Quebec City blew us away with amazing vegetarian food options. See, in the past, we’ve had trouble finding vegetarian fare in some of places that we’ve travelled. For Quebec City, I researched and made reservations weeks before we left to avoid the last minute scramble to find grub (trying to find food when you’re really hungry is such a pain). The verdict?: Quebec City is one of the top food cities of my life! Some food highlights of our trip include:
Chez Rioux & Pettigrew: This place was close to our hotel and absolutely adorable. The atmosphere had a really cool “farm-to-table” rustic vibe. The butternut squash soup was amazing. The grains/veggie ball dish with date puree was also incredible!
La Planque: This restaurant was a bit further from our hotel (we ended up taking a taxi). We were lucky enough to sit in the back with a full view of the kitchen, so we had a fun time watching the chefs at work. We told the waiter that we were vegetarian and they ended up making us a customized meal!
Le Clocher Penché: An excellent brunch place that we found during our walk through St. Roch. We got the vegetarian plate (onion banjos, orange yogurt, crispy endive, squash pickle, and cashew) and the soup of the day – a root vegetable soup.
My favorite restaurant of the trip was probably Légende, which was a short walk from our hotel. This restaurant was fantastic. We were told that they used all locally sourced products for their dishes. The ambience was awesome – the restaurant was dimly lit with cute string lights. We sat next to the windows watching the snow fall. We had the homemade tofu and vegetable forest (mustard vinaigrette, black garlic crumble, with enoki and chanterelle mushrooms), cricket handmade pasta (kale, oyster mushrooms, and vegetable jus), and the ricotta and flax seed cavatelli (mushroom, pangrattato, eggplant puree, and 1608 cheese). For dessert, I opted for the sea buckthorn curd, because I rarely see sea buckthorn on menus!
As far as disappointing dining experiences, we had dinner one evening at Aux Anciens Canadiens. The restaurant is charming inside with its old world vibe, but the food was bland and not particularly memorable. We were later told that this restaurant mostly catered to tour groups. We were excited to try the maple syrup pie (I had even made my own from recipes online in anticipation for this trip). My pie was better, which I guess is a good thing since that means I don’t necessarily need to rush back to Aux Anciens Canadiens to get my fill.
Alright, so I’m a tad bit behind on blog updates (that’s an understatement!). To celebrate the hot weather outside, I should probably clean up and publish these Quebec City blog post drafts. Not surprisingly, I usually wish for summers in the winter and winters in the summer, so perhaps the timing isn’t so bad after all.
Here’s the thing – I might change my tune someday, but right now I love visiting snowy winter destinations. They make me feel more in the holiday spirit (although I wouldn’t necessarily turn down a Caribbean island after the holidays). 🙂 Seriously, look at this picture of Old Quebec and Petit Champlain; it screams December! (And hot chocolate and scarves and wool sweaters and warm baked goods).
Quebec City was lovely. I was a little afraid of the cold; believe me, it was cold. Still, there were a ton of fun things to do. Make sure to pack warm gloves! Since our hotel was in Old Quebec, we made sure to visit Petit Champlain and walk along the Terrasse Dufferin every day. There was also a German-themed Christmas village right down the road with cute snow capped food stalls and clothing/jewelry shops. If Christmas markets are your thing and one isn’t enough, there was also a market we visited during the day at the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec in the Old Port. The Old Port Market, which was indoors and much warmer, had more in terms of food variety – mushrooms, ice wines, candies, cheeses and maple. And oh, the maple! Maple goodness everywhere.
One of my favorite treks in Quebec City was J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. This photo does not do the space justice – there were shelves and shelves of local jams, honeys, and maple syrups. They had stacks of teas, chocolates, candies, hot sauces, cheeses, and spices. I took a hour to study the shelves and I wanted to bring home everything. Luckily, the airline liquid limits helped to temper my shopping spree. Still, if you love grocery stores and looking through new and interesting products (seabuckthorn jam anybody?!, I definitely recommend a stop here. We went early in the morning, just after opening, and had the place to ourselves for most of our time.
After visiting the grocery store, we spent time window shopping through the Saint Roch area. There were cafes to duck into when we needed recovery from the winter.
Sorry for my delay in posting. I’ve had this post in draft for quite a while. I finally decided to go through my photos and try to finish it. 🙂 Above is a photo of Tjörnin, which is the small lake in the city center. While we strolled around the city, we spent some time by the lake, admiring the sparkling lights and the birds along the shore. I wasn’t crazy enough to walk on the frozen parts of the lake, but there were plenty of brave souls who did! Fortunately I didn’t see anyone fall through the ice.
By the way, how pretty is the twilight?!
Onto the things we did to escape the winter cold… 🙂 indoor Reykjavik activities!
Icelandic Phallological Museum
Find it at: Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland
I might be twisted, but The Icelandic Phallological Museum had been on my “I absolutely must do this!” list for Reykjavik. I had several friends visit and tell me about the absurdity of this museum, so I knew that I had to visit!
The Phallological Museum was right off of Reykjavik’s main strip, Laugavegur, so it wasn’t out-of-the-way. The museum is pretty small (and pricey – I recall it being around 10-15 euros per person); you can get through it pretty quickly unless you really study the museum’s goods. I didn’t necessarily catalog everything, but there were definitely more collective penises… peni?… there than any other place I’ve been (which makes sense, since it advertises itself as the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts). I particularly liked the collection of household decorations and goods that apparently numerous companies not only thought were a good idea to design, but manufacture and sell. A penis shaped landline phone – you bet! And oh, of course lighting fixtures.
If penis shaped household goods aren’t your style, you can also admire large whale penises (which were larger than me), various animal penises stored in mason jars with formaldehyde, and global artwork in suggestive shapes! Something for everyone!
If penile parts of the past aren’t enough, don’t worry! Previous visitors of the museum have helped to adorn the walls with photos of their members around the world, usually in front of sites of interest. If any men were arrested in their endeavor to flash their goods while taking a photo, I would also appreciate those stories in the display. I didn’t see any, but I imagine some of those photos had to be taken quickly, stealthily, and outside of police presence.
Hallgrimskirkja (Church of Iceland)
Find it at: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran Church and the largest Church in Iceland. It is also one of the tallest buildings in the entire country. You can see the church from most vantage points in the city, so it helps as a guide if you manage to get turned around in Reykjavik. The church was nice on the inside, but if you’re used to the highly ornate European churches in other capital cities, this one will be a bit underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, the interior is nice, but it’s very clean and minimalist. There is also a massive organ, which is nice if you visit while music plays.
My favorite part, though, was the observation tower. You can buy a ticket to take an elevator up to a viewing deck. The views of the city are really cool! You can admire the colorful buildings, the water, mountains, and for us during our winter travels – the snowy landscape. Highly recommended.
Afterward, we strolled down Skólavörðustígur, which was a cute shopping street with a lot of boutiques and food joints; there were a ton of jewelers, clothing shops, art galleries, and mom-and-pop boutiques on this road. It eventually intersects with Laugavegur.
National Museum of Iceland
Find it at: Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
To continue the trend of finding indoor attractions to save us from the cold, we spent an afternoon at the National Museum of Iceland. It’s a bit out-of-the-way if you’re staying downtown. Still, we managed to walk and enjoy the stroll to the other side of Tjörnin, through neighborhoods with colorful houses and twinkling lights.
The museum was really nice and a lot larger than I expected. You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours here. The museum has English signs throughout, which was much appreciated. The museum illustrates the life of Iceland’s first inhabitants and explained the changes in power dynamics throughout the centuries. I thought the museum was generally pretty logically laid out and the signs were easy to follow. I also liked the “airport conveyor” belt exhibit at the end that had more artifacts of modern Icelandic history and pop culture. Don’t worry – of course it had a Bjork album. I would have liked to have seen more about modern Icelandic contributions to larger Western pop culture. Overall, it was a nice place to spend an afternoon. If you’re like me and into museum gift shops, I should add that the gift shop and cafe are nice. 🙂
Overall, Iceland was a great destination in December. I am excited to return in the summer, when we can venture beyond the capital and the Golden Circle. Still, if you’re looking for a winter trip and want to admire the moonscape – I highly recommend Iceland. It’s a short flight from the U.S. East Coast, it’s not crowded, and nothing screams holiday spirit as sipping hot chocolate while walking through the winter scenery and admiring Christmas lights on snow covered, brightly colored houses. Did I also mention there were folks selling roasted almonds? Warm, toasty, sugar-covered almonds! Isn’t that reason enough?
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.
The 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
We also got to try some Christmas food and the Icelandic Christmas drink Maltgo Appelsín.
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!