Every year during the holidays, my office closes down for a week since most of our clients also take the week off and this year my family decided to take advantage of that and my sister’s time off (she’s a teacher!) to go to Quebec City. I had done a lot of research to cities that really went all out for Christmas and this was one of them so we were excited to see all the decorations in action! So note that all my recommendations below are based on cold weather and holiday season. If it was warmer, we would have done a lot more!
Sights to See
- Old Quebec City: This is a no brainer, but I would recommend seeing the old town from the bottom up. We started right where the ferry lets off and walked around the lower level and by the main church and then took the funicular up to the top and walked around up there. Seeing the city and the St. Lawrence river from the funicular is really gorgeous so I would recommend, but you have to pay in cash just an FYI. We also wanted to take the funicular because it was FREEZING and I didn’t want to walk around longer than 20 minutes at a time, so take that into account if going during the winter.
- Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac: Originally built as a hotel for Canadian Pacific Railway workers to have a place to stay when traveling through town, this gorgeous chateau is now a Fairmont hotel that has tons of history so walk around the grounds, stay for dinner or a drink, and if it’s the winter go on a toboggan ride outside. Everything about this place is history and elegance and I loved it. However, I have heard the hotel rooms themselves are really tiny. I didn’t see them since we stayed in another hotel outside the city, but take that into account if you are going with a larger family.
- Tour with Quebec Cicerone: Since it was Christmas while we were visiting, I wanted to see as much Christmas content as possible which is why I picked the Christmas Magic tour for us to participate in. Our guide was great – very knowledgable, had great fun facts and took us to both classic and off the beaten path locations. It was just so cold that it was hard to enjoy the end of it. So if you do a tour, just know there isn’t any time inside AT ALL on these things and if you can’t handle 2 hours out in -5 degree weather, then this is not for you.
Off the Beaten Path
- Ferry Ride: Since we got our hotel stay for free (thanks Hilton points!), we stayed in a town outside of the old town called Levis. It’s a cute little town and I’m glad we got to stay there since you can actually see Quebec City from the other side of the river and we got to take the ferry into the old town. The ferry was one of my favorite things about our time there. I’m not really sure why, it’s a random thing to enjoy but the views on the ferry were top notch and the river froze over a lot since it was so cold so the ferry had to slice right through it. It made me feel like I was on the Titanic but without the death and letting Jack go part. It’s about $3 a person and would be really fun to go in the summer and hang out in Levis for an hour and then take the ferry back. Levis doesn’t have a lot going on in the winter FYI.
- Montmorency Falls: For our final day in Quebec, we decided to rent a car and go see the falls. These are actually much higher than Niagra but somewhat less impressive because they are smaller in width. It was cool nonetheless and I could see why they would be awesome during the summer. In the winter, they never really freeze so they are still roaring and you have to walk along a path to get there that is also really pretty and has great views of Ile d’Orleans. The falls are actually not far from downtown and you could take an Uber if you wanted, but we wanted to go explore the island nearby so we rented a car instead.
- Ile d’Orleans: This little island right by the falls was adorable. Not a lot was open since it’s the winter, but we did get to go to lunch on the island and got some great poutine and then stopped by Cassis Monna & Filles for a little wine tasting and hit up a cute chocolate shop as well. I want to come back to Quebec when it’s warm solely to hang out on this island that is supposed to be a foodie paradise!
- J.A. Moisan: Found in 1871, this is the oldest grocery store in North America. It’s super cute inside and I say off the beaten path because while it is near the old city it’s a bit of a walk in freezing temperatures. I don’t know if you’re sensing a theme here but it was FREEZING.
- Saint Roch Neighborhood: I had heard that the most up-and-coming neighborhood was in lower Quebec City and about a 10 min taxi/Uber from old city, so we went out to explore one morning. There isn’t a lot to see sight-seeing wise, but it has tons of cute restaurants, cafes, and shops. We used this guide to walk around and everything is really on one road – rue Saint Joseph Est. Some notable spots: Deja Vu, Champagne Chocolatier (they had the BEST hot chocolate ever), and Swell & Ginger.
Food & Drink
- Cochon Dingue: I’m not usually one to recommend chain restaurants, but we actually ended up going here twice because it was right by our hotel. Their brunch was amazing and I highly recommend.
- Nina: This hipster pizza spot was sensational. It’s in the Saint Roch area so a bit out of the way, but super worth it. We had the pizza with mozzarella, peas, and lemon and it was out of this world.
- 1608 Bar: This is the wine and cheese bar in the Fairmont. It is cozy with multiple fireplaces, has an amazing view of the St Lawrence River, and has great cocktails and a super wine list. We came here twice to warm up and stayed for hours.
- Chocolats Favoris: Another chain, but their chocolate dipped cones were so delicious we went back twice. They have all sorts of flavors to dip your cone in including mint, salted caramel and sea salt. They also had poutine made of cookies with ice cream – so cute! Going back twice was a theme of ours this trip mainly out of free of losing limbs to the cold but also because these places were that good that we felt the need to go twice!
If you know Chicago fairly well, then you know that a lot of people in Chicago have cars despite it being a city. That’s because this city is big and sometimes hard to navigate (ugh to the no east to west public transportation!), and parking isn’t impossible to find like some other cities. Nevertheless, I don’t have a car. I like public transportation and I like walking so it doesn’t bother me…until it’s the holidays. Then it annoys the hell out of me that I don’t have a car. So when Toyota reached out to see if I was interested about using one of their loaner cars for the season and tell you all about my favorite features, I jumped at the chance because doing errands with a car during the holidays is just literally my dream come true. So if you’ve been thinking about upgrading in 2019 let me tell you all the reasons why I loved having the 2019 Toyota Corolla HB to help me be the best Christmas Sassy I could be.
Apple Car Play
If you follow along in my stories, you probably also know that Toyota took me to the 103.5 KISS FM’s Jingle Ball for the holidays. The concert features a multitude of different artists who all sing about 3-4 of their recent hits and sometimes holiday music! I was most excited to see Calvin Harris perform but ended up loving Bazzi and Shawn Mendes’s sets so much that I became obsessed with their music so the entire time I had the Corolla Hatchback I was playing a playlist I created of all the music I fell in love with at the show. Thankfully I was able to use the car’s Apple Car Play features to do that. It’s so easy to set up your phone to Bluetooth and play your music straight from Spotify! For a music lover like me who likes to play their own playlists when they are out and about this was clutch.
Lane Departure Alert & Automatic High Beams
Toyota has these Safety Sense features on their cars that I absolutely love and my favorite two are the Lane Departure Alert and Automatic High Beams. They were particularly awesome during all my holiday shopping because everyone seems to be out and about during November and December and not everyone is great at staying in their lane, so with this feature, you can make sure not leave your lane until the coast is absolutely clear in front and behind you. Automatic high beams are something I feel we see a lot on cars now, but it’s so nice to not have to care about accidentally leaving them on when you have to run into a spot real quick to do an errand!
Road Sign Assist
This was a feature I had not previously seen before and it kind of wow’ed me! Road Sign Assist actually shows you on your dashboard the speed limit or if a stop sign is approaching so you’re more aware of your surroundings when you drive. I loved knowing the speed limit, especially in the city when it’s constantly changing from 35 to 25 quickly. If you don’t know the area well you might get stuck with a traffic camera ticket and that is the worst!
My experience with the Toyota Corolla Hatchback was amazing and I wish I didn’t have to give it back after a week! If you want to read about my experience driving the Toyota CH-R from this summer you can do so here.
Growing up I loved the holidays. And not just Christmas, I loved any and all holidays. I loved decorations and traditions and having fun meals and spending time with family. None of that really seemed unique to me. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t look forward to holidays or Christmas. Of course, that’s because I lived in a bubble. I had a happy, healthy family. We lived in a nice, safe neighborhood. I didn’t want for anything. Nothing bad had ever really happened to me before.
In 2004, I was in the last phases of my senior year in high school. I was super ready to leave my bubble. I wanted to experience everything and anything and most importantly, be far, far away. I even applied to college in Scotland (the same one as Prince William obviously cause I thought for sure if we met I’d become royalty…even writing that makes me want to barf).
It was right after Christmas in 2003 actually that my whole bubble burst before I got the chance to burst out of it myself. One day before school, my mom had a seizure. This was not a normal occurrence. She had been perfectly healthy up until this point. A trip to the ICU and about a week later, my mother was diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma. This is the same cancer John McCain was diagnosed with and passed away from this year. It’s an incredibly fast acting brain cancer and is not curable. It is operable and my mom did have surgery, but that was just to give her a few extra months with us. She was given about a year to live.
Despite all this, I did end up going away to college, but stayed somewhat close to home and ventured out to Connecticut. Sidenote: I love how I thought Connecticut was going to be soooooooo different than how I grew up. Newsflash past Alex: it’s exactly the same only in New England. I don’t regret going to school out there because I met some of my best friends and had the time of my life, but omg how laughable that I picked Connecticut to really get to know the world. Facepalm.
Fast forward to the holidays next year. My mother, who had been given a year, was now in hospice. Honestly, looking back on it, the whole season was a blur. We knew she wasn’t well. We knew hospice meant she would probably die soon. My mother was also very delusional and kept telling us she had hidden presents all over the house, which she had not done. In fact, we barely gave each other presents that year. If we did, I don’t remember it. I just remember being at the Hospice for days and days. And that was my last memory of a holiday with her and it stuck with me for a long, long time.
In the years following, I had become the person who did not look forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas because it was just one more reminder of something I had lost. I lost a parent and we lost our traditions along with her.
I started to not even try to go home for the holidays saying it was too short a time frame to fly back and it would just be easier to stay and go to my friend’s houses instead. I spent many Easters with my friend April’s family, long weekends off at random friend’s parent’s houses. I got really close with my friend Andrea’s family because I basically lived with them for a summer. Any opportunity to not go home was one I took up. Going home was too painful and a lot of people didn’t understand that.
Grief is different for everyone. I know that first hand because each person in my family dealt with my mother’s death differently. My way was distance and complete disdain for happiness around the holidays.
One way we started to cope with the sadness was by traveling. Instead of being in Chicago for the holidays, we would go away instead so we weren’t reminded of how it used to be. Thanksgivings were spent in San Francisco, Saugatuck, and most recently Mexico City. Sometimes we would travel for Christmas too – a few years back we went to London for the holidays and it was one of the best Christmases ever.
It’s been 15 years since my mom died and it’s not something I will ever “get over”. It’s something that starts to slink away and just hurts at the edges when you remember something or you think of something they told you or while eating a meal they liked to cook and it’s a knife right in the stomach for sure every time you think about them, but it gets duller and duller.
I’m glad my family and I were able to work things through, which I recently wrote a whole post about if you’re so inclined to read, and we’ve started our own new traditions – ones that my mom was not a part of and therefore aren’t as painful but still fun for us at the holidays. It hurts less and less to be in Chicago at Christmas thankfully, but what has changed is that I get it now. I get the pain that surrounds the holidays for some people. It’s horrible and lonely and all-encompassing.
And it’s made worse by people who just do not get it. So often friends of mine would want to do holiday-themed activities, or talk about their traditions, or talk about what their parents were getting them for Christmas, and it wasn’t fun for me and they just didn’t understand. My Christmas would never be the same, so talking about the past was not fun because it wasn’t my future or present anymore and that hurt because again I was only 19. My mom should have been around a lot longer and should have seen my kids open presents Christmas morning and enjoy a prime rib dinner that evening, but she would never get to do that.
All of this is just to say, I see you. I see you if you aren’t excited about the holidays. I see you if you can’t see the cheer in the air or if you hate Hallmark movies because they are absurd and make you want to cry instead say, “awwww.” I’ve only just started to come out of the fog and you will too someday. And if you don’t, that’s OK too. There are plenty of ways to avoid Christmas (see above) and you are 1000% supported by me if that’s what you need to do to get through it.
Christmas Eve has always been my grandma’s jam. The day started at 10am and ended at 5pm and was jam-packed with traditions. Traditions are also my grandma’s jam. She has one for every holiday and Christmas had the most.
Actual traditions we endured over the years:
- Sing happy birthday to Jesus with a large yule log cake.
- Sing the entire Twelve Days of Christmas song as each grandchild hanging an assigned ornament to the tree (this took forever).
- Christmas card competition. This was just judging all the Christmas cards my grandma had gotten that year. It was definitely the most fun thing we did. There would be rounds and rounds of voting and it got HEATED.
- Stocking stuffers. Just like so much present opening really.
- Sometimes if we had a priest there (so Catholic guys, so Catholic) we would have a mini church service.
Afterward, you’re exhausted and you don’t quite know what to do with yourselves, so my parents never wanted to go home and cook a big nice meal for us especially since we usually hosted Christmas Day dinner at our house. It then became a tradition for us to go out after going to grandmas for a nice dinner that was not at our house. When we lived in the suburbs, it was usually the country club because it was easy and on the way home, but after my mom died my dad stopped going with us to my grandma’s for Christmas (another story, another time) and we started meeting him after for a nice steak dinner downtown. Steakhouses are always open on Christmas Eve which is what started that tradition, and also my whole family loves a good steak or a baked potato (my sister doesn’t eat meat!).
In the spirit of giving, I’ve decided to compile a list of places we’ve gone for Christmas Eve dinner and loved, AND also include some places I know are open for Christmas Eve and I have been before and adore just in case you find yourself joining our family tradition of dining out the night before Christmas.
We are going here this upcoming Christmas Eve! I have never personally been, but I have seen their delicious looking food on Instagram and I am very pumped up!
We have never been here for Christmas dinner, but we did come for my birthday this year and were blown away by the service and the food since it wasn’t what you’d call typical steakhouse fare. If you’re looking for something that is safe for most people (steak, potatoes), but also has a flair for fun then this is the place. They also give you a complimentary drink when you sit down and it’s just got a great ambiance. At this point though, it might be REALLY hard to get a reservation here since it’s such a hot spot, but always call – you never know!
I used to live up in Uptown, which is where my Dad still lives, so we used to go to a lot of places in the Lakeview/Lincoln Park/Lincoln Square area since it was so close to home. This was one of our favorite dinners because it was so quaint, cozy and festive inside. If you’ve never been, their food is divine and highly overlooked because of their location. If they have mussels on the menu, order them.
One of our favorite steakhouses. The food is phenomenal – I mean that butter cake come on. The service is fantastic. They have live music. They decorate for the holidays. This place is always packed on Christmas Eve and there is a reason. The year we went it was so busy we had to sit upstairs! That place is gigantic too so idk how that was even a thing. Highly recommend this place if you want a solid steakhouse holiday experience.
This was another restaurant we went to a few times for Christmas Eve dinner before I moved from Uptown to the West Loop. If you live in the area, you probably know it as a happening bottomless brunch spot, but they actually have really good Italian food for a good price point. It’s a very casual setting but good ambiance and everyone there is very sweet. If you’re looking for something a little less populated, I recommend this place. I would call and make reservations though, it gets a little busier the later in the evening. We usually went around 5:30pm for a few years.
I went here last week for a hosted influencer dinner and was highly impressed. If you’ve never been, it’s a Brazilian steakhouse so you get access to the salad bar which includes basically everything you could ever want to eat including soup, charcuterie, cheese, and tons of salad options – made and premade! Then, they bring out the meat and they don’t stop until you say UNCLE which is my dream meal. Zero jokes there. Then you can access their dessert table which is holiday themed and it’s very delicious and very vegan-friendly. Not that I’m vegan, but they did mention that a lot haha.
As you guys probably remember from my stories with Jim, we attended a special Women in Wine dinner here last Friday which Shula’s will have all month long! You get flights of wine paired with your dinner which includes a flight of filets! Yes, 3 filets of goodness all topped with different things. One topped with lobster, one shrimp and one a simple peppercorn sauce. Not to mention, the wine is all made by female winemakers which is so badass. This promotion doesn’t end until January so make it a point to get there even if you don’t eat out on Christmas Eve!
We’ve never been here for Christmas Eve, but I’ve personally been here for brunch and dinner and this place has great ambiance, food, and service – classic hallmarks for a good Christmas Eve dinner so I recommend. Their roast chicken is FANTASTIC!
Can’t say enough good things about this place. If I have friends in town, I usually bring them here because I love their lasagna, the meatballs…ok, really I love it all. They still have reservations which is surprising so definitely hop on that!
I came here for a holiday dinner with my coworkers and we were wow’ed by their menu. The location of this one is perfect too since it’s right on Wacker and easy to take cabs, trains, buses to get here and it has a great view of the river if you get a window seat.
Growing up, Christmas, like so many other kids, was my favorite holiday. I had a lag in holiday spirit during my early 20s, but last year I started to feel ready to celebrate with vigor again and I personally think Chicago is one of the best places to delight in Christmas cheer! I am biased, I did grow up here but that means I know all the cool things to do! So here are my recommendations if you’re looking to fill up your holiday calendar:
- Have a glass of wine at Marshall Field’s Great Tree.
Sorry, Macy’s! We are never calling this the Macy’s State Street Great Tree. Marshall Field’s was a Chicago department store staple that went defunct in 2006 and was bought by Macy’s. Luckily, Macy’s kept the structure of the store alive since it’s such a landmark and continued the tradition of the Great Tree. Basically, it’s just a giant tree in the middle of a big restaurant but you can eat right underneath it and they have women dressed as fairy princesses wandering around granting wishes and most of the food is holiday themed.
PRO TIP: The food here has gotten worse and worse over the years and it’s really not worth coming for a full meal (especially now that it’s a buffet – so weird!), so I recommend skipping the long line to get a table and sit at the wine bar that is just to the right of the tree. You still have a great view and you can get a partial a la carte menu and just get the Frango Mint pie, a poinsettia (it’s sparkling wine and a splash of cranberry juice) and thank me later.
2. Shop local on the West Town Winterfest Jolly Trolley!
I was invited to the Jolly Trolley last year and it was probably the most fun I had all holiday season. Here’s how it works: you pay $20 to have a seat on the Jolly Trolly that is packed full of booze and Christmas music and people ready to shop! It stops at 4 different locations around West Town and you have about an hour to shop at each stop. They give everyone a little map of the area too so you know which shops might have special discounts or are giving out mimosas or free cookies! It’s a way to shop local for the holidays and have a great day out with girlfriends or family. Some of the people I met on the trolley have been going to this for years!
3. Enjoy a holiday concert.
Last year, my sister and I went to see Hanson in concert for the holidays and they performed just their Christmas album. I didn’t expect to like it that much since it felt like it would just be a sing-a-long, but really it was so fun and the camaraderie in the room was infectious. So going to a pop-centered holiday concert is a new thing I love doing during the holidays. In fact, I’m going to see Brett Eldredge tonight! If you’re looking to still go this year, I hear Pentatonix is in town doing their newest album and so is the Trans Siberian Orchestra!
4. Bring your own schnapps to Zoo Lights.
Zoo Lights is like a Chicago holiday requirement. Some years I’ve even gone twice! If you’re not from Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo lights up their zoo with a huge lights display and even some light shows displayed to music (Feliz Navidad! Mariah Carey!). One year, a friend and I went to Brew Lights – so fun! But it sells out fast. So last year, we decided to make our own fun and bring our own spiked hot chocolate to walk around the zoo with. It is almost all outside, so come prepared to be cold and definitely check out the ice sculpture display!
PRO TIP: Make a reservation for somewhere after if you are looking to have dinner. Places get bombarded by families and you will not be able to just walk in anywhere unless it’s a bar 🙂
5. Host a cookie exchange with friends!
Not in the mood to make 3 kinds of cookies this year? Easy answer: have your friends help. We’ve been doing this tradition of having a cookie exchange for the past two years and it’s so fun! Each person brings about 15-20 cookies and everyone takes home 4 or 5 types of cookies. We also added a fun element of doing a champagne blind taste test competition last year. We each had to pick our favorite sparkling wine out of 5 on the table. I won because sparkling wine is my JAM.
6. Go on a Christmas Bar Crawl of Wrigleyville.
It used to be that your one option to see an awesome Christmas bar in Chicago was limited to Butch McGuire’s. Not the case anymore! Chicago has 3 or 4 holiday pop-up bars opening up just for December and most of them are all within a few blocks of one another! Wrigleyville has the most and a few friends and I might just make a pilgrimage to try them all out next weekend! Here is a list from Eater of all the bars that are dressing up for the holidays.
7. Take a holiday crafting class.
Last year I took TWO crafting classes during the holidays and I had so much fun. One was at Bottle & Bottega and we painted wood pallets with little holiday sayings like “Let it Snow!” This year, they are doing holiday tote bag painting too! I also took a class with my favorite crafting queen of all time Jocelyn. Her company, J.Villa Workshop, does fun classes like making your own holiday needlepoint or your own decorations for wrapping presents. She is so calm and does a great job of teaching each and every one of her students. I’ve taken 3 of her classes and I am not a very good crafter myself so take that as a testament! She’s not offering any holiday classes this season (she just had a baby!), but she does offer private classes if you’re into that sort of thing.
I have been on Instagram since its inception when my friend Jamie introduced it to me. If you scroll way far back in my Insta posts, you’ll see the proof in these horrible, horrible shots of grainy dark food shots.
Back then it was kind of the wild west of Instagram and people didn’t have to say if they were doing an ad or indicate it was sponsored because it was new and it hadn’t really been regulated yet. This was also back when I just had a personal account so it also didn’t really matter to me.
Then brands started to realize they could capitalize on these followings people had garnered on Instagram and sponsored posts started to become more and more prevalent. But if you’re not trying to get sponsorships or advertisement deals for your Instagram, how do you know what all of the different terms for sponsored posts mean. #ad, #sponsored, #partner – what does it all really mean? And how much money are people really making?
One questions I personally get a lot is if I blog for a living and the answer is a resounding NO. I don’t make nearly enough money to support myself from my blog or Instagram alone. However, some people do blog full time, but usually, they have a much larger following than I do which means they have a higher reach. Marketers want to reach a wide audience when they spend money on a campaign and people with 100K followers vs. 7K are usually more desirable. Makes sense! So how do I sometimes work with partners or advertisers? As a micro (very micro) influencer, PR companies and advertisers might be more interested to work with me because of my engagement. I might have a smaller audience, but that audience (aka all y’all) are very engaged with me which means you might listen to me as opposed to a larger blogger who could talk about the same product.
Not all sponsored posts are paid opportunities though. This is where I think people get confused the most. What is the difference between #ad, #sponsored and #partner!?
Legally if you are doing a paid for sponsor post, you must include the hashtag #ad or #sponsored according to the FTC. That means if I am getting paid by the company to create content, I have to disclose that I am getting paid to sponsor the product in question. That’s why so often bloggers or influencers feel the need to say, “Guys, this isn’t sponsored”, because for so long you didn’t have to say it was sponsored and people want you to know the difference between being sold to vs. just liking a product and wanting to talk about it.
If you see the hashtag #partner, that usually means that the influencer/blogger got the product for free in exchange for a post on their feed or stories. However, if you see something like #airbnbpartner, that does suffice with FCC as indicating that it is a paid partnership. Paid though can mean many things and sometimes paid just means getting product or expensive product for free in exchange for content.
Now that we know what these hashtags all mean, where does the trust come in? Well, I can’t speak for all bloggers but I personally only work with brands that already use and trust or do research on and find to be quality products that I think you would also like. To talk about Big Fig mattresses again, I received the mattress almost two months ago so I waited to do my review until I had used the bed a good amount to know that it was something I would recommend to you all. If I hadn’t liked it, I would have returned it to the company and not written the post but I truly do love the mattress. In fact, I’d like to be in that bed right nowwwww. If I also haven’t explicitly said this is a sponsored or partnered post, then know that I was not paid to talk about the product.
Dining out at restaurants is a tiny bit different. A lot of times restaurants will host an event or reach out and offer you a meal on the house. Right now FTC does not require you to say that is sponsored so usually if I get a free meal I will indicate that by saying, “Thank you so much to Restaurant X for having me!” or something to that effect so you know I got the meal for free. Same goes for if I got other product sent to me in the mail, I should disclose that they sent it to me for free to review or test.
And that is sponsored posts in a nutshell and hopefully gives you a better idea of how the whole sponsorship process works on our end and how we bring that to life for you!