Both of us Learning Travel

Quebec: Quelle surprise!

October 23, 2019

NOTE: Please see a portfolio of our Quebec photos.

Part One of three parts

The Porte St-Jean, just up the street from our hotel.

At 6:30 a.m., we heard a rustling at our hotel door. Was someone trying to break in? Tentatively, we peered out. Hanging on the door was a wicker picnic basket. It was breakfast! Croissants, patisseries, yogurt, glass bottles of orange juice, cheese, and fruit.

Amazed, I went down to the lounge of the Hotel du Vieux-Quebec to get the free 24-hour-a-day cafe au lait. Quebec City was a steady stream of pleasant surprises:

. . . Turning a corner and encountering a sweeping view of ships on the St. Lawrence River, or the massive Chateau Frontenac, or the historic Place Royale, or the colorful Rue de Petit-Champlain, or a three-story wall painted with a Quebecois fresco, or Louis XIV (the Sun King) playfully encapsulated inside a snow globe.

 The Petit-Champlain shopping district

. . . Realizing how much buying power we had, with one Canadian dollar equaling .76 US dollars. Not one to do math in my head, I came home wishing we had bought more of everything.

. . . Being cheerfully offered 20 different flavors of hot chocolate in a chocolaterie; we chose 70% noir. Trying foods I had never considered before: duck confit and goat cheese in a buckwheat crepe, “deconstructed” onion soup, wild boar rilletes,  meat pie with maple syrup. Beans with maple syrup. Ham with maple syrup. Poutine, the national dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. Jellies and vinaigrettes made with cassis.

. . . Recognizing that employees in restaurants, stores and at the hotel were friendly, helpful and mostly spoke fluent English, even though I had spent hours studying so-called Quebecois French (more on that in future post).

As someone who has been to Paris four times, I found that I could relax in Quebec City. The food was fantastic without the more formal French fussiness and worry about what to order when. If you were willing to climb steps or take the funicular, you could get around easily on foot. We walked off all our croissants, poutine and maple syrup.

The 1,400-mile trek was worth it

We drove the 700 miles up with our friends Connie and Dickie Holland, spending the first night in charming Saratoga Springs, NY. When it came time to cross the river and enter the Old City, Dickie turned the keys over to me. Our GPS uttered some faux-pas, but we managed to make it to the hotel on the Rue St-Jean.

Poutine and country vegetable soup.

The only downer of the four days we spent there was the “Hop On, Hop Off” double-decker. Stops were not marked; it was too cold and rainy to ride on top, and too crowded. We had to stand and could not listen to the narration. If you can walk or read a metro bus schedule, I highly recommend against the tour bus.

Another caveat is to know when cruise ships are docked at the port; the debarked passengers swarm throughout the city and overrun the popular tourist sites like selfie-taking barbarians.

We had a delightful progressive dinner and cultural tour with Marie, our tour guide, and sampled food at restaurants we would have overlooked. Once again, read the reviews carefully. Ours was more expensive, but we had wine at each stop and the food and guide were top-notch.

A highlight of the trip was our day excursion by car to the Ile d’Orleans, an agritourism mecca that included a visit to a traditional “sugar shack,” foie gras and maple butter, and fresh strawberries that were in season. That trip is worth a separate post.

To top it off, foliage was near peak when we went in early October. Quebec City has been on Sue’s bucket list for decades, and the grand mystere is why it took us so long to get there. One of our best trips ever.

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