Arrived at our departure airport at 5:30 AM and went through a most thorough security screening. Times sure have changed at airports. American Airlines staff shook their heads in disbelief at our final destination. "Quebec City? WHY?" Our simple answer was that it's Carnival time - Just like Rio only without bikinis and thongs on public display! Who cares if the temperature is double digits below zero on the fahrenheit scale. Passed Canadian Customs after being shuffled into the non-resident arrival section where our bags were subjected to an x-ray machine yet again. Seems they were looking for firearms and illegal drugs. Anything which looks at all suspicious required the bags to be opened and hand-searched. MSO and I were lucky; Only two of our four bags had to be opened and searched. Seems that the x-ray search doesn't like batteries nor a commercial hand-warmer product. Hailed a cab for a 20 minute ride to Quebec City. Our driver was Guy-Jean, a 54 year old rodeo clown. We were spellbound with his stories of rodeos and the Calgary Stampede. He apologized that his English was so poor. He learned the tongue when he was 50! His pronunciation and grammar were better than a number of people I know who speak only English!
Our first night was at the local Hilton. It featured a room on the smallish side but the view from the 16th floor made up for the room's lack of spaciousness. Our window overlooked Old City and the iceberg-filled St. Lawrence River stretching beyond the famous Le Chateau Frontenac. This would make a fine base for our first day's explorations of Quebec's Carnival whose mascot is Bonhomme, a roly-poly snowman. Statues and posters of him are everywhere in the city with the "real" Bonhomme making public appearances at the various Carnival sites.
He "lives" in a palace completely constructed of blocks of ice. (Not to be confused with the Ice Hotel located 45 minutes outside the city. The Ice Hotel would provide our lodging the following night.) Constantly changing colored spotlights illuminate the castle in hues of red, blue, yellow, green, white and variations in between including a psychedelic pattern that could have been designed by Peter Maxx.
MSO and I toured Bonhomme's home, marveling at the ice sculptures displayed in the two-room castle. Among them was a grizzly bear standing erect in attack mode and a stag's head mounted as a trophy over the ice fireplace.
The sun had set hours earlier and the combination of a very early day and no substantial food found us scouting out restaurants in Old City. We settled on Le Figaro simply because unlike other places we'd passed, we weren't accosted by employees trying to drag us in to their restaurant. Old world charm and fine cuisine are apt synonyms for Le Figaro. I enjoyed the veal medallions with a marsalla sauce while MSO decided on one of her favorites - steak tartar. Our server looked up. "You realize that's raw meat?" MSO smiled, nodding. Just to make sure that she knew what she was getting, our server brought out a small sample of the tartar which MSO pronounced as delicious. Fully sated, we strolled back to the hotel making plans for Day 2 - and our upcoming night at the famed Ice Hotel.