Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Next Province - Quebec: September 4 - 8, 2014

We left the homely comforts of England-lite on September 4 and drove to Quebec where, immediately after the Bienvenue au Quebec sign the highway speed limit increases, the highway signs are French-first bilingual (elsewhere in Canada they are English-first), and the "litter-on-a-stick" ads are more often in French (Tim Hortons Tojours Frais!).  We also noticed one hella car chase by the QPP / Surete du Quebec -- ten police vehicles following someone making a break for the Ontario border -- which prompted us to muse about whether a provincial border crossing would have any benefit to one fleeing the long arm of the QPP. . ..      

Our first night's stay was at a Hampton Inn in Lavala large suburb of Montreal. It was a Hampton Inn.

From there we traveled along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River on Highway 40, the big, easy highway that crosses Quebec. Midday, in search of a place for lunch with more charm than a highway rest stop, we ducked off the highway and drove the road along the river - Highway 138. This road winds past lots of summer homes and hotels. We stopped on a whim at L'Auberge du Lac Saint-Pierre. The sun was shining, the river was beautiful and we sat upwind from all the smokers. A great stop. And yes, you've seen this picture before but - it was a great stop.

So . . . FRENCH!

Ville de Quebec

The next day we reached our primary Quebec destination -- Ville de Quebec (Quebec City). Molly awarded herself a gold star for driving through the narrowing streets of the city and arriving at our hotel in Haute-Ville (the upper part of the town) without hitting anyone or thing. We checked in to the Hotel Marie Rollet across from L'Hotel de Ville (City Hall). The Marie Rollet is a 13-room hotel in a wonderful location. Our room was technically on the first of three floors but even we had two flights of stairs between the front door and our room! [Travel tip: If you choose one of the small, charming hotels in Vieux-Quebec: pack light. There are no elevators in these little places!]   

Vieux-Quebec, the old walled city, is truly France-lite -- beautiful stone buildings and cobbled streets of great charm and pulse-raising traffic. We enjoyed wandering on our own.

City Walls

Bryce in Vieux-Quebec 
Summer Hanging On

We also took a walking tour, which spoon-fed us some information about Quebec's time as the capital of New France. [Walking tours start from the tourist information office on Saint Anne.] We found it very interesting that a francophone guide would take the position that Quebec became British because France effectively gave up on New France and failed to adequately support its troops during the Seven Years' War / French And Indian War / War of Conquest (it goes by different names depending on which part of the globe you're talking about, apparently). She attributed the following to Louis XV: "One does not worry about a burning barn when one's house is on fire."  

She told an amusing story about why this building is still French territory -- and if you are told the same story, please write it down and send it to us to jog our memory . . . :

France in Canada

An added bonus for us is that our tour guide had done some sailing. We stopped along the Dufferin Terrace, which looks down on Basse-Ville (Lower Town) and the Saint Lawrence River, to watch the heavy tidal current of the river. She pointed out how difficult it was to cross the river or travel upstream except at slack.   

Heeling In the St. Lawrence Current

Another day we visited the Saint-Louis Forts and Chateaux National Historic Site - a fascinating museum under the Dufferin Terrace. The museum is the archaeological site of what was once the basement of the official residence and seat of power of both the French and British rulers of Quebec. Really old high-class trash. Fascinating! 

17th Century Furniture Caster

Modern Quebec City.  When surrounded by so much charm, history and tourist activity, it's sometimes easy to forget that Quebec is also a functioning, modern city.  And then - Prime Minister Stephen Harper comes to town, the flags come out and the chanting begins: "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Stephen Harper's got to go!"

Free Speech, Alive And Well In Both Languages

Or one passes the provincial parliament building and notices that the grounds are covered with vegetable gardens.

Farm To Table Provincial Government

On our final day in town we hiked to the Plains of Abraham, the site of the 1759 battle between the French - led by General Montcalm aka Marquis de Montcalm - and British - led by General Wolfe, and a great place to have an ice cream and look at the river. From there we tried to visit the Citadel, but ran out of time. The Citadel isn't just a stop on the Quebec history trail - it's home to the Royal 22nd Regiment (the Van Doos of WWI and WWII fame), and can only be entered with an official guide. We were faced with the choice of eating before we began our drive -- or visiting another historical sight. Those that know us will know which we chose . . . 

And speaking of food . . . we enjoyed the breakfast deal that came with our little hotel, offered through a very nice little place on Rue St. Anne, Le Pain Beni.  We had a great night out (our big splurge) at L'Echaude. And even our "drop in" experiences were primarily good.  
One night we ventured out of the old town to the big shopping area along Rue St. Paul and found a Celtic music festival as well as a decent meal at a street-side bistro located just far enough from the music to prevent it from being overwhelming. There we had a Real Canadian Moment: A family of four, mother's headscarf identifying them as Muslim, one child holding mother's hand, the other perching on father's shoulders - all happily swaying to the music of a Celtic band from Nova Scotia on Rue St. Paul in Quebec.   

And during our last lunch in Quebec, Molly watched in fascination as two very stylish women ordered french fries and wine for lunch. How could they be so thin if they eat so many fries, she wondered. When they left, they left the answer -- two plates full of left-over french fries. French women don't get fat because they only drink their lunch, apparently. 

Because Quebec was initially planned as a route rather than a destination, after only two nights (too soon) it was time to move on. There's so much more to see in Ville de Quebec -- w will visit again.

Riviere du Loup 

We crossed to the southern shore of the St. Lawrence, and traveled along the Trans-Canada HIghway.  Our night's stop was at Riviere du Loup -- a town with several motels boasting views of the St. Lawrence River and a name that is really fun to say ("Riveeair dew Loooop!"). 

The accommodations at the L'Auberge De La Pointe aren't more charming than the average road-side motel, but they are very clean and offer spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River. 

One Wide River

The restaurant at the Auberge is not quite as nice as the hotel's pictures would suggest, but the meal and wine were passable and it didn't require us to drive anywhere for dinner -- a bonus for weary car-trippers.  

The really long drive began the next day . . . on to and through New Brunswick.  

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