public art winter carnival

Settling into real life after a weekend at the Quebec Winter Carnival is like coming off a sugar high, or enduring a maple taffy crash, as the case may be. What could be better than hugging it out with Bonhomme, sampling your first shot of Caribou, strolling through Old Quebec and going clubbing with a few Duchesses? Here are 6 tips for soaking up the Quebec Winter Carnival in style.

2016 carnaval duchess

Thems the Duchesses, oh and Patrick, Carnival boss.

Realize Bonhomme is a deal

Bonhomme, the king of winter isn’t a mere mascot. This 7 ft tall snowman is an ambassador for the world’s biggest and best winter carnival. Bonhomme speaks (dude is fully bilingual), enthrals children and dazzles the ladies. I was lucky enough to meet him inside his Ice Palace (tricked out with a pool table, fireplace and lounge chairs, all made of ice, of course!). Sadly, it wasn’t a private tête-à-tête, but when he enveloped me in his humungous marshmallowy arms, I felt like the only girl in the world.

How to make the most of the Quebec Winter Carnival

Carnival celebrates all things winter and you can barrel down an ice slide, try dog sledding, or even play a game of human foosball! Locals like to warm up with a nip of Caribou, an intoxicating mixture of red wine, hard liquor and you guessed it, maple syrup. Folks walk around the city with Caribou in plastic canes strapped to their sash (more on this later).It’s all very French and quite liberating.

“Is drinking on the streets legal in Quebec City?” asked one of my American colleagues.

“No, it’s encouraged!” shouted Jim Byers, another member of our crew. 

life size foosball

Buckle yourself into the pole with a seatbelt and start playing foosball!

Line your stomach

Ok, you’re in Quebec, you’ve probably been drinking, which means a spot of poutine is in order. An institution in Quebec City, Chez Ashton has nailed the formula: Fries made from local potatoes studded with fresh cheese curds and smothered in a rich gravy. It’s one gloopy mess for sure, but a delicious one at that. As my host Paule said, “Poutine is best used as a prevention or as a remedy.” Truer words…

place royal

How much maple taffy is too much maple taffy? Two per day seemed to be about the right number for me. I’ve tried frozen maple syrup on a stick in Alberta and it is NOTHING like the maple taffy in la belle province. Boiled to a specific temperature and poured onto fresh snow, it’s a sweet wintery delight that you’re sure to become as addicted to as I now am. The withdrawal is especially painful, so nab a can of real maple syrup to enjoy back home.

maple syrup on a stick

Best is when you get to roll the taffy yourself. Note: I’m not the hand model.

Dress for success

The ceinture fléchée or Arrowhead sash is traditional piece of clothing worn proudly during Carnival. Should you get your hands on one, you could tie it around your waist like locals or in a pinch it makes an excellent scarf. Naturally, you’ll need to wear a toque (Canadian for wool hat) and this official Carnival hat that I bought is the coziest I own.

woman celebrating winter carnival

Here I am in all my Carnival glory.

The city does a good job of keeping the sidewalks clean, but there’s still a lot of snow, ice and slush on the ground. I very much regretted wearing my cute booties out one night. Locals tromp around in serious winter boots and change into dressy shoes at their destination. They also bring an extra pair of sox with them if they’re going to be outside for much of the day. It doesn’t seem like much, but changing your sox is a real treat for cold toesies.

Warm up a nature spa

Most Carnaval activities take place outside and the weather can be predictably, well, Canadian. You’ll need to warm up a some point and if Caribou isn’t your thing, consider making a bee-line for Siberia Spa. Like many nature spas, they have a series of saunas and steam rooms for you to sweat it out in. You’re supposed to jump into a cool plunge pool immediately after, but there are outdoor hot tubs to cheat at instead. I went full on winter warrior and dunked myself in a river. Naturally I froze my nards off, but I felt amazing after. Best is you get to rest in these tricked out relaxation areas. I cured up into a pod-like hammock suspended from the ceiling, kind of like a bat. Needless to say, the entire experience was awesome.

nature spa quebec city

Glide and slide

Quebec City knows how to make the most of its assets. In particular: snow and ice. In front of Ristorante Il Teatro, there’s this delightful little ice rink. The twinkling lights, the backdrop of the historic St. John’s St John Gate, it was almost too much. The entire 20-minutes I spent twirling around the ice before heading into dinner at Il Teatro, I felt like I was in a fairy tale.

outdoor ice skating quebec

For an incredible rush, there’s a fantastic toboggan slide on the Dufferin Terrace near Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. It’s super long, quite steep and you can reach speeds up to 70 km/hr. Despite all this, it’s the views you’ll never forget. On your right, the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway. On your left, the historic Chateau. Down below is the old town, with it’s 400-year old stone buildings flanking cobblestone streets.

sled ride quebec city

Photo credit: Luc-Antoine Couturier

It’s easy to see how Quebec City gets rated as one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in North America. But after my winter weekend, I’d say it’s one of the most refreshing.

Have you ever visited Quebec City? What are your must visit spots?

Thank you to both Quebec City Tourism and the Quebec Winter Carnival for hosting my visit. As always, my opinions are my own.

Last Chance to Make First Tracks

Our view while making First Tracks

Skiers and boarders like to talk big about making first tracks, but getting them is actually pretty hard. You’ve got to time it just right. Not only do you need to arrive at the hill before all others (good luck getting up super early in the dead of winter), but first tracks are best savoured after a heavy dump of snow. For the first time in my life, I experienced first tracks this past weekend. It was truly worth the hype. Here’s a look at our experience.

Lake Louise Ski Resort is one Canada’s best ski resorts and our destination for first tracks. It’s about a two-hour drive from our home in Calgary, so we spent the night at the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

family lake louise

We drove out after lunch on Friday so we could make the most of this magical spot in the Rockies. As we cruised along the TransCanada Highway rain turned to snow. Lots of it. It was dumping down for hours on Friday afternoon and evening.

Lake louise ice castle

That meant we had to make a beeline for the outdoors as soon as we arrived. Lake Louise sports one of the world’s best outdoor ice rinks. With an ice castle to glide through, a separate ice rink for impromptu hockey games and a snowball fort, you’ll stay out way longer than you expected.

ice magic festival

Lake Louise also hosts the Ice Magic Festival. Saunter around the grounds of the Chateau and take in the whimsical works of icy art or see it displayed through town.

tiny snowman

I fell in love with the mini snowman at the ice bar.

Of course, when you come across an ice bar, you must stop for a tipple. Hot chocolate for my girl and mulled wine for me!

alberta mountains winter

It’s hard to beat these Rocky Mountain views at first light.

Embarrassingly, I feel asleep before 9 p.m. on Friday night, but that just meant I was raring to go the next morning. At 8:30 all the First Trackers were ready to roll out with their guides. I didn’t expect guides to be part of the package, but each pair of skiers and boarders had an instructor with them for that first hour to show them the mountain and give performance tips.

Lake Louise ski resort

Where to next?

Not everyone can get First Tracks like this. Today is actually the last day to get your chance. Anyone who purchases $300 or more on alpine ski or board equipment (including helmet, poles, goggles) at Sport Chek gets a free lift ticket and early access for two at one of the participating ski hills across Canada. For lucky Calgarians, who are spoiled for choice, their First Tracks hill is Lake Louise.

As you can see from the pics I hastily took with my iPhone, it was a bluebird day. We cruised all over the mountain, from the front side to the back bowls. And because I switched from my board to demo skis, I was able to tackle different terrain. Moguls are so much easier on two planks!

father and daughter hockey

My family ripped it up on the ice and the snow

This was probably the happiest 24-hours I’ve had all winter. All that fresh air, the thrill of getting the mountain to yourself, enjoying après-ski after burning out my legs. It was one perfect moment after the next. Trouble is, it’s been 15-years since I spent the day on skis and at the end of it, I was as tired as a mom forced to play Lego. Again, I hit the sack early, and I fell asleep thinking I was still swooshing across the slopes. Bliss.

Have you ever made first tracks at a ski resort? What was your experience like?

Friday Faves

Winter in Japan really does look like this.

Are you ready for the weekend? I’ve decided to cut lose early and am hoping to hit an outdoor ice rink or a ski hill by early afternoon on Friday. I’m writing this on Thursday night, and though I have a few hours of work to power through on Friday morning, I already feel like it’s the weekend. That might be due to the rather large second glass of wine I’m nursing. Hope you enjoy cruising through these links as much as I did.

Friday Faves

What if you woke up and your wrinkles were gone? Tempted to try Frownies (but suspect it’s too good to be true).

The ultimate headache guide.

Do you thinking parenting has collapsed? Why it’s time for parents to grow up.

5 Ways to eat burgers in the middle of winter.

Great tips in here. The nightly routines of 15 successful women.

How to turn dried up markers into water colour paints.

6 Things your hair can tell you about your health.

Even if you’re not on Instagram, you’ll want to check out the images from these way cool accounts. You can find me @TravelswBaggage.

I love sauces and these detox worthy dips make eating clean so much easier.

Do you have any idea how much you spend on beauty, health and wellness each year? 4 women reveal their annual grooming costs.

Tips celebrity trainers give their famous clients.

Unique accommodations for a wonderful winter getaway

January is a great month to take stock of your life and make plans. Travel plans are the very best kind of plans to make and fantasize about. One recent study by booking.com showed that twice as many people would rather travel than lose weight this year! They’d also rather drink less than have more sex and are more keen to improve their mental health than their physical health. Go figure.

Back to travel, research shows that travellers are happier people – not because they’re so blissed out after spending a week in the sun. Unfortunately, that quickly wears off after your return. No, travellers are happier because they have something exciting to look forward to. But what if you have no clue where to go or what’s available to you?

headstand surf board

One cool thing I recently stumbled upon is this Resolution Translator. This fun tool offers travel inspiration based on your New Year’s resolutions. First you enter your resolution, then it serves up a unique translated resolution that combines bettering one’s self with travel. I put in that in 2016 I would “focus” and was recommended a vacation in Salzburg, Austria. I immediately felt intrigued. Why would it suggest that? What’s in Salzburg? I had a happy few minutes researching and getting excited about a vacation possibility I’d never dreamt of. And because I know you’re probably wondering, if you want more sex, you should head to Lyon, but maybe that’s just me?

lapland hotel

The point is, it’s free and fun to dream. Just give the globe a spin and take your pick. One travel trend I’m loving is how tourists are no longer limiting themselves to hotel stays. Booking.com is the site I’ve used most regularly in recent months and over 70% of accommodations available on this site falls outside the traditional hotel category. You can stay on a boat (super popular to do in Sweden), in a treehouse, on a farm stay, or even in an igloo. They’ve got like 30 different categories for accommodation. Here’s a look at some of the more unique options I came across.

jail hotel

This grand looking building is actually the HI- Ottawa Jail Hostel, a former jail, where you can spend the night behind bars. (If that isn’t a worthy Facebrag, I don’t know what is…)

hotel inside airplane

Fancy bedding down in the cockpit? One way to join the mile high club is with a stay at STF Jumbo Stay Stockholm and “sleeping” inside a retrofit Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. Thankfully the bathrooms have been expanded.

ice hotel guest room

In Norway you can sleep in an igloo, complete with hot tubs and a sauna to warm up. It’s BYOT (thermals) though….

italy cave hotel guest room

Or how about resting your head inside a cave? At Italy’s Sextant Le Grotte Della Civita, guest  rooms are set in large caves. It’s set right on the edge of a national park and breakfast is served in a former 13th century church. Swoon!

Have I sparked some wanderlust? If you could go anywhere in 2016, where would it be?

Perfect Day: Spa and Snowshoe near Banff

Sometimes it’s too difficult to get away. Whether it’s finances or a time crunch, you can’t always get the break you need when you need it. Before Christmas I needed a break and I needed it bad. I was burnt out and if I’m being brutally honest, I was petrified about spending four days on my own with my daughter. I should clarify that – four days without T.V. or any of her friends in the neighbourhood. When this reality sunk in, I leapt at the chance to cover a staycation story in Banff.

Believe me, I wasn’t thrilled about having to submit a story on December 23 (that’s my Xmas food prep day). But as I preached last week about the difference between effortful and effortless fun, this mini-break was well worth it.

girl in snow

When setting up a staycation, you need to have a plan. A few anchor events ensure you don’t spend all your precious time cooped up inside your hotel. For us, it was a snowshoeing excursion with Discover Banff Tours and a spa break for mama.

Snowshoeing is ideal for kids. As the adage goes, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Instead of trekking around Banff, the tour headed for Kootenay National Park. Why, you ask? It gets that much more snow, so guests are guaranteed plenty of powder stashes to romp through.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon was our destination and it was ideal. Eve immediately befriended some kids from Texas, allowing me to get to know Gary and Dave from China.

girls snowshoeing

Gary and Dave are not their real names, but I couldn’t remember their Chinese ones. These boys (and I suspect lady killers at their university) were a hoot, and are only mildly concerned about finding a wife in China. (Yes, I asked…)

Parks Canada Share the Chair

They should’ve worn mitts, though…

snowshoeing fun

Winding our way through the woods, we came face to face with the results of a massive 2003 forest fire. Over 180 sq km was affected, but it’s not a total bummer as fire resets forest’s natural growth cycle. Lodge pole pine can only populate when its cones are heated to super hot (forest fire like) temperatures.

Highway 93

Do you want to know the amazing thing that didn’t happen on this snowshoeing excursion? Whining. There was none of it. We were outdoors for over three-hours at -15°C (5°F) and I didn’t hear one complaint from any of the kids. They were too busy forging new trails, exploring the forest and peering down into the canyon.

girls drinking hot chocolate in the snow

Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with a hearty steak dinner at The Keg. (They have my favourite children’s menu out of any chain). Then I sashayed off to Red Earth Spa. I wasn’t expecting much from my massage, being such a tourist town and all, but holy smokes! Did I ever get the full treatment. I wouldn’t call this spa (or any spa) cheap, but it was affordably priced and excellent value for money. I floated off the massage table, into the steam room, followed by a leisurely soak inside the most brilliant jade colour water. I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Within 24-hours I was completely reset. We went somewhere new, refreshed the senses with our outdoor excursion, tucked into a great meal and removed all traces of city stressors with a spot of pampering. If that wasn’t just what the doctor ordered, I don’t know what is.

For more deets on my trip, check out the grammatically correct article I wrote for SnowSeekers.

Have you ever had a perfect day? I’d love to hear what constitutes yours.

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