Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sleeping Overnight in Hôtel de Glace


My winter hotel for one night

As I wiggled myself into my thermal sleeping bag, I hunkered down for the challenge of sleeping the entire night in a pretty cool accommodation – an ice hotel.

Located in Canada’s province of Quebec, Hôtel de Glace is what its name implies. During a recent work trip to Quebec City, part of my itinerary included a booked stay at this unique accommodation and tourist attraction.

Built anew every December, this winter lodging is primarily made from snow – 30,000 tons worth – that is continuously churned by snow blowers to harden and build the hotel’s foundation. Ice is also involved in the building process. Blocks are partly used in the construction, but also get turned into furniture and become stands for the hotel’s bar area.



The hotel is usually open from January through March.


Hôtel de Glace opens for business after the New Year in January and stays in operation until March (in 2017, it is scheduled to shut down on March 26). While it debuted in 2001, Hôtel de Glace has been on the grounds of Village Vacances Valcartier, a resort/spa about 20 minutes from Quebec City, since 2016.

My reservation for Hôtel de Glace included the booking of a same night hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, where guests can keep their luggage and retreat to before and after their stay.



Trek up and go down this icy slide.


Taking a Tour

Visitors who might shiver over the thought of sleeping in an ice hotel can opt to take a scheduled tour of the property instead. Tours offer peeks into different types of rooms and suites. They include a stop at the hotel’s lounge/bar area, with the opportunity to order a specialty cocktail served in a glass made from ice. The grounds also include the chapel, with furry seat coverings on benches and where weddings take place, and a side building displaying various ice sculptures.



2017’s version of this ice hotel carries a Nordic theme.


With the 2017 version of Hôtel de Glace, the main building holds 44 various rooms and suites, bar/lounge, and a play area with a slide. Each sleeping accommodation is graced with wall carvings depicting various winter themes or creatures. Furnishings are mostly a bed with a mattress with an icebox base and a nightstand. Plus, the bedframe has a light switch, where can be turned on and off when needed.



My sleeping sack


A Sleeping Lesson

Overnight guests of the Hôtel de Glace attend a mandatory sleep session, in which a hotel employee advises you on how to prepare for bedtime. For PJs, you’re told not to wear any cotton-based clothing (as it soaks up moisture) but put light ones made by synthetic materials. You don’t want to be over-layered either, as you will break into a night sweat; we’re told that we’ll be your own body heater. If you’re getting hot inside your sack, take off what’s excess. (Our guide suggested that you could sleep naked, as this helps body heat circulate more, but I decided not to go that far). And, yes, she reassured us that our sleeping bags are washed daily.

As for what else you’ll be sleeping in, your main gear will be a cocoon-like sleeping sack with a hoodie that you worm your way into and close up with a side zipper and strap. We’re also given a visual demo on getting into it, which seemed to prove that some wiggling would be involved.

We were also given a number of do’s and don’ts. Don’t: putting objects like jewelry (as I asked) or eyeglasses on your ice-made nightstand. You’ll find them frozen to the stand in the morning. Another don’t: taking our sleeping sack out of its waterproof holding bag before settling down for the night. If so, it will get crispy and cold.



These drinks are served in ice glasses. I had the first one on the left.


Of course, another important issue was addressed: what we needed to do if we had to use the bathroom. Basically, you have to get out of our sack, quickly put on your boots and any needed outdoor gear to leave your room, and head to an outdoor area with heated and lighted porta potties (so go easy on drinking beforehand.) You keep your sack zipped up, too, to retain its heat. Your room door consists of a curtain and your morning wake-up call involves staffers giving you a shout (your last one comes at 8:30 a.m., so be out at least before 9 a.m. or you might wake up to find a tour group staring at you.)

Our stay also included access to an outdoor hot tub and sauna area, where guests can properly warm up and dry off before going to bed. But then I envisioned a mad dash in my provided robe to escape the reminding cold air and decided to pass on it.



My sleeping quarters


Going to Bed
Overnight guests at Hôtel de Glace are let into their rooms at 9 p.m. My game plan for the night was to first go for a cocktail at one of the three bar sections and then run back to my room at Village Vacances Valcartier to get dressed and use the toilet one last time. I also wanted to secure my white-colored room key inside my pocket.

Apparently, there is no curfew inside Hotel de Glace, so if need to, guests can opt to go back inside the Village Vacances Valcartier’s hotel area. Particularly if they decide that they want to sleep back there instead. I wasn’t sure if I think I would stay the entire night in my iced room, but I figured I’d see how I felt – and how cold I would feel.



The door to my room


Room 41 was mine. It was cozy in size, reminding me of a studio apartment. I found my bed to be reasonably firm and the light switch readily accessible. I pulled out my sleep sack and put my boots inside its holding bag to keep them from freezing. While trying to fully remember my given instructions, I wormed my way into the sack.

I tugged up the zipper and crunched myself down inside, while wearing my probably well-approved long johns and knit socks, along with gloves, snow pants, hat, and ski jacket (I tend to err on the side of caution). For peace of mind, I kept one hand warmer inside one glove and another in a lined pocket. I pulled over my sleep sack hoodie and after a bit of maneuvering to get comfortable and removing a slightly sweaty hat, I slept. I woke up a bit during the night but rolled back into a steady slumber.

Startled awake by my wakeup call, I unzipped myself out, got dressed, left my sack on the bed, and headed out. Going back to my hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, I rewarded myself with a warm shower, put on a change of clothes, and headed down for breakfast inside the restaurant area. I don’t know if I would do a return stay, but it’s interesting to check off a stay at a place like Hôtel de Glace off my bucket list.

Sponsored Post: 5 Must-Do Drives in South Africa

One great way to see South Africa is behind the wheel of a car. Taking a scenic route at your own driving pace will give different views and perspectives of where you’re going and presently at. Here are five must-do driving routes in South Africa to take, especially in order to take in your surroundings.


Creative Commons photo / Ajay Goel

1) The Garden Route

The Garden Route is often a recommended must-see stretch in South Africa, and for good reason. This beautiful coastal section of the N2 (a national route) runs from Heidelberg in the Southern Cape, to Storms River Village on the Eastern Cape border. It’s also known for its lush vegetation, mixture of topography and outdoor activity options. Stops along this way are equally noteworthy, particularly aligning seaside towns. Mossel Bay, which starts the Garden Route, is considered to be a major holiday destination. Knysna is well regarded for its Knysna Lagoon, based in the middle of two sandstone cliffs known as “the Knysna Heads.” Visit Garden Route National Park, which contains hiking routes and incorporates the Tsitsikamma and Wilderness national parks plus Knysna Forests.


Creative Commons photo / Jeoren Looye

 2) Chapman’s Peak Drive

In being also all about scenery, this mountainside coastal route will not keep your eyes alert on the road, but also has pullout locations where it’s safe to head over on the side. Approximately nine kilometers (or 5.5 miles), the curvy Chapman’s Peak Drive starts from Hout Bay, a fishing harbor town, and does a windy trek to the village suburb of Noordhoek. As a modern engineering marvel, the drive’s construction started in 1915 and was completed in 1922. While driving along, consider keeping your windows down to hear the crash of the surfing wind beneath. And also note that it’s a toll road so keep some extra rand ready.


Creative Commons photo / Rene C. Nielsen

3) The Panorama Route

In the province of Mpumalanga, the Panorama Route clearly lives up to its name with geological formations, green valleys, and mountain peaks, and links to historic towns. It coincides with Blyde River Canyon, said to be the third largest canyon in the world and situated in the Drakensberg escarpment region. Bourke’s Luck Potholes is a series of eroded bedrock formations at the conjunction of the Treur and Blyde rivers. The Three Rondavels, a trio of mountaintop peaks, are shaped like African grass huts. God’s Window is a spectacular panoramic viewpoint of plunging cliffs, where seeing over Kruger National Park is possible on a clear day. Towns along this route have their respective offerings. Graskop, a former mining town, is particularly noted for its eatery, Harrie’s Pancakes. Sabie is a forestry town with impressive pine plantations and cascading waterfalls. Pilgrim’s Rest relives its gold mining boom via museums.


Creative Commons photo / Brian Snelson

4) Swartberg Pass

Heading over this east-west pass through the Swartberg mountain range is a once in a lifetime drive. Running between the plains of the Great Karoo and valleys of the Little Karoo, the Swartberg Pass is a gravel route that takes drivers through this semi-arid area, linking the towns of Oudtshoorn (in the south) and Prince Albert (in the north) together. The rock-centered ride may seem a little nerve wrecking, due to its hairpin bends and narrow sections, but take the journey carefully – and enjoy the geology. Be sure to notice vegetation such as aloe plants, dry stone retaining walls, and vertical cliff faces such as the Wall of Fire.

5) The Friendly N6 Route

This amicably named national motorway connects the Free State and Eastern Cape and reflects what you’ll find along the journey. Running between East London and Bloemfonten, the Friendly N6 Route passes by farmlands, outdoor wonders, and small inland towns. With the latter, Stutterheim has become a magnet for nature lovers, primarily due to its forestry areas. It’s the same with Lady Grey, which has good ops for hiking and fishing. Smithfield appears to carry more of a hospital feel, with a mixture of lodging ranging from B&Bs to self-catering homes, and an artsy side, with various galleries and cafes/restaurants.

Now let’s get going. To rent a car with Around about Cars and explore this incredible region of South Africa click here: Car Rental South Africa.

Delta and Palace Resorts Offer Bostonians a ‘Survive the Winter’ Giveaway


Hey Bostonians, here’s another reason to celebrate. Delta and Palace Resorts have partnered to offer Bostonians the chance to “Survive the Winter” by entering to win a five-night stay at the all-inclusive Moon Palace Jamaica Grande and two VIP tickets to see the rock band Survivor perform at the resort on February 25, 2017.

Bostonians can enter to win on the resort’s Facebook page, which includes roundtrip airfare, free transfers and a $500 credit for two additional winners, courtesy of Delta. Enter by Friday, February 17.

This new route is part of Delta’s larger efforts to enhance Boston service including expanding its domestic and international destinations, as well as offering first class on every flight. In summer 2017, the airline will operate over 90 peak day departures from Boston, with daily service to 21 different cities and Saturday-only service to five cities.


A Getaway to Atlanta


Tonight’s Super Bowl LI faceoff between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons reminded me of a post I wanted to do on my trip to Atlanta right before the New Year. Ironically, the timing of this quick vacation was during a college football bowl game, being held in Atlanta. Yet our focus was not about the game, but more so about quickly seeing as much of this Georgian city in four days.

Joining me on this trip were relatives in age from toddler and teen to young and older adult. So we saw places that seemed to cater to everyone’s liking. Here is what we saw and did.


Margaret Mitchell House & Museum
You may or may not recognize this woman’s name, but you must know her famous novel turned blockbuster movie, “Gone with the Wind.” At first, I thought this building was her childhood home, but it’s actually the place where Mitchell and her second husband John Marsh lived after getting married. Once an apartment building, Mitchell and Marsh lived on the ground floor, and it’s where Mitchell wrote almost all of her fictional story about the Civil War. Take a guided tour, which goes into Mitchell’s life and connection to writing, particularly through her work as a reporter for a local paper.


Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium is said to be one of the best aquariums out there and was for a while the largest in the world. A ton of fresh and salt water creatures are kept here, by what makes it super cool is that it houses a number of whale sharks in its Ocean Voyager habitat area. There are about six sections, including ones for animals who live in chilly climates (yes, find penguins here) and an impressive tropic fish tank. In one part of the Georgia Aquarium, enter a glass-encased walkway with occupants like manta rays and smaller sharks whiz by or chill out. It’s across the way from Centennial Olympic Park, a 21-acre green space in downtown Atlanta that is the legacy of the city’s hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics.


The World of Coca Cola
Straight across from The Georgia Aquarium, this tourist attraction is obviously all about Coca Cola. And you get your taste for this iconic beverage as soon as you get inside. Upon entry, staff hand out free cans of different types of Coca Cola to visitors. A “Vault of the Secret Formula” apparently holds the well-guarded recipe and tells about its creation. We didn’t see it but instead spent much of our time at “Taste It!” The second level floor holds soda machines containing beverages owned by the Coca-Cola Company that are sold around the world. Divided by continent, you can try soft drinks that are popular in Asia (go for India’s Thums Up), Africa (Madagascar’s got a citrusy one) and South, North, and Latin America.


Center for Puppetry Arts
If you’re a Muppets fan, get to this museum. It’s actually a nonprofit organization that educates about puppet theater via a museum and education center. Jim Henson was here for the ribbon cutting ceremony in 1978, and many of his character creations are permanently stored in a section called “The Jim Henson Collection.” While you might geek out in this area, spend time in another section called “The Global Collection” that focuses on puppetry traditions across the world.


Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
If you’ve never to a U.S. presidential museum, you have the chance to see one in Atlanta. There’s a lot of good archival information on our 39th President, starting from his boyhood in rural Georgia, to his naval career, to his entry into politics as a Georgia state senator and governor. And of, there is much about his presidency, including a recreation of the White House’s Oval Office during the term of his administration. Nowadays, Jimmy Carter and his Rosalynn focus on humanitarian led efforts across the world, and the museum shows videos relating the couple’s work. We found that the easiest way to get here was via Uber or Lyft, unless you have your own car.


Zoo Atlanta
One reason to visit this zoo: it’s one of only four in the U.S. that currently houses giant pandas. There are many other strong points too. As Atlanta’s oldest attraction, this zoo contains around 1,300 animals (more than 200 species) from around the world in various naturalistic habitats. Birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals from every corner of the globe roost here, with setups including the Flamingo Plaza, Scaly Slimy Spectacular, and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Giant Panda Conservation Center.

If you have time, I suggest heading to Decatur, a next-door city with a trending scene of restaurants, coffee shops, and other eateries. We stopped at Butter and Cream for homemade ice cream flavors like Honeycomb Forest, and then we shared a specialty poutine dish at Leons Full Service. Back in Atlanta, visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes the leader’s birth home and final resting place.

These are my final tips. Take advantage of MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) for getting around. It’s easy to follow and can take you to and from the airport. We stayed at Hyatt Regency Atlanta, based in the downtown area. It’s perfectly situated, with a lower level food court and direct access to MARTA. Also, consider getting Atlanta CityPASS, as this ticket booklet includes some of the attractions I’ve listed.

Traveling in the Time of Uncertainty


Creative Commons photo / ricardo

Let me start off by saying that I tend to avoid having political discussions on my site. However, I can see how news involving the recent travel ban executed by President Donald Trump is shaking up the travel sector. And for many reasons beyond, as well as in addition to, its confusing rollout. From protests at airports to public outcries, I’m concerned about this scenario will impact American travelers.

My point is not to discount those directly affected by this ban, or even sub sequential international relations. However, I do worry about those who are traveling from the U.S. overseas soon or over the course of the current presidential term. I worry about how others might perceive them, or even if they feel nervous about their travel plans as a result. I also wonder how other visitors will be inclined or not to still visit our nation.

As we have to see — and respond to — what the outcome of this presidential decision will be, we travelers can take some steps of our own for peace of mind. Here are my suggestions for how to approach travel during political uncertainty, particularly if you’re traveling soon.

Stay in tune with the news. While the news can seem depressing as of late, it’s good to follow what might be happening within your expected destination in relation to this recent ban. Can’t stand TV? Like Facebook pages of solid news sources or perhaps consider getting email alerts (like through Google) related to where you’re going.

Check on cancellation policies. Emergency or not, it’s good to know what your options are in the case you have to cancel your flight or overall trip. Read up on what your air carrier’s rules on cancellations or flight changes are, in relation to this current topic. If you get travel insurance, fully read the form and ask questions or clarifications in terms of what’s covered and what’s not.

Arrive at the airport earlier. With demonstrations taking place at major U.S. airports such as at JFK and SFO, plus still debate over how this policy is being delivered, it might be best to get to yours with extra time to spare.

Confirm your ride. Another thing: your method of getting there could also be impacted. Everything from protests to boycotts (there have been reports about an NYC taxi strike) can alter your transportation, so keep this factor in mind as well.

Keep to small talk. It’s possible to be asked, or perhaps questioned, about our leadership while abroad. If you would feel uncomfortable to discuss politics, consider being simple with your responses. Don’t feel you have to be defensive about where you’re from or what’s been happening. If need be, consider excusing yourself or changing the subject.