.”

All around Old Quebec, you’ll find so many great works of art including this popular mural

While touring the quaint public areas of Old Quebec, I happened upon a very unassuming boutique named La Fudgerie…..and I am certainly glad that I entered the place! The fragrance of the boutique was pleasantly overwhelming, but that is just the beginning. All I will say is this: La Fudgerie is famous for its fudge but, in my opinion, they also make has THE BEST hot chocolate in North America! Now if you can recall, a certain large coffee chain (which I will leave nameless) had a gourmet chocolate beverage called “Chantico” from a few years ago, you may remember that it was served in a large “shot cup” and it was extremely thick, extremely rich, and very fatty. Chantico was pretty much a commercialized, albeit luxurious, hot dipping chocolate sauce that was best designed for Spanish Churros. La Fudgerie’s hot chocolate has some similarities to Chantico, but their hot chocolate is truly “drinkable” (you don’t need a spoon to enjoy it) and you don’t feel sluggish and tired after drinking it. What’s more, La Fudgerie takes this already perfect hot chocolate a step further by adding a whisper of Jamaican spice to the top of the drink. C’est si bon! If you are a foodie like me – or a chocoholic – you’ll have to visit La Fudgerie as many times as possible many times while you are visiting Quebec City. One visit would really just be a tease. Like the Ice Hotel, La Fudgerie is indeed a one-of-a-kind experience!

Carole Coulombe reigns supreme as manager of the Champlain branch of La Fudgerie

Since I’m talking about food now, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about a unique Quebecois dish that originated just a few blocks from La Fudgerie……

Practically everyone has enjoyed French Fries at some point. Personally, I am partial to the thick cut “steak” fries that can be found at Fatburger (in L.A.) or Red Robin (…sorry for mentioning a chain restaurant in this post folks – I only do so as a point of reference…). Having these fries with some chili or some type of dipping sauce (other than plain ketchup) is an OCCASIONAL indulgence that I enjoy. But, there’s no way that the French Fry dish that I’m about to mention can be duplicated to perfection outside of Quebec City. This dish is called Poutine and it originated at Chez Ashton. This dish consists of French Fries, brown gravy and FRESH cheese curds that “squeak” as you chew (I must emphasize the FRESH part since there are some places that use cheese that melts….and that’s foul!). I have had Poutine before, but Chez Ashton makes one that is perfect! Like the song goes: “Ain’t nothing like the real thing baby!”.

A perfect midday snack in cold weather, Chez Ashton’s Poutine!

After touring Quebec City from the ground, I thought it would be great for The Roaming Gnome and I to see this dynamo of a city from the air. So we headed to the airport for a wonderful 30-minute flight above Quebec City with Capitale Hélicoptère. While on vacation in Hawaii years ago, I took a helicopter tour which was quite nice. I initially thought that the Capitale Hélicoptère experience would be very similar to what I experienced in Hawaii – but upon entering their facility I was completely amazed by the vastness of their operations, maintenance facility and especially all of the cutting edge helicopters that they own. Let me clarify that: They don’t own ANY broke-down Bell Jet-Ranger helicopters! (if you are an aviation buff like I am, you can fully appreciate my statement). Capitale Hélicoptère owns 12 advanced Eurocopter helicopters including: 5 AS350 B2’s, 4 EC130 B4’s, 2 AS350 B3’s and 1 EC120 B and they are currently constructing a brand new (and massive) VIP Hangar to house all of their “hardware” and to addressing all of the maintenance required to keep the their equipment operating far above manufacturer specifications. The newest helicopters in their fleet are the EC130 B4’s and believe me when I tell you, that is one line of sexy choppers! Just see the picture below. The EC130 B4 is a light 7-8 seat single engine helicopter which offers exceptional qualities of silence, comfort and space. It carries the most passengers of any helicopter in its class and it flies higher and faster than any passenger helicopter flying today. Like I said, it’s sexy……and you can equate it to being a Lamborghini for the sky!

One of Capitale Hélicoptère’s brand new EC130 B4′s

Alas, I won’t be flying in one of EC130 B4′s today’s flight (hopefully I will during my next visit to Quebec City – it is such an amazing looking chopper!). Today I will be flying in the AS350 B2 (which is a far, far newer version of the helicopter that I flew in Hawaii and it is the helicopter of choice for most local news stations and law enforcement agencies in major U.S. cities). Once I boarded this immaculate helicopter, Captain Guy Lajoie went through all of the necessary procedures to ensure our safety. Not long after that, Captain Lajoie started the engine and within a few minutes we were airborne. It always fascinates me how modern helicopters are able to perform – and it’s always a beautiful thing when you have a finely tuned aircraft and a knowledgeable pilot to fly it. After take-off from Jean Lesage Quebec City International Airport, we headed southeast and flew over the airports’ main terminal and then we turned left to head north towards Old Quebec. After a few moments of flying over snowy Quebec City, we headed toward the St. Lawrence River to get a riverside vantage point of Old Quebec. In a matter of minutes, we were hovering around the historic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, Parliament House and the Plains of Abraham……..where the annual Carnavale de Quebec takes place every year. So that you can get a clear idea about my overall flight experience, have a look at the video below – I’ll let the images do the talking….

Captain Lajoie is the most skilled helicopter pilot I have ever come across. From takeoff to landing, I had no concerns for my safety since he didn’t perform any risky maneuvers and the helicopter was in perfect condition. When in Quebec City, a helicopter tour with Capitale Hélicoptère is a must.

Before I go further, I need to quickly tell you about a local family-owned restaurant that you must visit either on your way to or from the airport: Pizzeria 67. The pizza here is great. Particularly, the crust is a work of art! Take a look at this photo (……and yes, those are fries with the pizza! It’s Quebec, in the Wintertime……and you need to keep up your strength – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!).

Tastiness from Pizzeria 67!

One of the main purposes of my visit to Quebec City was to experience the Quebec Winter Carnival. We highlighted the Carnival within the Quebec City episode of “andiamo!” (above) – but as I indicated in my last blog post, when you’re in production, you don’t have a lot of time to “stop and smell the roses.” However, during this visit to the Carnival, I was able to really enjoy the event in greater detail.

Carnival visitors getting ready to start their day

The Quebec Winter Carnival takes place every late-January / early-February on Old Quebec’s Plains of Abraham (Quick history lesson: In 1759, The Plains of Abraham was the location of a 30-minute battle which was a deciding conflict that influenced the creation of Canada). For over 57 years, the Quebec Winter Carnival has been the largest Winter festival in the world that continues to be a major economic engine for the Quebec City region. The Carnival’s iconic ambassador is the jolly bon vivant snowman, Bonhomme Carnaval, and The Roaming Gnome had the pleasure to enjoy a photo and a quick chat with him. Factoid: Bonhomme Carnaval is the only non-Disney character to be allowed on the property of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and interact with Mickey Mouse (additionally, Mickey and Co. visited the Quebec Winter Carnival in 1995 as guests of Bonhomme Carnaval).

The Roaming Gnome meets the great Canadian icon, Bonhomme Carnaval

The Roaming Gnome enjoying lunch with the lovely Ms. Bergeron!

Backstage at the Winter Carnival: The Roaming Gnome enjoys an interview with effervescent Rose and Guy-Mauve

“Snow Angel” by, The Roaming Gnome

(Hmmmmm….this moment seems a little too familiar….almost like one of my recent commercials….would someone please toss me a snow shovel?)

As I journeyed throughout the Carnival, I many of you would be surprised to know that I DID NOT wear any socks while wearing my McMurdo II snow boots by The North Face. Why? Well, these boots are quite comfortable and I wanted to see if they could withstand extremely cold weather (they are rated to perform to -30 degress Fahrenheit temperatures). Plus – my feet were getting VERY hot in the thermal socks that I brought when wearing them with the snowboots. So, let me the first to tell you, I wore these snow boots the entire trip without socks and I was just fine. This is a testament to the quality of the materials that The North Face uses in their products. One thing I should also point out about The North Face’s Freedon snow pants and their Khumbu jacket: You don’t need to layer too much. During my last trip to Quebec City, I wore no less than 2 sweaters and I was still cold. This time, I didn’t wear as much and I was nice and warm the entire trip. Bottom line, make the investment by purchasing sound Winter gear from The North Face. I promise, you will be happy that you did and you’ll thank me for the suggestion.

The Roaming Gnome amongst all of The North Face’s Winter Gear at The Ice Hotel (The North Face is a participating sponsor of the Ice Hotel)

The Quebec Winter Carnival is truly a family affair! When visiting the Carnival, you’ll see families are out and about enjoying the attractions and culinary treats – and some people even some bring their dogs with them to enjoy the Carnival! You’ll even see parents pulling their little ones around on snowsleds – and to me, it is one of the funniest things in the world to see these kids bundled up so tightly (that they can barely move- HA!) while enjoying the scenery.

The kid on the sled is thinking: “Why walk? I’ve got it made!”

And this kid is thinking: “What? We’re having a coffee klatch here? I wanna see Bonhomme! So somebody better drag me to him with the quickness!”

Fido here is thinking: “Don’t you have anything else better to do than to take a picture of a dog with socks on? Geez! What you should do is buy me some of that nifty gear from The North Face!”

One of the most impressive things to enjoy at the Carnival is The International Snow Sculpture Contest! This is where artists from around the world converge on Old Quebec to create figurative or abstract works of art from individual themes. Have a look:

Amazing!

Yes, that IS a lot of snow!

This is the best way to see bears up close….

And the snowtubing….. glorious! Take a look:

After enjoying such a grand time at the Quebec Winter Carnival, you’ll want to enjoy a wonderful stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac! This hotel is Quebec City’s landmark and is the most rarefied hotel experiences that one could enjoy. Take a look at The Roaming Gnome’s self-explanatory visit:

The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac’s is known the world over for it’s wonderful local cuisine and even the honey produced by the bees in their rooftop herb garden. This is THE place to stay for a well-rounded Quebecois experience! Be sure to watch the Quebec City episode of “andiamo!” as Donna highlights this property with one of the hotel’s managers:

As our trip to Quebec City comes to an end, Bonhomme Carnival bids The Roaming Gnome a found farewell and thanks him for visiting Quebec City.

In my last post, I espoused the virtues of flying Air Canada and promised that I was going to get to root of they are able to land aircraft so smoothly. Well, the promise is fulfilled! I had the privilege to interview Captain Claude Saint-Martin who is a Captain for Air Canada’s Boeing 767′s and he is also the airline’s Director of Corporate Fuel Efficiency:

Air Canada is known the world over for having pilots who take extra special care to land aircraft with a great deal of care (avoiding hard landings which are common with U.S. carriers). Please briefly discuss the pilot training and processes necessary so that passengers on every AC flight experience such smooth landings.
It is part of our culture to fly the aircraft in the best possible way, we have an excellent training program and our pilots take pride in giving our customers the best possible experience. As for technique, there are no secrets except for taking it seriously and always being open to tips provided by pilots with greater experience. A smooth landing is always an objective but safety will always come first. Our procedures dictate that the aircraft should land within the first 1500 feet of the runway to respect the landing distance calculations. If the aircraft, for whatever reason, is approaching that limit, the pilot will perform perhaps a harder landing and not compromise safety for comfort. It takes skill to make a smooth landing within the required distance; fortunately, most of our pilots have that talent.

On a recent flight between Vancouver and Montreal, there was no turbulence whatsoever. How does AC know to avoid rough air where some airlines seem to do whatever they can to fly through turbulence?
We do our best to avoid turbulence, and again it is a question of culture. Our flight planning system is sophisticated and provides predictions of turbulence as well as reports from other aircraft. Our dispatchers will gather all that information and plan a route which will minimize the periods of turbulence. But sometimes it is not possible to avoid all areas of turbulence, so we just try harder to keep it to a minimum.

So there you have it. Now it’s off to the airport for our Air Canada flight home….

Clearly The Travelocity Roaming Gnome was the “star” on the flight home and I was able chronicle his experience. He truly was the model passenger and gives Air Canada very high marks for it’s great in-flight service

The Roaming Gnome is honored to sit in the Captain’s seat before the flight…..however, he’s missing something…..

That’s better!

Hot towel? But of course!

A lovely Chilean red and some mixed nuts

A Mesclun salad with tomato, asparagus, semi-dried tomato and Parmesan with a balsamic vinaigrette and a baguette with butter….

…simply wonderful!

Ah! The main course……

Mezanni pasta in a rose cream sauce with mixed vegetables and mozzarella!

….palate cleansing time…..

And now I’m getting my just desserts!!! :-)

Freshly baked oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies with a vanilla ice cream……I’m in Heaven!

That cup of tea Producer Jason is getting looks most inviting…..may I have a cup please?

Now, time for a movie and then a nap

The Roaming Gnome greets his fellow passengers as they leave the aircraft.

Special thanks to the wonderful Air Canada in-flight team who made The Roaming Gnome and Producer Jason feel so welcome during the flight!

My Travelpro Platinum 7 luggage has traveled over 30,000 miles and has experienced the extreme heat and monsoon-like rains of Thailand, to the mild and temperate climate of the South of France, to the extremely cold temperatures of Quebec City…..and still, this luggage looks and performs as the day that I took delivery of the luggage. Even a weird situation during a trip on the Paris Metro (where the doors practically closed on my luggage), my luggage has never caved in performance in any way. About 10 years ago, some luggage (from another company that I will leave nameless), became unusable from a trip to the UK, Belgium and France…..and this was after its 3rd use! For that trip, the baggage issues were from the airline that mishandled it (…not Air Canada…). My point is this: Luggage should last far beyond a few uses. So, let me go out on a limb and get blunt for a moment: If you want to get the full value from purchasing luggage, then don’t buy it from a “big box” store. Most of the luggage that those retailers sell have inferior fabrics and the stitching and zippers tend to be weak. I speak from experience. That said, you can see my luggage below, at the airport, right after I picked them up from baggage claim and while I’m waiting for my car ride home. This is Travelpro Platinum 7′s luggage in a real world environment: No staging, no special lights or Photoshopping.

As you can see, it looks great! The handles work, the wheels perform like new, the fabric is un-snagged and the zippers function perfectly. You’re probably wondering what the inside looks like. Let me assure you, it looks perfect as well. In fact, for my next journey, I will give you insight as to how I am able to pack for a 7-day trip and you will see the inside of the luggage in all of its wonderful glory!

Tourisme Quebec

Quebec City Tourism

Air Canada

Travelocity

The Ice Hotel

TravelPro

The North Face

La Fudgerie

Pizzeria 67

Chez Ashton

2 Thoughts on “A REAL Winter Wonderland (part 2)

  1. Guy Lajoie on March 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm said:

    Nice to fly with nice peoples, that day was a nice flying weather day, just great ….(windy a bit from the north)…
    You’re welcome in Quebec City anytime, I am flying since many years all over north America, and this city is one of the best in my lovely life, may be that’s why I’m leaving in this beautifull town since the last 12 years.

    Welcome again.

    Guy Lajoie (Helicopter Pilot / Capitale Helicoptere Inc)

    • Thank you very much Captain Lajoie! I had no idea that it was windy during our flight – that goes to show how wonderfully skilled you are (it was very smooth from where I sat).

      Indeed, I’m looking forward to flying with you again soon! Quebec City is one of my favorite cities in North America and I am so glad that Capitale Helicoptere has you as one of their pilots!

      Cheers,
      Jason

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