Quebec, March 2012

That was the part of the vacation that didn't work out as planned.

It's always a bit of a waste to travel to Canada for just a bit more than a week, so I try to do something else at well, such as spending a week in Revelstoke riding a snowmobile, to pad the trip out to 'proper' vacation length.

When I was planning this year's vacation, I noticed that looked around and noticed that the ice hotel in Quebec City would be open until the 25th of March. Since the dog sled trip ended on the 19th, it meant instead of flying home directly after the trip, I might make a detour via Quebec City and stay at the ice hotel for a night or two before going home.

That seemed like a good idea. I had liked the ice hotel in Sweden, so visiting another one would be fun.

So I booked my flight to include a couple of days in Quebec.

But when I actually tried to book a room at the ice hotel, I was in for a surprise - the site only took bookings until the 11th of March. After contacting them, it then turned out that they were playing it safe. While the building would indeed be open until the 25th for day tours, they weren't sure whether it would be sufficiently cold to have people spend their nights there (presumably, you won't mind some dripping water somewhere when you walk through the place, but you don't want your bed melting away under you at night).

So they might operate as a hotel until the 25th, but they wouldn't decide until the end of February. Since it was difficult to change the booked flights (and near impossible to keep it flexible enough to change them by end of February), I decided to be optimistic, just plan on visiting Quebec City and hope that the ice hotel would still be open.

And it almost worked. By late February I got a mail that they would extend operating as a hotel for one week until the 18th. Didn't help me much (since my dog sled tour ended on the 19th), but was a step in the right direction. Early March (I was already in Whitehorse) they decided to extend for another week. Success! I had been lucky again. So I made my booking for two nights at the ice hotel (and one night in a normal hotel) and went happily offline and to the dogsledding trip.

As evident by the lack of ice hotel pictures below, things didn't work out.

I flew to Quebec on the 20th and had some waiting time in Vancouver airport (which has free WLAN), went online and checked my mail.

And a mail from the ice hotel explained that my reservation was cancelled, since they had closed the place because of the warm weather at the previous afternoon at 5 pm. As the Yukon had a temperature rise of about 30° in the previous week, so had Quebec and temperatures of about 15°C (59°F) are less than perfect for operating an ice hotel.

Even worse, they had closed the place for good, so I didn't even have the chance to do a day tour and at least see the place. So the whole reason for going to Quebec had gone and I didn't quite know what to do there.

Quebec City skyline Quebec City skyline Battlefields Park

And while Quebec City is a nice and pleasant city with an European flair, nice and pleasant places tend to annoy me fairly quickly. And the 'Old town' is not that large and easily covered in half a day. And that already includes a visit to the Musée de la civilisation. Adding a trip with a ferry across the Saint Lawrence River to Levis and also some walking along the river bank (which, at least, had some interesting horse silhouette sculptures) and through Battlefields Park barely extended that to a full day.

Quebec City river bank art - horse Quebec City river bank art - horses Quebec City river bank art - horses

Though I have to note that I liked the science exhibit at the museum. It contained very little knowledge (which I think is outdated as a museum exhibit - the web does a better job nowadays), but some very good 'hands on experience' on the scientific method. For example, there was an exhibit that randomly selected a dish and you had to try to virtually re-create the dish by selecting ingredients, preparation method and temperature. And were then (usually) rewarded with a "Congratulations. you failed!" message, which explained that a negative result in science helps to exclude options. So while this exhibit doesn't really teach knowledge (how to prepare cotton candy), it teaches a number of basic principles about experimentation, namely excluding alternatives and repeating experiments.

There were also some warnings about the fringes of science, such as self-delusions or outright hoaxes, even a fake 'scanner' that told you things like "the batteries in your smartphone will soon be depleted", a clever modern application of the Forer effect.

But it was quite clear that I had fairly much exhausted the options of Quebec City and wondered what to do the next day. But since I had a rented car, at least I had a decent range of options.

I thought.

It then turned out that it was too early for any spring related activities (which didn't start before April), but it was too warm for most winter-y stuff.

I considered driving to Montreal, especially since they had, for the first time, a "Snow Village". And while that was planned to be open for visits until the end of March, due to the warm weather, they had closed it more than a week ago (on March 11th). Quebec also has a lot of snowmobile trails, but all trails in the province had been closed the previous weekend.

But at least I found a place about 60 km north of Quebec City called Camp Mercier that still had usable cross-country trails, so I drove there, rented some skis and went around a small lake.

Cross country skiing Lac du Bec Croche Small stream

So at least I managed to do something snow related in Quebec.

On the way back, I made a short visit to the aquarium. And while that seemed like a bit of a disappointment at first, since it gave the impression of being closed for renovations and preparing for the main season, but still selling full price tickets, since the animals are there anyway.

Outside some of the paths were not cleared from snow, there were benches and desks in a big pile by the wayside, there were two construction sites, an empty outdoor pool - all a bit of a mess.

But as a bonus, the place was near empty of people and the animals were surprisingly active. I only know walruses in zoos (and in the wild, come to think of it) as static blobs. So seeing them moving and swimming around came as a pleasant surprise. Same for the polar bears. And the squirrels. (Admittedly not an intentional attraction of the aquarium, but there nonetheless.)

Seal in Quebec City aquarium Quebec City aquarium Seal in Quebec City aquarium
Polar Bear in Quebec City aquarium Polar Bear in Quebec City aquarium Polar Bear in Quebec City aquarium Polar Bear in Quebec City aquarium
Squirrel in Quebec City aquarium Squirrel in Quebec City aquarium Owl in Quebec City aquarium
Seal in Quebec City aquarium Walrus in Quebec City aquarium Walrus in Quebec City aquarium
Quebec City aquarium

I didn't find much to do the next day - I even visited the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. (I don't mind visiting modern art museums and sometimes enjoy it, but looking at portraits and still lifes from the 19th century is dull. And when I do that as part of my vacation, it shows that I was pretty much scraping at the bottom of the barrel of "things to do".) I even considered visiting the Parliament Building (they have guided tours there) when I realized how little that actually interested me. So I drove to the airport area and stopped at Lacs Laberge (not named after the one in Yukon or vice versa), a pond in a small forest close to the airport. Walking around outside through surprisingly deep snow (when there wasn't much of it anywhere else) was more fun than looking at some parliament seats and clearly a better close to the vacation.

And there even were some squirrels.

Squirrel near Lac Laberge Squirrel near Lac Laberge

I still got to the airport quite early, which was a piece of luck, since when I tried to check in, the machine notified me that my flight was cancelled. But they managed to put me on an earlier flight (there are a lot of flights between Quebec City and Montreal), so I caught my connection in Montreal easily.

And that was the end of the trip. I was still a bit frustrated that stay at the ice hotel didn't happen, but that risk was there from the start. And the dog sledding trip worked out great.

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