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Trip Report Quebec City in autumn

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We took a three-day trip to Quebec City in late September, enjoying the historic old town in beautiful autumn weather.

Day one: left Burlington, Vermont, and drove an easy four hours, almost all on U.S. and Canadian super highways. Easy border crossing (reminder: if you’re driving into Quebec, bring your passport!) Arriving in late afternoon, we checked in at the Manoir sur-le-Cap, a comfortable B&B in one of the old stone row homes lining the Parc des Gouverneurs, located on the south side of the massive Chateau Frontenac and overlooking the Terrasse Dufferin and the St. Lawrence River.

We walked around the historic upper town a bit and then went to the Chateau Frontenac for a drink. The Chateau has just emerged from a total refurbishment and if you can spring for the luxurious rooms it would be quite a splurge. The Chateau was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century and was the site of the secret conference between Roosevelt and Churchill for planning the Normandy invasion. The cocktail bar is a big circular rooms with tall windows overlooking the St. Lawrence. Pricey but worth it—and not too pricey because of the current good exchange rate.

We then had dinner with friends who live in the city, not far from Laval University, just off the Grande Allee. This is a beautiful section of Quebec City, a couple of miles west of the old center.

Day two: up early for breakfast at La Buche on Rue St. Louis, the main street of the upper town. This is a great place for traditional hearty Quebec cooking. Not only do they serve the best bacon ever (cured with Quebec maple syrup) but they also have things like cretons (a soft pork pate served with grainy mustard) and feves au lard (the ultimate version of homemade pork and beans) as breakfast side dishes.

We then walked a mile west out the Grande Allee to the main reason for our trip: a visit to the Pavillon Lassonde, a new building on the grounds of the Quebec Museum of Fine Arts. We followed a pedestrian path from the edge of the fort in the old town, along the Plains of Abraham, past the Joan of Arc garden, to the Lassonde gallery building. This is a splendid structure designed by OMA, the same firm which designed the over-the-top Seattle public library building. The Lassonde gallery is less rambunctious than the Seattle building, more quietly elegant, and it settles carefully into the grounds of the museum, nestling next to the deconsecrated church at its side (the church building is now used for concerts). And it has the most beautiful elevator I’ve ever seen, a big bronze cube whose walls are black velvet curtains. Wow.

After wandering through all three buildings of the museum complex we walked back to the old town and had a quick lunch of traditional Quebec pea soup at Café Buade, a hundred yards from the cathedral. Then we walked down to the historic lower town to the Museum of Civilization. This beautiful modern structure is nestled into the big stone historic structures of the port district. Inside the museum you can look down through excavated areas and see the foundations of some of the original port structures from the early 17th century. The museum has a very interesting wing dedicated to the history of Quebec, from its beginnings as New France, through the Conquest and British rule, to modern times, with the resurgence of French Quebec nationalism. The exhibit also has a very thoughtful discussion of immigration in Quebec today and the interplay of French Quebec culture with the cultures of other peoples.

We walked from the museum along the waterfront, past a cruise ship, to the Place Royale and the 17th century church of Notre Dame des Victoires. This is the site of Champlain’s original settlement and is the historic heart of Quebec City. We took the funicular up to the Terrasse Dufferin and walked along the boardwalk high above the river. The autumn weather was perfect, bright and cool. Back to the B&B, quick nap, then reconnected with our friends for dinner.

Dinner was at Le Clocher Penche (“the leaning steeple”) in the St. Roch neighborhood. Highly recommended. Simple, imaginative dishes like marinated mackerel and a light version of osso bucco.

Day three: The next morning we slept late, returned to La Buche for another hearty woodsman’s breakfast, (café au lait, maple oatmeal, bacon, eggs, sausage, feves au lard). Stuffed, we waddled to the parking station to get the car and returned to Burlington in mid-afternoon. This trip was a quick visit to a different, enjoyable culture just to the north of the border. The people we met were easy-going, happy to speak English (even if only a smattering), and most welcoming. Very occasionally on these forums a visitor will comment on an unfriendly encounter in Quebec if one is not a native French-speaker, but we did not experience anything like that. It’s definitely on our bucket list for a return trip next year!

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