Saturday, October 17, 2015
When I opened the blinds in my room at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac this morning, I was shocked – shocked! – to see snow softly falling over the historic expanse of Quebec City. It turns out it’s not the only area of the country to see snow this morning: parts of Ontario and Quebec have woken up to a thin layer of the white stuff.
Sadly, it didn’t stick around, and by the time I was done breakfast and was out on the Promenade behind the hotel walking around, what little that did fall had melted into water. Still, it set the stage for a Quebec City that is highly in-tune with the changing seasons.
Pumpkins line nearly every square, along with wooden fences, scarecrows, black ravens, and mock “ghosts”. Halloween displays are everywhere – and the pumpkins are, for the most part, real. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in Canada before. It is the quintessential East Coast Halloween, complete with the kind of displays you figure are only created by the production department of a feature film.
With Silversea’s Silver Whisper headed for Saguenay, Quebec today, I took the opportunity to fully explore the beautiful city of Quebec; specifically, Old Quebec, or – as it is known in French – Vieux Quebec.
Since La Citadelle is low-hanging fruit thanks to its location adjacent to the Fairmont, I headed there first, taking the gorgeous riverside promenade that runs next to the Fairmont and overlooks the St. Lawrence Seaway. It’s a gorgeous walk, and it made for a great way to start the day.
The oldest fortification in Canada, La Citadelle is the official residence of the Governor General of Canada, the Canadian Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II, if she ever visited), and an active military installation – meaning guided tours are required here. It still makes up a significant part of the ancient walled city of Quebec, making Quebec City one of only two cities in North America that actually retained their original walls.
Sadly, La Citadelle had two things working against it this morning: a mountain of areas that are currently undergoing renovation (and thus limiting the impact of the fortress), and a rigid tour schedule that only included one English-speaking tour that I’d already missed. My bad; I should have checked the website. But only one English-speaking tour on a Saturday?
Not to be deterred, it was then off to the Observatoire de la Capitale for a panoramic view of Vieux Quebec!
Located in the uninspiring Marie-Guyart building at 1037 rue De La Chevrotiere, the observation area on the 31st floor of the tower – the highest in the city – more than makes up for its unappealing, late 1960’s exterior design.
The observation tower is also equipped with interactive touch-screen displays that reveal information about the landmarks you see before you, though that information can be a bit sparse. But on a clear day – like today – that view is well worth the $10.45 per person admission in order to view Quebec City from 723 feet in the air!
After that, of course, it was time for another lunch – this time, in a local pub down in the heart of old Quebec. Inset into what looks like a former cellar, lunch was a simple affair – a combination smoked meat and Croque Monsieur sandwich, paired with a local St. Ambrose Cream Ale. I had to do my best to resist finding a restaurant that offers poutine again – I am enjoying far too much of that traditional dish on this trip!
For those who may be uninitiated with Quebecois cuisine, allow me to elaborate: Poutine is the thing your doctor should warn you about when you go in for your routine checkup. Made up of nothing but French fries in a bowl, topped with cheese curds, topped with beef gravy, poutine purists will insist that this is the only way to eat the dish. But the fact remains that many types of “designer poutines” exist, topped with things line bacon, sausage, bacon-wrapped sausage, salmon, and more. If you’re in Quebec, you have to give it a try!
After lunch, the sun decided to make an appearance. With some of the softest lighting imaginable blanketing Old Quebec in shades of amber, I spent an enjoyable afternoon wandering the city snapping photographs to my heart’s content, while periodically stopping to browse the shops along the way.
Here’s the lowdown: it’s cold today, with temperatures barely above freezing. I needed my winter coat, scarf and gloves today. Actually, I forgot to pack my gloves, so I popped into a local clothing retailer (Simons) and bought, for the very reasonable price of $40, brand new leather gloves.
Some photos of my day in Vieux Quebec:
Now, I’m back at the cozy enclave that is the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Tomorrow, I board an Air Canada flight to return to Western Canada. It’s a domestic flight. There are no passport controls to worry about, and no duty limitations to adhere to. I can bring back suitcases of Quebec-made Maple Syrup if I want to. Yet it feels like I will be returning to an entirely different country tomorrow evening; that this is Canada – the Canada I grew up in – seems somehow inconceivable.
In Quebec, I have discovered a city that I love perhaps more than any other Canadian city I have been to. If Victoria boasts a certain English charm and Vancouver oozes cosmopolitanism and Calgary channels the Wild West, Quebec resurrects Colonial Canada and old France simultaneously. It’s endlessly alluring, historic, and oh-so-romantic.
But I have been genuinely surprised that a trip so close to home could help me overcome prejudices I didn’t realize I even had. As a Western Canadian, I’d heard horror stories about the classic (and apparently routine) unfriendliness of the Quebecers. No one will speak English to me, they warned. No one will be polite, they said.
As it turns out, “they” are wrong: I haven’t met a single person here who hasn’t been open, kind and friendly. Everyone has spoken great English to me, and I’ve gone out of my way to resurrect my Grade School-quality French to try to at least say good day and please and thank you in this beautiful language.
They call Quebec La Belle Province – the beautiful Province. That’s absolutely accurate. I came here for Silversea’s Silver Whisper, but I’m leaving with just one thing: a burning desire to return.
Whether a cruise takes you here or not, Quebec City is a place that should be on every traveller’s ultimate destination list.