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Trip Report Honeymoon in Quebec City

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Okay, my wife and I had gone a bit over budget on our wedding. This was my second wedding, and the first time I had eloped, so I had no clue how expensive weddings were. I will talk a little about the wedding here and then the honeymoon.

I can say I had one of the best weddings I could have ever had. We had a wedding at a venue that could hold all of the wedding party and we were there at the venue for 4 days, so it was kind of like a family reunion at the same time as the vacation, which is how I planned. We had an outdoor ceremony on a lawn overlooking a manicured garden with a large fountain (which we had turned off during the ceremony so guests could actually hear the ceremony). We were serenaded by a violinist and viola player. Then guests went into a ballroom for cocktail hour and h'or deuvres while we were taking pictures. Finally, we had guests sit on the lawn for a Cajun dinner serenaded by jazz. Guests told me the caterer I picked had the best food they had ever tasted. Plenty of beer and wine flowed as well. One lady said she had never had Cajun food in her life and she wasn't sure what any of it was, but she loved it all. After dinner we cut the 3 layer cake and ate it, then had an awesome DJ who performed for 5 hours. He balanced between the 70's, 80's and 90's for most of the adults and the latest stuff (00's and 10's) for the kids.

We had the wedding on a Saturday and then left for Quebec City on Monday. I have to say both of us were extremely tired. I'm normally an avid traveler, but I felt like a honeymoon should be more about savoring than about touring. Thus, we slept in the first morning. I think it was the first time I slept late in several years. We woke up at the latest possible time to get breakfast, then hit the streets of Quebec City, only to have lunch a little bit later. Our first day in QC was starting off to be a food fest.

We were staying at the Auberge St. Pierre. I picked this hotel because I wanted a non chain that was in the lower city that had fairly decent sized rooms. Auberge has some larger rooms and suites so that fit the bill.

The breakfast at Auberge St. Pierre was excellent the first day, we both got Eggs Benedict (Le Benedictin). However, that ended up being the only excellent day as the service and quality of food deteriorated during the week (even for the same dish). More on that later.

The first day in QC was rather cool, in the 60's. Having had an outside wedding in Texas in late June, it felt heavenly to be able to walk around in cool weather, even if it were very overcast and gray. The rest of the days were much warmer, in the 80's and up to near 90 the rest of the trip. However, even the 80's and 90's are still much cooler than Texas at this time of year.

My initial impressions of Quebec City were that it is very old and historical and very unique. Lower QC doesn't really look French to me. It looks almost British. But then I realized that my version of French was the 1800's ornate style which is more representative in upper QC around Chateau Frontenac (more exotic rod iron patterns with fleur de lis, etc...). In contrast, the rod iron in lower QC is very simple, but I think it reflects the time period more than the people. In lower QC in the 1600's and 1700's it was about building very warm buildings with whatever materials they could find. Most of the buildings are built from rocks found from the very terrain that surrounds QC, the Canadian Shield.

More to come...

The people speak French and although I speak a little French, they would always answer back in English so my French must suck bad. I like that they aren't as rude as the French.

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    We took the funicular up the hillside. We found that it's actually faster to walk up the hill than taking the funicular, but if you don't feel like walking uphill at least there is an option besides getting a cab. Please note that the funicular is very small and was always jam packed with people.

    Now, I had always wanted to see Chateau Frontenac up front, and while it was nice to see, it was a little disappointing. Just like anything that is built up too much, it is a bit overrated. We walked through the courtyard area where cars drop off people and it felt like people should be dropped off in the front or somewhere else and the courtyard should be parklike. But then I remembered that the building faces south and the courtyard is most likely in the shade most of the year and probably is bitter cold in the winter time. So perhaps they are making the best use of the space. I enjoyed walking through the interior of the building, though.

    After that, we walked a bit around the upper town. We had gotten a suggestion to eat at Ashton's, a Canadian fast food chain that supposedly serves up authentic poutine. The restaurant reminds me of an Arby's or something like that, they also serve hotdogs and burgers.

    We both ordered a poutine and although we finished our dish, we both decided that poutine was an acquired taste. I do have to say, though, that the squeaky cheese curds were better than I thought. It just that the brown gravy didn't do well on french fries. My thoughts are if they put a white gravy (like chicken fried steak gravy) on the french fries along with the cheese curds then poutine would be much better.

    More to come...

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    By the way, one thing I really enjoyed that day was the boardwalk right next to the Chateau Frontenac (Dufferin Terrace). What made it unique were the three skylights from the museum below. Apparently, they had taken out the terrace, excavated from the old fort below, and then put a climate controlled museum around the fort with three skylights and then rebuilt the boardwalk.

    This design is interesting because it teases you a bit as you can look down and see people under the glass and you wonder how to get there. So we figured out it was a museum and we paid for it and then went through it. I highly recommend this museum, it shows some of the early history of the area, I was most interested by the ice house, interesting how they would get ice from the St. Lawrence River and store it there in the winter and it would be available most of the year.

    More to come...

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    About 150 miles from Quebec City here in Montreal. I'm enjoying your report on a city I've visited a half-dozen times.

    I think the Chateau Frontenac has become iconic for Quebec City due to photos and as result visitors sometimes have more expectations about it than they should; it's a Fairmont Hotel now in a striking location, but ultimately still a hotel.

    As an analogy, I think poutine is to Quebec kind of what the Philly Cheese Steak is to Philadelphia: comfort food for the masses, a bit of a guilty pleasure, not particularly healthy and occasionally hits the spot. Perhaps kind of gross-looking at first (although really it's just fries, cheese and gravy) and can be tough to convince people to try. Arby's indeed would be a good point of comparison although Ashton's lacks Arby's corporate polish.

    I'm glad you chose to honeymoon in la Vieille Capitale.

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    Thanks Daniel, yes Chateau Frontenac had been featured on too many travel brochures, it couldn't live up to the hype. However, the other non-published things about the city ended up being gems in the rough.

    The next day we decided to tour the upper quarter a bit as we had seen all of the lower quarter and the waterfront area. By the way, I should mention the waterfront area. It is still very much industrial, you can tell it is a port city, but that's okay because I love port cities. My favorite port city is New Orleans and I like watching a real port city in action. While we were there, they were broadcasting a somewhat cheesy show on the grain elevator every night. Cirque du Soleil was performing as well each night but we never made the show as we always tend to linger at dinner each night and didn't want to rush back.

    There are some parks along the riverfront, but like New Orleans, when the river is your "r'aison d'etre" you can't block all traces of the industrial past, for good reason.

    Another parallel to New Orleans is the St. Lawrence River (in the summer at least) reminds me of the Mississippi River. It appears to be just as wide at that point as it is in New Orleans. Further upstream near Montreal that is not the case and further downstream the river almost appears like a lake as the St. Lawrence widens.

    One interesting point is the lock system that exists between the river and the harbor there. I guess because of tides and all it is necessary. This is one thing that I find interesting in northerly locations, the tides are so extreme that they can go up rivers!

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    Okay, back to the upper quarter.

    We had walked around Rue St. Jean and that area to get to the Ashton's restaurant the night before, so we figured we'd try the other section of town, taking Rue St. Louis. We walked down that road trying to find a restaurant that appealed to us, we ended up getting side tracked and visited Fountaine De Tourny and then onto Grand Allee E. The summer festival was about to start in the next couple of days, so they were getting all the venues ready. Thus we were diverted several times, we weren't able to just walk down the street. We found a restaurant (I'll talk about restaurants later) along this strip and ate outside there.

    Then we meandered our way back to the Citadelle of Quebec and walked around there. We got there just a little too late to do the tour, so we walked around the perimeter of the facility. This ended up being for the best, because on the north side of the Citadelle is a very nice park that overlooks Chateau Frontenac, the St. Lawrence River, and the lower quarter (old Quebec). We sat there and enjoyed the view.

    More to come...

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    That evening we did some shopping and then ate at a restaurant along Rue St. Jean which was a bit overpriced but had good food. The name of the restaurant is called Restaurant Le Retro. If you go there, order the game meat pie, it is delicious, but like I said, the prices are a bit steep unless the exchange rate is in your favor (keep in mind we like to enjoy wine and dessert most meals).

    Now it was time to go to bed, the next day we had to pick up a rental car at the Hilton and had a couple of days of driving planned for the area.

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    Poutine is a joke on fine dining, in my opinion. According to legend, the dish was invented by accident in a roadside diner. Which one is a subject of fiercely competitive debate. Ashton's, a chain restricted to Quebec province, is a contender. The fad spread rapidly across the country. For a time, here in Ontario, the easiest place to find it was at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Soon, young chefs joined fast-food cooks on the bandwagon, or fatwagon, with concoctions such as foie gras poutine. Considering the ingredients in that combo, it should be served with a side of heart defibrillator. Bon appetit.
    I'm glad you enjoyed Quebec City, a belle ville in a belle province.

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    Okay so we walked to the Hilton from our hotel in the lower QC. We got the rental car and hit the road. Following a trick that I always follow, I had booked an economy but they were "out of economy" so they upgraded me to a higher end car for free. Works everytime! We ended up getting a Chrysler 200 with leather seats and a sunroof.

    We pulled out of the underground parking garage, around 4 levels underground and hit the road. We didn't get the GPS, which ended up being a big mistake. We hadn't done that because my wife had brought a Garmin, but unfortunately we had forgotten the charger (Urgh!) Also, we didn't want to use the GPS capabilities on our phone because we knew that we had a long day ahead of us and I wasn't sure if we might need those phones in the Canadian wilderness.

    We go onto Autoroute 440 and followed it northeast until it merged with Autoroute 40 and took that northeast to Montmorency Falls.

    We wanted to stop at a grocery store somewhere so we ended up stopping around 10 miles north of Quebec at one of the exits along route 40. It was a small market but had what we needed. The name of the market escapes me, but it was next to a Burger King and gas station near a mall a couple of blocks from the highway. We bought French bread and cheese, some meats, and some delicious carbonated fruit drinks (peach, lemon/lime, and other flavors). They were a real deal at 99 cents each, especially considering that with the exchange rate slightly in the US favor at the time, probably was around 85-90 cents. The same drinks would probably be $2.50 in the US because they would be considered novelty drinks. However, the other food is more expensive than the US so it all kind of balances out. However, these drinks were a good find and that was the non-alcoholic drink of choice for the remainder of the trip. Sorry my memory escapes me on this, I will come up with that later.

    Now having picnic lunch supplies ready to go we got back on route 40 and passed right by Montmorency Falls. It seems there is no direct exit from the east bound lanes. However, there is a U-turn right after the falls and I figured that would lead us to the falls but I was wrong. I could see the parking lot near the ski lift but route 40 was under construction and I couldn't figure out if there was even a way to exit from route 40 to Montmorency Falls. It would be a very wise thing for Quebec to have a direct exit to the Falls, seeing as it is a major attraction and located right next to the autoroute. Perhaps there is, but the construction prevented us? Maybe some locals can chime in here.

    So we took route 40 back west and then exited another road and fortunately found some signs for the Falls. Then we entered the park, it was around CAD $11 to enter, not really that bad (parks in Austin are $8). So we entered, went into the main building and used the restrooms and walked around. It is really a nice building and they serve lunch there, FYI. But since we had our own food, we didn't need to eat there.

    We walked around and I should point out that the trails are well maintained, either all wood decking or concrete. It is a bit different than most US parks, where the trend is more natural gravel trails. There are plenty of guardrails and several viewing platforms of the Falls. I really appreciated this, it gave ample places for good photos and the pavilions were even shaded, which was nice on this 90 degree day.

    We went over the pedestrian suspension bridge which goes directly over the Falls and the view is spectacular. I believe this is the one and only waterfall that I have ever seen with a bird's eye view. Most other falls you either see from below or above from a distance peak.

    We hiked a bit in the woods on the unpaved trails just to get a feel for the forests up north. The forest was mostly deciduous, fairly tall yellow birch I believe.

    Then we went onto the terraced staircased and on down to the base of the Falls. There was a viewing point where you could get sprayed. Since it was hot that day, we decided to go up there and enjoy the mist. I first took off my shirt so I would have something dry to put back on, then I went up there with my wife and we let the mist soak us down. It was exhilirating.

    Then we walked to the gift shift, which is also right on the highway and next to the train station (man they make this easy to get to), and had "pain chocolate" and drank some water.

    Then we paid an exhorbitant price to take the ski lift back up the mountain. We could have hiked but it's all in the experience, eh? The way I figure, I don't know when I'll ever get back to a place, so I need to do whatever I can while I'm there because it may be the last time to visit there...

    Next up: Isle d'Orleans.

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    Okay, so we crossed the large two lane bridge to Isle d'Orleans and then drove around the island. My impressions of the island were a little Nantucket mixed with some coastal towns in New England. The landscape is mainly strawberry and other farms, reminds me of Southern Massachusetts with the farms down there. It is very picturesque and I wanted to spend more time there, but I had a big day planned and so after driving to the other side of the island and then back around the south side, I went back over the bridge. Unfortunately my wife dozed off a little part of this trip so she didn't get to see most of the island.

    Next up we got back on autoroute 40 heading east, which around 1 mile beyond Montmorency Falls become route 138, a regular highway. This is bad because the speed limit for autoroutes is 100 KPH maximum, but it is only 90 KPH maximum for regular highways and through some of the towns it is even less.

    I'm sorry but 100 KPM is only about 60 MPH or so, I can't believe that is the top speed limit in Quebec. Going 90 KPM on roads through the Canadian wilderness just seems way too slow. We can go 75 MPH on rural highways and interstates in Texas and 85 on rural interstates and Texas is far more developed than most of Quebec. Even West Texas is more developed than say, northern Quebec.

    The only reason why I mention this is because I got a speeding ticket on highway 138 between St-Tite-des-Caps and Baie-St-Paul. I was going 120 in a 90 going downhill, which is maybe like 75 which is what I am used to doing in Texas. I hadn't even looked at the speed on my car to be honest. It just felt like the right speed on a very rural highway. Nothing had been seen for miles, no towns, I guess I just can't understand the extremely conservative speed limits? I guess that it might be do to the winter conditions being so difficult that they have to set the limits like that? Why can't they have a summer and winter limit?

    Also, isn't tourism a large part of Quebec's economy? Shouldn't the cop had realized that I was a tourist and gave me a break? Instead, he said, "Be sure you pay this ticket before you leave Quebec, or you'll have big problems when you return to Quebec." What is that supposed to mean?

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    Okay, back to the trip. Before the ticket mentioned above, we had stopped in St-Anne-De-Beaupre' to see the Basilica there.

    I have to admit that seeing the Basilica in that very small town is quite a site. St-Anne-De-Beaupre is a very modest town with small homes and buildings, it kind of reminds me of a small southern US town in a sense, with motels and fast food restaurants and the like. Actually, route 138 as a whole from Montmorency Falls to Baie St. Paul looks about the same. The road is very flat, being in the fertile valley alongside the St. Lawrence River. It is fully developed, I don't think I saw one acre of undeveloped land along 138 until much later. However, one thing that is odd is that you can see the Canadian Shield in the background, I would say that there is maybe 500 yards between the river and the hillside that begins the shield. However, other than the main highway and a couple of roads behind it in spots, if you go perhaps a half mile beyond the road there is nothing. There are very few roads that go perpendicular to 138 and the few that do either go just a couple block in or go much further into the interior but are few and far between. I presume that the development took hold like this because back in the 1600's the river was the only form of reliable transportation.

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    I was originally planning to take 138 all the way to 170 and then 170 up to Saguenay but decided to take 381 instead, one because it would be quicker and two because I wanted to see more of the wilderness.

    So after a few miles of developments along 381 similar to 138, with homes that looked like the kinds in upstate NY (according to my wife, as I've never been to upstate NY) the landscape became absolute wilderness with no developments whatsoever for miles.

    We entered the Pac National Des Grand Jardins. I must say that I was very disappointed in the park. Maybe I'm spoiled having been to Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Big Bend, and Rocky Mountain National Park, but I have to say that
    (a) there are absolutely no overlooks (i.e. paved turnouts where you can take a picture)
    (b) there is no shoulder either, so you can't pull over to take photos
    (c) there are no facilities whatsoever. I think there was one portapotty along the way and that was at the far end of the park (I believe near Ha Ha lake).

    The landscape is rolling hills mostly, with some peaks, but nothing that spectacular, even comparing to the Appalachians. There are many mountain lakes but nothing too spectacular there either. There was one lake house that I saw on a lake that I wouldn't mind visiting, but I hate to say it but I was unimpressed.

    The temperature did lower down to about 68 degrees at the peak of the mountain, so this area is quite cooler than along the river, being more northerly and in higher elevation.

    The trees are all evergreen, but they appear stunted. I don't know if it's because of the altitude or the latitude, but the trees are smaller than loblolly pines in the SE US. To be honest, the forests in the Southeast US are prettier than what I saw along that road. We have stunted trees here in Austin because of our soil and dry climate, but even our trees here are bushier and provide more shade than the trees I saw up there.

    I hope I'm not offending any Canadians here, but after having been told my whole life that the scenery in Canada is "awesome and beats anything in America", I was very much disappointed. I actually think I prefer the pastoral landscape of Isle D'Orleans or the deciduous forests more common closer to Quebec City than the more taiga looking forests of the north.

    By the way, we got up to Saguenay and then took route 175 back down south. It was turning dark by the time we got midway down 175, but the scenery down 175 is very similar to 381. The only difference is route 175 is a far better highway than 381. I presume that the road is so nice because it is linking the cities of Saguenay and Quebec City. I presume there must be a lot of traffic back and forth between the cities. The highway was of as good a quality as the highways in the US, they had blasted most of the highway through the Shield, it was interesting to see the layers of rock and what the Canadian Shield if made of.

    One thing I noticed in the Saguenay region was the farming and the industrial nature of the area. I can see how that valley cuts directly through the Shield and allows farming and other cultivation that is not really doable on the Shield itself. I noticed a lot of new home construction in the Saguenay area, is that a growing region of Quebec? I hadn't noticed any other part of Quebec really growing at all but that portion seems to be thriving economically perhaps...

    We got late back into QC!

    More to come...

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    Okay, well we only had a couple of days left and I didn't want to have an outstanding warrant if I ever came back to Canada, so we set out the next day to pay the ticket.

    If was unfortunate, because we were planning to have gone to the Montreal Jazz Fest, but we were unable to because of how long it took to pay the ticket.

    When I had received the ticket from the police officer, he had stated that I needed to go to any bank and they would know how to pay the ticket.

    Not being familiar with the legal system of Canada, I followed what he said. However, the first bank we went to said that we had to go to a post office to pay it. Here began the wild goose chase.

    So we found a post office and it was "uptown" as I call it. Basically, we took Grand Allee E going uptown as far as we could. There was quite a bit of detours due to the festival going on, so that made the trek quite interesting. Finally, we found the post office on Rue Sheppard, but the lady there said that we would be unable to pay (the machine didn't accept my credit card). She mentioned we would have to go to an ATM and then we could come back and pay it.

    She pointed to an ATM at the corner of Ave Preston and Rue de Bergerville and we went there and I withdrew CAD $200 to pay the bill.

    Then I noticed that the bank was the same bank on the ticket where it said we could pay (Desjardins) and I enquired at the desk at that bank and she stated I could pay there. So I did.

    By the way, this took pretty much all day going to multiple banks and a post office.

    It was too late to go to Montreal and we were too tired to do so, so we went back to our hotel and then went out for dinner.

    Anyway, a day was wasted paying a speeding ticket on a honeymoon but at least dinner was good.

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    One good thing about the detour paying the ticket was seeing the uptown area. It kind of reminds me of Uptown New Orleans. A large park was on the south side and the neighborhood is filled with historical homes and is fully shaded. This is where I would want to live in QC if I lived there. I could see that the quality of life for the residents of that area was quite good.

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    The next day was the last and we spent it relaxing, walking around the city a bit and enjoying.

    Now, some general comments:

    In early July, when I visited, I must say the climate is fairly nice. It was in the low 60's and overcast the first day, which was a break from the heat down south. I was wearing a jacket in the day the first day. Then the next day was upper 70's and then it was in the upper 80's and lower 90's the rest of the days. The nights were pleasantly cool the first couple of nights (60's) and then pleasantly warm the next few nights (70's).

    The sun shined most days except the first, but it was not those cobalt blue sky days. It was hazy and humid each day and the sky was a bit whitish instead of blue. There was one blue sky day but most were not. There was virtually no wind any day, so it made the heat a little more unpleasant.

    The day after we left a cold front came through and the highs were in the low 70's and lows in the upper 50's, so I think the time of year we visited is a good time, but it is more humid than I expected that far north. I guess the "east coast=humid, west coast=dry" rule of thumb holds.

    Next up: restaurants

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    "I hope I'm not offending any Canadians here, but after having been told my whole life that the scenery in Canada is "awesome and beats anything in America", I was very much disappointed.

    I don't know who's telling such things. As a dual national, I think both the US and Canada have differing but spectacular beauty in part(and of course so-so areas and ugly industrial areas). To my eyes, the west of both countries has a more wowwing beauty in general, although there are scenic parts in the east and even middle of both certainly. I'd say the most breathtaking area in Canada I've seen would be Jasper National Park, the Frasier/Thompson River Valley and the coastal mountains off BC. In Quebec, the Laurentians north of Montreal or possibly the Charlevoix region leaves me most moved. And I've still got large pockets of Canada left to see!

    But certainly Glacier National Park, the Colorado Rockies (Glenwood Canyon), Bryce, Zion, the Sierra Nevada in the US, to name five, are just as magnificent. A bounty of riches in both countries as I see it.

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    Is the scenery north of Montreal any better than the scenery north of Quebec City? The scenery was pretty, don't get me wrong, but it just didn't live up to the hype that I had expected. Perhaps the other people that bragged about the scenery had only been to Western Canada?

    I wasn't really "blown away" by any scenery I saw in Quebec, but I was blown away with some of the neighborhoods in Quebec City however. They had everything I desire in a neighborhood, a large park, a nearby university, historical homes well kept, and a young and active population.

    Maybe next time I can see Montreal, it's a shame I couldn't see it because of a stupid traffic ticket.

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    Due north of Quebec City is pretty as you say but mostly coniferous; I prefer more the area northeast of Quebec City by the Saint Lawrence River itself, the Charlevoix region.

    I like the scenery of the Laurentians north of Montreal and although I prefer it to the area due north of Quebec City, I do like the Charlevoix scenery pretty equivalently.

    I think in some ways it was OK that you didn't make it to Montreal. I've done one day trip to Quebec City in all my years and thought it was way too rushed... I have found that I only really could totally appreciate my stay when I could at least have one or two nights in QC.

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    One thing that was interesting to me was the stark contrast between the compact, walkable, cosmopolitan confines of Quebec City and the vast, unreachable, wild wilderness very close by.

    It kind of reminded me of New Orleans a bit, within 30 minutes of New Orleans you are in a deep swamp with little trace of humans. Within 30 minutes of Quebec City you are in a dense taiga forest with little trace of humans.

    It's interesting how the French settlement patterns were almost identical in Quebec City to Louisiana. In Louisiana, almost all cities and towns were along rivers or bayous (streams). In Quebec, almost all cities and towns were along rivers or navigable lakes.

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