The province of Quebec, Canada is the heartland of
French-Canadian culture, and a taste of Europe without the pricey airfare! Old Quebec City, circa 1608, and its picture
postcard street scenes, brought out our inner Piérre and Theresé!
The residents of Quebec are headstrong, independent,
fiercely opinionated. The fact that most buildings display the local Quebec flag, instead of the national Canada flag (oh! and they also hold a popular vote about once a decade to secede from Canada entirely) says it all.
Quebec City is renowned for its bluff-top setting, and is
the only walled town in North America whose grass-top fortifications
are entirely intact today, with modern buildings outside and 400-year-old
Samuel de Champlain,
founder of the city, commenced construction of these walls in 1609. As you
cross through Saint-Jean Gate, you’re at the heart of Old Quebec in all its
“Bluff-top” means that everywhere you go, you’re a-gonna be
climbing, either up or down! The historic district inside the walls is divided
into an Upper (Haute-Ville) and a Lower (Basse-Ville) town. Stairs, stairs, everywhere!
Make no mistake, Quebec is French … VERY French. You do your best to guess what the words
mean, but when this auto repair shop seemed to be advertising Penis Injections,
we decided we best not make any assumptions. Google Translate to the rescue!
Even shopkeepers in the main tourist areas speak strictly
French … until you want to buy a pricey trinket. Suddenly their English is perfect and in full
force. Every street and shop and restaurant is
cuter than the last.
Terrace du Dufferin and the Promenade du Governors are the place to stroll and admire expansive views of the St. Lawrence River.
The most prominent resident of old town is the towering,
flamboyant Château Frontenac, an expensive 18th-century hotel
erected in 1893, and purportedly the most photographed hotel on the planet.
The two best ways to get down (or more importantly, to get
back up) are via L’Escalier Casse-Cou (literally, the Breakneck Steps, built
… or the vintage 1879-era Funiculaire du Vieux Quebec, a fun and
Sprinkles-friendly elevator that ascends at a 45-degree angle diagonally up the
The reason you’ll want to go down into Basse-ville is to
visit the Rue de Petit-Champlain, with its narrow cobblestone streets, lined
with bustling posh shops, delectable restaurants, and restored houses.
The Plains of Abraham is the famous site of a 1759 military
conquest where, in a bloody 20-minute
squirmish, the British conquered the French and sealed the fate of North America. This might leave you wondering
why everyone speaks French here and eats croissants instead of scones. In short, the conquering British still needed
the support of the French townspeople, so they offered the French people the right to continue to follow their
French ways, so long as they didn’t mount an insurrection against the
English. And so it continues today, with 85% of Quebec being native French speakers.
Central Park is to New York City … the epitome of luxe living and an expansive
place of beauty and relaxation right in the heart of the city.
Wanna move to Quebec City? You should! Its housing is very affordable, with
the average house price only around $250,000. However, beauties like these lining the park, go for upwards of
$1,000,000. It is also incredibly safe here … in a huge city like this, last year there were only TWO murders!
Both British and French influences remain, and a virtually
indescribable photographic orgy through this urban mecca. Surprises pop out from every street and every corner.
Many of the buildings are painted with incredible detail,
including the Mural of Quebecers, a fresco depicting 400 years of Quebec history.
Only in Quebec could the bus station be easily mistaken for
a French Renaissance chateau!
Short-term street art is everywhere …. Here a summer art
installation called “Eternal Snow,” according to the artist a reminder of the
rigors of Quebec winters, which are indeed brutal. If you do visit in the winter, be sure to do
it during the Winter Festival, where entire buildings are made of ice and the
streets are filled with detailed ice carvings.
But back to the art. The
description is way above my pay grade, but this represents “the bust of Louis
XIV, trapped in an eternal snowstorm … an imagined meeting between the Sun King
and winter … [rising] above the passage of the seasons, bringing two climates
The snowglobe art is shown in the square housing the Eglise
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, one of the oldest churches in North America. Its 15 minutes of fame came as the church in
the background of the arrest scene in the Steven Spielberg movie “Catch Me If
You Can,” with Leo DeCaprio and Tom Hanks.
The film was shot in 147 locations in only 52 days, and Quebec City was
one of those locations, chosen for its European character and French feel.
It’s not the only church, of course … this is Little Europe,
remember? The Basilique-Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Quebec was built in 1647,
expanded, bombarded, burnt to the ground, rebuilt, basically the Phoenix rising
from the ashes of churches here in Old Quebec.
brand), another longer-term art installation calledLumiere sur l’artincludes 17 huge street lamps, with shade designs
that are changed every year.
And of course where there are streets …. there are street performers!
Quebec is the creator of Canada’s unofficial national dish,
“poutine” … a delectable concoction when done properly (we had it at the
Calgary Stampede Fair a few years ago … not nearly so good). French fries, covered in light brown gravy,
with green peas, cheese curds, and in this case, braised pork.
Doesn’t appeal? How about “dessert poutine,” with sweet
fries, chocolate sauce and mini-marshmallows. Ummm, ewwwwwwww.
Just outside Old Town at the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, the
272-feet-high Montmorency Falls are 1½ times taller than Niagara Falls.
The suspension bridge takes you above the falls …
, and there is
(theoretically) a cable car which can take you down to the bottom of the falls
for best viewing. But, in the
most-European of traditions, the park workers were on strike, so the cable car was
closed. The only other option …. the
Panoramic Staircase, with a mere 487 steps. Oh my!
They have rock-climbing tours, a scary-looking zipline across the divide, and a series of viewing platforms.
Crossing a bridge from the mainland to tiny Isle d’ Orleans is like stepping back in history to its discovery in 1535.
It has retained a 19th Century rural feel with farms, orchards, countryside stands, wineries, shoppes selling delicacies like terrines, confits, and other local delicacies.
It is truly the kind of
place where “time stands still,” and for us, a place where WE were still for a
very long time, lingering with a flight of locally made (and very strong!)
ciders and gazing back across the St. Lawrence River to the mainland.
Leaving Orleans, there in the middle of a vacant farmfield
in the middle of nowhere, was this magnificent statue of Espace Felix-Leclerc,
memorial to local-boy poet and singer.
Super huge and made entirely of individual letters which apparently spell French words we could not read, it was surprising in its scale and detail!
Old Quebec City was an amazing place to visit, but we were
looking forward to breaking up with the Google Translate app and returning to the
English language. Navigation was a
running comedy routine between us, with every storefront window and flashing road
sign a mystery. Is the road closed? One-way street? For government officials
only? Under construction? The fastest
way to Costco (yes, for all their old-world charm, they have that here, too …)?
The official slogan for Quebec, “Je me souviens,” fits
perfectly, meaning “I remember.” For the
residents of this charming province, they remember their heritage, their roots,
their history. For Piérre and Theresé,
we remember a place of great romance and beauty and one of the most unusual
stops of this trip so far!
Voted best destination in Canada by Travel + Leisure,
Expedia, USA Today 10BEST, and others, Old Quebec City definitely warrants a
place on your travel bucket list.
J’adore le québec! We love Quebec!