Happy Holidays from Quebec City!

In the holiday spirit, I wanted to go somewhere cold and snowy; no tropical islands for this girl this year! I’ve wanted to visit Quebec City for a very long time, so I finally decided 2017 was the year to go.

I know most people visit who visit Quebec City in the winter decide to go to the February Carnival, but I wanted to see the Christmas decorations (and avoid crowds and the creepy mascot Bonhomme :)). I read that December is the low-season for Quebec, so that only encouraged me to visit more.

Quebec did not disappointed. We started booking airfare and accommodations a couple of months in advance. I saw photos online of the beautiful Fairmont hotel (and had heard of its famous sister property in Banff). I was discouraged because I simply could not justify spending $250/night on a hotel room, no matter how beautiful or great the location.

I researched the area’s hotels online and then decided to start researching Priceline and Hotwire bids. With Hotwire, the Fairmont Château Frontenac listing was pretty evident (it was the only hotel in that particular vicinity with its star rating). We were very lucky to score and get the hotel for over half price – making the price comparable to other hotels. I was thrilled!

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The Fairmont Christmas trees. How gorgeous is this lobby!

The hotel was fantastic. We were assigned a city view room overlooking the city and the St. Lawrence river. I highly recommend saying here if you ever have the opportunity.

Once we checked in and got settled in our room, it was already dark. Still, we wanted to take advantage of our first night in Quebec. The city was very chilly; we were greeted by single digit temperatures. I was sure to bundle up with multiple layers and gloves. We visited the German Christmas market and walked around Quartier Petit Champlain. Most of the shops had already closed, so it was a peaceful walk under the lights and through the snow.

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A peaceful Quartier Petit Champlain on a winter night

That’s it for the first night. I can’t wait to blog about the fantastic food and sights we saw in Quebec. Until next time!

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Throwback Travel: Icelandic Winter Day Trips

Into the Blue – Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure

One of the top things on our Icelandic “To Do” list was the Arctic Adventures excursion called  Into The Blue. We met at the Arctic Adventures office and packed into a van headed to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) national park to snorkel in the Silfra fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Snorkeling in Iceland, you ask? No, it wasn’t in a hot spring or geothermal heated water. The water was glacier run-off, a nice 34 degrees Fahrenheit. We spent the first hour of the tour getting into our sleeping bag, bear-like suit material, topped with a dry suit. I had to have the tour guides hug me five or six times before my suit leaked enough air that I no longer looked like the Pillsbury dough boy and a condom had a baby – I just looked like a condom at that point.

iceland_pingviller.jpgThe snorkeling trip was fun! While the suit protected us from the frigid water, our hands unfortunately were covered with wet suit material gloves. My hands were freezing and felt like they were being stabbed by pins and needles toward the end. Still, I enjoyed the adventure. The water was crystal clear, with long range visibility; it was amazing to be snorkeling, with the snow falling above us.

The Golden Circle

One of our favorites parts of the trip was our day trip around the Golden Circle. We rented a car from the main bus depot and headed out early, with our first stop at Þingvellir national park. The park was gorgeous! We drove to various parking lots and walked around, looking at the landscape. It was chilly, but definitely worth walking outside. The drive had a lot of scenic areas to stop and admire the view.

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We headed to Geysir. It was cool seeing the boiling water coming from the ground and the geothermal field, but the geyser itself was a little underwhelming. It’s possible that we didn’t see one of the larger eruptions, but we definitely had to wait over 8-10 minutes to see the eruptions. Still, I’m glad we saw it! There was also a dining/gift shop area adjacent to the parking area. We warmed up with hot drinks and mushroom soup, so I’d call it a success. 🙂 Our last stop was seeing the Gullfoss waterfall.

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It was definitely odd driving up to the parking lot. From the parking lot, you really don’t see much of the waterfall. We were questioning if we were even in the right spot! We had to walk past the parking lot, and on the wooden walkways for a bit before we finally saw the waterfall coming into view! The waterfall was really cool to see, especially the falls that seemed to domino into smaller falls. I’m sure this area is beautiful in the summer!

Blue Lagoon

The famous Blue Lagoon! We knew we had to visit, after hearing about how it’s one of the top destinations in Iceland. We bought our tickets online ahead of time, since we hear that spots can book quickly.

The Blue Lagoon entrance was really cool – the walkway surrounded by black rock formations topped with moss.

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The facility was really nice inside. The bathing areas were packed! We got bracelets that automatically secured our lockers, so we rest assured that our stuff was safely locked away. The showering areas were also decent – there were two areas, the open showers and the curtained showers for the shy American variety.

The Lagoon itself was awesome! If I could do it over (and maybe someday I will), next time I would bring cheap flip flops. The ground was freezing (of course, what did I expect? Geo-thermal heated concrete would have been nice :)) The Lagoon was undergoing construction, so some parts of it were closed off. Regardless, it was easy to find some less crowded places to escape. There were clay stations off to the side, so you can lather yourself in the famous white clay. I would recommend not picking up or looking at the clay at the bottom of the lagoon. You definitely don’t want to have a mental image of yourself bathing with other people’s hair and skin cells. Ignorance is bliss. 🙂

There were some rest areas inside with chairs and seating areas, but they fill up quickly! There is also a large dining area, so you can enjoy food while overlooking the lagoon itself. I would definitely recommend going, especially if you have time to kill before a flight out of the city. I think next time, I would opt to try a smaller, natural spa, but I’m glad I got to experience this one at least once.

Throwback Travel: Icelandic Winter and Meeting the Natives

When we told our friends that we were planning a winter excursion to an island, this statement likely conjured an image of a warm, tropical Carribean island with throngs of tourists all with the same idea – escaping the winter cold. Not exactly what we were thinking at that time…

What is there to do in Iceland during the winter? Are you crazy?

Iceland had been on my bucket list for ages; I’ve always imagined that someday, I would visit and take a long road trip in a rugged vehicle around the famous Ring Road to see the entire island and all of its natural beauty (I definitely plan to go back to do this!).

I started to do a lot of online research, and undoubtedly there are many more articles about things to do in the Land of the Midnight Sun during the summer months; the winter months even restrict tourists from certain activities and venturing to specific areas. It’s dark! It’s cold. Ice is in the country name! What could we possibly be thinking?

Still, we were determined to spend part of December in a winter wonderland. We wanted to go somewhere that felt like it was winter and perhaps even see Christmas markets. Iceland is also a lot closer than mainland Europe. All these factors helped us finally bite the bullet and book our tickets. We were headed to Reykjavik!

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View of the city from the Hallgrímskirkja

One of the first things we did in Iceland on our first night was visit the Tin Can Factory for its Meet the Natives session. We were able to walk from our AirBnB booking on the main street, Laugavegur. We booked the only reservations that night for the Meet the Natives session. We spent several hours at the Tin Can Factory, learning a bit about the history of Iceland, sampling Icelandic cuisine (which included fresh Icelandic butter and geothermal bread, pumpernickel bread, herbs and spices), and learning a bit about the language. We were even assigned our own Icelandic names!

Toward the end, we learned how to make Icelandic pancakes, and sat down to enjoy our creations. The pancakes with cream, fruit toppings, and homemade whipped cream were amazing. The classroom was dark, because the sun had long set by the time we started class. Here’s what the classroom looked like:

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The Tin Can Factory classroom

We also got to try some Christmas food and the Icelandic Christmas drink Malt go Appelsín.

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Icelandic food sampler

We headed back to our booked apartment, with stomachs stuffed and ready to spend a week exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. So far, Iceland in winter was a winner!