Quebec City QC Canada
August 30, 2009
Refreshed after our night of indulgence and a fabulous breakfast, we are ready to face the big cities, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec. Ottawa seems to be a large but fairly compact city as TransCanada 417 leads us from city center right back out into farmland rather than making us endure miles and miles of urban sprawl. The terrain is once again flat with vast cornfields to the east of the city, mixed with tree-lined corridors and wetlands as we near the Quebec border. Large farm complexes comprised of farmhouses, silos, barns and other outbuildings are set far back from the highway so we are channeled through a sea of green trees and farmland. A very pleasant roadway indeed.
We brace ourselves as we near the dreaded Montreal which has a reputation for impatient and aggressive drivers. It requires all of our attention but we manage to pass through the city in one piece; it was a stroke of luck that we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. It was not a stress-free passage but it was easier than we had anticipated. The drivers seem to follow the European style of driving, DO NOT dare to enter the far left lane unless you intend to go VERY, VERY fast, pass and then move back to the right after you have passed. They seem to be very orderly drivers, competent driving at high speeds, weaving in and out of lanes with precision. We do not fall into that category of driver and have found our comfort zone in the second lane from the left as the locals speed by us.
As our destination for the next couple of days nears we admit to being a little intimidated to travel in Quebec. We heard tales of horrid drivers, unfriendly and even rude citizens who refused to speak English. Our thoughts are that it IS a French-speaking province and we should honor that choice by learning a little French, at least the pleasantries and we did. Americans can be arrogant in their attitudes and we try not to fall into that category. We are fortunate to find helpful folks whether French or English speaking. In French, a few words, a little charades and a smile was all it took. We find that courtesies are always appreciated and pay dividends.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
At the tourist office we were told of a campground about ½ hour out of Quebec that provides shuttle service into Quebec City and that appeals to us. We find the campground, settle in for the evening and prepare for a day in the historic old town Quebec.
August 31, 2009
As promised the shuttle picks us up in camp at 9:15 a.m. and drops us inside the walls of Quebec’s historic center. Our route into town takes us through a neighborhood of stately old homes with beautiful gardens on large tracts of land. We also pass by an enormous park not far from the town center.
Today we concentrate our walking tour within the walls, beginning along an expansive promenade that runs in front of the stately Chateau Frontenac paralleling the St Lawrence River on our left and the old defensive wall of Quebec on the right. We climb the 365 stairs of the Promenade des Gouverneurs to reach the star-shaped Citadelle, a.k.a. the Gibraltar of America sitting on a hill above the St. Lawrence River. This is the eastern flank of Quebec’s fortifications, standing guard over the city since the mid 1800’s and still housing a military regiment headquarters.
Along the promenade we see groups of kids that look to be high school or college age dressed in what I can best describe as modified teletubbie costumes, each group of 10 or 12 appear in a different color costume. We later find these are college freshman enduring their period of humiliation or initiation as the college year begins tomorrow. We see or hear them all over town.
We wander the narrow streets of Old Quebec admiring the architecture, churches and buildings dating back to the 1700’s. The streets are lined with small outdoor cafes, stone buildings are adorned with colorful flower boxes and hanging baskets. The historic center feels very much like a small European village. Our shuttle driver explained that they have very strict historic preservation laws governing the old buildings and thus have done a beautiful job maintaining the original appearance of exteriors.
After a day of wandering we return to the promenade looking over the St Lawrence Seaway to little villages across the river and below the stone wall that encompasses the old town. I find the rooftops and chimney pots quite delightful.
Exhausted after walking all day we arrive back in camp to loud music, cheers and what at first sounds like perhaps a concert or soccer game, something that involves hoards of people. This continues on into early evening and we begin to see young people wandering into the campground to the nearby restrooms and then hear loud cheers coming from the restrooms. Curious and a little concerned about what the night holds in store I phone the office to see if they can enlighten us as to what kind of event it might be and how late it might last. We discover that it is a group of university kids celebrating the beginning of the school year, a traditional celebration. We are informed that there really isn’t anything they can do so we wait to see how late it continues, expecting the noise to go all night long. To our delight it quiets down completely by around 10 p.m. and we get a good night’s sleep.
September 1, 2009
Our early morning visits to the restroom revealed beer and wine bottles lined up around the garbage cans which were overflowing and various pieces of clothing inside and outside the restrooms, it must have been quite a party!
The shuttle again drops us in town and we decide to explore the beautiful park and neighborhood that we had seen on our way into town. On our way we pass the Parliament Buildings and Tourny Fountain before entering Jardin Jeanne D’Arc. A pleasant stroll through the perennial garden leads us to the Martello Tower, one of 16 towers built by the British and valued for their ability to withstand naval artillery fire.
Battlefields Park commemorates the major battles that took place here on the Plains of Abraham between British and French forces in the 1700’s. The Plains of Abraham are recognized as one of the largest urban parks in the world and a wonderful place for a stroll, bikeride or cross country ski in the winter.
As we neared lunchtime we changed course and walked down to the river where we had spotted what we thought was a farmer’s market. Indeed, a farmer’s market we found with fresh, fresh, fresh, strawberries, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, apples, bread, a feast of freshness. We picked up a ready-made wrap and went out on the deck by the river to enjoy the sun and a bite to eat. A pathway running in front of the market is part of a bike trail system that runs all along the river. We plan to bike a portion on the other side of the river tomorrow before leaving the area.
Well provisioned we made our way back up the hill to search for a birthday card for one of the grandsons. George asked in a number of shops and received blank looks as though they had never heard of birthday cards, very strange reactions. We found nothing but post cards.
On our return to camp the shuttle driver was quite chatty as we were the only riders and he was sharing stories of his customers, the oddest request he had was from a fellow who took a City Tour and kept insisting he wanted to see “beers” or at least that is what the shuttle driver thought he was saying and explained this was not a pub tour but a city tour. The gentleman had a very heavy accent and persisted in his request to see “beers”. Finally he made the driver understand that what he wanted to see were “bears”, he had heard Quebec was full of bears and I guess thought they might be included in the city tour. That was a first for our driver.
September 2, 2009
We reluctantly leave Quebec today. It is a beautiful city with much to offer and we both agree that we would like to return. Before leaving the area completely we plan to ride part of the Route Verte, a bicycle trail that crisscrosses the entire province. We have chosen a short segment along the river from the village of Saint Romuald to Levi. For all of you bicycle enthusiasts this trail system is well done. The short section we rode connecting the two villages was beautiful. Here is the link if you would like more information.
Our visit to Quebec was wonderful, friendly people, good food, gorgeous scenery, fabulous biking and perfect weather. Maybe next time we will fly in, rent bikes and see the countryside.