Sorry about that. I find traveloguing when traveling with a companion difficult, because there is, of course, the reasonable expectation that one will accompany one’s companion on all of the day’s adventures, from breakfast through lights out. My best traveloguing comes when my wife is engaged in an activity–such as a painting class–that doesn’t involve me, and keeps her occupied while allowing me free rein to explore my new suroundings on my own.
Our last trip (to Maine) had been barely over for two weeks when we decided to indulge our new foot-looseness (no more kids in college) and take off on another trip. So, with only two weeks available to catch up from the prior trip and plan the next one, I have not yet completed my Maine travelogue, and have decided to skip ahead and start blogging this one, from Quebec. It’s raining here on this Tuesday morning, and I had hoped to spend some time blogging while my wife went to the hotel gym, but she is back (it was full of rainy-day exercisers) and is now prodding me to go to a
museum with her, so I will probably have to continue this later.
Our only real parameters for this trip were: Must use frequent flyer miles; must be someplace we’ve never been; must have super-fancy hotel; must take us out of the heat wave that has been hovering over most of the U.S. So, here we are, in beautiful Old City Quebec, where the temperature is a full 20 degrees cooler than Philadelphia, staying at the incredibly fabulous Fairmont Hotel le Chateau Frontenac. I fully intend to fill you in on the details, and then eventually backtrack on the Maine trip, but for now I am being prodded to escort ma femme to la Musee de la Civilisation. More later, I promise.
OK, I’m back. I didn’t think the museum was all it was cracked up to be, but it sure was full, given the lousy weather…60 degrees, windy, raining. Actually, compared to the way it was at home in Philly, this is heaven. Good news is the wife is tuckered out and napping, then going to try the gym again, then probably some shopping, which means I will finally get some writing done.
So anyway, we decided on Quebec for all the reasons listed above, and so far it’s been a perfect choice. The Chateau Frontenac is described as “the most photographed hotel in the world,” and if you look at the pictures of it you can see why. (I’ll clean up the formatting and add pictures here when I get home, right now I’m composing this on an iPad, which I haven’t fully mastered).
The old part of Quebec is just as lovely as I’ve always heard. Much of the old fortification is still in place, and the old architecture was fully restored in preparation for the city’s 400th birthday bash in 2008. French is the primary language, but there is no problem finding speakers of perfect speakers of English wherever you go (my French is a little rusty), the food and ambience are pure European, and it is really possible to forget that you’re only an hour by car from the U.S. border, and not in France itself.
Specifically, with its steep terrain, narrow, winding streets, shops, cafes, and bistros–and lots of tourists– Quebec feels a great deal like the Montmartre section of Paris. It even has the funiculaires, those part-elevator, part-train contraptions that can haul the tourist weary of pedestrian ascents up steep 100-yard roads or stairways in a matter of minutes. Sacre-Coeur the famous basilica, is the landmark looming above Montmartre, and in Quebec its role is played by the Hotel Chateau Frontenac, which springs from the highest promontory in the city like a castle from a fairy tale.
We arrived shortly after noon on Sunday, and settled in for a few refreshments in the 14th floor lounge while they finished getting our room ready for an early check-in. The “Chateau” was built in the 1890s by a Canadian railroad baron, during a time at which railroad barons (and other North American “barons”) seemed obsessed with using their new wealth to recreate late medieval European in the New World. The views from our 16th floor room are spectacular, and looking down at the lower village gives a true sense of what it must have felt like to live in a medieval castle and look down across the turrets and soaring mansard roofs down to the village below. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the fantastic weather (70 degrees, light breeze, compared to 95 and sticky at home) and walking around the city getting our bearings. Took a passenger/auto ferry across the St. Lawrence Seaway to the town of Levis, just for the ride–didn’t even bother getting off, just rode back taking in the sights and nice weather. Dinner at a little Franco-Italian place called Conti–not great, but not bad either, foodwise, but nice ambience with open windows on the street and a pleasant staff.
The hotel is directly adjacent to the Citadel of Quebec, one of the oldest and largest fortresses in North America, and still in use as an active military base by the 22nd Regiment, the only all-French unit in the Canadian armed forces. We spent the morning touring the base, which is sort of a living museum, witnessing a ritual changing-of-the-guard ceremony by troops dressed as Beefeaters (complete with tall bearskin hats), while active-duty troops in modern uniforms and berets went about their business nearby. Quite a workout, some fascinating history (the Plains of Abraham of French-and-Indian War fame are here), and great views from the ramparts atop the palisades.
In the afternoon we went to the waterfront to see the Bunge grain elevator complex, an interesting story. It is a mass of concrete silos built side-by-side to an overall length equal to 7 football fields, and standing at least 12 stories high….an eyesore by any standard. However, in a stroke of genius, the Quebecois took lemons and made lemonade. The structure is lit up every night by an elaborate system of video projectors, accompanied by an equally elaborate sound system, creating the world’s largest outdoor light show and movie projector, something like an incredibly large iMax theater that can be seen from all over the city. Now a major attraction instead of an eyesore, it is known as the Moulin a Images…..”The Picture Mill.”
Tonight we try out the Restaurant Gastronomique in the hotel (it’s still raining, and it’s supposed to be quite an experience anyway), tomorrow more exploring, including a trip to the Montmorency Falls (higher than Niagara), and in the evening taking in the Spanish contribution to the International Fireworks Competition, which Quebec is hosting this year.