AIE! FLEE!Again with the short term, long distance vacation in the interests of attending a talk.bizarre gathering. This time, it was a sub-week trip to Québec City for FROST.BOB II - Fervent Refutation Of Sainthood Talk.Bizarre Outrageous Blowout. Read on!

February 1

In contrast to my usual haphazard vacationing, I'd actually packed beforehand and even managed to get a whole three hours' sleep. And I wasn't hungover, either. I managed to fit the required stuff into a tiny little shoulderbag, putting previous packing feats with the Bag of Holding to shame. The alarm buzzed me awake at 5:45, and after a leisurely shower and even breakfast, I got in the car at 6:40 and drove to the airport. Dublin traffic is actually bearable at this time of day; I got from my place on the southern fringe of the city to the airport on the northside, through the city, in less than an hour.

I cleared US Immigration at Dublin airport without hassle, having stopped by duty free to pick up a new pair of shades and a bottle of Poitin (Cuidados. Hay Leprechauns) for the party. This has been my choice of donated beverage since 1995, and is generally well received up to the point where people start falling over and/or throwing up. The rest of the travel was uneventful; I motored my way through a new Greg Egan book I'd bought the previous day - Luminous, which is an excellent short story collection - and tried some more of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow which I am at this point reading out of sheer bloodymindedness as I don't particularly like the book or the style. I had to trot through immigration a second time in Shannon, and a third time in Newark, and also US Customs in Newark. Now, I've been asked why, since I was going to Canada, did I have to do the INS/Customs song-and-dance routine? Well, it's because I'm going via Newark, and rather than shuffle me through some sort of transit lounge, I have to fill out the I94 & customs forms and swear I won't blow up the President or import moonshine for the brief period I'll be in the country. Bizarre, but true. In Newark I hung out for an hour or two waiting for my connecting flight to Montreal. At least part of the airport at Newark is within sight of the rather over-famous New York skyline, so I've had my first glimpse of that. I also overheard an unmistakably local accent, which caused me some giggling.

Flying into Montreal, we descended through a solid blanket of cloud to emerge over a very organised-looking snow-covered city. Few buildings appeared to be more than two or three stories in height, but I was mostly taken with the snow, which was like nothing I'd ever had first-hand experience of. As we landed, I could see a train of snowploughs akin to the one in On Her Majesty's Secret Service - with the big snow-blowing chute - at the edge of the airfield clearing assorted taxiways and roads. And at our pier, there was a baggage-cart-shaped hump of snow near the wall. Inside the airport, I looked around for Ben, despite the fact that I'd no idea what he looked like. I had considered making a placard for myself saying "Desperately Seeking Soo, Ben" but hadn't gotten around to it. I eventually phoned him and told him I was standing next to the Pepsi machine. After standing around for a while, I saw two likely-looking candidates standing near the "Meeting Point" desk, and wandered over. It turned out that Ben thought I'd said something about the taxi rank, not Pepsi machine! He'd already located Brian Cash, so we both walked outside while Ben fetched the car to take us to the B&B.

On the way to the B&B, Ben told us various little bits and pieces about the roads we were travelling on, essentially summed up by the word "scam". Hmm. Maybe we could loan the Québecois some Irish politicians - they'd fit right in. The B&B itself was a rather quaint little place on Avenue Laval called Bienvenue Bed & Breakfast. It was your rather typical old, converted house with associated oddly-sized rooms and such. The rooms were simple but comfortable, which was, as far as I was concerned, all that mattered. And there were three cats running about, all seeking attention. Whee, cats!

While we got ourselves sorted out at the B&B and made small talk with the landlady, Kate (organizer of this extravaganza of FUN) was on her way over. She appeared at the door and we had the "Oh my, haven't seen you in five years" greeting, involving firm hugs and much "Yay!"-ing and so forth. Yay! Kate!

So, reunions made and bags dispatched, we piled into Ben's VW Golf and scooted off up Mount Royal. Or, in French, Mont Réal. Doh moment! I have a pretty good grasp of French, yet I failed to make the connection until Kate pointed it out. As soon as we'd parked the car at the top of the hill, I bowed to my inner urges; I picked up a bunch of snow and tossed it at a nearby lamp post. Yay! Snow! We walked across the top of the hill to a vantage point looking down on McGill and out towards the river, where Kate and Ben pointed out various interesting buildings and landmarks. I insisted on frolicking in the snow as much as possible, despite the rather greater degree of cold than I've ever had to deal with. Ever. On the way back from the vantage point, we were approached by two gentlemen from the southern hemisphere looking for directions to an ice-skating venue. Typically, they asked the out-of-towners for directions first. Brian and I grinned, shook our heads, and pointed them at Ben and Kate. While Kate was giving directions, we watched someone coming out of the trees with their dog; the dog had a pair of those flashing clip-on lights attached to its collar. Good idea!

Having descended from the mountain, we headed into Chinatown to a chinese restaurant where Ben ordered in chinese, meaning that the rest of us sat there until he was done and then said, "What are we eating, Ben?" (actually, he checked everything with us as he went along, but that's not half as amusing). During the starter, Ben managed to snap one of his chopsticks in three, prompting the giggling waiter to tell us we had Jet Li at our table! The food was magnificent, especially the squid - I don't think I've ever had non-rubbery squid before. Ben initially voiced some concern that he'd ordered too much, but we pretty much cleaned up everything on the table. We paid our bill and wandered back out in the snow, and off for a quick spin into Montreal's central shopping area to check bookstores for a book Yong-Mi'd asked Kate to look out for. Alas, it wasn't in the first bookstore, and the second was closed by the time we got there. Having exhausted our options, Ben dropped Brian and I back to the B&B for the night.

February 2

I seemed to avoid the whole jet lag thing (I usually do, travelling west) so I was up and about at a reasonably early hour, about 9 o'clock or so. Brian, having flown approximately the same distance as I but in the wrong direction, was dead to the world. Or at least to breakfast, anyway. The landlady was reassuringly motherly in her serving, offering more coffee, juice, toast, fruit, jam, and I'm sure if I'd picked up the cat to play with it she'd have offered me another of those too. We made some idle conversation, part of which was

Landlady: So, you are only in Canada for 5 days! You must be a journalist, no?
Also, I tried to explain how an Irishman and a Californian who were meeting for the first time knew each other well enough to fly to a point roughly midway between themselves and share accomodation before journeying into the frozen wastes of the North; at this point Brian had arrived downstairs to help me out, and came up with "We're part of an amateur writing group for people who are too lazy to write." which, I guess, is as close as you can get to a short summary of who we are.

Once we were both sufficiently awake and fed, I phoned Kate to find out what our plan was to be. She was busy when I called and suggested I call back about an hour later, so Brian and I decided we'd make for some shopping area where he could get some extra clothing. We checked our little map of Montreal and struck out in light snow and deep snowdrifts; after walking a few blocks we came to a junction that wasn't, well, fitting into my mental map, so we hauled out the map again and discovered we'd overshot where we were supposed to turn right, so we walked back and headed south at the appropriate junction. Or west. It was logical south in my mind, for some reason, anyway. We realised that by the time we'd made it to the subway station it'd be time to meet Kate back at the B&B, so we wandered back in the appropriate direction:

Waider: Let's go this way.
Brian: Do you know where you're going?
Waider: Approximately!
Yay sense of direction, we were on the right track and got back to the B&B just about when we were supposed to call Kate. On the way back, we passed through a small park which had a sign detailing the "opening hours"; this was funny in itself because there were no railings or gates on the park, but funnier still was that the notice, as best I can tell, forbade you to wash yourself or your animals in the park between the hours of midnight and 6am. I'm not making this up. Anyway, Kate told us that Yong-Mi had already arrived at Montreal airport and Ben was headed out there to pick her up. We arranged to meet her for lunch at a nearby restaurant called La Cabane, so we went out the door and promptly turned the wrong way. I looked at the street name on the next cross-street, and it didn't gel with what I expected, so we hauled out the map and consulted it. After a minute or so, I announced we'd gone the wrong way, and started walking back. Then I stopped, hmmed, considered the map again, dithered, hmmed, and decided yes, we had gone the wrong way. We were just about to set off in the right direction when Kate appeared, apparently having decided to make sure we were headed the right way! LIREZ!On the way to the fooderie, we stopped to pick up some nibbles for Ben, and then headed onward to the restaurant which turned out to be next to a bookstore, which of course required us to visit the bookstore. And I confess, I travelled all the way to Montreal to buy... a James Joyce book, Dubliners, which is a collection of short stories about characters in Dublin, many of whom later appeared in Ulysses. The book came with a strangely phallic bookmark, too.

Lunch, for me, was "Beef Tornadoes" (okay, Tournedos de Boeuf) and beer. This fine dining establishment was doing two-for-one specials on their beer of the week or something like that, so we all ended up with twin baby pitchers of whatever it was. Nice, I think, or possibly More if we'd had the time. As it was, we were just getting to coffees when Ben turned up with the rent-a-van and Yong-Mi and Andrea. More with the greeting and the hugging Yong-Mi with the five-years-since-we-last-met and the hey hey hey. The waitress kindly transferred my unfinished cappucino into a styrofoam cup, we paid our bills, and we scooted.

And thus began our road trip to Québec. Seating arrangements were Ben and Kate as Driver and DJ/Co-driver; Yong-Mi and Brian in the centre seats, and Andrea and I bringing up the rear. Yong-Mi passed around "Cream-filled Collon" prompting all the jokes you can imagine (and some that maybe you can't) about colons, and also showed us "Crunky Chocolate", which prompted even weirder and more obscure humour. Kate kept us entertained with a random selection of CDs from her collection, and I talked pretty much non-stop for much of the trip. As usual. Whee! On the way, Yong-Mi, Brian, Andrea and I all took out our Pilots and started beaming "business cards" at each other, during which process Yong-Mi managed to send me an entire chunk of her addressbook. Doh!

At some point it became evident that we weren't going to arrive quite in time for dinner at "Aux Anciens Canadiens", so Kate phoned ahead and told whoever to go ahead with the eating, and we'd turn up whenever. As it turned out, by the time we'd arrived, checked into the hotels...

Waider: I have a reservation.
Clerk: Certainly, m'siuer. What name?
Waider: Ronan Waide. W-a-i-d-e.
Clerk: Here you are sir.
Waider: Er, no, this isn't me.[1] I'm sharing a room.
Clerk: Ah! Je m'excuse. You are sharing with... Dorsey?
Waider: Uh. No. Skala. Yep, that's the one. Thanks. Uh, merci.

[1] The card actually read, "Ernest Wiener".
...and gotten ourselves down to the restaurant, the maître'd told us (after I conversed with him briefly in French, yay!) that he'd not be able to give us a main course, as we'd arrived too late, but if we wanted to join our friends for dessert and coffee that'd be fine. So we did. And the cameras came out!

various folks at the restaurant

Us newcomers hung out long enough to order a beer, a coffee and a dessert. The beer was Maudite, the label of which features a bunch of guys in a flying canoe which Matt Skala explained they were using to fly to Montreal for a night of debauchery, after which they'd have to go to hell. He said there was something about a magic flute as well, but couldn't recall it. The coffee was fine, and I'm sure the dessert would have been if it turned up, but it didn't. Seems we confused the serving staff some with our mere presence. This may or may not have been reflected in tips.

AIE!Aprés the restaurant, we went up to the Plains Of Abraham, which for Carnaval get turned into a giant playground/snow-sculpture exhibition. On the way, we passed the Ice Castle (Kate: "It's not as impressive close up as it is from a distance."), and also discovered that someone had left the gravity switched on (Waider: "AIE! GRAVITY!" *thud*). Also, we found many people willing to sell us, for $4, an effigy of Bonhomme, who is the sort of overseer of the whole Carnaval lark. Actually, he looks kinda like Casper on 'shrooms (attribution dammit: Brian Cash) and is probably used by the locals to terrify their kids into behaving well. Buying an effigy gets you admission or discounted admission to various events and locations during Carnaval, so we ponied up our bucks and joined the Cult of Bonhomme.

Somewhere along the way, one of our party acquired a plastic horn which, depending on your blowing technique, sounded either like a fairly deep trumpet, or a moose being molested. Many people had these horns, and honked them frequently, but there was more of the moose than the sonorous note.

The snow sculptures were pretty impressive, even the ones without gratuituous nudity ("Hey! I can't see any nipples! It mustn't be cold!" -- Kludge, possibly), and although it was late they hadn't shut down the fun - they had a snowy slope down which you could zoom on an inner tube sponsored by Oreo cookies. This was typical of the fun-for-free stuff we saw over the weekend: there were few supervisors, no signs advising you that this was DANGEROUS and HARMFUL, and no regulating mechanism other than the requirement that you drag the tube to the top of the hill yourself. In other words, it was all fun and no fear-of-litigation spoilsport nonsense. Hello, country-to-the-south, take note!

hijinks in the snow

Eventually, exhausted and getting a little chilly, Kate lead the surviors down a treacherously icy hill to Rue St. Jean where we found a restaurant where, alas, they were only willing to serve us beer. Oh no! Calamity! Brave souls that we were, we grabbed a whole row of tables and took to the beer. At some point here, Søren finally arrived. Much conversation was had, although we only had about two beers (8% ABV!) apiece. Jacob passed around his cookies which were essentially baked trailmix, although possibly also deserved the name "Geek Crack", given the amount of sugar and caffeine therein. Meredith brought out her French phrase book which had a detailed section on picking people up, and useful phrases such as "Je suis avec l'orchestre." ("I'm with the band."), which became pretty much the phrase for the weekend. On our way back to our respective hotels, Dave and I went romping through the snow in front of the Bellevue hotel, and I did a face plant into a snow drift for fun. It ceased to be fun about ten seconds later as my face started freezing up, but I had to wait for Søren to get a photo...

Matt was in the hotel room when I arrived, having lost track of us earlier in the evening. He told me he'd been watching a rather bizarre movie on tv - which he'd taken copious notes on - and when he described it it sounded like pretty much the same sort of stuff they show on TV5 over here. And since they also broadcast in Québec, I guess it's entirely possible he was actually watching TV5.

And so to bed.

February 3

Waider: Morning, Matt. Sleep okay?
Matt: As well as could be expected.
Bwahahah. Noone told Matt that I snore rather, uh, sonorously.

Downstairs for breakfast, where there was noone around to take our breakfast voucher. So we had unvouched-for breakfast. They had a pretty good spread laid on; cereal, assorted breadstuffs (with convenient toaster), juice, coffee, tea, and more condiments than I felt like shaking a stick at. Various people joined us, and Kludge attempted to plan everything out minutely while Yong-Mi and I tried to get people moving. Eventually, the movers triumphed, and we headed off for Abraham's back yard again to play with the snow tires. We climbed up to the top of the snow-tire hill only to discover, alas, no tires. A few people had brought out their kids with toboggans. We looked about for Jeff Vogel:

Jeff: At my funeral, I think it would be cool if they used me as a sled.
but alas he wasn't even at this BOB. Eventually we noticed some offical-looking types (easily spotted by their shiny singlets) milling about at the bottom of the slope, and some people who'd apparently acquired some snow-tires while we weren't looking. We romped off down the slope, me leading, various people following (Dawn: "you look like you know where you're going!"), walked straight past the snow-tire-acquisition-point, turned around, walked back, and collected tires for ourselves. Then we climbed the hill, joined the queues, and zoomed down, repeating the process until it started getting too crowded at the top.

people in varying stages of fun-acquisition

Having departed the tire slope, we ambled down towards Rue St. Jean as Kludge insisted we had to visit the Chocolate Museum. Earlier, in the hotel, he'd tried to explain this to a still-asleep Meredith, who would probably have ripped him several new orificies if she'd been less sluggish. The rest of us stood back a safe distance while he attempted this, note, being better at the whole self-preservation lark. The Chocolate Museum trip appeared to be turning into a deathmarch, what with the appearance of sex shops and the biting cold wind, so I announced that I was heading back the other way, and after a little bit of discussion Brian, d. and Yong-Mi joined me while Dawn, Kludge and Matt forged ahead for the Museum. Us non-deathmarch types went back to the Hydro Québec plaza where they had not just an ice-skating rink, but a little booth with infra-red heaters in it (d.: "I can feel my hair drying out!") where we could hide from the wind and get warm. While we hid, Yong-Mi wandered over to the information booth and asked about renting skates.

Yong-Mi: Waider, will you go skating as well?
Waider: No! I'll hurt myself!
Waider: Oh, okay.
Man. I'm SUCH a pushover. So, we ambled down to the skate rental guy, sorted out sizes (american? european? uk? look, just give me a skate and I'll try it on!), payed our $5 - the counter guy assumed we were together, so took both fives from me! - and went back up to the rink. I quickly rediscovered all my skating skills, i.e. none whatsoever, while Yong-Mi cheerfully skated around with poise, grace, and none of the wild arm-flailing I was indulging in. By the time I'd completed a lap, I discovered that d. had concluded his "Man. I wanna go skating. But maybe I won't like it. But then I'll be wondering if I would have liked it or not." debate, and had come up in favour of skating. He joined us on the rink, and Yong-Mi and I (having found some semblance of skating legs) dragged him around the rink once before he departed for a solo run. Well, solo haphazard shuffle, but heck, he went all the way around under his own steam. Yay d.! After that, he decided not to risk messing up his knees and brought his skates back in. While we were skating, someone came around with some sort of random Oreo bar which seemed to consist of chocolate-covered chocolate with chocolate chips. After a little more skating, my ankles were getting sore, so I also bailed out:
Skate rental guy: So, you enjoyed ze skating?
Waider: Oui, lotsa fun.
Guy: And your lady is still skating?
Waider: my, uh, lady? (struggling to keep a straight face) Er, yeah. She's much better at it.
As I came back out, Brian and d. had wandered over to watch some guys assault a block of ice with a chainsaw, but they didn't do much - we surmised that they were waiting for a bigger crowd. We decided it was getting to be about time for eating, so we headed towards the foody part of Rue St. Jean.

the graceful and the graceless, photographed by the non-participating

We phoned Kate from the corner of St. Jean and d'Auteuil (thanks, Kate!) and mewed helplessly into the phone. "Kate! What do we do? where do we go? who are we?" Kate ascertained where we were, then told us she'd come down and meet us once she'd rounded up the rest of the lost sheep. So we stood on the corner and waited; d. and Brian had a look in a shop on the corner selling medaeival stuff, and Yong-Mi checked out the Bonhomme outlet in front of us. Eventually Kate turned up and gave us complex directions to the chosen restaurant - "Cross the road! Right, in here!" - leading us to a sort of "anything you want, on a pizza" place. d. and I decided we were going to get Strombolis, except that the waiter refused to serve us from the children's menu so we ordered Barbequed Chicken pizza instead. Gradually, the rest of the gang arrived and we eventually took up four tables in the restaurant, much to the apparent consternation of the waiting staff.

food! food!

The food was good; the onion soup looked like more onion than soup, but was apparently quite satisfactory, and the barbeque pizza turned out to be a pretty good bet. I dunno if anyone had any of the more interesting items like Alligator or Ostrich - on pizza, of course - but when we left, we were well fed and in the mood for more wandering. Outside the restaurant, Kate (mew! mew!) organized us into groups to go to the Montmorency Falls; the groups were approximately the folk in Ben's van, the folk in Jacob's van, and the folk taking the navette. Being in the latter party, I followed Kate up toward the departure point, wondering how I'd ended up with the plastic horn which I tooted occasionally.

Much tooting and walking later, we discovered -- AIE! -- that the Navette was, in fact, booked out for the day. The ever-resourceful Kate led us to the bus stop instead (actually, I think it was an excuse to take us down the intensely steep and slippy hill again, for laughs) where we stood around and waited for a bus. Seeing none, Kate accosted a suitably authorative-looking source and found that we had to go further down the street and around the corner. Eventually, the right bus showed up and we piled on board with much fumbling of change and waving of paper pieces and so forth. I somehow managed to retain the ticket which I was supposed to surrender; apparently we managed to confuse the driver. Whee!

As we bussed through the town, ljd took out his GPS toy and told us we were just passing the second "E" in "Québec". I looked out the window, but there was nothing to mark this fact. I'd at least expected a giant letter floating in the sky. As we moved to the outskirts of the city, the bus got more and more empty, and after a false alarm (Kate: "I think this is our stop... oh, no. The driver says it isn't. You can all sit down again.") we all wound up sitting just behind the driver's partition. Which is why Kate wouldn't let me wake up Søren with the horn when he fell asleep, I guess.

sleeping beauty

Eventually we got to the end-of-line point for the bus, where we all bailed out and stood around in the cold waiting for the connecting bus to take us to the Falls. Yong-Mi tried out some of Ben's suggested hand-warming techniques, such as "windmilling your arms" and "smiting people with a plastic horn", although I don't recall Ben's email mentioning the latter. We contrived a photo for Søren titled "Crouching Yong-Mi, Hitting Waider" although given my height advantage, I was doing more of the crouching. After a few "Is that our bus? Aw, no.", our bus arrived, and whisked us off to the Falls.

Well, actually, it whisked us off to a bus stop beside a fence, which we had to climb over to get to the path. I'm sure there was an easier way, but heck, we are IMPETUOUS and RECKLESS and HEADLESS CHICKENS, so if the first person was climbing a fence, damned if we weren't ALL gonna do it. Much fumbling in snow followed, since noone tried to do the smart thing and roll across the snowdrifts, instead choosing to plunge feet into them in an attempt to skip across the top. Hahah. You'd have a better chance of skipping across a lake, on top of which if you did so, people would worship you for a few thousand years.

Along the path, we found the Ice Hotel, an idea the Québecois stole from the Scandinavians, or vice versa. It's an actual hotel, made of over 5,000 blocks of snow and ice, and, well, costing some bucks to even go in and look at. We wandered around outside, asking each other pertinent questions about bedding materials, toilets, and blowtorches. The guys at the gate told us we could buy visitor tickets further down the path if we wanted. I'm not sure that anyone did, to be honest. We had to go further down the path anyway, because that led us to the restaurant where we were to meet the rest of the gang. Emerging from the somewhat shielded-by-trees path, we arrived at a wooden deck attached to the front of a hotel with some magnificent panoramic views of the landscape below. Breathtaking doesn't even begin to cover it, and that's not because of the chilled air!

part of the incredible view

We went into the hotel/restaurant (the Manoir Montmorency) and found the early arrivals boozing it up in the residents' bar. None were inclined to join us on a trip up to the Falls, possibly because some had already bt,dt, so we left to see the Falls for ourselves. Vampyr told me I should make use of the horn to summon Vikings, which I agreed was a good plan, and off we went. A path led from the front of the Manoir to the Falls, with several vantage points along the way from which tourist types could take pictures. As we walked along the path, noting and translating the warning signs ("Everything falling, including you"), we saw some active types wandering along some sort of snow trail on the slope below the path. Loons, eschewing a perfectly good path in favour of a rope-and-snowpick route. Caw! Squawk!

on the way to the falls

The bridge over the Falls was pretty neat, and I picked a spot as close to the centre as I could determine in order to attempt the Viking summoning. I blew heartily on the horn, eliciting a long, clear note (plus a few moose-molesting noises), but alas, no Vikings. Perhaps they've arrived since and are wondering who summoned them.

noodling around the bridge at the falls

By the time we got back to the Manoir, everyone else had assembled themselves, and someone had found an advert in a local paper for a Chippendales-style male stripper night. The advert featured four guys with Bonhomme heads holding pictures over their groins of Clinton, Bush, Chretien and Bouchard. Bizarre. We had a few drinks, and then were led to the restaurant for the meal. Deciphering the menu was a lot of fun, but eventually I scarfed an English menu from someone and ordered from that instead. The meal was quite enjoyable, and I rolled out of the dining room feeling pleasantly stuffed.

Someone took a notion at this point that we should go across to the other side of the falls. It was dark, getting colder, and snowing, so obviously this was an immensely good idea! We trundled back down the path to the bridge over the falls, and stopped on the bridge for a while to mill around and make copious jokes and drink shots of ljd's hungarian firewater from his hipflask. Then we went down the path on the other side, Dawn stopping along the way to make a snow angel which Dave promptly leapt into, face down, before realising that this causes the sort of numbness that cyclists complain about. Whoops. Further along the path, Dave and I went chasing through deep snowbanks while the rest of the gang trudged along the path. Eventually, we reached a vantage point from which a staircase descended to the area at the base of the falls, but the staircase was covered in snow and blocked off, so we stood at the top and took photographs. On the way back, I went frolicking in the snow again (d.: "Say, Waider, COLD ENOUGH FOR YA?") at which point Ben tried to drag me around by the ankles so that my parka'd fill with snow. Fortunately, I was sharp enough to grab the bottom of my parka and lift it out of the snow; then Dave came along, not realising Ben's intentions, and raised me off the ground by my arms. Whee!

the falls by night

On the way back to the Manoir, we went by the Ice Hotel again. Apparently it was full for the night. More loons. We congregated at the Manoir and decided how we were going to get back to the hotels; Kate, supreme organiser, sorted out taxis for the stragglers while Ben and Jacob took the bulk of us back in their vans. Back in the hotel, we collected in one of the rooms with many drinks, some of which were non-alcoholic but should have been, some of which were all too alcoholic and near undrinkable for it. After a while, people started drifting away to bed, although there was apparently a further party in Meredith's room that I missed out on. PS THIS IS NOT A EUPHEMISM. And thus endeth Saturday.

February 4

Another reasonable start - I seemed to have no difficulty waking spontaneously around 8-9am - and down for more delicious breakfast. Someone (Dawn? Kludge?) made a long and protracted pronouncement that the crossaints were not, in fact, "cwoissong"; rather, they were "croizants" (i.e. they were a bit substandard and didn't deserve to be recognized as French, but instead as a poor American imitation). This was protracted to the point where the "joke" was DEAD DEAD DEAD. Gah. It had been decided the night before that we would go out tobogganing on the slides in front of the Chateau Frontenac. In fact, I got the impression that if Yong-Mi didn't get to the toboggans, there would be an international incident of some sort. So we bounced down the park in front of the hotel and made our way out to the toboggan slopes.

The deal with the toboggans was that you paid $15 for an up-to-four-persons toboggan; you then dragged a toboggan up a steep slope (see photos!) and piled into it at the top, where they released three toboggans at a time. When on board, the speed effect wasn't particularly noticeable, but watching toboggans go by while climbing gave me the impression that they were moving pretty fast. The whole setup would, again, have been a nightmare of litigation in the US - no protective gear, and a two-footish wide toboggan in a two-foot six-inch wide chute. Yong-Mi, d. and I piled into one toboggan and rocketed down the slope, and that was in the slow lane. For subsequent rides we were in the centre lane, supposedly the fastest, and we went like greased lightning. Dawn, Kludge, Matt and Jacob were on the other toboggan and we managed to get in a couple of races with them, which WE WON. HAHAH. LOSERS!! THPHPHPHPHTT! Ahem.

big, bad, dangerous FUN

Having pretty much exhausted both ourselves and our hour-duration tickets, we congregated at the bottom of the toboggan run and met up with a few of the others. d. and I had maple syrup on a stick, whereby they pour some maple syrup into snow, you wait for it to go tacky, then you roll a lollipop stick around in it. I insisted that d. make mine, under protest, which is why I ended up with "maple syrup in a plastic cup, dripping from a stick, and in your glove". Leaving the toboggans behind us, we looked down on the lower town from the railings and then proceeded there via funicular. We didn't stay long in lower town; despite quaint narrow streets, etc. there wasn't much there that interested us, so we headed back towards the funicular in short order.

funciular view/lower town signage

At the funicular station, I lead a mad charge towards the alternative method of returning to the upper town, being the steps. At the top of the steps we found a steep street, on which there was a head shop. As we paused in front of it to admire the merchandise, a random passerby accosted us and told us, in French, that there would be canoe racing at the waterfront later on. I assured her that we knew all about it, and she continued on, apparently having fulfilled her tourism duties. We, on the other hand, still had plenty to do; most immediately we had to get to the top of the hill, find the chinese buffet, and EAT. We climbed the rest of the hill, found a convenient doorway into the Chateau, and met up with Kate. Kate led us to the buffeterie, or whatever the heck you'd call it, talked to the maître'd, and then led us all to our table. The chinese buffet turned out to be a buffet with some conceiveably chinese food in it; I can't say I've ever considered boiled minature potatoes to be chinese fare, for example. And apparently General Tso's Chicken belonged to someone else, not General Tso. Still, it was all good, and the vegetable terrine (I think) in the format of an Irish tricolour made me giggle. At some point during the post-meal conversation, the whole business of owning cats came up. It was generally agreed that losing the use of one's opposable thumbs would result in instant and fatal cat attack, and taunting your cats with your thumbs was a bad thing.

the "chinese" buffet

After our feeding frenzy, Ben led a bunch of us off on a trip around the riverside town walls, from which there was yet another fabulous view, this time of the river covered in ice with the occasional ferryboat traversing it. The boats were all emblazoned with the Bonhomme image at the top of the page, which was rather unnerving. Actually, said Bonhomme images were everywhere. Søren took a bunch of photos of people looking around nervously while Bonhomme looked over their shoulders.

boats on the river

At the end of the wall walk, we came over a snowy slope to discover we were at the back end of the Plains. We trudged down the slope and leapt out of the way of passing snowmobiles - which Kate tells me were either vintage models, or copies of vintage models invented by Armand Bombardier - and then we climbed the opposing slope where we saw people zooming down yet another slope in inflatable liferafts. Alas, there was a huge queue at the bottom of the hill, and we were in no mood for queuing. We stumbled down the slope, had a quick restroom stop, and I instructed Kate to take us to beer, as I'd had enough of being a tourist. Surprisingly, everyone agreed. Hah. Seems like I'm not the only pushover. I would've happily trudged around for another hour, at least. Kate duly lead us through town via a caribou stand; caribou is this hot alcoholic tack they serve you during Carnaval to keep you warm, or drunk, or both.

Waider: What's in this?
Caribou girl: 4 kinds of alcohol.
Waider: Woohoo!
From the caribou stand, we continued on downhill until we came to the Irish pub. For an Irish pub, it was remarkably short on tackiness; there was a copy of "Poblacht Na hÉireann" - the Irish Declaration of Independance - just inside the door, and a few bits of Guinness paraphernalia on shelves in the ground-floor bar, but mostly it was just plain stone walls with a few framed Guinness adverts. I bought a round of Guinness for those who'd come with us (except Jake, who was on orange), and continued to buy for the arriving folk until my cash ran out. Sorry, d., and whoever else missed that. I also toasted the party as Gaeilge (in Irish), the toast being "that we may all be alive this time next year." Someone - Kate, I think - commented that it was a pleasantly unambitious toast. The Guinness was pretty good, so I continued to drink it for the rest of the night. After a while, we were all herded downstairs to the back room where there was a big U of tables, and we arranged ourselves around them and proceeded to make with the menus and the ordering and so forth. The food was good, helped along by the beer; the craic was, as they say, ninety, befitting for the setting of the meal. Kludge stood up at some point and presented cans of Burma Shave to people who he determined had made memorable quotes; alas, I didn't feature. Whine whine. Where's me pint? And speaking of pints, I wandered around to all the folk who'd missed the toast earlier and repeated it to them. Someone also gave me a bit of a grilling about my constant description of things as not bad, not half bad, not bad tack, not too bad at all, etc. Didn't stop me from continuing to do so, mind!

fun and games in the Irish pub

Come time to settle the bill, I was amazed to see that none turned up in front of me. Not wanting to be a cheapskate, I waited around while people were standing up to leave to see if my bill would turn up, but no, no bill. I giggled merrily to Kate on the way out about this. Subsequently, I learned that one of the others had decided to pay my bill for me, so THANK YOU. You know who you are, and I'm glad I'm not a cheapskate. I strolled out of the pub with Kate on one arm, Andrea on the other, and Yong-Mi somewhere in the vicinity, proclaiming my immense studliness to anyone who'd listen. We proceeded to Andrea's hotel, where we sat around and chatted. Ben joined us later on, and eventually Yong-Mi and I bailed out to let people sleep and also to go back to our own rooms. Back at the Bellevue, we discovered another party in progress, which apparently prior to our arrival had featured such wondrous physical feets, er, feats as interlocked toes (Meredith), leg behind head (Dawn) and tongues rotated longitudinally sideways (Søren and Matt); also, the liquor from the previous night was still doing the rounds. For the record, Rebel Yell describes the effects of drinking too much of the stuff, by my reckoning, and Eiswine is TOO DAMNED SWEET. As before, people eventually drifted away to their own rooms.

February 5

Woke early again, and met Kludge in the breakfast area. Turns out half the party had bailed out already! When Matt arrived downstairs, we settled up our bill with the hotel, and then Matt, d. and I decided to go for a wander around town. I'd planned on meeting Kate to make sure she got the remains of the poitin, but when I phoned her I got voicemail, so I shrugged and wandered out with the guys. We did a small circuituous route, passing by the Créperie ("Oh no! Crépes" -- Søren) and finding a coffee shop for ourselves in the Chateau. I phoned Kate again to discover she had already left with the van crew as Ben had to get the van back to the rental place in Montreal. Bah! I mosied back up the hill to the hotel where I reencountered Kludge, and we hung around to see if anyone else'd turn up before I had to get a taxi to the airport. d. and Matt arrived back, and then Vampyr and K. turned up as well, which was good, as I'd planned on heading to the airport with the latter. Kludge presented me with a bottle of Jinro to take home, and Vampyr got the front desk to call a taxi for us. Hello taxi, bye bye FROST.BOB II.

left: NASA; right: one of their rockets

At the airport, Vampyr and K. went straight to their desk while I queued behind a short but slow-moving bunch of what I'm guessing were schoolkids going on a holiday somewhere. I muttered to Vampyr and K about my I94 visa waiver form and my customs form; Vampyr pointed out that it probably takes more time to read the I94 than it does to complete Irish citizenship papers - something he's recently done. Then upstairs to the departure area ("Hey! We can't get to the duty free until they start calling the flight!") where a couple of guys seemed to be making a movie. Vampyr and K. were paged for their flight and I sat reading Dubliners, pausing bemusedly to chat with Kludge and d. who'd appeared out of nowhere to catch an earlier flight because Boston, their connection point, was in danger of being shut down (they ended up spending 28 hours there. Ouch.). Eventually, my own flight was paged, and then there was a very confusing boarding call which I eventually translated as "come forward to board only if you've got a connecting flight to catch". Oh dear. Boarding was about a half-hour late, followed by a further half-hour delay before takeoff, followed by a half-hour circling Newark airport before they'd let us land. Bye bye Québec!

Québec airport

Newark was all clogged up, so I spent more time waiting there, finally getting out just over two hours after the appointed time. As we approached Dublin on Tuesday morning, the pilot came on the intercom to describe the Dublin weather as "not too bad". Hurrah, home again.

You can see all the pictures from this page with captions over in the party pix section.

Waider Je suis avec l'orchestre.