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Trip Report Quebec City - full of surprises!

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Recently my mom (mid-70s) and I (mid-40s) took a road trip to Quebec City and Bar Harbor/Acadia, Maine. This is the Quebec City report.

Day 1 (Wednesday)

Mom flew into Boston (I live in the suburbs) on July 28 and we set out for Quebec City on July 29. We left later than we had planned but still made a stop in Derby Line, Vermont, to see the Haskell Free Library (we did not go on the tour of the Opera House upstairs because we got there so late). It was interesting to see, although much smaller than the website makes it seem, and Mom surprised me by taking quite a while to look over their book collection.

The best exchange rate of the trip we got at a bank in Derby Line, just up the street from the library (and there was no exchange fee). Unfortunately for our timing, the rate had been going up in the first half of July but then fell again by the time of our trip. I made sure to take a bank lollipop – they were organic (it WAS Vermont, after all!), in flavors like mango and blueberry.

We crossed the border in town on US 5. There was no wait – we were the only car in line. The Canadian border agent just came out and asked us a few questions. Mom was disappointed that he did not stamp our passports – or even ask to see them. It all took less than 5 minutes. We got on the Autoroute right away and there did not seem to be any backup at the I-95/A-55 crossing, either. There was hardly any traffic on the A-55.

We really had to hoof it to get to Quebec City for the International Fireworks Competition that night. That meant taking A-20, which, just as Fodorites had told me, is not a very scenic route - not horrid, just not that scenic. That it was rainy didn’t help any! We were staying in Beauport, and because it was so late we went straight (if you don’t count getting a little lost!) to the fireworks shuttle at a shopping mall. I was grateful that I had read ahead of time that convenience stores sold bus tickets, as there was a gas station/mini-mart across the street from the mall that had them.

The show itself was at Montmorency Falls. We had bought reserved seating tickets, and the seats were really packed closely together (almost impossible to get INTO your seats, they were so close to the next row). Fortunately, not all were occupied, so we were able to move a little to get a better view without heads in the way (we were in the 5th row, which was nice). The falls were beautiful at night. The fireworks themselves were OK – some spectacular parts and some so-so parts.

We finally got to the Hotel Ambassadeur in Beauport about 11 PM. I had found a good rate on ($75 US per night, including taxes) and it had mostly positive reviews on Tripadvisor. Staying in the old city was not a big priority, especially if hotel savings meant more to spend on other things.

The PROS of the hotel turned out to be

- Location (an easy drive into Quebec City – there is a freeway on/off ramp a block away – as well as to the Ile d’Orleans and other points east),
- Several places to eat breakfast nearby (plus a large grocery store “four traffic lights away”)
- Quiet room (ours faced the street, with a view of the St. Lawrence, but no outside noise at any time)
- Comfortable beds (they did not look like it at first glance, though – but we both slept really well each night)
- Free Internet service

The CONS turned out to be

- Room smelled like smoke when we arrived (despite it being a non-smoking hotel). Because it was so late, and because a tour bus pulled in just after we did, I did not want to make an issue of it right then and ended up living with it. It turned out Mom didn’t notice until we had checked out and were on the way to Maine. She reached into the back seat to get something out of my backpack and said “Your backpack smells like smoke.” But the smell didn’t seem to linger.
- The hotel could use some sprucing up. It was not quite as nice as it appeared on the Internet.
- No free breakfast (for some reason I had gotten it into my head that breakfast was included in the room rate).

All in all, except for the smoke issue, I don’t think I would mind staying there again. I don’t think I would pay full price for it, though. It wasn’t the snazziest place, but it certainly met our needs for somewhere to sleep.

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    Day 2 (Thursday)

    Because we had been out so late the night before, after a long drive, we slept in our first day. For breakfast we went across the street to Restaurant Normandin, a chain that seemed sort of like Denny’s. (Another surprise: there was almost never any traffic on the Boul. Ste. Anne, despite its obviously being a major thoroughfare). Prices at Normandin were low and service was great and food was good – at least initially. After we walked back to the hotel the food seemed to go right through both of us, though, which further delayed our getting out.

    When we finally got into Quebec City about noon, we had to hunt for a parking place. After trying several lots, we finally found plenty of space in the public lot by the port/marina for $12 for the day. It was farther away from the old city than we wanted to be, but at that point it was good just to have a spot. It also meant we walked through the farmer’s market at the port, which had much beautiful produce (and some nice lemon sorbet!).

    We spent the afternoon wandering around the Lower Town and Upper Town. Stops included Notre Dame des Victoires (interesting “lecture” by a tour guide there while we sat in the “royal pew”) and the Maison Chevalier, riding the funicular (NOT for the claustrophobic! It was hot and stuffy, and we were packed in like sardines, and the view was not as dramatic as they lead you to believe), and watching the street performers on Dufferin Terrace by the Chateau Frontenac.

    Because Mom has 2 artificial knees and trouble with stairs (although not with walking), she people-watched (including some re-enactors from the local naval reserves who were depicting French troops of the 1700s) while I went down to look at the ruins that archaeological digs under the terrace had uncovered. Definitely worth seeing – good interpretive signs, plus Parks Canada staff on duty to answer questions. We also went to see the exhibit of some of the artifacts they uncovered, on display in the lobby of the old post office (which still has a post office in it) across the terrace from the Frontenac. (Another surprise: Canada charges provincial and national sales taxes on POSTAGE STAMPS. Very odd to an American! I knew about the two taxes, but Mom was quite mystified by them at first – they are itemized separately on receipts. What did surprise me, however, was the fact that prices did not include the taxes, as in Europe, but they were added to the listed price, like in the US.)

    More walking around led us to the cathedral and to the courtyard of the old Seminary (which has several interpretive panels as well). We ended up not visiting the Museum of French America that is by the seminary complex, as Mom is not that big on museums (whereas I am the type who has to read every sentence on every placard). We checked out the Rue du Tresor, too, which I think is over-hyped by guidebooks – it was quite disappointing (no treasures there for us!).

    From there we went to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall), where mom watched more buskers in the park across the street while I looked for a nearby bank that a friend of a friend said had the best exchange rates. Unfortunately, I discovered (AFTER I had changed some money) that the bank behind City Hall (with a red logo) that I thought was it probably wasn’t. I think the “correct” bank was diagonally across from the front of City Hall and had a green logo – I just went the wrong way at the park. But we didn’t need any more cash after that.

    For an early dinner we went down the Rue St. Louis to look at restaurants and ended up eating at L’Omelette. I had the “Quebec Special” – pea soup, tourtiere (Quebec meat pie), and maple sugar pie. Mom had the pork chops with applesauce – applesauce turned out to be one stewed apple atop the chops. Both meals came with fries and salad on the plate. My meal was very good – tourtiere had large chunks of meat (beef, veal, pork), not the ground meat I expected, and maple sugar pie was great – neither too maple-y or too sweet (both of which I feared). Afterwards I realized that we might have been able to go to Aux Anciens Canadiens for about the same price, as they have an “early-bird” menu, but I had been under the impression (from several quarters) that they were much pricier than perhaps they are. At any rate, we still enjoyed dinner – and had a table by the open window, which was nice. (Surprise: I don’t think we saw margarine served at any restaurant we visited in Quebec City – even McDonald’s! It was always butter.)

    After dinner we did a little more walking around, then took the free Ecolobus to return to the parking lot. While Mom got ready for bed, I drove down the street (“four traffic lights”, according to the hotel desk clerk) to the Maxi supermarket. It might sound odd, but I recommend checking out places like supermarkets when visiting other countries, just to get an idea of the similarities and differences to back home (especially interesting in Canada, bordering the US as it does). I bought some cookies for snacks on the road, and a box of cereal and some liters of shelf-stable juices to take home with me (on sale, they were cheaper than comparable products in the US, plus something new and different to try). (Surprises: Maxi did not have grocery bags - you had to bring your own! I was glad I had thrown a couple in the car. Also, the grocery carts don’t look like US carts – I never would have suspected that.)

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    I hope I’m not overdoing it on the detail on these. If so, I can cut back.

    Day 3 (Friday)

    We drove down to the Citadelle to be there for the first tour at 9:00. There is free parking at the Citadelle itself, which was nice, and there was an empty spot for us right by the entrance to the fort, so Mom did not have to walk far. They say there is a 2-hour limit, but we were there for about 3.5 hrs with no trouble. (Parking Tip: if you get there early, don’t take the first empty space you see. Drive on around – the “entrance road” twists and turns – to see if there is space closer to the entrance. If not, you can just loop back around to park in one of the spots farther away.)

    Tours of the Citadelle (in English or French) are led by yellow-shirted young adults who are hired by the military for that purpose (and who must be bilingual). (You pay the admission fee at the visitors’ centre. There is a discount for seniors – I had to ask for it, as the cashier must have thought Mom looked too young to qualify – as well as a CAA/AAA discount, which I forgot to request.) The tour visits different sections of the fortress as well as two of the museums, and I felt like we had enough time in them. Our guide did a fine job of describing the history of the fort as well as of the regiment that occupies it and of the defenses of Quebec City.

    We finished just as the changing of the guard was starting on the parade ground. I had seen video of it on YouTube and was prepared to be underwhelmed, but it was much better and more interesting live than I had expected. For one thing, the band was better than I expected based on YouTube. Maybe it was poor audio quality on YouTube, or maybe the band really was better, but I enjoyed the music. I recognized only one of the marches they played (which I had played in band in high school) – I had expected to recognize more, but then I don’t know Canadian or British military music.

    Afterward, we went on the tour of the “other” residence of the Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Canada) – the main one is in Ottawa and may also be toured. The tour was as much about the office of Governor General and what that involves as about the history and furnishings of the residence, and both were interesting. There is an elevator in the residence, which we got to ride rather than taking the stairs to the upper floor – it is right in the middle of the foyer, and I had thought it was part of the security screening devices! Another nice feature – you get to sit down in the ballroom for a presentation on the Order of Canada – nice after all that walking and standing. Again, the guides are bilingual young adults, but they are hired by the Governor General’s office rather than the military and wear white shirts (and are a little more dressy). There is a good-natured rivalry between the two guide groups. (Note: the parade ground flies the flags of Canada’s 10 provinces and 3 territories during the changing of the guard, but those had been lowered by the time we came out of the tour of the residence - so take pictures early!)

    Because the Citadelle is an active military installation, they really are strict about no one wandering about without an escort. After the tour of the GG’s residence, we were offered the opportunity to return to the main entrance or to visit another small museum, but we were warned that we had to stay there until the next guide came by, about 30 minutes. All of us elected to stay, which I think was a good idea only because it was almost noon, and the 12:00 gun (big gun, like a cannon) was right across from the museum. I didn’t find the exhibits that interesting, and after about 10 minutes we went outside to watch them set up to fire the gun (and were warned repeatedly to cover our ears – good advice!). After the gun was fired, we were all told we had another 15 minutes to wait until the next guide arrived, but fortunately one came past only a few minutes later and rescued a bunch of us who were ready to go. My advice – unless it is almost noon, and you want to see the gun fired up close, skip that last museum.

    From the Citadelle we went to the Hotel du Parlement (National Assembly) and parked at the garage under the Edifice Marie Guyart next door ($17). We decided to see if we could eat lunch at Le Parlementaire, the white-tablecloth restaurant on the second floor of the NA, although we did not have reservations (which are recommended). We were able to, and we had a great meal (although not cheap: $52 for the two of us plus tip). They focus on food sourced in Quebec; I had medallions of red deer (choice of rare or medium rare only!) and Mom had rainbow trout with salt herbs. Both were excellent. The meal came with soup as a starter (we had the potato- also very good) and tea or coffee after the main course. Dessert (extra charge) was the only disappointment – on our server’s advice, we tried the profiteroles (cream puffs filled with ice cream, each drizzled with a different sauce). Sauces were good; pastries were not so great. If you want to try them, I’d say do that somewhere else.

    We then went on a tour of the Parliament building. As at the Citadelle, security is very tight – no wandering around unaccompanied. In fact, we had to have a special escort to take an elevator up to and back down from Le Parlementaire rather than using the broad main staircase. Because the tour involved climbing those same stairs, Mom asked if they had an elevator (they did – a different one this time), and we ended up on a small tour with an older couple we had seen in the restaurant (the husband was in a wheelchair). Two nice surprises came from that: First, we were able to go on the floor of the National Assembly and the old Legislative Council (sort of like the Senate – each province had had one, but they were all disbanded by the late 1960s) rather than just visiting the galleries like the “climbing” tour did. And second, it turned out that the other couple live two towns over from me in MA, and I am familiar with the area where they live.

    As an aside, I asked someone in the building why the security was so tight. At first he mentioned September 11, then compared the parliament building to the Capitol in Washington, DC, and said the Quebec Premier had his offices there. When I pressed him a little, noting that the building was analogous to a state capitol in the US and most of them do not have that kind of security, he told me (somewhat reluctantly, it seemed) that a gunman had killed several people in a 1984 attack on the building. That information was not part of the tour spiel.

    After the tour we strolled over to the fountain in front of the building, and then Mom enjoyed resting on a bench while I went off to walk along the top of the old city walls for a bit. I definitely recommend it – you get a different perspective on the old city that way. That was followed by a visit (via Ecolobus) to Rue St Paul to check out antique shops (no purchases). By then Mom was getting tired, so we decided to catch the Ecolobus back to the parking garage.

    What an adventure! We waited and waited on the Quai St André (headed toward the funicular, figuring we could just ride to the end of the line and then ride back to the garage). None came, so we finally crossed the street to try there. Then finally one came on the "original" side, but by the time it got back to us, it was full. We finally crossed back over and after more waiting caught one going to the funicular, and sure enough, it filled up there and did not stop on the way back! In all that time there should have been several more of the free buses come by than actually did - I have no idea why they were not running.

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    Hi cranachin

    Thanks for sharing your perceptions and experiences of a city I know well.

    One comment: "When I pressed him a little, noting that the building was analogous to a state capitol in the US and most of them do not have that kind of security, he told me (somewhat reluctantly, it seemed)"

    Don't forget some 15 years ago about 49% of voters of Quebec asked for an independent nation... your "analogous to a state capitol" statement (although there's logic in your analogy... yes Quebec in 2009 is just one of ten Canadian provinces) would cause many Quebecois of the more nationalist variety I think to cringe, thus perhaps his reluctance to speak further.

    I'm not sure I buy the 1984 incident as the exclusive rationale for tighter security. I went to the Parliament pre- (2000) and post- 9/11 and while security was always present, there was definitely a marked increase after.

    An enjoyable trip report! Daniel

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    <<Don't forget some 15 years ago about 49% of voters of Quebec asked for an independent nation.>>

    Not really. They voted yes to an intentionally muddled and ambiguous question. A good portion of those voting yes thought that they would still carry Canadian passports and elect members to the Canadian Parliament. The Parti Québecois leadership had no illusions, however, and would have taken the first steps to independence the day after a "Yes" majority.

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    The vote lay as it did. One could argue that the "no" side played dirty too, with fear-mongering, illegal expenditures, Air Canada flying people in for cheap for the "love-in", etc...

    Ultimately, sure, people were sketchy on details and others gave in to fear-mongering who might otherwise have voted "oui" but ultimately I think most Quebeckers knew exactly what that vote was about; getting a sovereign nation or staying in think otherwise is insulting. The federalists knew what they voted for but the sovereignists didn't...come on. I don't know one person who didn't know what the deep underlying question of that vote was about.

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    Laverendrye :) agreed and sending you kind wishes; apologies to Cranachin for the aside. Keep sharing with us your perspectives of Quebec City; as others have said, the details are welcomed!

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    Thanks all for the kind comments on the report so far – and for the advice given before the trip that helped make it a good one. Laverendrye, thought of you when I saw the statue of the explorer at the National Assembly. Daniel – good point about the potential touchiness over the sovereignty issue.

    And speaking of Parliament …

    Day 3 (Friday) – continued

    On the (very crowded little) Ecolobus back to our parking garage, I asked the lady seated beside me for restaurant recommendations. My mom really wanted some vegetables after the meat- and starch-heavy meals we had been eating. I tried asking in French, but I think the lady thought I was asking about vegetarian restaurants. At any rate, she did direct us to the Rue Cartier for a wide choice of eateries.

    Unfortunately, I drove right past Rue Cartier without realizing it (we were on Boul Rene Levesque). Mom also was hoping for a more moderately priced meal than our splurge at lunch, and I recalled that if we kept going we should reach Laval University, and students have no money, so surely we could find cheap eats near there!

    I also recalled that the Roger van den Hende Botanical gardens were on the campus, and Mom loves gardens, so we headed to Laval. As it turned out, we drove over pretty much the whole campus to get to the gardens (nice campus, but practically deserted on a summer Friday evening). We got to the gardens about 7:30, and they close at 8:00, so we just had a little time to stroll around. There were some really pretty flowers, but it struck me as more of a demonstration or test garden than a formal garden (maybe not surprising since they are part of the university). Note that they have metered parking there – you pay the central meter and put the ticket on your windshield – didn’t remember that part!

    As the battery on my digital camera had started to give me trouble, we then went to the nearby Laurier Quebec mall. Wow! It is the largest mall in eastern Canada (at least they say it is) and has three levels and 350 stores. It would be really easy to get lost in there, as it has more of a grid layout than one long central axis. I tried multiple stores, and none had the battery I needed, but it was fun to see all the different stores (as well as the contrast with Old Quebec).

    We finally ended up at St Hubert on the Boul Laurier for dinner. Their specialty is roast chicken (although I thought their “mascot” looked more like the Roadrunner from the cartoons!), which both of us got – along with steamed veggies. :) (Other choices were the usual starches – baked potato, fries, etc.) The meals also came with a side of cole slaw, either vinegar-based (me – I don’t like cole slaw, so this was the lesser of two evils) or creamy (Mom), both of which were just average, and bread that looked like half a hamburger bun (grilled on the flat side) but had an addictive taste. There was also “BBQ sauce” on the side that I would have called gravy – it was savory, not sweet, and also very good. Prices are very reasonable, and there seemed to be lots of local families there (although I nicknamed the area in which we were seated the “English corner”, as the parties on either side of us were also English-speaking – but at least one of them seemed to be local and bilingual).

    Here is where I can comment on Cirque du Soleil’s outdoor performance “Les Chemins Invisibles”. We did not end up going, as timing did not work out and I’m not sure Mom would have wanted to stand throughout the entire 60-90 minutes of it. But we did drive by the performance site three times – once (Thursday evening? I don’t remember) when people were lining up beforehand to be admitted (it was something like 2 hours before the performance – definitely not dark yet – and already there was a big crowd on the sidewalk), and twice more (two different nights) when I was trying to find the A-440 to head back to Beauport. The on-ramp was right by the performance site, and police were out directing traffic. In fact, the first night I stopped to ask one where the ramp was, and he just pointed ahead (Mom got a kick out of that one).

    Some other surprises:

    Wine on the menu at Le Parlementaire. I couldn’t see a state capitol (or even the US Capitol) serving wine at an in-house restaurant!

    Guys in Capri pants. And not just teens/20-somethings, either. There were middle-aged fathers with their wives and children and even a fair number of retiree/grandfather-looking men sporting them. I guess that is the French influence. But it was a surprise.

    Also a surprise was the number of adults wearing shorts – and these were Quebecois (and probably other Canadians, too), not just American tourists! And not only were there shorts, there were lots of bright colors (like orange, and both shirts and pants). For all the talk of how much visiting Quebec City is “like visiting Europe”, the shorts/bright colors thing was enough by itself to let me know I wasn’t across the pond.

    In fact, Quebec City reminded me less of Europe than did Vancouver (parts of which looked disorientingly like Northern Europe with Buicks and strip malls to me). That might be because I lived in Norway for 2 years, and I visited Vancouver in late November/early December, and I saw a lot of physical similarities. Granted, I’ve spent a grand total of a week or so in France in my life, but somehow I always felt like I was in North America, at least while in Quebec City. The Ile d’Orleans seemed more European than the city did.

    But I LOVED QUEBEC CITY, and I do want to go back some time down the road. I was pleasantly surprised that I remembered enough high-school French to get around pretty well. I was also somewhat surprised at how non-bilingual many Quebecois seem to be. I guess I knew that in my head before we went, but discovering older people who spoke no English and younger folks (especially in the service sector) whose English was only fair still came as a surprise. I’m not putting them down, by any means! It just hit home that the gulf between Quebec and English Canada really is bigger than I had imagined.

    And I’m not through with the trip report yet, either! ;)

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    Great Trip Report...keep it coming! I share your love of supermarkets in foreigh lands (or even the next state/province)...Les Ancien Canadien is neat but VERY pricey...sounds to me like you made the right decision on that meal.

    Are you covering Bar Harbour here or on the US Forum?..I have a great fondness for that part of east coast.

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    Cranachin, congratulations on absorbing some of the flavours (that's the way we spell it) of Quebec City. Applause, as well, for putting effort into spelling the French names. That is the official Quebec language. Many of these lengthy travel posts don't try hard enough to get the facts straight.
    You may be interested in more details on the armed invasion of the national assembly in 1984. The situation was diffused, after three deaths, by a genuinely brave man. Rene Marc Jalbert, officially the assembly's Sergeant-at-Arms, but unarmed that day, faced down the disgruntled machine-gun-carrying soldier in the middle of the Assembly itself. Jalbert, a former army major and veteran of two wars, won the day essentially by pulling rank. The uniformed gunman served in the Royal 22nd regiment, the legendary Van-Doos who perform the changing of the guard which you witnessed. That was Jalbert's outfit and he convinced the man he was outranked. After four hours under the gun, Jalbert negotiated a surrender that surely must have prevented more bloodshed.
    It may be a tricky subject for official guides to present but I think it is a story of heroism that is part of the ancient building's history.
    You can read more at this Wikipedia entry

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    Now for more of the tale!

    Day 4 (Saturday)

    Breakfast was at the hotel restaurant (Chez Greco) this morning. We opted for the buffet ($9.99), which had a good assortment of hot and cold items. Oddly, though, the restaurant does not take American Express, even though the hotel in which it is located does. Another surprise: we never ate Canadian bacon! Both the buffet and Normandin had “American” bacon (what Anglo-Canadian friends call “back bacon” but in Quebec French was simply “bacon”). We ate breakfast at McDonald’s twice and didn’t get any Canadian bacon there, either, although I don’t remember whether McD’s had any items with it.

    Then we headed out for the Ile d’Orléans. After an overcast Friday, the sunny day was welcome. Of course, that meant lots of other folks had the same idea. Because we wanted to see the Parliament building, we had to do that Friday. Otherwise we might have visited the IDO (as the farmers abbreviate it on their signs at the Marché du Vieux Port) on Friday – potentially less traffic then. It was nice to drive by Montmorency Falls in the daylight; we did not stop, though, but went on over to the island.

    Our first stop there was the Tourist Information center near the bridge. It was quite crowded. More surprises were in store there. One was the number of motorcycle riders on the island. Several were at the TI, and we saw quite a few more during the day. The other was the TI’s policy of charging for all but the most basic of tourist literature. They even charged for some materials that I got for free by requesting them via e-mail from the tourist regions of the province. Free stuff was mainly advertisements for restaurants, lodging, and shops.

    We did the standard “counter-clockwise around the island” tour. In Saine-Pétronille we stopped at the Chocolaterie de l’Ile d’Orléans, as they had been written up several places. Both of us were disappointed with what we got. I had a black current cream in dark chocolate, and Mom had a maple cream in milk chocolate. Neither had much flavor. Next we visited the church in the village. It has a much less ornate interior than the other churches on the island, but I think it might be the prettiest of the ones we visited. Mom enjoyed just sitting in a pew and listening to a CD that the lady (guide/hostess) there put on when we arrived. Then it was down to the quai for the view of Quebec City from the western end of the island.

    As we drove on, I saw a sign that said “Garage Vente”. At first I translated it as “Garage for Sale” (which seemed odd), but then it clicked – Garage Sale! So we turned down the residential street and found some neighbors who were having sales. Sainte-Pétronille definitely seemed like the suburb of Quebec City it is rather than a rural village. Once we got outside Sainte-Pétronille, however, the island was more like I had expected it to be, with farms lining the road and great views of the river.

    We stopped to visit the church in Saint-Laurent and found people busy preparing for a wedding, including a violinist and singer practicing up in the second balcony. We were still allowed to visit the church and adjacent presbytère, where there was a small exhibit of liturgical vestments and objects (presided over by a teenage boy!). At the church in Saint-Jean, there was a wedding in progress, so we just got to peek in the door from the front steps. I was surprised to learn there is only one priest for the entire island. Guess he was pretty busy that day!

    The countryside was so beautiful we had to make several stops just for pictures and to enjoy the view. It seemed each village has its own specialty crop or crops that are grown mainly there. The wheat fields were especially beautiful, I thought. There were also old stone houses and great views of the river (often dotted with sailboats) and the mountains beyond.

    For lunch, I had wanted to try a place suggested by the same friend-of-a-friend who had recommended the bank for changing money. He said he had gotten a wonderful meal there for only $10. All he could remember, however, was that it was on the south shore of the island and its name was La Maison d’Été (“The House of Summer”). We looked for signs the whole way along the southern side of the island and never could find it. Well, I googled it once we got back to the hotel that night and could find nothing on the Web, either. I finally decided that the “name” was “the summerhouse” in English and that it must have been a description rather than an actual name. Québecois reading this TR, if I’m wrong about that, please let me know (for next time :) ).

    Definitely worth a stop was the observation tower at the eastern end of the island. You can see 30 miles (50 km) or more downriver from the top, and there are placards explaining the geology of the region and identifying the landmarks. It was doubly interesting because there were a couple of tractors bringing in the hay crop in the field below the tower while I was there. Unfortunately, Mom did not get to go up it, as it has only stairs, but she stayed below reading the book she had brought along and marveling at the Smart Car convertible that parked next to us. I’m not sure you could pay her enough to ride in one, it’s so small!

    Continuing on, we came to one of the many roadside stands selling raspberries. This one was special, though, because the lady who owned the farm had a laminated copy of a recent newspaper article about her. The big deal was that she still used local people to harvest the berries, rather than Mexican migrant workers like most farms. I must admit, that latter part was a bit of a surprise. If I remember correctly, she said in the article that as much as she hated to do it, she probably would have to hire Mexican laborers the next year, as they were so much cheaper than Canadian labor.

    We also stopped at Les Fromages de l’Isle d’Orleans, which is another place written up in guidebooks. They say you can get a sample of the first variety of cheese made in North America. What nobody bothers to tell you, not even their own website, is that they charge for samples! I guess that makes sense in one way, but I think they should at least tell people up front that they charge, even if it IS only 50 cents. And while on the subject of cheese, I have to confess that we never did try poutine – although not for the reason you might think. The cheese curds I saw at Les Fromages looked interesting. But I was so sick of fried potatoes at every meal that after a while poutine really did not interest me (I’m not sure it ever interested Mom, though).

    We eventually did get to eat lunch – more on that later!

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    Day 4 (Saturday) – continued

    We finally stopped for a late lunch at La Crêpe Cochonne, in Sainte-Famille (before you get into the village center). The menu included “build-your-own” crepes as well as crepes with set fillings. Initially we considered ordering three, but the server raised her eyebrows when we mentioned that and asked if we really wanted that many! So we scaled back to two, one with asparagus and cheddar cheese (delicious!) and one with ham, onions and peppers. The latter was a little disappointing (at least to me), as the onions and peppers were raw (I had expected them to be sautéed). The crepes came with a side salad and a fruit garnish – don’t remember if there was anything else with them, unfortunately. Prices were reasonable and the view from the back deck was nice, but the service was a little slow.

    Before we went in for lunch, I had run next door to the Boulangerie G. H. Blouin (to be sure I got in before it closed). It is a pretty nondescript building, but inside smelled wonderful. There is a little retail area inside the doorway, with a view of the rest of the bakery beyond. I bought a turnover filled with strawberry jam (the pastry was just the right mix of chewy and flaky) and a “bar” filled with raspberry jam. The bar looked similar to ones I have eaten in New England, but the “pastry” part had a texture more like a cracker than a cookie or cake (thinner and crisper). Both were huge, and at only 75 cents each quite a bargain!

    After our dessert-on-the-go, we drove into the village center. The church was closed to visitors by the time we got there, but we did enjoy visiting the Parc des Ancêtres next door with its many flowers, view of the river, and interesting central sculpture (note: there is a public restroom there that might come in handy). Also of interest is the scaled-down version of the church behind it, in the cemetery. After that stop, we continued through Saint-Pierre and off the island.

    We had seen the Basilica of Sainte Anne from the road on the island and decided to drive down that way, although I figured it would be closed as well. I was wrong! It was open and bustling with pilgrims when we arrived. We visited the interior and then walked around the exterior. Mom decided to sit on an outdoor bench while I went to climb the hill with life-sized stations of the cross that sits across the street from the basilica. There had been announcements that a bilingual recitation of the rosary was about to start, but we had not expected that it would be broadcast via loudspeakers to the outside.

    I ended up changing my mind about climbing the hill and went in the building housing the replica of the Sancta Scala, the stairs Jesus climbed in Jerusalem when he appeared before Pontius Pilate. To my surprise, the stairs were wooden (I had expected them to be stone). Also surprising was their very shallow tread – I suppose to accommodate those who climb them on their knees. I was the only person in the building while I was there, of which I was glad. It was interesting to see both the basilica and the Sancta Scala, but I always feel a little funny visiting religious sites as “tourist attractions”.

    Because we had eaten such a late lunch, we really didn’t feel like much dinner. But I wanted ice cream from Les Chocolats Favoris, so we drove all the way to the bridge over the St. Lawrence (on the west side of Quebec City) and then all the way back east to Lévis. Mom thought that I was crazy and that we would never get there. My craziness was rewarded, however, by the ice cream (we were able to park right across the street, too!).

    Mom had maple soft-serve dipped in milk chocolate, and I had strawberry sort-serve dipped in dark chocolate. Both were outstanding. The chocolate is not the thin shell typical of many soft-serve places; it was thick and rich, and it took effort to bite through it! The selection of sorbets and hard-packed ice creams was extensive as well. Sorbet flavors included pear, strawberry-mint, strawberry-basil, and apricot-rosemary (which I tried; it was an interesting mix that at times even tasted of mango or orange). LCF certainly deserves its reputation and is worth a visit (or two)!

    That the place was still hopping at almost 10 PM was a big surprise to Mom. She still lives in a bedroom community of a small city in the southern US (where I grew up) and was not used to all that late-night activity (on the other hand, I did not think twice about it). More than once when we were out late, she asked “Where are all these people going so late at night?” She also never quite got used to the sidewalk traffic in the city – the crowds were larger than what she regularly encounters. Especially vexing were the people who would just stop in the middle of the sidewalk to carry on a conversation!

    Much to her relief, we took the ferry back across to Quebec City. We had a little wait for it to leave, so we were able to watch both the Image Mill at the port across the river (I was glad I had brought my binoculars along!) and the finale of the fireworks down at Montmorency Falls (quite impressive, even at that distance). We stayed in the car for a little while to listen to the radio broadcast of the audio for the Image Mill and then watched from out on deck. It was interesting, we both agreed, but we were glad we saw the part of it from the ferry rather than sitting through the whole thing at the port. I’m not sure either of us could have endured over an hour of it.

    I realized that we probably would hit the ferry landing about the time the Image Mill ended, and sure enough, we did. Seeing the size of the crowds walking back to their cars/hotels/etc. made Mom even more glad we were not out among them! For the most part, the crowds were very orderly, which was a relief to me as a driver. I had visions of being surrounded by pedestrians and unable to drive for quite a while, but, all things considered, it didn’t really take that long to get through the city and back to the hotel.

    Even thought it was late, we tried to do some packing, as we were leaving for Maine the next day.

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    I enjoyed your comments about your Mom being so surprised by the "late-night" activity. A lot of especially urban Quebecois have the opposite reaction when they travel to some cities in the United States..."where is everybody?"... the streets seem so deserted.

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    I'll get around to posting Day 5 soon, I hope, but here are two other surprises I haven't mentioned yet:

    (1) We never saw any pigeons in Quebec City! That was a nice surprise.

    (2) There were black squirrels! OK, so I only saw 2, but I had not seen a black squirrel since a school trip to Toronto almost 30 years ago. Our tour guide told us to be on the lookout, but we were starting to believe he was scamming us, as NO ONE on the trip saw any until the very last day.

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    Funny you mention those black squirrels. I don't see them especially here in Montreal (we tend to get the more common gray ones with the fluffy tail, an occasional albino), but in Toronto's Queen's Park, the black squirrels seemed predominant! Interesting... And in Halifax, Nova Scotia they get a MUCH smaller reddish variety, maybe twice the size of a chipmunk.

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    Day 5 (Sunday)

    This was our last day in Quebec City. After checking out of the hotel, we attended services at Quebec Baptist Church, an English-language church on Grande Allée (by now you had probably guessed we are not Catholic). QBC is one of just a handful of English-language churches in the city and includes a good number of non-North Americans among the congregation.

    We had intended to have lunch at Asia (also on Grande Allée), but it was closed, so we started looking around for a replacement. Mom was game to try a nearby Lebanese place (her first time), but they were cash only, and we were out of Canadian dollars. After checking out a few other places, we settled on (gasp!) Quizno's because they were quick and took credit cards.

    As we walked back to the car, parked near the Jardin Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc Garden) at the Plains of Abraham, the wind suddenly picked up, out of nowhere. The Loews Le Concorde has flagpoles that extend from the hotel parallel to the ground, with flags hanging perpendicular to the ground. The wind was so strong that the FLAGS were parallel to the ground! That lasted for a couple of minutes - it was not just a brief gust.

    We decided to enjoy a stroll in the gardens and over to the Martello Towers Numbers 1 and 2 in the area - did not go in either one, though. But the view of the Plains and the river was nice, and Mom loved the flowers in the garden. SURPRISE: There were little signs in the flower beds announcing that there is free wi-fi access in the gardens! That struck me as so humorous that I took pictures of them. The sign were green and had the "concentric arcs" wi-fi symbol shape.

    From there we set of to hit the road to Maine. Instead of taking the principal streets, though, we drove through the neighborhoods that paralleled them, to get a feel for what residential parts of the city are like. It didn't take much longer and was quite interesting. I'm sure the more places one visits, the more comparisons are made, but I was surprised that residential parts of Quebec City reminded me of Dallas, Deep-South cities (like Jackson, MS, and Birmingham, AL), and Midwestern cities (like Cincinnati and Indianapolis). Odd mix!

    When we finally got to the bridges, I opted for the older Pont de Québec, as we had already crossed the Pont Pierre-Laporte a couple of times. It meant a little detour, as we were headed for the A-73, but it was fun to have crossed both bridges. Plus, we ran by a Walmart we spied on the way to the A-73 for a quick look. It was nicer than most US Walmarts I have been in.

    On the way to Lévis the previous evening we had seen the signs for (and the spray from) the Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, so we stopped there, too. The falls are not as high as Montmorency, but we enjoyed the view (and I went down to the footbridge that spans the river below the falls - too many steps for Mom). The view from the bridge is great - the falls on one side and the city in the distance when you face the opposite direction - but if you don't like things that sway, you won't like the footbridge. I guess it's serious, but was amused by the sign forbidding "Les manoeuvres avec cordes" from the bridge (which I assumed meant bungee jumping, but I suppose might have meant rappelling).

    When we finally really got underway, it was late enough that we just took the A-73 rather than the more scenic Route 173. A-73 is pretty boring - from the glimpses we had through the hills of the Chaudière Valley and the brief stretch we followed once the A-73 ended, it looked like 173 would have been a nice drive. Of course, it had started raining as soon as we had left the falls, so not sure how much that would have further slowed us down. As it was, we did not make it to Bar Harbor until after 10 PM!

    But we did make one final stop before we left Canada. Don't remember if it was in Beauceville or Saint-Georges, but Mom decided she wanted more cookies to take home, so we pulled into an IGA to stock up. It was probably the nicest IGA I have ever been in - pricier than the Maxi in Quebec City, but also very sleek, with lots of wood in the décor. It looked more like a Whole Foods to me than an IGA. And I am still enjoying the Fudgee-O's that I brought home - doling them out two at a time to savor them. Mmmmmm! The "Distinction" maple cookies made by Leclerc were really good, too - high praise, since I am not that much of a maple fan.

    From there, it was on to the border, with a very easy crossing. There were 2 lanes at US immigration, only one of which was occupied, so we were able to pull right in. The US agent actually looked in the trunk (the Canadian agent had not when we entered Canada). He was pretty stone-faced and stern, and maybe they have to be, but it was not exactly a warm welcome back home. I guess they have a tough job, though.

    But it was a great trip! We did not get to do the tour of the Château Frontenac or the visitor center/bus tour/Martello Tower at the Plains of Abraham, but otherwise I think we did most everything we had really wanted to. Thanks to all who helped in planning, and sorry this took a month to get all posted!

    Maybe I will get around to doing the Bar Harbor/Acadia TR now!

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    Thank you for sharing your experiences of Quebec! I have visited Québec (the city and the province) from southern Ontario many times, but it is very interesting to read other travelers' (especially American) experiences. I haven't had the ice cream at Lévis but I will have to enjoy some now that you have described such a delicious treat!

    I have taken middle (Gr.7/8) school groups to visit Quebec City and environs and the highlight of their trip was the mall! They too enjoyed the number of stores and they were able to practice their French (I am a French teacher).

    I hope that you will visit the Governor-General's Residence in Ottawa one day - it is very beautiful. I have not yet visited the one in QC - another place for me to visit.

    I found your comment about the wine at the Québec Parlement restaurant interesting - I have visited France and I agree - the wine "culture" has travelled across the Atlantic. What wine did you try? There is a very successful wine industry in my area of Southern Ontario - the Niagara peninsula (which is at a similar latitude as Burgundy) has red and white wines that are becoming very successful, as good as the ice wines which one would expect from Canada.

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    Timsmom -

    Thanks for your kind words. I would love to visit Ottawa some day, as well as to return to Toronto and southern Ontario.

    As far as the wine at Le Parlementaire - we did not have any, so I can't comment on the selection or quality!

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    You're welcome, Martinan.

    And I thought of another funny thing we saw - a car with "Lavez-moi!" (Wash me!) written in the dust on it.

    I didn't realize that was universal - LOL

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    You might want to try Aux Anciens Canadiens on your next trip. They do have menu complet meals - appetizer, soup, main dish, dessert and tea or coffee. The prices start at around $35 but both times I ate there I thoroughly enjoyed my meals. The first time was in 1981 and the second in 2005, so they kept the standards up.

    The restaurant itself is the oldest building in Québec City. The ambiance was lovely and the service was good - none of that "I'm Amy and I'll be your server tonight" spiel that makes me crazy.

    All in all, I found it value for money and a great experience. The second time we have friends from Michigan with us who really enjoyed it.

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